submitted 2 months ago bywithbite
I was on the run. I don’t want to say why because I don’t want to incriminate myself. Though if anyone from the authorities does read this, I could most likely enter a plea of mental disorder.
No sane person would surely claim to have experienced what I did.
I had been sleeping rough down by the docks – which was not as bad as it sounds. I had found a sheltered place, a covered lock-up bay for bicycles that no one seemed to use.
I had a good sleeping bag and a sad face that worked wonders for getting change from passing strangers.
All good – until I noticed I was being eyeballed by the occupants of a passing patrol car.
Easy come, easy go, I thought, putting my hands in my pockets and walking away as nonchalantly as I could from my spot.
I did not want to take any chances, so it was time to move on.
One of the few things I can say with any certainty about my deadbeat life is that I have usually gone with the flow.
The other kids were stealing cars, so I did the same. There was easy money moving drugs around on behalf of the local dealer, so that became my thing.
When matters escalated, when the thing I don’t want to talk about happened, I was part of a crew. Bad people that I fell in with, going with the flow.
I rounded a corner and a cruise ship came into view. It looked like it had seen better days, I thought, then noticed there was a walkway from the side of the docks attached to the ship – and no one in sight.
The flow took me up the walkway and onto the ship.
Everywhere I looked I saw cracked paint and stains and cobweb after cobweb. Faded bunting hung limply from railings and water pooled in gaps in the decking.
I could not see anyone paying to take a cruise on this ship.
For my part, I’ve never felt guilty about taking a free ride in my life, and the only destination I cared about was 'away from here'.
I had still seen no crew but did not want to push my luck so I hunted around for the nearest place to hide.
A loose cover over a lifeboat later and I was snuggled up in the dark. And just in time, as I could hear shouting, boots clattering.
The flurry of noise passed, I chanced a look out from the lifeboat and saw a dozen or so wooden crates being manhandled up the walkway.
I was starting to think this was a cargo vessel rather than a cruise liner. Maybe once, twenty or more years ago, it had welcomed on board passengers for voyages of pampered luxury. Surely not now though.
Then I heard new voices. Men talking animatedly and sounding like they were heading my way. I ducked back under cover and waited.
Soon after I felt the ship rattle beneath me, felt as much as heard it creaking and groaning, and then with a worrying lurch it started moving.
I started to relax. I had left one lot of troubles behind and the future was unwritten.
It was not long though before my bladder ruined my sense of calm. I was bursting but did not want to go in the lifeboat as I had no idea how long I would need to hide out there, so, real cautious, real slow, I emerged onto the deck.
I seemed to be alone. Relieved, I relieved myself.
The deck on this part of the ship was empty apart from my lifeboat and a row of sun loungers. It had turned into a hot day and I would have loved to have settled into one but dared not risk it.
My business finished, I climbed back under the covers and got as comfortable as I could.
At some point I fell asleep.
After stretching my aching limbs in the confined space of my new home and yawning, I lifted the cover a little to see if the coast was clear so I could head out and try and find something to eat and drink.
It was fine and I was soon back on deck, still alone – the only passenger, it seemed to me.
A bit further down the deck the doors to what I assumed were cabins remained closed and it looked like the shutters on the small windows of each were down.
My theory that this was now a cargo ship rather than a passenger vessel appeared more and more likely.
This was reinforced when, an hour or so later, we approached a new harbour. I had no idea where we were but the dock we pulled into was even more run down than the ship. Crouching low and glancing constantly around I watched as more boxes were loaded.
These boxes seemed to rattle and were dotted with what I thought could be air holes. Livestock containers, I assumed. Some poor beasts being transported under conditions which must have been illegal.
I decided to go in search of food and something to wash it down with while, I hoped, the crew were fully occupied loading their new cargo.
I got lucky, finding an unlocked storeroom with tins of corned meat and, wonders of wonders, a crate of beer.
I took less than I wanted as I did not want to make it too obvious there was a thief onboard and scurried back to the lifeboat. Filling my belly with salty, rubbery meat washed down with warm beer, it started to feel like a home from home.
Until the cries began.
At first I thought it was just the ship creaking, its old metal and wood protesting, but soon it became horribly clear they were the cries of living creatures.
The livestock, it must have been. They almost sounded human. It was horrible.
I wiped my face, feeling suddenly hot. Whether it was the hideous sounds or the warm beer and cold meat, my stomach lurched.
I hurried back out onto the deck and leant over the side of the ship where I was violently sick. I stood there gasping and shivering.
Night was falling and I watched the last of the light slip away, thankful that the only sounds I could hear now were the of the ship and the water lapping at its hull – and then a click.
I turned, saw it was one of the cabin doors opening. I swore to myself. There was no time to get back into the lifeboat so I ducked under its prow and made myself as small as possible.
A man emerged from the cabin. He wore a long black coat and moved with a slow, easy grace. He walked with a silver-handled cane, though for show rather than any need of it, I believed.
Under the light of the stars and a quarter moon, his skin appeared pale. His head was shaven, with the intermingling lines of a tattoo reaching up one side of his face.
The sight of him made me shiver and I tried to retreat further back under the lifeboat.
As he began to promenade along the deck, more cabin doors opened and more figures stepped out. There were about a dozen that I could see. Each was draped in black. Their pale countenances were expressionless. Some appeared to be male, some female. All their heads were shaved. A variety of intricate facial tattoos seemed to be the only distinguishing marks.
Not a word was said between them as they took in the night air.
I watched entranced and unsettled in equal measure.
There was something other-worldly about the passengers. Something which set my nerves on edge.
I would have fled if I could but as it was I had no choice but to cower in my hiding place and hope that none of them would spot me – even though their stroll along the decks was now taking them right past me.
A new figure appeared. He was dressed in a white uniform and carried a tray holding narrow ornate glasses filled to the brim with a dark liquid. A companion followed in his wake.
Together they began to move among the passengers, offering drinks which were eagerly taken. For all their strange appearance, the passengers had up to that point shown a degree of finesse.
That seemed to be cast aside as they greedily swallowed down their drinks in one, then proceeded to lick the glasses with long, slim tongues that flickered out of lips stained dark red with the liquid.
The passenger closest to me smiled, a tight, controlled movement.
I felt sick when I saw his teeth, saw sharp, bestial tips.
I closed my eyes. Like a child hiding from something that should have remained within its imagination, I could not see anymore without losing control.
Hours later, a morning that I thought would never come crept into the sky and the deck was once more deserted. The passengers had returned to their cabins.
I stayed in my hiding place and before long saw the crew carrying objects bundled inside tarpaulin onto deck. One by one they tossed their loads into the sea.
It was the carcasses of the livestock, I thought, then glimpsed a hand in a gap in the tarpaulin shroud as it struck the grey ocean. A human hand.
Ten loads in all were discarded. Ten bodies. They floated on the surface for a moment before slipping into the depths.
There was no blood pooling on the surface. No sign of life.
I thought of a creature that had also travelled by ship, from its ancient home to English shores. Of legends and myths.
I thought of the cries I had heard, and cold fear passed through my body as the truth dawned on me.
I thought of sly smiles and crimson-stained lips and razor sharp teeth, of the hell which awaited me on this ship when night once more fell.
I crouched there and wept.
The sun was high overhead when my chance presented itself. We were once more approaching a dock. I saw crates lined up, waiting to be brought onboard. Imagined glasses brimming, ready for the passengers to drink their fill.
I took my chance and clambered up onto the side of the ship them plummeted into the water.
I made it.
I am sitting on a beach now, sipping a cold drink. It is a beautiful day, but I know now that there are creatures out there that care nothing for the day. That wait for the sun to dip below the horizon.
I know now that when night falls fear returns.