Charles Mezger looked out on the ocean around him. The water was choppy, splashing against the side of the sailboat. A heavy breeze carried the smell of salt. For a moment, while looking at the far off horizon, Charles could forget about the horrors from only a week ago. Reluctantly he turned his head. The shore was a nightmare of broken wood and broken lives. His beloved St. Augustine lay in ruin. Clutched tightly in his right hand was a newspaper, only a week old but with all the signs of age, crinkles and smudged ink. The only legible writing on the newspaper was the date and headline: August 29th, 1880, Storm Hits. A heat built up behind Charles' eyes.
"Can you believe it?" A well-built man with a handlebar mustache yelled from the port side of the sailboat, big grin on his face. "With the whole coast in ruins we are about to strike it rich."
Charles stared on, not reacting to what the man said. He had met this man a few days ago. His name was Brutus, a fitting name Charles thought for he could think of no better way to describe the man other than a brute. Brutus laughed at the hardship of those on shore with such a detachment, as if he was immune to their cries for help or to the cries of the dead. It sickened Charles to share a boat with him but in the end he needed the brute.
"How much did you say was down there again?" Brutus asked already having heard the answer many times before.
"More than you can imagine. The most precious things on earth." Charles remarked flatly.
A day after the hurricane hit Charles heard the news that the SS City of Vera Cruz had gone down during the chaos. Charles knew that ship. He had waited for its return from New York for weeks. His wife had been aboard it and with no word from her since that day a heavy dread had draped over him. Brutus was a sailor and the only man Charles could convince to take him to the supposed site of the sinking. He promised him riches, of which there were sure to be plenty.
"We're almost there. We just have to get a little further from the coast, into deeper water." Brutus' smile widened.
At Charles' feet, on the floor of the boat, was an Aqualung. Invented only a few years ago they were very rare and very expensive. Charles sold most of what the storm didn't destroy to afford it. He had to find her. He had to know.
"Should be right about here." The boat slowed to a stop as Brutus messed with a tangle of ropes and the sail.
"I'm going to need you to stay up here, keep the boat steady and wait for me." Charles picked up and looked at the breathing apparatus. He had never practiced with it; he didn't have the time. It was a pretty simple design: a tank with air, a mouthpiece and a hose. Simple, Charles reminded himself as he swallowed.
"Don't just sit there, go make me rich." Brutus bellowed while dropping an anchor.
Charles strapped on the tank, making sure to tighten each buckle. Brutus walked over to help, all the while whistling a jolly tune. After it was properly fastened, the goggles were on and mouthpiece in place Charles stepped up to the side of the boat. He saw his reflection in the water gazing up at him, for a moment he wondered what else was down there looking up. He took a deep breath from the tank to confirm that it worked. Brutus gave him a reassuring head nod, still smiling of course. Charles closed his eyes and jumped in.
The cold water smashed against him and he immediately began to sink. The flippers he wore on his feet could barely keep him afloat.
"Here I go." Charles muttered as he allowed the ocean to drag him down, water rushing in until it covered his head.
Around him was a dazzling amount of space stretching on for seemingly forever. Rays of light piercing the surface of the water like spears, creating a slowly darkening gradient of blue. Charles moved his legs back and forth like two alternating pendulums to slow his descent. Below him he could see almost nothing but vague, blurry outlines.
Suddenly Charles felt the water change direction and intensity. A current, left over from the storm, grabbed him and pulled him down faster then he intended. He kicked his feet faster to slow it but it was not enough. The depths were too strong.
As he fell, Charles started to notice a feeling of lightheadedness. His panic decreased with every inch that he fell. The gas in his lungs was becoming more dense the further down he went and his brain was starting to feel it.
Charles started to laugh. First a small giggle forced it's way out of the mouthpiece, then a full on laughter struggled out and ascended as bubbles. He laughed and felt a calm that had avoided him for the past week.
The descent continued and Charles almost forgot where he was. In fact the thought would have left him had he not caught a glimpse of a large object in the murky water below him. The Vera Cruz lay still like a slain giant in a watery grave. It surprised Charles to see how quickly the sea had accepted the ship. Weeds and fish incorporated it into the seascape.
Time began to twist. One moment Charles was certain he had stepped off the boat only seconds ago and the next moment he had been lost in the darkness for days. Everything was uncertain and he was dizzy.
The Vera Cruz was getting bigger below Charles' feet. In the distance, from inside the hull, Charles could hear singing, a chorus of voices calling out to him from the bottom of the ocean floor. Charles tried to respond but his bubbles couldn't form his words. He sunk some more before finally touching the hull. The singing got louder. It no longer came from any one direction but circled him as he circled the ship.
Finally Charles found an entrance. A crack welcomed him inside. He swam towards it, kicking his feet and trying to focus through the ever-growing cloud of delusion grapping at his consciousness. Once inside the singing stopped. He was left in complete stillness of the ship. A few fish glided around the vacant room before him. Charles wasn't sure what to expect but this view knocked the wind from his euphoric lungs. The blue world seemed even bluer.
Charles pushed off from the inner wall and drifted further into the cabin. Bodies of trapped crewmembers and passengers floated by him, he looked at each face willing them not to be her. His anxiety returned to him like rain returns to earth.
He pushed through a doorway into another room of bodies. A little girl, falling apart from her week in water, rotated in his direction. He looked at her unmoving face. Her eyes were closed and her mouth slightly open. Charles thoughts began to echo through the water.
Maybe she got off?
An old man floated by next. His eyes were half open, revealing the white lifelessness inside of him.
Maybe she didn't.
Charles turned to the right and saw a long corridor with doors on either side all the way down. He thought for a moment about how much air he had left. He thought about grabbing some diamond bracelets off some of these bodies and going home. He would give Brutus what he wanted, maybe keep some for himself as well. Once home he would begin to rebuild, start over, forget. Maybe that would be best. His heart sunk with this thought. Then something appeared at the end of the hallway. He lifted his head and squinted his eyes.
It was a woman.
Her hair floated in a halo around her head, obscuring her face. The sight struck Charles like lighting. He pushed off the nearest wall towards her. The hallway seemed to stretch, keeping him away from her. It was like a gust of wind blowing him backwards. He grabbed onto the doorframes and pulled himself forward. Closer and closer he came and still he could not make out her face. Her dress was familiar, but surely that dress must be popular. Her hair was brown and long, but that was a very common style, wasn't it?
As he reached her he noticed a silver necklace suspended around her neck. A locket with four words etched into it: My World, My Life. Charles embraced her. He hugged her, and held her. For a while he didn't move. Inside his head he screamed and cried, throwing himself around and cursing the heavens. He slowly spun in a circle while holding her in the eye of his storm. His grip got tighter and tighter with each passing second that he held her. It soon became clear that he wasn't going to let go. How could he let go? What would he do, go back to the surface, to the world of Brutus? No, he couldn't. He could never go back knowing what was below.
Charles took a deep breath, forcing as much oxygen into his lungs as possible before removing the mouthpiece. He let the tank fall away as he held her. Everything got brighter as that breath of oxygen began to run out. He didn't care though. He succeeded in what he came for. In the depths he found his riches.