Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Ship by David Smith: Part One

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

The holiday was supposed to be a chance for me and my twin sister to ‘get to know’ Dad’s new wife, the ghastly Mel. She tries too hard. She’ll never be Mum. Our world fell apart when Mum died four years ago, but who’d have guessed the world would fall apart for everyone on that trip.
It was to be a long vacation, four weeks, the longest we’d been together so far as a new family. Dad knows me and Sis are crazy for those white knuckle rides, so he splashed out for two weeks in Florida with tickets for all the big parks. The icing on the cake was the journey out. I hate flying, so Dad had found a real cheap deal for a cruise to Port Canaveral. The down side was having to spend two weeks all crammed in the same stateroom, an inside cabin with a double and two bunks, a nightmare. But the ship was massive. Me and Libby, my Sister, would keep out of the way as much as possible.
Libby and I are really close, probably a twin thing. We’re both small and skinny for fourteen year olds. We were worried about the parks, the best rides have height restrictions. Now, though, we thank all the Gods in heaven we’re like this.
Like I said, the ship was massive, like a floating town, gobsmacking statistics; over 4,000 passengers, 1500 crew, 15 floors, 150,000 tonnes, but the cabin (or stateroom as it was pretentiously called) was pokey. The walls were paper thin. You could hear everything that went on. It was hard pretending to be asleep listening to neighbours too full of booze to be discreet.
The cruise dragged into its fifth day, the start of the long stretch of open sea between Europe and Florida. That night Libby and I turned in about ten, Dad and Mel went to see a show.


‘Get up Jake.’
Dad was shaking me in my bunk, Mel shaking Libby.
‘What?’ I said bleary eyed.
‘You two get up right now. You’ve got to see this.’
He was excited then. He had no idea what it all meant.
We got up and half dressed, padding barefoot up to the deck to see what all the excitement was about. I looked at my watch. It was one in the morning. The ship was alive, people everywhere, all cramming up the stairways to get on deck.
‘What the hell’s going on Dad?’
‘Wait till you see this,’ he said, bursting to tell but not wanting to give anything away.
Eventually we stumbled out onto the deck and squeezed through the crowd to the rail. It was a still, calm night with a beautiful full moon. At first I thought it was the moonlight on the water but as my eyes adjusted I saw what the fuss was for. The sea. It wasn’t like water anymore. It wasn’t moving. It was absolutely flat, like the surface of a plastic sheet, not a wave, not even a tiny ripple, and it was pink.
There was a buzz of excitement as people chatted, took pictures, pushed and shoved for a better view. Some smart Alec threw an empty wine bottle overboard. It hit what should have been the water. Instead of the expected splash it shattered, the broken pieces skidding and spinning over the smooth surface. Then I noticed. The ship wasn’t moving. I looked down at where the sea’s surface met the hull. It was set solid, sea and hull, as if bonded together.
This fat guy next to me, an American, all elbows, was taking snaps on his iPhone. He suddenly started cursing at his phone.
‘Damn thing’s not working properly.’ He shook it, as if that would help. Then another guy beside him said, 'Mine’s on the blink too.’
Then it happened. All the lights on the ship went out as if a switch had been flicked. Some people around me gasped in surprise. Outside, the deck was bathed in the eerie glow from the pink sea, but in the ship it was another story. Those people still inside started to yell, women started screaming. It’s hellish dark in those cabins and corridors if the generators fail, but there were supposed to be emergency lights. Evidently they’d failed as well. It didn’t take long before we discovered what had happened.
Nothing electrical worked any more. Even stuff using batteries. It’s like all the electricity on the ship had been stolen or neutralised. There was no Tannoy any more, so, even if the Captain knew what the hell was going on, he couldn’t let anyone know and calm things down. So the rumour machine switched to warp speed and people began to panic; we were sinking; it was a terrorist attack; alien invasion, whatever.
Soon the crush started, and the fun stopped. People inside the ship were desperate to get on deck, piling out through any door they could, lifebelts clasped in their hands. It was getting really dangerous. Dad saw it coming and hauled himself up onto a lifeboat above the crush, then pulled us up after him one at a time, Libby, then me, then the screeching Mel. We were just in time.
The railing gave way with a loud crack, spitting bodies off the deck and overboard. There was nothing the poor bastards could hold on to. People were screaming in the crushing mass of bodies below us. About twenty or thirty people were pushed overboard, their bodies plummeting the eight floors to the sea below. One by one their bodies hit the surface with a sickening crump. It was like they were landing on concrete, heads splitting open, spilling out blood and brains. The crumpled bodies lay there motionless for a minute or so.
Then something even more freaky happened. The surface beneath them seemed to turn to a thick slurry. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The bodies started to sink through, slowly, as if being absorbed. One poor bastard was still alive. No matter how he struggled and screamed the sea slowly pulled him down. His screams stopped when the pink goo closed over his head, leaving a smooth unbroken surface again.
There was panic and screaming all around. People were going overboard from decks above and below from all sides of the ship. Once their bodies had crashed into the surface the sea slowly swallowed them. One woman hit the surface near the side of the ship. She was hurt but clearly still alive. A member of the crew tried to save her. He climbed over the side from a deck near the water, and started walking slowly towards the woman. He was about four steps from the side of the ship when his feet started to sink through. One foot became stuck, as if he’d stepped in superglue and it had just started to set. He couldn’t pull it free. Then the other, locked solid onto the sea’s surface, slowly sinking through. He fought desperately to free himself but it was impossible. The surface gradually swallowed him, and the woman he’d tried to save.


Dawn broke about six. The crew had managed to form a thin barrier around the decks and bullied, cajoled, sweet talked the passengers back inside. We kept our heads down and sat tight on top of the lifeboat.
Daylight. The surface of the sea was a translucent white, like thin milk. It was still spirit level flat with not a trace of the poor souls lost overboard a few hours earlier. The Captain had organised a communications system, crew members sited at strategic points on the ship. Messages were disseminated to them from the Captain. They’d shout them out like old time town criers. Calm returned but it was tense, fragile, with panic a hair trigger away.
Daybreak brought other bad news. Nothing worked on the ship, nothing that needed electricity anyway. So, all communications with the outside world were out. The Captain was as dumbfounded as everyone else as to what was going on. But he was a pragmatic man, organising his crew to take care of everyone’s basic needs as best they could.
Water was the biggest problem. The tanks on board used pumps, but there was no electricity. The crew hand bailed water into any receptacle that could be used. The Captain set up distribution points on various decks. Water was for drinking only, not to be wasted on washing or toilets.
Of course the loos no longer worked, being vacuum pump operated. The Captain organised discreet toilet stations on deck. The excrement would be gathered and stored for now. There was no point discharging it overboard. It would just lie there on the surface.
Then there was food. He had over 5,000 souls to take care of. Nothing in the kitchens using power worked, so he set up makeshift barbecues on deck fired by diesel oil from the turbines. The kitchen team managed to cobble together a basic breakfast. That would keep things going until help arrived.
A roll call was carried out to establish who was where, and who was still on board. 220 people were missing presumed dead. Little did we know this was a fraction of what was still to come.


Nothing. No rescue, no communications from the outside world, not even an aeroplane sighted in the sky. There was no evidence of any life outside the confines of the ship, not even a bird flying over. The sea remained a milky, flat, evil, ready to swallow up anything that touched it for too long. Anything over a certain weight, anyway.
The day after it started the Captain decided to test the surface more scientifically. The first thing he did was lower a lifeboat with a full crew down onto the surface. He figured that if the surface gave way underneath its weight at least the men would be safe. How wrong was he? It hit the surface and sat there steadily for about a minute. Then the surface turned to soupy goo and slowly sucked it under. The men inside it watched helpless as the goo reached the lip of the boat then started to flow over the edge into the vessel. They all scrambled out onto the solid surface inches away from the edge of the lifeboat, only to get stuck as the milky goo bound them tight. Slowly and horrifically they sank, one by one, frantically struggling to release themselves from the cloying grips of the goo. One by one their screams were snuffed out, their gruesome deaths watched in silence by the helpless passengers and crew on the decks of the ship. Libby and I looked at each other. She started crying. I tried to tough it out but I cried too. Their grotesque deaths, would that be our fate?
The Captain was baffled. There was no logic to it. The lifeboat was buoyant yet the surface had taken it down. The ship was buoyant but was significantly heavier, 150,000 tonnes. Why hadn’t it sunk? What’s more, objects thrown overboard lay there on the surface. They hadn’t been absorbed. Why? For the rest of the day the crew carried out experiments. Boxes were filled with ever heavier weights and lowered onto the surface one by one. They discovered the weight limit the surface would tolerate. It was exactly 65.5 kilograms, 10 stone. Ten stone weights were dropped from the deck. They bounced and didn’t sink. Anything above this weight stuck to the surface and slowly sank. Libby and I each weighed 45 kilos, just over 7 stone. Could we walk out of here?


Things got desperate quickly and it didn’t take long before the thin veneer of civilisation broke apart. By the second week there was still no word from the outside world. So, the born leaders started to emerge, fat oafs and bully boys backed by those that were easily lead, demanding the Captain do this or that. One dominant group emerged, Americans, red necks, lead by a fat gutted muscular moron called Jason. Dad told us to keep well away from them. We’d hunkered down in the lifeboat above the deck. Here we could watch what was going on in our little section of the deck unnoticed.
Food was getting scarce but the bigger problem was water. The tanks were near empty. The Captain had set up rain collection systems but the sky had been cloudless since the first event. People stank, there was no water permitted for washing. Jason, backed by a few dozen bully boys started making noises about rationing. He demanded anyone over 60 be denied water until it rained. Old people had had their lives and were risking theirs. The Captain dismissed him out of hand. Things got ugly quickly.
I saw the stand-off. I’d been sent by Dad to try and get something to eat. I was in line at one of the food stations when I heard screams. Jason’s thugs were manhandling some old folk towards the broken rails. Suddenly the Captain and half a dozen crew appeared on the deck above, looking down on the red necks. The Captain called for them to stop. I sensed trouble and slid away to a safe distance. Jason headed up the pack at the edge of the broken rail. He pulled an old woman towards the edge, her flailing blows no match for his thick muscular arms.
‘Stop now or we will shoot,’ shouted the Captain.
A sneer formed on Jason’s face as he addressed his following.
‘What’s it to be, guys? We all die because of these old bones, or some of us live?’
‘I’m ordering you to stop.’
There was a shakiness in the Captain’s voice that betrayed his nerve. The red neck’s followers were shouting for him to start the cull. With his eyes locked onto those of the Captain, he bundled the old lady to the edge and hurled her over the side. She let out a long scream, a scream that stopped with the sudden impact of her frail body on the rock hard surface below. The mob was baying for more. A shot rang out. One of the crew had fired over their heads. People ducked and dived for cover, all except Jason who stood firm. After what seemed like an age the officer spoke, quietly to his crew, not the crowd.
‘Hold your fire.’
The crew with their weapons melted away, and the gates of hell opened. I had to turn and run, pushing my way through the crowd. I couldn’t stay. I couldn’t bare the screams as body after body was flung over the side of the ship. Nobody tried to stop the carnage. Hundreds of people were murdered that day in cold blood, each a horrible death, the heap of mangled bodies slowly absorbed by this new, terrible sea, leaving no trace, just a smooth, milky white plain stretching to the horizon.
The Captain knew he had lost control of his ship to the thugs and mob rule. He ordered his crew to quickly gather arms and provisions and withdraw to the bow of the ship. There he set up an enclave, a safe area for anyone desperate for the little protection he and his crew could offer. The red necks and the other thugs could have the run of the rest of the ship. Over the next week the ship was purged of the elderly, frail and infirm. No one lifted a finger to save them. At the end there were less than 2,000 souls left alive on board.
But we knew it wouldn’t stop with the old and infirm. New groups would be singled out for death to preserve resources for the thugs in charge. It would eventually become our turn unless we became part their murderous clique. Dad and Mel wanted us to join the crew in the enclave. So, we abandoned the safety of our hiding place in the lifeboat and headed for the bow. On the way through the ship I took Libby’s hand and we hung back. I knew it was the wrong thing to do. The crew had food and weapons. The thugs would eventually come for these. There would be more carnage. I doubted the Captain was strong enough to resist the mob that would come for them. I didn’t want any part of it. I loved my Dad but we’d take our chances hiding in the ship. I pulled Libby off into a corridor and into the safety of darkness. I prayed my Dad would survive, and if he did, he would forgive us for slipping away.
We hadn’t told Dad but we’d found emergency provisions hidden in the lifeboat. We were going to keep it secret till we absolutely needed these rations to survive. Apart from food and water, there was a flare gun, candles and matches. Libby and I went back to the lifeboat and retrieved the rations, then sneaked back to our cabin to hide there. It was a dark and dangerous world to inhabit now but I figured we’d be okay. If we kept a low profile we wouldn’t be found. Let them kill each other till help arrived, just leave us alone.


It had been a deathly quiet for days. We were coping hidden away in our cabin, but I needed to know what was happening. Had help arrived by now? We decided to creep out and take a look on deck. Slowly, carefully, quietly we edged through the pitch black corridors towards the deck. Near the exit onto the deck we heard noises, activity, not talking. There was a strange smell, sickly sweet, rotting flesh? It was pervading the corridors the nearer we got to the deck.
I rounded a corner ahead of Libby and saw what I thought was a line of people. I jerked my head back and told Libby to stay put while I took a closer look. I slowly stepped round the corner so I could see more clearly. My stomach churned. There were bodies, dozens of them, hung in a line from the roof of the corridor by their arms, naked, blood soaked, eviscerated. There were limbs stacked in piles on the floor, half butchered human carcasses on metal tables. I figured straight away what was going on. Cannibalism. These poor bastards were being butchered for meat. I looked at the faces of the lifeless bodies hanging there.
I suppressed my shocked outburst as best I could, but my knees went weak and I felt what little there was in my stomach rising as I threw up onto the floor. I’d recognised two of the bodies, Dad and Mel. I started to edge back into the darkness of the corridor, but there was a sudden noise to my right. Someone had heard me. I slowly turned my head to look. Something moved in the shadowy corner about ten yards away. My eyes re-adjusted to the dark. It was a man sat on a chair. He was looking straight at me with wide staring eyes. I recognised him straight away. It was the red neck thug, Jason.
Suddenly his head started to loll backwards and forwards as if nodding, then slowly, left and right, yes then no? Why hadn’t he shouted, jumped up and tried to catch me? Then I saw something on his head. I strained my eyes to focus in the dark. It was something brown or black, moving slowly, creeping forward across his head. A hand? It was, a small hand, not like anything I’d seen before. Instead of fingers it had three long claws ending in sharp talons. Suddenly it gripped Jason’s hair, winding it round the talons. Then, to my horror, it lifted the head clean off the body! Then I saw the creature.
It had been working from behind Jason’s huge bulk. It must have been standing on the back of the chair. It was small, like a chimpanzee, but with disproportionately long legs, like a grasshopper, smooth skinned, grey, muscular. It had a head like a lizard, razor sharp teeth, and Chameleon-like eyes flicking from side to side. It held Jason’s head in one hand and a serrated ugly knife in its other. It lifted the head high and dangled it over its mouth, licking the blood off the severed neck with its long, flicking, bright red tongue, spattering flecks of blood in all directions as it gorged on the blood.
A sudden noise, thumping, by the door to the deck. Another of these hideous creatures stood hunched in the exit to the deck. The thing was pounding its clenched claw onto the boards of the deck, rhythmic, as if communicating a code, a threat to the other beast inside. They looked at each other, their lips curling back to expose their small, razor like teeth. In a flash the creature in the door leapt onto the other, a jump of at least ten yards. The two hideous creatures tumbled to the floor in a flurry of bites, hacking at each other with their claws, the severed head flung into the air with the impact of the attack. It rolled across the deck towards me stopping a few feet to my right, its lifeless eyes staring up at me. I slid back into the darkness as far away as I could whilst still keeping these creatures in sight.
In seconds the new arrival had subdued its opponent, who yelped and scrambled away, scampering up the wall, across the ceiling, bounding upside down till it reached the exit onto the deck. It turned and glared back at the aggressor, howled like a wounded wolf, then disappeared outside. The dominant beast gave a short, high pitched shriek then started looking for the delicacy it had won, the severed head. It scampered towards me. I was trembling with fear, praying the vile thing wouldn’t see me, hiding so close in the dark. It edged forward till it found its prize. I could smell its fetid breath, the beast still panting from the fight. It picked up the severed head, held it high, then cracked in down onto the floor with frightening force. The skull split and the brain spilled out. The beast fell upon the grey mass like a wild pig on a truffle, gorging on the sweetmeat it had won.
I was wrong. Jason and his cohorts were not the cannibals. They were the victims of these ghastly, vile beasts. The horror of it all dropped into place. I knew at once why we hadn’t sank. We were being kept afloat by these abominations. We were their floating abattoir.
How did they get here? How many more were there on the ship? As quietly as I could I turned and re-joined my sister. As I took her hand she felt my trembling.
‘What did you see?’ she whispered.
‘We need to get off the ship,’ I said, telling her nothing more.
‘But how? Where to?’
I had no answers to her questions.
We made our way back to our cabin in silence. We were in deep, deep trouble. I sat on one of the bunk beds, desperately trying to think of a way to escape. Suddenly we heard a noise, a tap-tap-tapping on the walls outside. It was getting nearer. I picked up the flare gun from the bed and pointed it at the door.
Tap, tap, tap…
It was too late by the time I realised I’d forgotten to lock the door behind us.
‘I love you Sis,’ I said as I cocked the gun ready. Then I held my breath as the door handle slowly turned.

End of Part One

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