Four cranes loomed like sentinels in the fog--steel frameworks dulled by the mists swirling over the Navy Yard.
There was the clanking sound of the anchor chain running, then a splash. The shudder of the deck beneath his feet as the engines stopped.
His footsteps echoed loud on the wooden deck as he turned up the others.
Fletch, old buddy! We gonna do it today?
Looks that way, he answered--as he always did.
He saw the ripple of apprehension, and felt it, too. Always the same every time.
The captain jumped down to the forward deck and droned orders at them. Form up--everybody in a circle--maintain hand contact--
He stiffened when the alarm sounded. In reflex, his arms shot out, grabbing the two outstretched hands on either side.
The humming tone started low and distant, from behind the bridge and below. He felt the vibration building up through his shoes.
Then the deck started to go.
The dark caulking strips lost color, then definition. The wood faded.
The circle moved, each man trying to draw closer to his neighbor.
He shifted, adjusted his position, and stared aft, locking onto the bridge.
The deck! Look at the deck! someone yelled.
He swung his eyes down, then sucked air.
The deck had vanished.
Beneath his feet, he saw the vague outline of what must have been the chain locker. And below that--nothing.
Nothing except the dark waters of the river.
The humming tone climbed the scale, piercing through his body. A force gathered and swelled with the rush of noise.
The circle of men writhed, contracting like a mindless animal in pain. He watched a man's features contort with fear, the mouth moving, trying to form words that never came. The man's face vanished. All that remained was his right leg.
He watched the dismembered limb jerk back and forth in empty space, riding the roll of the invisible deck.
Harold Fletcher sat bolt upright in bed--screaming.
His terrified wife switched on a bedside lamp.
She ripped a hand free from his iron grip and cradled her husband's head against her breast. An hour later his heaving sobs finally subsided.