*this intensely melodramatic little story has two endings, mainly because my mother really didn't like the second one. Obviously I liked the second (and original) one, but, you know, power to the people and all that. Just go with your favourite.
It was the quiet that woke Radioman Wallace.
Where normally the ringing of the bell for change of watch would've echoed throughout the boat, there was nothing, just an ominous hush. The ever-present sound of booted feet slamming onto metal decks had disappeared entirely, replaced by a blanket of silence.
Still half-asleep, Wallace swung his feet out of bed, pulled his uniform on, then stopped and looked around in astonishment. The rest of the sleeping quarters was completely vacant. Bunks which should have been filled with the inert forms of resting men lay rumpled and empty, sheets askew; corridors which should have been choked with those coming off the last watch stood eerily empty. It was as if everyone else on the boat had simply disappeared.
Wallace called out, his voice echoing in the boat's steel belly: "Sir? Lieutenant? Anyone?"
The submarine drifted alone 300 feet under the surface of the ocean, and Radioman Wallace felt the first awakenings of fear.
Wallace walked out of the sleeping quarters and down the corridor to the radio room, his footsteps almost unbearably loud in the silence. He opened the door to his station, hoping
that the deserted sleeping quarters had somehow been an aberration, and that inside the radio room all would be as normal, his fellow submariners' heads bent to the displays -
The radio room was silent and empty, the best of cutting-edge military technology busy receiving messages that no-one was there to record.
In Sonar, next to the radio room, the unattended sonar set sent its mournful ping! out across the water, losing itself in the chasms of the seabed.
Wallace gathered his thoughts as he walked back through the boat, preparing to climb to the submarine's upper level, where the Control room waited. He tried not to think about what he'd do if he found Control empty; tried not to let his mind examine what could possibly have happened to the other 79 men aboard.
As he climbed the aft ladder, Kipling's If sprung to Wallace's mind unbidden; he began to chant it softly to himself, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, what's more, you'll be a Man, my son!" - which was all that he could remember, under his breath. At that moment, alone on the empty submarine, Wallace felt more like a small, lost child than a Man; but he kept chanting intently under his breath, giving himself a point of focus, reminding himself to stay in control.
Wallace padded down the hallway of the upper deck, and glanced towards the mess, his sense of foreboding growing by the second. The mess room's heavy steel door was closed, something Radioman Wallace had never seen before, and it was with intense trepidation that he walked past the silent Control room and placed his fingertips on the mess room door. A shudder ran through his body, and a sense of great evil filled him; his hair stood on end, his nerves jangling, and he drew back from the door as if it burned. This was the last place to look; this was, surely, where the rest of the crew had to be.
Wallace closed his eyes, still repeating "...what's more, you'll be a Man, my son," absently, and reached for the door's metal handle. It was icy to the touch, and as Wallace began to turn it every muscle in his body, every synapse in his brain was screaming at him to run, to retreat to his bunk and wait until all of this was over-
The door swung open. The mess hall was completely empty. Wallace stood bewildered in the doorway, If dying on his lips, and looked across the room. Half-eaten plates of food lay abandoned on the tables, and through in the galley something bubbled on the stove.
Very slowly, Wallace walked into the galley and turned off the gas.
As the door swung open, the Captain and crew leapt out from behind their chairs to shout, "Surprise!"
Radioman Wallace had forgotten that it was his birthday.