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  • JillianForsberg

NYC Midnight: Year 3

48 hours.

500 words.

A genre.

An action.

A word.

Thousands of writers.

This sums up the NYC Midnight short story contest - thrilling, right!? This was my third time in a short story contest through the organization but my first time doing 500 words. I normally sign up for the 250 word contest, and let me tell you, doubling the word count felt like absolute heaven! I'll do the 250 word contest in December, too.

I was assigned to Group 37:

My genre: Historical Fiction. My first time ever getting my preferred genre! I was THRILLED!

My action: Patching a leak

My word: Goggles

Results came in last night and the top 10 in each group advance to round 2. I got 5th place! I'll write again this weekend for round 2.

My inspiration came from The Vasa, a Swedish warship that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628.

It's one of the most impressive pieces of maritime history in existence today, mostly because other ships of that age were essentially recycled, but The Vasa was preserved in the brackish waters of Stockholm's harbor for centuries before it was raised.

Anyway, I decided to focus on one of the first people to ever go see it underwater. In a diving bell. (NO THANKS HA!)

Ready to read my story? Here it is! Let me know what you think of it in the comments.

BELOW by Jillian Forsberg

Albreckt ducked under the diving bell. The lead platform sank into the sea, wobbling, chained to the bell. The voices of the crowd disappeared as the brackish bay gurgled around him and water filled the bell to his neck. A pocket of air at the top was his life source.

Despite layers of leather clothing and deerskin boots, the dark water melted cold into him. Albreckt adjusted the thick goggles on his face, ill-conceived things used in the mountains to block the sun. Here they blocked cold, stinging saltwater.

Below, the Vasa waited. Since 1628, nearly thirty years ago, the sunken warship crystallized in the bay.

The bell shielded shimmering daylight and Albreckt saw nought but his own feet. Those, too, rapidly faded from view. He was enclosed, surrounded by the sharp smell of metal. A small lifetime passed. Eventually, the bell tapped something solid, wooden. Albreckt steadied himself, took a breath, and inhaled all the air he could from the pocket. A feeling of ice touched his bones as he dove, holding his goggles to his eyes. He held fast to a chain, his only connection to the surface.

Despite the darkness of the sea like clouded nightfall, a hull and decking appeared. Carved creatures danced on every surface, cannons jutted from deep holes, and fish wobbled through the masts and three remaining sails, warped with time and salt. Albreckt nearly swallowed sea water in awe.

Though the Vasa was a few strokes away, it felt immensely far. Connected to the bell were ropes and pulleys; Albreckt swam them toward the guns and tied tight a sheepshank, fastening one cannon to the bell. Something wrapped around his leg as he pushed away - a crusted, frozen Swedish flag. He grabbed it.

He needed air, but something caught his eye, gleaming inside the ship. Treasure? Silver? Albreckt pulled himself inward, using the gunport as leverage. Inside the Vasa, the slitted goggles impeded his vision. He tore them away. Glowing white in the gloom was no silver, but a single staring skeleton, jaws grotesquely askew. Albreckt startled, spewing bubbles, and fled quickly back to the bell. The goggles fell from his hand. He held fast the flag.

He wildly wiggled one of the chains connected to the surface, signaling to a crew above that he was done. More than done. Once inside, he took a dramatic, relieved breath, but suddenly the bell jolted to one side and a loud hissing filled the chamber. A chain had snapped clean, spraying water into his air pocket. His chest thudded.

Fast and hard, Albreckt shoved the salt-crusted, frozen flag over the leak.

He began to pray: “Our father…”

Hauling the cannon tilted the bell dramatically.

“Thy kingdom come…”

He ascended, leaving the Vasa below.

“Forgive us our sins…”

The flag had not stopped the leaking. Only his mouth and nose were above the waterline.

“Deliver us from evil…”

The air pocket shrank, but suddenly his feet were visible.

Light returned.

Stockholm’s Harbor swelled with cheers.

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