Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Haunting in Lower Level

I don’t want to talk about writing or the process. There, I said it.

“But who the hell are you?” some of you (most, probably) ask. Allow me to elucidate. My name is Thom Brannan, and I am the co-author of Pavlov’s Dogs (with D.L. Snell) and also co-authored (finished) the book coming up, pictured below:

You'll note the name in big white letters is not, in fact, Thom Brannan

Here’s the thing: everybody (writerly types) that has a blog eventually goes on about the writing process, and how things have to come together for them, or the importance of readers that aren’t family or friends, or the importance of the support of family and friends, or whatever. There are posts about the importance of networking, and the pitfalls of being distracted by it, and by the Internet as a whole. There are a lot of really good writers with excellent blogs, all full of that stuff. Whatever I may have to say about it will seem dull and uninteresting by comparison.

So let’s talk about something else instead. And I say this in all sincerity:

My first boat was haunted.

I was stationed on the USS Tunny (SSN-682) from mid-1996 to mid-1998. During that time, we did one WestPac (a western Pacific deployment) and a decommissioning. Between the two, there was some war games and a Tiger Cruise, where we took friends and family on board and steamed from San Diego to Bremerton, Washington. The ship was commissioned in the summer of 1974, and was the second submarine by that name.

Being so old, the boat had a long and storied history, most of which I knew goddamn nothing about. It didn’t matter to me; at the time I was busy trying to get qualified* and doing all the new-guy stuff. Being the junior-most member of Electrical Division, I had a lot of fun stuff to do. One of those things also stemmed from being the skinniest, and it involved getting stuck inside a large DC motor. But that’s a story for another day.

There was a night where I was on watch as Shutdown Electrical Operator. That was a watch station that was manned from midnight to six, mostly (I think) to keep the Shutdown Reactor Operator awake. But I had things to do, and every hour I was supposed to go around the engine room and get readings on a bunch of stuff for my logs.

This night, the ship was berthed at Yankee 23 (or 22) on the sub side of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. I think. The particulars have gotten fuzzy with time. Johnny was the SRO, and Skipp was the Shutdown Roving Watch, both guys that had been on Tunny for an appreciably longer time than I had.

It was at 0200 that I went into one of the compartments of the engine room, Auxiliary Machinery Room II, Lower Level. The layout was odd, because there was a set of threaded pillars in the middle and a control panel at the aft end, which were bracketed by a pair of large motor/generators. In front of all that was another panel which effectively blocked the rest of the compartment. (I would include a diagram to clarity, but I don’t know if the United States Navy’s thunder brigades would come down on me like a ton of National Security bricks.)

It was quiet, like you’d expect it to be at two in the morning. I stuck my face up to the plexiglass cover of one M/G, looking for sparks at the brushes, and I thought I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I stuck my head up. “Skipp?”

There was no answer, and I thought maybe Skipp was messing with me, so I ignored it. I went around the aft end to the other M/G to check it for sparks, too. As I did that, the movement from the corner of my eye repeated itself.

“Quit fucking around, Skipp,” I said. And again, there was no answer.


Tossing my clipboard up to AMR2 upper level, I took a last look around lower level, making sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. Someone would be up at 0300 to check our logs, and the person that night got testy when I forgot stuff, which may or may not have been often. Meh.

The ladder leading to upper level was straight up and down. I started climbing it, and felt a tug on the pants of my uniform. I looked down; there was nobody there. “Hello?” I said. Shrugging as best I could while halfway up a ladder, I looked back up and started again.

There was another tug on my leg, harder this time. I looked back down, checking to see if my pants were caught on a valve or support strut or something; no dice.

And then I saw my pants leg move on its own.

I shot up out of AMR2LL and ran to Maneuvering, where Johnny was stationed. He was sitting in there, talking with Skipp, and I knew.

“So neither of you guys were in Machinery Two, Lower Level just now?” I said.

They looked at each other, and son of a bitch, they knew, too.

“I don’t go down there at this pier,” Skipp said, and they took turns with how long AMR2LL had been haunted, or why it was only at this pier, if it had been a shipyard worker that bit the dust, or another sailor, or whatever. I didn’t have a lot to say for the next hour or so, which I’m sure shocked both of them.

So. That’s my story. I still don’t know what to make of it, and it’s one of those things I feel stupid bringing up to the old crowd... most of them are on Facebook, and it wouldn’t even be a thing to start a thread in the SSN-682 group, but I just don’t want to. Why not? I don’t know. Maybe I’m afraid I’m remembering it wrong. Or right. Or maybe it was a practical joke and they just forgot to tell me this whole time. Whatever it is, or was, I’m leaving it alone.

Next week, I'll run off at the mouth (fingertips) about the Green Hornet.

-Thom Brannan

* - Being qualified, for submariners, is an important thing. I still have my "fish," or Submarine Qualification insignia, in a place of honor. I also wear it on the back of my hardhat at work, and other people know what it means to me. It may or may not be a tattoo in the future. -TB


  1. I believe every word you just said.

    It may or may not have been a ghost or other paranormal visitation you and your mates experienced--but you certainly did experience it, and it's not uncommon at sea.

    An older friend of mine was on the _Columbus_ during Vietnam. He said that someone used to walk the foredeck during nightwatch--but there was never anyone there, even though most of the crew heard the footsteps at one time or another.

  2. I'm a believer. Though I've never actually seen one with my own eyes, I have a pet that passed away years ago who comes back to visit. She used to love to spend the night with me in bed, and every once in awhile I feel her running across the mattress or sleeping between my legs.