Fiction by David Smith
From his compilation Peek-A-Boo
Also included in the Sinister Saints anthology Strange Vacations.
From his compilation Peek-A-Boo
Also included in the Sinister Saints anthology Strange Vacations.
The raiders ravaged the remaining food and water stored in the safe haven, the storage lockers in the galley stripped of every tin, every packet, every box of food, every bottle of water. Anything edible was taken. Nothing was left for the other survivors by the time the marauders had finished searching the galley. Their leader had ordered his men to tie some of the crew and other survivors together to form one long human chain of about twenty souls, the Captain at the front.
‘You’re mad if you think you can bargain with those creatures,’ said the Captain to the gang’s leader.
‘Why wouldn’t they? I know what they want. I’ve watched them. They want human flesh. Well, guess what? I’ve got a long chain of it as a small gift for them, with plenty more to follow if they let us go.’
‘You are mad,’ said the Captain, ‘Let you go where? And how are you going to communicate with them to let them know what you want?’
‘The universal language of signs and gestures,’ said the leader, a smirk on his face, ‘I shoot a flare into your head to get their attention then take it from there.’
He grabbed the Captain by his hair and hissed in his face, ‘Now, get on your feet, it’s time for a little fresh air.’
Kent and Luke crept silently onto deck 12. They were lucky. There were no creatures to be seen, and the decks and walkways were clear of the white goo. To get to the next flight of stairs upwards to deck 13 they had to edge about twenty yards along the outside wall of the gymnasium. It was a long, exposed section and they knew they would be taking an enormous risk, but there was no other way to get to it. The two men crouched as they sprinted along the deck towards the steps. All clear. They had made it. They had reached the stairs to the next deck.
‘Shhh,’ hissed Luke, interrupting Kent, holding his hand up for him to be quiet. There it was in the distance, the whap-whap of the Chinooks. They were still hovering out there, but why so far away? Surely they should have been overhead by now, crack troops dropping onto the deck armed to the teeth, and ready to destroy the damned creatures. Luke strained his eyes to the horizon but there were no helicopters to be seen this side of the ship. He scoured the skyline. There was smoke, black and thick, belching into the air. Something was burning away in the distance. They needed to be the other side of the ship to see what it was.
Kent had spotted the smoke at the same time, so he understood Luke’s hand signals when he gestured to cut back to the gym. They could cross through it to get through to the other side of the ship quicker and safer than edging around the deck. The Gym’s windows were covered in reflective film so the two men couldn’t see inside. There was an access door into the gym half way back the way along the outer wall on deck, and the two men headed for it. Luke opened the gym door as quietly as he could to check it was safe. As soon as he had seen inside he closed the door as fast as he could without making a noise, at the same time fighting hard to keep down the contents of his stomach. What he had glimpsed in those few moments was horrific.
There were no creatures in the room, thanks God, but some had been very recently. The creatures were using the gymnasium as some kind of store room. Human bodies, hundreds of them, were lying on the gym floor. The heads had been severed off, the remaining bodies butchered to separate the arms, legs and torsos. These were stacked in neat, separate piles against every wall. There were metal tables in the middle of the room with part dismembered bodies lying on them, their entrails in a pile between the tables. The floor was awash with dark red sticky blood inches deep. The room stank of death, putrid and sickening.
‘Let’s keep moving,’ said Luke as they headed for the staircase.
‘Quickly!’ shouted Lisa, as she started grabbing at the rungs and climbing as fast as she could. Libby didn’t need any instruction, she was climbing right behind her, desperate to get as far up the vent as she could, away from the shrieking monster below. The beast suddenly lunged up at me and nearly caught my ankle with its sharp teeth. I snatched my leg away. But it jumped again, gripping one of the rungs below me with its talons to get nearer. I was caught! It had me by the heel of my shoe. It bit hard, cutting through the shoe as easily as cutting through a peeled banana. Luckily it hadn’t bitten into my flesh. It spat out the rubber as it grabbed hold of another rung just below me. I saw its ugly, razor sharp teeth gnashing at my feet as I climbed, praying my hands would find the rungs above me in the dark.
But it stopped. It could go no further into the duct. The Captain had been right. The shape of the creature, its long back legs, prevented it from getting further inside the narrow vent. It snarled and spat saliva at me as I climbed with all my strength as fast as I could to escape. The ghastly beast let out a deafening howl of frustration as we disappeared round the corner of the vent and to safety.
But where was safe? If these creatures now had access to the inner section of the ship wouldn’t they eventually find us all? Then the truth of our situation hit me. They could enter any part of the ship they wanted to. That horrific milky goo could melt the very fabric of the ship. Hadn’t it done so when the creatures attacked the theatre? They would eventually catch us all. It was just a matter of time unless we were rescued.
The leader of the rabble pressed his flare gun into the face of the Captain as he walked his captives out of the ship onto deck ten. Twenty people were tied in a chain, twenty gifts to be sacrificed to the beasts as a trade for sanctuary for the gang of thugs. Their leader and two of his followers would negotiate the trade. The thugs pushed their offering out of the ship and lined them up along the rail.
‘I’ve seen them up here, just round the corner near the stern deck,’ said the leader to the Captain, ‘There’s a column of that white stuff there. They just go in and out of it like it was the entrance to a station. I think we’ll start negotiations there, eh Captain?’
Both men noticed the smoke at the same time, three distinct columns of thick, black smoke pouring into the air from the surface of the white goo about a mile away.
‘What the fuck…’ said the gang leader, distracted by what he’d seen.
There was wreckage strewn around the base from where each column of smoke started. The Captain said nothing but he knew what it meant. Three aircraft, probably Chinooks carrying troops, must have crashed as soon as they entered the air space above the white goo, their electricity neutralised, their engines cutting out. The wreckage from the aircraft would have sunk into the goo leaving only debris light enough to sit on the rock hard surface. The Captain’s heart sank. There would be no rescue. But the sky was still dotted with aircraft, all just outside the surface covered by the goo. Rescue was so close, but how could they get to the ship? Would he and the other prisoners of the gang even survive the next few minutes?
The sudden low growling from the balcony above them brought their focus right back to their situation on the deck. They all looked up to see the horror of four creatures with clubs in their hands climbing over the edge of the deck above heading towards them.
‘Stop,’ hissed Lisa back down the vent to Libby and me. We froze. We had reached the top of the vents, the point the main shaft exited onto the top deck. I was worn out. It had been a hard climb, hand to hand up the thin, metal rungs that lined the inside of the vents. I looked up and could see daylight, but it was the wrong colour!
‘There’s something covering the vent,’ Lisa hissed down to us, ‘Hold on…I can touch it.’
‘Be careful,’ whispered Libby, ‘It might be that goo.’
‘It’s not,’ said Lisa, ‘It’s some sort of material…there are ropes attached…My God! It’s a parachute.’
Lisa pushed open the grille covering the exit of the vent and scrambled out onto the top deck. It was a parachute, and she had to crawl under it to get out of the hatch. Her head emerged from the edge of the parachute straight into the barrel of a Sig Sauer P226 pistol.
‘Where the hell did you spring from?’
The voice belonged to a muscular wiry man in combat uniform. He took hold of Lisa’s arm and helped her to her feet. She pulled the parachute away from the vent to reveal Libby and me as we scrambled out into the sunshine.
‘Thank God!’ said Lisa, hugging the man briefly, relieved that help had arrived, ‘We thought we’d all die on this ship.’
‘I hate to disappoint you,’ said the man, ‘but I’m as stuck here as you are. Our plane just ditched on us as soon as we were above the plasma. The engines cut out. We managed to bail out and steer our chutes onto the ship.’
‘How many of you are there?’ asked Lisa.
‘Thirty bailed but there are only six of us left alive. A few landed on that stuff out there. It dragged them under in minutes. Those creatures got the rest, picked them off as they landed. We got a few with our handguns on the way down but it was a slaughter, our guys were overrun as they hit the decks.’
‘Are we safe out here?’ I asked.
I think so, for now anyway. I’ve checked around and there’s no sign of those things.’
‘Where are the other men?’ asked Libby.
‘On a scouting party. They’ll be back here soon. They’ve gone to see if they can recover some of our weapons. I’ve only got this revolver. A couple of the guys that died had weapons packs. We need those if we’re to stand a chance of surviving. There’s one by the pool but I can’t get to it.’
‘Creatures?’ I asked.
‘No, the plasma. There’s a line of it I can’t cross.’
‘Show us,’ said Libby.
He led us to the top deck pool area. He checked that it was clear of any creatures then took us across to where a parachute hung off a ship’s mast, the body of one of his compatriots dangling from the ropes like a grotesque marionette. The corpse’s feet were just touching the floor, stuck in a pool of goo that covered the deck area. On the dead man’s back was the rucksack that contained the weapons.
‘I can get it,’ said Libby. Before anyone could stop her she stepped onto the goo.
Kent and Luke climbed the staircase towards the top deck. They were half way up when they heard the growling. Both men turned to look back down and saw one of the beasts stood at the bottom of the stairs, a large knife in its claw. Luke raised his flare gun and aimed it at the beast. Before he had a chance to pull the trigger a huge blow struck him on his back. The creature that was hidden at the top of the staircase exploded, the force of the blast sending both men tumbling down the staircase. They landed at the feet of the beast waiting there. In a flash it raised its knife ready to strike at the men.
A bullet zipped through the air and smacked into the belly of the creature and in an instant it disintegrated into a shower of white sickly goo soaking the two men lying helpless on the floor.
‘You guys alright?’ asked the soldier as he popped his head from under the lifeboat cover, his revolver still smoking from his two kills.
The gang leader stepped forward towards the creatures lining the balcony above the line of prisoners. He didn’t seem in the least afraid.
‘Look what I’ve brought you, guys!’ he yelled to them. The creatures climbing down stopped in their tracks, eyeing him with curiosity.
‘Do you speak English? Abla Espanol?’ he bellowed at the beasts, then quietly to himself he said, ‘Stupid monkey fuckers.’
He made a broad gesture with his arms, sweeping them from his chest back towards the line of prisoners behind him.
‘I give you these…then you let me and my men go, yes!?’
The beasts watched him but didn’t move.
‘I know where there’s many more!’
One of the creatures moved slowly from the balcony above, still eyeing the man curiously. It didn’t leap on him, it walked down the wall and stepped towards the leader.
‘See,’ said the leader to the Captain, ‘I can deal with these fuckers. Just think, when you die at least it’ll be for a reason now, to save me and my…’
He never finished his sentence. In a flash the creature was on him, tearing into his head with its razor sharp teeth, ripping lumps of flesh from his face in a crazed frenzy. He didn’t even have time to scream. The other creatures leapt from the balcony down towards the prisoners, wielding their knives and clubs and shrieking as they fell. The Captain and the others braced themselves for what they hoped would be a swift and painless death.
The beasts never landed alive. A sudden burst of machine gun fire strafed the creatures when they were in mid air. Their bodies exploded in a sickly blast of the white putrescence, spattering the walls and deck as their shattered remains rained down.
Two soldiers appeared from behind a booth on the deck near the rail.
‘Let’s get moving before their buddies arrive,’ said one of the men to the Captain as they started cutting the prisoners free.
As Libby stepped on to the surface of the goo my heart nearly stopped. But she was okay! She didn’t get stuck. She could walk on it as if it was a concrete path. The Captain had been right again. She walked slowly over to the dead soldier. She could just about reach the clips that held the rucksack to the body. She unclipped the catches and the rucksack slid off the dead man’s back onto the floor.
‘Don’t carry it back,’ I hissed at her, ‘You’ll be too heavy.’
I turned to the soldier and said, ‘Any weight above ten stone sticks to it.’
The soldier took out a dagger from his belt and slid it across the goo to Libby.
‘Cut a length of cord from the parachute and tie it to the sack, then throw me the end.’
In moments Libby had completed the task and threw the end of the rope back to the soldier. He gently pulled the rucksack across the goo till it was safely in his hands. Libby walked slowly back to us, and I grabbed and hugged her when she was safely back with us.
The soldier rummaged through the sack taking out grenades, an automatic rifle and ammunition, then closed the rucksack before slipping it on his back.
‘Use this,’ he said to Lisa, giving her his pistol.
‘We’ve got weapons,’ she said, just as we heard a loud howl from a creature on the stairway nearby.
‘Sounds like we’ll need them soon,’ said the soldier.
‘What can you tell us about these animals?’ asked the soldiers releasing the Captain.
‘They eat flesh. They butcher those they catch as if they were sheep or cattle. I think they’re harvesting people. I’ve only seen them use clubs and knives so far. They can move in and out of that slimy goo as easy as you or I could slip in and out of a swimming pool. They seem to be able to live and breathe in it like we can air.’
‘How many people dead so far?’
‘I’ve no idea. I only know how many were still in my care an hour or so ago, about two hundred.’
‘Jesus!’ said the soldier, ‘There were over five thousand people on board.’
‘What do you know about these creatures?’ asked the Captain.
‘Not much. That white plasma, it emits radiation.’
‘Are we contaminated?’
To go through all this, survive and then die of radiation poisoning would be worse than cruel. The soldier read his face and reacted straight away.
‘It’s okay, nothing dangerous. But it does allow us to see what’s going on. We can measure the size and shape of the plasma, your so called goo. There is a mass of it stuck to the bottom of the ship, directly underneath it. It changes shape, but it’s a finite quantity, so it gets thinner or thicker depending on what’s happening. Last we knew it was torpedo shaped, and directly beneath the hull of the ship, but with a thin, saucer shaped disc covering the surface of the sea for about two miles. It puts thick columns up through the ship’s hull in various places. When it does, the disc gets smaller. It must be drawing it in to use for the columns. This thing, spacecraft or whatever it is, is huge. It has a total mass about 50% bigger than this ship.’
Before the Captain could speak a sudden violent shudder ran through the ship. It was over in seconds but it shook the ship with a massive force, a force sufficient to make huge cracks appear in the walls and the deck. The ship was coming apart, splitting into pieces.
The sound of the gunfire had attracted more creatures. Luke, Kent and the soldier ran up the stairs towards the top deck as fast as they could but they could hear the howling of the creatures as they bounded out from the inside of the ship, heading in their direction. Kent suddenly stopped in his tracks. Above them he saw the heads of two creatures bounding along the top deck towards where they were.
‘We’re trapped!’ he shouted.
The soldier fired two shots at the creatures running up the staircase towards them. Both were direct hits and the beasts burst with force, spreading their sickening innards across the stairs. But behind them six more of the beasts suddenly appeared, above them two more. They were trapped! One of the creatures reached the top of the stairs above them. It raised its head to the sky and shrieked, a cry to its fellow creatures, there was a meal to be had.
But the cry was cut short by the sudden blast from a grenade detonated behind it, shattering the creatures to smithereens. Luke spotted another grenade, lobbed over the top deck towards the creatures massing at the bottom of the staircase. It landed in the middle of them.
‘Down!!’ he yelled and the three of them crouched flat, making themselves as small as they could.
The blast from the grenade was made worse by the exploding bodies of all the creatures. The men were lucky. None of the white hot shrapnel from the grenade hit any of them.
Lisa’s head appeared over the balcony above the men, followed shortly by mine, Libby’s and that of the soldier who had lobbed the grenades.
‘You all okay?’ said Lisa.
As the words left her lips another shudder struck the ship and a huge crack appeared near the bow. It slowly ran the length of the ship’s deck, cracking and grinding, ripping the deck in two.
‘Look!’ I shouted, ‘The sea!’
The sea, blue, choppy, as it should be. The milky goo was receding before our eyes, drawing inwards towards the ship. The upward rim at the edge had disappeared and we could see the gathering of craft that had been there all the time but blocked from our vision. There were dozens of ships, all navy vessels, the largest an aircraft carrier with Chinooks airborne, hovering just outside the edge of the goo.
‘The creatures,’ I said, ‘They must be leaving!’
I felt jubilant. We had survived. I started to cheer, jump up and down, and hug Libby and Lisa, but Luke looked more afraid that I’d seen him, even when facing the creatures.
‘The ship’s disintegrating,’ he said, ‘Quick!’ he shouted, ‘We need get to a deck at sea level or we’ll drown.’
We dashed down the staircase oblivious to the danger from the creatures.
As we flew down we passed the gym. Luke spotted that the door was now open, cracked off it’s hinges when the split had ran the length of the ship. Luke glanced inside as he passed. He stopped dead.
It was empty! All the dead bodies and body parts were gone! There was a huge circular hole in the middle of the gym floor about five yards wide. He saw the last of the white goo as it receded downwards through the floor heading towards the creature’s craft clinging like a limpet to the bottom of our ship.
I was right, they were leaving now. They were taking what they had come for, a stock of human flesh. They had harvested what they could and, with forces massing nearby, must have decided it was time to cut and run.
The Captain and the remains of his crew ran through the ship to get to the crew’s dining room, desperate to get those still alive down there up on deck. The door to the room was wide open when he arrived. The last of the rabble fleeing when the cracks started to appear in the walls of the ship. They had fled, God knows where, leaving their prisoners tied up. The Captain and his men worked furiously to cut through the ropes. As each was released the crew hurried them to the nearest deck where they could jump into a lifeboat.
The last passenger left in the room was Carol. The noise of the ship twisting and disintegrating was by now horrendous. He was so desperate to free her that he never heard the low growl of the creature that suddenly appeared in the doorway, a knife clenched in its claw. It was the last of the beasts to leave, scavenging for what extra bootee it could find before joining its compatriots.
The goo had retracted as quickly and as suddenly as it had arrived. The sea was now lapping around the hull of the ship. I was in a navy lifeboat with the others but Libby wouldn’t come. She stood on the deck, resolute.
‘I can’t leave without Carol. I’m going back to find her,’ she shouted. To my horror she ran back inside the ship. I jumped back onto the deck and ran after her. I knew exactly where she was heading and was right behind her as she ran through the passages and gantries inside the ship towards the crew’s dining room.
The whole ship seemed to be shuddering and shaking, splits and cracks appearing in the walls, ceilings and floors around us as we ran. Libby heard the beast’s growl as we ran towards the room. Despite the darkness in the depths of the ship she saw it, the back of the hideous creature, standing ready to pounce in the doorway of the room where she hoped Carol would be.
‘Libby!’ I screamed.
The creature didn’t pounce on the Captain. It stopped. My scream had caught its attention. It turned its head slowly towards us, saliva dribbling from its lips.
In an instant it was airborne, a huge leap, the knife high in the air ready to plunge into Libby’s neck. But she was lightening quick. The flare she fired hit the creature smack in its chest, and blasted it into white pulp in a fraction of a second, the knife clattering harmlessly to the floor.
It was a race, us against the disintegration and sinking of the ship. It was literally crumbling around us as Carol, Libby, the Captain and I scrambled through the corridors to make it to the outside of the ship before it disappeared to the bottom of the sea. We knew we needed to be well away from the vessel when it sank, otherwise we’d be dragged down in its wake. My lungs were bursting and every muscle in my body ached with the exertion, but somehow we made it.
Water was rushing over the deck as we crashed through the door from inside the ship. It nearly swept Libby and me away, but the Captain and Carol held on to us as we worked our way up the deck. Suddenly a wall of water hit us as the stern snapped away from the rest of the ship with an almighty crack and headed for the ocean bed. We were all in water up to our necks, the deck slipping away from under our feet. I felt the strong pull of the downward flow of water. The stern was sucking us down with it. Was this to be our end, surviving the horror of the creatures’ attack only to drown when the ship sank?
I looked towards the surface and saw a dark shadow just above the water.
Soldiers! Diving into the water from a helicopter, swimming down to catch us before we disappeared into the deep forever. One grabbed my wrist and in seconds I was back at the surface, the winch above us grinding hard to lift us clear of the turbulence and floating wreckage.
I saw Libby clinging to one of the soldiers, then Carol appeared, and finally the Captain. When we were all safely clear of the water and on board, the helicopter swung away from the sinking ship and headed for the aircraft carrier.
From the helicopter window I saw the vapour trails of the bank of missiles as they plunged into the sea about two miles away from us. There was an enormous explosion and the sea seemed to leap into the sky in a massive cloud of spray.
Had these missiles hit their target? Had the fleeing monsters inside their milky white plasma craft been destroyed? Where there more on their way from some distant planet, or already here, hidden in the deepest, darkest valleys of our oceans?
I still had to tell Libby about Dad and Mel, but that could wait. All I cared about then was that against all odds my sister and I had survived. That was good enough for now.
Only 178 people survived the attack on the ship, 157 passengers and 21 crew. The total loss of live was 5,371 souls of which no remains were ever found.
None of the survivors were ever charged with any maritime crimes, such as mutiny, despite several being identified as being amongst the rabble that attacked the safe haven.
Where the missiles struck no evidence was found of any creatures, plasma or human remains. The creatures, their vessel and the bodies they plundered had simply disappeared without trace.
The US military are spearheading through the UN joint international development of marine protection devices. These include mass water displacement detectors and low level radiation alarms to be fitted to the hulls of all shipping.
‘Panic room’ style cubicles are being retro-fitted to all cruise liners and passenger carrying vessels. All shipping is now required by law to carry a significant arsenal of weaponry.
Since news of the attack hit the media cruise companies have struggled to fill their ships despite heavy discounting, even for lake and inland waterway vessels.
Carol adopted Jake and Libby. They all moved to re-settle in Langdon, North Dakota, the furthest point inland in the USA.
Stop Press: 23:42pm today- Cruise ship Titan Of The Sea – Bound for Miami - Location – 44 Miles Off Coast Of Florida – 5,277 Souls on Board - All contact lost...