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Zombie Drift 8: Ethan Benoit

Eight: Ethan

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.

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Zombie Drift 7: Yeong

Seven: Yeong

New Yeong never liked his stage name much. Loosely translated into English, it meant “New person of courage,” and right now he didn’t feel that way. Instead he felt alone. Completely. He hadn’t enjoyed the getaway trip aboard the St. Fitzgerald. Even mixed drinks and and pretty American girls didn’t distract him from the fact he didn’t even know who he was anymore. In fact, for most of his twenty years he had no idea who was Yeong, himself or the management company that had created his persona and image. Ever since he was twelve, and his parents signed the contract, he’d been trained to be a K-pop star. Handlers decided nearly everything for him. His life was like a big road map to stardom and they’d kept him on the route with no room for deviation. Even this trip didn’t give him much personal space, as there were handlers on board with him. They might have been in separate rooms, but they were like an endless presence helping him pick out meals, clothes, and even activities to do while on board. That’s why the first thing he wanted to do, the first organized thought, was to jump. Maybe then he would find himself, even if only for a few seconds before he hit the water and drowned.

Yeong couldn’t swim. Well, he could as long as his feet could touch bottom of the pool. But in the ocean he had no doubt he’d sink. He’d stuffed as many coins in his pants pockets as he could in an attempt to make him heavier. He’d also grabbed two paperweights from the desk in his cabin. And while everyone else on board was wearing sandals, sneakers, or even going barefoot, he had donned the heaviest shoes in his luggage, a pair of black dress shoes he had modified with steel taps on the bottom to help him sound out dance moves while practicing. He found it fitting they should go to the watery end with him.

He stood with one foot on the starboard railing. Looking out over the vast ocean he wondered how many people had chosen to go this way. If one were to scour the seabed how many drowned corpses or skeletal remains would be discovered. Such a morbid thought, and he felt horrible just thinking it. Feeling a twinge of guilt, he turned his head to see if anyone were watching him. Most people were engrossed in other things. All except one. It was a girl. She had dark hair and eyes and he couldn’t help but think how pretty she was. He saw she had a book In her lap and a pen in her hand, and he remembered the days he sat in his company owned apartment jotting down verses and things about girl he would never know. What was she writing about, he wondered. The thought passed when she quickly looked away, and he thought that perhaps the darkness inside him had scared her. Maybe she could see the large devastating hole that had almost engulfed him, except for these last few rungs of a ship railing.

He put his other foot up on the railing and returned his gaze to the waves. If he was going to do this, it would have to be soon. They were getting close to the ship’s home port. Soon they would be docking and everyone would be disembarking and going about their lives, reuniting with loved ones, kissing those they had missed while they had been on the cruise. A tear fell from his eye. There was no one like that for him. Sure, there were tons of fans back home who would do anything for him, but there was no one to cling to in lonely moments, to kiss every time he walked through the door. There was absolutely no one who could save him from this pale shadow of living. He stepped up another rung. And then another. He threw a leg over the top of the railing. He took a deep breath. Hesitated for a moment. He wanted to turn around and take another look at the cute girl in the lounge chair. If he was going to do this, he wanted something pretty to be the last thing his eyes would take in. But he didn’t turn. He just closed his eyes and pushed off from the railing.

For a moment there was a feeling of weightlessness, as if he were just hanging in the air, his body waiting to drop. And then gravity took hold. He began a prayer for his own soul, knowing he would never get it all out before hitting water. Suddenly there was a jerk. Gravity must have changed its mind because he was being pulled up by the collar of his shirt. Perhaps the gods had taken mercy on him. He was dangling in the air over the side of the ship, but they had hold of him. Whatever God had spared him, he wanted to know. He craned his neck up to see. It was the girl. She had hold of his shirt in both hands and was trying to pull him back up . A look of desperation was on her face as if she knew she couldn’t hold him for long. His shirt began to rip. He could feel the fabric coming apart in her hands.

She didn’t say a word, but readjusted her grip to get her hands under his armpit and haul him up more. Unfortunately he was kicking his legs under the side of the railing , causing his body to swing. “No!” she cried out. “Stop swinging!” He pulled up on him hard, bracing her body against the railing for leverage. His foot found the bottom rail and instinct made him push up on his heel. This allowed her to get a better hold of him and lift him just enough to get his other heel back on the low rail. When this happened, she yelled at him, “You have to help!”

When he looked back up into her face, all he saw were her dark, teary eyes. It reminded him of a line from one of his popular hits that went “only your ebony eyes can save me.” But then her eyes changed. They grew wide with a different kind of fear. But she was no longer looking at him. She was looking at something beyond his suspended body.

He looked down. There was a body in the ocean. A corpse floating face down. Had someone else jumped, he thought. And then the body turned over in the rolling waves. The face was something of terror, and the girl almost let Yeong go. He reached behind him with his hands and grabbed the railing. There was no way he wanted to fall down into that. The corpse’s face was scarred and serated. Blood and pus covered it with a thin, mucous like film. The clothes were tattered and seemed to be fashion from years ago. One of its arms was bent oddly at the elbow. A leg that was half missing. Thank God the eyes were closed.

Holding onto the railing with one hand, Yeong swung himself around so he was facing the railing and no longer looking at the lifeless body in the water. He scrambled up the railing, and once he got to the top, the girl helped haul him over and back onto the ship. He was getting ready to thank her when she let out a scream. Looking back down, he saw the corpse had opened its eyes and was now thrashing about in the water.

“What the hell is it?” she asked, looking at him like it was now his turn to save her.

“I don’t know,” he replied watching the creature thrash about helplessly. It didn’t even have the sense to try and save itself. All it was doing was throwing its arms and legs about as if there wasn’t a brain in its head to tell it what to do. “But here comes another one.”

They watched as another body came up from the depths to bob upon the water’s surface.

TO BE CONTINUED

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

Zombie Drift 6: Lynn

Six: Lynn

Lynn Billiot sat in a lounge by the pool. Her writing notebook sat in her lap as she jotted down three observations. One: life aboard a cruise ship hadn’t been what she expected. Two: Her parents didn’t understand her melancholy. Three: See observation one and two. The problem was this cruise was a long time coming. Meticulously planned a long time in advance, it was her parent’s present to her for graduating high school a year early. She guessed they thought the blazing sun and rolling sea would be a great reward and escape from their home of chill air and drifting snow. The truth was she missed Alaska. School in Anchorage, spending summers with her grandparents further north in Fairbanks. She missed how small life seemed to be. While others might be bothered by the isolation, the true isolation was being on a boat full of people and still feeling alone. She missed her best friend Jessica. She missed Ranger, her gray malamute dog. She missed the inspiration that came to her on early mornings while looking out the window on the Alaskan landscape.

The landscape on the St. Fitzgerald was much different. The sun back home was bright and blinding, but here it was burning hot. As such, both men and women seemed to don as little clothes as possible. She wasn’t used to that either. Clothing was a necessity where she came from, but here it seemed to be more an accessory, something to enhance one’s figure or draw attention to its shortcomings. Lynn really didn’t have to worry about that. She was a cute girl. At seventeen she was more woman that she ever felt before, with long dark hair and deep, knowing eyes, a dusky complexion that never seemed to need makeup, and a friendly nature that seemed to attract others back home. But she didn’t want to attract anyone here. Even the cute Asian boy standing at the ship’s railing staring wistfully out on the ocean.

What she wanted to attract however was a story. All her life she wanted to be a writer. She listened to stories of her Inuit people and longed to enthrall readers the way she herself had listened to storytellers weave a spell around the spoken word. She looked down at her notebook and a thought came into her head. Perhaps it was inspired by the episode of “The Walking Dead” she’d watched the night before, or maybe it was the feeling of foreboding that had dominated her time on the cruise. Either way she began to write.

“In the staggering crowd, Alisa ran. She didn’t want to be like everyone else. She didn’t want to be a zombie.”

She stared at the words and smiled, hoping this was the beginning of an exciting story. She put pen to paper again and was getting ready to write the next line when something caught her vision. A statuesque blond haired girl, wearing a two piece bikini that may have been three sizes too small strutted across the deck on the way to the pool. Though it seemed her goal was to attract attention to her golden bronze tan and her long shapely legs (and other body parts) it seemed she was attracting the wrong kind of guy. The man was following close on her heels. Solidly built, he wore khaki shorts and a colorful Hawaiian shirt. He was tagging so close that if the girl had stopped walking he would have plowed right into her. Lynn shook her head. She wanted to ask him if he’d ever heard of personal space, but then he zipped around the blond girl and was moving just as quickly away from her. Maybe he wasn’t following her after all she thought, but it gave her an idea for the next line of her tale.

“Someone was following her though. And this was no zombie. This man walked with purpose. This man was dangerous, someone on a mission. Maybe he was the one who would save them all from the zombie horde.”

Pleased with the few lines she’d just written, she looked up. Brushing hair out of her eyes, she saw both the man and girl were gone. There were others on deck, some just milling about around the pool, others on their way to other onboard destinations. The Asian boy still stood at the railing admiring the sea. She watched him for a moment, thinking to herself that his lithe, toned frame would be perfect for the upcoming protagonist in her story.

As if feeling her eyes on him, the Asian boy turned his head in her direction. Lynn immediately dropped her eyes in embarrassment. But before she did, she thought there was something very familiar about his face. He was strikingly good looking and could have been a model with his photogenic face. Small eyes, cute nose, perfect hair. His full, flawless lips looked as though if he opened his mouth, nothing would come out except the most beautiful melody. And that’s when it hit her. She knew where she’d seen his face before. Plastered all over her friend Jessica’s bedroom wall.

Lynn had always like the rugged Hollywood type, but a year ago Jessica had gotten bit by the k-pop bug. A musical genre from South Korea, it was an addictive blend of urban hip-hop, R&B, pop, and dance that had swept even Lynn’s part of the United States. And on Jessica’s wall was her favorite k-pop idol, New Yeong.

There was no way this could be the same guy though. Despite the similarity, why would a k-pop star be on an American cruise ship off the coast of South Carolina? Jessica’s dream boy was probably in South Korea getting ready for a photo shoot or TV appearance. Lynn laughed to herself, thinking it would have been something to get an autograph for her friend, but this boy was no….

She stopped. Did someone just say zombie? Lynn had pretty good hearing and she could have swore someone had just said the word her whole story was based on. Taking her eyes off the Asian boy, she cast a look around her, trying to find the person who’d spoken. It only took a second. There were two older women standing by the pool. One was showing the other her tablet. The other was exclaiming, “there’s no such thing as zombies!”

The first one was shaking her head madly. “Well, look for yourself! I’m not making it up! This is in Charleston right now!”

Lynn stood up. The hair was standing up on the back of her neck. She had to see what they were freaking out about. She looked back to the boy at the railing and noticed he was climbing it. What in the world is he doing, she thought. Before she could dwell on it much, the two women yelped and the one dropped the tablet. It momentarily distracted her, but something about the boy held her attention. He was nearly standing on top of the railing now. Oh shit, she thought. He’s going to jump.

TO BE CONTINUED

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

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.

Drafting Zombie Drift

Okay, so I have been quiet here the past couple months, but I have been working behind the scenes to create new material. For one, I spent time bashing out the second draft for “Time Of Our Death”, my entry from NaNoWriMo 2016. That year I successfully completed the first draft. I was so proud of the achievement as it was my first time doing National Novel Writing Month. I also posted it here as it was being written, which was a lot of fun and cemented my love for Serial novels.

Speaking of which, another thing I’ve been working on is something called Zombie Drift. I’ve been spending some time in the Mirakee writing community, sharing my previously written serials for all the awesome writers and readers there. It has been very helpful to my writing and a great encouragement, and as a result of the international feel of the group, I have begun drafting a new Serial with an international cast of characters. It had been suggested to me to write a zombie story. Another reader added it should be at sea. And so the idea quickly formed in my head of a group of passengers on a cruise ship during a zombie apocalypse.

I have been posting chapters over on Mirakee first, and now it seems to be getting solid enough to start sharing them here as well. So stay tuned if you like zombies, or just follow my work in general, and I’ll start the process of bringing this tale in the making to my blog here.

By the way, just a little plug on where else to find me and my work. In addition to the Mirakee community (you can download the app at the google play store. Sorry not available for Apple), I am also on Wattpad and Twitter. My Wattpad ID is @PaulDAronson. Over at Twitter, I am Paul Writes and my ID is @pauldaronson. I would love to have you follow me. I follow back and try to support other writers, poets, and readers.