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Fire In the Hole by Hawkeye Pete Egan B.
 

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  • After things fell apart with Susan, and I'd had my moment of oneness with God that I "blew", I just settled into a grind-it-out sort of existence, doing my best to get through each day in a place and situation I came to truly despise. I never went off the ship because I no longer trusted myself out there. By the same token, I had no one on the ship that I really trusted either, so I just basically kept to myself.

    It's funny, beaten down as I was feeling by life, convinced that everyone on the ship hated me, people started being more friendly towards me. Now that I was no longer trying to prove myself, trying to be something I wasn't, people started being decent towards me. However, I was so deep in my self pity and despair, I hardly noticed, certain now that I'd never make it off that god-forsaken tin can.

    I was all the way down in the bowels of the engine room, in what they call the bilges, where all the leaking water wound up, and all the leaking diesel fuel, and oil, which there was plenty of all 3 down there. This old tin can was literally falling apart, and had no business sailing the high seas at this stage of its life.

    My job was to dip that oil and diesel out of the bilge water with a rag, squeezing the rag into a bucket until it was full, then continuing until the bilges were relatively oil and diesel free. It was going to be an all day job.
  • I was lost in my thoughts as I performed this menial, mindless job. Never was a soul more bored or feeling as worthless and inconsequential as I was in that moment that would be completely forgettable, but for what followed it.

    For what followed would be moments that would haunt me for years to come, visiting my dreams, jolting me awake, covered in sweat and full blown panic. Then, I would realize it was just another dream. A dream that took many years to finally go away. A dream of a nightmare reality that almost ended my life in the worst possible way.

    It began with a sudden and deafening commotion coming from 3 levels above me, lots of boots pounding on metal deck plates up there, followed by some unintelligible announcements over the P.A. System. I couldn't make out a word of it over all the damn racket, but I put down my bucket and rags, and scampered my oil-soaked, coveralled body up 2 sets of ladders to the upper level, only to find it thick with a black, toxic, acrid smelling smoke, too dark to even see your hand right in front of your own face.

    I was as far away from the exits from the engine room as one could be, but I wasted no time feeling my way over to the closest ladder out, and scampered up 2 rungs at a time. Reaching the top, I discovered the hatch door secured and locked. Damn!
  • I quickly slid back down the ladder, crashing hard at the bottom and began heading to the other ladder, when I literally collided with 2 other sailors making their way towards the ladder I'd just tried. "No, no, that one's locked, this way", I said as we all stumbled in the black, burning cauldron, quickly negotiating our way to the main ladder out, where all 3 of us desperately climbed towards the top, hoping against hope that it, too, wouldn't be locked, as the smoke was now growing even hotter, and the more of it that we inadvertently breathed, the closer we all came to losing consciousness as that toxic black shit seared our throats and lungs.

    My buddy Louie was above me, while Manny, the guy who'd helped me buy the car that I only had for 2 weeks, was below me on the ladder. As soon as we heard Louie banging on the hatch up there, we knew we were fucked. There was no way we were going to last another 10 seconds in that toxic black cauldron - death was going to be the worst possible kind, but it seemed to be at hand, and I began to prepare myself for the worst. I prayed for help, never expecting that prayer to be answered.

    Then, I just panicked, and began screaming at the top of my lungs, more black smoke filling my lungs as I did. Miraculously, I heard what sounded like a hatch door being cranked open, and sure enough, a blast of air met my suffocating mouth and face! Just as I opened my mouth to gulp it in, I saw a bright flash of a brilliant ball of light, heard and felt a sucking "whoosh", then felt myself being propelled up towards the hatch opening by some force that burnt worse than any heat I'd ever felt before, and the next thing I knew, I was rolling around the deck of the passageway above, smelling the horrid smell of burning flesh and hair, the realization that it was my own the last thing I'd remember until I came to in the ship's sick bay, some time later, feeling just awful. They told me I was going to be o.k. - I didn't feel o.k., but I felt glad to be alive. Manny was definitely not o.k., all bandaged up and looking as bad as I felt. Louie was up and about, so he must have gotten luckier than me and Manny, since he was right at the top of the ladder when everything blew.

    At this point, I was so done with this ship!
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