Welcome to chapter 15 of Arena of Souls, my new, Doc Savage-style, pulp adventure. New chapters every Monday! If you missed the previous chapters, you can start at the beginning here:
Arena of Souls
Chapter 15: The Vortex
*I made a couple of minor additions to last week’s chapter- I named the ship Thresher and I made it clear that Trinity was inside the pilothouse at the end of the chapter.
“Are you crazy?” Trinity clutched Stone’s arm in a vise grip. “You’ll get us all killed!”
Stone didn’t answer. She wasn’t wrong. If his plan didn’t work, they were all goners.
“Stone, are you listening to me? We’ve got to get away from this thing before it takes us down.” To her credit, Trinity sounded alarmed, but not panicked.
“Find something to hold on to,” Stone barked, “and let me concentrate.”
Up ahead, the swirling vortex grew larger as Thresher bore down on it. Stone didn’t try to fight the current too hard. Instead, he kept the boat on a course that would carry them to the edge of the whirlpool. The whine of the engine lowered in pitch to a dull roar as it stopped fighting the greater part of the current and began to move along with it. Stone felt the deck shift under his feet and the craft gained speed. Moses and Alex must have set the sails, and now the strong wind was adding its power to that of the engine.
“If you kill us, I swear I’ll haunt you for eternity,” Trinity muttered.
Stone grinned. Before them, the whirlpool spread out like the gaping mouth of a giant sea monster. Lines of white froth spun down through of funnel of sea green and gray water to a churning pool far below. Stone had looked death in the eye plenty of times, and though it took many forms, it always gave him the same feeling— a heightened awareness of being. Every sound, every smell, every texture was suddenly magnified. He was aware of every breath he took, the twitch of each muscle, every bead of sweat that ran down the back of his neck. He felt the surge of the sea through the deck beneath his feet and the wheel in his hands. He smelled the tang of the salty air, the exhaust of the diesel engine, and a hint of Trinity’s perfume. Leave it to her to doll up a little even on a trip into the triangle.
Moses and Alex burst into the wheelhouse and froze.
“What are you doing?” Alex asked. “We’re about to be sucked in.”
“That’s the plan.” As his friends shouted out warnings, Stone turned the wheel to the port side and guided Thresher into the whirlpool.
The effect was instantaneous and alarming. The boat, already shooting forward at a rapid clip, seemed to grow wings as the spinning water swept it in a great, counterclockwise circle. Stone fought to keep them near the edge as they shot forward. “Hold on!” he shouted.
Thresher yawed dangerously to the left. Trinity and Moses found handholds, but Alex lost his balance and slammed into the wall.
“I’m all right,” he croaked. “Doesn’t matter anyway, seeing how as we’ll all be dead in a minute.”
“That’s what you think.” Stone gritted his teeth and strained against the wheel as Thresher completed its first circuit around the whirlpool. “Just one more time around the mulberry bush,” he said.
“How can you tell?” Trinity asked.
“I just can.” Indeed, Stone had always had a keen sense of direction that had been sharpened by the training he’d received since he left the service. He kept his focus on the water in front of him, marking the spot where they’d entered the whirlpool in his peripheral vision. His heart raced and sweat now poured in rivulets down his face. Could this work? It had to.
“Everyone say a prayer,” he said. “Here… we… go…”
He yanked the wheel hard to starboard. The engine whined and, for an instant, he feared it would blow.
“Come on you son of a…”
And then, with a jarring thump, Thresher crested the rim of the whirlpool and shot out into open water.
“Thank God,” Trinity breathed.
But it wasn’t over yet. They had to escape the pull of the deadly vortex. Their spin around the whirlpool had given them an incredible burst of speed, but would it be enough? Everyone fell silent, listening to the whine of the engine as it fought the current. Stone felt the craft begin to slow, and wished he had more to give.
“I suppose we could paddle,” Alex offered.
“You’re welcome to try.” Stone gazed straight ahead, willing the craft to move forward. All around them, the world seem to slow down as the craft lost momentum to the pull of the water. The whine of the engine grew in pitch.
“It ain’t gonna last much longer,” Moses warned. “They’s limits, you know.”
Just as he spoke, the whining dissipated into a low rumble.
“Let me guess,” Trinity said. “Out of gas? Threw a rod?”
“Not a chance, dollface,” Stone said with a wink. “We’re free.”
Indeed, Thresher was now churning through the waves free and easy. “You two can furl the sails now,” he said to Alex and Moses. “We shouldn’t need them.”
“Nicely done,” Alex said. He turned and peered out the pilothouse door. “Looks like we lost the ghost ship, too.”
“Think it got sucked in?” Trinity asked.
“I don’t know. I’m just glad it’s gone.”
As Alex and Moses headed out onto the deck, Trinity wrapped her arms around Stone and gave him a squeezed. “That was nicely done. I don’t know why I ever doubted you.”
“You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t question my ever move,” Stone said. “It’s what makes you a great reporter. You question everything.”
Trinity’s gaze softened. “You think I’m a great reporter?”
“Of course I do.”
She rose up on her tiptoes and brushed her lips against his cheek. “You’re not so bad for a big lug. You…” She paused. “Wait a minute. How would you even know if I’m a great reporter? You’ve been away since before I started working for the Scribe.”
“I’ve read your work,” Stone said, his brain running a mile a minute to try and recall even one of her articles he’d perused.
“Really?” She arched her eyebrows. “Which one is your favorite?”
“See what I mean? Always questioning me. You can’t even take a compliment.”
“You’re deflecting, Stone. It won’t work on me.”
“For your information, it was the piece on violence in the Hoovervilles,” he guessed wildly. It seemed like the sort of thing Trinity would report on: economic injustice, tragedy, the little guy suffering at the hands of the big lug.
“Oh.” The fire in her eyes flickered and died. “Thank you. My editor worried that it was too incendiary, but he ran it anyway. He figured whoever found it offensive would just chalk it up to womanly hysterics.”
“You? Hysterical? Never.” Keeping one hand on the wheel, Stone pulled her in tightly with his other arm and kissed the top of her head.
She rested her head on his chest and gave a purr of contentment. “I hope it’s a romantic island you’re taking me to. You owe me.”
Up ahead, a fog-shrouded shape appeared on the horizon.
“I think,” Stone said, “that we’re about to find out.”