Into the belly of the beast.
In a much calmer swell we clambered up onto the hull of the U-boat and wadded waist deep to the conning tower. The ladder was rusted and broken away in places and it soon became obvious that we had as much chance of getting tetanus as drowning. The Monkey clambered up easily enough and lowered down a rope to help me climb. Once up there we used the mini oxyacetylene cutter to loosen up the hatch and then we popped it open with a couple of pry bars.
Looking down through the hatch we could see that the sub was pretty much flooded, and we took it for granted that the hull must have been holed, maybe by Allied fire. We put on our masks and mouthpieces and started down the inside ladder. Neither me nor The Monkey are dive experts. We have pissed about a bit doing some spear fishing around the Cornish coast but nothing as freaky as this. Turning on the dive lights just made everything even stranger. The U-boat must have been wedged there for a good few years as there are quite large rocky formations even on the inside – it’s very much like diving into an underwater cave. As we swam further in, we could make out the control panels and seating. No skeletons sitting at the controls. All of the bones were scattered around the deck.
It took us an age to swim about in that underwater crypt, trying not to get snagged, trying to find something that might have pointed the black hole here. It was strange. All the bulkhead doors were open. Why would that be the case if they were taking on water? Then we got to the torpedo room and saw that the hatch doors on the tubes were all open and when we looked down them, we could see daylight filtering in. Scuttled; the sub had been scuttled.
We used our rudimentary knowledge of U-boats gained from watching Das Boot to locate the captain’s cabin and there we found a locked box – the only thing vaguely interesting in the whole place. Between us we got the box back to the conning tower and started up. I got the most unpleasant feeling that something was following us and I couldn’t get up the fucking ladder fast enough. I looked back at the top and maybe, just maybe, I saw a shadow at the bottom of the ladder. We took off our masks and I looked at The Monkey and knew that he had felt something too.
Anyway, we got the fuck off that sub doubletime and made it back to the black hole without incident. The Nerds were very excited about having Nazi goodies and had to be dissuaded from trying to open the box there and then. We got all the kit through the hole and then ourselves. The Monster Highs stood and stared through the hole for a long time after we were all through. The Monkey asked them if everything was okay and they said that they didn’t know…
The box. We haven’t been able to open it. It seems to have some sort of puzzle for a lock and the Nerds have been desperately trying to keep The Monkey from shooting it off. They believe that it may be rigged to destroy the contents or even those trying to open it – even after all these years. So they want us to see a friend of theirs who is very, very good with puzzles. Nerd!
The girls sat and stared at the black hole all night. This morning they told the Nerds to set up the protection grid and wouldn’t leave the room until they had done it. I asked them what was wrong and if we had anything to worry about but again, they said that they didn’t know…
The Nerds puzzle guru is a lecturer at Bristol Uni. Me and The Monkey have reservations about bringing someone else into the house, but it might be safer than travelling with the box. So – Prof Brian is driving down this evening after he gets through with some Uni business. The Nerds had him on speaker phone when they told him about the box, and he went from very professional to excited schoolboy in a heartbeat. Cute, in a geeky way. Everyone has been warned not to talk about the black hole or any of that crazy shit. The Nerds might think the Prof is a good guy but until The Monkey has vetted him, he is only getting to see the box.
Just waiting for the Prof now. Not smashing it this evening – probably better to be mostly sober when he arrives…
Prof Brian – early 40s, sporting the dress sense of a much older don but with a Stone Roses T-shirt under his tweed jacket and an almost Daliesque moustache. The Nerds introduced him to everyone, and he was fine until the Monster Highs walked in, at which point he started to stammer a bit – they have that effect on some people. Anyway, he soon forgot about that when we brought out the box. He stared at the lock for a long, long time before he even touched it and then he ran his hands around all of the box’s edges. We watched him expectantly for a while and then The Monkey got bored and wandered off followed by the girls and then me, leaving just a little clump of Nerds (what is the collective noun for Nerds?).
We went into the back garden and The Monkey sparked up a cigar and produced a bottle of Jack and we chatted with the girls and passed the bottle around. After about an hour Kev came out and said that the Prof was convinced that although the box had been made in Nazi Germany the lock was much older, possibly Russian, and had been retrofitted to the box. But could he open it? Yes, but it was going to take time. I asked Kev what made the Prof such an expert in puzzles and he said that he had been interested in puzzles since he was a very small child and had even appeared on kids’ TV shows solving Rubik’s Cubes in record time. Then he had got into programming and in his late teens, cryptography. He had worked for some of the big software companies writing encryption algorithms but became disillusioned when he saw how they got into bed with military and government agencies to capture and share information on ordinary people. Consequently, he burnt out by his late 20s. So, he left and got back into puzzles in a big way, travelling the globe looking for ancient and not so ancient pieces and then lecturing in programming at Uni to support his passion. This is how the Nerds had met him and become good friends.
We went back in and The Monkey asked if we could just shoot the lock off at which the Prof became horrified at the prospect of his new toy being vandalised. He literally pleaded with The Monkey to not do anything hasty saying that, as the Nerds suspected, there may be a vial of acid or similar inside the box which would be broken and released should the lock be forcibly opened, thus destroying the contents. The Monkey shrugged and we went back to drinking.
Today the Prof has been minutely examining the intricate designs around the lock that all slide in different directions – bit like one of those sliding block puzzles. To be honest, he may get his jollies that way but me and The Monkey find it tedious so we left the Nerds gathered round him again like some geeky witches’ coven and we headed back down to Falmouth to drop off the diving gear to the Ruskies.
Wow! Just got back and the Prof has conjured up a flipchart from somewhere. The living room is now covered with abnormally large sheets of paper which in turn are covered with the arcane scribblings of a man on a mission. He says that he has seen something similar to these sliding patterns before in a temple in Tibet. This has caused him to rethink the origin of the lock and sent him off on a different unlocking tangent. I asked him how he does what he does, and he replied that he sees the patterns that the puzzles create and that allows him to work through them. Dave said that this is the way many mathematicians see equations, and all the Nerds nodded sagely. Me, I don’t do hard sums…
In the early hours of the morning the Prof managed to open the lock. Unfortunately, it was only an outer lock so now there is a secondary set of intricately patterned metal bits – a puzzle within a puzzle. He has gone to bed now as I think it has fried even his brain…
Okay – shit has been happening…
Prof Brian woke from his slumber and got back on it. He was in the groove after getting through the first layer of the lock and it was early evening when the Nerds came running out to the back garden where me and The Monkey were in the process of burning meat over charcoal. We all piled back into the living room and there was the Prof holding up the box minus the lock. As The Monkey took the box, I thanked the Prof and then we all gathered around as The Monkey opened the lid.
There in the box was a small, cuddly, stuffed rabbit toy. We looked at each other and the Nerds laughed but The Monkey stretched out his paw and as his finger approached the rabbit, we could clearly see flickering fire running across his fur. The Monkey withdrew his paw to avoid burning the rabbit and the girls lifted it between them and examined it. They produced a small, curved blade from a mini skirt waistband and slit the rabbit along its stitches. With a little squeezing out slid a brownish black stick like object. We all gathered a little closer and that’s when the Prof said, ‘It’s a finger bone!’
In the night I was woken from a restless sleep by a Monster High sitting bolt upright in bed. ‘What’s up?’ sez I. She just looked at me, grabbed my hand and dragged me out onto the landing. Almost simultaneously the other Monster High burst out of The Monkey’s room dragging him behind her. For a split second they looked at the spare room door and then they were through it, hissing like cats. In we went after them and there we saw a shape, a human figure, bulging through the protective web covering the black hole. The Monkey burst into flames and he punched the shape right in its head. There was a strange distant scream and the shape disappeared from the black hole.
Then followed hours of us running around the Scottish mountainside after whatever was trying to push through. I had managed to grab some shorts, but the girls were stark naked, which was kinda cool, and The Monkey was all covered in monkey god fire. Haven’t seen him like that for a while and it was obvious something serious was up. I had also grabbed night vision goggles and the Glock. By the time the sun started to rise we had found nothing, except for me, I had found loads of mozzie bites…
We came back through the black hole before the sun was fully up and I went round to the Nerds and got them to come and seal the hole again while we got some sleep. The girls reckon it is something from the sub, the same something they sensed when we came back with the box. After a couple of hours sleep, we went back through on the bikes while the girls guarded the hole from the spare room. We were all tooled up, AA-12s, the works. I had persuaded The Monkey to flame off as I didn’t want him setting me on fire as he rode pillion, so he was carrying his trusty H&K. Nothing. An entire day of nothing.
Some more sleep followed by another all-night search session – me, The Monkey and the girls (disappointingly dressed this time), but once again, nothing. And then sleep followed by another day on the bikes. Whatever it is, it is very good at hide and seek. The girls have suggested that we play it another way, so tonight we will leave the hole open and wait in the dark of the spare room for our friend to poke its head through and then cut it off. In the meantime, Tony and Prof Brian have been examining the bone. Seems the Prof is pretty good at the old Time Team stuff as well after his years of searching for ancient puzzles and he has some lab contacts who he is making full use of. They think the bone may be some holy relic, which, given the Nazis penchant for collecting occult paraphernalia, is quite probable. It makes The Monkey light up though so it must be some strong juju.
We are getting ready for a night of watching the black hole with more fire power than you can shake a stick at, and we also have some sticks…