Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Ship by David Smith: Part Three

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

The slimy goo had formed a pool under the threshold of the door, spreading slowly towards the walls of the cabin. There was no way we could exit the cabin back through that door now. Also, there was no way of knowing whether the creatures were outside the door right then, waiting for us, their clubs and knives ready. I didn’t cry out or speak even though I was terrified. I reached over and pulled at Lisa’s sleeve, pointing at the ever increasing pool of goo on the floor. She immediately tapped the Captain and Kent on their arms to draw their attention to the danger we were in.
We all understood straight away we were trapped. The slimy goo would grab one or all of us in its grip as soon as we stepped on it. Soon after the creatures would come and we would suffer the same ghastly fate as I’d seen those poor crewmen suffered earlier.
The Captain remained ice cold calm despite the horror that was approaching us. He carefully edged out onto the balcony, looking quickly above and below us to assess exactly where we were and whether there were any creatures that could see us. He pointed at the bed then mouthed without saying the words;
‘Grab the sheets.’
Lisa stepped over and pulled the sheets slowly off the bed and bundled them in her arms. The Captain indicated for us to follow him out onto the balcony. When we were all with him he slowly slid the glass doors to the cabin closed behind us. The Captain took the sheets off Lisa and started tying the corners tightly together. I knew straight away what he intended to do, tie the sheets to the balcony rail so we could lower ourselves to the balcony directly underneath us on deck four.
The hopelessness of our situation came home to me with a sickening churn of my stomach. I’m terrified of heights! The drop from the balcony where we were to the solidified goo below was fifty or sixty feet at least. If I slipped when climbing to the floor below I’d be killed, or even worse, survive but lie there with broken bones, unable to move, waiting till those creatures spotted me and turned me into a tasty snack.
The Captain secured the end of the knotted sheets to the steel rail of the balcony and threw the rest over the edge, checking it had fallen in the right place. I looked down and immediately my head started to spin. I almost vomited. Without any instructions being given Lisa climbed over the balcony and started edging carefully down the sheets. She seemed so confident, unafraid of the height and the potential fatal fall. In seconds her feet touched the rail of the balcony below, and she slipped out of sight. Then she was back, looking up at us. She gave the ‘thumbs up’ sign indicating the cabin and corridor on that deck were free of goo, safe for now. Next to follow was Kent, equally as agile as Lisa. In seconds he was safely down onto the balcony below. He looked back up at me and waved for me to hurry.
‘Go on,’ whispered the Captain to me. I shook my head.
‘I can’t,’ I said, ‘I’m scared.’
The Captain only took a moment of thought then said, ‘Climb on my back.’
I was terrified. What if I lost my grip? What if the weight was too much for the Captain or he slipped?
‘No,’ I said, ‘I’m too frightened.’
The Captain looked me in the eyes then pointed at the doors of the balcony. I’d been preoccupied with the climb and hadn’t spotted it. The white slimy goo had covered the floor of the cabin and was now starting to flow underneath the sliding glass doors. Soon it would sweep over the balcony where we were. I had no choice. In that moment I knew I would rather risk death by falling than suffer the dreadful fate that would await me if I stayed trapped in the cabin. I quickly climbed onto the Captain’s back, clasped my hands round his neck and hung on for dear life as he gripped the sheets and clambered over the edge of the balcony.
He was half way over when the cabin door suddenly and violently crashed off its hinges and fell in splinters to the cabin floor. There, framed in the doorway, stood one of the creatures, a heavy club gripped tightly in its claw. It looked around the room and a low, terrifying growl rattled in its throat. It must have sensed humans were nearby.
The Captain ducked down below the level of the balcony holding on tight to the sheet rope for dear life. We hung there, the Captain too afraid to move in case the scraping of his feet against the outside of the balcony made a noise that would attract the beast. Time seemed to stand still. My arms were aching, and I could feel my hands starting to slip, losing their grip around the Captain’s neck. Then a shiver of terror ran through my body. I heard the thump, thump of the creature’s long legs as it padded into the cabin. It was coming towards the balcony. We hung there, exposed, petrified, dreading being discovered.
‘Come on!’ hissed Lisa as quietly as she could from the safety of the balcony below, unaware that a creature was in the room she had just left. There was no way either of us could let her and Kent know the predicament we were in. But a second later they knew all too well.
A huge crash split the silence as the creature’s heavy club struck the glass doors of the balcony, shattering them completely in one almighty blow. A shower of glass particles flew over the balcony and rained down on the Captain and me, the needle sharp shards landing in our hair, down our necks, and covering our clothes. I could feel them cutting into my skin with every tiny movement I made.
The creature was coming through the shattered doors and out onto the balcony. It must have seen the end of the knotted sheet rope tied to the rail. I heard the crunch of the creature’s feet on the broken glass that must have been strewn over the balcony floor. I almost cried out with the shock but managed to swallow it down. I started trembling with fear, my hands now numb through gripping so tightly for so long. My fingers started to lose their strength. I was slowly slipping off the Captain’s back.
The beast stopped right above us. I could hear its quick panting breath as it lowered its head to examine the knotted sheet. I looked up and saw the talons of its claw as it started to pick at the knot on the rail. If it moved a fraction further forward it would see us, and we’d be completely at its mercy. Was this it, our time to die? Which would it be, death from the fall or death at the hands of these merciless beasts?
Suddenly there was an almighty blood curdling scream from a cabin further away. Then straight after, more horrific screaming, different voices. Some poor souls trapped in their cabin had been found. I heard the creature above us give a short grunt, then let out an ear splitting howl. I heard the pounding of its feet as it bounded off the balcony and out of the cabin on the hunt for the source of the screaming.
But it was too late for me. I had no strength left. Just as the creature bounded out of the cabin I felt my fingers lose their grip. I was sliding off the Captain’s back. There was no strength left in my hands to hold on any longer. I tried to grab hold of the Captain’s body with my legs but I couldn’t. I slowly slid down the Captain’s back then fell. I screamed as I let go, nothing beneath me but air and the long drop to the rock hard surface below.
In a flash a strong hand shot out and grabbed my arm at the wrist just as I was plummeting past the balcony below. I flew downwards but the hand held tight, bringing me to a sharp halt, jerking my shoulder painfully. I hung suspended in mid air, held by Kent’s tight grip around my wrist.
‘It’s okay, I’ve got you,’ he hissed.
Then he slowly pulled me back up towards him. He leaned back and dragged me over the edge of the balcony, the two of us falling in a heap on the balcony floor just as the Captain swung down from the knotted sheets, landing beside us with a bump. We were safe. We had escaped the white goo and the creatures for now.
But the scream I had made as I fell had drawn the creatures’ attention to us. As we scrambled to get back to our feet on the balcony we heard the thump of the creatures as they flew into the room above us again. As quietly as we could we scuttled backwards off the balcony into the cabin. We sat there on the floor panting in shallow gasps to regain our breath as quickly and as quietly as we could.
Lisa had already checked the corridor outside the cabin. For now it was safe, no goo, no creatures. But for how long? We heard the thump of more creatures as they charged up the corridor above into the room where we had been. Then it went deathly quiet. We sat there not daring to make a noise.
I saw it first, upside down at the top of the sliding door to the balcony, the head of one of the creatures. I tapped the Captain’s arm and pointed. It was looking straight at us! It must have been hanging by its back legs from the balcony we’d just climbed down from. I had forgotten the creatures could walk on walls, floors or upside down on ceilings. They must have had some sort of gripping substance in the pads of their hands and feet that allowed them to cling on to any surface. The creature growled, then let out an enormous shriek as it eyed us with evil malice.
Another head appeared beside the first, saliva dripping from its mouth as it looked at the four of us. This one began to move downwards, one of its claws gripping the side of the balcony door as it started to lower itself into the cabin. The Captain pulled out his revolver from inside his jacket, took aim and shot the creature in its face. The beast instantly exploded with an almighty crack, spattering the sickly white innards high into the air outside.
The force of the blast must have dislodged the grip of the other creature. It started to slip, then fell away from the side of the ship, shrieking like a banshee as it plummeted towards the solidified goo below. We heard the sickening crack as the creature hit the ground and disintegrated on impact.
‘Let’s get out of here quick,’ spat out the Captain, ‘There’ll be more soon.’
We scrambled out of the cabin and headed up the corridor. Every deck had a door marked ‘Crew Only,’ our escape route. The Captain knew exactly where the one was on this deck and headed straight for it, we three following close on his heels. The Captain opened the door and we piled through, Kent bolting it securely behind us just in time. Seconds later we heard the thumping of the creatures as they charged down the corridor heading for the cabin we’d just left. We’d found safety again, but for how long?


‘Jake! Thank God! I never thought I’d see you again.’
Libby fell on me hugging me tight and kissing my neck, ear and hair. She was standing by the door when we arrived back at the safe haven, anxiously waiting for my return. She seemed much stronger than when I’d left her earlier. Carol was there by her side, for now her surrogate mother, giving her the strength she needed to face the challenges ahead.
‘Eat first then tell us what happened.’
The man that spoke was Luke, the Captain’s second in command and in charge of the group’s safety when the Captain was away. He was a huge man, muscular, but mildly spoken, someone you felt safe to be around. He led the four of us to a table where there was a meal set up. The food was cold, tinned meats and vegetables mixed together. They hadn’t dared risk cooking anything in case the smells of the cooking gave away our hiding place. Nevertheless it was the best meal I’d had in my life and I devoured every mouthful.
After we’d eaten I went over and sat with Carol and Libby. I told them as much about what had happened to us as I dared. I was startled when Libby suddenly said she wanted to help the Captain to search for and rescue people.
‘We’re twins,’ she said, ‘We weight the same. So, if you are of special use because you might be able to walk on the goo, then the same must be true for me. I need to do something, Jake. I need to help.’
The Captain must have been within earshot as he suddenly appeared from behind me.
‘You two, come with me,’ he said in a whisper.
Libby kissed Carol on the cheek, then we followed the Captain into the galley behind the dining room. There was a small room that must have been the head chef’s office. Inside were Luke, Kent and Lisa sat at a small table lit by an oil lamp. They were studying a plan of the ship. The Captain closed the door behind us, then spoke to us all as if we were his trusted inner circle, his ‘A’ team.
‘Luke, we know forces are en route. We’ll be rescued soon, I’m sure of it. We saw Chinooks, a ton of them heading this way. They should be here any time now. They’ll need us to tell them what’s been happening and warn them about these creatures and what they’re capable of.’
‘So we need someone on top deck to link up with them,’ added Lisa.
‘The quickest way up there is the internal gantries. They should get us safely as far as deck 12, then we’d have to risk either the stairs outside, or the lift shafts, or the air ducts,’ added Luke, studying the plan.
‘Air ducts?’ said Libby.
‘It’s not as stupid as it sounds,’ said Kent, ‘They’ve got grips inside the vertical sections so the engineers can climb up and down for maintenance.’
‘The air shafts could well be the safest route to the top deck,’ added the Captain, ‘Those creatures wouldn’t be able to get into them because of their body shape, those long back legs.’
‘I wouldn’t fit in them either,’ said Luke, patting his barrel chest and smiling, the first smile I’d seen in weeks.
‘We can always split into two parties,’ said Lisa, ‘Me, Jake and Libby take the air ducts, The Captain, Luke and Kent try the outside stairways.’
‘No, one of us has to stay here to take care of things,’ said the Captain, nodding at Luke.
‘You stay,’ said Luke to the Captain, ‘You need a rest, and it’s my turn to give those bastard killers a headache.’
‘Are you strong enough to do this?’ said the Captain to Libby and me. We both nodded. It was as if we both understood each other’s thoughts. It was better to die fighting these creatures than to wait for death to find us.
‘Kent, give them both flare guns. Lisa, take my revolver,’ said the Captain, ‘There’s about an hour of daylight left. Let’s hope the creatures go to ground somewhere when it gets dark outside. I’ll let everyone know what’s happening as soon as you’ve gone.’
A few minutes later, with Luke and Kent in the lead, we left the safety of the crew’s dining quarters and headed for the network of steps and gantries in the belly of the ship that would hopefully get us safely to deck 12. We weren’t to know we got out just in time.


About two minutes after we had left on our expedition our sanctuary, the one place of safety was raided. The Captain had assumed one of us had returned for something when he heard a gentle tap on the door. So, he’d exercised less than his usual caution when he’d opened it. The attack took the Captain and his crew completely by surprise. The door had only been opened a crack but it was enough. A flare gun was pressed hard into the Captain’s cheek as a burly thug pushed through, his rabble following close behind him.
‘So this is where you bastards are hiding all the food,’ he said, forcing the Captain to his knees, while one of his men frisked the Captain for any weapons. He signalled to his leader that the Captain was clean. There were about thirty in the mob that attacked, mostly men. They piled into the room, the last one bolting the door behind him. The crew were overrun in seconds, the surprise attack giving them no time to use their weapons. Within minutes all the crew had been rounded up and made to sit together on the floor with their hands clearly visible on their heads, the Captain at the front.
‘Where’s the food?’ said the leader, pushing the flare gun hard into the Captain’s face, cutting his cheek.
‘We don’t have any,’ said the Captain.
‘I’ll ask you again, where’s the fucking food?’
The Captain remained silent, impassive to the pain and the blood trickling down his cheek.
‘Alright,’ said the leader, ‘Let’s see, shall we?’
He stepped back from the Captain and looked around the room.
‘You!’ he barked, pointing at an elderly woman sat on the floor near the door, ‘Over here, now!’
The woman, shaking with fear, edged towards the thug. He reached over and grabbed her by the hair, pushing the flare gun into her stomach.
‘I think it’s a bit dark in here, lads. What say we brighten the place up a bit?’ He gave an evil cackle as he cocked the flare gun ready to fire.
‘Alright!’ hissed the Captain, ‘Let her go! I’ll show you.’
Two of the raiders dragged the Captain to his feet.
‘That’s more like it. Alright,’ he said, pushing his face into the Captain’s, ‘Show me where it is, all of it.’
‘One one condition,’ said the Captain playing for time, ‘Don’t hurt anyone.’
He knew he had no bargaining tools. These thugs held all the power now. They could do what they liked. A wide grin spread across the leader’s face.
‘Oh, I have no intention of hurting anyone,’ he said, ‘Once you’ve given us your food and water we’ll be on our way.’
One of his men started to snigger, giggling like a moron at what had just been said.
‘Shut up,’ snapped the gang’s leader at the man.
‘Tell him, boss,’ said the cackling idiot, ‘Tell him you’re going to use them to trade with those things up there.’


We all crept quietly up the stairways and gantries till we reached the 12th floor. There had been no sign of any of the creatures or the sticky goo in the parts of the ship we’d passed through. Luke slowly and as quietly as he could unbolted the door that lead to deck 12 from the inside of the crew’s area of the ship. He cracked open the door a few inches and cautiously looked out. It was all clear, not a creature in sight. He wished us luck then slipped through the door, Kent right behind him.
Lisa pushed it closed as soon as she’d watched them go out of sight, but didn’t push the bolt across. The men might need this route for their escape later. Libby and I followed Lisa back into the innards of the ship till she stopped at a set of rungs fixed into the wall. The rungs led upwards to a grille covering a ventilation shaft about two feet square. She climbed up and undid the four clips holding the grille in place and it swung down on hinges like a loft hatch. I could see the rungs continued up into the shaft. It was pitch black, even darker than where we now stood.
‘We’ll have to move very slowly and carefully,’ she said to us, ‘We won’t be able to see a thing.’
My Tee shirt was still glowing with light from the spots of goo that had been spattered on it earlier. I slipped it off and gave it to Lisa.
‘It should give you some light at least.’
Lisa wrapped it round her hand, ensuring as much of the glowing spatter was exposed, then set off up the rungs into the vent. Libby followed next, with me bringing up the rear. I could see the faint glow from the shirt ahead of me, otherwise it was complete darkness.
‘Shhh!’ I hissed moments later.
Lisa and Libby froze, clinging to the rungs above me. I had heard something. We stayed perfectly still, straining our ears for any sound. I heard it first, a sniffing noise. I looked down beneath me to the vent’s entrance we had just come through. My heart froze. There below me looking up the vent was the head of one of the creatures. It was sniffing the air, testing it. I guessed straight away it had found the unbolted door to the crews section of the ship, and come through. It must have picked up our scent. I looked into its evil red eyes staring back up at me. Suddenly it let out an almighty, deafening shriek that nearly shook us from our grips. I’d heard that noise before and knew what it meant. It had found its next meal.

End of Part Three

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