84. Book-case dream. Lucien.

Diary, another dream.

I am facing a bookcase I know is a door. ‘A book is a door for the mind,’ a cultured voice whispers. And I see this bookcase is indeed full of such doors. The books are a wall of leathery bricks – their pink skin-covering so uncured and fleshy I don’t want to touch any of them. But, a minute examination of the titles in front of me – passenger manifests from every era of the sea, cataloguing those who have murdered and those who have been murdered – I see the one He surely wants me to take: a preposterous guide to the inner homunculus of the mind: ‘Secrets of the Id’.

My hand feels cool upon that particular book’s spine, but it will not pull free. Instead, the book tilts and there is a click. The shelf moves to reveal a secret door, here on the ship!

In the dream, I am overjoyed. ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘There are many such passages everywhere, and here is proof. This is how you are always being watched. Always being judged.’

Eyes!

I turn around and I find no one there – but I know He is watching.

I pass on through the bookcase and it whispers closed behind me. The room beyond is as much library as a long dining room for feasting, with many more books along its walls. The fleur-de-lis wallpaper is black velvet on red liver. The room is huge, though it is still dominated by its long banqueting table, with a solitary chair at its far end. This chair is high-backed and faces away, though it is clearly occupied. A fire is burning in the hearth just beyond it, casting the occupant into shadow, generating a suffocating heat.

Sitting in the chair is Lucien – though he has his back to me, I know it’s him, with that peculiar certainty of dreams.

‘What are you doing here?’ I say.

Lucien has been quietly reading while waiting for me. He puts down a thick file of paper with a sigh. It casts a ragged reflection on the polished mahogany of the table.

Lucien says, ‘You’re ill, Lucy. I’ve come to take you home.’

‘Ill?’ I say. ‘No. This whole ship is ill, Dr. Lucien!’ and I stamp my foot as if I were a truly brattish child.

And then the chair turns. It isn’t Lucien – it’s Him, the creature called X.

I… the world fell.

I must have collapsed.

And then the nightmare was over.

I awoke in my cabin with a circle of moonlight on my face and the gentle creak of the fittings, the plat, plat of water on the hull, and a feeling that the reality of that other room was more than the crumpled sheets that enfolded me, but no idea how to get back there – to the dream…

Oh, but I tried. I went to the bookcase, as soon as I awoke – with a midnight lamp, braving whatever damned I might encounter of the ship – knowing of the bookcase as a real place, passed many times. But the disturbing book was no longer there. I pulled every other book from the case and its useless carcass, bloodied and broke my nails, but everything was just as it seemed – pulped paper, and inert and immovable wood.

I was so distracted my latest Hunter almost had me – almost.

This is what happens when He deprives me.

Where is my next card?

83. Bored, waiting for the bell.

It’s been days since I’ve seen another passenger, although I see the crew are still dutifully manning their stations.  The absence of the now familiar screams echoing through the decks and corridors of the Cotopaxi is eerier than the noises themselves. Now it’s a thunderous silence, with the sense that something else – something bigger – is coming.

I wonder if there are other ships like this one:  empty, lifeless, with nothing but a few lost souls rattling around like fish bones inside, desperately hoping someone else will come along and prove them worthy, or put them out of their misery.  How long have they been waiting?  Weeks? Months? How long will X let the game run and the ship stand? When will he get bored? Everything I know about him says that will be a very bad day indeed.

But is this what I’m to become in the meantime? Someone who craves a card?

(Ring bell.  Salivate.  Kill someone.  Crave the next bell.)

I don’t know if I’m being tested or conditioned.

How long until the bell no longer needs to ring?

Is this the price of survival?

82. Telegram: Attack in Telegraph Room

TELEX. XCC. [ADDRESS OMITTED]

SS COTOPAXI AT SEA __________ 1926 330C

DOCTOR G TAYLOR

CO WASHINGTON MEDICAL DEPT ________________

ALL ABOARD SUFFERING MASS HOMICIDAL DELUSION.  UNABLE TO FIND CREW TO PUSH ON TO ____.  ENGINES DEAD.  DR. KANNING ATEEMPTNG TO FOCE WA Y INO TELE GRAPG ROM. SND HELP. LAT _____, LO

MESSAGE ENDS

SENDER CLEARED

81. Dear friends and a visit to the museum.

My dear friend, The Chief, was where he always is – dedicated as ever, still dutifully manning his security station. I knocked on the glass and he waved me round with a curt nod hello, and what passes for a smile, no teeth showing – I am, after all, one of his best customers.

I do worry for him: he really never leaves that worn, red-leather chair of his (I have checked for signs of a colostomy bag, but if it is there, it’s well concealed beneath the fallout of a regular series of his wife’s Sunday dinners, and a rather pinchy pair of trousers.)

Enjoying this brief moment of companionship, we shot the breeze a little (what he had for lunch, what I had for lunch, and what the current highest-rated weapon was in the murder game – a dreary old wrench). We nodded over the iniquity of it all. Sigh – here’s me with a li’ll ol’ carving knife.

Well, pleasantries conducted, I handed over the bribe, tipped him an extra $10 just because – y’know, gent’s just doing his job – and he slipped me Albert Pugh’s location.

It’s a bargain – the few bucks this information costs me barely scratches my sizable bankroll. I am now, I have been informed via the passenger noticeboard, a series contender, what with looting the corpses, and my continuing stream of eliminations.  Indeed, should I avoid a short, sharp, stabbing down a dark corridor – an ever-present risk – the whole experience will have left me with a small fortune. If we get to keep it, I’ll be a self-made woman. Thoughts of all the pretty things the money could buy me offer a little distraction, but I tend to also consider the heft of luxuries and how easy they are to throw. So I guess I’m not really in it for the money. Not anymore.

I want to be first.

I want somebody to pin a prize on me.

In fact, I’m counting on it.

The Chief’s information suggested a jolly little jaunt down to the museum, so that’s where I headed next.

The museum on Deck D was surprisingly intact considering the number of murderers that were allowed to roam this ship.  The cases were full of the strange and unusual. I imagine I didn’t see the actual Crown Jewels, but they did look so deliciously realistic. I’m sure I could make a reasonable sovereign – a noble Queen of Hearts. I’ve certainly mastered ‘off with his head’.

Who knows what he was doing here. Perhaps Albert was thinking about his own position in things, staring at the coprolite, but he saw me coming and drew his weapon. This told me two things: one, the solitary security camera was ill-equipped to cover the entire room. And two, he had Bat.

‘I’m going to kill you dead, Mr. Albert Pugh.’

Using my knife, I made a valiant attempt to stab Pugh right through the eye, only just missing my mark (Bat would have hit…), and a tuft of curly hair tumbled to the ground.

Pugh gave a womanly cry. How had he survived so long? He picked up his ‘skirts’ and retreated, bursting through the double doors at the end of the room, only just concealing Bat before he almost ran into one of the guards.

He knew he was safe there.  So there he remained.

The little… I knew I had to move quickly.  I ran past Pugh and the uninterested guard – Pugh’s eyes, bulging, as if I’d try anything, right there, under the nose of the law – and dashed up the nearby stairs, keeping an eye on Pugh from above.  I soon reached the balcony overlooking the emerald statue of X posing like Atlas (ugh – such a pretentious little troll).

Weapon, weapon, weapon. Something with range…

I ignored the corpse in the closet (wrapped in a rug, hung haphazardly on a peg – a rather unnecessary attempt to hide a crime. Besides, though corpses generally work for me, I knew this one had already been relieved of its wallet and weapons.)

The nearby cabin was much more useful. There in a suitcase, the Winchester – I remembered it. Indeed, I had placed it there, just as I had secreted various other, ugly weapons around the ship, in case of emergency.

This was the very gun my big game hunter had almost taken my head off with, before it jammed. That little snicket had been sorted, I hoped, after a little research in the ‘Shooting and Fishing’ section of the library – still mercifully intact – and the liberal use of a screwdriver and oiled rags.

Only one round, but nonetheless…

Poised on the balcony, I lined up a shot on Pugh’s treacherous little face, conscious that it left my back exposed to anyone who chose to sneak up behind me.  I needed to shake that off.  I hadn’t even raised a gun before this cruise, but it fitted to my shoulder snuggly enough, although a little painfully – it still ached like a bugger from my battle with Bailey.  Squinting down the sights, in what I hoped was the proper way – go Annie Oakley – I realised how difficult firing was going to be, and that I was certainly no fan of the thing.

I was ready to pull the trigger and rescue Bat, but could only see a fraction of his kidnapper. Pugh was nervous. Jittery.

I’m not surprised – after all, I was around…

Somewhere…

Pugh’s awkward dancing around the guard tempted me with a snaggily shot here or a snaggily shot there. And I still didn’t know how the guard would react when I killed my Quarry in this way – out of sight, but right in front of him.

But a kill’s a kill, right?

Just don’t pop the guard, Lucy…

Come on…

If Albert got spooked, I’d lose the shot – look at him down there, hopping about. Besides, he might have run away, this time, but he must be a threat if cornered – nobody makes it this far without some kind of killer instinct.

Must stay still.  Ignore the itch dancing on my nose.  Stay focused.  Barely breathing.

The recoil of the shot almost jerked my head off – almost shattered my teeth. It wasn’t something I was prepared for at all (Pugh’s bits n’ bobs splashed up a wall, yes. An elephant-charge to the shoulder, definitely not…).  Later, I discovered the force of firing that gun had torn my wound open again, but Pugh went down and Bat rolled free.

Dropping the gun – now only junk-metal and stick – I made my way down past the guard and reclaimed Bat. From our man of the law, no recrimination, no arrest – perhaps because he’d somehow managed to avoid getting in the way of Albert’s squishy insides, now decorating the nearby exhibits.

I looked down at the sorry remains of my quarry, and wondered what series of events had led to this unlikely man being part of this murderous cruise. Prey for the other hunters, perhaps?

Bat

Back in my cabin, there was more money waiting.

I studied Bat’s blood stains.  Albert’s blood didn’t belong there – technically, this wasn’t Bat’s kill.  But any attempt to remove some of the blood, may remove it all.

Bat earned those kills, long before he found his way back to me.

80. Albert Pugh.

After a few days of waiting, a new card has finally slipped under my door – a new quarry – and another step closer to whatever fate X has in store for the winner.  A winner, I promise you, who is not going to be this ‘Albert Pugh.’  These murderous jaunts are becoming a welcome distraction from being left alone with the ship and its insolent water.

It’s late evening, and time to leave the cabin. I shall write more soon.

Albert Pugh

79. Maud, where are you?

Dear Maud, why do you still haunt me? You were so vivid in that dream.

Where did you come from?  Are you a premonition? A clue? Or a little worm of the mind, seeking to burrow and twist and turn me into loops?

Well, I denounce all such things. Let fate be as it is!

But the thought of you is difficult to shake off – I fear you have become a devious little siren. And we shouldn’t look too deep into such waters, now should we?

Remember when we read that early edition of The Interpretation of Dreams? Your belated birthday present? Perhaps that’s what has left me pondering the ‘latent content’ of my experience?  Well, I’m sure we all have an irrational fear of dying at sea.

The Interpretation of Dreams

I’m not sure Freud’s expertise is required to assist you in your prodding, there.

78. Dark, watery dreams.

I feel different, today – changed.

Rest came easier, despite the events of the last few days – I’m not sure what I had was sleep, but let’s call it that.

It’s not often that a dream insists on haunting your waking moments, but when it does, it feels real – like some other memory. Like some other thing that really happened to you (I feel the waves).

Fear, terror and guilt(?) still rage through my inner landscape, but they feel like distant voices – old, busybodies who no longer have the ken of it (the lapping of the water).  Perhaps that’s where the dream sprang from – would these other things of conscience, not seem like ephemeral dream in harsh contrast to the reality I have suffered? How does one distinguish between nightmarish dreams and waking moments, when all of this is happening?  (I remember, the water rising).

I can recall the rhythmic splashing of the waves before I finally drifted – not as familiar, nor as comforting, as it once had been when I first arrived. Now, they seemed almost to taunt me. Me? Us.  The ship, its crew, and the souls we’re all sending to the depths, like stones and bones and leaded treasure.

Ship Painting

Mother Nature has noticed these trivial games you play, the waves said. She shall never let you rest, the waves said. Regardless, they took charge of my slumber, and I floated like a white star in a pitch black ocean, while the dead serenaded me with fluted pipes, and they, with not one lung between them, came at last to an old sailor’s song – a shanty…

 

Oh, a hundred years is a very long time

Oh yes, Oh

A hundred years is a very long time

A hundred years ago

 

Well a hundred years on the eastern shore

Oh, a hundred years on the eastern shore

 

Ol’ Bully John from Baltimore

I knew him well, that son-of-a-whore

 

Ol’ Bully John was the boy for me

A bully on shore and a bucko at sea

 

Ol’ Bully John I knew him well

But now he’s dead and gone to hell.

 

He’s dead and gone forevermore

He’s gone and dead that son-of-a-whore

 

A hundred years have passed and gone

Been a hundred years since I made this song

 

Wake up, Lucy!

The chanting bubbled away into a familiar chuckle – a chuckle as dead as those voices had been. Bailey was standing over my cabin bed, laughing, while I lay there unable (or unwilling?) to wake or move.   The ship was sinking. Water was creeping into my room. It was lapping around Bailey’s ankles and rising fast. Still I couldn’t move.  Still Bailey laughed.  It poured over the edges of my bed and quickly the ice of it began to caress my lifeless body.

And then I saw it…

In that twisted realm of dream logic, Bailey was no longer Bailey.  Through the murky water, where Bailey stood, there was Maud.  Dear Maud, hair waving and floating like sargasso, tilting as though the ship were sinking, and her lips as cold and blue as death. Falling to the floor…

Wake up, Lucy!

And I did.

I lay blurred and still, as lifeless as my dreaming corpse, and still no certain idea of whether I was alive or dead.  Hunger grumbled in my gut and a torturous thirst parched my lips, but still my body refused to acknowledge that simple call to life.  Instead, I began to resign myself to the death I had dreamed (or lived?), wishing my cabin door would open – willing it to open – and admit my killer.

‘Welcome.  Finish it.  Deliver my memoirs.’

Still I didn’t move.

A noise outside my cabin door.  Definitely a person.  It sounded like they were trying to open other doors along the hall.

Must move. Couldn’t if I tried. Is death to be a consciousness trapped forever within oneself? Forever a soul without a voice? Would it be Purgatory? Or a much more certain Hell?

The collective harassment of my aches, pains, hunger and fear, still weren’t enough to return me to life. In the end, it was the pressing need to make use of my toilet that finally resurrected me – ignoble night soil. But I’m glad I didn’t take any of the colostomy bags from sickbay.  I’d probably still be in bed right now, neither dead, nor alive.

I still feel the movement of the ocean, and the shifting of its black heart.

77. Sentimental girl.

There are still parts of the ship I need to explore, but my weariness has brought me back to my cabin.

I don’t know why I continually return here. Sentimentality, I suppose – it’s no safer here than anywhere else – but at least it’s familiar. The lock has been fixed with the broken end of a bayonet and a few bent nails, and heavier furniture has been rammed up in place in the barricade – it feels almost homely, those little touches.

At this point, the routine is more comforting than the reality of the protection, but at least I can fool myself to sleep.

76. Looting sickbay.

The ghoulish nurse was still at her station when I arrived in sickbay. Do these people ever sleep?  I couldn’t tell if she remembered me, or even noticed my arrival, but I imagined her eyes were pinned like gimlets to the back of my neck, as I rummaged through the sickbay cabinets and drawers, flagrantly looting the place. I bet she was fuming, but still she didn’t react. There are rules – perhaps non-obstruction is one of theirs?

There was a queer selection of medical supplies in the cabinets.  Why does a cruise ship – even a ‘murder cruise’ – need such a plentiful supply of colostomy bags?  I know most people will do anything they can to survive, but does that really extend to replacing basic human needs with a plastic bag? So inelegant and… grimy.  Perhaps that’s why the crew seem to be omnipresent?  Can’t be having your murder party ruined because someone has to visit the bathroom.  No, no, no, that wouldn’t do at all.  My first few days barricaded in my room may have been more bearable, hadn’t I needed to take care of business – but in retrospect, the wretched stink of overflowing porcelain was still a preferable choice.

The sickbay was much larger than I remembered, but it wasn’t long before I found what I was looking for – another syringe filled with whatever concoction the nurse used to knock me out a few days earlier.  At least I think it’s the same. Strangely, it comes pre-packed in the syringe – no bottles.

I don’t know how many passengers are left alive, but I’m certain I’ll have to face a few of them, and I have hopes on Bailey, as well.  Oh, he’s still out there, dear Lucy, and he won’t think twice about killing lil’ ol’ you.

Worse still, he isn’t stupid. I’m still smarting, in more ways than one, after our last encounter: his being so quick to react. His getting the drop on the beastly Beast and my winsome self.  That can’t happen again. I need an equalizer.

They say poison is a woman’s weapon, no? So why not slip him a mickey? I’ll need to be close to him use the syringe, but the drug is quick-acting, and that has to give me some kind of advantage? It’s a risky move, but I need an edge. I’m running out of options, and my wounds are starting to take a toll. Everything aches. My arm is going the way of a battered lump of fish.

But big picture, Lucy – more of a concern, is that while Bailey is certainly an immediate threat, he isn’t the smartest or even the most dangerous person on board.

You’ll still need to deal with X.

75. Up top.

I spent another night looting corpses. It was pretty dismal work, so when the morning bell sounded, I decided to take a breather at the breathiest place I know.

It was almost dawn by the time I made it onto the deck of the ship. The fresh air was gusting hard from the sea – a bracing nor’westerly? – and, as I watched the sun rise, I felt almost normal again for the first time in a long while.

With the red and purple of the morning sun lifting from the ocean, I began to explore the blood-splattered deck, pausing for a cursory investigation of a lifeboat which had fallen from its supports. Alas, there was no way I could use it to make an escape – the last person who tried was still smashed through its shattered hull.

I wasn’t really bothered.

I have a plan now, and I need to stick to it.

Win – that’s all you have to do, Lucy Bear. Win, and then you can get off this stinking pile of bilge water. And if you don’t win, you’re not going to care anyway. It’s comforting to have direction, again. Yes, there’s somewhat more murder involved than I might prefer, but we all have to play the murder cruise we’ve been given, don’t you think?

The sea air gave the illusion of sharpening my senses, but, somehow, amongst the creaks and groans of the ship beginning to warm up to the day, I missed the noise of a door opening. But the laboured breathing and heavy footsteps of my would-be assailant betrayed him. As his shadow grew larger, I was able to easily dodge as he swung a mannequin’s arm at me.

The fat man?!

Seriously, in all this time, since our last run-in at Security, he hadn’t found find something better to kill me with? It’s just wax, is it not? Not an ideal choice. Perhaps he’s grown attached to it? But I shan’t admire a weapon one instinctively wants to shake hands with…

I miss Bat.

This man was in his rather portly 50’s, and I was fairly certain that if I avoided another swing or two, his dicky old plumbing would spare me the effort of adding him to my death toll. His face was already turning into a marvellously red and violet macaroon, as he continued his determined attack.

This felt different to before. I was terrified the first time he attacked me, but this time I just pitied him.

(Sigh)

He dropped the mannequin’s arm to try and stop the blood flowing out of the knife wound in his neck and as the life drained out of him, I leaned in and spat out, ‘I know it was you who shit in the bedpan, you dirty bastard!’

I’m truly ashamed I did that – I don’t know where it came from.

Out of respect, I didn’t take his wallet.