We’ve spent six months in this steel tube, at five hundred meters below sea level, so we put antlers on the two newbies and filled their bunk with helium balloons. The antlers are a ten-point rack and an eight-point rack that Tanzer cut from two bucks he bagged in the Virginia woods last fall. For the newbies he sanded the points sharp.
We can barely move in these tight quarters, so we weren’t surprised when they went to bed and we heard pop, pop-pop. It feels good to laugh.
They talk soft around the rest of us, and tiptoe everywhere, even when they’ve taken the antlers off to work.
Qualls made a pun: “Be a deer and pass me the salt.” Now everyone says it.
Shelby and Winston pretend to aim rifles and laugh at their eyes getting big.
Yesterday, during their off-hours, we couldn’t find one. Kent walked down the length of the sub carrying the antlers, checked every nook, behind the pipes, between consoles, and finally found him hidden inside a torpedo tube. He pretended to be asleep, like he’d forgotten it was time to antler up.
Tonight’s the big show. Eight Points waits by the bunks, Ten Points by the periscope, and we all sit in the cafeteria between them. We ante spare change and nicotine patches into empty dehydrated pea cans.
On Callahan’s countdown from ten, they’ll charge. The antlers will clatter.
The dark water all around us will keep quiet.
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This is a teaser for a longer story. You’re integration of the three elements works seamlessly. The temptation to make it a gag would be hard to resist — but you went for it, creating a dark palette for your characters and holding to it.
There is madness here, as in so much of your writing (all of your writing??!), but the kind of madness shared and brought about by unnatural circumstance. We get only the briefest of peeks into the characters here, in a steel tube, deep underwater, forced to create their own world with its own rules and not even a torpedo tube is escape.
After my submarine research for this piece, I’d love to write something longer. What a crazy, crazy thing. I can’t imagine anyone would approve of such shenanigans as balloon popping or antler jousting on a sub, but people (esp. in extreme situations) are capable of anything.
You’re right, looking back through these stories and other writing I’ve done, madness is a driving force. I feel like it’s the immeasurable variable, the dark matter of our inner universe(s). It means a lot to know that you and others are enjoying this weird stuff.