|Autumnal Equinox 1998|
"Dreamboat" won first place in an online horror fiction contest last Halloween.
Raini writes horror, science fiction, and fantasy short stories while her three Belgian sheepdogs sleep around her chair.
Roleplaying games fill a lot of her free time, especially fantasy scenarios, cliffhangers, space/science fiction scenarios, and espionage adventures. She also paints metal miniatures that represent her roleplaying characters and reads and listens to music and daydreams out the window on beautiful Texas spring days.
WATCHED THE ATTRACTIVE MAN in the front bench of the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. I'd been following him for a few days. That was my job. As a woman in 1937 with average height, average figure, medium brown hair and nondescript looks, I usually didn't get noticed when I tailed people. I didn't think he had noticed me yet.
However, when a brand new Zephyr roared past the streetcar, it drew my attention away from him for a moment. When I looked back, the man was looking in my direction. I couldn't tell if he was looking at me or past me. He turned back around in his seat as a breeze from the open streetcar window tousled his blonde hair. He used the hand wearing an onyx and gold ring to smooth his recently-barbered hair back into place.
This ring was the reason I was here. Sam Martinelli in our New Orleans Antiquities Protection office had decided that this was a man who needed watching. A shipment of rare Amazonian artifacts had been stolen en route to the museum here and a ring of that description was among the missing items.
Sam had done some preliminary snooping.
What had Sam found out so far? The blonde man's name was Reverend Brandon Canns, a Baptist minister, well-liked by his congregation. Sam also uncovered that Canns and several of his flock were taking a cruise on the Bluesky, a large wooden sailing ship that went from just south of the Mississippi River Delta to Rio De Janeiro -- a great place to fence stolen antiquities. Since Sam was now known to several members of the congregation, I was selected to follow the group on the cruise.
So, I packed my bags, signed-out for the money for my ticket -- after a 30-minute lecture from Sam about being careful -- and waited for the preacher to leave his apartment. About the time I had anticipated, Rev. Canns left with a large suitcase and took the streetcar toward the middle of town.
From what I could tell, he seemed like a nice man, but Sam's instincts were usually pretty good about these things. The reverend got off the streetcar near Canal St. and got into a cab.
I followed in the next taxi.
His cab went directly to the docks, to a boarding ramp. A sign above a ticket shed next to the ramp said, "Boarding for the launch to the Bluesky."
I got my bags and went to stand behind Canns in line.
The young girl behind the counter said, "Thank you, Reverend Canns. We hope you enjoy the cruise."
"I'm certain I will," he replied. "I've been looking forward to this for some time."
I had never heard him speak before. His voice was definitely that of a minister...confident, convincing. I could hear crystal bells in his voice. A hum. An underlying tone that relaxed me. Made me want to...
"Can I help you?" the girl then said to me in a harsh tone quite different from the way she addressed the reverend.
I snapped out of my daydream and pulled out the money that the agency had given me. "I don't have a ticket," I said, "but I'd like to buy one. I really need to get out of town for a while."
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but this isn't enough for a general fare."
"But I was told this was the price," I replied. Unfortunately, it was loud enough for the Reverend to turn around and take notice of me.
"I'm sorry," the girl repeated, "but, someone quoted you the group price."
"I'm sorry, miss," the reverend interrupted in a subdued, silky voice. "This lovely lady signed up with my group at the last minute. I should have told you."
The girl blinked at him. She looked back down at the registry. "We only have one cabin left. It's in the bow of the ship. The voyage would be pretty rough in that cabin."
I was about to decline the seasick chamber when Rev. Canns said, "Here, I'm used to rough seas. Take my cabin near the center of the ship and I'll take yours."
"Oh, you don't have to..." I started to say and then made the mistake of glancing up at the reverend's handsome face. He made it sound all right. I had always thought my eyes were an attractive shade of blue, my one distinguishing feature. His eyes were the iciest blue that I'd ever seen. Clear. Aware. Knowing.
"I insist," he said as the girl handed me my passage ticket.
"The launch to the Bluesky is leaving in a few minutes," the girl behind the counter said and closed the ticket window.
"My name is Brandon Canns," he said with a smile.
"I'm Kate MacDonne," I said. "And, thanks for the little white lie."
"Well, I'm glad I was able to help," he said. "Who knows? By the end of the voyage, I may have converted you." His voice told me not to refuse him. His eyes told me I would be taken care of. His smile quelled the alarm bells that should have been going off.
"Uh...well, maybe," I said.
He laughed. "I was just joking. Don't worry. You won't get any pressure from me."
"I have been looking forward to this trip for a long time," I lied. I wondered if I'd go to hell for lying to a minister. Then, I felt like he knew I was lying and it was all right.
As we stepped onto the Bluesky's gig, I shrugged and smiled at Brandon. I found myself hoping that Sam was wrong about this one.
Wooden planks groan and creak beneath my feet as I walk the deck of the ship. Red, blue, violet and red vases sit everywhere on deck. I climb the ladder to the upper deck. I'm wearing a white linen shroud-like gown. I'm alone. Horribly mangled bits of flesh hang around me. Dripping red. Always dripping. Always red.
That was when I awoke the second night at sea. I didn't think that I had screamed. At least no one knocked on my door. The first night's dream had stopped when I walked up the ladder with this sense of dread.
I had to get a grip.
We dropped anchor in St. Thomas on the third day of our journey to Rio. I hadn't seen the good reverend much. He always seemed sequestered with his flock, saying prayers and singing weird songs in a language that sounded something like Spanish. When they were out of the room on that first day, I peeked inside their meeting room. I saw all these brightly colored vases surrounding the room. I guessed that they were just ship's decorations from the South American countries that we were going to visit. I also guessed that was why they showed up in my nightmare.
So, when Canns went ashore, I went ashore. I don't know why, but it surprised me to see him shopping just like any other tourist. I decided to go shopping, too.
I had just located the perfect dress for the Captain's Dinner that night when I heard a male voice say, "Kate!"
I turned. "Reverend Canns."
He stopped and tilted his head. "Now, you don't have to call me that, Kate." He stepped closer and actually kissed my hand. Apparently the few days at sea had relaxed him. I couldn't hear the hum in his voice anymore, but the crystal tones were still there. "This is my vacation, too. Please call me Brandon."
"Brandon," I corrected myself.
The tittering of a passing lady from the ship made me blush more than I cared to as she shook a teasing, jade-ringed finger at us.
He looked around and motioned to a cafe table we were standing next to. "Let's sit for a while and talk. I've been wanting to get to know you better."
"Yes, I have," he said. He pulled out a chair for me. "What would you like to drink? I'm a rum punch fan, myself."
I gave him a half-smile. "Alcohol?"
He cocked his head and winked at me. "I don't think abstinence solves anything unless you have a problem with overindulging."
"Ah, a modern minister," I said. "Good. I'll take one of those, too."
He went to the bar to get our drinks and I got to have a long look at him. Brandon Canns filled out his trousers in all the right places and his casual, snug-fitting, burgundy shirt accentuated his well-muscled chest and back.
I closed my eyes and shook my head. Now, I know I'm going to hell, thinking such things about a minister.
He returned with the drinks and the rest of the afternoon proved to be a lot more fun than I ever expected on an investigation. In fact, I had forgotten that I was on an investigation until I got back to my cabin. The empty bunk reminded me that I'd have to sleep again sooner or later.
And, a telegram, sealed in a white envelope from an office ashore, was pinned to my bunk pillow.
I snatched up the telegram and intended to go back to send Martinelli a reply when I noticed that we were already underway.
I went up on deck.
I was right. The Bluesky had lifted anchor and was already heading out of the harbor. I wondered what else Sam had found out about Brandon and hoped that it could wait until Rio.
"Looks like we just made it," Brandon said as he walked up behind me.
I jumped and replied, "I thought we weren't leaving until after dinner tonight."
Brandon pointed to dark, roiling clouds on the northern horizon. "The Captain thought it would be better to get under sail now before that storm gets any closer."
"Have fun ashore today, Reverend?" an older man taunted as he winked at Brandon and passed by, not expecting an answer.
"Apparently, everyone was waiting on us to return to the ship," the reverend said with a sheepish smile.
"Is everything all right?" he asked. "Did you forget something?"
"I wanted..." I began and then stopped myself. I crumpled the telegram and tossed it to the goddess of the inky blue waters of the Caribbean. "I wanted to take a nice walk along the beach at sunset before we became captives on this ship again. That's all."
He smiled. His smile was so pleasant, so inviting. "Well, you never know. Sometimes being trapped on a ship can be delectable."
I smiled back and noticed that he was standing closer than he had all day. My heart actually started beating faster as he leaned down. I lifted my face in tacit permission of what I thought was coming. I knew I was being swept up. He was a preacher. He had charisma to spare. Those blue eyes. Some memory was beginning to surface...
"Reverend!" a woman called from the aft deck. "We're all waiting for you!"
He stopped and shook his head. "I'll be right there, Mrs. Donereaux," he called back to her. To me, he said, "Would you do me the honor of accompanying me to the Captain's dinner tonight?"
"I'd love to," I answered quietly and shook off the almost realized memory.
"I'll be by your cabin at 7:15," he said as he walked down the deck backwards so he could look at me.
He was certainly not like any Baptist minister I had ever met before.
Suddenly, that thought scared me.
My intuition finally woke up and rang all kinds of apprehensive alarms...telling me to be careful...that something was wrong here...that maybe Brandon was involved in...
I wished I'd gotten that telegram earlier.
Promptly at 7:15, Brandon arrived at my door. He was holding a gardenia wrist corsage. He paused and asked, "Ready?"
I instantly felt better. He was dressed in a dark suit with a white shirt and black tie. His hair was conservatively groomed and he looked every bit the young, southern Protestant minister.
He looked down. "Is something out of place?" he asked.
"No, come in," I said as I reached for my shawl.
He stepped in, took the shawl and draped it around my shoulders. Then he showed me the corsage. "May I?"
I held out my left arm and he quickly wrapped the soft, covered wire around my wrist and kissed my hand. The delicate yellow gardenia's scent was strong, sweet, ambrosial.
He looked into my eyes, pulled me close, and kissed me. "That's for the interrupted kiss this afternoon." Then, he kissed me again...a bit longer, a bit more passionately. "That's for when I saw you just now," he whispered in a voice that sounded of seduction rather than psalms.
I laughed and reached up to wipe the red smudges off his lips. "It wouldn't do for the preacher to go to dinner with makeup on, now, would it?"
"No," he agreed. And, as if he knew about my doubts that afternoon, he added, "But, they know I'm not a typical preacher. I think that's why they like me."
The ship lurched me back into his arms and we both laughed. "Looks like the Maker approves of us," he said as he kissed my cheek and opened the door.
With the layout of the ship, we had to make our way along the outside deck to reach the Captain's dining room. The sky overhead was clear, but an ominous dark horizon still followed us from the north.
The usually brusque and burly Captain of the Bluesky set a scrumptious table and was a gracious host all evening. After an entertaining dessert of Bananas Foster and wine-loosened conversation, most of the seven couples left for their cabins. Soon, only the Captain, Brandon, and I were left.
"I've been admiring that ring all evening," the Captain said to Brandon.
I almost choked on my cordial and wondered if Martinelli had planted the captain on this ship in advance.
Brandon looked at his hand and frowned. "It was a gift from a friend," he answered calmly. "It's unusual enough, though, isn't it?"
"So, you don't know what that design means?" the Captain asked.
"No, I don't have a clue, Captain," Brandon replied with a hint of surprise at the question. "Do you?"
"I've sailed along the South American coasts for more years than you've been alive," the Captain said as he tugged at his dark brown beard. "I've seen that one before and I've heard some rumors about it."
"Rumors?" I asked.
The Captain's dark eyes seemed to unfocus for a second and then he answered, "Yes, tales of an ancient chiefdom near the Amazon. They would put the bones of their dead in colorful pots, all decorated with that design."
"Sounds like an interesting burial ritual," I said.
The gruff man snickered. "Well, one of the legends I heard was that they sacrificed the living to their god and he was the one who put the bones in the urns when he was finished eating their flesh off the bones."
I shuddered and pulled my shawl tighter around my shoulders.
Brandon cleared his throat and put his hand on top of mine. "I think that's enough talk about the barbaric customs of some of the ancients."
"Sorry," the Captain said with a raised eyebrow toward Brandon, "I sometimes get a little carried away with my tales." Then, he rose and walked to his locked wine cabinet. "I always save the best wine for the last couple to keep me company after these dinners." He took out a bottle of some dark red wine and handed it to his steward to uncork and serve. "This is a merlot from California of all places. I really enjoy it. I hope you do also."
Once the filled glasses were handed out, the Captain lifted his glass. I matched his motion and drank. The taste was musty...not a favorite of mine. Brandon only took a sniff of the wine and smiled politely as he set down his glass.
I assumed that Brandon would rather talk about his ring than drink the Captain's merlot because he held up the ring. The onyx inlay formed the outline of an eye...a cat's eye. Brandon moved it closer so I could see it better. What I had thought was a tear coming from one corner of the eye, I could now tell was a fang. A drop of something... something red... was bubbling from the tip of the fang.
I looked at Brandon in surprise. He gave me a half-smile in return. I turned toward the Captain. He was laughing.
Blackness began to fill my vision. My eyes closed. Hands moved me, touched me. Large hands. Small hands. Gardenias. Echoes. Echoes. Echoes.
Hands went away. Echoes died.
I opened my eyes. It was night.
I stood outside my stateroom. I looked down and noticed that I was wearing a translucent white linen gown and nothing else. A fog danced above the water, the inky blue Caribbean water. It was so quiet. The boat rocked slightly. Lap. Lap, lap, lap. The boards creaked where I stood. Rusty metal against wood groaned aft. A sail rustled from an impotent breeze. Lap, lap.
Another sound. The water writhed with hissing reptiles of all sizes and kinds and bubbled as if boiling.
Vases lined the deck. Red ones with yellow and blue engraved images, like the eye on Brandon's ring. Yellow vases with blue and red engravings. All different colors. A wilted gardenia wrist corsage hung on the side of one.
Whispers. I heard whispers in the bow. I crept forward. Something was strange. The lighting. It was torch light, lantern light. Not electric. I took a step and the deck groaned a warning to the whisperer.
I passed a violet vase. It had a hand hanging on the side. A hand with most of the flesh ripped off. Exposed bones glistened with still fresh blood.
I turned the corner. Something warm dripped on my face. I wiped it off. It was red and sticky and smelled of iron. I looked up and saw a face, only a face. The skull it had covered was missing.
I should have retched, but I didn't.
I looked around the bow of the ship. The rusty metal was hanging from the broken mast. Hanging from the mast was a shredded sail wrapped in yards of mildewed rope netting.
Hanging from the rope was everyone who had been on the ship with me. The woman who had giggled at Brandon and me in St. Thomas was hanging near the center, and on the bottom, and on the top, and that was her arm swinging from a broken and rusty link of chain. I recognized the ring permanently imbedded in a blue, swollen finger. The old man who had taunted us on the deck was hanging upside down, his body ripped down to the neck, dark oozing organs dangling in front of his face.
And, Mrs. Donereaux was nailed to a crossbeam like Jesus Christ. Her head lolled to the side, connected by only a few stretched muscle fibers; her eyeballs were popped out. One was missing. The other one rolled on the bridge of her nose.
The Captain was tied to the wheel facing forward. His neck had been twisted. His face faced backward. His eyes bulged and his black tongue stuck out like a coat hook.
Everyone was there, but...
"But me," Brandon whispered from the upper deck. His voice no longer tinkled with fine crystal. It grated with rough gravel. He glanced back at the Captain. "He was my most devoted disciple, but he talked too much."
I looked up at quite a different man than the one I had followed onto the ship. This...creature...stood and threw the half-eaten skull of the Captain's steward over the side of the ship. The splashing and slithering and snapping only lasted a few minutes before the quiet returned. He stood there and stared at me.
Bloodshot white showed all the way around those icy blue irises. However, the blue was only a small, thin ring around his enormous black pupils. His fingers ended in ten-inch claws and the claws were covered with blood and bits of flesh, clumps of skin with matted hair. His own white stringy hair, drenched with sweat and mucus, laced his forehead and the sides of his face. He smiled. The same half-smile as before, only this time, a forked-tongue darted out between two fangs. Red-tinted spittle dripped from the fangs and drooled down the sides of his chin.
"I saved you for last," he rasped as he started down the ladder from the upper deck. "The flesh of a woman who has not felt the thrust of a man between her legs is particularly sweet."
A rancid, decayed smell preceded him. I backed away. I turned and ran aft as fast I could. I hit something slippery, red. I fell in the drainage. Blood drainage from the carnage above. He leisurely walked after me, laughing. The laughter dampened in the fog-insulated silence. I covered my ears, pulled myself up and kept running.
I turned and jumped down into the hold. I saw the crew there as I fell on one of them. All dead. Rivulets of dark red rolled from side to side with the rocking of the ship.
"You can't get away," he cried and then howled. Not the howl of a beast. The howl of a demon so far denied his special dessert.
I looked around for a way out. There wasn't one. I was trapped. I backed toward one of the walls and looked around for any weapon. Ropes. Oiled cloth. Net.
The demon laughed and jumped down in front of me.
I had nowhere to run. I backed to the wall as he slowly walked toward me. His black eyes reflected my fear back at me. He lifted his hand and moved his claws. The ring caught the torch light. I was paralyzed. I couldn't breathe.
Before I could think about moving, he came at my throat with his fingers spread. I closed my eyes and thought that was the end. I felt his slimy talons on either side of my neck. I could smell his breath. I opened my eyes just as a large drop of drool was forming on one of his fangs. The drop stretched and I felt it hit my knee and run down my leg.
The ring caught my attention again. I could feel it this time. There it was. Just under the left side of my jaw. He sneered. Then, he threw his head back and howled again.
I turned my head to the left quickly and bit down on the finger wearing the ring. I tasted my own bile mixed with his oozing blood. He screamed. I don't know where the strength came from, but I bit down harder. This demon had bone in his finger. It crackled as I crunched down through it.
I swallowed the ring and the bits of his finger with it.
He pulled his other hand back to slash me, but stopped at the last minute.
The boat started to move again, as if under sail. The creature looked at me in horror and ran to the ladder out of the hold. A mist filled the hold. The pools of blood at my feet receded away into the mist. Then, the blackness closed in around me.
I awoke in a St. Thomas hospital. Martinelli told me that they'd found me alone in the hold on the Bluesky, adrift in the Atlantic, off the Virgin Islands. The ship was in perfect shape.
However, except for me, all of the crew and passengers were missing.
Everyone had a lot of questions. I didn't know any answers.
Was it a dream? Was it real?
A male nurse walked in. I could hear crystal bells in his voice. A hum. An underlying tone that relaxed me. Made me want to...© 1997 Raini Madden, all rights reserved
RETURN TO ARCHIVES
Premier Issue 1998, Updated March 15, 2002
BLOOD ROSE is Copyright © M. W. Worthen.