A blue hole in a red sea. It’s the best place to revel in the untamed beauty and might of nature, but perhaps not to be having second thoughts. I’m getting jitters crowding in at the periphery of my mind, and I don’t know how long I can hold them at bay. I’d also be sweating bullets if I didn’t happen to be swimming in the bowels of a sunken ship at this very moment.
My mind claws desperately at the sun-bleached memory of the world above sea level. Everything up there is a feast of life. Tanned boys and girls casually posing like Greek statues, all laughing near a juice bar. Bright sails fluttering gentle applause at the wind and waves. Crabs racing one another to the safety of the rocks near the shoreline.
So, what in the hell am I doing down here?
Let’s face it. Emotional blackmail works very well with me. If not for my manipulating boyfriend, I don’t think I’d ever have come to this part of the world at all. I would have stayed at home with a mountain of books, curled up on an armchair by a roaring fire with a nice cup of tea, reading and sipping until the eventual heat death of the universe.
But instead of that, I’m pretending that I’m Queen Mera cleaning up another of Aquaman’s stupid mistakes. And once this minor miracle is achieved, I’m to flick my defiantly red mane in a display of female empowerment. I’m to snort disdainfully at the admiring, slack-jawed loafers and tourists huddling beneath their parasols. And I’m to extract the string of this tiny green bikini from between my arse cheeks whenever no one’s looking.
There’s nothing down here in this submerged wreck. It feels like there ought to be abundant sea life all around. Shoals of pretty fish. Vibrant coral reefs. Seaweed swaying in the undercurrents. Just something. But it’s as if everything got spooked and relocated itself to another area code. Fucking creepy if you ask me.
A phone rings. Say… what?
I turn my head, though perhaps it’s not the best idea when your breathing is literally hanging by a slender thread—or, rather, thin tubes. It wouldn’t bode well if I were to get those tangled or twisted. I’m not about to give my boyfriend the satisfaction of seeing me screw up something so basic as using breathing apparatus underwater!
Where the hell is that coming from? How am I even hearing a phone right now? It shouldn’t be possible. I arc my arms through the water, carefully pivoting myself until I face what I think is the correct direction. It seems to be coming from just through a doorway over there. It’s at a forty-five degree angle to the ocean floor, and pitch black in the room beyond. Thinking about going inside is giving me the chills.
One more ring.
Muffled though it is, the sound is definitely there. I have to see. Feeling like Alice about to jump down the rabbit hole, I swim up to that dark, ominous spot. All around is suddenly quiet. There is no phone. Only my heart is thrumming—as if to remind me that my life continuing beyond this point is a fragile prospect at best.
“Is anybody there?”
Of course, I don’t say it—only think. But even in my head the question sounds absurd. What am I expecting to happen? Will a voice emanate from the doorway, telling me that yes indeed somebody is there? And to come on in for a nice pot of tea and a plate of scones? Jeez.
Anyway, I’m not so sure that I want a response. After all, it could just be a wrong number. And who’d be calling a wrecked ship anyway? A cheap dry cleaner saying they can’t get those ketchup stains out of Jeffrey Dahmer’s long johns? A board of trustees gathering signatures against owners who won’t pick up their dogs’ shit at the entrance to Trump Tower? David Miscavige demanding to know why Tom Cruise won’t return his calls?
And what if it’s so much worse than that? What if really there’s some unnameable horror lurking in there? Something deep down that makes sounds of ringing phones to draw in confused, unsuspecting divers? That reaches up with Lovecraftian tentacles and rips the will to live from helpless stomachs and wobbling knees? But, of course, such things couldn’t possibly exist…
Did I really just wet my already wet wetsuit?
Suddenly, I notice the source of the sound. It is indeed a phone, and it’s not inside the ominous doorway. Rather, it’s hanging on the outside wall right next to the doorway, covered with barnacles and seaweed. I am riveted to the spot, my eyes glued to this new piece of information. Now I can’t decide whether the existence of an actual phone ringing underwater is less or more disturbing.
This looks like one of those payphones from the seventies, the kind you’d see in a cloud of cigarette smoke at the back of a seedy bar—only this one is on a boat. I gaze at it in stupor. Were payphones on luxury ocean liners even a thing? This feels like something I should know.
And then it rings again.
If I could jump out of my skin into a less spooky scenario, I would—preferably one involving a sun lounger, a suitably trashy novel and a nice cappucino. That phone really is ringing! Underwater! On a ship that sank nearly fifty years ago! Unbelievable! And now what am I supposed to do? Why the hell don’t I feel safe? And again, what am I expecting to happen? All of this is beginning to make the skin on my back crawl to China—or somewhere far away at the very least.
Almost against my will, I draw closer. My hand reaches out…
Of course, I meant to say ‘hello’. And, of course, I can’t actually say ‘hello’ with my mouth stuffed full of breathing apparatus. So, naturally, I do the completely nonsensical thing of saying ‘hallo’ into the receiver of a decades old phone that shouldn’t be ringing underwater while next to a bowel-emptyingly dark doorway that leads down into the ocean floor to… well, I really don’t want to think about that.
“Don’t do this to me, Rosalie! Come on!”
Now that’s about all the blood-curdling bullshit I’m prepared to take. I squeal a rather unconvincing “Fuck off!” into the receiver then let it go. It continues to yell back at me as it drifts down on its tethered trajectory, thudding dully against the wall. I twist away, determined to put as much distance between me and it as possible…
“Wake up, Rosalie! Come on!”
I’m convulsing on my boyfriend’s boat. Water spews from my mouth, slicking over the deck and squelching between his toes. He’s crouched beside me, all white-face and crazed eyes, trying to slap some sense into my cheeks. How… romantic? I splutter and cough some more before pushing his hands away.
“Holy Christ, you had me worried there!”
I look up at him. Our eyes lock. I’m about to say something… but I can’t.
So, I sit up instead, bent forward so that my head hangs between my knees. That’s when I see it. The phone. Or, more correctly, the receiver. A piece of the cord is still attached, though frayed at the other end. There are barnacles and some pieces of seaweed all over it. And I’m gripping it so hard that my knuckles feel like they’ll burst through my skin.
The phone rings.
by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2021