Forsaken, the crew awaited news from the people below. At noon they gathered at the helm. The device was on. They leaned into it, their ears pressed against the auricular, and heard nothing. Stomachs rumbled—Robert mistook the rumbling for the burning of coal, but he was quickly shushed and corrected.
By midnight only five remained. The rest had gone below. The five at the helm waited for news, but heard nothing, not even rumbling stomachs. (Lunch had been served at two: braised goose, Pop Tarts, fettuccini.) Robert expressed anger, and also (at eight) renewed hunger. He was shushed and reprimanded. They waited, ears close to the auricular on the device, and developed theories.
1. The device was working, else at least one person from the crew would have returned and asked if they had not heard him, the person returning, speaking through the device—maybe shouting. Maybe even gesticulating, as many do when on the telephone, for no practical reason. But something was keeping them—what it was, nobody knew. But:
a. It was so interesting that it kept the crew below thoroughly absorbed. All interest in communicating with those above was replaced by interest in this considerably more interesting thing.
b. It was so deadly that it obliterated the crew before they could use the device. And not only deadly and terrible, but also very very quick, for how else could it get to them before they could even scream?
2. The device was not working, else they would have heard some sign of it at work. Regardless, as in (1), some force kept them below. So:
a. As in (1a), though some conceded that maybe even with the interesting thing, the crew would have made some efforts to use the device—perhaps to tell them of the interesting thing. But if it was too fascinating, they agreed, the efforts to communicate via the broken device or to attempt repair were most likely half-assed.
b. As in (1b): They had not returned because they had been eaten—or something—by the horrible thing. And they had not heard the screams (and other remonstrations of agony & etc.) because of the malfunctioning device. Unlike (1b), (2b) posited a thing that needed not be devilishly quick. As a variant of which:
c. The thing itself had disabled the device, and proceeded to (2b). So the thing did not need to be possessed of uncanny swiftness, merely some basic mechanical ability. Or luck: it might have broken the device by accident.
(3) The crew below were playing a practical joke on those above. Ha ha. Though of course it was probably terrifically funny once down there—you were “in the know” the minute you descended. Were there not muffled chuckles heard through the device? Alas, there were not. But the device could have been temporarily disconnected. Ha ha. And the forsaken crew above—only three remained—would be forced to consider theoreticals (1a) – (3a), much to the delectation and hooting of those below. Also maybe:
a. It had started as a joke, but the presence of a horrible thing could have led to theoreticals (2a)-(2c).
Forsaken, the three awaited news. Robert complained, and panicked, and said he was going down there. To which the other two said, Whatever, fine, do what you will. But he was just bluffing, the coward.
They reached shore and contacted the maritime authorities. The authorities boarded the ship. They were never seen again. More authorities boarded, also never to be seen again.
Nobody has since gone into the bowels of the ship.
All passageways leading downwards have been sealed.
Its helm (with the device intact, functioning or not) is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from nine to five, two dollars for adults, one dollar for children, free for children under two. Photographs are allowed but not encouraged.
Most, when photographed, lean into the device, ears against the auricular. “Hello?” they say in jest. If the crew and authorities are still down there, and the device is functioning from their end, that’s all they hear: Hello, hello, hello. Hello, anybody there? Hello?