11 Mar The Death Cruise
“The Death Cruise”Written by Kyle Harrison Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 36 minutes
You’ll be told it was an accident.
A freak storm that ravaged the Dominican Republic before slamming into us.
You might even get to see pictures. Doctored ones showing a menagerie of stragglers being rescued off the coast of the Caymans.
That’s if they decide to share anything with the media at all. Considering the amount of hush money we were given to keep quiet, I’m seriously doubting it.
190,000 dollars. That’s what they gave each of us. They told us this was compensation for the hardship we endured.
But it doesn’t erase the scars. I’ve tried drinking them away. I’ve tried self-medicating.
Nothing is going to work to make it stop haunting my dreams.
I can’t keep quiet anymore, even if I wanted to. It’s gnawing away at our sanity.
I would ask God to forgive what I must attempt to recount. But after what happened those days on the water, I’m not sure He even exists anymore.
* * * * * *
There are certain moments that I can recollect with little to no effort at all.
The moment the fog rolled over the top of our cruiseliner is the first that comes to mind.
I was out getting a tan in the middle of our second day. We were just about six hours away from our first port of call in Mexico. And then an air horn disturbed my afternoon nap.
A dozen things happened at once as I sat up and lifted up my sunglasses to be sure I wasn’t seeing things.
A heavy gray mist was pushing its way across the bow of the ship. It stretched the length of the horizon like an insurmountable wall. I sat up and followed the bewildered crowd toward the inner safety that the ship offered as the clouds grew thicker and it became nearly impossible to see.
The panic started a few moments later when the power to our deck abruptly faltered, and nearly three hundred of us were standing in the darkness trying to make sense of this.
One of the passengers from our group, Craig, said he thought he saw something else moving amid the mist.
“Maybe the coast guard?” another asked.
“I have a pair of binoculars,” a third responded.
I took them and pushed through the crowd to the open-air tanning deck, leaning against the side rail to get as good of an angle as possible to see.
What I gazed upon changed our whole vacation from a dream getaway into an absolute nightmare.
“It looks like…another ship out there,” I said as the leader of our group, Isaac, joined me at the rails.
He took the binoculars to confirm it as I heard my wife call my name.
“Logan! What’s going on?” Sara asked.
“It doesn’t look like they’ve altered course. They may not know we’re out here, what with all our systems down,” Craig realized as he dashed off to find one of the crewmembers.
Just a bit of bad weather,” I reassured my wife as I wrapped my arms around her, and we waited for Craig’s return.
The remainder of our group came on deck along with throngs of other passengers, all of them peering toward the vessel with interest and commotion. It was already clear to see the other ship was also a large luxury ship like ours.
A few security officers began to insist that everyone should go back inside.
“Why should we go inside? If they ram us, it won’t matter where we are!” a new older man named Lincoln pointed out.
A few other passengers started muttering in agreement, some whipping out cell phones to try and take a picture of the vessel. It was still too far away to really be able to see anything, though.
Then amid the noise, a sharp whistle was blown. A strong, muscular black man found a pedestal to stand on and get everyone’s attention as he glared down at all of us like we were little kids.
“Listen up, everyone! Security Director Jacob Brooks speaking. I have some updates from the bridge crew that relate to our current situation,” he announced.
“Wait, why isn’t this being broadcast over the PA?” an elderly woman muttered.
“That’s part of the issue we’re having. It seems we hit a snag and our systems are completely down…” The commotion he’d managed to quiet down was growing loud again, so he blew the whistle until everyone shut up.
“Now, ordinarily, we would rely on our backup generators to get things running smoothly again. However, there seems to be a malfunction with them as well, leaving us in the water without much to fall back on,” he explained.
“How the hell does that even happen? I thought this ship got five stars!” one irate passenger yelled.
More chimed in.
Then I made a startling discovery that changed everything.
“Hey! My cell phone just died,” I said. A few near to me checked theirs and noticed the same thing was happening. Nothing electronic seemed to be working.
“What the fuck is going on?” Isaac asked next to me. I didn’t know for sure, but now the fog was thicker than ever, and it was becoming difficult to see out. We had no clue how close the other vessel was to ramming us.
“Everyone that can, reconvene in conference room S-13. We can go over some standard emergency procedures, but if you cannot attend or make it into the conference room, please return to your rooms to await further instructions!” Jacob shouted. But most of us weren’t listening to him by then.
Because the ship had gotten closer.
We realized it was another cruise ship, but now even amid the heavy fog, we could see the decks were devoid of life.
“Look!” Sara shouted, covering her mouth in shock as she pointed toward the side of the boat.
There, scrawled in what appeared to be human blood, was a message that was as wide as a car and stretched down the side of the cruise liner.
The commotion was hard to calm down as Jacob whistled again and again, but finally, he had enough and fired a warning shot with his service pistol into the air to calm the crowd.
“Now that I have your attention,” he muttered as he holstered the weapon again, “The last thing we need to do right now is panic. We have no idea what happened to them or why, so there is no reason to consider the same threat occurring here. For now, it is merely in our vicinity and causing us distress, nothing more and nothing less.”
“Then what should we do, sir?” Isaac asked.
“I need to go up-deck and check with Deputy Captain Vioch about our current situation. In the meantime, it looks like I’ll need to deputize a few men here since most of my regular staff took their vacation when we left port from Galveston. I’m four men down. If any one of you feel you are up to the task, speak now,” Jacob barked.
Sara gave me a little nudge. I looked at her like she was crazy. Then she smiled nervously. It was the type of smile I hadn’t seen for a while.
I raised my hand right alongside a scrawny young man named Lincoln and another guy from the group. I think his name was Declan.
Mister Brooks didn’t offer us any sort of firearms but told us to keep the peace on this deck until he returned. Easier said than done, really.
Just in that small group of 19 that I came aboard with, the speculation of what had happened to the ship was starting to spread.
“Something must have killed everyone on board. A virus, I’m sure,” the elderly woman, Bonnie, said as she started to knit furiously.
“Oh, that’s rubbish. I’m sure the ship merely experienced some fatal miscalculation and left them stranded out on the open water without a means to contact the land,” a newcomer named Thomas suggested.
“You mean like we are,” Sara said blandly. That got everyone to be quiet, as it was the first time any of us actually had to face the fact we had no clue why our own ship was down.
“I guess it could always be worse; at least we still have a buffet,” Isaac joked.
But I didn’t feel like making light of anything just yet.
Especially when I went to the rails again and noted now the other cruise liner was right alongside our own. The scrawled bloody message was even easier to read.
It looked like it had been written quite some time ago. Months possibly.
I remember wondering if we would be trapped out there as long.
“We should board it,” Craig suggested as he appeared from the upper deck stairs.
“Did you find one of the bridge crew?” Sara asked him anxiously.
“They’re all too busy trying to handle more commotion on the other decks. It’s getting crazy all across decks E through K,” he said.
“I can’t even imagine trying to keep this many people calm,” Isaac said, shuffling about and wrapping his arms around his body.
I did the same; suddenly, it was extremely cold out there on the deck.
“It’s going to get worse unless someone goes over there to get answers,” Lincoln agreed. A few others also joined with Craig’s sentiment to attempt a crossing.
“But that’s crazy talk; we don’t even have anything to cross with,” I argued.
“It’s better than sitting around here and doing nothing,” another passenger said. Other passengers were listening in on the argument. I knew it would be impossible to settle them down soon.
“Even if we wanted to cross, there’s nothing here that can do that,” Sara said.
Kevin and Declan seemed to take that remark as a challenge and started to search the deck for anything that might help them with their foolish plan.
A few moments later, they returned with a heavy tow line.
“This ought to do the trick,” Craig suggested. I knew it would be pointless to stop them. So I did the next best thing and decided to go aboard as well.
He had also managed to convince a few more men to join our would-be scouting operation.
“There might be supplies we could use for our own voyage, materials to get the engine up and running,” he said as we made it to one of the upper decks. The tow line was so heavy we knew the only successful way to snag it on anything would be with a downward throw.
“Heave! Ho!” Greg shouted as we made our first toss. “Heave! Ho!” he shouted again, this time with more emphasis after we pulled up that heavy tow line.
It took us five tries. Five fucking tries to toss that huge ass thing and get it hooked to one of the side rails near to the ship’s middle deck. By the time we had finished, nearly a half-hour had passed, and I was exhausted.
“I’ll stand lookout on this side,” I offered as I caught my breath.
“And explain to Mister Brooks what it is we’re doing here?” the leader of the posse teased.
They had me figured out. I didn’t want to confront the security director again. So we gathered a few blankets for each of us to create a makeshift zip line, wrapping them tight around the rope and then our chests. Raymond led the way, yelling “Cowabunga!” as he slid over to the mysterious vessel.
“This is such a bad idea,” Greg muttered.
I realized it was really too late to back out of it now, and since Sara had already agreed to stay in our room, I couldn’t think of any more excuse for not joining the group aboard the strange ship.
I have to admit, though, that rush of air and mist hitting me as I slid across two massive cruise liners like I was some damned tomb raider; man, it made me feel ten years younger.
But any excitement I had was quickly replaced with worry and dread as we began to explore the quiet catacombs of the other vessel.
“Fucking bizarre,” Thomas muttered as we walked toward one of the still open doors to the inner hallways. Not a light flickered as we moved. But all of us were quick to notice that was some sort of strange silky substance that coated most of the walls and floor.
“Must be an aftereffect of the mist,” Craig suggested.
“Hey, some of these staterooms are open,” Thomas said, kicking a door aside and trying to look inside the darkened suite.
“Anybody think to bring a flashlight?” Marcus said nervously. We could only barely see our own reflections in the shattered room’s mirror.
I took out a small keychain that had a mini light on it. It wasn’t much, but it did do the trick.
“My God,” Thomas said as he covered his mouth and we saw to our horror a body slumped over the bed.
It wasn’t just the fact that the man was dead. His entire body was caked in barnacles, as though the ship had been stranded at the bottom of the ocean for a century. His corpse was now as much a part of the ship as the deck we stood on.
“Guess they didn’t all abandon ship,” I said grimly as we moved toward the upper deck.
“We need to see if there’s any crew aboard,” Craig said, hastily kicking on doors and trying to find any signs of life.
There were none.
Finally, we arrived at the bridge and stared down at the shattered instruments and broken windows in defeat. There was so much of the strange slimy silk blocking up the room we couldn’t even go in to see if there was anything worth retrieving.
“What in the hell…” Craig said as he used my mini light to peer toward the tanning deck just a few decks below, where once hundreds of sunbathers had likely sprawled out to bathe.
Instead, in their place, we saw to our shock that at least a couple dozen bodies were scattered, their heads severed, and their organs spread across the shiny surface of the deck like discarded trash.
They looked like they were running from something. Attacked.
“We need to find the black box and figure out what the fuck happened here and then get the hell off of here,” Craig ordered.
None of us disagreed with that sentiment. Raymond made the suggestion we go to the generator room, but none of us really knew where that was. So instead, we made our way back down to the open-air deck where the bodies were found and used a map from there to determine the best route.
“Through this dining hall, down a few more floors; shouldn’t take long to get there,” Greg said as he memorized the map. We did as best we could and followed one of the emergency stairwells nearby to reach the lower decks.
Every step we took felt more ominous than the last. It was hard to see where we were going with such limited illumination, and the further down we went, the more the annoying substance that coated the ship was blocking our path. Eventually, we made it to one of the massive indoor pools, where the only thing giving us any sort of luminous glow was the reflection from the water.
Raymond covered his mouth in horror as one of the headless bodies drifted near us in the grimy pool water.
He stumbled backward into the stairwell and fell into a mesh of the silky substance that seemed to be spreading faster across the ship.
Frantically he coughed and swallowed some of the silk as he fell and fumbled with it, which of course, caused him to freak out only more. Craig and I helped him to his feet, and I muttered, “Stay calm, man. Nothing here can hurt us.”
I don’t know if I said that to reassure him or myself. At the moment, I knew the only thing that mattered was we needed to keep moving.
“We can’t go that way,” Thomas observed, noting that the substance made the steps slick and difficult to walk on and then shining a light across the room toward the entrance to the dining hall.
“Maybe we can find some food supplies too,” he suggested.
We didn’t need to be told twice. The four of us moved through the hall, not making a sound amongst us except for the occasional cough from Ray.
Pushing open the dining compartment doors, I drew a sigh of relief when I saw a flicker of light from across the wide room.
But it didn’t last long.
As we got closer, I realized that although the candles themselves seemed to be recently lit, the only thing still remaining in the middle of the buffet was a fresh corpse.
It was a child. No older than eight or nine, with his chest exposed and his vital organs carved out.
I remember vomiting. I think Greg and Ray did too.
It took every ounce of strength for me not to pass out as I pushed away from the malicious scene toward another stairwell.
“Calm down, calm down,” Thomas urged me.
“They ate him! Whoever survived, they ate that poor boy,” I stammered.
“There’s nothing we can do about that,” he growled.
Craig nervously reached in his pocket and smoked a cigarette. “God damn, I never seen anything like that,” he said, his hands visibly twitching. Raymond and Thomas did their best to try and push forward toward the lower engine room, none of us even daring to speak of the massacre we had seen above.
“Over here,” Greg announced excitedly once we found the right room.
He opened up one of the emergency conduits, only to find that most of the wiring was fried or beyond repair.
“Well fuck, guess that shouldn’t surprise me,” he said with a laugh.
The rest of us weren’t listening. My eyes were on Craig. He was moving toward the back wall where more of the system’s panels were tied into the massive generator deeper below, his eyes not wavering from the lettering stamped on the side of the wall near to our location.
“You guys are seeing this too, right?” he asked.
I remember my mouth went dry, and my heart dropped.
It was the logo for the cruise liner, followed by the name of the ship itself.
Everything mirrored the same ship we had boarded only a day ago.
* * * * * *
I was really drunk the day we left port.
Sara had told me I shouldn’t have stayed out so late with our group, but I figured that if we were spending two weeks pretending to be their friends, the congenial repartee had to start somewhere.
Part of it was because I was trying to fit in with that elite crowd, but mostly I was nervous. This vacation was meant to be a second honeymoon for Sara, to repair all the mistakes we had made in our marriage so far. So I said to myself, I would take a day to work up the nerve and then propose to her with a new ring. Even renew our vows.
That never happened. Besides fucking like animals in an effort to get pregnant, we did little if anything in the romance department.
I remember the morning sun hit the back of our elegant ship as we cruised past the last speck of land. Sara took a picture of it while I recovered from a nasty hangover. The last good memory I actually have is vomiting in the toilet before passing out.
That should probably paint a picture for you of things to come.
* * * * * *
“It’s the same ship.”
All four of us that had boarded the strange vessel felt a sudden unease standing there in the darkness of the generator room, trying to make sense of it.
“Okay, okay, maybe we are jumping to conclusions. Ships can have the same name,” I suggested.
I wish I had been right. But Craig was already putting the clues together.
“Same name, possibly? But make and model, that’s downright not going to happen. They register these ships in a database,” he said.
There was silence again as we all tried to articulate what we were feeling.
“This isn’t fucking possible,” Greg stammered. Raymond was still coughing so loud it was hard to think.
“There has got to be another explanation!” Thomas shouted.
“Listen! I don’t like it any better than you three, but here we are! Now what the fuck are we gonna do with this bombshell?” Craig asked, his eyes focusing on me first.
I felt a shudder roll over my body. To this day, I won’t forget what he was suggesting.
“You…don’t want to tell the others?” I asked, seeing his eye twitch nervously as we stood there together.
“We can’t! Do you realize how much of a panic there will be on deck if people found out? They were practically about to riot just an hour ago!” he remarked as Thomas nodded his head in agreement. Greg and I weren’t so sure, though.
“The others will demand an answer about what we found over here, and we’ve hardly even explored a fourth of the ship. Maybe there’s something else we can learn?” he said.
“We tell them it’s too dangerous. Thomas, you were in the Marines, right?” Craig asked anxiously.
“Air Force,” his buddy corrected.
“All right then, everyone will listen to you. If you say that we can’t go back on board, then that’s what will happen,” Craig decided.
“You can’t be so simple-minded, Craig. Just take a step back and look at this. This ship…it’s the future. You saw those bodies. How long will it be before that happens to us?” I told them all.
“I don’t know! And I’m not about to stick around and find out!” he muttered as he pushed aside more of the strange silky material, his eyes wild with fear as he added, “When we get back across, we’re going to get our families and get out!”
“You mean, abandon the others?” Raymond asked, still gasping for breath. I was thinking we needed to get him to a doctor before we made any hasty decisions.
“They’ll come to the same realization soon enough. The lifeboats are equipped to sustain us for ten hours on the water. That should be more than enough time to find land somewhere, right?” Craig suggested.
Even Greg was starting to see this as a good plan.
“If we do this…if we are really going to do this…then it needs to be careful and calculated. We all go together after we convene with our family, okay?” I said.
“I have to find my wife and kids,” Thomas agreed.
And that was that. We made our deal with each other to keep the secret silent for as long as possible.
I only wish it had lasted long enough.
After crossing again by using the same technique with the towline, we found ourselves in hot water with our significant others and with the security team.
Mister Brooks had returned to this section of the ship with about three armed men to contain the commotion that was stirring in the darkness of the ship. It had to be past twilight at this point, but without any means of telling the time, all I knew for sure was that I just wanted to get back to my room with Sara and collapse.
“You four, come with me; Deputy Captain wants to speak with ya,” the Security Director snarled.
The other armed men were undoing our towline to sever the connection between our ships, preventing any other would-be adventurers from exploring the ghost ship.
We followed Mister Brooks to the D deck, where a few of the senior crew had gathered.
“Deputy Captain Vioch, these are the men that boarded the ship,” Jacob said as he closed the door.
Aside from the few emergency lanterns that the bridge crew had scrounged up, it was nearly impossible to see the man’s face clearly. I could tell he was old and seasoned, likely former Navy. The type that had experienced this sort of madness before, or so he likely thought.
I doubt he was prepared for the story we were about to spin.
And despite our reservations to keep the truth quiet, with armed men at our backs and a commanding officer questioning us, Raymond and Greg sang like canaries.
The Deputy Captain didn’t say a word as the two men recounted our short harrowing experience.
But when we were done, he merely turned to Thomas, Craig and me and asked, “Can you verify their account, gentlemen?”
Thomas saluted smartly. I nodded like a little child.
Craig was doing his best to try and still seem brave.
“What in blazes is this madness, sir?” I dared to ask. But the look the old man gave me told me he was no closer to an answer than we were.
“Have you told anyone else aboard of your discovery?” he asked.
“None, Sir; we even agreed we would stay quiet about it. To try and keep the peace,” Greg said.
Raymond was still coughing so much now he could hardly stand.
“What’s the matter with him?” Mister Brooks asked.
Then Ray began to vomit up blood as he collapsed onto the floor.
“He swallowed something aboard the other ship,” Craig muttered as a few of the bridge crew moved to turn him over and keep him from biting on his tongue.
“For Christ’s sake, you should have mentioned this earlier!” Vioch snarled angrily.
As he shook, I saw Ray’s eyes roll back, and he began to whisper the most unusual phrase.
I’ll never forget those words.
“Suffer the children, collapse the tree, return to the reunion,” he moaned again and again as Mister Brooks ran to find a medic.
But it was too late.
By the time they arrived, he had fallen into unconsciousness. All they got to confirm was that he wasn’t dead yet.
“He’s severely dehydrated. We’ll get him down to sick bay,” the doctor instructed.
“Is there anything else about your journey you may have failed to mention?” the Deputy Captain snarled.
I opened my mouth to apologize when all of us heard a shriek from outside.
A few of the crew actually even visibly jumped a little at the blood-curdling scream.
I pushed toward the door to peer out the windows as best as I could to see what was happening.
Then above the scream was this humming. A droning noise that grew louder with each passing moment.
Something large zoomed past the window, the buzzing drowning all other sounds out as I fell back in alarm.
“What the fuck was that??” I shouted.
One of the officers tentatively opened the door to look out. Then something grabbed his body and yanked him into the fog, crushing his chest like a peanut.
“Holy shit!” Greg stammered.
“Mister Brooks, begin a sweep of A through F decks and get everyone back inside their cabins,” the Deputy Captain ordered. Jacob shoved us toward the stairwell as we heard more screams fill the air.
“What the hell was that. Did you see it?” I asked as we hurried to the lower decks. Already people were cramming the halls, shoving one another about to get to safety. Throughout all of it, I heard the droning noise grow louder and louder.
Something was attacking our ship.
All I could think of was finding Sara. As Brooks and a few of his men struggled to maintain order, I slipped away with my friends toward the other halls that were meant to be for employees only.
“This is shit. This is shit. What the hell is happening here??” Craig shouted as we ran.
None of us dared to even wager a guess. We pushed through more frantic passengers as we arrived at M deck.
Sara was there amid our small group, her face one of pallid terror.
“Oh, thank God. Are you alright?!” she asked, kissing me before I even got a chance to respond.
The droning was growing louder. I pulled her out of the crowd toward a conference room where we got a chance to breathe, and I recollected my thoughts.
“What the fuck is going on, Logan?” Sara asked, trying her best not to cry. There was blood leaking out from under the door as we heard ravenous shrieks grow stronger. Another moment passed as I held her close.
Then the door slammed open, and several from our tour group entered, some with injuries.
“Isaac, you’re bleeding,” I told him as I got him a chair.
Kevin, Holly and another woman helped me with getting him elevated, and my wife ran to get some wash clothes.
Declan and Lincoln watched the door as more screams echoed the halls.
“Thomas is still out there!” Holly said frantically. I heard Ray’s wife ask his whereabouts.
Then I focused on Isaac as he stirred and tried to make sense of things.
“Dear sweet Jesus…Craig, did you see it? What was that?” our group leader asked.
My friend seemed in a daze, his eyes frantically darting about the room, trying to make sense of things. He gave me the look of a man who was losing his grip on reality.
“Craig! You saw them? What were they like?” Bonnie muttered.
Finally he seemed able to speak again but what he said made little sense to us gathered there.
“I…I’m not sure. They were like scorpions. And also like leopards. Fast…immeasurably fast. And those eyes. There must have been thousands. It moved like a gelatinous mass, writhing and consuming everything. It was everywhere. When it looked at me, it felt like it was looking into my very soul,” Craig stammered as he broke into tears.
The droning noise grew more chaotic, and Declan pushed some of the furniture to block the door. That only caused Holly to go into more hysterics.
“We can’t just leave Tom out there!!”
Another loud shriek filled the air, and she began to sob and beg them to let other survivors in.
“Keep those doors closed!” Kevin demanded, trying to calm her down as Isaac tried to pair up his own description with that of Craig’s.
The old man sounded even more confused as he muttered, “A scorpion? No…no, more like a spider or a shark, weaving its way through people with long, endless rows of teeth. It was as large as an ox, with no eyes at all. Just a faceless mesh of mouths, ravenously devouring everything in its way.”
“This can’t be happening. It can’t be,” Sara said as she clutched my arm hard and tried not to collapse to her knees.
The whole room seemed to shake as more strange rumblings passed us by. Then Bonnie began to recite scripture.
“And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring…”
We turned to her, perplexed by the sudden religious inclination, and she twisted her hair absently before admitting, “My mother used to make me behave with verses like that. Said we were closer than ever to the End-Times.”
Declan laughed nervously. “There’s no way that could be what’s happening, right? I mean, that’s just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.”
Others in our group didn’t seem so sure. And considering what I had seen first hand, I too wondered about everything.
“None of us can know the day nor the hour, for the Lord shall come like a thief in the night,” Bonnie responded.
“What matters is we stick together. If we do that, we will make it out of this alive,” I told them. It didn’t sound very convincing with the massacre happening right outside.
Holly kept crying, desperate to reunite with her husband.
“We should get some sleep,” Lincoln suggested. Another obstacle that seemed impossible to overcome. How could we possibly hope to rest when our fellow passengers were being torn in two by God knows what? All of us were thinking it, but no one argued with his sentiment either.
“Got to keep our strength up, to get out of here,” he added.
“Sure,” Craig said, his eyes still delirious from the horrors he had seen.
Sara and I scooted near to the eastern wall, my wife wrapping her arms around her legs and trying not to cry.
“I’m so, so sorry,” I told her.
She didn’t even seem to be able to form words to respond.
It made me think back to the reason we booked this cruise in the first place.
I’ve touched on it briefly before, and as I reflect now on that somber night as we laid our heads down to try and sleep amidst sounds of pure torture, it’s returning to my mind how fragile our relationship has been over the past two years.
Sara and I have been together for six years, and honestly, if you were to ask me where I thought we would be back when we first got engaged, I would have given you a standard response. Two kids, nice house.
Living the American Dream.
That quickly transformed into an American Nightmare for us when we decided to try and make a family for ourselves.
First, there were the miscarriages. Those were rough enough to go through. And then I had to get surgery and learned I couldn’t produce any kids either.
I remember seeing the disappointment cover her face like a shroud. Of course, the doctors talked about other methods like IVF or even adoption, but Sara had already given up on it.
We both knew it could be years before we were even eligible to fit the criteria of being a foster family. I tried so hard to look into everything to fix our problem. Went into debt searching for pills and natural herbs. But nothing worked. Our perfect life came crashing down around us.
And if this cruise was indeed meant to be the culmination of everything we worked so hard to achieve, it only further proved how broken we were by it becoming another disaster in our fracturing lives.
We have always been distant with each other, almost going in different directions.
Like two ships on very different routes.
All I wanted was to make a course correction. Get us back on track.
Slowly, in the dark of that crowded conference room, as the noises rose and fell like the tide, she reached for my hand.
Bonnie was leading the group in a prayer circle, thinking any kind of show of devout penance might help now.
I don’t know if that was the reason why Sara reached out to me in that instance or not.
But I simply know I felt her squeeze my hand in a way I hadn’t felt for so long that I refused to let go of that feeling.
It’s the kind of thing that can make even the most difficult of nights a little more calm.
* * * * * *
I don’t dream much anymore. But when I do, it isn’t like I used to.
Instead, whatever melancholy I might have conjured up is replaced with the screams of strangers, with horrid imagery I would like to tell myself came from a dream.
We’ve been home for some time now, Sara and I, trying to reconcile whatever is left of the life we once led.
I’m not really sure it’s even possible to go back to normal after experiencing what we went through together, what some of those close to us never even survived.
I wish others who made it could come forward. But the truth is, each time I go further into this chronicle, I feel more anxious and afraid.
The danger isn’t passed.
I’m not sure it ever will be.
* * * * * *
The night trapped in the conference room stretched on for hours, with both of us barely gaining any sleep despite our weary muscles. The sounds of abominations crawling amid the halls were enough to keep us from ever fully falling asleep. I think we both were afraid that if we did pass out, we might never wake again.
Eventually, though, the noise died down. A quiet and eerie calm covered the surrounding staterooms.
It was time for us to survey the damage.
You can try to prepare for something like this; some soldiers say it’s simply a matter of being able to compartmentalize the pain and suffering you see. I don’t know if they receive any kind of training to do that, but Sara and I were merely walking into a genocide blind.
Right out the door was the first signs of destruction; two severed bodies, torn apart at the neck and split open V-like down to the torso, their innards dangling out and stinking up everything. Down the darkened corridor, it was easy to see more of the same. Long streaks of blood smeared the walls and floor.
Bodies were sprawled out or shoved against the wall as though discarded.
“I don’t understand; they aren’t using them for food. Just for carnage,” Declan said as we struggled to move past the first collection of corpses to the stairwell.
Sara kept her hand on her mouth as we walked up, and I was reminded of the gruesome imagery from the sister ship. Stacks of men and women were spread about the surrounding tanning area, no rhyme or reason for any of their deaths.
It didn’t get much better from there. Besides the usual visceral horror we were now seeing, other bodies seemed to have vats of disgusting slime pooling from their cavities like the creatures had used them as breeding grounds for something.
One of the group found their husband, his skull completely split open and then hollowed out to resemble a honeycomb pattern. It even appeared there were tiny strange six-legged creatures skittering about in the crevices of his head.
“All of the boats on this deck are gone,” Lincoln announced after we finished our first sweep.
That only made sense given what panic likely had swept across the entire ship. Anyone being attacked would do whatever they could to escape.
“Then we go up from here until we find something else,” Isaac said.
That mysterious silky substance Craig and I had seen so much of was also starting to make its presence known aboard our ship. Sliding and oozing its way into small corners of the floor as we moved toward L deck.
“How many of us do you think are left?” Holly asked, her eyes focusing on each body, hoping to God she didn’t see Thomas among the dead.
I recognized the mangled mess of one body as being a member of the security detachment, and it got me thinking. “We need to get to the armory, keep ourselves protected,” I said. There was no telling if the indescribable creatures might strike again.
The others were in agreement, so our small group moved toward the next few floors, observing more carnage as we went.
We were about halfway there, maybe a little more, when a gunshot echoed through the thick fog in front of us.
“We’re from the lower deck!!” Isaac shouted.
He raised his hands up to show that we weren’t holding any weapons of our own, but another warning shot told him not to step any further.
“All of you get down on your knees. Hands behind your head!” a stern female voice called out.
I tugged Sara to the floorboard to obey, watching as several passengers emerged from the fog, carrying weapons they had likely stolen off of corpses.
The leader, a younger woman with purple-dyed hair, aimed a military-grade rifle straight at Isaac and snapped, “If any of you move, I will put a bullet in this man’s head.”
The rest of us fearfully complied as she ordered one of the men to search us for weapons.
“Please. We mean no harm,” Holly stammered.
“Shut up,” one guy barked, kicking her a little with the butt of his gun.
“Looks like they’re clean,” he added as he marched back over to the woman.
She knelt down to my eye level, quickly checking my irises and then those of my wife.
“Looks like they’re clean,” she muttered.
“Who are you?” Sara asked.
“Jasmine. This is Chuck, Sean and Waylon,” she muttered.
“There was no need for that roughness. We meant no harm,” Isaac said as she allowed us to stand back up.
“You say that. But the past few hours, I’ve seen grown men tear each other limb from limb,” Chuck remarked evenly.
“The monsters…what are they? Where did they go?” Craig whispered.
“Good question,” Jasmine agreed as she pointed toward the next level we had just climbed up from. “I take it there are no lifeboats below either?”
I shook my head fractionally.
“Damn it. We need to find the inflatables,” Waylon said.
“Let us help. We want off this ship as bad as you do,” my wife begged.
Jasmine nodded in agreement and then guided our group through to the next deck. We had to have seen at least three hundred bodies by then.
“We were on our way to the armory. Do you happen to know where that is?” Isaac muttered.
The newcomers didn’t respond, and I could see why. They wanted to keep the status quo with them in charge. But they still hadn’t explained why they were so fearful of their fellow passengers.
I wish it had simply been that they were being precautious.
But less than half an hour later, on G deck, we learned of another threat.
The group had been moving as quickly as possible, checking for survivors and supplies as we went. Every once and a while, we heard that same low droning and it made us hide inside for a few minutes, all of us scared stiff of the chance that the unseen beasts might return.
Then from amid the fog, Holly saw her husband.
“Thomas!! Thank God!” She screamed, running down the side of the boat to where he seemed to be wandering aimlessly.
“Hold on!” Jasmine yelled. The young woman held the rest of us back, and Chuck and Sean aimed their weapons, focusing straight on Thomas as he slowly walked forward.
“What’s gotten into you? Are you going to shoot an unarmed man?” I asked. I even mustered up enough courage to try and struggle with Chuck for control of the gun.
“That’s no man,” Jasmine whispered. Those simple words were enough for me to pause and look toward Holly’s would-be reunion.
“Where were you? I’ve been so worried,” she said, sobbing gently and then grabbing his neck and hugging him.
Thomas didn’t say a word; he just gently rubbed at the back of her neck and whispered in her ear. It looked every bit like the reunion we expected.
“Thomas. What are you talking about?” Holly said softly, looking at her husband in confusion.
I could hardly see the outline of his body frame. But one thing stood out. His eyes were a pure dingy yellow.
He squeezed his wife’s hand hard, smiling in a twisted sort of way.
Then suddenly he grabbed the back of her neck and pulled hard off the side of the rails.
Sara screamed and watched as they plummeted to the ocean with a resounding crash. Jasmine’s men trailed the waters, searching for any sign of them.
The waves crashed gently against the sister ship. Then from the depths, I saw Thomas crawling up the side of the dead ship, using his bare hands to climb that sheet metal, making dents in the hull to act as footholds.
We could hardly even see where he crawled away to on the opposite ship, but for a brief moment, I swear to you that he looked straight toward us.
It was only further confirmation that whatever had taken him over was no longer a man. He had a look that told me there was no soul inside his body.
Chuck instinctively fired, but Thomas disappeared amid the fog again. And I was left with questions that fell from my mouth like a babbling brook.
“What the fuck? What is that?? What is happening??” I screamed as Jasmine led us toward the next deck, and we found a wide entertainment room to hide in and gather our thoughts.
“When we managed to start fighting back, there were eleven of us,” Waylon said, gesturing to the small group.
“The others were taken over by the madness. It ruined their very spirit,” Jasmine whispered.
“Taken over? Like demonic possession?” Lincoln whispered.
“I don’t know what you want to call it. They all saw something in the mist, and the moment they laid their eyes on it, they went insane. Started attacking us, screaming. Every last bit of their humanity was gone in a second,” Chuck responded.
The survivors from my group looked at each other nervously, the dread we felt only becoming stronger as we moved toward the upper deck again once the noise was passed.
We were almost toward the front of the boat, where the massive open-air pool stank of death. I peered off the side of the liner to try and get a look into the fog myself. Then Isaac grabbed me back and snapped angrily, “What’s gotten into you? Didn’t you hear what they said?”
I remember feeling a bit dizzy; my wife was looking at me worriedly. But I didn’t understand why I felt so compelled to look. It was like something else was controlling my body.
Isaac and Bonnie made the decision that we should all find shelter and then search for inflatables that evening.
“We also need food,” Jasmine agreed. Some in the group weren’t listening, though.
Something amid the fog had caught their eye. Craig and Declan were staring out toward the edge of the ship, looking about as dazed and confused as I probably had a moment before.
I remember that Isaac managed to snap them out of it, and we all reconvened in the nearby dining hall.
But the men were not the same after that moment. I knew they had seen what I had not, the powerful force that Jasmine had warned us about.
I’ve had so many dreams about it since then, this unspeakable force I was drawn to. In some, it takes the shape of this massive white rigid horn rising above the ocean waves. In others, it’s a dark and sprawling tree. I have no idea if either of those is accurate, but I can safely say that it does influence people, and I almost saw it first hand.
It occurred a few hours later as we gathered for a meal, and Jasmine and Isaac agreed the dining compartment would be good for a camp until we decided the safest way to search for inflatables.
Bonnie and a few of the other women amongst our ragtag group went to the kitchen to prepare a meal, something all of us desperately needed.
I wasn’t entirely sure I could eat, though, given everything that I had seen that day. But somehow, I managed to stomach a few bites.
Craig, on the other hand, was devouring the food presented as if he had never eaten a day in his life. It was actually disturbing to see him gorge himself.
Then he did something even more shocking once his plate was empty.
He took his fork and knife, examining them like they were new to him and began to slam them into his face repeatedly.
“Jesus Christ!!” I heard another woman scream out.
Isaac and I jumped up to grab him and pin him down before he did any more damage.
Then Declan began to do the same thing, self-mutilating himself with the eating utensils.
Sara was trying her best to stop him, but he had already effectively ruined his left eye.
I couldn’t hold Craig down much longer as he did the same, refusing to stop as his face bled profusely.
Others were joining in to help us. And then we heard the sickening sound of bones crunching outside.
Chuck raced to the door to look. I managed to knock Craig unconscious and get a look myself. People were jumping from somewhere above us. Standing on the edge of the railing and then falling downward haphazardly. I couldn’t tell much about the passengers who were committing this suicide pact, but one thing was for sure.
All of them were smiling.
* * * * * *
There are things worse than death.
Watching hundreds of innocent people kill themselves and do so willingly, I can’t even imagine a worse fate than that.
In this life, we have so little control over any action we take. To find that such control can be stripped from us entirely is just so terrifying. It still keeps me up at night.
You see, when free will and faith become lost to the void, nothing makes sense anymore. It’s a futile and dangerous experience because hope is decimated.
I once believed that hope is the only force that can’t be destroyed.
But I’ve seen what can happen when it is eroded or warped. Hope can also be a weapon of evil.
To make us desperate for salvation that might never come.
On the day we abandoned our cruise, I found this out the hard way.
I thought rescue would be the best way toward the future.
But again, I was wrong.
* * * * * *
The day started with a funeral pyre.
Isaac and Bonnie were the ones to suggest it as a small amount of fog began to lift, and we could see some parts of the ocean again.
“Maybe if we burn the bodies, the smoke will act as a signal fire to any rescuers out there,” Sara agreed.
Of course, that wasn’t the reason Bonnie did it. She felt our ship was in need of a spiritual cleansing because of all the bloodshed we were witness to, and the fire was meant to be our version of some Judaic sacrifice.
I complied with the instructions given though, if only because of the smell. The bodies were stacked near the bow of the ship in an orderly pile to the best of our ability and then, with the remaining bridge crew giving us permission, Chuck, Greg and I went to the lower deck hold to grab some gasoline for the fire.
It was while I was down there in the storage compartment that my eyes stumbled upon something that I realized could be a ticket off of this deadly cruise. It was an older model inflatable, the kind that might be used in extreme weather situations, nothing standard by any means.
But I knew nothing about our trip so far had fallen under normal guidelines.
I kept my mouth shut as Chuck and Greg found the necessary lighter fluid, and then made sure that they didn’t spot it by distracting them with a few other supplies to grab on our way back out.
I know it sounds selfish, but the only ones I cared about getting off that ship alive right now were my wife and myself.
Back up on the E deck, Isaac had started a sermon. I shuffled my way over to Sara to pull her away from the crowd as they flocked and listened to his biblical tales and whispered to her.
“I found a raft.”
She smiled excitedly, about to squeal with joy. Then I hushed her as a few nosey passengers eyed us, and I pulled her further away toward one of the abandoned dining compartments.
“We need to tell the others! With the fire going, it will give us a chance to be the first picked up by any passing ships!” Sara said.
“Are you sure these are the sort of people you want to take along with us?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that they’ve shown us just how unstable they can be. Craig nearly stabbed himself to death last night. And remember Holly and Thomas? What if we go out there on that raft and one of them sees something and acts crazy?” I argued.
“Logan! We can’t just leave them!” she objected.
“Fine. We take a few, the ones we haven’t seen signs of unstable attitudes like Jasmine or Chuck. But not those two preachers out there. They’ll throw us to the waters in a bid for a whale to save us before we get found,” I muttered.
Sara nodded with a shiver, and we returned to the group as they joined together to light the corpses. Isaac was the one that did the deed, tossing a match onto the gasoline-covered cadavers.
It took almost twenty seconds for the whole pile of rotting flesh to scorch, and as it did smoke dark clouds of smoke began to rise from their ashes.
“If we’re gonna do this, it should be now. While everyone is distracted,” I told my wife.
Sara looked nervous about the plan. Then she saw the determination in my face, and there was this sort of connection we made right there between the two of us.
So I grabbed Chuck and Jasmine and Greg and convinced them to join us for some wine a few decks down, where I reiterated the plan to them. Jasmine seemed to be eager, but the others were more skeptical.
“How far can an old boat like that go?” Greg asked.
“It has to be better than staying here and waiting for Isaac to decide we are unworthy or something,” I argued.
The others had somber looks on their faces; the clear fact that those who were out on deck were becoming unhinged was evident to them, but it still looked like none of them were going to act.
“Listen, my wife and I are leaving. We want to give you the opportunity to come with us. But once we are gone, there may be no other way to escape. There may not be any rescue coming, and who knows how long it might be before these people start to turn on one another,” I said. I was actually desperate for them to listen to me.
And for a long silence, I believed that they weren’t going to make a move, but finally, Jasmine spoke up. “Logan is right. It’s now or never,” she declared. That seemed to be enough for everyone else to agree, and we moved down to the F deck with a few other eager souls.
Up above, we heard the crowd sing an old war hymn. The air was resounding with their voices. It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck as we went further down the emergency stairs.
The fire grew and grew as we made it back to the storage room, so much so that if there was any sort of rescue out there, I knew they would see it. But the chances of that happening were slim if I was right. Because there was nothing normal about this storm or the experiences we’ve had so far, and since I was the last one still living who knew the truth of the ghost ship, I knew that before any rescue came, death would continue to spread amongst the passengers.
For these reasons and probably a dozen others that were rattling my brain, I knew we needed to leave.
Not everyone that we were leaving behind agreed, though.
As we finished moving the old inflatable out toward the railing on F deck, I suddenly noticed that the singing we had heard earlier had stopped. And then, from amid the fog above, a single shot rang out and struck Greg in the shoulder.
“Holy shit!” he yelled as he dropped his side of the raft. The rest of us fell to the ground, unsure what to expect next, as Isaac emerged from the fog carrying a long rifle.
“You can’t leave,” he said as a few other passengers moved toward us, not looking friendly at all.
Sara was the one who detected something different about this group. “They’re moving like Thomas did…”
That small warning about this group possibly being controlled like our friend was spurred Jasmine to take action. The short dark-haired woman jumped up and rushed toward Isaac, pushing him down as the gun fired again. “Go! Go now!” she shouted as the other passengers tried to grab ahold of her. Their friendly demeanor transformed into something else entirely as soon as we showed that we were not going down without a fight.
I grabbed my wife’s arm, and we began to push the raft again, right over the rail. It tumbled down to the crashing waves as the passengers grabbed ahold of Jasmine, and I heard bones break. They were going to make sure that she didn’t pose a threat to their insanity.
And with her scream echoing across the foggy morning, the rest of our small escape crew jumped toward the ocean.
The brainwashed passengers scrambled, trying to follow us as best as possible, but none of them seemed eager to jump in the waters. Isaac shoved Jasmine’s body over the side, her broken and battered fresh corpse hitting the water like a ton of bricks.
Then he grabbed up the rifle and tried again to fire upon us. Sara dove under the waves to stay out of the line of fire while Chuck and I used what little strength we had to push the raft out into the open water. Greg could only help halfway because of his injury, but somehow we managed to get beyond the scope of their gun as the waters raged around us.
I remember I held my breath for a good minute and a half as I kept pushing, trying to gain as much distance as possible from the ship. Sara and Greg were the first ones to climb into the raft, followed by Chuck and I. Even at almost a hundred feet away, we could still hear the passengers singing again. This time it didn’t sound human.
* * * * * *
Despite the heavy fog, the day seemed to be covered with the most brutal humidity I had experienced in quite a while. I was exhausted from our escape and trying to keep my spirits up about searching for rescue. But we had been adrift for nearly ten hours without a single indication of what direction we were going in or even what time it was.
Occasionally we would hear the bizarre chanting from the cruise, and I wondered if maybe we were trapped in some kind of vortex, never really escaping the ocean itself.
I got my answer around 1900 hours that night. Greg was the one that first started moving, trying to get the rest of us to wake.
“I see something; it’s massive!” he exclaimed excitedly. I rubbed my eyes to ask him what it was when suddenly my friend jumped out into the waves.
Sara screamed in surprise as he did, and I quickly grabbed my wife and told her to cover her eyes. I remembered Jasmine’s warning of the mysterious object that our cruise ship had been circling for days and realized that Greg had likely spotted it instead of the rescue we so eagerly anticipated.
Sara and I held onto each other as tight as possible as we felt our raft begin to drift erratically, and we heard the thrashing of the water as Greg’s voice became distant.
Chuck slowly woke up from the rear of the raft, and I motioned him to look toward the hull. “It’s not safe,” I told him.
But our friend didn’t listen. He focused on the fog and on the sound of Greg’s voice.
“My lord…it’s beautiful,” he whispered.
He stood up, eager to follow his friend into the water. But I wasn’t about to let this end that way.
I tackled him down, listening as the water surged around us, and I heard the sound of movement.
Was there some sort of creature surrounding our small inflatable?
Chuck laughed and punched at me and then desperately began to beg that I let him go.
“You’ll see; if you look into it, you will see the truth!!”
I knew he was too far gone, but I still didn’t want to give up on him. I punched him again and again, squarely in the jaw.
But it was a sniper rifle from above that finally finished the job.
I had been so busy trying to save him and listen to the ocean, somehow or another I had missed the sound of an approaching helicopter.
It seamlessly cut through the clouds, men wearing full body armor clinging to its side as it approached us.
A sniper aimed toward my wife.
As I dropped Chuck’s body, I ran toward her and desperately shouted to the newcomers. “Please!!! She’s pregnant!!”
I didn’t know for sure if that was true, but I was willing to say whatever it took to save my wife.
A moment later, a long rope ladder was tossed down toward our raft, and someone above used their PA system to make an order.
“Climb up one at a time with your hands where we can see them,” they said.
I instructed Sara to go first and clung to the bottom rail of the ladder as she slowly went up. The waves around us seemed to grow more and more violent with each passing moment.
But somehow, five minutes later, we found ourselves being airlifted out of the fog.
“There’s a…the rest of the ship, at least four hundred still aboard,” I said out of breath as I held my wife close and one of the soldiers offered her a blanket.
Next to him, the small metal grating that separated us from the cockpit slid open, and a thin Asian man stepped through to sit opposite of us.
“Thank you…so much,” Sara told our rescuers.
“Don’t be thanking us just yet. We’ll still have several questions to go over once we make it back to the coast,” he said.
“No…no, we can’t do that. We need to go back for those people…” I stammered.
“You will need to trust me when I say that those people are gone,” he answered grimly.
I didn’t want to believe his words, even though I knew the truth of what I had seen and how those people had likely torn themselves apart to survive.
“In fact, as far you two are concerned, you were never aboard that ship,” the Asian man added.
“What? You mean…” Sara said, her words faltering as we saw his dower expression.
“It never happened. We’ll send clean-up crews to dispose of the carnage once the fog has lifted. But right now, I’m afraid the only thing that matters is getting you to a quarantined zone and making sure your body is not contaminated,” he ordered.
Sara and I didn’t say a word, recalling how it was that Chuck had been quickly disposed of because of some supposed infection that he had. I didn’t want the same fate to happen to us.
Instead, I just held her close and said a final prayer of thanks.
It was the last time I ever did.
* * * * * *
They took us toward Florida; I never got the actual location. We were separated for a few days, and then the same Asian man came to talk to me.
“Is my wife okay? Did she have anything wrong with her?” I asked.
They told me it was fine. But it’s been days since then, and I still haven’t seen her.
Instead, I hear the waves beyond the horizon, urging me to join the madness in the ocean below.
I think I may soon answer their call.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableKyle Harrison Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🔔 More stories from author: Kyle HarrisonPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: N/A
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