Ian Heap turned to me one day. “Tell me a story, James.”
This is the story I told him.
It was the summer of 1881. Ian and I were an intrepid pair. Recently graduated from university, we had received our first appointment as assistants to Dr. Straw. As Professor Emeritus at the National Academy of Science, he would hold great sway over our futures. I had begun to despair that we would ever reach beyond the simple title of “assistant”. Doctor Straw carried himself with a Victorian grace. Unfortunately, his scientific views remained in the Victorian Age, while Ian and I were, of course, modern thinkers. One afternoon, as the three of us sat reading the latest dispatches; Dr. Straw tore his spectacles from his eyes. His agitation was infectious, and drew our attention to him immediately.
“I’ve come upon an interesting story in the Herald. Come chaps, see what I have here.”
The story concerned a series of ships which had mysteriously sunk off the Eastern Coast of Florida. This was no simple coincidence, nor something that might transpire through happenstance. Yet nothing in the scant wreckage had yielded the slightest clue as to the fate of either crew or cargo.
“Pirates would steal the crew and cargo, and then sink the ship.”
“It’s been 60 years since Barbary ships plied those waters”
“There are still places in Florida that would easily conceal a fleet of ships.”
Dr. Straw shook his spectacles at us. “Enough. No doubt you’ll have your flying machines abducting these poor souls next. There is nothing for it but to send a team from the academy to investigate this quandary.”
We were chosen, of course. Dr. Straw had no intention of spending that long summer alone with the two of us. We set out that very night. Trains, carriages, and finally horses brought us to a squalid dock in a fetid jungle. The dock master’s stained teeth flashed at us in a most insincere manner. Rather than offending, I looked forward to leaving the close confines of the primeval for the open expanses of the Atlantic. Our launch had been specially hired by the Academy. Sleek and fast, it strained at the mooring ropes. Equipped with new steam engines, our launch could outpace most vessels at sea.
I’m sure the journey from Miami had been easier than our trek though the swamp gasses and bogs. We had chosen this location specifically because of its isolation. Any ship leaving Miami would pass by this very spot. Intercepting and following these ships should be simple for a pair such as Ian and me. Besides, the Academy had supplied their most experienced captain as complement to this fine ship. Our captain, whose name was McCoy, emerged from below decks. A barrel chested man in a dark pea coat, his face was almost completely obscured by a seafarer’s beard. His eyes burned at me from under his cap.
“So, ‘yer the two scientists?… Stow ‘yer gear, we’re gone with the tide. Won’t be nothing but a pram at this dock in an hour.”
The Atlantic was everything I had dreamt of while in the jungle. I lingered above deck long into the night, watching the coastline recede. A sudden squall passed over the ship sometime in the dark morning and I decided to retire for the night.
I dreamt of sea monsters. A Kraken pursued me endlessly until I woke, sweating on the floor. Another shock passed through the keel as I stumbled to my feet. Ian burst through the now canted and swinging door.
“We’re under attack!” as the ship shook violently once again.
I spun awkwardly towards the porthole. An angry green jet of water greeted me.
Hand in hand, Ian and I struggled through the rising water until we reached the captain’s quarters. McCoy was nowhere to be seen. Turning to our own survival, Ian and I struggled back through the knee deep water. Standing on the wall that I had passed my hand over just a few hours before, we struggled towards the main hatch. Crawling out the hatch, we realized why the boat was on its side. We were in no danger of sinking, yet some new, unknown danger stood before us. As I looked higher and higher, I saw nothing but a continuous round chamber stretching over our heads. Even as we watched, water drained down a hole at the bottom of the chamber. As the water’s support receded, our ship shifted once again. We were thrown from the deck into the maelstrom of the drain. Thrust together, and then drawn apart, we swirled downwards. That angry green water gave Ian’s face a ghostly cast. Just as I was reaching the limit of my strength, we landed heavily on a hard, flat surface. Water continued to drain through slots in the floor, but we had been strained as efficiently as one would drain potatoes. A torrent of water continued to come from a hole in the wall, but Ian and I were now able to crawl from under it. We stood in another large chamber whose exact dimensions were difficult to determine. Only one dim light outlined the border of the chamber. As we moved closer, we realized that the light was indeed an exit to another, larger chamber. How much larger we found out as we reached the opening. Before us stood a chamber that I still have difficulty describing adequately. A large section of our own Washington could easily find a home inside this dome. Small ledges dotted the walls. I could easily imagine other unfortunate souls standing on those ledges, wondering much the same things that Ian and I were. There was no way of telling whether the sun was shining or not. Indeed, whether the entire outside world had come to a standstill.
At this point, Ian realized that he was late for a meeting. We never did have a chance to finish the story. I can assure you that McCoy did indeed survive to regale his comrades with tales of far flung technologies and peaceful… Atlantians. Yes, I was trying to put together an Atlantis story. I’m sure I’ll be haunted by Jules Verne’s ghost this night 🙂