4 comments

Drama Friendship Funny

There was something about genuine perkiness that diminished Louis’s comprehension by half.

“Welcome to the Carnage of the Sea!” chirped the girl at the check-in counter.

Her teeth were too white. Her dimples too pronounced. Her name tag read Tiffany. A distant part of him recognized that she was pretty. A more distant part recognized that he might have cared once.

Garnet of the Sea, his mind corrected itself sluggishly, after she’d begun squeaking about...something else.

She froze, like a cartoon on pause. She’d asked a question.

“Huh?”

Her smile tightened. “Passport and reservation, please?”

He slid them across the countertop, between a line of overpriced Majestic Cruise sports bottles and sea-themed snow globes filled with pirate ships and mermaid lagoons.

“Let’s see...” Tiffany tap, tap, tapped away. “Loo-ees? Loo-ihs?”

Neither. His surname was Paris, for saints’ sakes.

“Yeah,” he said.

Loooouuuuuisss, she mouthed, chewing on his name like a confusing piece of taffy. In his pocket, Louis’s phone buzzed with a call. Why had he even brought the thing?

“All right, Mr. Paris, I see you’ve booked an interior cabin through Bargain Boats Travel, and--”

“Do you have any upgrades? Something with a balcony.” His hand tightened around his “luggage.”

“I’m sorry. We’re overbooked…”

Damn. He should’ve gone for the balcony all those months ago.

He should have gone for a lot of things.

A shriek rang out behind Louis. Tiffany kept chattering, scribbling in Sharpie across a map of the ship. Whatever was going on back there must not have been too appalling.

There was that face, again. The caricature of a petrified Disney Princess.

“Your luggage,” Tiffany said. An obvious repeat. “Would you like assistance?”

“I think I can manage.” He held up his lone piece of luggage--a thin stretch of sturdy rope.

Her mouth dropped into a little O. She looked like she wanted to question him, maybe even push back.

Part of him wished she would.

But ropes weren’t contraband (he’d checked), and he’d made it through security. It wasn’t like they’d kick him off for having too little luggage.

Ever the professional, Tiffany’s dimples deepened. She flashed her teeth and pushed Louis’s cabin key and the sharpie-scribbled map between the souvenirs. “There’s no cell service at sea. Be sure to say farewell to your loved ones before we leave port. Enjoy your stay on the Garnet, Mr. Paris!”

Another shriek sounded as he turned toward his cabin at the stern. A woman practically bowled him over rushing toward a small contingent of passengers. They hugged, they laughed. Some cried.

It was like watching a movie.

No, more distant than that. He could sooner imagine himself in one of those plastic snow globes, atop the bobbing pirate’s ship or beside the green-haired mermaid, than in that crowd of elated strangers.

They had matching tote bags. A smart style in hip colors, with rays of sunlight stitched across the front.

Then he noticed the sign beside check-in: Welcome, Evolution to Rise! Transcend yourself.

It was nearly as tall as he, with block lettering and sunbeams reaching for the corners.

Huh.

He took the long way to his cabin. Sea breeze caressed his face. Salt clung to the air. The sun shone brightly, the sky so deep a blue it was nearly sapphire.

There was something vaguely offensive about it all.

His phone buzzed the pattern for his voicemail. Louis plucked it from his pocket, holding it with two fingers, like it might bite him.

Saints, he was a coward.

If for nothing more than habit, he put the phone to his ear and kept walking.

“Lou, it's Mitch. Just touching base about last week. You’ll be glad to know that Mr. Robinson has decided not to press charges for urinating in the sales department following your termination. When you pick up your things, be sure to call ahead so we can arrange a security escort. Talk later.”

Click.

Delete.

There was another new message. New-ish. It’d been new for nearly a week now. He’d definitely been too cowardly to listen to this one.

But now...what did it matter? 

He held the phone to his ear. His ex-wife’s voice filled the space between.

“L.”

He grimaced. Did she have to call him that?

“It’s Cass.”

Did she have to call herself that?

Despite the nicknames, her voice was clipped, professional. “I went through that box I picked up. It was missing Gran’s crystal.” His Gran’s crystal. “Viv is throwing me and Stefan a housewarming party—“

Louis tore the phone from his ear. Stefan. Was she moving in with that prick already? Apparently, Louis’s cowardice had morphed into masochism--he raised the phone again.

“Bring it by, or tell me when to pick it up. I...stop it, Stef.” She giggled. “I’m on the phone.”

Louis recognized that tone. It was the one Cass used to reserve for him. Now it was aimed at the guy with the spray tan.

“I need it by next Saturday, L. ”

Click.

Next Saturday. Tomorrow.

His thumb hovered over the callback button. Delete button. Callback button.

Not that he wanted to decorate their stupid party. But there was still that kernel of something in him that wanted to prove to her that he was more than a waste of biology. (Her words, not his.) (Well, maybe his too.)

 Stop it, Stef…

Ugh. 

What would he say, anyway? Hey, Cassandra, keep it. All of it. My Gran’s crystal, too. Tomorrow, I won’t need any of it anyway. Say hi to Stefan for me. And don’t call me L.

Right.

He peered across the sea. The horizon was endless. He’d never seen anything like it.

He should feel...he should feel...right?

The phone was a brick in his hand.

Stop it.

He chucked it overboard and didn’t wait to see if it made a splash.

Louis’s room was deep in the stern. They hadn’t yet set sail, and half the passengers were wearing swimsuits. Half of those passengers were carrying one of those sunbeamed totes. Was there a family reunion? Book club?

Did he care?

He put the key in his door. It stuck a little, then pushed free. He needed a nap. How far he’d fallen, that a phone call would drain his will to stand.

He hadn’t passed the doorframe before stopping short.

A naked man was in his room.

Louis threw up a hand, blocking his vision. “I...uh…sorry. I...” He backed away.

“No need to leave.”

Before Louis could cover his movement, the naked guy strode beyond the visual barrier of Louis’s hand, bent clear over, and started digging in his suitcase. “If we’re going to be roommates, you might as well get used to it. That bathroom is so small you couldn’t shuck a peanut in there.”

Mercifully, the man tugged on a pair of swim trunks.

$600 swim trunks.

Only someone who’d been married to someone like Cassandra would recognize the market value of a pair of swim trunks.

“Wait…” Louis’s brain caught up with the man’s words. Roommates. “I don’t…” He looked at his key. Looked at the door. Key. Door. Same number. “There’s been a mistake.”

“Well, if you’re Louis Paris, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.”

The man pronounced both names without the ‘s’. At least he was half right.

“Then where are you supposed to be?” Louis asked.

“I’m always exactly where I’m supposed to be.” He clapped Louis on the shoulder and squeezed into that tiny bathroom.

“You’re in my room,” Louis said.

“I’m in our room.”

“But…”

Overbooked, perky Tiffany had said. Surely they wouldn’t stick him with some stranger.

“Bargain Boat?” the man asked, running a pomade through his hair that smelled like success. 

“What?”

“You booked through Bargain Boat, yeah?”

“Does it matter?”

Come for the fare, leave with a friend.” He sang the jingle, adding the final oomph of tambourine.

“I--” That slogan couldn’t be literal. “They put us up with strangers?”

He met Louis’s eyes in the mirror. “Sensational, isn’t it?”

“Not exactly.”

The man smiled. His teeth were whiter than perky Tiffany’s. It looked as if he’d stolen them from a younger man. Not that he was old. Late fifties, maybe? But the sheer brilliance of those teeth was alarming.

The man slid past Louis, plucking the scribbled-on map and whatever else from his hands, shuffling through the pages while humming the Bargain Boat jingle. “Why did you think they asked all those questions? Think they were going to set you up on a blind date?”

Actually...yeah. Louis had assumed it was a speed-dating questionnaire or something.

“Ah, here I am.” He held a paper beside his face and...smoldered...matching the photo at the top. His answers from the not-for-speed-dating questionnaire peppered the page:

Name: Arthur Chadwick

Hobbies: Winning

...were all Louis saw before Arthur chucked the papers onto the desk.

Apparently, he and Arther Chadwick were roommates.

“You coming in?” Arthur said.

“Oh.” Louis shut the door and moved toward the tiny bed at the far side of the cabin. It took him all of three steps to get there. He didn’t bother taking off his shoes as he sunk onto the mattress.

Arthur sat (no, reclined) on the adjacent bed, pulled a laptop from his fancy briefcase ($1800--thanks, Cass), and pried it open.

“Light packer?” he asked without looking from the screen.

Was a nap too much to ask for? “Just leaving space for my roomie’s trove.”

Indeed, beside Arthur’s suitcase was a trunk that rivaled the size of Louis’s bed.

“Considerate of you. What’s with the rope?” 

“Guns wouldn’t make it past security. And they’re messy. Knives--same. Pills, too unpredictable.”

“Ocean?”

“Sharks.”

“Fair enough.”

Arthur was quiet for several moments. Louis stared at the ceiling. It was the color of sad motel.

“So the rope is for you or someone else?”

“I’m depressed, not evil, Arthur.”

“Art.”

Yeah, that’s the part that begged for correction.

“When are you doing it?” Art said conversationally.

“Yesterday.”

“And…?”

“I was tying the noose. My calendar pinged about the cruise--I’d completely forgotten about it--and I thought, what the hell? Might as well give it another day. See the ocean before I die. At least no one I know would find me here.”

“And now?”

“I’m kind of regretting not doing it yesterday.”

The overhead speaker crackled. The Captain announced their departure, and the ship began to move.

“Did you hope it would change your mind?” Art asked. “The ocean.”

“Not really. Just seemed like one of those things you should do.”

“Not killing yourself is one of those things you should do.”

“That one sounds harder.”

“You know,” Art said. “I don’t believe in shoulds.”

Louis glanced at him. Over the open laptop, Art’s eyes met his with steadiness. Respect.

“I believe in wants. Do you want to spend your last day in this pea pod of a room, Louis?”

“I don’t want to do anything.”

Art closed his laptop. “Do you want to do nothing on the deck? I’m starving. And too much longer in here, this paint color will make me want to kill myself.”

Had he just made a suicide joke to the man who’d brought a hanging rope to a cruise? For that reason alone, Louis considered his offer.

“Are you going to try to talk me out of it?” Louis asked.

“I take everything I want from this life, and I insist that others do the same. If dying is what you want, go for it.”

So they went to the deck.

“It’s your last day, Louis,” Art said. “What are we eating?”

When he’d booked, Louis had been trying to get in shape, thinking there was some way to win Cass back that didn’t involve seven figures, thinking he wanted her back at all. He didn’t remember much from Bargain Boat’s webpage (clearly, he’d missed the roommate fine print), but he did remember the chocolate monstrosity being shared by two couples in a hot tub. He remembered wanting to eat that entire thing himself.

It took seconds to locate the dessert cart. Less than a minute to put in their orders.

“Same for me,” Art told the attendant. “But no peanut butter drizzle. Caramel.”

“We don’t have carmel.”

“Check the kitchens.”

“I don’t know if they--”

“They do.” Art gave her a crisp Benjamin.

They did.

As they cut across the deck, everyone noticed Art. They smiled. They called out greetings. They made space for him. And he noticed them back, basking in their adoration while lending his own.

What would it be like to be this man?

After they’d settled into chaises on the top deck, simultaneously a part of the action yet somehow above it, Art said, “Can I tell you what I believe, Louis?” 

“Is this the part where you try to baptize me in the kiddie pool?”

Art laughed, full and genuine. “It’s a shame you’re killing yourself, Louis. I think I could like you.”

Louis could like Art, too. Hell, even Cass would drop spray-tan-Stefan in a heartbeat for a man like this.

“In life, you have two kinds of people,” Art said. “The mice, running on their wheels, chasing the scraps life offers them. Then you have the birds. Those who rattle cages, soar above, and hunt for more. I believe you’re a bird, Louis. You’ll never be satisfied with the rat race. You don’t want to leave this life because you want death. You want to leave this life because you don’t want what life has offered you.”

“What do I want, then?”

“Same thing every bird wants. Respect. Admiration. Power.”

“Birds like you?”

“Of course.”

“So how do I get those?”

“You don’t get what you want by pining for it. You take it. Five years ago, I accepted my fate to lead an organization for people like you--like us. Evolution to Rise.”

Louis envisioned those sunbeamed totes.

“At first, I thought I was a mouse—in it for the money. I kept my distance, my anonymity. Over time, helping others identify their wants, helping them transcend, I wanted more. I didn’t want to be a faceless name. I wanted them to see me. To respect what they saw. So here I am to reveal my identity. It takes time, but the more people you bring in, the more who join, the higher you rise.”

“I’d rather kill myself than join a pyramid scheme. Literally.” 

“It’s not a pyramid scheme.”

“You do realize that’s what everyone in a pyramid scheme says.”

“I have a proposition,” Art said. “Spend this evening with me. Let me show you what life as a bird is like. If you want what you experience, come to our commencement tomorrow. Nine a.m.”

“I thought you weren’t going to try to talk me out of it.”

“I’m not. I want you to see that you aren’t choosing between death and the rat race. You’re choosing between death and more.”

“I’ll be dead by nine a.m.”

“Come. If you don’t want what you hear, death is a perfectly acceptable Plan B.” A stunning woman walked by. Art’s sightline trailed her. “Think about it. Excuse me.” Art rose and followed the woman.

Louis eyed Art’s dessert, caramel drizzled over top. It wouldn’t hurt to sneak a bite.

So Louis did.

Now that was a dessert.

You don’t get what you want by pining for it. You take it. 

He swapped their plates. It was his last meal, after all.

Art returned minutes later with the woman, who snuggled onto the chaise beside him. After introductions, Art said, “Have you thought about my proposal?”

Art fed the woman a bite. Took one for himself. And paused.

And paused.

Clutched at his throat. 

Waved his arms.

His face was suddenly very purple.

Louis screamed for a medic.

They tried everything. CPR, epinephrine, oxygen. But it was too late.

Death by peanut allergy.

 Saints, Louis couldn’t even end his own life without collateral damage.

After the medics cleared Art’s body, Louis returned to his vomit-hued room. He wasn’t sure what to do with himself, so he did what any man who’d given up on social convention would do. He snooped through Art’s luggage, leafing through mounds of pamphlets and hand-written notes about Evolution to Rise. He opened Art’s laptop and cruised their website, their surprisingly-popular YouTube channel.

It wasn’t a pyramid scheme.

It was a cult.

Appointed by a transcendent “meteor,” Art had become the cult’s leader. No--its Luminary

Whose face had never been seen. 

Until tomorrow.

The weird thing was...it kind of made sense. The charisma, the undeterred promise of fulfillment, whatever the want. What kind of person heard suicide and replied, go for it?

Art had been right, though. Louis wanted more.

I take everything I want from this life, and I insist that others do the same. 

Louis stayed up all night, reading through materials, skimming holy literature. He cracked open that giant trunk, finding an outfit that made the Pope’s garb look like a counterfeit. There was even a headpiece, the “meteor” soldered between rays of sun.

The whole thing was bizarre, but he’d sold car seat cover covers for twenty years. Surely he could sell himself. Riding on Art’s esteemed coattails wouldn’t hurt either.

The next morning at nine a.m., Louis attended the commencement. A tote was in his hand. The costume of the Luminary draped his frame.

“He’s younger than I thought,” hissed someone as Louis took the stage. 

“He’s shorter than I thought,” murmured another.

“Have some respect!” Their friend elbowed them in the ribs. “He is our Luminary.

A sea of Lumineers sat before him. It seemed as if half the ship was in attendance.

Louis lifted his arms. The crowd rose.

Blessed be the Luminary, transcendent of all…”

Who knew how long this would last or if he would even stick with it? For now, death was a perfectly acceptable Plan B.

March 06, 2021 02:08

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

4 comments

Robert Vucsko
02:18 Mar 11, 2021

This is my very first critique, in-writing, of another's work, please forgive me. I wound-up enjoying this story. After a sputtering start, and puzzling-after the style and sentence-constructs a bit, I caught-on and got in the flow. Once I thought I knew where actual story was going.., the rope at the check-in counter.., my direction changed, at-lest once, and well, that last allergy-thing made me smile. Cute. It seemed just long-enough, which, in my recent learning, is one the THE points of a short story. Thank you.

Reply

C. Arch
18:20 Mar 11, 2021

Hi Robert! Thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to offer a critique! I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the story, that it made you smile, and that it seemed an appropriate length. I'm always looking for ways to improve, so if you have time, I'd love to learn a little more from you. Could you clarify a bit about the sputtering start? Would love to gain some insight on how to improve it. Again, appreciate you sharing your time and thoughts!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Bethany Lemons
01:23 Mar 12, 2021

I love the strong voice! Each character feels real and relatable, and they have mental monologues that much resemble my own (the caricature of a petrified Disney Princess, straight from my diary.) I think the only thing I would work on improving is character differentiation between Art and Louis, as they feel very similar at times. I enjoyed this story! Great work!

Reply

C. Arch
20:43 Mar 12, 2021

Hi Bethany! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment! So encouraging to hear that you enjoyed the voice and that the characters felt relatable. I'm always looking to improve, so if you have time, I'd love to hear a little more about the character differentiation between Art and Louis. Was it their body language/dialogue/general attitude/something completely different, that kept them from being distinct? It's a fine line between them, since Louis basically wants to be Art, so if you have any suggestions on how to walk that li...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.