March 30, 2012

Ghost Ship

Entry in the 4/7/12 FRIDAY CHALLENGE

“I knew this would be boring,” said Hadley McDermott.

Serena La Fontaine, aka Tanisha Smith, slugged him in the shoulder. “You said you wanted to do an Alaskan Cruise instead of doing the Bahamas. Well, here we are. You better enjoy it ‘cause it’s the last cruise we’ll be taking for a while.” She left him at the railing of the Denali Princess and headed back to the casino below deck. She’d really wanted to see orcas, but the ship’s entertainment director said it was the wrong time of year. She sighed. She would rather have gone to Roswell, New Mexico it being the 65th Anniversary of the Incident and all. She shook her head. Maybe it was more than that. Maybe she just needed a change. Maybe even a new identity. She shuddered, even a job at Macy’s would be more exciting that the way things were.

Maybe, just maybe, it was time to leave Mr. M for greener pastures.

For his part, Hadley lifted his chin while Serena made her exit. It wasn’t that he was tired of her. It wasn’t that he was tired of his business – an online secure banking provider which was doing shaky business in the wake of the looming PawnBranking boom.

He sighed. He’d wanted to see orcas, too.

Truth be told, he’d wanted to see something besides the back side of his girlfriend. He’d even thought about asking her to marry him, but she seemed so...tired of him. He wanted an adventure, he guessed. Something different. Something that might put the spice back into life again.

Sunset over an unsettled Pacific was no help. Weak crepuscular light seemed to leak from tattered clouds on the horizon, dribbling over seething water the color of lead solder. He sighed. He’d seen better sunsets from his parent’s house in Plummer, Idaho than he’d seen on the two days since leaving Seattle.

He sighed. Just one thing that would make a difference in the unending regularity of life. That’s all he was asking for.

He scowled. In the distance, something white bobbed on the ocean. He took out his cellphone and hit the GPS. About a hundred miles out to sea from a Canadian park reserve of some sort with an unpronounceable name. There were binoculars in a rack against the wall behind him so he grabbed a pair and trained them on the object.

He grunted, then muttered, “Some sort of ship. Doesn’t appear to be under power.”

The lights behind him flickered and he heard surprised little squeaks and one honest-to-goodness scream. He hoped it wasn’t Serena. The steady thrumming he’d felt underfoot; couldn’t get used to the first night; and now didn’t even notice skipped a few beats, then stopped.

The lights went out. He turned to look at the cruise ship, scowled then turned around to look out to sea at the drifting ship.

“Protect me from what I want,” he muttered, squinting against the rubber eye seats.

Closer now, he could see that it wasn’t in very good shape. The side it presented to him was in shadow and the light variable but it was clear that some of the antennae were bent, railings missing and the whole thing had the appearance of being white with scabs. The drifter seemed to be riding the swells like a cork, no lights of its own.

Wrong, he saw immediately once a bank of clouds covered the sunset, dipping everything into a premature, temporary nightfall. There was a light on the drifter. Not “eerie green” or “ghost-like” or  like he expected, rather the slowly pulsing red of an emergency lamp.

The deck beneath his feet shivered at length – rather like when someone was trying to start a cold engine and there wasn’t quite enough battery juice. Despite the lights out, the purser’s voice came on weakly over the PA, cutting out intermittently, but the message was clear: They were working on the problem.

“More than a problem,” Hadley said, scanning the area around the drifter. That was when he noticed that it was the center of a circle with a diameter of about six hundred feet. “What is that?”

“What’s what?” a voice said at his elbow.

Serena stood very close to him. He handed her the binoculars. She took them, removed her ridiculous, supposedly fashionable cat-eye glasses and watched the drifter with amazing stability. He sniffed and said, “You never mentioned you were good at sea.”

She pulled away from the binoculars, looked over at him and grinned the first genuine smile he’d seen from her in months. She said, “Honey, I’m good anywhere.” She went back to studying the drifter then said, “The circle around it – looks like something is lying submerged just underneath it.”

Nodding he said, “Perfectly circular thing like that couldn’t possibly be natural.”

She leaned back from the glasses again, gave him a long look and said softly, “This might be better than a pod of orcas.”

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