36. The gathering.

Oh, what a horrid, horrid, junky old hulk! I wish I’d never come on-board! This could be my last entry for a while, dear diary – because I might be d— otherwise disposed. (There, I’m not going to say it.  And I shan’t do what he says. I shan’t!)

I’m writing this and not going to sleep as I have been so ‘politely advised’, because I believe I have finally met our passenger in room 10. We all have. As a result, dear diary, my door is barricaded, I’ve done up the hasps on the port-holes – tore a nail, damn it – and I’ve got the valance tucked up to my neck like a fat man at a $5 banquet.

I have to think.

And I’m not going to find a ‘weapon’ – blast the man. That’s just ridiculous. We’ve been kidnapped! All of us! We don’t know where we are, and wherever this ship actually is – it’s not where it’s supposed to be. There was a newspaper – he showed us. He said we’ve been reported missing. He said, he said – Ugh! I have to calm down. Words, Lucy. Where have the words gone? Deep breaths. Chin up. (Oh, Maud, that’s just what you’d tell me to do. That’s so you – if only you were here. Except, gods, no – you’re better off out of this dreadful nightmare).

We were all called to the dining room for ‘the gathering’. Most passengers were thrilled to get such a classy invitation, and everyone was excited to see what would happen. For a start, there was a projector screen. Honest to God! It was so Metro Goldwyn.  We waited for a long time and then… and then the screen flickered and He appeared. Or at least, the back of a tall, red chair shaped like a strip of pulled toffee. Then the chair slowly slid round to reveal our host in a sinister white hat and mask, and a long-stemmed cigarette holder in his white, gloved hand.

The Gathering

Of course I recognised Him. The huge projection was every bit as ghastly as his own egotistical artwork scattered all over the ship. I’m sure he wanted to project sophistication, but he still looked hateful – absolutely hateful (believe me, the man – if he is a man – is a monster!)

After regarding us with his horrid eyes, he began to speak. He sounded foreign – Russian, maybe – but I’ve never been good with accents. So ‘polite’, so ‘refined’, he asked us to listen – not that we had any choice.

‘The Northern Star has gone missing with all hands on board,’ he said.

Just words, I thought, but he showed us a newspaper on his movie screen – a newspaper announcing a hunt for the Cotopaxi. A vessel that was headlined ‘Missing!’ – the vessel I’m on right now! My legs went wobbly at that, alright. But the real tragedy – presumably for us – was that we were thousands of miles away from our last reported position. No rescue. No help arriving.

And there was, he said, a little game we’re going to play. A game that will decide how we get off the ship. What does that mean? Oh, oh, oh. Is it right that you find something so shocking you find it hard to keep the pen steady? Oh, shut up, Lucy. It must be a joke. It must be. I wanted to be sick – still do. I’m not even sure what it is he thinks we’re supposed to be doing. But it was something like: we’re paired with another guest as… hunter and hunted. That we have to track down our ‘some other person’ – our quarry – but there is another passenger hunting us.

H – (Sorry for that, dear diary, but I just had to double-check – triple-check – the door). He talked about killing and dying, and that this was sport. Some kind of sport? Why? He railed against those passengers crying and shouting-out against it all, and said those too weak for the challenge would be thrown to the sharks.

For the others, there would be rich rewards (whatever those might be). Ha. Let’s see him take us all. We’ll stick together!

Again, he said: ‘There are rules. Simple rules.’ We’ll be given the name of another passenger on-board and will be asked to kill them. But. But he wants us ‘to rise above the mundane’. ‘To be an artist in the abattoir, a Michelangelo of mayhem.’ Such poetic drivel. He instructed us not murder the crew. As if I could murder anyone. (Perhaps I am now beginning to understand why they have all been acting so strangely).

The only real thing of interest, is that he’s taken leave of us for a while, though he will be popping back every now and then – like a murderous old uncle – to check on progress. Progress? This is madness! Well… Well all to the blithering good. He’s away. (Although, what does that mean, exactly? We’re out in the middle of the Atlantic ocean).

We all looked at each other for reassurance, but somehow all I saw were looks that were entirely suspicious. We all slunk away in shock. Lots of people said they were refusing to take part – they weren’t going to play ‘the bounder’s game.’ But I don’t know, there were still glances to candlesticks and tableware, and other such nonsense. Mentally weighing the haft of them? Or did I imagine that?

When I got back to my cabin, a card had been pushed under my door. There was a name written on it, in the same insane calligraphy as my own had been rendered in cabin 10 (I know my name is out there). Oh, Maud.

But I didn’t read it. I couldn’t. I tore it up. I’ll have none of this!

And in my heart, all I can think of is Velma – sweet Velma – who had to go through all this horror alone. So very alone – and all that’s left of her now, is a few discarded clothes in a dusty, old wardrobe, and a name on a card.

The Bellboy was right – everything is clearer than I would’ve like it.

I’ve resolved to get off this ship immediately (thought to where? Shall I swim?). And just a few steps away, the cabin next door stands empty, door thrown wide – so who knows where the Devil has gone.

And, oh, I forgot. For what it’s worth, he called himself, Mr. X.

So comical!

From now on, I shall think of him as an illiterate who can’t even sign his own name.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *