Flash Fiction Friday: Six Days and Endless Nights
by: S.E. Casey
It was during the limbo contest that I knew something was horribly wrong. I wasn’t being ageist in noting the winner was a sixty year old man. As the captain of the cruise ship, he certainly had a lifetime of practice. But when the bar was lowered to two feet and he weightlessly contorted underneath, something was amiss.
Many of the other cruise-goers hooted in drunken admiration, but there were a few other grave faces confirming my concern. My husband wasn’t among them.
You’re worrying already! It’s a cruise for Christ’s sake!
Maybe Tim was right. It was only the second day of our trip. This vacation was supposed to be therapeutic. Sun and fun, nothing in which to worry.
Day Three. The waitresses serving breakfast cried unapologetically. The water at the bottom of the mid-deck pool turned purple. Young couples in the piano bar danced merrily to a continuous rendition of the Halloween theme.
No one seemed concerned.
Stop worrying! This ship is a paradise!
Tim made reservations for a late night comedy show. A good laugh would make me feel better. The smug comic had everyone shaking in hysterics, my husband along with the rest. However, I didn’t find the grinning stand-up’s recounting of past vacationers’ deaths amusing.
Drowning, food poisoning, suicide…
I excused myself for bed.
Lighten up! Fine, just go. And don’t bother waiting up…
Day Four. Even with my heightened vigilance, the day passed rather uneventfully.
At the formal dinner, our limber Captain reappeared choosing to grace the Borland table with his presence. Strolling in through the main entrance, an identical-looking Captain took up a seat with the Sutters. Soon after, a third Captain walked in pulling up a chair at the Munro table.
Identical triplets were relatively common, maybe another stunt the Captain had up his sleeve. But when another of his doppelgangers entered to patronize the fondue bar and yet another sprinted past the aft windows, I lost my appetite.
Would you just eat! I paid a fortune for this!
Day Five. According to the itinerary, it was to be an island beach day.
I shook Tim awake.
Do whatever. Just let me sleep!
I didn’t press. Taking one of the two bags I packed the night before, I headed topside.
A group of women, all carrying suitcases, stood near the gangway. Although none of us had been formally introduced, I joined them. As a group, we headed off ship.
Out of nowhere, the Captain swooped in, cutting us off.
Don’t slither away too far now, ladies.
It sounded like a threat. However, he let us pass.
We walked straight off the beach into an empty parking lot. A road devoid of signs, streetlights, and telephone poles cut into the jungle. We walked two hours without encountering a single vehicle, the wind hissing through the leafy canopy the only sound.
Two cables lay across the road ahead, a first sign of civilization. However, when we approached, they were gone. For the first time, we looked into the trees around us. What we had assumed were vines and creepers slithered over and around the branches and trunks.
Motivated by the serpentine danger, we retraced our steps back to the ship in an hour.
As if he hadn’t moved all afternoon, the Captain greeted us at the top of the ramp.
Welcome back, ladiesss.
We retired to our cabins for the rest of the day.
Day Six. Over the intercom, a bored voice announced that the ship had run out of food and alcohol. All planned events were cancelled.
Tim spent the morning shuffling in and out of the cabin to unadvertised fights held somewhere down in the bowels of the engine room. I didn’t know if he was spectator or participant. I didn’t ask. I knew his sullen look.
The roaring engines and the nauseating vibrations made it impossible to relax. The temperature in the room spiked. Despite it being noontime, the sun set. Maybe I lost track of time. It didn’t matter. I got in bed hoping to be asleep before Tim next returned.
Night Six. I was being crushed, pinned under a weight. Something pressed onto my spine. I tried to struggle out from under, but couldn’t move or breathe.
Intimately familiar with sleep paralysis, I knew I was dreaming.
Suddenly, the room tipped, everything thrown against the wall. The sounds of scraping metal and shattering glass were terribly real. Still I didn’t wake, falling deeper into a frozen slumber.
Night —. Tim lay heavily on top of me. I opened my eyes, surprised not to be in bed, but walking backwards onto a beach. However, there was no sand under my feet, the shore made of fiberglass and steel.
The stink of diesel mixed with the ocean scents, blue and orange flames burning on the water. The light from the oil fires faintly lit an islet made from the twisted metal and broken glass of countless shipwrecks.
There were others hobbling onto shore. At first I thought they were men carrying women, strapping them over their shoulders like backpacks. But man and woman were one, inextricably fused back to back into a single form, sharing extremities and a single spine. One head featured two faces, the masculine and feminine facing opposite ways.
From the extreme pressure on my spine, I deduced it to be the same with Tim and me. I flexed my legs—our legs—to stop us. Tim easily overpowered me. He was stronger than me. He had always been stronger than me. I couldn’t stop him. In fact, my defiance only made him more powerful, providing his muscles some resistance training.
If he even noticed my tiny rebellion, he didn’t acknowledge it.
Wow, look at the stars. They’re wonderful.
Tim was right, the night sky a spectacular purple sheet dotted with brilliant white stars. But it was wrong, the celestial clusters foreign and strange.
There is Orion, Sagittarius, Odin.
Tim sat. As he looked up, my eyes were forced down.
The Twins, Cassiopeia…the hulk.
I began to laugh. He was an idiot, bluffing his knowledge as if I wouldn’t notice.
Tim lay flat on his back—my front—gazing skyward and reeling off star names both real and imagined. My face pressed into the twisted metal of the island, its sharp edges cutting into my cheek.
Titan, the frying pan, King Kong.
I laughed harder. I don’t think he even realized that I wasn’t able to see what he described, my face on the opposite side of his.
My voice joined with the others lying face down on the distant shore. Harder and harder, we women laughed as one. And we kept laughing, until we weren’t, tears pouring down and pooling on the unyielding metal ground.
S.E. Casey grew up near a lighthouse. He always dreamed of smashing the lighthouse and building something truly grotesque with the rubble. This is the writing method for his broken down and rebuilt stories published in Weirdbook, Hinnom Magazine, and Vastarien, among others. See more at secaseyauthor.wordpress.com.
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