A Tight Fit
Who you gonna call when a magical creature gets caught in a pipe?
For a change of pace, instead of an article about story, here’s a short story I wrote for the NYC Midnight competition in July. This was a flash fiction contest, and my subgroup received the challenge to write a comedy that included a thermometer and took place on a submarine. I decided to throw a witch into the mix. Enjoy!
A Tight Fit
“I don’t know why you called me,” she said in a huff over the phone. “I deal with curses, not broken machinery.”
“Ma’am, I understand that, but the Chief swore you could help us. We have a leaking intake pipe and my crew can’t figure it out. Our CO ordered us to fix it before 1600 hours, and we’re out of options.”
“You want to hire me to fix a leaky pipe? I’m not a plumber.” Ophelia reached over to the possum curled up on her desk. “Hush, Frederico, I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“Pardon? Who’s Frederico?”
“Must you listen into my private conversations?”
“Ma’am, you said it over the phone. I can’t really—”
“Fine, I’ll look at your pipe. But I make no promises.”
“Ophelia Golub?” a woman called out. “I’m Chief Elaine Donaldson. We need your help. I hear you’re the best.”
“Of course I’m the best. But how am I supposed to go through that?” Ophelia said, gesturing to the open hatch. “It will be like trying to shove a cork back into a wine bottle.”
Donaldson held out her hand. “It’s bigger than you think.”
Ophelia was quite certain she knew how big it was, and that her ample figure would not fit through it. She grabbed the top of the ladder. Her skirt was blowing high with the ocean breeze as the spray misted her glasses. She sucked in her stomach. One leather bootie stretched to the ladder. She stepped down, and her hips pressed against the metal rim.
She swore. Why didn’t she stick to simple matters, like haunted houses? She dangled one foot and then gripped the highest rung with both hands. Maybe gravity would do the work for her.
Poof! Her body dropped through the hatch, but her skirts, caught on the rim, inverted. She felt like a corn cob after someone shucked it.
Blindly, she worked her way down until her skirt fluttered back down like a window shade. She wondered if the sailors had seen her bright blue panties with the white stars, her tribute to the hardworking men and women of the Navy.
As the others climbed down, perspiration gathered on Ophelia’s brow like an incoming storm front. There wasn’t enough space—everything was cramped and tight. And she was claustrophobic. She was thinking she should have mentioned that before they hauled her all the way here.
One of the sailors stepped to her side. “Lots of air breathers find it intimidating.”
“I’m not intimidated,” Ophelia said, but then the submarine rocked to one side, making her feel as trapped as a bug in a jar.
She sucked in a breath before following the chief. The corridors were narrower than the aisle on a plane, and she had to turn her body sideways. With her billowing skirt, she moved like a parade float trying to sneak down a side alley.
“Here it is,” Donaldson said. She pointed to a pipe with just a tiny crawlspace to reach it. Water was spewing everywhere. “It’s possessed.”
“Nah,” Ophelia shook her head. “That’s just in the movies. Perhaps there’s a nymph trapped inside?” She stuck her head and shoulder—all of her that would fit—through the opening to the pipe, straining her hand to reach it. “Yep. That’s the source of all your trouble.”
“A nymph?” Donaldson repeated. “You mean, like a fish? I suppose it’s possible, since it is an intake tube, but there are screens—”
“Not a fish—a nymph.” But Ophelia left it at that. It wasn’t like these sailors would believe in sea-dwelling nymphs who could charm a crew, anyway. She placed her hand on the steel pipe. “Don’t worry, sweetie,” she cooed, “I’ll get you out.”
“That’s your expert?” A man’s deep voice cut through the cramped space.
“Ow!” Ophelia banged her head against a cross-pipe. “Do you mind?”
Donaldson stepped in. “Skipper, this is Ophelia Golub. She’s helping us fix the pipe.”
Ophelia had to think fast. To get the faery out, she’d have to calm her down. With no better ideas on hand, she started singing.
The captain made a derisive sound. “What in fresh hell is that?”
“Um, that’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Chief Donaldson said.
“I know the song, Chief. But why is she singing? She’s no engineer. She needs to go.”
“Oh no, no, no.” Twisted up among the pipes, Ophelia felt dizzy. “I can’t abandon her here, not now!”
“Who?” He asked. “The room is flooding. Get out of there and close the bulkhead door!”
Ophelia tried to get out of her awkward position, but as she struggled, she wedged herself in worse. In her panic, she lost control of her magic. Suddenly there was water spraying in every direction.
“Oh no! What’s happening?” the chief cried out as the water rained down. “Make it stop!”
Ophelia rapidly drew symbols on the intake pipe with one wet finger. “Hang on!”
There was a mechanical sound as her magic stopped the pump. Then the engines. The air exchanges. Everything. The submarine’s mechanical functions had gone dead. Sailors were shouting and moving about.
But Ophelia paid them no mind. She could hear the sound of bubbling and clanging as something struck the pipe from inside. Then suddenly, a loud pop echoed through the small chamber.
“There you are,” Ophelia said, speaking sweetly to a small translucent figure even as the water stopped flowing. “Now off you go. Don’t mess with these meanies again, do you hear?”
The captain approached. “Have you lost your mind?”
“If I had, I wouldn’t look for it here,” Ophelia said, splashing through the water. “Your pipe’s fixed.”
“She’s right!” A sailor checked the intake thermometer. “She released the pressure. The temperature’s back to normal.”
With his announcement, the systems restarted, the motors whirring like a hive of happy bees.
After she shoved herself back up through the hatch, Ophelia called down to the chief. “Next time, maybe call a plumber?”
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