Submerged: Part One

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Through the greenish glass of the goggles, the houses no longer looked like houses, only rotten skeletons. Some without four walls, some with punctured roofs, others wholly decimated with only a few stark wooden beams standing to show what once had been there. I swam past a street sign and rubbed a layer of algae from its surface. Crumpled at its edges and indecipherable, its blocked lettering had peeled away years ago. To my left I found a property where a house once stood, though now I hovered above only a smooth white platform. Years of sea current had polished it smooth, the only standing structure a stone staircase crumbling with age. Underneath, a hole where the door to a cellar might once have been.

Swimming toward it, I placed my hands at the edges of the door and pulled myself down. The concrete gaped like a stone-teethed scar where I entered. Adjusting my headlight to shine brighter, I proceeded into the cellar. Cans of preserved food bobbed against the ceiling, which I pulled into a cloth bag I wore attached to my waist. Rusted tools floated like flotsam around me. Behind a busted washing machine was a circuitry board– Jackpot. I retreated from the cellar and looked to the sparkling surface.

I tugged at the rope, and it grew taut until I rose through the water like an angel ascending. Above, Ethan cranked the winch furiously– my invention, since we could not afford enough gasoline to run our machinery. The city shrunk below me until it was only a ruined maze of uneven streets, deteriorating buildings, and abandoned cars.

It had been twenty years since the sea finally broke the levies, the wall fell, and the city drowned. In the distance, I could make the jagged outline of the wall we had built fifty years ago. Just out of college, pissed at my fortune, I signed up with other gullible young men for a grueling construction job. As the sea rose, the beach eroded, and islands flooded, the Charleston city council voted to build the wall, back when they still believed they could be safe.

I burst through the surface.

“How are you on oxygen?”

“Running low, but I have enough for another trip down. No need to switch the tank. I found an open cellar down there, and there may be something we can use.”

Ethan leaned against the battered dinghy, skimming the water with his hands. “Seeds?”

“No.” We needed seeds like we needed oxygen. If we found seeds, we could travel somewhere fertile, live off the land. Or sell them and buy a defunct cruise ship we’d populate with exotic women. But what might be under the house could be better, at least financially. “There might be copper.”

“Copper pipes?”

“Pipes? No, well, wires.”

“That’s nothing. It’s not worth it.”

Clambering aboard the boat, I strapped a heavy sledgehammer to my hip and heaved a portable concrete saw onto the boat’s ledge. “It’s worth it.” I nodded. “Are we all clear up here?”

“I haven’t seen any boats, no. Good you remembered this place. I didn’t expect much to be here. How’s it look down there?”

“Different than last time, to be sure.”

“How?”

“Don’t know. Different, I suppose. No people for one, and the whole city’s fallen apart. Some fish still lingering down there, which is surprising. Figured the water would be too polluted.” After the oil fields of the world dried up, frantic energy corporations bored holes into the ocean floor. Species died out, the sea filled with goopy black oil, and we slowly came to realize we were fucked, truly fucked, and had been for longer than we had known. We still believed oil meant life or death. Then we began running out of water.

The North American continent solidified into a single nation, but what territory you lived in, that changed all the time. Local, secessionist movements sprang up every five years, and some asshole would come around, asking you to fight in their ragtag army. Then the continental nation would regain control, and this happened too often for people like me to keep caring. It no longer mattered where you lived, as long as you figured out how to live.

“You sure you can do this?” Ethan eyed the concrete saw, then peered through the ocean surface at the ghost city.

“Sure. I’m fine. As long as no government boats don’t come up here and fuck us, we’ll be fine, kid.”

“I can go down there, you know. You should trust me.”

“You don’t have enough practice. Maybe when we’ve practiced more.”

“But– but we can’t practice if you continue to not let me dive. You’re what, seventy?”

“Yes, but you’re only fifteen. Maybe next time. Now, start cranking that winch backwards.” I slipped off the edge of the boat, and I sank fast, the saw and sledgehammer weighing me down. Down into the submerged city.

The rope unraveled behind me as I guided my descent toward the vanished house. Through the hole, into the dark cellar. I chose a place a few feet away from the washing machine and place the saw against the concrete floor, revving its electric engine. Whirring, screaming, spitting bubbles at my face. If I had not been underwater, the saw might have thrown sparks into the air as the blade sliced smoothly through the floor. I cut a block shape, then swung the hammer against the square repeatedly until cement chunks and grainy particles choked the water.

Read On To Part 2

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on May 5, 2013, in Characters, College of Charleston, culture, Short Fiction, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I want to go to there!

  2. Awesome! I want to know what happens next? Is this part of a book? Is the book available in stores?

    • This is just a project I decided to start writing in my spare time, posting the parts to my blog as I go. You can find the other parts posted online (so far four parts), but more will be coming.
      I am, however, trying to also publish a book at the moment: https://derekberry.wordpress.com/in-lickskillet/

      • Will look up. I truly enjoyed reading this. Once, for a training assignment at work, I had come up with a lil science fiction piece stemming from similar environmental concerns. But of course I carried it too far – my earth was being sucked into a blackhole owing to an imbalance in magnetic fields caused by solar radiations and radioactive emissions. And I too had a saviour. You really raked up doomsday apprehensions in me 🙂

  3. Great writing and a nice premise. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. 🙂

  4. Great, though depressing to think of the future that way. Will be waiting what happened next.

  5. I love your blog! So awesome. I can’t wait to see Submerged: Part Two! Perhaps you will find something that will make you really rich, I doubt it but who knows right?

  6. Great writing. I enjoyed reading it.

  7. Love this! Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  8. What a wonderful and engaging write. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! You are certainly deserving of the honor, and we, the readers, are all the richer for being introduced to you! I look forward to reading more of your blog. Again..wonderful and congrats! ~Dennis http://www.dlmchale.com

  9. mommyscientist

    This is absolutely beautiful. The imagery is phenomenal. I could picture everything that the character saw as he swam. And might I just add that this line here was so profound that it nearly gave me chills: “We still believed oil meant life or death. Then we began running out of water.”

  10. this is incredible. i feel like i am right there with you… reading this has left me completely mesmerised. very haunting imagery. beautifully written. now i must read on…

  11. I like how you progress your imagery through a solid narrative…. very tricky to do. The feeling of making do in a time of apocalyptic harrowment kind of reminds me of the panic i had when reading The Road.

  12. Enjoyed this – congratulations on being Freshly Pressed 🙂 You can read some of my super-short stories at http://vernacularisms.com .

  13. This was a refreshing read! You should be an author and write lots of books. good job.

  14. Nice story. Wish I could come along.

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