The fluorescent lights sound like bug zappers up and down the hallway. Everything smells of chlorine bleach and lemon-pine cleaner, so strong your eyes sting and your taste buds shut down. The floor shifts underfoot. Your husband tells you, jovially, that the constant sensation of feeling the ocean moving underneath you will eventually go away.
The door of your cabin has a key card reader. Okay, that makes sense. But next to it on the wall is a round door with a lock you can only open with a key. The door’s made out of metal and doesn’t match the wallpaper. At all. Nobody else’s door has a round…thing in the wall like this.
On the inside of the cabin there isn’t anything, no mark, no dent or bulge showing that there’s a locked, round, and hingeless panel in the wall on the other side.
The wall isn’t even that thick.
The matching luggage is unpacked and it’s time for supper, one of those buffets that start out as inviting and end up as a special kind of horror, the kind of thing you have nightmares about in which you can’t stop eating, no matter how uncomfortable you are, no matter how much everyone else is laughing at you.
Your husband says it’s time to go.
You start to follow him, pretend to remember that you’ve forgotten something, and tell him you’ll catch up with him in a minute. You bat your eyes at him and he laughs.
You retreat to the bathroom in the cabin, a tiny space that resembles an alien testing facility more than anything else. You turn on the fan and wait for five minutes. He knocks on the door and asks you if you’re all right, then laughs when you tell him just one more minute. After another five minutes, he laughs again and leaves. You hear him close the cabin door.
When you were unpacking you saw the key in the drawer. You palmed it, then shoved it in the minuscule pants pocket in your culottes that nobody ever uses. The last place, you’re sure, that anyone would look.
You step into the cabin, then check the corridor. Empty, except for a man in a crew member’s polo at the far end. The lights flicker.
You put the key in, eyes locked with the distant shape waiting at the end of the corridor.
The ship moves underfoot, your eyes sting, everything wavers.
Then the door opens.
Later, you ask for a refill on your green tea, which looks like swamp water.
“I paid for all this booze,” your husband says. “Aren’t you going to drink any of it?”
You rub your stomach. “Maybe in a day or two,” you say. “On shore.”
The Captain passes your table, pats your shoulder, gives you a smile.
Note: I just finished The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. I’ve also been working on subtext lately. Then came Becky Clark’s invitation to write a short story (at 200 words max) based on a photo she posted on her Facebook author page…as you can probably guess, I ran overlong and wrote a story she’s probably gonna hate 😛 What are ya gonna do?