Ethan Benoit had eyes in the back of his head. He also had them on the sides too. To some it would seem he was a paranoid individual, but he preferred the term “Vigilant.” One of his main life lessons was this: Be aware of everything going on around you. He came by this lesson the hard way and lost someone special in the learning. And while there wasn’t anyone special nowadays, he was vigilant, part as his penance, part because he was paid to be.
The life of a bodyguard didn’t come easy to him. He didn’t enjoy being responsible for someone else, but it’s all he knew to do now. After losing Veronique. The one time he’d failed to protect. And now all that was left of him was the vow never to let it happen again. He would forever be on guard, aware of his surroundings, potential trouble, and routes of escape, if the need should arise to retreat.
He was all these as he made his way to the ship’s Bridge. He hated leaving the others behind in the Starlit Lounge, but he had gauged it was one of the safest places to be topside. For one, it could be closed and locked down so others couldn’t get in. It was also in the center of the ship, meaning it wouldn’t be the first target of an attack. He wasn’t sure why he was thinking this, these tactical thoughts. Perhaps it was imbedded from his training, a natural by-product of his experience, but when one doesn’t know what is happening it was a good mode to be in.
He walked briskly to his destination. He’d been on plenty of ships before. He knew his way around. It had been a cruise ship like this where he’d lost Veronique, his bride to never be. It had been pirates then, intent on taking control of the ship and ransoming off its passengers. Veronique had been the first casualty and the last person the pirates ever killed. Ethan’s hands were stuffed in his pockets as he walked across deck, but if he pulled them out and dared to look at the open palms he knew his memory would show the blood of those who took her life. Perhaps it was his imagination, but his hands would never be clean again and his heart would forever be a hardened place.
He skirted around other passengers. No one paid him any mind thanks to the tourist attire he’d chosen to wear this morning. He passed by a girl in a large lounger writing in a notebook. She gave him a hard look, probably because he was nearly walking on top of the scantily clad blonde in front of him. Despite the fact the woman was in a bikini that appeared to be made of two pieces of string, he paid her no mind. She wasn’t Veronique. No one was. If anything, he just wanted the wannabe super model to get the hell out of his way.
An Asian boy stood at the starboard railing. He looked lost in thought and didn’t appear to be a threat to anyone. In fact, it almost looked like he wanted to jump overboard. It almost made Ethan stop, but he kept going. He’d hadn’t made it far though when a scream sounded in the air. In a split second he accessed the situation: alert the ship’s captain to things going on ashore or go to the aid of the screamer. He ran back the way he’d come. The notebook girl he’d passed just a minute ago was now at the starboard railing hauling the Asian boy back onto the ship. Ethan wasn’t sure he’d fallen or jumped, but he wasn’t the only one who noticed their plight. Others had been alerted by the girl’s scream. But in typical fashion, no one went to see what was wrong. Only in America would a crowd of people see someone in distress and instead of helping, pull their cellphones out and film it.
Ethan reached the girl and boy as they looked back over the railing and down into the ocean. “Hey, is everybody alright?” he asked. “What happened? Are you….” He stopped. Looking down into the sea, he saw what had made the young lady scream. There were several bodies in the water and they were all clambering for the side of the ship. Right away he knew this wasn’t a case of people overboard for it appeared they had been in the water a very long time. Their clothes, their very flesh was eaten away in places, revealing exposed muscle and bone. One who was desperately trying to claw the metal of the ship was missing an eye. Another had opened its mouth, it jaws making snapping noises, as if trying to chew something that wasn’t there.
He had seen this before. Not just on the television and Instagram. Yes, this was all connected it seemed, but something horrible was happening in the world. He’d seen something like this years ago in Haiti. He’d been there in service to a pharmaceutical company who wished its visiting officials around the clock protection from the area locals who had made threats to the company for harvesting plants from the region. Plants that were sacred to their shamans. After a few attempts to stop the company, other means had been implemented and one of the Witch doctors had sent zombies against them. Those zombies had been living men though. These that were in the water were definitely dead, or had been at one time.
“What are they, sir?” the girl asked Ethan hopefully. He couldn’t give her any hope, but before he could answer, she said it herself, “zombies.”
He couldn’t lie to her, even if it did cause a panic. “It would appear so. They are on land too, I think.”
“Oh my God,” the Asian boy said, and they looked at what he was pointing at. One of the dead things, having given up on trying to get on the ship, had attacked another. He was biting down on the others head. Even from where they stood, they could hear the crunch, and then several voices shouted, “Man overboard! Man overboard!”
Looking to his right, Ethan saw other passengers gathering at the railing. Many were pointing at the bodies in the water and crying out, “Somebody help them!” They obviously weren’t observant enough to see there was something wrong with those thrashing about in the waves against the ship. Suddenly there was a sound of a winch and pulley and he looked to the left. A lifeboat was being lowered down. Inside there was a crew member in a life vest.
“No!” Ethan shouted. “Stop! What are you doing?” He ran to where the guy was operating the lowering system. “Bring him back up!”
“Sir, you’ll have to step back! There are people in the water!”
“Those aren’t people! Those are….”
Just then, the pulley jerked, nearly ripping from where it was attached onboard. One of the zombies had managed to climb onboard the life boat and was grabbing at his would be rescuer. The crew member started yelling, trying to throw the thing off of him. He got the message really quick that these weren’t people in need of saving. But it was too late. The lifeboat was now touching water and two more were trying to scramble aboard.
Ethan shouted at the winch operator. “Pull him up, damn you!”
The guy was frozen. He didn’t know what to do. His training hadn’t included this scenario and as such he was at a loss. “I…I….,” he stammered.
“Oh fuck it,” Ethan muttered and kicked off his shoes, climbing up onto the railing. It was too far to jump he knew. The impact would take the breath out of him. So he swung himself over and grabbed hold of the pulley. This is going to hurt like hell, he thought. For a brief moment his mind whispered, don’t do it. Let the man die. But then that part of his conscious that asked him what would Veronique do kicked in. He slid down the pulley, the cables burning his hands the whole way. By the time he neared the end, they had started cutting into his palms.
The lifeboat was built for twelve or more. Ethan should have landed squarely in the middle but the idiot manning the winch above finally came to his senses and hit the up button. The boat rose to meet him with two zombie hanging on the side and two more in the boat itself. The one man crew was holding his own with an oar, pushing the flesh eaters back away from him. Ethan landed a little to the side and it caused the boat to tip just a little. He strong armed the other zombie and it flipped off the boat back into the water. Still, the two zombies hanging off the side decided to clamber in.
The guy with the oar swung it at one of their heads but it managed to grab the makeshift weapon and pull it out of his hands. Tossing it aside it grabbed the man and started to pull him towards his slavering mouth. The guy screamed and there was a loud pop , followed by an equally loud hiss. The zombie’s head exploded in a shower of red sparks. It fell backwards into the water, its head glowing red like someone had stuck a colored sparkler in its mouth and lit it.
Ethan stood there, the flare gun he’d gotten from the emergency box in the lifeboat still discharging smoke from its barrel. Three more zombie rose from the depths and climbed aboard.
TO BE CONTINUED
Zombie Drift. Paul D Aronson. 2018. All Rights Reserved.