I sat in shock.
Fire erupted around me; screaming could be heard from the farthest reaches of the ship. Loudspeakers echoed the captain’s voice to remain calm and proceed to the closet life raft for evacuation. I watched as the sun set low on the horizon casting shadows deeply across the ship’s deck making it hard for people see clearly through the smoke. From the left side of the vessel I could feel the reverberating explosions beneath the ship as massive pockets of smoke-filled bubbles tossed the ship back and forth. Panic and confusion ran amuck with the other passengers as I sat bolted to the chair. Some wandered around with hands holding bloodied towels or shirts to their head after an explosion shot pieces of the engine out of the smokestacks as if it were a canon; raining hot metal down upon the unsuspecting crowds walking along on open decks of the pleasure cruise. This trip was falling apart at the seams.
The commotion kept me locked in place, fear gave me no other choice but to stay where I was. I could not think beyond the lounge chair before me. I wanted to stand, but sat firmly in place. Something rocked the ship vibrating me in my seat. Nothing close by could have made the engine explode. A sudden scream had me staring down a child pointing just above my head. I ducked quickly as a shard of metal from the captain’s deck flew by me – barely missing me and I think shaving off a few hairs in the process. Looking back to her I took in her eyes pooled with tears. She was just seven years old standing among the mayhem without flinching.
“Where’s your mom!” I screamed out over the din of voices and bending metal of the ship’s interior. I know I should have asked better questions of the child, but that was the only thing coming to my mind at the moment. She just stood there in her swimsuit staring out into nothingness, not answering back.
I watched as passengers ran around her, never getting close enough to push her down. It was amazing to see her stand untouched by the mass of confusion. Ducking the metal object had brought me out of the stricken fear state I had been in, mostly. I could have told her to run for safety, but was there any place left on this floating coffin to be safe? At least I could move again, so I ran and scooped her up before the one of the ship’s smoke stack crumbled down to the deck below.
We made it under the port side decks while shifting against a press of people. It was hard follow signs indicating where the life rafts could be found with so many passengers moving the opposite way, the panic-stricken fright driving me barely kept me from dragging the little girl behind as fear drove me forward. The girl made no complaints as she trailed behind, not even a whimper escaped her. I would have been stark-raving mad by now if I was her age lost and mixed in with strangers, not knowing where to go next. I was not any better off at this age from being delirious.
I just hoped her mind was OK after all this was over. “We’ll find your parents,” I said over the crashing waves beating the hull. The wind had picked up some since I left my oasis of a lounge chair, but I did not pay it much mind. A life raft against the opposing winds would still be safer than sinking with this tin can.
The girl still did not respond to my voice. Was she deaf? A possible defect at birth? She looked perfectly normal to the naked eye. I had to know now if she could talk to me before it was too late. How was I going to find her parents if I did not know her last name?
Stopping in my tracks beside the railing, I knelt and brought the girl in close, “What’s your name sweetie?” I waited patiently for her to speak. Nothing.
“It’ll help me find your parents and you can be safe with them, then.” Still she stared back at me blankly. Nothing on her face to show me she understood what I said.
I tried once again to garner some kind of response with my words, “It’s going to be fine. We’ll make it back to land soon. The cruise liner left the mainland just hours ago. The smoke should draw their attention and bring help soon enough,” but she just stared at me.
All she did was hand me a seashell necklace on a cord with a small conch shell at its center. Dumbfounded by the offer I accepted it and stuffed the necklace in my pocket. We could not just sit here waiting for a fellow passenger to push us over the railing. We had to start moving again.
An explosion erupted from up ahead, throwing bodies overboard from the blast. The rent in the ship’s haul could be seen where I stood. A large rip ran up from the seawater to just below the main deck I stood on as I looked over the safety railing. A terrible crashing sound came from above as another smoke stack came tumbling down and smashing into the side of the ship. Our way to the life rafts was efficiently cut off. We had to go back.
We were about to be trampled by the onslaught of people running away from the destruction when the girl tugged at my hand. I looked down to see her pointing at an open door leading deeper into the ship’s hull. At this point anywhere would be safer than waiting here for those people to stomp over us; so I listened to the girl’s prompt for safety. Her random responses to our situation boggled me. She must surely be in a state of shock, but revived herself long enough to help only to return back to a catatonic state mere moments later. At least she followed along with me when I prompted her.
I don’t know how much longer I could hold it together for the both of us, but right now she only had me to rely on and it kept me moving forward, or I might have still been in that chair waiting to die. The hallway was dark from power loss, smoke filtered out of the door like thin wisps of fingers not clogging the way. I figured it would be safe enough for us to travel without choking and suffocating before finding the exit. We moved slowly along the passageway with my hand sliding along the wall as a guide. Moans and a deeper groaning sound could be heard farther down the hall as the ship cried out in mock pain. I stopped to listen for other sounds or voices. It was eerie to hear such noises from an inanimate object sound as if it could be alive. Those noises came from beneath me and were not reassuring at all. I wanted out of this dark place immediately.
The girl shoved me from behind for them to move on. Looking back from where we entered, I saw a virtual wall of people run by the door. That convinced me she was right. We had to keep moving to find some other way through to the starboard side before all the rafts were gone; if they were not already. One hand out in front of me guided us both along the wall in search of freedom from this possible deathtrap. I had traversed some of the ship’s interior before this happened, which gave me a little idea of how the corridors ran. One thing I could count on and hate was how the corridors did not run straight through to the other side. They all zigzagged in and out of each other to help support the upper and lower decks.
“The best way for us to get through this maze is to make the first left we can and run to the end before turning right again. We’ll keep doing that and before you know it we’ll see sunlight again,” I said to her a little too loudly and hoped I was right. It had grown eerily quiet since we entered the pitch black labyrinth.
“Come on,” I urged her. I had had enough of this blindness. We had to get back into the light of day soon or I was not going to be much use, crippled by fear at being hopelessly crushed in the darkness.
It seemed everyone else was outside searching for refuge in the chaos as we search for a way to join them. Was it ludicrous for me to rejoin the mayhem expecting there would be help waiting? I tried not to focus on the negatives and pushed forward. So far neither of them had been hurt. That was a God’s send for me. I just hoped it stayed that way.
I was getting nervous from making so many lefts and rights along the way that I thought we might have gotten lost. Faint light ahead was the reward after so many random turns down the pith black hallways. Sounds of breaking glass and shredding metal gave her chills about what might be ahead. “Stay close,” was the only thing I told the girl. Knowing no acknowledgement from her would follow.
An unnatural light lit the evening skies, orange and yellow in color. Fires were blazing from decks overhead. The last lifeboat dropped out of view as I looked out from the doorway. Our hope of getting off this sinking ship went down with those other passengers. I didn’t know what to do next. Asking for help seemed a stupid thing to do with so many other people running around clueless that I felt a little better about my situation. At least I still had my head on right.
Hope surfaced in me again when I took in what was cresting over the bow - land. The island we had left was coming back into view. Help would surely be on the way. She and I would just have to stay alive long enough for that to happen. Standing beneath a roaring fire would not help with that goal.
I dragged her out onto the main deck again and headed for the ship’s aft. It might also be where the little girl’s parent waited. I know I would be searching every part of the ship for my child if I were them; however, finding a focal point could work out better as a child might aimlessly wander until his or her parents. This was not the Mall where a child could wander out into the street and be lost forever. A ship offered isolation and limited range to walk away from. There was a good chance I would find them, or they find me with their child in tow, if I made it there. With the swimming pool at the aft of the ship it was the best place to begin looking. That was if they did not jump on one of the lifeboats first and think of their daughter second.
The space was filled with nearly a third of the passengers not able to escape from what I could tell. The good thing about seeing so many people came from their demeanor, they stood calm and relaxed compared to the mayhem going on the bow. I couldn’t understand why these people stood there amongst such destruction as calm as they were, so I looked in the direction they all faced. They all looked out across the ocean to the same place I did – the island.
The current must be pulling the ruined ship in to shore from a riptide. Hard to believe with such a large ship as this was, but needless to say it drifted backwards to the island. Knowing the ship would eventually sink no longer mattered to me. I knew we could swim or float the rest of the way in if we had to and be safe. My only concern came from the reefs under the water. We could be sliced up as the current sucked us to land. It was a risk I was willing to take for the both of us. I saw one of the lifesaver rings hanging on the wall and took it. I would use it for the little her to sit in while I guided it towards shore.
We walked calmly to the aft’s railing and looked out over the ocean below. Noise of cracking wood from the deck and screeching metal being bent beneath our feet did not deter me from staying close to the edge. We had something to float on and land stood only around twenty miles away now. I held tight to the ring in one hand and the squeezed the other hold hers. It was only a matter of time.
It all seemed so surreal to me with devastation happening all around us and the serenity of this island peacefully resting ahead. I looked on in horror as the tide between us and the island began to swirl in a clockwise fashion. A whirlpool was forming. Small at first, but growing in size much too fast to be natural.
I began to lose what hope I squandered on reaching land. Those life rafts I had sought out earlier were the first to be pulled into the watery vortex. Horror of a new fate looming ahead nearly brought her to her knees. We would all be sucked in without a way to fight against such strong currents. I looked down at the girl to express my disbelief of what I saw happening when the little girl had already turned her head to me first.
She was smiling.
“I’m sorry you have to die,” the grin never touched her eyes was being replaced with a frown, but only for a moment before she continued, “We can’t let strangers leave our little isle once they’ve stepped foot on our soil,” she told me in a shallow voice. I dropped both the lifesaver and her hand at the same time from utter shock.
“Our pact with the dark one won’t allow us to continue living if someone escapes. He requires souls for payment so that we can live forever,” laughter filling her tiny voice. The sound she made came out mature beyond her years. I think that was why she never tried to speak earlier. To keep from giving away any secrets. “The offering was made and you accepted it willingly. This is how it has always been.”
I stared on, terrified. She spoke to me of dying as if it happened all the time. Words refused to come to mind. I stood frozen in place knowing the end was near. There would be no escape, no rescue, nor a life to continue living. I found a strange feeling come over me. What did she mean about an offering being accepted? “This is all ludicrous! What have we done?” I knew there would not be a reply. I only had one thing left to do, to feel.
Acceptance. I would die and nothing could stop it.
I reached down with both hands and the girl allowed me to pick her up. I could not believe I was holding such an evil child in my arms, but there I stood looking out over the railing with her in my arms. The broad handrail was a perfect seat as the girl asked to be put there. I accommodated her and faced the little girl so she could look out at sea. What came over me next I am not sure to this day, but it seemed the sane thing to do at the time.
I pushed her overboard.
Some of the people around me screamed at the violent action I took, others stood paralyzed by my actions. I did not care. This little girl and her island full of demon worshiping freaks did not deserve to live on while I and the others aboard died. She was no longer a child to me anyway; only a child’s body with an aged and deformed soul.
What happened next was beyond unbelievable. Her arms flailed about in an effort for someone to save her. I would make sure that never happened. My luck held out as no one moved a muscle to throw anything overboard. As the water dragged the girl’s body closer to the watery grave of the whirlpool, torrents of green light flashed deep within the vortex’s center. Lightning struck out, curving back to the water in an arch. I could hear her scream even at this distance as the current drove her fast down into the funnel with the swirling seawater. I was not sure at first, but our ship began to slowly gain distance from the malicious vortex of water. The whirlpool appeared to move closer to the island, a growl of sorts emitting from the center as if it were alive.
When it drew close enough to shore I noticed those pristine sandy beaches from the brochure I had been won over by to take this cruise being drawn in with the whirlpool. The island was slowly being sucked down in increments like sand in an hourglass. I heard a bitter laugh gaining volume over the chaos and thought it had come from me. No, that whirlpool was alive somehow. I could hear a murmuring voice come from somewhere below, while devouring every bit of that island and whatever lived on it. Once the last palm tree disappeared I took a breath. I must have been holding it the whole time. Before I could take in a breath I passed out.
When I woke back up, I was sitting in a chair. The same chair I had started in before the ship started exploding. Panicked, I looked around at the other passengers. They all acted like nothing was happening. It was unbelievable. The ship looked just fine. No signs of sinking or disaster anywhere. I went to stand up for a better look of the ocean, and maybe the island I thought I just saw sink, when something fell out of my pocket.
It was the conch shell necklace. It had happened. All of it. This necklace must have been the gift she mentioned that needed to be accepted willingly even if I did not know it would kill us all. Maybe after I offered the girl to that monstrous whirlpool it offset the one gift for another and saved us all somehow. I won’t ever be able to understand what really went on, but I can be assured nightmares of it will be with me for the rest of my life.
About the Author
Adam Santo is a SciFi/Fantasy writer who enjoys the quiet moments to write stories. His debut novel, Temperature: Dead and Rising, took the world for a ride they would soon not forget. Santo began plotting out the second paperback novel, Temperature: Bitter Cold, before the ink dried on his first book. Santo continues to write nonstop because he knows there is always a story waiting to get out.