Chapter 1- In the Beginning
The Arctic North Pole
Unbeknown to most of the earth’s approximate six billion inhabitants a large, solid, piece of matter was hurtling towards their planet at an unprecedented speed. As with all asteroids and comets, only a few informed astronomers were monitoring its path with any great scientific interest. Its size and trajectory were no cause for concern, either to the professional or amateur star-gazer. Unbeknown to them, this innocent piece of rock rapidly approaching the earth’s atmosphere was unique and was about to introduce a new chapter to the earth’s history. During the millions of years since the earth’s existence countless meteors of this type have entered the atmosphere and merely burnt to insignificance before reaching the earth’s surface. One such exception occurred sixty-five million years ago. On that occasion, the result was not only the extinction of every species of dinosaur but also almost every air breathing being on earth. Unbeknown to all the present inhabitants on earth, history was about to be repeated but in a very different way.
After travelling through the earth’s atmosphere and disintegrating to almost nothing, the remnants of the small meteorite crashed into the ice and snow of the Arctic with so little force that observatories throughout the northern hemisphere registered an insignificant spike on the Richter scale, certainly not enough for concern. Fragments of the projectile were scattered over a widespread area around the steaming core of the meteorite that lay cracked open like a broken egg. To the naked eye, all that could be seen were the jagged edges of rocks, hundreds of millions of years old, that a few minutes ago had been hurtling randomly around the universe until the beckoning pull of earth’s gravity provided it with a final resting place.
But these shards of stone once belonged to a planet that had disintegrated long ago, in a time from a by-gone age. The small planet had supported life forms similar to the simple single cell protozoa found on earth. Amongst this array of creatures existed a strain of microbes that flourished in an air enriched environment. These microbes survived because of a flexible trait in their genes that enabled them to adapt to their ever-changing environment, similar to many species on earth. The gobi is an example of a fish that can actually change sex as and when necessary; the wolf, which only breeds when enough elk is available to sustain the extra mouths to be fed. The characteristic of these microbes was the capability of shutting down its entire life support functions in inclement conditions, for an indefinite period of time. Now, the cold, pure, air of the Arctic began to penetrate the fissures of these alien rocks, enveloping the microscopic organisms with a life giving essential. The microbes that had laid dormant for millions of years, harboring in their ancient tomb were silently beginning to stir.
The cold was not a factor, compared to the extreme temperatures encountered during its journey though the millenniums -50c in the Arctic appeared positively balmy; their activated body structure contained a high percentage of glycerol which enabled them to withstand the cold. Slowly, they began to rise into the atmosphere, like an invisible army gingerly forming ranks after a long march and a short rest. Almost immediately they began to reproduce, the single cells splitting and creating more cells which split and created more cells - ad infinitum. The air provided them with an elixir, an elixir for life as they began reproducing with full abandon and as they did so the swirling winds at the top of the world began to cast the harbingers of death to the four corners of the earth.
Their first victim was an old male polar bear that had ventured too far north, probably in an attempt to quietly find a place to die. Ironically, its wishes were granted but not in a manner of its own choosing. The microbes invaded every orifice of the unsuspecting animal and those lucky enough to travel through the mouth and penetrate the respiratory system found themselves in Utopia. The high oxygen content found in the warm, wet, atmosphere of the lungs resulted in reproduction at such a rate that in a matter of seconds the bronchial tracts of the bear were clogged, causing an agonising, yet mercifully quick, death.
As the migration of the deadly microbes rapidly expanded across the top of the globe all animal life fell victim, seals, polar bears, surfacing whales, birds and of course humans. An invisible, living fog had begun to drape a killing curtain of death over the earth and any air breathing creature was doomed to an agonising death.
The first humans to be stricken were five men stationed at a small meteorological observatory in the northern tip of the Canadian Arctic. They were innocently going about their business in the dark cold north unaware of the deadly peril that was silently approaching them. Dave Simons, a happy go lucky type was a seismologist from the University of County Durham U.K. and he had just completed calculating the epicentre of the meteor impact that had occurred only thirty minutes ago. He estimated that their small enclave of buildings had escaped destruction by a mere 149 miles.
“We just had a close shave Chalkey”, he shouted out to the cook who was his usual grumpy ‘who gives a shit?’ self. A retired sergeant from the catering corp. of Her Majesty’s army Chalkey White had never gotten used to civilian life. A balding, pot-bellied bachelor, his lot in life was to cook for those who couldn’t, in the most God-forsaken reaches of the world. Then, on his return to civilisation with plenty of hard cash he would booze and whore it up until he was broke and then repeat the whole process again. Apart from his ornery attitude he was indeed a great cook and in an emergency he was known to be unflappable as his years of army training would kick in, which would prove invaluable. But he was powerless to repel the enemy that was about to invade the sanctuary of their heated living quarters. The first indicator came when a representative from a Chilean research team, Miguel Santes began to choke and reach for his throat. He had been sitting next to Dave reviewing some statistics, suddenly, with no warning he stood and kicked away his chair. This caught the attention of both Chalky and Dave but before they could react they were simultaneously displaying the same afflictions. Eyes bulging, mouth wide open in a desperate attempt to reach for a breath that wasn’t there. Their faces turning first red, then scarlet before finally turning a deathly blue as their bodies fought in vain for a whiff of life giving air. With flailing arms and bodies bouncing together in a macabre dance of death, they died. During the commotion, hot soup and food that was being prepared on the stove had been overturned and was now seeping towards dislodged electrical equipment. Grease from the cooker caught fire and in a matter of seconds the small hut was ablaze, propane gas tanks began to heat and explode and within minutes the observatory station was no more. The other two inhabitants of the station had been outside dressed to the nines in the latest technologically correct cold weather clothing, feeding their packs of dogs. Neither they nor the dogs were in a position to care if the place burnt down.
With a frightening speed the murderous microbes were breeding exponentially and continued southwards with their deeds of death. Even the worst chemical or biological weapons ever conceived by the super powers could never have had such a devastating effect as was being concocted by these silent, invisible invaders. Ironically, the purpose of such weapons was to enable enemy forces to occupy territory with minimum resistance and destruction - a feat that was being perfected by these invisible warriors. It appeared that history was indeed about to repeat itself, as they did 65 million years ago, the microbes were on the verge of killing every air-breathing being on earth. The theories that had abounded over the years. A cloud of dust obliterating the sun, the change in temperature that resulted in all the same sex being born which in turn led to extinction of the dinosaurs. Regardless of what the theories were, the reality was that the whole life-cycle of the earth was about to turn another revolution.
Underneath the frozen ice-packs between Canada and Greenland in the Lincoln Sea the nuclear submarine USS Augusta was patrolling the ocean depths. Its official mission was to gather scientific data for a secret government project. So secret that Admiral John Stanford had no idea of the specific objectives of the mission. The ‘need to know’ principle was in full force and the civilian scientists on board were keeping ‘mum’ about the whole thing. Admiral Stanford was a wizened old veteran and his take was that the cold war was over and the necessity for nuclear submarines supporting long range inter-continental ballistic missiles was about as much use as tits on a bull. Especially in the Arctic, who is going to attack? Canada? Greenland? Hardly, in his opinion this was just a make work project for a friend of a senator. Nevertheless, orders were orders, and he had been in the navy too long to question his lot in life. A third generation matelot, he was a navy man right through to the cockles of his heart. He was of medium height but the once muscular body was now best described as portly. However, he was still active and made sure he participated in cardio exercise every day, even on board the submarine. A regime he insisted must be extended to all personnel serving on any submarine he commanded. His eyes were a startling blue and were the highlight of his ruggedly handsome face hardened by his many years at sea. His career in fact had involved him in just about every theatre of war the U.S. had ever participated in during his tenure in the navy. From the Vietnam War right up to the Gulf War with a few other sorties in between that the media was never privy to. A widower, he transferred to submarines just after his wife died, fifteen years ago. He had two children a daughter, Lucille, living in Charlestown NC with her husband and two daughters. A son, a Navy Seal killed leading a team during an undercover mission during the Gulf war, leaving a widow and an 18 month old son living in Wilmington NC. For some reason visiting his children had never been the same since his wife died possibly they reminded him too much of her. Consequently, he had never seen his grandchildren although photos were regularly sent to him. As a result, his life was the navy and as with all career channeled individuals it was sometimes difficult to understand that his charges had lives outside this tin fish. As for civilians, that was even worse, he had no real authority over them, sure, he could pull the ‘I’m the captain of this vessel’ routine but after a while that wears a bit thin, especially with the pair of female scientists that were now approaching him. Janet Delaney, the self-installed leader of the team was a Biogeographer studying the geographical distribution of living creatures and Mary Briggs was a Marine Biologist assisting Janet in her research. During the next two years they hoped to cover all the oceans, using the resources of the U.S. Navy, studying the effect of climate change on marine species and their survival expectancies in a Darwinian like research project. But events occurring during the last few hours were creating a disruption to their research. Janet stopped in front of the Admiral and arms akimbo she delivered with her usual abruptness.
“Admiral, we believe there is a serious problem on the surface!” Janet said with some authority.
“Really Miss Delaney - and what is that?” The Admiral replied, trying to stay composed, still looking nonchalantly at the papers in front of him on his desk. He had arrived at that juncture of his career where he just wanted the simple life, give orders, see them obeyed and carry on. But this civilian was making the twilight of his career a living hell, this trip had forced his decision, on his return to base he would retire.
“Numerous carcasses of polar bear, arctic fox, walrus and seal have been sighted floating in the sea.” Janet said as if this should be a startling revelation to the Admiral. It had already been reported to him that an unusual amount of dead animals had been sighted but until now it hadn’t given him cause for alarm.
“So? That’s where a lot of these animals die. We see them all the time.” He replied, continuing his matter of fact poise.
“Not in this magnitude Admiral, there are hundreds maybe even thousands of carcasses floating out there. We would like a detachment of your men to select some samples so we can run some tests.” Janet demanded. So there it was, the latest demand in a long string of demands that had continually tested his patience. Stanford paused momentarily before he answered. Here in front of him were two very beautiful women, in fact too good looking to be shut up in a submarine with 130 sex starved seamen. Janet was short with short dark hair and dark blue eyes that were covered by thick rimmed glasses. She generally wore ‘frumpy’ old fashioned clothes that belied a great figure. No nonsense, all business, she was too focused on her job to have any interest in the seamen on the submarine. Unlike Mary who would have loved to fraternize with the personnel but was kept too busy by her demanding boss. Mary was a few inches taller than Janet with short mouse brown hair and big ‘take me to bed’ brown eyes. These women were far different from the Admiral’s poor late wife. She too had been beautiful but she never questioned the man’s right to make the final decision. It was like a switch had been hit sometime in the beginning of the nineties he mused. One day we had men and women living and working as we had done for thousands of years, suddenly the switch was thrown and the whole world turned around. Now there were female senior officers and you had to think twice before issuing any orders in case they could be considered as sexual harassment. He was cognisant of this before answering, as calmly as he could.
“My orders are quite clear Miss Delaney. We are to continue on this course.”
“Can’t you call headquarters or whoever you have to contact and inform them that we have a potential ecological catastrophe here? I’m sure they would understand.” Janet was insistent.
“As you are aware Miss Delaney, until midday tomorrow we are maintaining radio silence and -”
“May I remind you admiral that your orders are to extend to us full co-operation and all the facilities you have at your disposal.” Janet interrupted unceremoniously.
“And may I remind you Miss Delaney that your requirements do not include jeopardising the safety of my ship, my men or disobeying my orders.” The Admiral replied, raising his voice an octave and not with a little hint of frustration.
Mary Briggs had been quietly witnessing this jockeying for one-upmanship. In fact, she had been witnessing this clash between the modern opinionated woman against the old-fashioned conservative, chauvinistic, male since they arrived on the submarine almost a week ago. At first she had been mildly amused but the incessant badgering the seamen received from Janet had gotten tedious to the point that she had alienated the two women from the crew. Much to Mary’s displeasure. She was a work-hard, play-hard character who had been hoping for a month on board a submarine with her pick of flirtatious seamen at the same time as enjoying a once in a lifetime opportunity to study the flora and fauna of the Arctic first-hand. Miss Goody-two-shoes had put paid to that, shooing away any male that so much as looked at the women. Mary had met Jane at university and during those years of study Janet came across completely different, she appeared humorous and genuinely seemed to care about her work, traits she had in common with Mary. They quickly learnt that the Delaney family originally came from the same part of Ireland as Mary’s grandmother, a further bond. So when Jane was offered the project on the submarine she was told she would need the services of an assistant with the appropriate experience, Mary jumped at the opportunity to work with her. She was beginning to regret that now as the Irish in her was beginning to boil. Up until this point she had, as usual, stayed in the background saying very little, it was time to say something.
“Admiral that activity recorded on the seismic monitor a few hours ago? It could have been a nuclear explosion, the Russians could be testing.”
“Absolutely not. First of all, the readings do not support a nuclear bomb. Secondly, the Russians are not in a position to carry out testing without our knowledge and thirdly there is a treaty that prevents nations from testing in the Arctic.” Stanford said.
“Treaties have never stopped countries before and after all, something did happen up there and an extraordinary large section of wildlife has been affected. Now, you have all the facilities here to test for radio activity and if it isn’t that, we have the expertise to establish the cause of death. At the most, you will lose half a day. What do you say Admiral?” Mary asked. Well, here was a compromise. It wasn’t a demand from a spoiled brat but a reasonable synopsis of what had occurred with a perfectly good solution. Admiral Stanford reluctantly agreed to order a detail of men to retrieve a carcass to carry out the necessary tests. He called in his number two, Lieutenant Hargreaves to carry out the orders.
Oblivious to the carnage that was occurring on the surface a detachment of divers were subsequently detailed to obtain the carcass of a dead polar bear. Meanwhile, the microbe invasion was spreading southwards at an alarming speed. Any air-breathing creature was being invaded by a multitude of minute microbes until they bred themselves to death in their host’s lungs. A few of the off-spring at the top of the tracheal tubes were able to return to the atmosphere to begin their prolific reproduction cycle. The others remained in the bodies where their normal short life-cycles were played to the end, at the expense of their victims.
Their journey continued rapidly southwards over the continental shelf of North America, Russia and Asia killing everyone and everything in their wake. The further south the horde traveled towards the warmer climes reproduction began to increase to unprecedented rates.
In Maine, an elderly couple was being admitted to the emergency ward of Portland General Hospital. They were still alive thanks to the skill and training of a pair of paramedics and an alert paper boy. Little Robbie Peterson had been delivering papers on this particular route for two years. During that time old John Hamax would be waiting at his white picket fence for his morning paper, weather permitting, accompanied by his old mutt, Pippa. On those really bad days, John would wait inside looking expectantly from the front window for his daily rag. On these days rather than toss the paper over the fence Robbie would make the extra effort to walk to the front door where John Hamax III would gratefully meet him and take his paper. This was a gesture not forgotten at Christmas time when a hefty tip was always proffered.
On this particular morning John was nowhere to be seen. It was cold, a light frost had blanketed anything that was exposed to the elements but it was a pleasant morning, one that would typically find John standing outside. Even so, Robbie would have expected to see John at the window. Concerned, Robbie lifted the latch to the neatly painted white gate and walked slowly up the narrow path leading to the Cape Cod style home. He peered through the window. Pippa could be seen wagging his tail, pleased to see him, but he appeared agitated. At the edge of the carpet was a small mound of the dog’s excrement. Robbie realised something was wrong, neither John nor his wife would leave the dog like this. Robbie immediately dropped his heavy bag of papers, jumped the fence separating the Hamax’s house from next door and ran up the path to the neighbour’s house and began banging on the door. Dave Morelli was an out of work commercial fisherman, someone who for years had been up with the crack of dawn but during recent times had nothing to get up for. It was a few minutes before Dave finally answered the door but on seeing the concern on the paper boy’s face and learning the circumstances he leapt into action. Running back upstairs to don some clothes he quickly reiterated the problem to his wife. Knowing the Lomaxs habits she didn’t hesitate, she called 911 while Dave was dressing. Dave ran back down the stairs where a flustered Robbie was still standing and retraced his steps by jumping the fence. He went round to the back of the house and tried the rear door. It was locked but he knew if either of them were up they would be seen in the kitchen. There was no one to be seen. Banging on the door and shouting at the top of his voice brought no response, except the excited yelps of Pippa. Without wasting any more time he broke the glass on the door, reached in and unlocked the mortise lock and opened the door. Quickly he ran up the stairs with Pippa close at his heels. Modesty prevented him from bursting into their bedroom so he tapped lightly on the door.
“Mr. Hamax are you O.K.? Mrs. Hamax are you there?” Dave asked but receiving no reply he gingerly opened the door and saw two comatose bodies lying in the bed. He couldn’t smell any gas in the air but a sixth sense told him a lack of oxygen was the problem. He ran to the windows and fully opened them. It was at that time he heard the siren of the ambulance approaching the house. Quickly, he ran hell for leather downstairs to unlock the front door as the paramedics came bursting through. Following a brief exchange of words one of the paramedics returned to the ambulance to obtain some oxygen bottles while his partner was led to the bedroom by Dave. It was established the Hamaxs were still alive but barely. Then Dave noticed the cause of their predicament. Being an old-fashioned house there was a fireplace in the bedroom. Although fully modernized, they had opted to have a natural gas fire placed in the grate rather than block off the whole fireplace. Up until the early hours of the morning a brisk north wind had been blowing. It had apparently snuffed out the flames in the fire but the gas was still continuing to waft into the room. With both the door and windows closed the room had turned into a death-trap. Dave knelt down to turn off the small gas tap.
Now armed with this knowledge the two paramedics began to move into top gear. Oxygen was immediately administered and drips were inserted into their arms to provide the necessary life support via intravenous liquids. By now the commotion had alerted other neighbours and they provided assistance with the stretchers allowing more time for the paramedics to care for their patients. One of the rescuers had unwittingly stepped into the present previously left by Pippa and had subsequently trodden the mess up the stairs and into the bedroom. From the time of the initial call to their arrival in the emergency room turned out to be less than forty minutes. It was this speed and efficiency that saved the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Hamax. It was this accident that would also save the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Hamax while everyone else around them would be losing theirs.
St. Santia - Caribbean
The clear blue waters of the Caribbean offered some of the best scuba-diving in the world. The colours, marine life and aquatic vegetation were a far cry from the icy landscapes of a North American winter. Bob Grayling was one of four divers in a group chartering a small boat from their island resort. He was a handsome blue eyed man with a shock of unkempt blonde hair and a tanned well-built muscular torso almost void of body fat. He could easily pass for a Californian beach bum. His diving buddy for this dive was Maria Desouza a legal secretary from Toronto. She was an attractive slim, short red-head with dark brown eyes. She was generally shy and withdrawn due mainly to a history of being sexually abused by foster parents but Bob managed to bring the best out of her from their very first meeting. They had met at the International airport in St Maarten as they waited for a local flight to the small island of St. Santia where it was claimed was the best diving conditions in the Caribbean. Bob and his roommate, Tony Dilenti, found themselves waiting in line next to Maria and her friend, Marlene LeCroix. Fins and snorkels bulging from nylon nets carried by all four of them were a dead giveaway as to their intentions. Usually travelers on diving packages will rent the heavy equipment but when it comes to mask, snorkel and fins, no self-respecting diver could enjoy a dive using rented personal equipment. So naturally, with common interests apparent, a conversation began and they soon discovered they were all traveling to the same destination. When their flight was called, or rather their pilot, cum baggage-handler, cum navigator, cum tour guide, approached them they discovered they were the only passengers on the twin-prop to the island. Bob sat in the rear of the plane with Maria, he had found her accent both friendly and sensual, but then coming from Boston almost any female would have an interesting accent, well almost anyone, unless of course they came from New York. Tony sat quietly next to Marlene LeCroix, originally from Quebec but now a Systems Analyst at a large bank in Toronto. She was not a slim girl but nonetheless had a good, well, proportioned figure. Her eyes were a vivid green set in rosy red cheeks framed by long sandy coloured hair. She was a bubbly character; always smiling revealing a set of pearly whites that would have made her a poster girl for any dentist. Tony, an architect from Boston was of medium height but prone to weight gain and as a result, he always seemed to retain chubby cheeks and with it a low self-esteem. His brown eyes were always alert, looking, observing and his brown hair was fashioned in a college cut that never appeared to need combing. This unlikely pairing probably contributed to the cordial but nevertheless perfunctory conversation that was had during the short flight. The flight was bumpy and uncomfortable but not enough to dispel the expectation of a great holiday. Little did they know that this was to be the last flight of their lives.
The foursome was on only their second dive of the vacation and they were taking it easy. A relaxing forty minute dive at between 40 and 60 feet would not be too taxing on the system, no decompression times to worry about, yet the full beauty of the clear waters could still be appreciated. Bob signaled to Maria that it was time to return to the boat, she acknowledged with the globally known O.K. sign, forefinger and thumb forming an ‘O’ with the other fingers extended, and they began a slow ascent to the surface. Even though it was a short, shallow dive risk of the ‘bends’ is ever present if ascents are made too quickly. They were now within visual range of the boat at a depth of 5 metres and approximately 20 metres distant, Tony and Marlene were finning languidly towards them. As they approached the surface Bob stretched out his arm above his head and slowly turned full circle looking above them for errant boats. The fact that a motionless boat surrounded by buoys and flying the international divers’ flag, red with white diagonal stripes, was no guarantee an ignorant tourist in a high powered boat was not going to plough over some divers as they reached the surface.
Bob’s hand broke the surface a few yards away from their chartered boat and he began swimming towards the ladder on the stern. A few seconds later Maria surfaced and instantly blew out her mouthpiece and shouted a large ‘whooop’ of pleasure. Bob returned the call and then called out to Dexter, the owner of the chartered boat. Normally, Dexter would have been on his feet watching the ever present bubbles in expectation of his charge’s return, while barking out orders to his two sons as they assisted the divers back onto the boat. But this morning, much to Bob’s displeasure, no-one could be seen. Grabbing the top rung of the ladder with one hand he bent his legs and reached down with his other hand to remove his fins. Lifting them out of the water momentarily to let the warm sea water drain off before he tossed them over the stern and onto the deck of the boat. Now he was able to step onto the bottom rung of the ladder without the awkward obstructions of the fins. As his head and shoulders rose above the stern he shouted out some good-natured ribbing to Dexter and his sons for not assisting him but his voice trailed to silence at the sight of three bodies lying in grotesque positions on the deck of the boat. For a few seconds he gazed hypnotically, unable to grasp the reality that was before him until he felt the bile in the pit of his stomach rapidly rising to his mouth. Instinctively he leapt sideways and backwards into the water where he retched uncontrollably. At first, Maria thought he was being his usual zany self but the sound and visual reaction of his discomfort wiped the smile from her face. She quickly removed her fins and tossed them into the boat and began to scale the ladder.
‘No - don’t go up there’. It was a desperate cry from Bob as he tried to reach for her arm to prevent her from seeing the ghastly sight. Bob was only a few metres from her but he was still wearing his air-tank and weight-belt and without the fins his movements were quite cumbersome. But with an effort he managed to reach out and snare Maria’s weigh-belt to prevent her from peering over the top.
“Bob stop it. I don’t like it - what the hell is wrong with you?” Maria was suddenly quite concerned. Admittedly, she had only met Bob a few days ago and how well can you really know someone in that short space of time? But this strange behavior was quite out of character compared to the Bob she had begun to know.
“You can’t go up there Maria”. Bob shouted at her. She turned to look at him.
“What do you mean I can’t go up there? How the hell do you think we are going to get back to shore?” Maria replied, she looked away and tried unsuccessfully to continue to climb the ladder but again Bob’s vice-like grip on her belt made it impossible. However, she was too uncomfortable with the situation to let go of the ladder and slip back into the water with a man who was beginning to act a little too crazy for her liking. The impasse was broken by the sound of Tony and Marlene simultaneously breaking the surface of the water only a few metres away. Not fully understanding the pose of their two fellow divers Tony swam towards them and began to tread water while removing his mouthpiece.
“What’s up guys? You two look as though you’ve seen a ghost”. At Tony’s question Maria looked at Bob for an explanation. He waited for a few seconds while Marlene joined the trio at the back of the boat and then he told them what he had seen. At first they didn’t believe him, it was too incredulous. They had seen no other boats during their dive and it was unlikely that food poisoning could have killed all three men at once and so suddenly. Tony motioned with his head for Maria to get down so he could look for himself. As she climbed down Bob released the grip on her belt and she immediately swam ungainly, without her fins, over to Marlene, still uncertain about Bob’s state of mind. Tony didn’t look as long at the bodies as Bob had and the fact that he was expecting a grisly sight his reaction was far more controlled. He slowly slipped back into the water and the look on his face was all the confirmation the girls needed.
“So what do we do now? We have to get back to the island in the boat. I can’t swim that far,” Maria asked, her voice beginning to crack with emotion. They all considered this for a few seconds then Bob took control.
“Tony and I will have to get into the boat and we will move the bodies. We’ve all done enough diving trips on boats to know how to get this baby back”.
“I can’t go up there with three bodies lying there, can’t you throw them overboard?” It was Maria who was now moving towards being hysterical.
“Be reasonable Maria we can’t just dispose of the bodies, the authorities are going to want to know what happened. We’ll find something to cover them up, don’t worry”. Bob said soothingly, he was trying to console her and he gave her arm an affectionate squeeze and as he did so he felt the goose bumps that had emerged all over her body. Without further hesitation Bob climbed the ladder, closely followed by Tony. On boarding the death-boat they rid themselves of all their equipment and stowed it safely away. Immediately, they began to look in the many cupboards that were located all over the deck of the boat. In one of the cupboards they found a large canvas awning that looked as though it was used for covering the exposed part of the deck either from the sun or rain. Then they positioned the three dead men together, as best as they could and covered them with the canvas. Once this was accomplished they went to the rear of the boat and helped the two girls onto the deck. Marlene had calmed down but Maria was still bordering on the hysterical. They all walked gingerly past the canvas never taking their eyes off it as if they were expecting something ghoulish to happen unexpectedly. At that second Maria in her nervousness stood on one of the ropes trailing from the canvas and with her other foot she tripped on the same piece of rope which flung her head long onto the covered bodies, dislodging the canvas and leaving her face to face with the grisly, contorted death mask of the youngest of Dexter’s sons. Her scream was loud enough for her to have been heard on the island, had there have been anyone alive to hear it. Bob turned and picked her up and was ready to slap her face in the time honoured fashion for breaking a woman out of their hysterical fits but it was not necessary, she fell into a merciful faint. Just as quickly Tony had reached down and covered up the body before Marlene could see anything, her view had been obstructed by Bob and Maria. Tony carried Maria’s limp form down the wooden steps into the cabin and laid her down on a bunk. Marlene followed him down and stayed beside her friend. Topside Bob proceeded to start the engines, Tony came back up the steps and began hauling in the anchors. Once the anchors were on board and secured he retrieved the diving flag. Within minutes they were headed for shore, leaving the marker buoys that Dexter had secured where they were in case they needed to return to the spot after reporting to the authorities.
As they approached the marina everything appeared to be normal, they could see the sun worshippers lying on the beach and a few swimmers basking in the sea. The first hint that something terrible was wrong occurred when Tony, who was standing on the prow, sighted a wayward snorkeler directly in their path. He yelled to the man to get out of the way even though he knew it was futile. If he couldn’t hear or feel the boat approaching there was no way he would hear anything else. He signaled to Bob who slowed the engines and gently steered the boat towards the swimmer.
“Hey bud, you’re a long way from shore”. Tony shouted, but there was no response. Then he noticed the body was lifeless, stretched out in classic snorkeling form but absolutely motionless except for the bobbing of the waves. He unhitched a boat-hook and gently turned the swimmer over.
“Oh my god!” Tony squealed and immediately dropped the boat-hook as though an electric current had been transmitted right through it from the thing in the sea. The body had the same macabre look as Dexter and his sons that he had seen when he first looked into the back of the boat. Bob came running towards him retrieving the boat-hook. He quickly glanced down at the mutated form in the water, he didn’t need to look twice to understand that whatever killed this poor sod had killed Dexter and his sons.
“Tony get the binoculars, they’re hanging next to the wheel.” Bob shouted at Tony who was still gazing down at the body that had now returned face down in the water. At Bob’s words he snapped out of his trance and proceeded to fetch the binoculars. He passed them to Bob and as he did their eyes met. It was as if they knew what was going to be discovered on the beach but they had to look, they had to know. The binoculars were high powered U.S. army issue, who knows how Dexter had gotten hold of them. Tony brought them to his eyes, made a few adjustments to the focus and set his sights on the beaches along from the marina. There was no movement. He began to scan further along the beach. To the naked eye the view was just like an advertising feature in a travel brochure, the greens and blues of the sea lapping over the sun-drenched, white, beaches populated by scantily clad tourists languishing on lounges beneath the shade of palm trees. The reality of the view, revealed with the assistance of the binoculars, was like viewing a giant photograph, except the waves and the fronds of the trees were providing some movement to the vista. Homing in on one of the bathers lying on a lounger his worst fears were realised. Requiring further confirmation he turned his attention to the furthest point on the beach, a small bar that provided snacks and refreshments. By this time of the day the place would be humming but the bartenders and patrons were lifeless. One of the servers was lying prostrate on the floor and the few customers were strewn in various ungainly positions around the tables and floor of the bar.
Slowly he brought the binoculars down from his eyes and let them hang from its lanyard round his neck. He nervously wiped his hand across his mouth and looked down to the cabin at the two girls. Maria had recovered and was being comforted by Marlene but all eyes now turned to Bob.
“There’s no easy way to say this, but while we were diving something has killed everybody in sight.” Bob stated to nobody in particular. Involuntarily, both girls brought their hands to their mouths and Tony slouched down on the deck in silent shock. Continuing, Bob added, “what’s more, I can’t see a living thing out there, no birds, dogs, cats, nothing. Every living creature appears to be dead.”
“This is too incredible, what the hell could cause this?” Tony asked.
“Whatever it is couldn’t we still get it?” Maria shouted up from below but before anyone could offer any conjecture Maria broke into more hysterics. This time Bob did not hesitate, he jumped down to the cabin, bypassing the steps and slapped her hard across the cheek. She was silenced immediately but if looks could kill he would have been as dead as the bodies littering the shore. He took a deep breath and attempted to get some order back amongst them.
“In view of the circumstances I think we should dispose of the three bodies into the sea. Then we will head to the marina and attempt to get some sort of help from there. By phone, CB, radio, whatever. While Tony and I are topside maybe the two of you can make a start by trying various channels on the radio.” Bob suggested, but he didn’t hold out much hope that the girls would contact anybody although it would keep them busy and more importantly, it would keep their eyes averted from the grisly task Tony and him were about to perform. He looked at each of them and on receiving no response he climbed back on deck, cut the engines and began to move away the tarps covering the three bodies. They found two pairs of work gloves in a work box on the starboard side of the boat and began moving the bodies to the side of the boat. In case their cause of death was something contagious they made sure not to let any of their own exposed skin touch the bodies as they tossed them overboard. None of the four survivors were particularly religious but each had their own silent prayers as every splash accepted another soul into the sea. Meanwhile, Maria and Marlene tried unsuccessfully to tune into any voice communication surfing the wavebands on either the ship’s radio or the local CB bands. In addition to the main radio there were a couple of hand held radios that the girls brought topside after they heard the third and final splash. The two men were sitting down regaining their breath, it had been quite exerting tossing three fully grown men overboard, especially immediately after a good dive. As they all sat topside with the boat bobbing gently in rhythm with the gentle waves there was a realization of an eerie silence that they all seemed to notice for the first time. With the engine off there were no sounds of gulls squawking, no jet-skis or speedboats powering through the waves, no hawkers shouting their wares and no calypso steel drum band supplying background music. Just the rhythmic sound of the water lapping against the side of the boat and the surf breaking over the beach. In other circumstances it may have been idyllic but it sent shivers down their spines. Bob broke the silence.
“Let’s go. The quicker we get to shore the sooner we can reach help.”
Bob started the engine, pushed the throttle to almost full and they began to speed along the smooth blue sea. Nobody spoke during the trip back to the marina. Bob searched the horizon as he operated the helm and Tony searched in vain with the binoculars for any sign of life. Maria systematically tried raising a response on every band on the CB while Marlene tried the same thing on the ship’s radio. All that was heard was the familiar cackle and the usual frequency noises, but no sound of any people. They found Dexter’s cell phone and tried dialing various contacts from his list, to no avail. Bob slowed the engine as they went through the entrance of the marina, the girls came topside and all four of them searched fruitlessly for signs of life. Bob had the boat just above idle speed as he approached the dock, he had never had to dock a boat of this size before and he knew from experience that docking can be an adventure even for the most experienced boaters. But with little wind and a ‘straight-in’ parallel dock any onlookers, had there have been any, other than those on the boat, would never have known he hadn’t accomplished this many times before. Tony went forward and dropped the tethered fenders over the docking side of the boat. He then prepared to jump onto the old, rickety, wooden dock to secure the boat. As the fenders touched he jumped athletically from the boat and tied the bow and stern lines. So now with the boat secured Bob turned off the engine, climbed off the boat and walked with Tony towards the small bamboo hut that represented the boat charter’s office. The girls remained on the boat, watching them walk towards the office while maintaining their vigil on the radios. As the men went towards the hut bodies could be seen floating in the sea beneath the very planks they were walking on. As they approached the hut they could see even further carnage in the cool shade of the trees. Inside the hut, Theresa, the young girl who had booked their charter lay against the back of her chair, her arms hanging limply beside her, head reaching backwards gazing open-eyed at the ceiling. The once beautiful local girl with her low cut blouses and short miniskirts that brought in more repeat customers than any medium of advertising could ever do was just another fatality.
Bob walked through the makeshift door and picked up the telephone receiver and waited for the dialing tone. On a cork notice board on the wall was a list of emergency numbers including the coast guard, police and emergency services in the main town of St. Johns. One by one he dialed them all, each call proving fruitless. He began to think that because of the disaster the phone lines were not performing correctly. To test them he dialed the long distance number of the Hurricane Centre in Bermuda, he knew it wasn’t hurricane season but at least there should be someone manning the phones. He received a recorded message referring him to another number which he dialed and waited. As he waited a chilling, tingling fear began to run through his entire body. After two minutes with no reply he hung-up. He looked at the board again and dialed the Miami Hurricane Centre where there was sure to be someone but that yielded the same result. Finally he dialed the Massachusetts coast guard whose number was etched in his memory from all his diving expeditions off the eastern sea-board. To his astonishment, this 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year establishment was not replying to his emergency call.
“Tony, this is unreal,” Bob’s voice was barely audible, “I can’t reach anybody. It’s like we are the only people left alive in the whole world.”