The Tank

This is a short story I wrote for a class some time ago. Hoping to adapt it soon into a screenplay.

The Tank was a place of mysterious power. It attracted the lonesome wonderer like a magnet, sparking their fearful imaginations of its depths.

Technically, it was more of a pool than a tank. When calm, the water seemed to be nothing but a giant cube of plastic, easily walked over, and nothing but a curious square surface in the middle of the concrete, warehouse-sized room. Yet at the slightest touch, ripples would form on the surface, magically transforming the silicon box into the beginnings of a giant body of indoor water.

Secondly, The Tank was always lit, from underneath the water, by what looked like giant stadium lights on the bottom of an even greater pool. This effect was augmented further by the fact that the warehouse was always completely dark. Not even a sliver of worldly light was able to enter the room that housed The Tank, which was known as The Convoy. The Convoy was encased in another building of sorts. Rather, four highly secured, connected corridors. These hallways were very dimly lit, with nothing but very small, mint-green tinted LED lights lining the floors. When the only door to the outside of the huge building was opened, the entrance to The Convoy was sealed shut, so that nothing could enter or leave, including any extra light. In fact, the door to The Convoy could only be opened if the lights lining the hallway were shut off, and the door between the outside world and the corridors was closed and locked. And, of course, there were fail-safes set in place in the event that anyone tried to breach these procedures.

But why would there be such a fuss made over nothing but a large, indoor swimming pool? This was exactly the question that had plagued my mind ever since I had entered The Convoy and stood at the edge of The Tank, alone. I had been selected by some apparently elite persons to take part in some academic and physical tests, which I had passed without any trouble. I was not particularly smart, that is to say, the smartest girl in our class did not even pass the reading portion of the exam. I was not physically astonishing either. I actually maintained a healthy boundary between my innards and the air around me. Yet, the captain of both the soccer and the football team hadn’t passed the obstacle course.

Why was I here? Me, of all people, standing at the edge of this eerily lit pool, wearing a ridiculous, skin-tight, black leotard, clutching my arms in the hopes of warding off chills? I was wary of this water. It was too calm. It was almost as if the second I slipped into the depths, the top would freeze over and become solid, impenetrable, trapping me inside to struggle for a breath only to find nothing but water filling my lungs. I didn’t even know what would be waiting for me down there. Or what was so special about this oversized swimming pool.

I exhaled a deep sigh. This was no time to be a coward. Not with everyone mysteriously waiting on my plunge. Not with all of the hearts I could feel rooting for me. So I sucked back in my sigh and dove into the crystalline surface.

Bubbles encased and cushioned my body as I crashed into the abysmal pool. I could hear them rocket for the surface, as if scared off by my massive body. They shot past my ears with the force of a thousand tiny atomic bombs, the eerie bass of underwater explosions ringing in my ears. I lay there suspended, my eyes still shut in anticipation of the impact with the water’s glassy appearance. My body floated, each bone separate from one another, no longer connected by joints. I may as well have been in the darkness of space, floating in a cosmic universe without direction.

I waited. Waited for my heartbeat to return to a natural rhythm. It was only then that I allowed my eyelids to flutter open, weightless in the fluid world that now encompassed me.

And I screamed.

The air that my lungs had kept hostage escaped its keepers, and left me breathless in an airless environment. I could hear my own siren leaving my throat, though it was muffled by the liquid surrounding my eardrums. I clammered for the sky, the air, an exit to this aquatic place I was trapped in. My fingers clawed at nothing but water, until I finally broke through and reentered The Convoy. I gasped as that wonderful oxygen entered my lungs and filled each blood cell, replenishing my brain’s sanity.

Gripping the side of The Tank, I panted and tried clearing my eyes. They were tearing up. What was that? I looked around hoping to see people laughing and pointing at me, like it was some elaborate trick. But there was no one in the Convoy except myself. I studied the water in front of me. There was nothing but ripples and bent light. I averted my attention back to The Convoy. I didn’t see any blinking lights in the corners, or any reflections of a lens, so I was pretty sure there were no cameras peering down at me. How would they know if I wanted out?

I felt rage begin to rise in my chest, choking me with my own emotions as tears once again created a murky film over my vision. Why had these people brought me here?! And why hadn’t they told me what I was supposed to be doing? They just left me here in this empty space, half-naked, staring into a giant swimming pool that glowed like the Fourth of July! Better yet, the only training, preparation, whatever they had thought to give to me was some exercises in breathing. Great! I could stay down under there for a whole four minutes with that thing! Some training.

By then the tears were dripping at a steady rate from the corner of my eyes. They slipped down off my chin into the water, creating tiny rings in the surface. I watched the rings expand and then gradually fade away for a while, until I had regained my composure, and my breath. I had to go back under. There was no other option. Having spent all of a month doing nothing but breathing exercises and reading those dumb books in my room’s sparsely stocked library would not be wasted. Especially not because I was afraid of something that was invisible. At least right now.

I closed my eyes. I knew deep in my heart that when I opened them again I would see that again, but I told myself that I would see nothing but the opposite side of The Tank, colored a jewel blue by the stadium lights. I filled my lungs until they nearly burst, and slipped back under the soft water.

The water crisped as it surrounded my body. It was the most intimate sensation I had ever felt, the kind in which you know that there is absolutely no one else in the world. That you’re alone, left to wander as a solitary blob of material floating in a tank of water. Still, I knew I wasn’t actually alone. When the shutters over my eyes lifted, I was again floating beneath that thing.

Its face was like a razored cloud. The angles would suddenly bend from a slight, soft curve to a painful edge, sharp as if someone had rammed its head against a millstone. Its lips were black, and there was what seemed to be dried froth surrounding them. How could that be? It was under water, wouldn’t that wash away? What’s more, from the corners of its eyes was flowing a black sludge. These tiny streams defied physics, continuing to run towards its chin no matter the anti-gravity environment or the direction of its movement. And how quick it was to stare into your soul! Piercing the heart with those shiny black eyes, as if its pupil had expanded to fill the entire opening of its eye, except for the almost undetectable ring of white surrounding the black. It clearly set off the chalky whiteness of its flesh, as did the unnaturally flushed look of the tissues inside the mouth and around the eyes.

Most importantly though, it had a marking, which stretched out from underneath its jaw all the way to that small indention between the ends of the clavicles. It was a dagger, with incredible detail set into the handle and a soft gleam on the blade that seemed to magically move with changes in light. On the handle danced lions with mouth open in a roar, and planets and galaxies all in miniatures. There were diamonds and rubies and emeralds, all cut to perfection. Most curiously, there was a triangle. A particularly large triangle placed in the center of the handle, to be more most precise. The marking as a whole, though only a picture, seemed so touchable, so physical. It was almost as if the thing was daring someone to take it a step further and thrust the dagger down three more inches into its heart.

I shuddered. Something more than just its appearance was unnerving about this thing. I was sure that having it around me, here in quite the vulnerable state, would only lead to agony. Yet, I had nothing to base that assumption on. The thing had done nothing but stare at me, with those charred silver dollar eyes. It broke that. The thing slowly, ethereally lifted one of its elongated hands towards my face. Its stick-like finger pointed at me, then turned over and beckoned me by bending the finger towards the arm and then back. It lowered its hand, never having taken its gaze off me, until it finally turned slowly and began to glide down, deeper into The Tank.

What was I to do? On one hand, I was worried about the consequences of not following it. What if it got angry and decided it was hungry? Or worse, what if it just drowned me? But I had been keeping track of how long I’d stayed under, and I only had about two more minutes until I would need to breath. That wasn’t even taking into account the physical exertion of chasing after the thing. Could I return to the surface just for ten seconds in order to catch my breath and then dive back down? I looked at the slowly shrinking thing. No, there was no time for that. I quickly paddled down to catch up with my escort in this waving world.

The thing moved with such ease and grace through the water. Well, actually, it never moved. Not a muscle moved, and no frantic paddling was evident unlike the case with myself. I remembered learning about anglerfish in biology. They would dangle a little light out in the darkness of the abyss, hoping to draw an audience out of the inky blackness of the deep sea. When they found a fish interested in their adornment, they slowly pull the light towards them. The unsuspecting fish follows, dazzled by such a bright light in such a dismal place. Then it is swallowed by the devious anglerfish, with its huge teeth and blind eyes. Such as the light on the anglerfish’s reel moved so smoothly through the water, this thing moved down into the tank, drawing me in like that poor fish. What if I was met with sharp teeth at the bottom?

Just as this thought crossed my mind, I caught up with the thing. Its lanky, albino, naked body was almost glowing as we approached the harsh lights on the bottom of The Tank. No, the skin was not glowing; it was becoming translucent. The thing began to resemble the pictures of the half formed fetus that litter the biology book and doctors’ offices. Except instead of the orange and red hues of blood and guts, the thing was a pale turquoise and violet, which conflicted so with the black sludge flowing in its veins and out of its eyes.

Something took hold of my brain as I surveyed the thing’s frightening, yet pitiful appearance. I reached my hand out. What was I doing? Why was I doing it? There was no reason to do this. I can only guess that it was one of those times in life, when you’re sitting next to a complete stranger and suddenly contemplate what would happen if you grabbed their hand. Not even romantically, just to let them know that someone was there. That they weren’t the little blob floating alone in the universe that I sometimes considered myself to be. I grabbed the thing’s lengthy hand, and my vision changed.

I knew I was still in The Tank, still unable to breath, still clinging to the thing’s bony hand, and still suspended in the aqueous atmosphere. But I no longer saw the underwater arena, the rippling reality, or the stunning pool-bottom stadium lights. All I saw was a scene, almost as if it was playing back on a movie reel. There was a middle-aged woman sitting on what seemed to be a train. She was cradling an infant in her arms, wrapped in a hand-stitched blanket with yellow and white patterns crisscrossing over one another. The woman, and even the train car in which she sat in, seemed so old. Almost like the ones that are in Western movies before they get shot up by bandits.

I blinked. As I opened my eyes, I saw that woman, that baby, obliterated from the world as an explosion rang out from the cars ahead. Only seconds after the concussion of the explosion reached my ears, the woman instinctively drew her child towards her breasts, squeezed her eyes, and drew a deep breath before she and her infant were engulfed in flames.

Expecting to be consumed by the heat as well, I shut my eyes and waited. But the heat never hit. I opened my eyes and found myself staring into a winter forest. The scene was full of naked trees, with richly colored trunks that appeared nearly black in comparison to the blinding light reflecting from the snow that laid, pillowed on the frozen soil of the forest.

In the middle of the seemingly hundreds of bare trees stood a single buck. His head was bent down. Apparently he had found one of the last remaining patches of frozen grass. It looked like he was in desperate need of the food too, given his emaciated frame and his missing patches of fur. His antlers had failed to suffer from the malnutrition though, as they stood tall and elaborate, with many points protruding from others.

The cock of a shotgun. My muscles tensed as I anticipated following events. As the deer began to raise its head to discover the sound, bb shot ravaged its body. It fell, slowly, letting out a horrifyingly human yell as it descended. A hole was left in its middle. And I closed my eyes, waiting for the next scene.

And the scenes kept coming. One after another they came: a child shot to death by African soldiers, a Russian peasant starving in the frozen streets of Moscow, an astronaut floating through space until his oxygen ran out and he suffocated, a business man leaping off the empire state building because of mounting economic depravity, and a sickly woman cut off from life support after months of fighting. The scenes continued for what seemed like hours. They never seemed to end. But when I saw the subject of the last image, the last death scene, I knew that these were more than just underwater movies.

Following this last scene, I found myself floating away from the thing, back in the tank, with the stadium lights frying my sensitive eyes. Its hand remained where it had been when I had grabbed hold of it, suspended in the vitreous atmosphere. Its haunting eyes looked up at me as I begin to rise with the rocketing bubbles towards the surface of The Tank. In its expressionless visage, I saw its meaning. I saw the pain that it had endured, watching humanity be birthed, succumb to sin, rise to power, destroy their God, create a new God called success, fall to the wayward ways of superiority, and invent themselves to be immortal, only to one day let out a horrifying scream like the deer in the woods when they do die. Locked in this pool of water, it was alone and incapable of stopping these injustices. All it had was the memories of the past and the future.

Of all the past and the future.

As I broke through the surface of The Tank, I knew that I would never see that thing again. I would be its able body, its free body. I would tell its stories.

When I climbed out of The Tank I was surprised to find the team of elites that had brought me here standing near the doorway out of The Convoy. At the head was a lady, always dressed to the nines in a red, tailored woman’s suit. Her flaming hair was always brushed into luscious curls that cascaded down her back. Her face was particularly attractive, and at times even ethereal, which seemed so in contrast with her blazing locks. She and the other elites all smiled as I approached.

“Well?” she asked as one of the men handed me a towel.

Quietly I told her of what I saw. She laughed, as did the others. I told her of the images too, but I decided to leave out the last one that I had seen before ascending. They all clapped, applauding me for my magnificent imagination. They did not understand.

As I was escorted out into the hallways surrounding The Convoy, I heard her commanding voice sound out. “Alright boys! Let’s get to work! I’m getting ready for my own dive, and I’ll be sure to tell you all about the thing in the water!” Her minions laughed at her dig. I smiled grimly.

I knew that in exactly three hours, thirty-six minutes, and fifty-four seconds, she would be found floating in The Tank. Sticking out of her breastplate would be a dagger, whose handle was adorned with a large triangle in the midst of universes and lions.

#thetank #fiction #shortstory #creative #creepy

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