Frank Wilson’s eyes blink open three minutes before his alarm. Enough time on the submarine had trained him to sleep in six-hour shifts almost exactly, despite how deep he normally sleeps. He yawns, shuffling out of his bunk until his feet hit the ground. He expects to see the usual — someone asleep across the way, someone reading a book in soft lamplight. Instead, he finds himself alone.
Must be in the Mess, Frank thinks. Dressing quickly, he makes his way down the hall. Most mealtimes, the sounds of clinking and pleasant chatter filter from the Crew’s Mess into the rest of the boat, along with the ever-present smell of coffee. Frank finds none of the sort as he walks into an empty Mess, lit up by only red emergency lights. It’s silent, save for the rhythmic, staticky sounds from the record player in the corner, long past finished playing. As he moves to turn it off, Frank notices trays still left on the tables with unfinished food. The table nearest him has a splatter of some dark juice left on the surface. Frank leans in, trying to get a closer look, when someone calls, “Wilson?”
Frank jumps, almost knocking over a half-empty glass of water. He squints at the doorway across the room. “Jesus, Benny,” he laughs shakily once he recognizes his crewmate. “Nearly scared me to death. Where is everyone? What’s going on?”
“I woke up not long ago. No one else was out here,” Benny says. He tilts his head when Frank lets out a groan of frustration.
“Must’ve run into another sub or something,” Frank guesses. “I can’t believe we both slept through the alarm. I bet everyone else is already at battle stations. You should head to the back, see if they need help with the engine.”
Benny nods, turning stiffly on his heel and leaving. Frank makes to go after him, but he catches something out of the corner of his eye that stops him. A pool of dark liquid seeps beneath the door to the kitchen. Kneeling, Frank swipes a finger through it and brings it to his nose, catching a whiff of something metallic.
He stumbles away as the realization hits him. It’s everywhere he looks now, stains and splatters that seem black in the red light. Trembling, he reaches for the kitchen doorknob before thinking better of it.
Instead, he half-jogs to Command, poking his head into rooms on the way, bathed in the same dull, red, blinking light. Each empty room only serves to quicken the thudding beats of his heart. Part of him wants to call out, see if there’s someone else, anyone else there, but he cannot escape the feeling that he should not let himself be found first.
The door to Command is shut when he gets there. Frank hears a soft voice on the other side as he draws closer. “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday.”
Frank knocks and the voice immediately stops. “It’s Wilson, Frank Wilson,” he says, soft but urgent. “Open up.”
“Like hell,” the person says, and Frank blinks.
“Benny?” He asks. “How’d you get over here before me?”
“No way,” Benny says, “I’m not buying it. Who are you gonna be next? The Captain? Me?”
Scowling, Frank slams his fist on the door. “What are you even talking—”
Frank turns around slowly, ice creeping into his veins. “Hi, Benny,” he says, staring wide-eyed at a crewmate he could have sworn was on the other side of the door. “I thought you were down by the engines.”
Up close, Frank starts to notice something not quite right about this Benny’s appearance. One eye droops a bit lower than the other. His fingers, where they twitch by his side, are bent at strange angles. “It’s empty there,” Not-Benny says. Frank’s gaze flits to the bottom of Not-Benny’s pants, which are splattered with dark stains. “We should return to the surface, Wilson.”
Frank can hear the real Benny swear softly behind him. And, judging by the way his impersonator tilts its head, it can hear it too. The creature begins stalking towards him, and Frank spins around, pounding on the door.
“Benny, man, please, you gotta let me in there. Please, Benny,” Frank begs. He barely has time to react when hands wrap around his neck, twisting it until it snaps.