Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Ship by David Smith: Part Two

Fiction by David Smith
From his compilation Peek-A-Boo
Also included in the Sinister Saints anthology Strange Vacations.
Part Two

My heart was racing. Was this the end? Had those creatures tracked us back to the cabin? I held my breath as the door slowly opened.
‘Hello?’ whispered the man’s voice, ‘Anybody in there?’
It sounded like the Captain’s voice and a wave of relief passed through my body.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I have a gun. If that’s the Captain then come in but slowly and with your hands where I can see them.’
I needed to know we were safe, and that if it was the Captain that he was not out to do us any harm.
‘I understand,’ he whispered, ‘So you know, there are three of us here, but I will come in on my own. I also have a gun but I’ll pass it to one of my men. I’m coming in now.’
The door opened and the Captain’s head appeared round the corner. In the dim flickering light from the candle we were burning I could see and recognise his face. I lowered the flare gun.
‘Are there just the two of you?’ he asked.
‘Yes, I’m Jake and this is my Sister, Libby. We’re okay.’
‘Where are your folks?’
‘I don’t know,’ I lied. I couldn’t tell the truth until I’d broken the news of what I’d seen to Libby.
The Captain came over to us, looking us up and down, checking we were okay.
‘Would you like some chocolate?’ he whispered pulling two bars from his pocket and giving us each one. We were starving hungry and started in on them straight away. As we devoured the chocolate the Captain spoke in a low voice.
‘I don’t want to frighten you but we’re in a lot of trouble. I don’t know how much you know but there are creatures on the ship, horrible creatures…’
‘I’ve seen them,’ I said between mouthfuls of chocolate.
‘What kind of creatures?’ asked Libby.
‘They’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before, some kind of aliens…’ said the Captain.
‘…they look like monkeys, grasshoppers and lizards all mixed up,’ I said, ‘They’re horrible, Libby. They eat people.’
Libby gave out a short shriek from the shock of what I’d said.
‘Shhh!’ hissed the Captain. I could see Libby was about to lose it so I hugged her, pulling her head tight into my chest, stroking her hair with my hand.
‘It’s okay, Sis. They won’t get us. I’ll make sure of that, I promise.’
She started shaking as she sobbed. I hugged her tighter.
‘You have to be strong, Libby,’ said the Captain, ‘There are safe places on the ship where we can hide till we’re rescued. That’s why we’re here, gathering up as many people as we can and moving them to somewhere safer.’
She started to calm a little.
‘What’s been happening up there?’ I asked.
‘We were attacked a few days ago,’ said the Captain, ‘I tried to set up a safe area. I had about five hundred crew and over a thousand passengers holed up in and around the two theatres near the bow, and the five floors above and below them. We had food, water and weapons. We made the only access points through the corridors, so we could control and defend the area. It was going okay, the gangs had the run of the rest of the ship and left us alone. But then the water must have run out completely on them.
Then the gangs appeared but this time as one unified force. They had weapons, knives from the kitchens, flare guns from the lifeboats, and a few guns they’d taken from crewmen of mine they’d ambushed. Their leader demanded all our food and water. There were hundreds of them, desperate, ready to kill for what little we had left. There was a stand-off. My crew were armed and guarding all the entry points in the corridors, so nobody was prepared for what happened next.
From behind us, back in the theatre, we heard screaming. I left the barricade I was manning and ran back to see what was frightening people. It was horrible. A mass of that ghastly white slimy goo was bubbling upwards through the floor of the theatre melting it, dissolving it away like boiling water poured onto sugar. The theatre was only lit with oil lamps so I couldn’t see what was happening at first, but the goo gave out a strong white light. In no time at all it was as bright as daylight inside the theatre.
I watched as the goo formed into a circular pool about ten yards wide. Then suddenly it started to rise up through the floor forming a column heading towards the ceiling a couple of hundred feet above us. It just kept going. When it reached the ceiling it seemed to dissolve it, cut right through it as it had the floor. Debris was falling everywhere. Then the column suddenly set solid. It stood there, a huge thick column about ten yards wide, smooth sided, milky white, radiating a bright light that flooded the room.
Nothing happened for what seemed like an age. We all just stood gaping at the thing. One of my crewmen walked over and banged the outside of the column with a hammer. It was as hard as concrete. Then gradually the part of the column near the floor started to turn to liquid again, bubbling and dripping, as if round doors were forming at the base of the column. Suddenly, the creatures appeared, hideous, evil things sliding through the goo. They were armed with heavy clubs made out of what looked like the same material as the column. In seconds they were coming through in their hundreds, leaping out at the people in the theatre.
They fell upon anyone they saw, raining down heavy blows on their heads, beating them unconscious or to death. Everyone was screaming, trampling and clawing at each other, desperate to escape their attackers. These creatures move so quickly. They can jump enormous distances with their long back legs, pouncing over the seats, pounding to death the poor bastards caught in the rows of seats.
Other creatures followed behind the first wave of attackers. They had huge serrated knives with which they stabbed and hacked at anyone still alive that were lying injured or unconscious. It was a bloodbath. They didn’t stand a chance…’
The Captain paused for a moment. I could sense he was working hard to keep control of his emotions as he recalled the slaughter he’d witnessed in the theatre. Then, when he’d regained his composure he continued.
‘They must have slaughtered hundreds of souls. Then something ghastly became unbelievably worse. The creatures with the knives started to hack at the necks of the dead, severing the heads from the bodies. They smashed the heads against the floor…it was horrific. Some of the crew opened fire on the creatures, but they were everywhere and moved so quickly. My men probably shot more of our own people by accident than them.’
‘What have you found out about these creatures?’ I asked.
‘They can be killed, that’s the only ray of hope so far. We did shoot a few. If a bullet hits one it explodes, as if its body is under high pressure. Their bodies disintegrate, exploded like popped balloons full of that milky white slime, same stuff as the column and the sea outside is now. Also, they avoid the dark. Most of the survivors are hidden in the lower decks towards the inside of the ship. So far they haven’t entered these areas.’
‘…and they eat people?’ said Libby
‘Yes,’ said the captain, ‘They eat human flesh. They don’t kill like a wild animal would, down their prey then stand over it till it’s eaten it’s fill. They butcher what they kill, cutting the bodies up into limbs and torso, but they seem to prize the head.’
‘They eat the brain,’ I said, ‘I saw one. It smashed the skull and ate the brains right in front of me.’
Libby started to sob again.
‘You have to be strong, Libby, we all…,’ whispered the Captain, but he never finished what he was going to say.
‘Captain,’ whispered one of the crewmen from outside in the corridor, a note of urgency in his voice, ‘You’d better take a look at this.’
I followed the Captain to the cabin door and looked outside. The two crewmen were stood holding oil lamps, casting an eerie, weak flickering light along the shadowy corridor.
‘Look,’ whispered one of the men.
He pointed towards the end of the long corridor, about 80 yards away. I could hardly see anything in the dark that far away at first. Then I saw it, a glow, weak but growing stronger, pale white light spreading along the floor of the corridor. It was the slimy white goo, filling the width of the corridor floor and spreading up the walls towards the ceiling. The light was getting brighter, as if neon strips were being switched on coming towards us. The goo moved slowly but it was covering every surface, slipping under the doors of the cabins as it slid past.
Suddenly there was a ghastly scream from inside one of the cabins at the far end of the corridor. The blood curdling scream split the silence like a grenade explosion.
‘Help!’ shrieked a woman’s voice, ‘Help! I can’t move! Help me!’
The creatures seemed to come out of nowhere moments after the scream. The first of them leapt around the end of the corridor, a huge knife in its claw, followed immediately by another, then another. They charged at the cabin door where the scream had come from, crashing through it with the full force of their combined bodies.
‘Put the lamps out!’ hissed the Captain, and immediately the crewmen doused our lights. We all stood perfectly still, taking short, shallow breaths. I held on tight to Libby’s hand as she hid behind the wall just inside our cabin. Darkness returned to our end of the corridor, a stark contrast to the bright light now radiating from the slimy goo at the other end of the corridor.
The screaming suddenly stopped, and a deafening silence filled the corridor. We all stood rigidly still, frozen in the terror of the moment. Then, from inside the cabin one of the creatures’ head emerged, blood dripping from its mouth. In its claw it held a woman’s severed head. My stomach churned at the sight of the repulsive object, still dripping blood. In the bright light I could clearly see the dead woman’s face contorted with the pain and horror she must have suffered before the beasts killed her.
The creature raised the severed head high with one hand then crashed it onto the floor. The skull cracked open on impact. The creature picked up the head by the hair and jabbed its knife into the crack, and prized the skull apart splitting it wide open. The brains tumbled onto the floor with a stomach churning splat. The beast then fell upon the brains, slobbering and tearing at it like a starved dog onto fresh meat. In a few seconds the poor woman’s brains were all but gone.
‘This way, hurry!’ whispered the Captain, snapping us all back to the danger of our situation, and galvanising us into action.
The creature at the end of the corridor was preoccupied, devouring its prize. We took our chance and slid out of the cabin and along the corridor as silently as we could, edging towards a door marked ‘Private – Crew Only’ an escape route that lead to the depths of the ship and safety.
One of the crewmen carefully and quietly opened the door then slipped through, followed closely by Libby. As I crept towards the door I looked back at the creature. I turned away in revulsion. It was now gnawing on the poor woman’s face, tearing off and chewing lumps of flesh.
In the instant I had looked I’d noticed that the goo hadn’t progressed any further down the corridor. It had stopped where the beasts had wanted it to. They were controlling it, using it to check the cabins for survivors. They were using their slime to trap any survivors they could find. If any human touched the stuff they would be stuck fast, just like a fly on flypaper, stuck till the creatures found them and slaughtered them for their flesh. I turned and glanced back down the corridor towards the bright light. I saw the other two creatures emerge from the cabin dragging the headless corpse of a woman behind them, blood still spurting from the neck, leaving a macabre trail of red on the milky white floor of the corridor.
Then, another nightmare started for us, all because of an unlucky accident. The nearest to the beasts at our end of the corridor was one of the crewmen. He was carrying one of the glass oil lamps they had been using. The rope holding the neck must have somehow become loose because the lamp suddenly slipped through the rope and fell to the floor, smashing to smithereens on impact. We all froze, petrified, afraid to take another step. Safety was so near yet so far away.
All the creatures immediately turned as one and looked deep into the darkness of the corridor where we were. We all stayed motionless for what seemed like a lifetime. They were staring straight at us but did nothing. They couldn’t have been able to see us, their eyesight unable to penetrate the shadowy darkness where we were.
Then one of the creatures reached down to the floor. Still staring straight at us it ran its hands across the surface of the white goo. It seemed to melt under its touch. It scooped up a handful of the goo, so solid moments before, now pliable like snow. With a sudden, almighty pitch it threw the ball of goo towards us. It hit the wall by the crewman’s head and spattered all over his body and shoulders. The light was suddenly so bright where we were, it was dazzling, blinding us momentarily. As my eyes adjusted I saw the goo start to pull itself back together then harden, like melted plastic as it cooled. It had the crewman in its grip, dragging his body against the wall. In seconds he was stuck by his arm and shoulder to the wall. He screamed and pulled at the goo but it held him rigidly in its grip. The Captain grabbed the man’s free arm and desperately pulled at it, trying to free the man from the deathly grip of the goo.
Then we heard a growl from the far end, from the creature that had just eaten the brains. It took a step towards us, screamed like a banshee, then jumped! It only took four enormous bounds from the beast and it was on the stricken man, the force of the impact knocking the Captain to the floor.
He scrambled to his feet just as the other of the crewmen appeared back through the door, rifle at his shoulder. The Captain scurried behind him dragging me by my arm. In a fraction of a second we were both through the door to safety as the crewman still in the corridor fired a single shot at close range into the creature’s back. It was as if a grenade had exploded. The beast disintegrated with such terrific force it threw the man to the ground. The sickly white goo from its innards spattered the walls, showering both the men still in the corridor and sending a shower of goo through the open door. As the two crewmen struggled to clear the ghastly mess from their face and eyes the other two creatures arrived, falling upon the two of them mercilessly.
I was transfixed, paralyzed with horror watching through the open door. I saw the creatures leap on the crewman lying on the floor. I saw the vile thing biting at the crewman’s face and neck, blood and skin from the stricken man flying in all directions. I heard the screams of the other poor soul captured by the goo, unable to fend off the attack from the other creature. The Captain grabbed me by my arm and dragged me away from the door. With incredible speed he slammed the door shut hard, throwing the thick metal bolt across to secure it tight. He knew there was no hope for his crewmen. He knew he would have to abandon them if we were to escape.
The crewmen’s screams lasted only a few seconds and ended abruptly. But the attack did not. The beasts had seen us, three juicy prizes, and knew where we were. We could hear the frenzied attack of the beasts as they pounded frantically on the thick metal door. We ran as fast as we could, scurrying down the fights of metal stairs to the lower decks of the inside of the ship. We had narrowly escaped death. We were safe, but for how long? Would these creatures flood the whole of ship with their deadly goo, capturing and eating every living thing on board? Would we all die a horrible death, suffer the same ghastly fate as the poor crewmen had?


The Captain knew every nook and cranny of the ship he commanded, and safely steered us through the complex of corridors and metal stairways in the near pitch darkness. Small particles of goo had spattered my clothes and the clothes on the Captain. They gave off an eerie light that helped us avoid the low beams and sudden changes in direction of the metal gantries and stairs. We slowed our pace when we thought we were at a safe distance from the beasts, even though we could still hear the faint noise of the pounding on the heavy metal door several decks above where we now were.
‘Along here,’ he said. He was in front of me, holding Libby’s hand, and I followed the faint glow from his clothing. We stopped outside another thick metal door, and the Captain tapped lightly on it as he had on our cabin door. After a few seconds the door cracked open.
‘Captain?’ said a voice from inside.
‘I’ve found two more but we were attacked,’ said the Captain as the door opened wider and we all slipped through, ‘They got James and McEllery.’
The door was pushed closed behind us and the heavy bolt slid firmly across to secure it. Inside I found we were in what must have been the crew’s dining room and galley. It was a long, wide room full of tables and chairs, I guessed a hundred or so. It was packed with people, sitting around or lying on the floor, hundreds of them, a mix of crew and passengers. It was lit by crude oil lamps cobbled together by the crew, the flickering dim light casting strange shadows across the mass of people assembled in the room. Everyone spoke in a near whisper and moved slowly, carefully to minimise any noise. The Captain had given orders to everyone that they to do nothing that might attract the creatures and give away the location of this safe haven.
A woman that was sitting on the floor just inside the room stood up and came over. She was probably about the same age as Mom had been when she died, but taller, slim, and kind faced like Mom. She must have seen how shocked and distressed Libby looked. She knelt down beside her and took her hand, stroking it gently.
‘Are you okay honey?’
Libby burst into tears, quietly sobbing, working hard not to make too much noise as she cried. The woman folded Libby in her arms, stroking her hair to comfort her.
‘Shhh…you’re okay, you’re here now, you’re safe.’ She looked over to me and said, ‘I’m Carol. Is this your Sister?’
It must have been that we were so dirty from not washing for weeks, and the light so poor she couldn’t see we were obviously twins. I nodded. She smiled at me.
‘Is it okay if I look after her for a while?’
I nodded again. Libby started to calm a little as I stepped away so I could talk to the Captain out of her earshot.
‘Our parents are both dead,’ I told him, ‘I saw their bodies hanging up near the exit from deck eight. Those monsters had cut their stomachs open and removed their insides. It was horrible. There were dozens of bodies all the same, hung and cut up like pigs in a butcher’s shop.’
‘I’m so sorry for you both,’ said the Captain.
‘Do you think we can escape?’
‘I don’t know,’ said the Captain. He was treating me like an adult, telling me honestly what he thought, not sugar coating it. I felt stronger for it.
‘Listen Jake, how much do you weigh?’
‘About seven stone. Why?’
‘We need to scour the rest of the ship for survivors and try to get them back here to join us. I tested that goo with weights. If I’m right you should be able to walk on the stuff without getting stuck. Would you come with us to try and rescue more people?’
‘Sure,’ I said without any hesitation. I wanted to do whatever I could to save more lives and to rob those murdering obscenities of any further meat.
The Captain turned to the people in the room and said quietly, ‘We’re going back out to try and find more people. I need two volunteers.’
Just about all of the crew raised their hands to volunteer.
‘I’m very proud of you guys, all of you,’ said the Captain, ‘Kent and Lisa, grab a rifle each, and a bottle of water in case we get stuck out there for a while.’
The two chosen crew members stepped forward, both fit and young, both eager to do whatever they could to fight the monsters that had taken over the ship. When we were ready I kissed Libby goodbye. She seemed distant, withdrawn, as if the shock of what was happening was overwhelming her, too great a shock for her mind to cope with. We needed to be rescued and pretty damned soon. But now I had to go and leave my Sister in the care of this kind stranger, Carol. At last I could do something to help, I had a job to do.


We had reached deck five. All was deathly quiet. We’d checked about fifty cabins. There had been no sign of life, either people of the dreadful creatures. We had finished the inside cabins of the corridor we were checking and had just started on those on the outside of the ship. The first door we opened was for one of the better cabins, a large stateroom with a wide balcony. It was a bright sunny day outside, and it was good to get the fresh air from outdoors into our lungs. The room was empty. The Captain closed the door behind us once we were all inside. He stepped slowly and carefully through the room, edging his way cautiously towards the balcony. Very carefully he edged round the corner of the balcony doors so he had a clear view of what was outside.
‘Come and look,’ he whispered to us all, a certain brightness in his tone suggested he’d seen something to give us hope. We followed, as slowly and as carefully as the Captain had. The bright sunlight stung my eyes for a few moments. Then, as they adjusted to the light I could see what the Captain wanted us to see.
The sun was low in the sky. There was no way of telling time but I guessed by the angle of the sun it must have been about six in the evening. It was a shadow that had excited the Captain. The white surface of what was once the sea was the same, but there was now a shadow clearly visible near the horizon. The shadow formed a curve at the horizon stretching towards the ship. I figured it out straight away. What we thought was the horizon had been an optical illusion. The white goo did not stretch to the horizon, it curved upwards away from the ship, as if we were in a huge milky white shallow plastic bowl. I could see the distance between where the ship was and the lip where the shadow started. It was only a couple of miles!
‘Look there,’ whispered the Captain.
I strained my eyes towards where the Captain was pointing and my heart leapt. There, hovering in the sky beyond the lip of the goo were dozens of small dots moving slowly towards us. I strained my ears. Yes, it was faint but definitely recognisable, the whap-whap of Chinooks’ blades! Help was on its way. We would be rescued!
It was when I turned in joy and relief to hug the other two I saw something that sent a wave of ice cold terror through my body. The goo, the ghastly white goo! It was sliding noiselessly under the door of the cabin.

End of Part Two

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