Chronos and Death took the week off while I pick my marbles back up...
Debra leaned against Tom as they stood on deck, watching their ship sail out of the harbor. There wasn’t much to see in the dark, since their departure had been delayed for several hours, but they were finally on their way now. Some of the passengers around them continued to mutter about the inconvenience. Debra couldn’t understand their attitude. Whether the ship moved or not, weren’t they still enjoying the amenities?
“Are you having a good time?” Tom slipped his arm around her, smiling.
“It’s all wonderful.” Debra inhaled the fresh sea air, filled with happiness.
They’d had to delay their honeymoon for six months. This was the first opportunity to get away. The minor snafu with the missing passenger during the evacuation drill hadn’t dampened her spirits at all. After listening to the loudspeaker call for a ‘Mr. Anderson’ to report to his assigned station for half an hour, the Captain announced a short delay in their departure time. Now they were finally underway and two blissful weeks of sailing across the Atlantic stretched out before them. Debra looked forward to every second of it.
A small knot of crewmembers blocked the doorway as Tom and Debra made their way back inside. They exchanged cheerful smiles and the usual greetings, but Debra thought the crew seemed nervous. She dismissed the thought almost immediately. Maybe they were new members, unsure of themselves.
Seated for a late dinner, they both admired the ambiance of the formal dining room. It was their first cruise, so Debra had nothing to compare it to, but she found the tasteful elegance impressive.
Tom leaned towards her and whispered in her ear. “Have you noticed how the crew keeps wiping everything down? It’s almost obsessive.”
“I’m glad,” Debra replied. “They’ve had their share of viruses running rampant on these ships. Maybe that missing passenger was ill. I’m going to go to the ladies room before the waiter comes by.”
The cavernous restroom echoed as Debra entered. Its opulent décor looked more like a lounge. Just as she entered the stall, she heard footsteps approach from the far end.
“Did you hear the latest on that sick passenger?”
No one answered. The person must be on a cell phone, Debra thought.
“Well, he died. Doc thinks the virus might be spreading too. A couple more people have already been in to see him. He said we’ve got to keep wiping everything down. If this gets out of hand, we’ll all be out of a job.”
Debra snuck a peek under the stall door. A pair of deck shoes stood in front of the sink, just like the ones that the crew wore.
“You’re down there now? Oh, good. Ask Doc…what do you mean the body’s missing? I’ll be right there.” The shoes hurried out the door, leaving Debra to wonder what was going on.
Their table companions were seated just as Debra returned, forestalling her chance to relay the disturbing conversation to Tom. The older couple chatted amiably, explaining that this was their 30th cruise in the past ten years. The man, Albert, died right after the soup was served, falling face-first into his bowl. The crew unobtrusively whisked him away. Despite his wife’s cries, the diners on the other side of the massive room had no idea what took place. Debra tried to remain philosophical about the incident. Albert hadn’t seemed ill at all. The man most likely had a heart attack, quick and hopefully painless.
After being unable to eat the night before, Debra woke up starving, banal as that seemed. She and Tom hurried up to the top deck for breakfast, passing a legion of crew busy cleaning. Last night’s conversation came back to her in a rush. She looked out at the vast ocean. The sun sparkled off the small whitecaps formed by the ship’s passage through the deep water. Debra could well imagine this ship being the only thing left on earth…bobbing in an endless sea, never reaching land again. The thought made her queasy.
“I’m suddenly not feeling well. Maybe I’m seasick.” Debra tried to make light of her condition, but the notion bothered her. She’d been out on smaller boats in the past, never experiencing any kind of problem.
“I’ll take you down to the infirmary,” Tom said. “They’ll have something for you to take.”
“I’m perfectly capable of finding my own way. You stay here and enjoy your breakfast. I’ll meet you in the room later.”
Debra gave him a kiss and walked to the elevator, past crew wiping down every surface in frantic abandon. Maybe she picked up a virus, like the one that other passenger had.
The infirmary was a small area, currently standing room only with several other passengers who looked a bit green. Debra passed out in the confined space, waking up later on a metal table. Two other tables had patients on them, unmoving and wearing toe tags. One of them was Albert, the man who’d died during dinner the night before. Was she lying in the morgue? Debra passed out again before she could formulate an answer.
The second time she woke, Albert was gone. A new body had taken his place. This one wasn’t dead, not yet anyway. The woman didn’t look very good; she seemed to be having trouble breathing. Where were the doctors?
Debra noticed the tag attached to her own right toe as she sat up to go find help. Pulling it off without comprehending, she noted her name and time of death written on it. Sloughing off a chunk of skin as she idly scratched her arm, Debra decided to go back to her room. She felt fine now and they were obviously short on beds down here.
©2009 Laura Eno
Published in Twisted Dreams Oct 2009