Although women in horror month has passed the celebration is far from over. Here at Eerie Dolls we like to celebrate our fine eerie dolls both online and locally. As we continue to feature more talented writers we will be spotlighting their projects and completed works. Today we have Meg Hafdahl, a suspense and horror author living in Minnesota.
Meg is also the creator of HORROR REWIND a podcast which will be premiering May 4th!!!! Dedicated to people who would go straight to the horror section at the video store HORROR REWIND will include several women discussing their favorite horror films while re-watching them.
She has a passion for scary stories, as well as creating complicated female characters. Her first book, Twisted Reveries: 13 Tales of the Macabre, was released by Inklings Publishing in the fall of 2015 and includes such popular stories as "Dust" and "There is Something About Birds". Her forthcoming second volume of Twisted Reveries will arrive in paperback and e-book in 2016, and her first novel, set in the strange town of Willoughby, Minnesota is touted for 2017. Meg lives with her husband, two young sons and a menagerie of pets in Rochester, MN.
Below you'll find her short story ADRIFT and can learn more about her on her website:
Social Media Links
Twitter & Instagram: @meghafdahl
Twisted Reveries: 13 Tales of the Macabre and Tales From Willoughby available on Amazon
"The Pit" a short story will be featured on The Wicked Library Podcast in May
by Meg Hafdahl
“This is a good way to get hacked up, you know? They’re going to find your body parts in this dude’s freezer.”
“God! Gross!” Cassidy pulled a wand of mascara through her eyelashes.
“You shouldn’t let him pick you up,” Fiona hung her feet over the futon’s wooden arm. “That’s giving him all the power.”
Cassidy gave an exaggerated blink in the hallway mirror to make sure her lashes didn’t glob together. “Oh, stop.”
“Now when he tries to murder you, you’ll have no car. How do you think you’re going to get away?”
“I guess I’ll have to hitchhike.”
Fiona sat up, peering over the back of the futon with an arched eyebrow. “I hope you’re kidding.”
Cassidy zipped up her makeup bag and set it on the cluttered Ikea sideboard full of slippery adverts and empty iced tea bottles. She took a few steps and patted her sister’s head as though she were assuaging an anxious puppy. “I know you are four minutes older than me, but you don’t have to worry so damn much.”
Fiona sighed. “I’m going to write down his plate number in case. Text me if he gets weird and I’ll call with some emergency. Geez, I wish you were bringing your car.”
Headlights cut through the front window, splashing against their TV on the far wall.
Cassidy took a deep, measured breath. She smoothed down the front of her peplum skirt and checked the buttons of her shimmery blouse.
“Got your pepper spray?” Fiona had jumped up and moved to the window. She squinted out into the darkened driveway as she typed the license plate digits into her iPhone.
“Yep, yeah, don’t worry, okay?” She took her purse off of a hook and set it on her shoulder with a trembling hand.
Her mind urged her to stay calm.
Quit, Cass! It’s nothing to get your panties in a twist over. It’s just a date, c’mon girl.
The doorbell rang as she took one last look in the mirror.
“Don’t say anything weird.” Cassidy instructed Fiona as she placed her palm on the knob.
Her sister, still hovering by the window, gave an imperceptible nod. Her eyes had formed into suspicious slits.
Cassidy hesitated, breathing in sharply through her nostrils, and then opened the door.
A soothing wave of relief tingled up her limbs.
The man smiling on her porch looked exactly as he did in his profile picture on LoveMatch.com.
“Hi.” He offered his right hand. “I’m Ben. It’s very nice to meet you, Cassidy.”
“Hi.” Cassidy shook his palm. She studied his ash brown hair and hazel eyes. “Um,” she glanced down at the bouquet of flowers pressed against his chest. “I thought only people in movies bring flowers on a first date.”
They both laughed, a welcome ice breaker.
“Yeah,” Ben thrust the lilies toward her. “You said your grandmother was named Lily, and that’s why you have one on your ankle.”
“Oh!” She took the fragrant bouquet and relished the honeyed smell. “That’s really sweet, thank you.”
“I’ll put them in water.” Fiona appeared behind Cassidy. “These are nice, hybrids I think.”
“You must be Cassidy’s twin?” He gave a little wave.
Fiona looked Ben up and down. “Uh-huh. Nice to meet you.”
Cassidy was pleased her sister was at least trying to be civil. She handed the flowers to Fiona and grabbed her silver pumps by the door.
“Here, this is it. It’s been a few years so it needs some filling in I think.” She awkwardly held up her ankle so Ben could see her tattoo.
“It’s pretty.” He smiled even wider, causing a dimple to form in his right cheek.
“Thanks,” Cassidy slipped on her heels. “My skin is so dark, it can be tough to get a really vivid color, but I think they did a good job.”
“You’re brave.” He stepped backward off the cement, porch step as she walked out. “I don’t think I could handle the needle.”
“Oh it’s not so bad.” Cassidy thought about what she had said; about her skin. She said goodbye to Fiona, gave her a wink and closed the front door, all while regretting bringing up her race.
It was odd enough that this was her first time on a date with a white man, and now she had brought it up in the first few moments, as though she was insecure.
“Do you have any others?” He opened the passenger side door of his Honda Civic like a true gentleman.
“Oh, nope. I would get more though I think, someday.” She settled into the car and buckled her seatbelt. The dashboard shone with polish and a brand new air freshener, peach pie, dangled from the rearview mirror.
“Is your car always this clean?” She watched as Ben got into the driver’s side. He wore a short-sleeve gingham dress shirt with a skinny, navy blue tie.
“God no, never.” He laughed. It was an easy, genuine sound.
“Well thank you.” Her muscles unclenched in her neck. She was already feeling more at ease. “And thank you for, well, for looking like you do in your picture.”
He gripped the steering wheel and looked over his shoulder as he pulled out onto London Road. “Ha, yeah it’s a gamble. I could have fudged my age by a few decades.”
Cassidy gave a nervous giggle. “It happens.”
“I must thank you,” his glimmering eyes fell on her. “Because somehow you’re even more beautiful than in your pictures.”
“Okay.” She rolled her eyes, pretending like she didn’t like the flattery.
A moment of awkward silence ballooned between them as they headed east toward the Park Point docks.
Ben cleared his throat. “So you live with your sister and two other roommates did you say?”
Cassidy nodded. “It can get tight in there, but I’ve been able to save a lot of money.”
“For law school?”
“Right! You have a good memory.”
He shrugged. “You have a degree in business and also paralegal training so you currently work at that law firm, the one attached to the bank on 10th. You love sushi and hate rollercoasters, they make you queasy.”
“Wow.” She bit her bottom lip, tasting her raspberry gloss.
“Too much? Am I coming off like a stalker?” He flashed his distinct, dimpled smile.
Cassidy shook her head. “No. I like a man who pays attention.”
Unaware, she leaned her body in closer to Ben, letting her bare knees graze the console.
“I hope you don’t get sea sick.” He tapped the steering wheel with his finger as they waited at a red light.
“Uh-uh. I don’t think so. Since it’s a lake I think it’ll be fine, less waves.” Just as she finished reassuring him, a sharp slice of panic cut through her. She hoped what she said was true. It wasn’t until now, as they pulled into the gravel lot overlooking Lake Superior that she realized she could be holding a barf bag under her chin all evening.
The frightening scenario played out in her mind as an image of her vomiting on Ben’s Doc Martens bubbled up.
He is cute, nice and interested in you. Don’t you dare barf.
Cassidy shook the anxiety away and gazed through the windshield at the back of a two-tiered yacht.
SERENDIPITY was stamped on the back in curlicue letters.
The boat rocked on the mild waves, illuminated by twinkling lights hung on the deck’s railing.
A middle-aged couple stood in the patch of grass between the parking lot and the dock, chatting with a man in a captain’s hat and white slacks.
“This was a really unique idea. I’m glad you thought of it.”
“Well you’re unique.” Ben put the Honda in park and killed the engine. “I know we’ve only been texting, but…”
Cassidy forced herself to look at the man beside her. His expression was too sweet, too earnest to bear.
“I like you.” He pressed his lips together and seemed to chew on the inside of his cheek.
“Me too. I mean, so far.” She felt a creeping heat on her shoulders.
Ben’s top lip curved into a little smile. He reached across Cassidy’s knees and opened the glove compartment. “Here’s yours.” He removed two tickets and handed one to her.
Cassidy read the ticket as she got out;
Lake Superior Dinner Cruise
Approx. 3.5hr tour includes three course meal, complimentary champagne and (1) souvenir photograph.
She noticed the price had been obscured by a Sharpie scribble on the bottom.
“Looks like we’re right on time.” Ben lightly touched her elbow as they made their way toward the growing queue.
They stood behind a group of three loud women. One was bent over, her breasts nearly toppling out of her scoop neck tee, guffawing so hard her face was the color of a ripe strawberry. Her friends took turns slapping her on the back, both laughing in unison.
Cassidy and Ben shared a glance.
He leaned over, as he was a good three or four inches taller, and whispered in her ear. “I’m guessing they pre-gamed.”
Cassidy giggled, wishing she had done the same. A bit of blazing, liquid courage would feel good in her chest.
The man in the gold rimmed cap and white ensemble, the captain Cassidy assumed, made his way down the line, shaking hands with everyone.
“Hello….hello…greetings…welcome…lovely night…” He flashed a set of eerily perfect capped teeth as he passed.
Behind them, two men holding hands approached. The shorter one, with a grey tinged moustache, chattered into his cell. “Yeah…say that again? Okay…okay…yes you can…just be nice, okay? Behave. Listen to Auntie. Pop and Dad love you, we’ll see you in the morning. Go to bed, alright?”
Cassidy watched over her shoulder as he hung up and slipped the phone into his jeans pocket.
“Heaven help her, huh?” The other man, a few years younger ran a hand through his dirty blonde hair.
“Maybe we shouldn’t do this. What if there’s an emergency and we can’t get off?” The mustachioed man tugged his husband’s arm.
“An emergency? Like Stella needs a second dessert? It will be fine! Be calm. There will be alcohol.”
Their hands returned to one another, grasping tightly.
Cassidy smiled as she turned forward, wondering how bold it would be to touch Ben’s fingers.
“I hope the food’s decent, I’m starving.” Ben buried his hands in his pockets. “Do you think you’ll be warm enough?”
She rubbed the silky arms of her blouse. It was July so she hadn’t considered a lake breeze. A few women ahead of her held cardigans and light scarves. “It’ll be fine. Actually, it will feel good, our air conditioner is on the fritz.”
“AHHHHCHOOO!” One of the three rowdy women erupted with a deafening sneeze.
“JESUS DIANE!” Her friend screeched.
“Lordy, got a Kleenex?” Diane, still huffing from her belly laugh, waved her freckled hands.
“Here.” The other friend produced a tissue from the overstuffed purse on her hip. “Oh, Di, are you alright? You’re bleeding.”
Diane wiped at her upper lip. Cassidy could see red on the pad of her finger.
“No worries. Just dry I guess.”
Suddenly, a bell rang from somewhere on the yacht.
The crowd cheered.
Cassidy and Ben joined in, clapping. Then the line began to move.
“Just a reminder folks, cell service is spotty out on the water. Also, make certain to hold on to your ticket, you turn it in for your photo as we disembark.” A woman in another white outfit with gold buttons, punched holes into Cassidy’s and Ben’s tickets.
“Thanks.” Ben wound his arm around Cassidy’s shoulders as they walked up the ramp onto the boat.
She thought maybe she looked like she was going to skid down the steep incline on her high heels if he did not intervene. But whatever the reason, she enjoyed sensing his touch through the fabric of her shirt.
“Dinner will be served at eight-thirty on this main floor. In the meantime we encourage you to enjoy the scenery from our decks, on either end, and also up these stairs.” Another employee announced.
“Wanna try upstairs?” Ben asked, letting his arm drop from her shoulder.
Cassidy nodded. “Sounds nice.”
“Be careful.” He suggested as she took her first step onto the narrow, metal steps. They were riddled with divots, which made it seem as though her heel could slip through a hole if she was not cautious. This would cause her to fall backward into Ben’s muscular chest, which didn’t seem so awful.
The lights of the city shone on the water as they made their way to the front end of the upper deck. Cassidy held onto the railing as she took in the incredible vista. Mesmerized by the swirl of light on the subtle waves, she stared at the depths of Lake Superior.
Ben stood beside her, resting his elbows on the rail. “Sometimes I forget we live in such a beautiful place.”
“Yeah. We’re lucky.”
A few others joined them at the bow of the Serendipity, commenting on the golden sheen of light dancing on the water’s surface.
Another bell sounded and then the boat lurched. Cassidy tightened her grip on the rail, praying her stomach didn’t do a loop-de-loop.
She bent slightly over to watch as they become unmoored from the dock. White froth churned down below. The damp, heady scent of the lake calmed her.
The loud speaker behind them clicked on. A deep voice filled the sharp air, but it came out all static and garbled.
“We can’t hear you, Ahab!” Someone shouted.
Everyone laughed, sharing in this new and thrilling experience.
The Serendipity headed toward absolute blackness, slowly leaving the comforting glare of the city.
Cassidy stared up at the crescent moon, a million different thoughts prickling her brain.
“My sister, Fiona, she thinks you’re going to murder me.” She turned toward her date, smirking.
That smile she had already grown to crave brightened his face. “In her defense, this would be a good place to do it.” He bent his head toward the dark water.
“You’re just going to throw me overboard?” She teased.
“Not now!” He furrowed his eyebrows. “You’ve figured out my plan.”
A middle aged couple Cassidy recognized from the line gave them a curious sideways glance.
“Okay, well, tell me about your job then, you’re a counselor?” She ran a hand through her long, cocoa hair, feeling suddenly watched. And more than that, judged.
“For people struggling with addiction mainly, quite a few teens.”
“Wow, that’s admirable. I mean, that’s really important work.” She inched closer to him, keeping her eyes on the shadowy horizon.
“Well, both of my parents went through it, so I guess it was almost selfish of me to choose this path. I feel like Freud would probably have a field day with me.” He emitted a tiny, short-lived laugh.
“Ah, so like you’re trying to fix your parents by helping others?”
He turned and rested his lower back against the railing. “Something obvious like that, yeah.” He crossed his arms. “I’m a simple man.”
“Hmm…” Cassidy cocked her head. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
She mimicked him, turning and leaning back so that they were both looking at the yacht and the milling crowd on the deck.
A dark thought, violent and unwelcome crackled through her. It felt, for a fleeting moment, as though everyone was watching them. They were wondering, she supposed, what he was doing with her. He was one of them, and her skin was the color of smooth, milk chocolate.
Just as quickly as the dreadful thought arrived, it floated away, as she puffed out her chest and reminded herself she was beautiful, smart, worthy.
She watched as Ben’s fingers intertwined with hers. “Do you want to go over to the other side?” He looked down at her with an undeniable affection. “See what we can see?”
The main deck of the Serendipity consisted of several crew-only rooms, marked off with yellow rope, and the large, window lined dining area. Six tables, set for eight people each with expensive silver and ironed napkins, encircled a dance floor with a cheesy disco ball dangling above.
Cassidy scanned the room, noticing bottles of champagne on every table. Her stomach flipped at the tempting scent of dinner.
“Sorry, I guess we have to sit with other people.” Ben scrunched his nose.
“It’s okay, it’ll be interesting.” She went first through the narrow, curving space between tables and picked out two seats. The married couple behind them in line sat on the opposite end, already sipping from their fluted glasses.
“We popped the cork, hope that wasn’t presumptuous?” The younger husband sheepishly handed Ben the bottle.
“Heck no!” Ben pulled out Cassidy’s chair with one hand.
She sat, happy to watch as her own glass was filled to the brim with bubbly spirits.
“I’m Pete and this is Scott.”
“Hi. I’m Ben.”
“Cassidy, hi, nice to meet you.”
“It’s our tenth anniversary.” Pete beamed.
“Oh, they don’t care!” Scott, the one with the bushy moustache, gave Pete a playful punch.
“No! That’s wonderful! Congratulations.” Cassidy took her purse off her shoulder and hung it on the back of her chair.
“How about you?” Scott asked.
“It’s our first date.” Ben sat and scooted his chair up to the table.
“Cute! Okay that’s adorable.” Pete clapped his hands.
Scott’s grey eyebrows waggled. “Wow, big spender.”
Cassidy felt a blush on her cheeks as she took a big gulp of champagne.
“Don’t worry! The fun has arrived!” The three garrulous women arrived at their table, filling in the spots between the couples. They each held a different, fruity looking cocktail.
“Cash bar?” Pete pointed to their drinks.
“Afraid so.” Diane, the sneezing woman, plopped herself down next to Ben.
One of her friends poked warily at the silk roses in the centerpiece as though she were touching a slug.
“What do’ya suppose they’re feeding us?” Diane still had the bloody tissue clenched in her left hand.
“Fish maybe? We’re on a boat.” The one with the enormous purse was scratching her arm furiously. Cassidy watched as the woman left red, inflamed looking trails down her flesh.
They all made their introductions. The one scratching her arm was Geena, it was her fifty-seventh birthday. The other, dressed in a floral Mumu and pearl necklace, was Abigail.
The din of the crowd quieted as the captain appeared at the head of the room, beside a DJ stand. He took a microphone in his hand and switched it on.
“Good evening.” He breathed into the mike.
“WHOO!” Abigail hollered.
“Welcome aboard the Serendipity. It’s such a pleasure to have all of you fine people,” he wiped at his brow. “Some of you are celebrating milestones, and some are here just to enjoy the cruise.” He stopped, and almost seemed to fall back on his heels. “I’m just…just so very happy to have you here with me tonight, sailing Lake Superior. This is my…well…my seventeenth year as captain of this beauty, and I…” he sucked in a gasp of air.
Cassidy twisted the stem of her champagne glass between her fingers, feeling oddly panicked. The smooth waters hadn’t disturbed her stomach, but there was something about the captain that unnerved her. She noticed the pale tinge of his gums when he gave an awkward smile, and the way he scratched under his collar as he finished his speech.
“Anyways…enjoy your evening ladies and gentleman! Dance, let loose, take in that awesome lake air!” He set the microphone down on the DJ’s equipment with a quivering hand.
Everyone clapped and a few whistled.
The conversations filled the room, along with the clinking of glasses and the sudden arrival of the rolling dinner trays.
Cassidy remained quiet as a salad with raspberry vinaigrette was placed before her.
“You okay?” Ben snatched a roll from the breadbasket.
“AHHHCHOO!” Another aggressive sneeze. This time from an elderly man on the other side of the dance floor. He wiped his nose with the back of his veiny hand.
“Yes, I…didn’t he seem, I don’t know, off?” She whispered.
“He looked like he was going to faint or something.”
Ben unfolded his napkin and placed it on his lap. “Maybe he pre-gamed too.”
Cassidy stabbed a piece of lettuce with her fork. She glimpsed over at the birthday girl. Geena’s right arm was still a map of swollen scratch marks.
After a dessert of tiramisu, the overhead lights in the dining room were dimmed. The disco ball began to spin, sending rays of violet and orange light across the tablecloth.
“Oh shit! The party is starting!” Diane downed her third glass of champagne.
The DJ appeared, a teenager with choppy, black hair and thick rimmed glasses. He started with a lively song, Me Too by Meghan Trainor, to get the crowd going.
Cassidy’s instinct was to drag Ben back out onto the deck, to be alone and watch the hypnotic waves, but she could see the way he perked up at the music.
“You better get that girl on the dance floor!” Pete called over the music.
Ben gave two thumbs up.
“I’m not feeling so hot.” Scott hugged his own shoulders.
“WHAT?” His husband leaned in closer.
“I SAID I FEEL LIKE CRAP!” Scott yelled.
“Would you like to dance?” Ben grazed his hand down Cassidy’s back.
“Um…did you hear that? Scott’s sick.”
Ben’s eyes flickered over toward the couple across the table.
“I mean, I just have a bad feeling.” She spoke directly into his ear.
“You feel sick too?”
“NO. No, I…never mind.”
The thumping beat dissipated, giving way to the slow piano introduction of Adele’s Make You Feel My Love.
“Let’s dance now.” Cassidy stood, feeling silly for even voicing her vaguely formed anxieties.
Ben followed her to the parquet floor.
Her worries trickled away as he put his arms around her waist. She snuggled into his chest, for the first time reveling in his fresh, manly smell.
“Yeah?” He brushed at a wisp of hair caught in her eyelashes with his thumb.
They swayed to the music. “I know this is dumb, like really stupid.” She sniffed back the tears threatening to fall.
“What is it?” His voice was coated with concern.
“I know it is 2017 and no one cares. But this piece of me feels like maybe they do. And I have to tell you that I’ve never gone on a date with, you know, someone that is…like you.”
He did that quirk she noticed before, pressing his lips together and biting the inside of his cheek. She pulled back a little, watching the other couples dance to the haunting voice of Adele.
“You mean white?” He finally asked.
She looked up into his hazel eyes and nodded.
“Do you care?” His grip did not weaken around her middle.
“No! God no!” Cassidy hated herself for causing the ghost of a frown to linger on his lips.
Ben tilted down and pressed his forehead against hers. “If anybody does care, fuck them right? I mean, Pete and Scott would give us that advice I would imagine. So fuck anyone who cares.”
She was racked by a delicious shiver. His words made her legs turn to jelly.
“Yeah fuck ‘em all.” She giggled.
Ben closed the gap between them, kissing Cassidy urgently.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, tasting the tiramisu on his breath and feeling the wild knock of his heart through his gingham shirt.
Firecrackers popped in her chest as she burrowed herself even deeper into his embrace.
“AHHHHH! OH MY GOD!”
A piercing scream tore her from the moment. She pulled away from Ben, squinting toward the dining tables.
“JESUS!” A man leapt over a fallen chair.
Cassidy clutched Ben’s arm as the crowd on the dance floor rushed by them. “Can you see anything?”
The music stopped abruptly. “Hello? Hello?” A man, Cassidy had seen him with his wife on the upper deck, held onto the microphone the captain had used. “Is there a doctor? A nurse? Anyone?” He panted. The DJ hovered behind him, grasping his hair in his fists.
“I know CPR!” Ben ran toward the commotion.
A series of warbling screams ended with an earsplitting crescendo.
Struck dumb, Cassidy stood motionless, watching as Ben joined the fray.
“GET TOWELS!” A crew member roared at no one in particular.
Abigail swished up beside Cassidy in her flowery sack of a dress. “Is someone having a heart attack?” She pulled at the pearl necklace on her wrinkled chest.
Cassidy could only manage a weak shrug of her shoulders.
“Oh, I hope they’re alright, whoever….whoever…”
“Yes, how awful.” Cassidy turned toward Abigail, just in time to watch the middle-aged woman fall to her knees.
“OH!” She landed with a smacking thud.
“Ma’am?” Cassidy immediately dropped down, putting her hand on Abigail’s back.
Abigail’s pearl grey hair hung in strips, obscuring her face. She put a hand to her mouth, coughing into her palm.
“What’s wrong? Ma’am? Abigail?”
Cassidy watched a string of bloody saliva dangle from the woman’s chin and splat onto the parquet.
“Oh my. Oh. I’ll get help, I’ll get someone.”
Adrenaline throbbed through her legs as Cassidy ran toward a cluster of people. She could see Ben bent over, his lips a grim line.
“Hey!” Cassidy stumbled over a forgotten shoe. She looked down at the expensive Louboutin, a rising horror gripping her mind. A woman wouldn’t leave a shoe like that, not willingly.
“EVERYBODY GET BACK!” The same crewman yelling about towels was now pushing back a curious crowd.
Cassidy ran around the man’s outstretched arms, her eyes on Ben.
“Please, someone else needs help.” She skidded to a stop, staring down at the person on the floor.
She could tell from the patchwork cardigan that it was the elderly man, the one who sneezed all throughout dinner. The man’s chest, rising and falling much too fast, indicated that he was still alive. But his face did not make sense.
Cassidy leaned over, trying to understand what she was seeing.
His left cheek, the tip of his nose and the entirety of his upper lip were exposed; skinless. The white gristle of his bone poked through.
Blood streamed from his deformed mouth.
Ben held the man’s wrist, speaking softly to him. He gently tilted the man’s head so that the blood would not run down the back of his throat.
Cassidy tripped backward, landing on her butt. Her sparkly heels, much cheaper than the Louboutin’s, flew off.
She clamped her hand over her mouth, holding in her scream.
“STAY CALM!” A crewwoman guided the forty or so guests toward the back of the room.
Cassidy crawled toward Ben on her hands. “What? Ben what happened? What…”
“Go! Go back with the others.” He said over his shoulder. “I’m helping her, she’s a nurse or something.”
“Gynecologist actually.” For the first time, Cassidy noticed Diane was on her knees alongside Ben, instructing him what to do. Her lively playfulness had died in an instant, giving way to an impressive professionalism.
This made Cassidy feel better for a second, and then she looked down again at the pulpy mess of the man’s face.
“DONALD! DON! Oh!” The man’s wife, withered and swathed with clacking jewels, was held by a man with meaty arms. He was attempting to pull her back, toward the far wall, but she fought like a tiger.
“Go back, Cassidy, please.” Ben repeated.
“There’s someone else, your friend, um…um.” Cassidy flailed her arms. “Abigail, she’s bleeding out of her mouth.”
Diane’s head snapped up. “Christ.”
The man let out a pitiful, choking moan. He curled up his knees and let out a rattled wheeze.
“The defibrillator?” Diane tugged at a crewmember’s pant leg as he rushed by. He ignored her. “HEY?”
The man died, a pop of red snot snapping in his nostril.
Diane shook the body. “Mister? No! Don’t you fucking dare die…”
A high pitched squeal, Cassidy first thought was a tinny scream, sounded. Soon it was vibrating the boat, multiplying in intensity. It became the crashing, crunching sound of twisting metal.
The Serendipity wobbled and then began to lean.
There was a tremendous shift, altering Cassidy’s vision. She watched as the room tilted. Dishes crashed to the floor and her body was listing.
Chairs peeled across the floor.
More screams, raw and unhinged, tore at her ears.
Her knees were slipping, her hands grabbing for purchase before her mind could compute. She was tumbling.
Cassidy thwacked into a window. She pressed her eyes closed, imaging the bruises already blooming on her side. She could hear people somersaulting toward her. Cassidy braced herself for more explosions of pain. A chair whizzed over her head, hitting the glass with a crack.
She watched as Diane’s sneakered foot landed on her thigh. Diane twisted back, the dead, grotesque body right behind her. Ben held his arms out, trying to steer himself away from Cassidy.
“The window will BREAK!” His voice was hoarse.
Somehow the window was underneath her. Much like the man’s peeled face she could not understand this.
Cassidy watched as more people tumbled her way. A mass of shoes, arms, screams and broken dishes thundered toward her.
Her brain begged her to move, but her body was a victim of centrifugal force. With all her strength, she grabbed the window’s thin frame and pulled herself, scraping her belly against the cool glass. An open door, at an odd angle like something from a carnival funhouse, waited for her. She dropped down, feeling like Spiderman in that split second as she felt the wall under her bare feet. Ben fell through the opening too, as did a chair, clubbing him on the left arm.
Cassidy crawled away from the opening a few feet down a corridor. Ben skittered behind her, holding his shoulder.
The floor, ceiling and wall were all indistinguishable. Cassidy scratched at the surfaces, trying to get her bearings.
The sound of shattering glass silenced the screams.
“Oh my God oh my God oh my God.” Cassidy felt herself pulled again, in the opposite direction.
Ben grasped her ankle as they were sent thudding against the wall.
They dropped to the floor.
Cassidy’s chin hit hard. She cupped it with one hand as she curled herself into the fetal position. Warm blood trickled through her fingers.
“We’re upright.” Ben coughed. “We’re back up now.”
She realized her eyes were closed tightly again.
She kept them that way, breathing through the fear.
Ben hugged her from behind, whispering into her ear. “We’re okay now. We’re upright okay?”
“We have to go help. That window broke.” Cassidy reached out and felt the floor. She opened her eyes and hoisted herself to her knees.
“Your chin’s really bleeding.”
“Here.” Ben ripped off his clipped, navy tie. He gingerly placed it on her split chin and brought the ends up, clipping them together on top of Cassidy’s head.
“Thanks.” She squeaked. If she talked too much her makeshift bandage would fall off.
They helped each other stand.
Every part of her rippled with pain. She felt it might be impossible to walk, yet she had to get into the main room and help.
A man appeared at the end of the corridor, deep stains under his armpits. “The captain!” He grabbed at the walls like a stumbling drunk. “They’re all dead in there!”
“WHAT?” Ben held Cassidy up.
“I SAID THEY’RE DEAD!” His face was the unappealing color of Cream of Wheat. “They look like they went through a goddamn cheese grater.”
“Did you pull the boat up? Did you make it stop falling over?” Ben ground his elbow into the wall.
The man shook his head. Sweat pooled beneath his Adam’s apple. “Do I look like a damn yachter? I haven’t got a clue. We scraped against something I think. And Christ, they’re all dead.”
Cassidy turned on her heel and headed, slowly, toward the dining room. Her eyes vibrated in her sockets as she forced the dizziness to go away.
The last minutes had been tinged with such a heady surrealism, she wondered if Ben’s kiss on the dance floor had liquefied her brain.
She stopped, holding herself up in the narrow corridor, concentrating on the wobbly beat of her heart.
“Hold on.” Ben breathed.
The sweaty man went around them, stumbling out into the dining room. He announced with a trembling voice that the captain, and a few others in the steering bridge, were gone.
As people gasped and emitted throaty screams, Cassidy realized there was an undercurrent of pained moans.
“We’ve got to help.” The words made a sort of sense to her, galvanizing her with a purpose she wasn’t certain she could fulfill.
Ben gripped her shoulder. “What did he mean? A cheese grater?”
She turned, not recognizing the hollow-eyed man behind her. Ben’s stark pallor made freckles stand out on his nose she hadn’t noticed before.
Cassidy smoothed down the wild hairs that swept across her face. “It’s like that old man, the one you were, God…” Her chin felt as though it had been punched by a prize fighter.
“Who would do that?”
Ben’s peculiar question hung in the air as they helped each other into the dining room. Cassidy took in the heap of squirming humans covered in chairs and tablecloths.
A strong, clammy breeze blew in through the broken window.
“If you’re able to walk, move away!” A crewwoman’s white slacks were bloody at the knees. She assisted those on the outside of the pile back toward the wall against the dance floor. Geena, the one celebrating her birthday, hobbled over splintered glass. Her swinging arm was a shiny, unnatural red.
The DJ, protected as he must have curled up under his nailed down stand, popped up. His spiky hair shook as he surveyed the same scene Ben and Cassidy were attempting to understand.
“Okay, we hit something, or sideswiped, and it made the boat…um…” Ben took his hand and tilted it to demonstrate their sudden tumble.
Cassidy nodded, still holding her injured chin. “What about that guy? And…oh! Abigail!” She swung around, searching for the woman she had left behind. Although the tables, fastened to the floor, remained in place, everything else was a jumble.
“Abigail?” Cassidy tried to speak without moving her chin.
“You should sit down, you’re losing blood.” Ben grabbed a chair and scraped it over toward Cassidy.
She glanced down her front. The silky blouse was speckled, as was her peplum skirt. She wondered where in that massive heap of crying women and cursing men her shoes had gone to.
“Abigail!” The distinct floral pattern of the woman’s dress caught Cassidy’s eye.
Ben perked up, rushing to Abigail who was covered in a tablecloth peppered with silverware. Her legs and the hem of her dress stuck out.
“Ma’am? Ma’am?” He pulled off the top layer of fabric, causing spoons to clang on the floor.
Cassidy knelt beside him.
As they unfurled Abigail from the cloth, an icy realization pierced Cassidy’s heart. She stared at the woman’s raw chest. The skin had stripped away, revealing muscles that stretched up into Abigail’s dissolving neck.
Cassidy ignored the flash of pain as she clamped her hand over her mouth. A rising vomit threatened to escape.
“Fuck.” Ben frantically felt Abigail’s wrist for a pulse.
The woman’s pearl necklace was swimming in sloughed, frothy skin that had somehow become unattached from her body.
“We need Diane, she’s a…she’s a doctor.” Cassidy hiccupped.
Ben shook his head. “She’s beyond that.” He took the table cloth and covered Abigail’s face. “But you’re right, we need Diane.”
He jumped up with a surprising youthfulness. “Please, Cass, stay put. You’re going to black out and hit your head.”
It was the first time he had called her that; Cass. Under alternative circumstances she thought it would have sent a delicious surge of fire through her.
Now, she watched with numb appraisal as Ben skipped over chairs to the gaping hole that led out onto the Serendipity’s deck.
She noticed Pete a few feet away, rubbing his leg with one hand and shaking pebbles of glass from his blonde hair with the other.
The crewwoman was pacing back and forth, again instructing those who could walk to get away from the cluster beneath the window.
Cassidy waited for Ben, and more importantly for Diane. A doctor would know. A doctor could fix it all.
She scanned the room, once again spying Geena on the far wall. The tall woman had lost her purse in the fray. She stood motionless, watching the scene unfold with unbelieving, saucer-like eyes.
Her right arm was the color of raw salmon. Geena scratched it with ragged nails.
“Geena?” Cassidy panted. Her lower lip was swelling.
She could not hear her from across the room, over the moans and grunts and panicked voices.
Cassidy stood, hypnotized by Geena’s arm. She moved closer, navigating over a river of champagne.
“Geena?” Her face throbbed.
Geena dragged her nails across the redness once more, causing skin to curl and fall like a snake’s shedding.
“Hey, hey? Geena?” Cassidy stumbled forward.
“I can’t find Abby or Di!” A tear rolled down Geena’s creased cheek.
“I’m sure they’re just fine.” Cassidy lied. She blinked, remembering Abigail’s skinless chest. “Hey, let’s sit down.”
Geena frowned. “I think I should find them.”
“Let’s sit a moment.” Cassidy adjusted the tie wrapped around her head.
“I’m fine.” She gestured toward a wooden chest that ran the length of the wall beneath the windows. A few people were already sitting on it, nursing their sprained ankles or scraped elbows.
Geena nearly fell backward onto it, banging her back against the glass. “This is awful.”
“I feel all icky.”
“Yeah?” Cassidy sat next to Geena, careful not to bump the woman’s exposed and bleeding arm. “How? Like sick?”
Geena took in a deep breath. “Like I’ve got the flu, like I’m feverish.”
Cassidy instinctively felt Geena’s forehead with the back of her hand. It simmered like hot coals.
“AH! AHHH! AHHHCHOO!” The sweaty man from the corridor, now huddled with a group near Geena and Cassidy, sprayed bloody snot like a geyser. It landed on several people, splashing their cheeks and hands.
“GROSS!” A young woman shrieked.
“COVER YOUR NOSE, ASSHOLE!” Her husband or boyfriend, a man with a raging vein in his forehead, growled. He removed his snot soaked shirt, baring his hairy chest.
“Sorry!” Sweaty man shrugged.
“DO IT AGAIN AND YOU’LL BE REALLY SORRY!” The barrel-chested man with no shirt squeezed his fists.
“Geena,” Cassidy turned back toward the woman next to her. “Do you feel any pain?” Ben’s tie unraveled from her head and landed on her lap.
“Um…my arm is burning.” Geena sniffled.
No shit. Cassidy forced herself to look down at Geena’s arm again. She stared into the impossible swirl of blood and tissue. A strip of age-speckled skin stripped off from her shoulder and slipped down between the chest and the wall.
Cassidy held her breath, praying that she stayed conscious.
“I SAID QUIT IT!” The hairy man boomed.
“He’s sick!” The hairy man’s girlfriend pulled at his arm.
Cassidy watched as the man with the sweat stained armpits fell to the floor like a sack of dirty clothes. Red fireworks of blood bloomed through the back of his shirt. A peel of skin sloughed off behind his ear.
She was sure his back looked like Geena’s arm, which looked like Abigail’s chest, which had looked just like the elderly man’s face.
They look they went through a goddamn cheese grater.
“Oh my God.” Cassidy jumped up, away from Geena, her body making the connection before her mind had fully reached its conclusion.
“He’s dying!” The girlfriend flapped her arms.
“STAY AWAY!” Fresh blood poured from Cassidy’s chin as she yelled. “THEY’RE CONTAGIOUS.”
“What?” Pete appeared, his husband tucked under his arm. Scott’s moustache was limp, and a red patch had appeared under his hairline.
“There is some sort of…” Cassidy held her split chin. “There’s a sickness, it’s moving really fast, somehow. It’s making everyone sneeze.”
“I’d say it’s doing more than that.” Hairy Chest pointed at the man on the floor. He lay still and silent on his belly as skin dripped from his face like wax from a candle.
Cassidy couldn’t help but think of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, the part when the Nazi’s face’s melted off. As a child she had covered her eyes, unable to withstand even the dated special effects.
Now, she was watching it in reality. Every atom in her body wanted to faint, to dissociate, to run away from the horror.
Screams and gagging filled her ears. She thought some of them were her own shrieks, but she was not certain.
Ben’s arms enfolded her. “Let’s go.”
“We have to help.” She said it more out of wanting than from any real idea how to.
“She’s dead.” He spoke into her ear. She didn’t know who he meant, but she wanted to cry anyways.
A rush of cool air smacked her bruised chin. They were out on the deck, overlooking the dark night that seamlessly bled into the dark water.
“Ben!” Cassidy clawed at him, overwhelmed by all that she had just seen. “Ben! It’s catching, it’s some kind of bug.”
“Yeah, yeah I think you’re right.” He hugged her tightly to him. She could feel his warm breath in her hair.
“We have to help those people.”
“No one’s steering, Cassidy. We’ve got to stop this thing first.”
She looked down at the frothing waves created by the Serendipity.
He wiped blood from her neck with his palm. “Otherwise we’re going to crash into something again and go all the way over.” He looked out over the rail. They were heading toward a black void, far away from any city.
“The crew, they can call for help, right?” Cassidy’s half-thoughts sprinkled out. “And one of them can figure out how to steer? They must have radios and things.”
Ben shrugged. He slipped his iPhone from his jeans and checked the signal. Clearly disappointed, he returned it to his pocket.
“Diane, what did she say? Is she helping people?”
He twisted his lips together.
Cassidy rocked back on her heels. A vision of her sister came, Fiona staring out the front window of their bungalow, writing down Ben’s license plate number. She was right. This night was death.
“The same thing? Her skin coming off?”
“Nope.” He rubbed his bare arms, chilled, it appeared, from the night air. “It looked like she was the one to break the glass, others fell into her…it sliced up her neck.”
“I’m so sorry!” He quaked. Cassidy thought should could see a glimmer of the child he once was; the son of two addicts. “I shouldn’t have brought us here, like, this is the biggest mistake of my fucking life.”
She opened her mouth to comfort Ben, but was interrupted by thundering feet. It was Pete, his blue eyes swollen and rimmed with red.
“Do you have a gun?” His blonde hair flopped into his eyes.
“What? No.” Ben held Cassidy by her elbow.
Pete skidded down the planks of the deck and peered over the side.
“What do you need a gun for?” Cassidy glanced into the dining room. She could see Geena’s back, still pressed against the glass.
“Is the captain really dead? Like that guy said?” Pete swiped at something trickling from his nose.
“I don’t know, but I think so.” Ben tightened his hold on Cassidy’s arm.
“He’s dead.” The crewwoman strode out onto the deck. She walked to a metal box affixed to the side of the railing and wrenched it open.
Ben, Cassidy and Pete watched as she muscled out a nylon rectangle, about six feet long and plopped it on to the deck. It began to increase in size as she twisted an air pump on its side.
“…NOW!” A man’s voice could be heard inside through the broken window. “I SAID NOW!”
“That’s why I wanted a gun.” Pete remarked rather casually.
In less than a second, Ben threw open a door and ran back into the dining room. Cassidy followed.
Hairy Chest stood in the center of the room, encircled by the bare tables. His chest was heaving up and down as he held a gun toward the dwindling group of the still living. The elderly man’s wife, jewelry weighing down her brittle hands, was the one currently under the gun’s aim.
“It’s a flare gun. He must’ve found it.” Ben said under his breath. He held his arm out, preventing Cassidy from moving further.
“WE ARE GOING UPSTAIRS!” The man stomped his sneakered foot on a broken bottle. “US ALONE!”
“Yeah, dude, yeah.” The young DJ dipped his head up and down.
“SHUT UP! NO ONE BREATHE ON US!” Hairy Chest grabbed at his crying girlfriend with one hand as he kept the gun pointed on the old woman. “NO ONE TALK OR COUGH OR NOTHING!”
Everyone, their hands in the air, nodded in unison.
The man turned toward the door. Ben and Cassidy stood in front of it, perfectly still.
“OH! IT’S HER!” He heaved as though drowning and desperate for air. “IT’S HER!” He pointed the flare gun at Cassidy’s face. The vein on his jutting forehead crackled under the skin.
A cold recognition of her own death made Cassidy stiffen. She heard only her own pulse in her ears as she stared at the gun and wondered if it would kill her, or maim her by roasting her skin.
She thought of the man on the floor, still there, the skin of his face coming off like tape losing its stick.
Would being shot with a flare gun feel better or worse?
“HEY! Stop, don’t!” Ben stood in front of her. Her eyes adjusted to the view of his back.
“GET! GET AWAY FROM HER!” Hairy Chest bellowed. “IT’S HER! HER BLOOD IS DRIPPIN’ ALL OVER MAKING US SICK!”
Ben took a step back. “No! What? No, just calm-”
“She said it.” Hairy Chest lowered his voice.
Cassidy peeked her head around Ben’s shoulder.
The man’s eyes goggled and his nostrils flared. “That bitch said it herself, it’s contagious. She’s just fine and dandy, makin’ us all sick.”
Ben held his hands up. “Now, come on, there’s something going on here, people are getting sick, I agree with you.” His voice was calm and even. “But let’s not blame anyone.”
Hairy Chest took a swift step toward them, pulling his girlfriend along by her wrist.
Ben responded by stepping back, pressing Cassidy into the door.
“If you move I’ll shoot her with this thing.” Hairy breathed. “Then we’ll throw her over and she can’t make any more of us die like that.” He spoke as though he were dickering over a used car. “Think about it.”
Cassidy felt the door handle with her hand. She clutched it, considering her options. If she opened it and ran, the man would shoot Ben, or someone else.
She looked down at her arms, searching for peeling skin.
There was a part of her; that deeply hidden, insecure side of her, who wondered if Hairy Chest was right. Was it her fault? Was there a bug in her blood?
“NO!” Ben was covering her entirely with his body.
“MOVE AND I’LL KILL THE BLACK GIRL!”
A fierce storm of anger caused lightening to flash in her vision. She wiggled away from Ben and stood beside him, staring into Hairy’s beady, shit-colored eyes.
“Are you going to believe him?” She felt the flare gun pointed at her chest. “Huh?”
The crowd blinked.
“DO YOU? Do you really think it’s me? I’m the one?”
Ben grasped at her arm but she walked toward them all.
“And even if I am the one? Do I deserve this?”
The elderly woman wiped at her mouth. Blood trickled down her craggy chin. Another woman hugged herself, her forearms resembling Geena’s.
Cassidy scanned the room. No one would reciprocate her eye contact.
Was it her skin? Did it really come down to her skin?
In a flash, the DJ grabbed a chair. He raised it up over his spiky, black hair and crashed it down on Hairy’s head.
Cassidy watched as the flare gun went flying, ricocheting off of a pipe and thudding onto the parquet dance floor.
The man with the hairy chest fell to his knees, crying out in surprise.
A crewman helped the DJ. He grabbed another chair and they pummeled on his meaty back in a sort of unpleasant rhythm.
Cassidy let herself fall back out onto the deck. “Thank you.” She yelped.
“Come on!” The crewwoman was lowering the first life raft so that it was able to be loaded. Pete was helping her latch the now inflated rectangle to some ropes on the side of the Serendipity.
“Where’s Scott?” Cassidy asked. She was almost crawling from the potent relief of watching Hairy Chest fall to his knees.
“Can you help me carry him?” Pete asked Ben.
Ben agreed and they disappeared, back through the now emerging crowd.
“HEY!” The crewwoman barked as people flooded the deck.
“We need to separate, infected and not!” Someone suggested.
“Can’t we drive this thing back?”
“It’s cracked, didn’t you see? We might as well be on the Titanic!”
“Just our fucking luck!”
“The water is freezing, it’s going to kill us.”
“It’s flooding under us, I can hear it.”
“I feel woozy. Hold me up Jimmy!”
Voices stabbed Cassidy’s ears as she stared at Geena’s back, still slumped against the window. The birthday girl’s arm was a slimy, unrecognizable clump of veins and bone.
She was dead.
Fiona was right.
She would be dead too, they all would.
The boat rocked beneath them.
Cassidy grabbed at the rail.
The Serendipity jittered beneath her feet.
“WE CAN’T!” She screamed, feeling another rush of blood sprinkle from her chin. “WE’LL KILL EVERYONE!”
Ben and Pete came back, Scott dead in their arms.
“Cassidy?” She could see that Ben’s concern caused him to really chomp on the inside of his cheek. He helped Pete rest Scott’s body on a bench and then ran to her.
“Hey!” A woman yelled. “Don’t bring dead ones out here!”
“Cass? We’re sinking we gotta go.” With a sincere tenderness, he took her hand.
“We can’t, Ben.” The boat swayed from side to side, like they were on the ocean now.
He ignored her, yanking her into the crowd.
“We’re all sick. The Captain shook all of our hands. We’re breathing on each other.”
People loaded up onto the life raft. Many of them were wiping their noses with the back of their hands and pressing tissues to their mouths. One woman was scratching her knee like she had fleas.
Ben pushed Cassidy toward the raft.
“No,” she struggled. “It’s MURDER!”
“Stop!” He begged her. “Cassidy get on!”
“You see how fast it’s moving? Some people are dying minutes after getting it! We’ll kill everyone!”
“SHUT UP!” It was the DJ, his white t-shirt soaked in blood. The blood of Hairy Chest.
Cassidy shivered. “Do you want to watch that happen on land? To everyone? You want to be the cause?” She had one foot in the raft and the other on the deck.
Ben clasped both of his large hands on her shoulders. “You’re suggesting we all die here?”
“What choice do we have?”
When she woke, her tongue tasted of pencil shavings. She took in a sharp breath through her nostrils. The tang of the lake brought her back to the panic and horror.
Cassidy sat up straight, immediately running her hands over her arms.
They felt smooth.
The top of her head pounded, along with her chin. She touched her crown, feeling a bloody lump.
I’m infected. Oh God.
“They hit you. They didn’t like what you were saying so they hit you with an oar.” Ben was on the opposite side of the raft, his form difficult to see against the backdrop of the sunrise.
“Am I dreaming?” She pulled her knees to her chest, realizing they were alone on the raft.
“Nope.” He was leaning over the side, dropping something into the lake.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m just…helping I guess.”
Cassidy pulled herself to the rubbery side of the raft and looked over. Pete’s blonde hair was bobbing in the misty water.
The body disappeared, down into the murky depths.
Cassidy listened to the water lapping the side of the raft, and to a seagull announcing the morning with its throaty call. She couldn’t see any land, or signs of the Serendipity.
She became in-tuned to her body, waiting for a tell-tale itch or creeping fever. She felt only the pain of her injuries.
Strips of pink sunlight crept across the horizon making her think of Geena’s skin, peeling to the floor.
“Why not us? Everybody but us, it doesn’t make any-”
“I know.” He made his way across the bloody floor of the raft and sat beside her. “I think it’s my fault.”
“I think it might be my fault. I don’t know how.” He spotted an errant clump of skin on the edge and brushed it off into the water.
“If you started it, then you would be dead. And me too, we kissed.”
He smiled and she was happy to see his dimple.
“And the same if it was me.” She grazed her fingers over the wound on the top of her head.
Ben nodded thoughtfully. “Have you heard of Typhoid Mary?”
“Both of us?” She nearly laughed at the sincerity in his expression.
“LoveMatch.com did say were a high level pairing, like soulmate level.”
Cassidy looked into his hazel eyes. “So where are we going, soulmate?”
Ben handed her a plastic oar. “I’m all turned around. People have to be looking for us though.”
She didn’t look as she scratched a peculiar itch underneath her thumbnail.
She didn’t have to.
“Let’s go this way.” Cassidy pointed to the cresting sun. There was something about its swirl of color; its pink, hazy light that made her feel like she was heading toward her destiny. Toward their destiny. “I want to feel the sun on my skin.”