LORELEI

The horrors of the Lorelei were long forgotten – secrets
kept by a lonely old man, whose duties he now cast upon me.

This is the story of a man, a military man, who is faced with a moral decision after discovering a “creature” living in captivity beneath an old naval base subject to clean up and overhaul after the prior Admiral-in-Charge dies and a replacement is sent in to take over.

The maintenance assignment landed on the desk of Lieutenant Devin Greffin. Faced with the hardest decision he will ever make in his career; he nevertheless must make it.

As she disappeared, I knew I had to leave now, and quickly. If I didn’t, I may not have been able to, or want to, for that matter. The few assembled men seemed to realize this as well. They looked at one another with awestruck expressions. I signaled for them to follow, as I started back the way we came.

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself here. It’s just so remarkable that…. Wait! Let me go back to the beginning so that you can fully understand the whole story, even if you find it too outrageous to believe.

It began a few months back, give or take a few days. My name is Devin Greffin, and I had been transferred to the Sandpoint Naval Base in Seattle, Washington, approximately six months ago, for what was supposed to be a step up the ladder. As a “junior Lieutenant”, I was assigned the menial chore of overseeing the cleanup of a building that seemed to be used for nothing more than the storage of everything obsolete. From old tarps, to tires that wouldn’t even make a good swing, if it was somebody’s junk it was probably tossed here.

The building had been here since the base was built, but what differed this structure from others on the base was a sub-basement; I suppose it should have piqued my interest, but nothing seemed overly strange at the time. The sub-basement seemed a little cleaner than the rest of the building. I didn’t think much about it, other than appreciating the light clean up work. The fact that the sub-basement wasn’t on any of the building plans provided to me did strike me as kind of odd, but what was really of interest was an obscure boiler room, which seemed to be intentionally concealed.

Orders had been handed down, directing my crew to move all of junk out and “make it shine.” And at the end of one of the many halls is where we found the door. We were going to find it eventually, after all, we were moving everything out, so it was only a matter of time before we got to the huge framed painting of Admiral James Edwards. Edwards was the recently deceased admiral who was in charge here, and had passed away about six months ago, leading to the commission of Admiral Orlin to the base, and thus my present assignment of cleaning up.

When my men started to pull the painting down, we were surprised to find that what seemed to simply be an adornment at the end of the hallway, might have been intentionally placed to conceal a hidden room. As we looked at the door, we really thought we found something important, until one of the men opened it and all we saw was an old boiler room. But a closer look showed us that it didn’t seem that old after all. Some components seemed to be newly installed, and the boilers had keypads on them. This didn’t seem right, considering the age and condition of the overall units. But honestly, at that point I my back was getting to me, and I was ready to hit the shower. I dismissed my men, with orders to meet at the same location the following morning at 06:30.

I returned to my quarters and rang Admiral Orlin, who picked up the phone on the first ring himself. “This is the Admiral,” he said. “Lieutenant Greffin here, sir. I was tasked with cleaning out the old barracks in sector three…”

“What about it?” He cut me off.

“I found a room with a few boilers inside that appears to have had new equipment installed. What would you like me to do?” I asked. His answer was for me to attempt to bring them back online. If successful, I was to report back to him for further orders. As I hung up, I felt the exhaustion from a full day’s work hit me. Sluggishly I made my way to the shower, and then right to bed, hoping to be mentally and physically prepared for the next day.

The morning came early, like it always does. But after 10-years of service I was used to it. I met the men outside of the building, a good bunch of guys, hand-picked by me for this duty. Most thought it was gravy, while others complained to deaf ears. Still, I did have a little compassion, and called in another crew to begin the removal of all the junk we had already surveyed, while I took my men with me for another visit to the mystery room. I told my team that we were going to spend the day examining the boiler itself, including every pipe and joint to see if it was sound, intact, and up to specifications needed to be brought online. This would be a tedious task, because every inch of pipe had to be inspected for leaks or structural damage before any sort of pressure can run through them. I wasn’t going to be responsible for any deaths due to my negligence. Again, I heard a few men gripe under their breath.

I have to admit, after the second day of inspection, I was getting sick of the never-ending pipe configurations. Still, I couldn’t let me men see the fatigue setting in. I have always been a firm believer of leading by example, so I kept my thoughts to myself. As this was going though my mind, I was startled by a sound coming from the hallway. I climbed down from my ladder and went to investigate. As I reached the door, I saw an old man rounding the corner, pushing a mop bucket. Strange that they would have him mopping floors in the middle of an equipment move.

As he got closer the made eye contact, shook his head, and said, “You might be biting off more than you can chew. Why don’t you tell them boys upstairs that you were mistaken and didn’t find noth’in.” As he concluded he shook his mop bucket, as to emphasize his words. “There’s a lot of nasty stuff down here and I’m sure you won’t be want’in to dirty your hands with it.” He was right on that point; the place was filthy. And after only two days of inspecting the boiler I would have loved to do just as he suggested. Instead, I responded, “Sorry there old timer, but I’ve got my orders, and whether or not I want to be here doesn’t matter to the brass upstairs.” As I turned to resume my duties, he put out a hand to stop me. “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, do you boy?” At the time I thought he was referring to my work at hand, and replied, “No, I suppose I don’t.” Returning to the boiler, I went back to the work that I was not crazy about in the first place.

“I’m no killer. I’ve never seen combat. How is it right,
that he should put this responsibility on me…”

After about three more hours of looking for damage and finding nothing significant, I assumed I would be safe to turn on the mains and let a little pressure into the pipes. At this point it all seemed sound and secure. In fact, most if it looked like it had never been in use. The only think left was the boiler itself, so I set out looking for the intake valves to fill the boiler tank. For the life of me, I couldn’t find where the water fill spout was located! At one point I thought I might have found them, but the valve only seemed to lead to a junction in a small crawl space, where it was capped off. I was stumped. I finally gave in and told myself I would try the valves again in the morning.

After dismissing my men and starting to head out myself, an ensign walked up and handed me a note, without saying a word, turned on his heels and retreated the way he came. “Congratulations on the new detail! ~ Kayla”. My friend in the Admirals office. I neatly put all my papers on the workbench and turned to leave. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a hatch of some kind on the backside of the boiler. I stood and looked at it for a moment, then looked at my watch and hurried out of the room. This discovery can wait until tomorrow.

The next morning, I was fully aware that I didn’t get enough sleep. 0530 comes early. I made a mental note to send Kayla flowers, and then dragged myself to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. It didn’t help much, so into the shower and then out the door. Fifteen minutes later I was walking into Headquarters, down the long hall, and to the big door marked “Admiral Orlin”. I knocked lightly, then let myself in.

Kayla, the Admiral’s Secretary, sat behind a small desk reading a magazine of some sort. She had been the previous Admiral’s assistant and had remained in her position under the new command. She glanced up from the pages as I came near. “Is the old man in?” I asked. She cocked her head slightly and sternly stated, “If he heard you or anyone else refer to him in that manner, that person might be looking at a transfer to someplace pretty cold.” She pusher her reading glasses further up on her nose and gave me a smile. I let out a little laugh at what she said, probably because I knew it was true.

The Admiral sat comfortably behind his desk in an office he had unmistakably made his own. His chair was more like a throne, double the size of what you would expect in an administrative building, plush leather with a heavy oak frame. Over the top was draped the hide of a great beast, one possibly killed with the bare hands of this marvel of a man. The walls adorned with ancient hunting artifacts, and the shelves with various trophies celebrating his many accomplishments. He was the kind of man who was born to command, and just because he was behind a desk in no way meant that he was “over the hill”. As a matter of fact, men like him didn’t have a hill to go over. They kept steady and strong until one day they just didn’t show up for duty, and the flag was usually at half-mast that day. He had taken over command when Admiral Edwards passed away, and ran the base as if he had to live up to the standard set by his predecessor. So far, it’s said that he’s done that and more. I took the seat across from him, when he motioned for me to do so.

“Well? What’s the status of your little project?” Lifting an eyebrow as he asked the question. To me, there was nothing “little” about the job so far. “All the pipes seem to be fit, sir.” Then added, “I just seem to be having a little trouble finding the valves for the water intake.” My voice trailing off at the end. His demeanor became harsh and direct, as he asked, “Speak clearly, are you telling me that I assigned the wrong man to the task? If so, make it plain so that I can prepare a replacement for you in all respects of the word.”

The look on the Admiral’s face made me wish to be anywhere else at the moment. “Yes sir! I mean, no sir! You have the right man on the detail. I don’t think I stated that correctly sir! What I mean to say was that the boiler and surrounding pipe must be so old that it doesn’t’ correspond with the plans on file.” With that I sat silent, straining to hold the most neutral expression I could muster. He excelled heavily as he responded, “Alright, I expect you to have a better report the next time we meet.” He then began to look over some of the papers that he had on his desk. A moment later he glanced up at me, with a look feigning inquisitiveness. “Dismissed!”

Kayla was still reading her magazine when I came out. She glanced up and gave me a sympathetic look, letting me know that she had overheard the conversation. As I walked past her, I mumbled something about seeing her later. As I reached the door, I heard her respond, “Well, I’m free the day after tomorrow. Shall we say around eight o’clock?” I nodded in agreement and continued out the door, but now with a little smile on my face, appreciating the peaks and valleys that any day can bring.

“She’s called a Lorelei, or a Siren in other cultures. As beautify as the day they found her. And she’s used that beauty to lure many men to their deaths.”

Fifteen minutes later I found myself once again staring at the boiler plans, which made less and less sense every time I looked at them. Then, as I was taking a sip of coffee, I remembered the strange panel on the backside of the boiler. I sat down my cup and rounded the boiler for a better look. There it was. I didn’t see a relief valve of any sort, it just looked out of place. Its positioning didn’t seem to make sense. What was its purpose? No reason to delay, so I decided to take a chance and open it.

As I undogged it, I noticed there was no resistance at all. This hatch had been well maintained, so much so, that the door swung unexpectedly wide, throwing me off balance for a moment. When I regained my footing, I stood bewildered at what I saw. With the hatch fully opened, a light came on, revealing that inside the boiler was a cleverly disguised room! I stepped over the threshold, and scanning the room, noticed a control panel in one corner, and in the center of the room was a spiral staircase descending into the floor. As I started for the stairs, I saw a lighting coming from below. Slowly and cautiously, I made my way down, noticing a change in temperature and what I can only describe as the smell of the ocean. When I reached the last stair step, I found out its origin, a large pool of water. Suddenly, I felt a chill, and a rush of common sense that told me to head back the way I came.

As I exited the “boiler”, I was startled by the janitor, leaning casually against the wall. “I guess you know our little secret,” he said. I had no idea what was going on, or how the old man fit into all this, but now I wanted answers. “What do you mean? What is this place?” I demanded.

“Alright son, I’ve got a story for you.” He began. “This place was once under the command of Admiral Edwards, an officer as able as they come, or at least, he was at one time. But he was under a spell.”

“Back around 1945 or so, from what I can make sense of, the young officer was out on an inspection tour, with the exact whereabouts still classified way above my pay grade. When his ship watch saw something in the water, “my God!” they thought. “It’s a woman in distress!” Exotic and beautiful, they pulled her from the drink, and scrambled to put her at ease.” But then, the men noticed that something was wrong, for what they thought was a woman, now appeared to be something… different.”

I could feel he hair on my neck begin to rise, as I became enthralled by his tale. “They swore a pact of secrecy, and they all served right here until the day they retired or died off. Back then you could trust a man to hold his tongue!”

“The Admiral nursed her back to health and kept her hidden while outside contractors where brought in to construct what you see here, all under a shroud of secrecy. Money spent was allocated for upgrades in other areas that were siphoned off, and she’s stayed here ever since.” I put my hand up, motioning him to pause his tale, while I tried to process what I just heard. “What are you talking about? Are you telling me there is a woman down there? Locked inside an iron cage?”

“She’s called a Lorelei, or a Siren in other cultures. And she’s a beauty, as beautify as the day they found her. And she’s used that beauty to lure many men to their deaths. She doesn’t age. I’ve been here over 40 years, and before me, my father had this job. She’ll outlive us all.” His story sounded preposterous. Exposure to too many cleaning chemicals, I thought. Yet, I didn’t stop him. I wanted to know more.

“The Admiral told my father, that if the Admiral was to pass away, that it would fall upon my father to do her in. When my father went first, the Admiral gave me the same orders. But when the time came, I just couldn’t do it. I’m a janitor for God’s sake. Always have been, I’m no killer. I’ve never seen combat. How is it right, that he should put this responsibility on me…” He seemed to be talking to himself at this point.

He shook his head and blinked his eyes, returning to our conversation. He pointed to the boiler, “her food swims in on its own through the heavy grate that covers the passage into the bay. Sir, I’m glad that you’ve found her. I gladly surrender and responsibility to whether she lives or dies to someone with the God-given authority to make that decision.” He exhaled, nodded his head, and walked away, leaving me to digest everything he had told me.

I stood dumbfounded, could any of this be true? After a few moments of contemplation, I decided that the best course of action was to report this to the admiral and let him make the decision on how to proceed. A quickly checked in with my men, then set out for the admin office. Talk about a Siren, there was Kayla, sitting behind the desk as usual. Before I had time to exchange greetings, I heard the booming voice of the Admiral shouting, “Get in here Greffin!”

“Sit down.”

I sank into the leather seat, “There’s been a complication, sir” I stated. “Explain.” He threw back at me. “Sir, it seems the boiler isn’t a boiler at all, but an access hatch to a holding pen of some sort, located underneath the base.” I said.

He raised an eyebrow. “A holding pen? For what?”

“Sir, my understanding is that it holds something called a Lorelei” He raised his eyebrows even higher. I continued, “a Lorelei is a creature whose song lured ships to their deaths, and…” He cute me off midsentence, “I know what a Lorelei is! I’ve been a sailor since before you were in diapers!” He leaned back in his chair and continued, “There have been rumors of this for years amidst the back rooms with brass.” He squinted his eyes, leaned forward, and asked, “What does she look like?” His expression turned to disappointment when I told him that I had yet to see the creature myself. “My intention is to take a few men back for a closer look and full report.”

“You better do just that, and then get right back to me.” He demanded.” Do you have any idea how much money this thing could be worth? Scientists will pay through the nose for something like this! Hurry up with that report, Greffin! For all other intents and purposes this is top secret and need to know only! And swear your men to secrecy, or they’ll serve out the rest of their duty in tanks of their own! DISMISSED!”

I exited the office with one thing on my mind, passed Kayla, who seemed surprised by the lack of our usual flirtations. My first stop was the armory to pick up a sidearm and a few flashlights. Then to the enlisted men’s quarters to brief my team before I took them below, to see… What? I wasn’t really sure how to prepare them for what might be the greatest discovery, or greatest hoax of their careers. Upon finding them, I gave them the details the best I could, which invoked more than a few snickers and jokes. “Pull it together, boys.” I reigned them in. I looked around for the old janitor, without luck. I wondered if I’d see him again, or if he had retired quietly, now that the horrors of the Lorelei were long forgotten – secrets kept by a lonely old man, whose duties he now cast upon me.

We opened the hatch and entered. This time I went to the control panel for further inspection. There were only two buttons, along with an operations manual that sat on top. I slipped it into my back pocket, then started down the stairs, directing my men to follow close behind. This time the descent didn’t seem nearly as long as my first visit, and soon we were at the bottom and looking at a huge pool of water. Surveying the room, I could see that it contained patches of rock and floral throughout. The design was breathtaking! I approached the pool for a closer look, and kneeling down I dipped my fingers into the water. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement. And turning my head, I was startled by the face of a woman just feet from me…

She was leaning back, partially submerged. She was beautiful… Her eyes were black as onyx stones, with hair as dark at a stallion’s mane. Then, the most amazing thing happened; as we exchanged gazes, the darkness of her eyes seemed to melt away, revealing a sparkling blue iris, surrounded by a clear white frame. She shook her hair, and the darkness dispersed, exposing beautiful golden strands. The men gathered around, waving their hands and shouting, each determined to get her attention. I called out for order, but my words went unheeded. She was captivating! Her face was like an angel, and the nap of her neck, her toned shoulders, and her slender arms all swayed as she floated rhythmically. My eyes followed her hand as it moved across her waist and down her hips, and ultimately revealing what we were promised, a mermaid’s tail!

She opened her mouth as if she was going to speak, and from it came the most beautiful sounds that I have ever heard. Then… Nothing. The next thing I heard was the sound of the fire alarm. I looked around to see that my entire team shared the same look of bewilderment. We all seem to have lost time. I looked for the Lorelei, and caught what I thought to be ripples across the water from where she must have just submerged. Whatever spell she had cast upon us, it had been broken thanks to the sound of a random fire alarm test, or so we thought.

That brings us to the present…

Now that I was in my right mind again, I knew we had to leave, and quickly. If I didn’t, I might not have been able to, or wanted to, for that matter. The few men assembled seemed to realize that as well, exchanging looks of concern and near panic. I signaled for them to follow as I started back the way we came. Again, I was counting my blessings, knowing how lucky we were to be getting out at all. Reaching the main floor, we secured the hatch and made our way outside. They were visibly shaken, but all assured me that they understood the gravity of the situation, and that this incident was not to leave our group. Top secret, with a reminder of the Admiral’s statement regarding the consequences of loose lips. As they dispersed, I set out for the Admiral’s office.

Crossing the yard, there he was, the janitor. Despite the urgency of making my report, I felt that I had to speak to him, unsure if I would have another opportunity. Before I could get the first word out, he spoke. “How’d she look?” I was surprised by his question. “What?” I asked. She’s exactly what you said. A Lorelei!” He smiled. “Yes, but how did she appear to you?” I was confused. “Boy, she appears in a different guise to each of us. For me, curly red hair, like my first love wore hers.” It made sense. The transformation that I witnessed didn’t occur at all. It was part of her spell.

“Please sir,” I begged. “Don’t leave this base. There are so many questions that I have for you. Right now, I have to see the Admiral, but please, give me a chance to talk with you again.” He shook his head. “Now were in the world would an old man like me go? Like my father, I’ll die here. Besides, who else is going to pull the fire alarm the next time you get caught up?” It was him! That fire alarm wasn’t random after all. Just a guardian angel making sure I made it through my first encounter with our shared secret.

Arriving at the office, it appeared that Kayla was out. Not wanting to delay, I took the initiative to knock on the
Admiral’s door. “Enter!” came from the other side. “Greffin, what do you have for me?” He asked. I had already rehearsed my answer over and over again while on the way. “It’s there, just as we thought sir. It appears to be female, very beautiful, and err…, she has a fish like tail and is thought to be over a hundred years old.” I waited for a response and didn’t get the one I expected. The Admiral sat for a moment, then said, “Tomorrow there will be visitors on base.” I looked at him knowing there was more to come. “These visitors will be taking possession of our “property,” and you will oversee the transfer personally. If all goes well you will have a hard time carrying your wallet around, due to its size.” He gave an uncharacteristic chuckle. “But if you screw this up, I will see that you are busted back to ensign and on a boat somewhere very cold and very lonely. Am I clear and understood?” He gave me a hard stare. “I completely understand, sir!” No pressure there.

Back in my room ten minutes later, and looking to relax, I threw my keys on the table and was removing my belt, when I came across the manual, tucked in my back pocket. I have forgotten all about it! I opened it and could see it was for the panel it was taking from. It didn’t seem complicated, as I remembered there were only two multi-function buttons. The manual simply said, “Yellow button for raising/lowering water levels.” Then below that it said, “Red button for opening/closing grate to outside seaway.” I thought about her, and what would be the fate of this wonder of nature. Would the lab technicians go to work cutting and chopping? Would she feel any pain? And in the end, would she end up as nothing more than a decoration in the Admiral’s office. This was above my pay grade, so why worry about something I have no control over. Besides, hasn’t she killed? Doesn’t she deserve whatever befalls her? And yet, is she any different than the great cats of the African plains? Who am I do judge what is in her nature? Through the night I wrestled with conflicting thoughts, only to “awaken” to my alarm clock with what seemed like no sleep at all.

A half-hour later I was at command. There were already trucks there and a lot of movement. One of the trucks was shrouded and I know what was soon to be in it. I felt uneasy, but new my duty was to obey the orders given to me without question. Still…

Admiral Orlin was waiting with five men, all of which had a very “civilian” feel about them. One was dressed in a lab coat, and the others wore quality Italian suits. With very little in the way of introductions, the Admire directed me to lead the way. “Yes sir!” I responded and turned to lead them towards the treasure they came for. My men were waiting in front of the building, shoulder to shoulder and exemplifying military professionalism. They were impressive when they chose to be. Moments later we stood at the hatch, upon entry the man in the lab coat made a quick note of the control panel and then we began down the stairs. Midway down, I stopped to give them more information on what to expect, including our experience with losing time at the sound of her voice. “Greffin!” The Admiral bellowed. “That’s information that these men could have used prior to arriving!” The man in the lab coat spoke up. “Not to worry, we have special earplugs to filter the effects. We’re well prepared.” One of the suited men chimed in, “Besides, we’ll have her sedated in no time.”

“I felt a hand on my shoulder, and realized that I had unknowingly walked ten feet, and now stood at the edge of the pool.”

As we reached the bottom step, I was again in awe of the breathtaking rockeries and waters; and there, sitting atop of the stone plateaus, was the siren. She was mesmerizing and beautiful, but changed from our previous meeting, for this time, her guise resembled Kayla! And although I had prepared myself for this meeting, and knew this was nothing more than an illusion, I still felt as though I wanted to dive into the waters and swim to her; to be with her always. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and realized that I had unknowingly walked ten feet, and now stood at the edge of the pool. I realized that once again I had lost time and was only awakened by the suited man’s hand upon my shoulder. “Wake up soldier,” he said. “Let’s get this tank drained and the catch subdued.” I snapped to attention! “That’s what the panel upstairs is for. I’m on it!” With that, I took to the stairs and in moments was standing in front to the switchboard. As I reached out for the yellow button, I hesitated, realizing the absolute power I had control over. Do I drop the water level, assigning this wonderous being a certain death on the laboratory table? Or do I open the grate and enable her escape, releasing her to once again prey on the men of the sea?

Inside, I knew what I had to do. I was a navy man through and through, which meant following orders. No matter what my personal beliefs were, I had an assignment to complete. I reached out and pressed the red button. The sound of hydraulics and the clanking of heavy metal echoed through the building. What had I done? Had I made this choice on my own? Or had the Lorelei possessed me in that single moment?

The Admiral’s voice boomed up the stairs, “Greffin! Shut it down! You’ve hit the wrong button!” Although winded, he continued, “The grate is open! She’s getting away! Greffin, you’re in deep sh…” The last of his words began fading, as I was already heading out the door and back into the morning air. I didn’t know what my future at this base would be, if there was any future at all. And I didn’t know what the future of the world would be, with a Lorelei once again free to swim its oceans. As I stood, pondering what comes next, I looked up, and across the parking lot I saw Kayla, casually making her way to the office. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know who I want to spend it with.

Written by Darin Pittman

Darin Pittman is a Seattle author, specializing in science fiction, and
drama & suspense. He can be reached at DrawForFood@Hotmail.com

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