PARTY SHIP OF DEATH
by Rik Hunik
Published by Rik Hunik at Shakespir
Originally published in 9Tales Told In The Dark #3
Copyright 2016 by Rik Hunik
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Leaning on the back rail, his mind empty, watching the wake disappear into the darkness, Harry saw lights, lights that got grew larger as they got closer. The pattern of lights resolved into a large cruise ship just like the one he stood on. He continued staring, transfixed, as the other ship crossed the wake of his own ship, and pulled alongside to starboard like it was trying to pass.
He read the name on the bow, Norwegian Queen, and a cold shadow fell on him; that was the name of the ship he was on. How could there be two ships with the same name?
The doppelganger ship slid past close enough for Harry to see the expressions on the faces of the passengers looking in his direction, but none of them seemed to be aware of a second ship dangerously close, only yards away from them. Harry felt his apprehension grow as he watched the gap get narrower and narrower and a collision seemed inevitable.
Harry scanned the deck, but there was nobody in sight. He spotted a lifeboat, but it was far too large for him to maneuver by himself, and even if he could find enough people there was no time.
The mysterious ship matched speed exactly with Harry’s ship, so close now that he could have jumped across, if he was a few decades younger. It was like gazing at a gigantic mirror, except the thin, white-haired, old man standing at the back rail in Harry’s position looked outward as though at a third ship.
Harry braced himself for the impact, reconciling himself to death. He had lived a good, long life and he regretted only that he couldn’t die with Helen in his arms.
Helen woke with a start.
Harry was not in the bed but she recalled, through a fog of sleep, Harry saying something about taking a walk on deck. How long ago was that? The red numerals on the clock told her it was still before midnight so he hadn’t been gone an hour yet. Nothing unusual in that but something felt wrong.
After he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and given less than a year to live, she had convinced him to come on this cruise for one last party. They’d both partied hard for people of their advanced age, but his stomach bothered him all the time now.
Hoping he hadn’t done anything foolish, she got dressed to go out and search for him.
Harry braced himself but there was no impact. The two ships passed through each other like ghosts, until they merged together like he was uncrossing his eyes.
In the instant both ships occupied the exact same space something lurched inside him and he saw the deck of the ghost ship falling behind, as though it had suddenly lost speed, and the old guy at the back rail was lying motionless on the deck.
“Here, have a hoot.”
Somebody handed him a joint and he sucked in some of the sweetest smoke he’d ever tasted. A pleasant feeling infused his being.
“Wow, this is great.” Then he saw who had handed him the joint. “Brad? I thought you were dead.”
Brad, who had been his friend since high school, just smiled at him, while other friends and acquaintances, some long dead, some recently deceased, lined up beside him and smiled too.
“What are you guys doing here? I thought you’d all end up in Hell.”
“Why? Because we smoked weed and didn’t go to church?” Brad paused to take a long toke on a joint. “We always pulled our own weight and we never hurt anybody. You were the same as us, but with your Baptist father thumping his bible at you since you were a kid, we knew you carried so much guilt you would send yourself straight to Hell. You did think you were going to Hell, didn’t you?”
“Well, yeah. That’s why I was so afraid of dying.”
“And always for tiny little indiscretions that nobody but your father cared about. That’s why we’re here to save you.”
“Save me?” He couldn’t tell if his head was spinning more from confusion or the drug.
“Yes, save you. By convincing you that you don’t have to go to Hell.”
Harry folded his arms across his chest. “And how do you propose to do that?”
“Simple. Look at us. We’re all happy.” Brad took a toke and passed the joint to Harry.
Harry sucked in another toke and held it.
Brad blew out some smoke and smiled. “And do you think there would be weed like this in Hell?”
Harry passed the joint to another old friend and blew out a long stream of smoke. “So this is Heaven?”
“Not exactly. Heaven and Hell are outmoded concepts. This is whatever you make it.”
“But why am I dead? My doctor gave me another six months to a year.”
Brad looked down at the deck. “Okay, so we fudged a bit, and nudged you over the line ahead of your time, to save you from a lot of pain, and to make it easier for us.”
“Is this allowed?”
“Do you mean, is it legal? Against the rules? Who knows? Who cares? Paulo here,” Brad gestured at a handsome stranger in the second row, “has been helping people rescue friends from their own imaginations for over five hundred years, and he knows souls who have been doing it far longer than that.”
Paulo caught his eye and gave a slight nod.
“What about Helen?”
“She’s not ready yet, but she can join us soon. Smile and wave good-bye to let her know you’re okay.”
Harry turned to look back and saw the bow of the other ship about thirty feet away, slowly receding. Helen stood there, looking right at him, shock and fear etched into her face. He knew she could see him here and was afraid for him, but he wasn’t suffering or in any danger. Quite the opposite in fact, so he did as Brad suggested, smiling broadly and waving at her. Her face relaxed and she waved tentatively.
Helen reached the bow without encountering Harry or anybody who had seen him. She was about to turn around when her vision shimmered, she blinked a couple of times, her vision cleared and she gasped.
Ten yards away, where she had seen nothing moments before, loomed the stern of a cruise ship just like the one she was on, and there, standing by the aft rail, was Harry, who saw her, smiled and waved to her.
The panic that clutched at her heart relaxed as she waved back. She didn’t know what was going on, or how he got onto that other ship, but he looked happy so it couldn’t be a bad thing, could it?
The blackness could have been sea or sky and she had been staring into it for a time she could not measure, so she gathered herself together and made her way to the opposite end of the ship, where she was not surprised to find several people clustered around the dead body of her husband.
Life had been hard and lonely for Helen in the weeks since Harry died. Life had always been hard, so it was the loneliness that hurt the most. When a knock sounded on the door of her apartment Helen experienced a flash of anticipation that shamed her, because she didn’t expect it to be anybody she knew, but was grateful for the interaction just the same.
She opened her door and there was her husband, right in front of her, handing her an elegant, cut-crystal glass of her favorite cherry brandy.
“Harry. How can you be here? You’re supposed to be dead.” She thought the surprise and shock would have been too much for her aging heart, but she couldn’t even feel it pounding as she accepted the drink.
A chorus of “Surprise!” sounded behind her and she spun around to see her apartment full of old friends and relatives, some long dead, some recently departed. “I thought you were all dead.”
They nodded in unison, but they continued smiling. She turned and looked back at Harry and he was smiling too. He nodded. “They are all dead. And so am I.”
He took her hand in his, gentle but firm, as always, and looked into her eyes. She thought she should be scared but his eyes calmed her. Still, her own smile remained tentative.
“And you’re dead too.”
Her smile decayed into a frown and she lowered her gaze from his face to the carpet and there she was, sprawled on the floor, dead. I look so old and frail, she thought. Out loud she said, “Heart attack?”
“But I didn’t feel anything.”
“That’s why we came for you, so you could skip that part. We’re here for a good time.”
Brad clinked his glass against Harry’s, and then against hers. “And we’re here for a long time too.”
She clinked her glass against Harry’s and they all drank.
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Other titles by Rik Hunik: available at Shakespir.com/profile/view/rikhunik
Down Among The Hoodoos (atmospheric ghost story)
The Tale Of Orm’s Revenge (Viking sword & sorcery)
For Sakina (fantasy mystery with serial killer wizard)
The Hole Story (science fiction, space opera)
Widdershins (modern fantasy retelling of old English folk tale)
The Gold Watch (western ghost story)
Defiance (horror poem)
Reality Check (science fiction horror)
Easy Money (alternate history, fantasy, paranormal detective novel)
Vacation Violation (dark science fiction)
Key Service (humorous contemporary fantasy)
On Full Moon Night (horror poem)
The Spirit Of The Game (horror) Things go wrong when a game designer makes a special game for his widowed mother so she can play cards with her deceased husband.
A Clone Of His Own (science fiction, fantasy)
The Hollow Idol’s Eyes (fantasy)
Incident In A Tomb (fantasy, horror, humor)
The Ghost In The Kettle (contemporary ghost story)
The Eruption At Mount Sarna (fantasy)
The Sitting (horror)
Worse Than An Orphan’s Curse (dark fantasy)
Joyride (fantasy, horror)
Dead Man’s Ashes (dark fantasy)
Green Eyes (horror)
Defiance 2 (poem)
The Treasure In The Monkey’s Fist (fantasy)
Witch’s Skin (horror)
The Dark Gate (fantasy novel, sword & sorcery)
Forces Of Evil: The Board Game (horror, humor, zombies)
Levels (science fiction)
Night Lures (science fiction)
The Hole (horror, joke)
Winterland (science fiction)
Under The Shade Tree (ghost story)
Wake-Up Call flash fiction
Time To Time A collection of time travel stories
About the Author: Rik Hunik was born in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, in 1957, and has lived his entire life in BC, except for a few summers in Alberta, and a few days in Washington State climbing rocks. He has lived in Ymir, Wells, Quesnel, Prince George, Quesnel, North Vancouver, Quesnel, Burnaby, North Delta, and Quesnel. He lives with his wife Jo and a 17-pound (big, not fat), blue-eyed, white cat named Mister. He mostly constructs buildings to earn a living, but he’s written dozens of stories, including fantasy, horror, sword & sorcery, mystery, humor, erotica, and science fiction, frequently combining genres. More than thirty have been published in small press magazines and e-zines. He has also published dozens of ebooks at Shakespir, many available to the public for the first time.