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Zombie Drift 13: Peter, Aida, & Prisha

Zombie Drift

Thirteen: Peter, Aida, & Prisha

Peter Evers stood at the door inside the starlit lounge. Being on the main deck it afforded him a view of the ship’s activity. People seemed to be rushing nowhere fast. Through the glass he caught snippets of conversation. Things about “dead people in water” and “speedboats”, and “the guy just slid down the chain.” With the last, it made him think of his bodyguard Ethan. In his mind it was just the showboat kind of thing anyone hired by his dad would do. While he didn’t wish ill on the man, he thought as soon as he could he was sneaking out of here and getting out from under Ethan’s restrictions. There was nothing worse than being seventeen and stuck under an adult’s supervision.

He turned to see what the girls were doing. Prisha had stopped crying some time ago, and the lounge singer Aida had turned the TV above the bar back on. Images splayed across the screen showing carnage everywhere. Most of it were single shot live feeds as if the cameraman had strapped his video to a tree and ran for it. What was left behind was a view of the street, zombies walking, crawling, sliding, lumbering, trying their best to find live food that wasn’t escaping. The images were bad enough, but it was the sound that sent chills up his spine. Screams, moans, the crunch and munch of flesh and bone as zombies feasted, sometimes on each other.

He couldn’t understand why the girls were torturing themselves by watching it all. Peter guessed it was like driving by a fatal traffic accident. You knew it was horrible, and people were dead, but you just couldn’t tear your eyes away. He tried his best not to be drawn to it that way. Other things bothered him. Like what was going on board. It was obvious something was happening with all the flurry of activity. Were the zombies here too? He hated being locked up and out of the way, which is what Ethan had done with him while he went off running to wherever.

He looked back at the girls again. They could handle themselves, he thought. How hard could it be to keep others out the bar? With that he decided he wanted out. He wasn’t going to be stuck in here one second longer, he didn’t care how hot he thought Prisha was. He put his hand on the door handle and prepared to open it when something smashed against it.

He jumped back from the frantic face at the glass. It was a man with jet black hair and wild grey eyes. He was trying to look through the door and when his eyes saw Peter they grew wider and he began to pound on the frame.

“Aida!” he shouted. “Aida! Let me in!”

Peter looked at Aida. She had heard the shouts and beating on the door frame. Turning from the TV, she frowned. Something in her face told Peter she wasn’t ready for this. Whatever this was.

“Aida! Tell this little shit to open the door!” He began to thump his palm flat against the glass. The door itself shook.

Aida sighed. “Open the door, Peter.”

The boy looked at her as if to ask, are you sure? When she nodded grimly, he shrugged and threw the latch.

The man outside didn’t waste time. He shoved the door open, nearly knocking Peter down, and headed acoss the floor of the lounge towards the girls. ‘Trying to lock me out, Aida? Again?”

“No one is trying to lock you out, Jerome. You chose not to return last night. Guess you found some other room to sleep.”

He grinned. “It was a good room too. Wish you could have been there. Well, on second thought, maybe not.” He eyes caught sight of Prisha. ” Now, you however….”

Aida slapped him. “You pig.”

He seemed unaffected and laughed. “You know everybody is going crazy on deck over something. The three of us could get crazy on something too, you know?” He turned to glance at Peter. “Sorry kid, there isn’t room for two guys.” Then he smiled at the girls again. “Lock the door.” When Peter didn’t immediately lock it, the man glared at him with dangerous, almost empty eyes. If Ethan was here this situation would be different, Peter thought. But he wasn’t here. He’d left them here alone to face their own survival. “Lock the door,” the man said again, returning his psychotic gaze to the now frightened girls. He listened for the sound of the latch clicking and then smiled. He undid the cufflinks on his shirt and began to take it off. “It’s okay,” he said. “About time you took your punishment, Aida.” His slid his belt out of his pants. “Now which one of you likes to get restrained?” He looked at Prisha, staring hard into her dark frightened eyes, and licked his lips. He took a step towards her.

The chair hit the back of his head so hard the wood shattered against his skull. Peter held the remains of it in his hands as Jerome dropped to the floor with a resounding thud.

“So like, who did I just knock out?” the teenager asked, after they had tied Jerome’s hands behind his back with his own belt. “I can hit him again if it would help.”

Aida frowned and nodded at the unconscious man. “He’s Jerome Stipe. My sad excuse for a boyfriend.”

Peter looked up. “Shit lady, i think you need a new boyfriend. My bodyguard Ethan is available I think.”

Aida laughed a little, as he was the same man she’d tried to get to dance with her during last night’s performance. “We’ll probably need a bodyguard when Jerome wakes up.”

“I think we should call security,” Prisha suggested. “I know he’s your guy and all, but….”

Aida had already picked up the phone and dialed the number. She had to be strong while she had the support of others. Last time she’d called security on him she had been alone and earned a couple cracked ribs for it.

While the Nigerian talked to security, the Indian girl walked over to Peter, who was making sure the prisoner’s belt was as tight as he could get it. “Thank you,” Prisha said.

“No problem. I couldn’t let him hurt either of you.”

“I was very scared,” she confessed.

He nodded and tried to be cool, but he felt the truth was better. “Yeah, me too.” He looked at her and smiled. “I saw Ethan headbutt a guy unconscious before, but I thought i should use a chair.”

She smiled back. “Good decision. Why hurt your cute head, right?”

Peter raised an eyebrow at the mention of cute, but when she turned her face away in embarassment he decided she didn’t mean anything by it. She was just being grateful.
“Well, here’s hoping he don’t wake up soon,” he said getting to his feet. “I’d hate to break another chair.”

Prisha offered a smile. “Well, thanks for protecting us. Not everyone would have done that.”

Peter was trying to think of a zippy one-liner to say that would make him sound like an action hero at the movies, when Aida said, “I can’t get the phones to work. Someone will have to go get security.”

They all looked towards the door. There was still a lot of activity outside. People dashed by running in both directions, but most seemed to be heading towards the rear of the ship, peering over railings as they went.
It wasn’t the same panic as what was occuring on television, but Peter felt nervous about it just the same. He looked at Aida. “I think we should move Jerome somewhere and then all of us go. I got a feeling it’s not going to be too safe alone.”

“There’s my dressing room. It’s a glorified broom closet really.”

“Can it be locked from outside?”

“No.”

“Well shit,” Peter mumbled.

Prisha walked over to the glass door and picked something up. “How about this?”
In her hands, she held a wooden doorstop, obviously used to hold the entrance open during peak hours.

“That will work. Come on Aida, help me get him back there.”

As they both bent down to hoist Jerome’s limp body up, Aida asked, “Where did you hit him?”

Peter looked at her strangely. “In the back of the head. Why?”

Aida looked at both her companions with a look of bewilderment. “Because there’s a chunk out of his arm.”

“Zombie Drift” 2019 P. D. Aronson. All Rights Reserved.

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Zombie Drift 5: Aida

Five: Aida

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…”

Zombie Drift 4: Blake

Four: Blake

Communications Officer Blake Travers had been bothered by the messages. They were coming in at regular intervals, static and garbled voices begging him to decipher. Every now and then, he picked up a word or two thanks to the noise cancelling headphones. Infect. Virus. Brain. They were just a few he could pick out but the truth started to seep through. On land, there was some kind of contagion. A virus infecting the brain. He had to know more.

He decided to go to Morse Code. There could be no mistaking those kind of messages. As long as the receiver tapped out the right letters the message would reach you accurately. So he sat down at the Morse Code desk and began tapping out his question. ‘Is it safe to dock?’

It took a few minutes. He ran his finger through his yellow blond hair as he waited. This was a nervous habit from childhood and though he’d shaken it in recent years, stress always seemed to bring it back.

He looked at his watch, starting to wonder if anyone would answer. He knew Morse Code was a bit outdated, and the only ones who were taught it nowadays was sailors he was hoping someone at the docks still knew how to use it.

Then it came. In a short burst. Two words over the archaic system. ‘Turn Back.’

Blake quickly tapped out his next question. ‘Why?’

There was no immediate answer, He waited a few moments and tapped again. ‘Need to dock. Have passengers.’

This time the answer was almost instant. ‘Don’t.’

Again he asked. ‘Why not?’

‘Contagion.’

‘Virus?’

A slight hesitation. ‘No.’ Then, ‘Nuclear.’

Blake was taken aback. A deadly virus was one thing to contend with, but something nuclear? ‘Terrorists?’

‘No. Accident.’

‘Radiation leak?’

The reply, when it came, was shocking. ‘Warhead.’

Despite his alarm, he felt he had to ask the next question, so he tapped it out quickly. ‘Intended for whom?’

There was a long silence. The military man Blake had once been was now on high alert. And then a new message was tapped out from the docks. ‘Who is this?’

Blake hesitated. He didn’t know why, but he could almost hear his old naval instructor telling him, Never reveal yourself to the enemy. He’d spent a tour of duty on a submarine, where stealth and silence was normal engagement. Perhaps that applied here as well.

A new message came through. ‘Is this the approaching cruise ship?’

Blake didn’t respond, but the Morse Code persisted. ‘Is this the St. Fitzgerald?’

Despite his better judgement, he tapped out a quick answer. ‘Yes.’

‘Come on in. You are cleared for docking.’

Blake froze. Hadn’t the first message been to turn back? Hadn’t the Morse operator said Don’t when he said he had passengers and needed to dock? So, why all of a sudden was he now messaging us to come in? Because it’s two different people, he answered himself. The first guy isn’t there anymore. This is somebody new. And with this thought came another one. If there was a contagion, chemical derived or nuclear, the military would be there. They silenced him. The first guy. They replaced him with their man. And now they want us to come in. But why.

This can’t be happening, Blake thought. There is absolutely no way this is real. Maybe it’s a training exercise. Some kind of war game with the marines and the navy to better prepare the country for things like this. But his mind screamed at him in his father’s stern voice, “This is things like this! It’s happening now!

He got up from the desk, picking up the sheet he had been jotting the code messages on. He crammed it in his pocket and headed for the door. He had to get to the bridge and show this to the officer on watch. He could bypass him and go straight to the Captain, but that wasn’t normal ship procedure. He knew the Captain was on inspections so locating him could prove difficult. All he knew was they couldn’t go into port without finding out what was really happening onshore.

Outside, he started heading in the direction of the bridge, but something caught his eye. On the open deck, an Indian girl being accosted by two men. He wasn’t sure that was entirely true, but one of the men was holding the girl by her shoulders and was leaning down in her face. The other guy, a boy really, seemed to be looking the girl up and down.

He headed toward them, but waited until he was nearly on top of them before alerting them to his presence. The man had let the girl go and the boy had a cell phone out. “Everything okay here, Miss?” Blake asked.

The man, who had been looking at the cell phone too, suddenly looked up. “Oh, Officer. I think we need to see the Captain.”

This was something Blake heard time and time again. On most occasions they didn’t need the Commanding Officer of the ship and Blake had gotten pretty good at deflecting them.

“The captain is a busy man. Anything I can help you with?”

“Yeah,” the boy shouted. “You can take….”

“Who are you and what’s your rank?” the older man interrupted.

This threw him off a second. “I…I’m Blake Travers, Communications Officer. “

The man smiled and held out his hand. “Ethan. This is Peter. And…” He looked to the Indian girl.

“I’m Prisha,“ she replied.

Blake took the man’s hand and briefly shook it.

“Since you’re in Communications, maybe you should look at this communication,” Ethan said.

Peter handed the cell phone to Blake so he could see. Looking at what was on the screen, he instantly wished he’d left these people alone and continued to the bridge.

“What…what is this?”

“It’s my Instagram,” Prisha said. “A friend sent that to me. She’s waiting for me in Charleston.”

Blake started thinking of the coded messages and how it applied to this. Contagion, the guy had said.

“I’m worried about Cherise,” the girl continued, bringing him out of his thoughts. “I haven’t heard from her since she posted this.”

Blake didn’t know how to respond. Normally, he would be trying to reassure passengers whenever there was a situation. But despite his training, he wasn’t quite prepared for something like this. Whatever this was.

“As the radio guy, you can call ashore, right?” Ethan asked. “Call her friend for her? Make sure she’s okay.”

“Yes,” Blake replied, distracted within his own flurry of thoughts. “Um, I mean no. No, I can’t. I have to get to the bridge. We’ll keep you informed..”

He handed the cell phone back to whomever would take it. Prisha took it from him, a dumbfounded look on her face that begged the question, why won’t you help us?

There was no answer forthcoming. The Communications Officer had stopped communicating and was now moving away from them so rapidly you’d think they were the ones with contagion.

From the direction of shore, the breeze softly blew…

TO BE CONTINUED

Zombie Drift. 2018 Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved

Zombie Drift 3: Prisha

Three: Prisha

Prisha stared at the luggage by the door. Packed and ready, she was dying to get off the ship. Despite the nice weather and exquisite food, the voyage had been terrible for her. Nothing had gone as planned and all she wanted to do was go home. She glanced at herself in the mirror. Her green and gold sari while exquisite was not what she was used to. She preferred jeans and a short sleeve top, a kurtis with leggings when cooler, but she knew her parents were waiting at the port, so something more traditional was required. They disliked how westernized she’d become, and had often threatened to return the family to Punjab, but for Prisha that would be even more alien than America sometimes seemed. They’d moved to the US when she was just nine. Now eleven years later, despite any pleasant memories of childhood with her cousins, America was home.

The cruise had been a disaster fifteen minutes after she boarded the ship. There had been some serious misunderstandings between herself and the guy she had planned to meet. After several years of Instagram, messaging, and e-mails, she had decided to finally meet the guy of her dreams, her online beau. They had planned to take the same cruise as a way of getting to know each other. That way they could have different cabins, yet still spend time dining and doing different activities the cruise offered. It wasn’t the way many of her friends would have arranged the first in person meeting, but as her parents had long alleged, Prisha was her own woman and quite headstrong when she wanted to be.

Desmond, the twenty-five year old Medical school graduate she was supposed to meet, and hopefully spend the rest of her life with, turned out to be a forty year old insurance salesman from Ohio. While age differences between couples didn’t really matter to her, the fact he’d been lying about it for years did. She’d been in university for two years studying medicine herself, and her hope had been to get married, move to New York, and join her new husband in his family practice. Now the only real thing about that was her studies, so once she disembarked she was going to throw herself into her work so much she wouldn’t even have time to think of men. Especially ones who expected you to come stay in their cabin five minutes after boarding the ship.

Prisha smiled in the mirror. She had to put on a happy face, the one that would tell her parents everything had went nice. Though she’d told her few friends, and older sister, the real purpose of the trip, to her parents she hadn’t been quite forthcoming. She told them she was going to meet some girlfriends from the internet on the cruise. She felt guilty for not telling them the truth, especially after she’d been lied to herself by Desmond. She was both ashamed and embarrassed over the whole thing. Maybe one day she’d confess to her mom and dad, but not today. They would be too disappointed.

She pinned her long dark hair away from her face and took a deep breath. She wanted off the ship but she dreaded to even leave her cabin. Desmond was still on board and out there. Since their argument over honesty within relationships and “no, I’m not going to stay in your room,” he’d approached her several times attempting to apologize, but she wasn’t having it. For one, in person he didn’t seem half as sincere as he did online. For another, there was something of a lecherous leer to his gaze that made her uncomfortable. She wasn’t about to….

Her cell went off. A notification. ‘Please, don’t be him,’ she said. She checked her phone. Instagram. She sighed in relief. It was a post from her friend Cherise at the College. It was a somewhat blurry picture. Prisha squinted her eyes, trying to determine just what she was looking at. Didn’t she know how to use the tools to make the image better? It appeared to be of a man on top of another man. None of her friends sent such things over the internet before and she was almost embarrassed to look at it, this image of a bulky man laying flat on top of a younger man. Never mind they were clothed, it was just that it didn’t look right or appropriate to her sensibilities. But then she saw what the guy on top was doing. He was eating the other man.

Prisha let out a scream and threw the phone down. Oh my god, he was really eating him! This wasn’t a photoshopped picture, nor a screenshot of a horror movie. This guy had pieces of the other man’s face in his freaking mouth! She looked down at the phone, Instagram still up and showing the gruesome image. She hesitated to even pick up the phone out of fear the man would come out of the cell and attack her too.

Bing! Another notification. She snatched up the phone and clicked on it. It was Cherise again. Another image. This time it scared her so bad she closed Instagram and made the mental note to uninstall the program as soon as she could think clearly. The image had been a close-up of a face. A woman. Maybe slightly older than Prisha herself. Her eyes had been blood red. Her nose twisted at an odd angle. Foam or something had been on her lips, which had been curled up in a canine like snarl. Her teeth had blood and what appeared to be human tissue on them. That’s what had prompted her to shut down the app so quickly. Most people feared common things like clowns, or spiders, or elevators, but hers was different. She feared zombies. Suddenly, the companionship of a jerk like Desmond didn’t seem so bad.

She shoved her phone in her purse, threw back the bolt on her door, and fled out into the hall. She had to show someone this. She needed someone to tell her that what she’d seen on Instagram wasn’t real. That she had been mistaken. Perhaps they would gently shake her awake and say they were at port and ready to leave the ship. Or that what she was looking at was a makeup screen test for a new movie they were filming. But there was no one in the hall. This was First Class. You usually had people coming and going from their rooms to onboard activities or dinner. That’s it, she thought. Everyone is at breakfast.

Or, her mind told her, everyone IS breakfast.

She raced down the hall and pushed a door open. She had to get outside. Get some air. She was starting to hyper ventilate. Coming out onto the open deck, the morning sun blinded her for a moment and she collided with someone. All she saw was a quick flash of palm trees and parrots as the person caught her from falling. Her eyes came into focus. The trees and birds were on a Hawaiian shirt and an older man with deep blue eyes was looking at her.

“Whoa,” he said. “You alright, miss?”

She tried to speak but was having trouble breathing.

“Maybe she needs the Heimlich,” somebody else said. She turned to the voice and saw a guy who appeared several years younger than she smiling at her. He had short ginger hair and was in a white polo shirt with colorful neon swim trucks so bright it made her wish she’d live long enough to enjoy Holi again.

The man who’d caught her was holding her by her shoulders at arm lengths away from him. He had his head slightly bent to one side in an attempt to look her straight in the face. “Hey, just try to relax. Breathe in slow, then exhale. Breathe in…breathe out. Are you okay? How many fingers am I holding up?” He put his hand in front of her face and held up a finger, then another, then four, followed by three, then all five in rapid fashion.

“You’re going too fast,” she protested, finally catching her breath.

The man smiled and let her go. “Good. You’re okay.” He straightened up his shirt and reached for his collar as if he were more used to suit and tie.

“I apologize, sir. I didn’t mean to…”

Before she could finish, the younger one laughed. “ Hell, we just want to know where the party is at. You was running like your butt is on fire!”

For a moment, she thought the guy was going to follow up his statement by staring at her backside, but thankfully he didn’t. She gave him a “you better not” look anyway.

“Forgive him,” the older man said. “He was born yesterday and has never seen a lady until a few minutes ago.”

Prisha wasn’t sure what to make of these guys. Were they trying to flirt with her or just being nice? Was the young guy checking her out? Was the older man trying to win her over with flattery? Desmond had really messed her up for the rest of the male population, she thought. And then she reached in her purse and pulled her phone out. She thrust it at the younger guy.

He took a step back and asked, “What? You want me to put my number in your contacts?”

“No, I don’t want your number. Pull up my Instagram.”

He had a disappointed look, but did as he was told. He stared at the screen for just a second before he looked at his companion. “Oh no Ethan…”

“What is it?”

“I don’t think that was a movie we saw.”

TO BE CONTINUED

Zombie Drift. 2018 Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved.

Zombie Drift 1: Captain Walker

Zombie Drift

One: Captain Walker

Captain Charles Walker sat on the edge of the bed. Already dressed in his crisp white uniform, he took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, repeating the action twice before reaching for his cap and placing it on his head. Coming into port was always a nerve wracking experience. He preferred to be out in open waters and not have to deal with corporate bureaucrats and shareholders. He’d rather swim with sharks. It didn’t help that he was the youngest captain to be employed by Ever Sail Cruise Lines. And it didn’t matter that he’d come from a long line of sailors, including his great uncle Shelton who had guided boats onto the beaches of Normandy during WW2. This was only Walker’s second voyage as a captain, and though the trip to the usual Caribbean ports of call had been a success, coming home was always worrisome. Of course, home wasn’t really home to the Captain. Home for the ship was the port of Charleston, South Carolina, but the real home for Charles was Goolwa, a tourist town on the South Australian coast. It was there he first learned to sail as a boy on The Murray River as it wound its way into Lake Alexandrina, and indeed the ocean. And though his apartment in South Carolina overlooked the waters of the Atlantic, it was nothing compared to his childhood home.

With that memory hanging there in his mind, he stood up, adjusted his cap and looked in the stateroom mirror. He’d forgotten to shave. While it wasn’t a requirement, he knew his bosses preferred a smooth face. It was an American thing, he supposed. “Crikey,” he mumbled, using the phrase every American adored and most Australians never uttered. Walker said it rarely, but he knew he’d hear it five times or more before he ever put the ship into dock, so he might as well embrace it.

He left his quarters, shut the door and locked it. He headed down the corridor, now bustling with crew activity. Amid salutes and “Good day, sir” it lifted his spirits. He didn’t feel so lonely once he was among his crew and the scent of the ocean air. Today the St. Fitzgerald would dock into Charleston, unload passengers, pick up others, and then head up the coast where they would unload guests again, this time closer to the Nation’s Capitol. With any luck his sea legs would touch land soon and he’d be disoriented standing on a surface that didn’t sway beneath his feet.

He stepped out onto the deck to take in the full effect of the sea breeze, but before he could even take one breath, he saw Blake Travers, the ship’s Communications Officer, heading his way. The man’s yellow blond hair was a disheveled mess and the disturbed look on his face wasn’t much better.

“Morning, Cap’n,” Blake said with a salute. He was nearly out of breath and had to wait a second to continue. “Looks like Brekkie and Shine is going to be delayed .”

Captain Walker knew the young officer was trying to use Aussie slang to cover up for something. He appeared nervous, but that was no excuse to butcher his normal way of speaking. It was downright embarrassing. “How so?” he asked the young man.

“We’re getting some garbled messages from the port offices. It’s static mostly. Like there’s some kind of interference. But I caught something underneath it all. It was a message saying something about being overrun.”

“Are the docks full?”

“It could be, sir. Every cruise line likes to connect in Charleston. We will be in sight of the port soon.”

“Well, keep me informed, Travers. I need to make a few inspections be we arrive. Reps from the line are going to want to board and see what kind of fault they can find in my leadership on our second voyage out.”

“You’re a fine Captain, sir.”

Walker raised an eyebrow. “Just fine?”

“Well..uh..I mean, sir…”

The Captain smiled. “It’s okay, son. I thank you for your support and compliment. I will take it with pleasure…and possibly some coffee..”

The Com officer’s face lit up, for he was all too eager to please his chief. “Right away sir!” He saluted and dashed across the deck to a coffee station that had been set up for passengers.

Walker watched him for a moment. Because of his own age, it was hard getting used to the fact of having subordinates, those that were beneath him in rank. It was just a year ago that he was behaving in the same manner, bending over backwards to please his commander so as to earn a spot at the Captain’s Table. He usually picked one or two of his crew to join him for dinner, along with a few distinguished passengers. He made a mental note to include Travers this evening just as the young man returned with the cup of hot java. Walker took a hesitant sip to avoid the burn of the fresh brew, and then let out a satisfied sigh. One could always tell what kind of day it would be by the taste of his coffee. It was going to be a fine morning indeed.

Charles didn’t even give a thought to the Traver’s news of garbled messages. Things like this happened more frequently than not. Even with new equipment outfitted on a relatively new ship, problems arose with communications from shore. He was confident the next contact would not be garbled at all, but a clear message directing them where to dock because of the heavy boat traffic.

He went back inside. Descending two levels into the ship, he came out in the deck known as Reliant. Among the crew it was called Hungry Alley, as it housed several kitchens, sleeping quarters for the galley crew and waitstaff, as well as numerous food storage rooms and walk in freezers. It was here Captain Walker checked on his friend, the ship’s Master Chef, a man simply known as Wu. An Asian-American from San Francisco, with glossy black hair forever hidden under his Chef’s hat, he and his family were residents of the St. Fitzgerald. Along with his wife and two sons , they all worked on board the ship. His wife was the hostess of The Starlit lounge, a jazz influenced bar situated on the first deck down from the top. A popular spot for adults to while away the cruise while listening to a live jazz ensemble, the lounge was one of the Captain’s favorite public places on the ship, and it was there that Wu’s two sons tended bar and knew how to mix Walker’s favorite drinks in exact fashion.

“Morning, Chef,” Walker greeted his friend. While to some it may have seemed the Australian and Asian-American made on odd pair, they didn’t know the history. Of how Wu had befriended a young, and very seasick, Charles Walker, on his very first ocean cruise. Discrete and supportive, the older man had nursed the future captain back to health and informed him the open sea was a lot harder to get used to than a winding Aussie river.

“Morning, Captain,” Chef Wu returned, before noting the cup of coffee in the commanding officer’s hand. “You know it’s an affront to us when you bring the java of mortals into our domain.”

Charles laughed. He loved the informal way in which the chef spoke to him. No salutes, or standing at attention, just the ease of pleasant company. Here among the kitchen staff he didn’t feel like a captain, but as one of them, and he liked it that way. It was the one place he could go and…

He stopped before shaking hands with his friend. He looked above his head as if he could see up through the decks and into the open sky. And though most couldn’t tell it, he could. The ship was slowing down…

TO BE CONTINUED

Zombie Drift Episode 1 . Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved.