Authors: Dan Rix
The others appeared beside her.
“He’s dead,” she announced.
“Huh?” said Jake.
“This lobster’s dead.”
“Were you hoping for lobster tonight?”
“No, the others were taken. Look,” she said. “You can see their imprints where they were pressed against the glass. I remember this tank, it was full before.”
“They must have cleared them out for dinner last night,” said Jake.
“They’re supposed to last the whole trip,” she said. “Guys, the lobsters are gone.”
They all stared at her like she had lost it. Then, one by one, their eyes lit up with understanding.
“They took the lobsters?” said Sky.
“That’s just messed up,” said Cedar.
“Why didn’t they take the dead one?” said Brynn.
“So they took everyone on board . . .
the lobsters,” said Jake.
“Except the dead one,” said Brynn. “They left the dead one behind.”
“And us,” said Cedar. “They left the dead lobster behind
“The Aquarium Bar
on deck eleven,” said Naomi, leading the way across the lobby to the elevators. “That’s how we’ll know for sure.”
The elevator accelerated upward, leaving her stomach behind on deck two. It couldn’t be. They had moved the lobsters to another tank. There was a logical explanation . . . one that
include removing every single living thing from the cruise ship.
The elevator ding gave her a nervous jolt, and the doors slid back, revealing the deserted lobby on deck eleven.
Jake looked to her. “Lead the way,” he said.
Naomi took a deep breath and headed aft, toward the ship’s stern. The others followed her past a library into a spacious lounge shimmering with sea green—the glow from a dozen floor to ceiling aquariums set inside the walls.
The Aquarium Bar.
Naomi stopped at the first aquarium and peered through the glass. Plastic kelp floated among particles of lifeless sediment and machine-generated bubbles.
There were no fish.
“Empty,” she said.
The five of them spread out and checked the other tanks around the room, all of them empty.
“Check the one at the bar,” she said.
Sky stooped down at the bar and inspected the tank embedded in the counter. “Empty,” she reported
“So . . . they took all the fish?” said Brynn.
Naomi scanned the bottom of her tank, and let her forehead fall against the glass. “They took everything . . . even the snails.”
Stateroom 1740: The Royal Loft Suite
“Okay, what happened
last night?” Jake said, once they had gathered on the open air Pool Deck. They had reached a consensus that discussing things up here would be less creepy than down in some deserted hallway deep within the
. “Everything’s gone. Crew, passengers, fish . . .
. We know it happened some time after eleven thirty and before five in the morning, at which point Cedar reports he arrived back to find his stateroom empty.”
The Bermuda sun burned almost directly above them. It was nearing two, and scorching hot. And the more time that passed, the less likely it seemed things would return to normal.
“I think it was closer to midnight,” said Brynn. “We—I mean, I—still saw people when I was leaving the Living Room.”
“I’ve been wandering around since midnight,” said Sky, repositioning her silky mane of hair over one shoulder. “I haven’t seen one person. The ship’s been deserted since then.”
“Good, that narrows it down to roughly midnight.” Jake wiped a sheen of sweat from his forehead and forced himself to pull his eyes off the hot new girl. “So what was each of us doing at midnight?” He scanned his team, pausing to make eye contact with each person. “I’ll start. Brynn and I were in a hot tub.”
” Cedar blinked rapidly. “No, Brynn was fast asleep in our stateroom . . .” He faced her, eyes full of menace. “
Bad start, Jake
. He opened his mouth to smooth things over, but Brynn interrupted him.
“Actually, Cedar, I wasn’t,” she said. “I lied to you so I could hang out with him.”
“What’d you do, suck his dick?”
“I didn’t suck his dick,” she spat, her cheeks reddening.
“We were just hanging out,” Jake said, trying to draw Cedar’s attention off his sister before he ended up hurting her.
Cedar’s gaze swiveled, and Jake found himself staring into two bloodshot eyes.
“Wrong answer, you pervert. She’s
” Cedar lunged.
He moved inhumanly fast, his white T-shirt a blur against the backdrop of the pool. His limbs were dense with sinewy muscle, and his rage made up their height difference—and some. Jake didn’t even have time to blink.
Cedar shoved him to the deck and towered over him, saliva dripping down his lips. He raised his foot, eyes cruel, and his shoe blotted out the sun.
Jake rolled out of the way just in time. Where his face had been, the guy’s heel stomped the deck. The impact tunneled through the wood and stung his cheek. Without hesitating, he grabbed Cedar’s ankle and yanked, toppling him onto the planks with him.
Jake seized his wrist and twisted it behind him, rolling Cedar, wincing, onto his stomach. “Stop it!” he shouted, planting his knee on Cedar’s back. “Stop it. We’re all on the same side.” He twisted harder, and Cedar’s face contorted with pain. “If you attack me or anyone else on this ship again, I’m pitching you overboard.”
There was silence. Breathing heavily, Jake climbed off him. “Now . . . I think it’s time we searched this goddamn ship.”
Cedar hung back
as Naomi slotted the master key into the first lock, room 138 on deck fourteen. While the others watched the lock, Cedar’s tunnel vision centered instead on the black stubble on Jake Carmelo’s ugly face.
He squeezed his fingers into a fist, his fingernails cutting into his palm. It was all he could do to keep from wringing Jake’s neck.
He had fucked her.
The eighteen-year-old jock had fucked his little sister. The image sent ice-cold adrenaline dripping through his veins, and he tightened his fists, drawing blood.
And now he had humiliated him.
Cedar forced himself to drag down deep breaths.
. . .
. His eyes honed in on a fat vein in Carmelo’s neck, the external carotid artery.
Your time will come, Jake. Tonight, when you fall asleep . . . or tomorrow, or the day after . . . you’ll let down your guard down eventually—
The lock blinked green, and the other four cheered.
“Brilliant, Naomi,” said Jake, leading the way into the first stateroom on deck fourteen, a cramped version of their own stateroom. “Empty the suitcases, check under the beds.”
Sky unzipped a suitcase and pulled out a handful of women’s lingerie, a playful smile pulling at her lips. “What are we looking for exactly?”
“Anything strange,” said Jake.
“Okay . . .
,” she repeated, tucking the itty-bitty scraps of underwear back into the suitcase.
“No. Keep those,” said Cedar.
His comment earned him glares from all three girls. Sky flung the lingerie at his chest. “So you can wear them?”
“If that excites you.”
Sky smirked and went back to the suitcase, and he got the impression she might actually be picturing it. “Does this count as strange?” she said, digging out a pair of furry handcuffs.
“Might want to save those for later,” said Jake. “I think Cedar wants you to handcuff him to a bed.”
“Then I hope he gets off on pain,” she said, locking him in a staring contest across the room. After an absurdly long time, Cedar felt his lip twitch, and he broke eye contact first. Right now he wasn’t in the mood for those kinds of games anyway.
“Next room,” said Jake.
For forty-five minutes, they worked their way down the portside hall on deck fourteen, checking the rooms, searching the luggage.
“Midnight,” Naomi mused, dumping the contents of a pink Disney princess backpack onto the bed in the fourth stateroom. “That was around the time the power dimmed and went out on the lower decks.” She glanced at Cedar. “We didn’t think anything of it at the time.”
“We saw that too,” said Jake.
“Yeah, and dust came down from the ceiling,” said Brynn. “Did you guys feel that wave of electricity?”
“Wow, I’m surprised you guys came up for air while sucking each other’s faces long enough to notice all those details,” said Cedar.
“Not helping,” said Naomi.
Cedar brushed past her into the hall and peered down the length of the ship. The deserted passageway stretched the length of three football fields before it ended out of sight.
“It’s been an hour,” Jake said. “We’ve checked four rooms. This is taking too long.”
“Is anyone else starving?” said Brynn.
They all nodded.
“Food isn’t going
to be a problem,” said Naomi, scanning the floor to ceiling stacks of ice-crusted food pallets: pasta alfredo, meat and potatoes, crab cakes, appetizers. They had found the enormous stainless steel freezer on deck five beyond the Opus Dining Room kitchen. “This ship is stocked to feed eight thousand people for seven days. There’s twenty-five more kitchens. All fully stocked, I’m guessing. ”
“What does that come to . . .” said Jake, his breath misting as he ran his hand along the stacked meals. “Eight thousand people, three meals a day, seven days . . . what does that come to?”
“A hundred and sixty-eight thousand meals,” said Cedar. “Divided by five people.”
“That’s thirty years,” said Sky, rubbing her shoulders and shivering.
“Like I said, food isn’t going to be a problem,” said Naomi.
“Yeah, but I really wanted to eat fresh lobster,” said Brynn.
“Perfect,” said Jake, cutting open the nearest pallet with his keys. “Sky, whip up five of these in the microwave. Everyone else grab a cart and fill it. We’ll take as much as we can and stock the freezers in our rooms .”
“In case we’re too lazy to come down here?” Naomi asked.
“In case they decide to take the food too.”
They ate at
a table in the Opus Dining Room—its only patrons. Reddish-orange sunlight slanted through the portals, the fiery colors twinkling in the crystal glassware. The angle of the sun worried Jake.
“It’s getting late,” he said. “I want everyone back in their rooms by sunset.”
“Okay Mom,” said Cedar, scraping his spoon through in the pool of gravy leftover on his plate.
“Whatever happened, it happened at night,” said Jake. “I’d rather not risk being out in the halls after dark.”
. Even the thought scared him; what
happen after dark on this ghost ship?
“I don’t have the key to my room,” said Sky.
“Naomi can let you in.”
“Wait . . . Naomi’s got the keys to all the rooms,” said Brynn. “We can sleep in any room we want.”
“I think it’s better if we stick to our own—”
“Naomi, what’s the best stateroom on the ship?” Brynn blurted out.
Naomi grinned. “The Royal Loft Suite on deck seventeen. There’s even a whirlpool hot tub on the balcony.”
“Guys, really, our own rooms are fine,” said Jake.
“I agree with Brynn,” said Sky. “I don’t want to sleep alone.”
“Ew, I didn’t say I wanted to sleep
someone,” said Brynn.
The corner of Sky’s lip curled, and her eyes dropped to her plate, and Jake felt a pang of sympathy for her.
But then Brynn turned those big blue eyes on him and made a doe face. “Can we
, Jake! We’ll all be safer that way.”
Her enthusiasm was infectious. Jake already felt himself caving.
Cedar caught his eye, his expression cryptic. “Looks like you’re overruled, Jakey-boy.” His eyebrow nudged upward. “My sister can be persuasive, can’t she?”
Jesus, the guy loathes me.
Jake nodded, his throat dry, and turned his eyes back to the group. “You guys go to deck seventeen and wait in the suite . . . except for you, Naomi. I need you to run an errand with me. It’ll just be five minutes.”
“Whoa . . .
,” said Cedar, whooping. Naomi slapped him.
“What are we
doing here, Jake?” said Naomi, following him into the security office on deck two. He had been silent the whole way down, clearly brooding.
“These,” he said, detaching several walkie-talkies from the wall rack on which they had been charging, which he piled in her hands. “Turn them all to channel one. Are there any weapons?”
“No, there aren’t any weapons. What are you expecting . . . a
“I don’t know.” He exhaled loudly and dragged his hand through his curly hair. It’s just . . . it’s this ship.”
“You think something’s coming?”
“I don’t know what’s coming. I just want to be prepared.”
From his jerky movements, she could tell he wasn’t nearly as calm as he let on to the others—and she felt the first stirrings of fear. If
was scared . . .
He piled another handful of radios onto her arms, and his eyes darted one last time around the security office, paranoid . . . as if he was worried they were being watched. His gaze settled on the grid of surveillance monitors, each showing an abandoned hallway.
“By the way, thank you,” she said.
“For taking charge. I think the rest of us would be freaking out a lot more if you hadn’t.”
“I guess that’s just what we do, isn’t it?” He leveled his gaze with hers. “You and me.”
“No, that’s different,” she said, lowering her eyes. “I know the ship.”
“I know people.”
“It’s more than that—”
“I need your help, Naomi.”
His tone made her hesitate. “What do you mean?”
“Can you watch my back?”
“Yeah, of course . . . why?”
Through panoramic windows
two stories high, the rosy Bermuda sunset flooded the 1,524-square-foot Royal Loft Suite, tinting everything pink.