Youngblood Blog

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Coco Bay: The Awakening

COCO BAY: The Awakening by Marian Youngblood, part-2 of the Green Turtle Cay trilogy

Chapter one:FABRIC OF TIME

USS Eldridge disappeared in a 'misty cloud', according to witnesses of 1943 Philadelphia Experiment

The ship’s bell was the first sound he heard as they crashed back through the time wormhole.

Ed knew that couldn’t be right, because the USS Eldridge didn’t have a bell you could hear down in the hold. It was one of those anachronisms left over from the days of sail, and the captain kept it right next to him up in the wheelhouse. He liked the way it sounded. Reminded him of his sailing days as a boy.

The wheelhouse was no longer functional the way ships used to be when they moved under sail. If you were honest about it, the whole Navy thing was a bit of a dragged-out leftover from three centuries earlier, when all shipyards looked up to Virginia and the vessels created in Norfolk, to sail the high seas.

The warships they launched these days were a far cry from those romantic times. He was just lucky to have a job, he told his mate.

Ed wondered if what had just happened was real, or if he had imagined it. His ears were ringing. But he had heard the bell. That wasn’t imaginary.

He sat where he had landed, his knees throbbing. They’d taken a jolt. It hurt to move. But he could reach his left hand around him in the dark, to help him figure out where he’d been jettisoned. It felt like the same part of the engine room as when he left a few minutes before, but it smelled different. Mixed in with the oil, grease, axle and engine grunge, he smelled blood. But it was still too dark and his eyes were taking a long time to grow accustomed to the dim.

Whatever had possessed him to agree to this experiment?

He recalled the Navy adjutant summoning him and his buddy Mike to their so-called hush-hush meeting in the conference room — just a shack on the periphery of the Navy Yard — and being told his record was ‘immaculate’ and they were offering him extra pay if he agreed.

Agreed to what? he wondered. But the thought of a few extra furloughs with Mike and some real cash in their pockets had already persuaded them they would go for it. Couldn’t be all that hazardous if they were offering it to deckhands, engineers and suchlike. A couple of lieutenants, he noticed, were standing in line after he got out of the conference room. So it wasn’t all about ‘expendable’ manpower, he thought.

He remembered the previous experiment involving the whole crew. At that time the Navy high-ups wanted to prove they could render a ship immune to radar, decommission its electromagnetic signal, so it couldn’t be picked up by enemy surveillance systems — wrapping it like a dynamo with battery cables and such. At the same time the word was they’d found a way to use this new frequency to transport ship and crew — in totality —- through this electromagnetic ‘hole in time’ from one navy yard to another. He didn’t have a say in the matter that time. The Eldridge was the guinea pig. He was just a simple sailor, one of the crew along for the ride. That had worked out all right. Miracle of miracles, she came through with all hands, all officers. So what was this new deal?

Must be dangerous if they were asking politely.

Eldridge bridge before the 'Experiment'

That other time, he and his mates were all so relieved that whatever it was worked okay — and they had been given shore leave, so the Navy sounded like it was happy, too — that they had gone to a bar and gotten a tad high.

None of them noticed that the bar they had gotten drunk in was not their local haunt round the corner from the Norfolk dockyard, but a waitress joint, real high class, in Philadelphia harbor.

He remembered still being in the bar later that evening; they’d all had a few beers, and he and his mate were the ones the others said had disappeared mysteriously. A fight started when some of the other sailors bragged about secret equipment —radar, sonar, special screws, a new compass— and were told to keep their mouths shut. He and Mike were young, didn’t want to get in trouble with older hands. They were relieved when a friendly waitress helped them disappear out the back. It didn’t do for minors to get in brawls on shore. The waitress had been a doll when she was questioned later by Navy personnel. She denied knowing anything about it.

Chesapeake Bay and the back channel from Norfolk, VA to Philadelphia, PA

“We were leaving at two in the morning. The Eldridge had already left at 11 p.m. Someone looking at the harbor that night might have noticed that the Eldridge wasn’t there any more and it did appear in Norfolk. It was back in Philadelphia harbor the next morning, which seems like an impossible feat: if you look at the map you’ll see that merchant ships would have taken two days to make the trip. They would have required pilots to go around the submarine nets, the mines and so on at the harbor entrances to the Atlantic. But the Navy used a special inland channel, the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal, that bypassed all that. We made the trip in about six hours.”

This was something else. There was no fanfare. No slipping out the back channel up the Chesapeake like a thief in the night and reappearing suddenly. This was different. Something to do with this new Navy gadgetry and the way they wrapped ship like an electric blanket in a cocoon of cables. Like they said, must have looked like a giant bicycle dynamo. And they were going to ‘send them through’. That was the word down in the engine room, anyhow.

Navy Destroyer, USS Eldridge, commissioned in 1943

He comforted himself thinking they had actually asked him if he wanted to take part. Not like he was disposable this time, like he had been when he was younger. It was still the Eldridge they were going to ‘send’. This old destroyer was earmarked for fame, one way or the other. That thought comforted him.

He stood up to see if there was an emergency flashlight or a light switch. He moved with difficulty, but his knees felt less shaky. It was then he heard it — a series of awful moans, low down, over to his left. Hard to know where the sound came from over the deep thrub-thrub of the engines. The ringing in his ears subsided and his eyesight was returning. Looked like the same old engine room. If that was right, the flashlights were over by the bulkhead on top of the first-aid cabinet.

He made his way slowly to where the first-aid kit should be and tripped over a body. It lay still. He gasped and skirted round it.

First some light and then see what he was up against.

Sure enough the bulkhead loomed before him and, right where it should be, there at eye level was the first-aid box. Only it looked like somebody had gotten there before him. It was open, empty. Somebody needed bandages in a hurry.

Ghosts regularly come up for air out of Chesapeake Bay

Right on top there was one flashlight. He grabbed it and switched on with a quick flick of his wrist. He was beginning to believe they’d done more than mail his favorite navy vessel through a hydraulic funnel, wrapped in a blanket of steel wool. Maybe they had decided to electrocute the crew and officers —-make sure they didn’t spill the beans in a bar afterwards. When the flashlight beamed, he turned to survey whatever mess he had stumbled into. His eyes met a terrifying scene.

Lying all over the engine room floor, stacked up against fuel tanks, generator cables, leads from the main boilers, were bodies.

That wasn’t it. He recognized the bodies: comrades, buddies, crewmen with whom he’d spent hours of sweat, labor and laughter maintaining one of the US Navy’s greatest warships: nay, one of their greatest experimental vessels.

The bodies were only partial.

Legs were torn off and draped, cascading nonchalantly, against wrenched torsoes. Arms littered rotating cylinder heads connected to the engines and body parts were scattered over the metal floor. That’s why he’d smelled blood. It was everywhere.

What in God’s name could do this?

Arms thrust out from bulkheads, literally fused like they’d been welded on by one of those new sculptor fellas from New York, Kandinsky or whatever they called him. Like an artist’s studio, with nude plaster models cut in pieces and sewn back together to make a fanciful city of zombies or a Hallowe’en play.

Something moved over by the generators. It groaned. If it groaned, maybe it wasn’t in fragments, like the other body parts. He picked his way carefully between limbs and pieces of butchered flesh, directing the light beam low to where the sound came.

Even before he reached the boy, he knew it was too late. He recognized one of the boiler room mechanics, a lowly underage grunt, much like himself when he first joined the Navy. His face was streaked with blood, one arm reaching towards the light, the rest of his body looking like it was hastily assembled by an amateur elf in Santa Claus’s workshop. His left leg was attached to his groin, but hopelessly skewed. The right leg was upside-down, its heel apparently welded to the hipbone, so that the thigh bled on the floor next to its lifeless twisted companion where toes should have been.

He bent down to hold the poor guy gently under his misshapen shoulder on the side that still had an arm. The other one was ripped off. God knows where it lay. He tried to make reassuring sounds. It would not be long before this young guy would be lost — to death or unconsciousness. He tried to speak.

“Freddy — they told Freddy to stand clear of the bulkhead, cos l’electrics might grab ‘im. Grabbed me…” and his head fell forward.

Ed propped him carefully up against an oil drum and laid his functioning arm in his lap. He only managed a quick swipe of his own brow dripping beads of sweat, before his hand faltered. He dropped the flashlight and fell to the floor next to his limbless friend.
©2011-2012 Marian Youngblood

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