24 April 1945
Off the Coast of Northern Wales
The haze hung over the sea in wads, some thick… some thin, but the differing miasmic masses intertwined and changed as man and boy watched them. All were a sickly color with a luminescence that frothed in a day suddenly grayed, grown murky with lowering clouds that shifted and dodged as if to never touch the fog.
“It’s like something from one of your stories,” the boy turned from looking out of the pilothouse at the expanse blanketing the sea around them. “Serpent’s breath from Y Gogarth, the Great Orme!” The boy—already become navigationally savvy—pointed south toward the promontory beyond sight that thrust from Wales into the sea. “You’ve told me the story of the lost land of Tyno Helig. Tis part of Atlantis, the stories say. Ruled by Prince Helig and his daughter Gwendud, who, despite being so fair and beautiful, had a wicked and cruel heart. The stories tell of their palace under the sea and at the shallow tide, you can see still its ruins under the water.”
Captain Albert Standen chuckled, “Lad, all legends and lore have some truth to them else how would they begin… but none have proved the Orme leads to Atlantis or Helig’s kingdom. But I, too, enjoyed those stories when I was young.” The captain was fond of the boy, an orphan he had taken in that had shown up on the quay in Cardiff the morning of 18 May 1943. He had found the boy in torn clothing and covered in dust wandering the docks looking for his parents who were to take a ship to America. Questioning the boy, he had traced events back to learn his parents had been killed in the railway bombing the evening before. Somehow in the chaos, the boy had been missed by all the people digging through the rubble for bodies and treating the wounded. The boy dazed, and with no one to guide him had come to the harbor searching for parents he did not know were dead and an unknown ship.
He could not leave the 10-year-old boy, so he had taken him aboard, making him the ship’s messboy. Over nearly two years, Derek had become the son he had lost in the London blitz and regaled him with strange tales of the sea and Welsh and Irish folktales and ghost stories. And in them were tales of supernatural mists in the hollows and vales of the land and along the shore. But never this far at sea… and this thick. “Not like any I know of boy, this is an odd, vile porridge.” His latest navigation fix had them well offshore due north of the small town of Llandudno. But he knew from decades of sailing the Irish sea and the coast of Ireland, Wales, and England there were rocks not marked on any charts that came and went. At one sailing, they were there, and the next not, landmarks appeared and disappeared. Once visibility had shrunk to barely past the bow, he had ordered the Grania slowed to a crawl, though it meant taking longer to reach Liverpool and unload. Not a year ago, he would have qualms at that and steaming without an escort. But it had been months since even a rumor of submarine activity in the area. The Nazis stayed closer to their home and most now operated along the coast from France to Germany, in the English Channel and the North Sea. So, he was surprised when the two torpedoes struck.
Captain Standen felt the Grania shimmy and shake as the first torpedo hit abaft the beam—at the smokestack—and the second just forward of midships, nearly under them. They broke the Grania’s back. She—his ship—screamed beneath him and began to die.
“Derek,” he grabbed the boy, pulling him down the ladder from the pilothouse to the main deck already awash with seawater and pitching up. The Grania groaned and bucked as hull metal tore and the fore-and-aft parts of his ship pulled apart to settle lower. He took the logbook tucked under his arm and gave it to the boy. “Hold on to this, shove it inside your jacket, and button it tight,” he grabbed a life vest and ring. “Put this on and pull the life-ring over you and up under your arms.” Seawater churned around them, waist-high on the captain, chest-level on Derek, and lapped higher. “Kick away, swim hard, and as far as you can,” he lifted the boy over a gunwale already submerged.
“No, Master Albert… what about you?” Derek clung to the rail.
A man’s scream came from the aft boat deck. The captain turned to move toward it, grabbing another life-ring tethered to the gunwale but floating high enough to reach and detach. “Let go, Derek… get clear before she rolls.”
A swell lifted the boy and dragged him away. Knowing when it receded would pull him back toward or even under the Grania’s rusty barnacle-coated hull, Derek kicked with his feet and brought his arms round to paddle, then swim as the ring settled lower and freed his arms. Ducking his head, he drove through the following swell to get beyond into a trough. Spitting rank seawater, Derek raised his head to see a dozen feet away, the severed parts of the ship were just beginning to reel over. He swam harder and got another dozen-feet away and searched for the captain. The Grania was going down, and he saw no one else in the surrounding water. Exposed skin above water tingled as the mist, disturbed by the explosion, and the movement of air settled and thickened over him. Heavy, so, heavy. It flattened the waves beyond the suction of displacement as the two halves of the Grania disappeared under a sea that turned vomit-green once the fog had smothered the sun and sky.
The mist cloyed and left Derek’s skin soiled with its wrongness. A sense that a natural weather phenomenon had been twisted into something it should never be. With the sly gleam of a wink from the devil’s eye, it sapped his will and slowed his effort to swim toward the coast. The weight pressed him down—mouth-level with the water—as the low, dark profile of the U-1305 slipped by him to become lost deeper into the mist. His eyes closed.
* * *
NOTE FROM DENNIS
What you just read is a draft–not edited beyond my self-edit–so bear in mind it’s not had that final polish. But please do share your thoughts about this piece. Comments and feedback are always welcome.
The Great Orme (Welsh: Y Gogarth) is a limestone headland on the north coast of Wales, northwest of the town of Llandudno. Referred to as Cyngreawdr Fynydd by the 12th-century poet Gwalchmai ap Meilyr, its English name derives from the Old Norse word for a sea serpent. That area figures largely in the myth of a Welsh Atlantis. https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofWales/Tyno-Helig-The-Welsh-Atlantis/