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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/984944-A-Fire-down-below
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Drama · #984944
What happens when trapped and no hope in site.
James Spencer was drafted into the military when he was seventeen years old. Well, he wasn't really drafted. The government hasn't done that in years. James had to pick the lesser of 2 evils as a teenager. He was the star athlete at his high school and the big man on campus. Every guy wanted to be friends with him and every girl wanted to date him until that very unlucky night.

When James was a senior he had everything going for him. One night he had gone to a party and on the way home he was driving with a total disregard for lide. He ran off the road and wrecked his brand new BMW Z3 that his parents bought him as an early graduation present.

When the police arrived the smelled alcohol in the car's interior as well as on James himself. They charged him with reckless driving and DUI. James' father was a powerful political figure and tried to make the charges disappear. The problem was James' case was heard by a newly appointed judge who was particularly hard on young drivers. He felt they needed to learn that driving was a privelege and not a requirement.

James' father was more worried about his reputation being tarnished than he was his son learning any lesson. He managed to strike a deal with the DA's office and the judge accepted it. James was to join the military and complete 3 years of service. At the end of this time the charges would be dropped and his record expunged. James was against the idea from the start but his father told him point blank that either he took the deal or he would be disowned.

James' father was never very supportive but this last unloving and uncaring act was the straw that broke the camel's back. James reported to boot camp and did whatever he could to get in trouble. He thought that if he got in enough trouble he would be kicked out and sent home. Then he could make his father deal with his cold hearted actions. Boy did that plan backfire!

It didn't matter what he did, James just couldn't get in severe enough trouble to be kicked out. He didn't want to go the illegal route so his idea pool was somewhat limited and before he knew it his 3 year sentence was almost over.

He had spent his time aboard the U.S.S. Guadalcanal. It was an ancient steam driven Gator freighter that carried Marine troops along with attack helicopters and the feared Harrier Jump jet. James got assigned to the fire room which to say the least was a moral killer.

The boiler room was in the bottom of the ship, there was no outside light, the noise was more deafening than a KISS concert and the heat made you feel like you were standing on the sun. During the winter the temperature in the space stood at a cool mid 80's but during the summer months the thermometer rose to an ungodly 115 - 120 degrees. James tried to fool himself into thinking that he got used to the heat but he hated it down in " The Pit " as it was affectionately known.

During James' last 6 months his ship was deployed to help support the troops of the coast of Bosnia. A couple of ships had been involved in the campaign from day 1 and needed relief so that was where the Guadalcanal came in.

Action was quiet for the first 2 weeks and then everything hit the fan all at once. James had just gotten of the mid watch and he laid in his rack drying to get some sleep when the " OH SHIT! " alarm sounded.

"General Quarters! General Quarters! All hands to your battle stations!" Then a moment later another announcement... " Torpedo in the water! Brace for impact!"

James was thrown from his bunk by the explosion on the starboard side of the ship. He rammed his feet into his boots and zipped up his coveralls in one swift motion. The ship pitched to the starboard side and it was evident that they were taking on water. James raced toward the fire room but had to fight the chaos of Sailors and Marines frantically trying to find a safe place to be.

James inserted his earplugs as he entered the space. Just as he descended to the lower level he heard his Chief talking to the engine room. " Engines are off line! We are taking on water! " Just then the main oil pump on boiler # 1 began spewing fuel all over the deck and the watchmen standing in front of the burners.

The Chief yelled, " Turn that thing off before the boiler explodes"! James dashed toward the AFFF hose when the burner front burst into flames setting the 2 burnermen ablaze! James quickly covered the men in foam but it was too late. There charred corpses fell to the deck and then it went from bad to worse! The second boiler exploded into a fireball that engulfed 3 more sailors. James tried to get to the Chief but there was a wall of flames between them. " Get topside son! The ship is lost!"

As the flames swallowed the Chief another announcement rang through on the 1MC speaker. " All hands this is the Captain...Abandon Ship! This is not a drill!" James peered up through the grates and saw the upperdeck watchman leaving out the main hatch. James sprinted for his only chance of survival...the escape hatch!

He closed himself inside as another explosion rocked the ship. This time it was in the forward part of the ship and James could feel it capsizing. He grabbed onto the metal ladder that ran up the side of the bulkhead and started his ascent up to the next level. He emerged next to the fire station, which had already been evacuated, and he found himself an O.B.A. - Oxygen Breathing Apparatus. He fastened it to his chest and loaded an oxygen canister. Once activated the canister would provide James with 15 minutes of air. After that he would probably suffocate to death. On his way out the hatch he grabbed a handful of portable oxygen masks for any of his shipmates he encountered on the way out.

He made his way to the mess deck and the water was up to his waist. The water was a crimson red from the blood that oozed from the face of a body floating across the room. James knew that if he stopped to see who it was he would freeze with panic and never live so he trudged on into the next compartment. Along the way he met up with several sailors from Admin and distributed the air masks. The water was rising and now covered James' shoulders. It was only a matter of time before the entire ship was submerged under water.

James fastened the mask to his face and lit the air canister. In 15 minutes he would either be off the ship or dead. "At least the odds were 50-50", he tried to tell himself. He opened the hatch leading to the hanger bay and water came rushing through the hatch emerging him in the cold murky seawater. James began swimming toward the aircraft elevator and his only way out. Several bodies laid lifeless in the dark and James was startled as he ran into a body that was bloated like a sponge. James screamed into his mask and darted to the open elevator door.

Halfway there the timer went off on James' tank signifying that his time had expired. " Had it been 15 minutes? It couldn't have been!? " The length of time past really didn't matter and James made his last effort to come out of this ordeal alive. He took a deep breath and removed the O.B.A. He swam as hard as he could in the direction of freedom and just as he was about to pass out from holding his breath too long he broke the surface of the water. He thrust himself up into the pitch black of night and gasped for air. A life boat came alongside immediately and pulled him to safety.

The survivors were picked up with in an hour and taken to a nearby Aircraft carrier for initial treatment. While in the hospital James talked with a couple of his shipmates who said," If not for the air masks he provided they would surely be dead". A week later James was shipped stateside and discharged from the military. He flew home and his parents were waiting at the gate when his plane touched down.

James' perfectly pressed uniform was seen first by his mother and then his father as he walked towards the gate. The Congressional Medal of Honor that the president had presented to him while he recouperated in the hospital dangled from his chest and sparkled as it reflected the flourescent lights in the ceiling. James stopped just in front of his parents and before he could say a word his dad wrapped his arms around him in a bear hug. He whispered into James' ear, " I'm so sorry son! I should have stood by your side instead of shipping you off!"

James replied, " Dad because of you I know what it means to be a man! Thank you!" James had left home a criminal and an adolescent boy but returned home a mature adult as well as a hero!






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