Phillip jolted awake and sat up on his berth and looked around the cabin. Blinking, all he could see was a thick darkness that enveloped him. For a moment he could hear the ghostly melody of the music he and Angel had danced to just a few hours before.
But something sounded wrong. It was too quiet, that was it. All the sounds he normally heard at this time of night on the cruise ship-- the engines and generators whirring, music playing in the distance, the whoosh of the ventilation system--had stopped.
He didn’t hear a sound--not even a whisper of breath--coming from the bottom bunk. He jumped off his bed, ignoring the ladder at the foot of the bed and hit the floor with his bare feet.
“Angel?” He heard the desperation and fear in his voice and felt disgusted. “Where the hell are you?”
As he felt the unmade, empty bunk bed, his heart thudded inside his body, shaking his ribs. Where the heck was that woman? Probably out partying with the off-duty guards they met at the bar earlier that night. He should have known better than to take his new girlfriend on this cruise.
A few moments passed. Should he look for her? Then the door of the confessional-sized bathroom creaked open.
“Why’s it so dark in here?” Angel asked, her voice cracking.
Phillip shrugged before realizing she couldn’t see him. “Dunno.”
“And quiet.” Angel said, her voice in his ear. "I don’t hear a sound.”
Something beneath them creaked and groaned, and then the sound of metal clanged against metal. The ship shuddered. Angel grabbed Phillip’s right arm.
“What the . . .?”
The two squeezed together. Phillip felt Angel trembling next to him, and he imagined she could feel him trembling. He released her arm and straightened his shoulders. He couldn't act like a coward.
She nudged him forward. “You’d better go check to see what’s going on.”
Phillip raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “Naw,” he said and then shook his head, his cowardly impulse is taking over. But only for a moment.
She moved closer to him and kissed him on the cheek with her warm mouth. Her long hair brushed against his face, and the smell of something floral, jasmine maybe, drifted in the air.
He closed his eyes, even though the darkness smothered them, and imagined pulling her into the bottom bunk.
She nudged him a little more, using her right hand to push him toward the cabin door.
"C'mon. I'm sure it's nothing, but to be safe you'd better check it out." She clicked her tongue. "I mean, what if the ship's sinking or something."
Phillip listened for noises. After a moment, a faint pounding sound thudded, coming from the stern end of the ship. Angel’s arms encircled Phillip and tightened around his waist. The pounding grew closer, louder, thundering down the hallway past the cabin door. Whoever was pounding was wearing heavy boots, boots with metal tips, serious boots, and there were a lot of someones wearing those boots.
An acrid odor drifted under the doorway and began filling the cabin. Angel pushed Phillip onto the lower bunk and began running her long fingernails through his hair.
“I love it when it’s dangerous,” she said, purring into his ear. “It makes me . . .”
He pushed her away and sat up, swearing when he bumped his head on the bottom of the top bunk.
“Are you nuts? Those could be pirates.”
“Really?” She clapped her hands together. “You think?”
“Yes,” he said, hissing. “Haven’t you heard how these waters are filled with pirates, marauders, thieves?”
“That explains the armed guards patrolling the deck.”
Yeah, he thought, the armed guards you couldn’t stop ogling at dinner tonight.
“They were cute,” she said as if she could read his mind. She giggled and pounced on him. “But not as cute as you.” Then she pulled away. “Hey, is this some kind of prison-themed cruise?”
“Nah.” He shook his head, forgetting she couldn’t see him. If he stared at her, he could see her outline now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness. Maybe she could see him, too. The cruise had been heavily discounted because of the route through dangerous, pirate-infested waters. Even the travel agent had asked him three times if he was sure he wanted to go on this cruise.
“Yep,” he had said to the agent. “Course I do.” Can’t exactly afford a top-notch cruise on my salary, he thought as he left the agency office with his tickets, which were non-refundable.
Then, when his girlfriend had found out how cheap he’d been, she broke up with him. Now he had an extra ticket. Enter Angel, a girl he’d met on Tinder. She’d swooned with pleasure when he invited her on the cruise on their second date.
Angel began coughing. “What . . . is . . . that . . . smoke?” She started hacking and wiping her eyes. “Tear gas?”
Phillip shook his head as his lungs filled with smoke. “I . . . don’t . . . think . . . so.”
He pushed himself off the bunk and staggered to the cabin door, flinging it open. A whoosh of cool, salty air blew into the cabin, clearing away the smoke. Phillip’s eyebrows shot up. Their cabin was below deck. Why did he feel air blowing down the hallway?
He narrowed his eyes to see better in the darkness. In the distance, he saw a flicker of light coming toward him. He turned to Angel.
“We’d better get outta here.” He walked over to her and pulled her off the bunk.
“Wait,” she said and grabbed his arm. “Aren’t we gonna . . . you know?”
“Now?” He shook his head. “Baby, I’d love nothing more, but someone’s coming this way, and if they’re related to the guys with the boots, I don’t wanna meet ‘em.”
“Maybe it’s just the guards making sure we’re safe?”
A sharp, rat-tat-tat filled the air. He grabbed her arm.
“I think that was a machine gun. Why would the guards shoot at the passengers?”
She sat up and stood next to him. He could hear her breath, heavy and deep. Was she excited? Perhaps they had a few moments before . . . naw. He shook his head. They needed to get to safety, not to make out.
He grabbed her hand and led her toward the cabin door, looking up and down the hallway. The light he had seen moments before had vanished. Except for the creaking of metal and the sloshing of water against the side of the ship, all was quiet. Too quiet.
They ran down the narrow hallway, hand in hand, until they reached the stairway that led to the Lido Deck, ten decks above their below-deck discount cabin. It was a little lighter in the stairwell, but not much. He gripped the handrail with his right hand and held on to Angel with his left. Looking back at her, he could see her mussed hair and lipstick-smeared face. They had partied pretty hard earlier that night. He longed to take her back to their cabin and party some more. Maybe he had overreacted about the booted steps he’d heard in the hallway. And the machine gun fire. Perhaps that had been a backfiring engine. Ship engines could backfire, couldn’t they?
He was about to suggest they return to their cabin when the sound of gunfire, unmistakable and loud, burst from somewhere behind them. Philip, now completely awake, tugged at Angel.
“We gotta move faster.”
She slid her hand up his arm and dug her nails into the soft muscle of his biceps. Then both of them raced up the stairs, the air growing colder and the light growing brighter as they approached the open deck of the ship.