Aida was in her dressing room, a small bathroom really, applying the last of her rouge. In another hour she’d be facing the morning crowd. She found it hard to believe that on a cruise ship people started drinking the moment they got up. She guessed without a job to report to or a home to take care of, there was nothing to do but to get sloshed and bask in the sun. And seeing this was the last day of the cruise, they would be flooding into the Starlit Lounge to have one last go of it. But if it was the mixed drinks that brought them in, it was Aida who kept them there. With her smooth, sultry voice she sang jazz standards and silky renditions of popular tunes, making the patrons, men and women alike, dream of lovers they’d never known or ones that got away. She often thought of things like that herself, which contributed to the emotion and soul she put into her vocal performances.
Pleased with her makeup, she stepped back to admire her long cocktail dress, off white against her dark ebony skin. Aida was from Ethiopia, one of Africa’s landlocked countries. As a child she was cut off from the sea so much she often dreamed of living on it, and now as an adult of twenty-seven it was her home. Both of her parents were long deceased and there was nothing to go back to other than a few scattered relatives. So much of her time was spent on the waves, while her off time was an apartment in London with a gig singing at a local club. The rest of the time she was here on the St. Fitzgerald fronting a small jazz ensemble that included her sometimes boyfriend, pianist Jerome Stipe from Brooklyn. ‘Sometimes’ because he had a bad case of the roving eye and living life on a cruise ship meant there was plenty to look at, especially on the decks and by the pool. Which was probably where he was now, she thought while she hummed her favorite Sade tune, “Nothing Can Come Between Us.” She loved the Nigerian born pop star and emulated her in style and fashion. She had tried to also emulate her hourglass figure but hadn’t quite made it there yet. Still, she swayed her hips as she sung her favorite lines from the song in a soft, lilting voice, “It’s about faith….It’s about trust…”
And then she stopped. Faith and trust wasn’t something she could expect from Jerome. If she could ever get that through her head she could make the break from him, but it was hard to let go. He didn’t want to let her go either. He liked the arrangement he made her tolerate. That’s why it had been good to see him get all jealous when she attempted to get the white man to come up on stage and dance with her the night before. No matter that the dapper gentleman had refused with an embarrassing shake of his head, it still gave her a sense of power to send the message to Jerome, You ain’t the only fish in the sea.
Now that would make a great song she thought, and switched from Sade’s jazz pop love song to singing that very line under her breath, “You….You ain’t…..You ain’t the only fish in the sea, fool…”
Suddenly she heard a noise out in the lounge. It was the sound of loud voices and not all of it sounded pleasant. At first she thought there was a fight going on right outside her bathroom come dressing room, but then she realized it was the big screen television over the bar. Shit, she thought, Jerome must be back, drunk as shit and cranking the TV again. She grabbed her high heels and walked to the door. She threw it open, intending to light into him for getting drunk so early in the day and less than an hour before showtime. But it wasn’t Jerome at the bar playing the television so loud. No, it was a trio of people. A man, a teenaged boy, and a young lady. She didn’t know if they were a family or other relations as they all looked different. The man wore a tacky Hawaiian shirt, the lady some kind of Indian saree or something, and the boy, well he was just typical teenager. Of course, hijacking the lounge’s television was anything but typical.
“I don’t think the lounge is serving yet,” she said, thinking it would startle them, but her voice had no effect on them. Their attention was glued to the television, and when she finally looked to see what was so engrossing, she dropped the shoes from her hand.
The scene on the television was pure chaos. People were running and screaming on a downtown street. Some were clawing at their hair, foaming at the mouth as if they were dogs infected with rabies. Those who weren’t running were lumbering along, limping and shuffling, reaching out and trying to grab those who passed by them. Their faces were sunken, haunted, and had taken on the appearances of corpses risen from the grave. A woman ran by one of these, and the haggard looking creature managed to grab her, dragging her towards him. She screamed and tried to fight back as she was bitten first on the arm, then the shoulder, as another one of these monstrous things joined in the feast.
Aida couldn’t watch it for long. “On my god, What is going on?!”
The man in the Hawaiian shirt turned to her and she realized it was the guy she had tried to coax into dancing with her last night. But that barely registered. Even though she turned her eyes from the grotesque scenes on the big screen, the images were already burned into her mind.
“I think it’s some kind of….I don’t know….mass hysteria, chemical attack maybe….”
“What is wrong with those people? They were eating that woman!”
He shook his head, just as dumbfounded as her, and returned to watching the scene. A reporter or someone had come on and was trying to shout over the din. “We don’t know exactly what has happened! But apparently there was an explosion at a nearby factory or facility some say is owned by the government, and it sent gases or some kind of chemical agent into the air!”
The man, whose clothes were dirty and disheveled himself, dodged one of the corpse like creatures and resumed shouting. “Military troops have arrived here in Charleston but they are having a hard time restoring order for it appears the city is overrun by…. Um, walking corpses…or something. I half wonder if these creatures dug themselves out of the grave for I saw one that was mostly bones and rags…oh my god, listen to me!”
He stopped and then looked right in the camera. “Stop watching me! Run for your life, or they’ll get you too.” Then he started reciting what sounded like a bible passage about the dead rising from graves. Then he made a little maniacal laugh in his throat. “Have we gone mad?”
Three of the crazed people grabbed him. He was so defeated emotionally he didn’t even fight. Even when they started to devour him, he just let them. Then the screen went black. Prisha had pulled the plug from the wall.
Tears were welling in the Indian girl’s eyes. “I can’t take this anymore,” she said. “What..what is….” She began to cry. “I just want to go home.”
Aida moved towards her before any of the males could. She took her into her arms and tried her best to console her, speaking to her in quiet tones that no one else could hear.
Ethan took Peter by the arm and ushered him away to give the women some privacy. They both appeared to be in tears now. “Listen up,” the man whispered. “Stay here with the ladies. I’ve got to find the Captain. If that’s what’s really going on…” He pointed to the now blank TV. “We can’t be taking all these people to port.”
“I’m not staying here. I’m going with you.”
“No, I can move much faster alone.”
“I don’t care. You are supposed to be protecting me from death threats. You can’t leave my side.”
Ethan almost laughed. “Death threats? You saw the television. The Instagram. I think we have something much worse than death threatening us…”