A ship in the Pacific comes across a mysterious corpse and seeks to solve her mysteries.
Chapter Four: Gray
I'd fallen asleep and as I woke, hours later, Gray wasn't sleeping on me. That was her name, Gray, and a small sense of achievement grew in me for knowing it. The bedroom door was closed, and she was nowhere to be seen. I pried the blanket from me, irritated with how feverishly hot I felt, and how my shirt stuck to the sweat on my back. I looked through the window, surprised to find it night.
I could make out a girl's muffled voice from the other side of the door, but then a pause, and then another voice responded - a man's. A sudden panic came over me as I hurled myself to the door, jerking it open. My mind jumped automatically to the thought of Strauss' dark, perverted eyes. To my relief it was only the Captain.
He and Gray were sitting beneath the one light in the room, their faces half lit by the fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling. They both turned their heads to see me stumble groggily through the doorway.
"Good morning, Doc," said the Captain.
"Morn'n," I managed, half-consciously. I felt heavy with sleep, my eyes crusty and rather reluctant to stay open. The girl - Gray, her name was Gray - was smiling at me the exact way she had this morning, clearly amused. The Captain turned and saw her mischievous expression, craning his neck to smirk back at me. "I just woke up," I added halfheartedly in my defense. "What time is it?"
"I've got a quarter after," Captain said.
"A quarter after what?" I asked.
"A quarter after eight," he laughed, his eyes never leaving Gray's face. I sensed a hint of condescension in the Captain's tone, and instantly understood that he was trying to belittle me in front of Gray. I sat down, rubbing my eyes. "Yes, anyways. So that's how I ended up here as the Captain of a cargo vessel. Gruz Industries is a Russian cargo company that started in the early nineties, after the fall of the Soviet Union. I've been with them since 1999. They've taken me all around the world," he trailed off.
"The Captain and I were just talking about his life. How interesting a lifetime at sea has been," Gray said excitedly.
"Yes, dreadfully interesting." He gave me a look, which spoke differently. "I was just generating conversation to see if I could spark this poor girl's memory. We can't even get past a name, though I think we were close there for a moment. She was thinking it sounded something like 'Charlotte'."
"It's Gray," I stated matter-of-factly, my eyes fixed on her in anticipation of a reaction.
She looked down at the floor. "Gray," she whispered, her face emotionless. Then suddenly she lit up, staring at me. She laughed, nodding. "Yes, yes that's it! Gray, oh, of course. I see it so clearly now. How did I not see it before?" She continued to smile at herself, eyes fixed on a spot on the floor.
"Well done, Doc," the Captain said, jilted. "How did you figure that one out?"
"She said it in her sleep. That, and you mentioned an Isaac," I said, turning to her. "Does this bring anything else back to you? Are you remembering anything else?" I asked expectantly. The captain and I turned to watch her as she sat whispering the name to herself. She shook her head.
"No, nothing. How queer. Why should I remember my name and nothing else along with it?" she asked, eyes jumping between mine and the Captain's.
"Well," I replied, "obviously you can remember something as commonplace as your name. It's been said so many times, I would imagine. It's the one thing - the one word - you've heard the most. You're bound to remember at least that. And it fits you, Gray."
She looked at us both, her teeth sitting most attractively over her lip, pressing it down, her eyes smiling. Most reluctantly I pulled my eyes to see the Captain's face. He was in awe as well - his features lit like a bright fire in response to hers. The monster deep within me was trying to get me to say something I would most assuredly regret. I bit my bottom lip, closing the door on the jealous monster I had kept caged inside. The Captain got up to his feet, his heavy boots making a thud on the steel floor. He walked over to face me, "Can I have a word with you?" he asked in a whisper. I nodded. "We'll just be a second, Gray." We stepped out into an empty hall.
"Yes?" I asked, closing the door behind me. I held the knob tightly in my fist.
"Ross got the Satellite system up, We reported having found her to the nearest Coast Guard. I just took a digital of her to send them, see if she matches any missing person case." He pulled a small metallic camera from his coat pocket. "If something comes up and she's a match she'll go to live with her family. If not, the report will be made, and she will choose where she goes from there. She's a lovely girl, I'll see to it that she's placed somewhere safe. In the meantime no more naps. She's bound to let one of the crew in, and God knows what will happen when she's no longer a secret. The crew will be lining up at your door with every vague inclination of nausea, headaches, and paper cuts. This ship is in ship-shape presently, and I'd like to keep it that way," he snapped.
"Strauss saw her, this afternoon, through the window. There wasn't anything I could do. I wasn't thinking and left the blinds open. I'm sure half the ship knows by now. Does he keep to himself much, this Strauss guy?" I asked. But there was not time for an answer. The sound of a faint shattering glass could be heard, it sounded like it could be coming from a room above, or the room next door. Or perhaps it was Gray, perusing the glass vials in the medicine cabinet.
In a half-second the Captain and I pushed ourselves through the door, our eyes taking inventory of the room, and what was missing from it. It took a second to see through a cloud of flying papers blown by the sea breeze. The window was broken, blood dripping down a lone, large shard of glass standing in the frame. Gray was gone.
The Captain shot back through the door, his heavy footsteps trailing down the hall. I threw on a sweatshirt, jumped to the window, and kicked out the glass shard. I stuck my head out into the ocean air but it was too dark to see. I crawled up on the desk and crawled carefully through the opening, making sure to avoid the erect shards of glass adorned in fresh blood.
I suddenly found myself grateful that I'd fallen asleep in my clothes. The ice-cold air felt raw on my hands and face as I reached out into the dark night for the rail. I grabbed hold of the cold metal bar, carefully set my feet down on the deck and peered over the edge of the freighter. I couldn't see anything, but I listened for any sound or cry for help over the sound of the waves lapping against the side of the ship below. It seemed only a handful of seconds passed since I'd heard the glass break. She couldn't have gone far. Suddenly the Captain appeared down the side of the ship with a flashlight.
"Anything?" he huffed, shining his small light into the water. I couldn't make anything out. I shook my head.
"Do you have a brighter light? I can't make out a thing over here," I yelled.
The Captain disappeared a few seconds, then I heard a loud click and flood lights lit the freighter from end to end. My eyes were filling with tears as the cold ocean air sharply passed my face. I wiped them, scanning the dimly lit water but she was nowhere to be seen. I ran towards the front of the ship, scanning the water and trying not to slip on the deck. As I came around the corner I heard the captain yell, "There! She's running!" Then I saw her, from a ways down on the edge of the vessel. She was booking it, running at full speed away from me. I jetted off after her. She was quite a ways away, but I could make out the distinct sound of her bare feet striking the hull as she sprinted. Even with the floodlights running I couldn't make out exactly what I was seeing. If I wasn't mistaken, she wasn't running alone. I ran and almost tripped on a garment lying on the ground. The clothes I had given her to wear earlier were lying there in a pile. I continued after her, calling her name at the top of my lungs. I tried to make sense of all this as I approached her. She was with another person, I couldn't make out if it was a man or a woman. Then they both stopped at the edge of the ship and the first climbed the rail, perched to jump. "Wait!" I yelled as I approached. The first person jumped into the water. I could hear the captain's heavy boots running to catch up from behind me. I got closer and closer as Gray climbed the rail to jump. She acted like she didn't notice my approaching. I reached her in the moment she pushed off the rail to jump. I threw myself over the edge, reaching after her. My hand caught her right ankle as she leaped, taking me down with her into the blackish green water. The water sent a sharp, cold burn through my skin. I still had a solid hold of her ankle as she kicked back and forth, swimming downward, dragging me down with her. She tried kicking at my arm as I tried to keep my hold on her. She was strong; stronger than I was. Stronger than any woman I had ever known. I wrapped my other arm around her thigh, trying hard to keep a grip on her as her legs moved back and forth. Her long hair touched my face, flowing into my mouth as I unknowingly opened it in the struggle. I instantly thought to pull at her hair. I strengthened my grip on her so I could free up an arm and reached out, grabbing a thick lock of her raven hair. She let out a muffled scream which was audible under the water. She stopped swimming and turned on me. It was too dark to see what she was doing, but I began to feel her scrape at my arms as I held tightly to her. I repositioned my arms around her leg to try to get my feet close to her head. Finally, I managed to get my feet around. I wasn't sure where exactly to kick, but I had to try. I put all the force I could muster into my right foot and kicked as hard as I could.
Her body went lifeless and descent to the bottom of the ocean came to a halt. I began to panic as I realized how little breath I had in my lungs. I reached down to get a good grasp around her torso, reaching from behind. I squinted my eyes to make out the surface. I couldn't tell which direction was up and which was down. I saw a faint light and began kicking my feet to swim in that direction, my shoes making it almost impossible to move in the water. The light got brighter and closer with every stroke of my free arm through the black water. Finally, after what seemed like minutes, we reached the surface. As my head cleared the water I gasped for air, drawing in a frozen mixture of mist and air. I saw the ship and all the flood lights, about fifty yards away. I could make out exclamations of relief and the sound of the Zodiac approaching. I floated there with my face to the sky, trying to regain a normal breathing rhythm, holding Gray's face upward to let her breathe, unsure if she was alive. The Zodiac pulled closer as I was blinded by the spotlight illuminating the greenish-black water.
"Are you alright? Have you got her?" came the Captain's voice.
"Yes! I think!" I called back in a wavering voice between gasps. "I'm fine, she may not be."
The boat pulled close and the Captain reached out his hands to take Gray up into the boat. He grabbed her lifeless body and I began to try to crawl my way into the boat. Eustace was there on the Zodiac with the Captain and tried helping me up into the boat. Suddenly he let out a loud panicked scream, "What on earth! Look out!"
Suddenly I felt something grasp my left ankle that tried to yank me back into the water. Eustace reached out and grabbed my dripping-wet hand before I was pulled down too far. I began kicking at whatever it was that was pulling me down. The Captain joined the tug-of-war skirmish and grabbed my other hand, both of them trying to fight whatever it was that was trying to pull me back in. Finally my kicking paid off as my right foot struck whatever it was. It instantly released its grasp of me.
I was in the boat within seconds, breathing heavily with the fear at the thought of being pulled back into the frigid water. Eustace stood close to me, making sure I was unharmed while the Captain stood by the floodlight, aiming it back and forth to try to get a glimpse of whatever it was that had grabbed me.
"I think it's gone," the Captain huffed, his breath visible in the night air. "Take us back, Euie." The Captain and I stared at each other for a few solid seconds. Then our eyes both fell on Gray. I'm fairly certain were both thinking the same thing.
Eustace, grabbed the handle to the rudder and began steering us back to the ship. The Captain turned his eyes on the water, paranoid of another attack. I set myself down on the rubber floor, next to where Gray's lifeless body lay. I reached over to feel a pulse. She was alive. I just hoped me kicking her in directly in the head didn't cause any permanent damage.
We all sat there speechless; in shock. Each of us tried to catching our breath as we tried to wrap our heads around what had just happened. These people weren't ordinary people. Gray had to be something different, but it was really hard to convince myself that she wasn't human. These people were swimming down toward something. But what? The Zodiac hit the side of the ship as Eustace tied us to it. We all climbed back on board without saying a word to one another. Finally, I had to ask.
"What was it that grabbed me?" I asked, turning to Eustace. "Or should I say who? You saw it clearly, didn't you?"
"I don't know what I saw," Eustace replied. "At first I thought it was a shark or a fish or something, but as it got closer I could see that it had arms and legs and a face. Then he reached out its arm and grabbed you. I couldn't see very well, but it was clearly a man. He had facial hair and he looked angry. How was he under there without breathing? And why was he naked?" I could see that Eustace had been spooked by what he had seen and I didn't want to question him further. My soaking-wet shoes broke the awkward silence as we walked, each of us deep in thought, toward the sick bay. The Captain held Gray, her hair and limbs flailing back and forth.
"Thank you for helping us out there, Eustace," the Captain said. "One or all of us may have drowned out there if you weren't there to lend a hand."
"Glad I could help," he replied.
Moments later we entered the sick bay. The Captain gently laid Gray back down on the exam table, crinkling a fresh layer of wax paper. I began undressing, taking my wet clothes off, throwing them on the floor in haste. I had a new pair of clothes on within minutes and was back out in the exam room. The Captain was standing around Gray's unconscious body and Eustace was busy putting duct tape over the gaping hole where the window had been broken out. The room was quiet except for the sound of the ocean breeze sneaking in through a hole in the duct tape. I could hear water dripping from Gray's wet hair to the floor.
"We should tie her down," I said.
The Captain shot me an angry look of disbelief. "Whatever for?! What happened down there?" he spat.
I looked at them both, my brain whirring into action to try to put into words what just happened. "Well, I spotted them way down along the starboard side, sprinting. There were two of them. I couldn't see them very well and they were booking it; I was hauling ass to try to keep up. Then, out of nowhere, the first one climbs up on the side of the ship and dives into the water. Gray was climbing up on the ledge just as I reached her. I grabbed her heel as she dived in…" I continued to tell the story, recounting all the odd little details.
The Captain and Eustace would ask a question here and there, moreso the Captain, as Eustace's eyes bounced back and forth, fighting the urge to stare at Gray. "So they were swimming downward?" the Captain asked, "Why do you think that is?"
"I don't know what to think," I answered, "but I definitely feel like we should tie her to the bed. I had to wrestle her to get her to stop swimming. If I hadn't kicked her in the head, she might've drowned herself."
"Do you really think that would kill her?" the Captain asked.
"I don't think it would have, judging by her friend's ability to swim around for so long without coming up for air. It just makes no sense. I don't know what to believe anymore." I searched through a drawer for some zip ties.
"Do you really think it's necessary to tie her down?"
"Yes, I think it's necessary. She's strong. Here, give me a hand. Tie that arm down." I handed him a few zip ties, and I began to tie her left arm to the rail on the side of the bed. The Captain and I had Gray's hands and feet tied down in a few seconds. I pulled out my flashlight and checked her pupils, carefully pulling back each eyelid to flash the light in.
"No concussion," I noted to myself.
"Eustace, you should probably go." The Captain said. "And I trust you to keep this all quiet. The fewer people who know about what's going on here, whatever it is, the better. And again, thanks for helping out."
Eustace made no protest, peeled his eyes away from tied-down person on the bed, and walked quietly out of the room, closing the door behind him.
"Let's wake her up. Do you have something for that?" the Captain asked.
Then I went over to the medicine cabinet to pull out a dry cloth and a bottle of ammonium carbonate, unscrewing the lid and soaking a small amount into the cloth. I stood there watching her as I did, deep in thought.
Who is this girl? Why was she trying to escape off this ship after we had just rescued her? Where was she going? What was down there? Who was her friend who attacked me in the water? And where did that person come from? So many questions were running through my head. I had to sift through them, trying to decide which ones I wanted to ask first.
I took the cloth and waved it around near her nostrils. She began to stir. Finally, her eyes opened wide, confused and disoriented.
"Gray, are you alright? Do feel any pain anywhere?" I probed.
Her face then went calm again. "What happened?" She asked.
"We were hoping you could tell us, actually," the Captain said.
"Why am I tied down? Can you please untie me?" She began to pull at the zip ties holding her to the exam table. Her face got tense again, beautiful still.
"Gray, we can't do that," I began. "We need to know a few things before we can untie you. Gray, you tried to jump into the ocean. Do you remember that?" I asked.
I stared intently at her eyes as I asked the question, putting one of my oldest talents to the test. For as long as I can remember I've had the uncanny ability to tell if someone was lying. Tiny nuances in the way the eyes move would communicate to me the validity of what they said, as they said it.
She looked up at the ceiling, then back at the Captain, and then to me. "No," she whispered, "I don't… I don't understand. I was just sitting in here, over there," she gestured with her eyes to the desk chair, "then, out of the blue, the window broke and something hit me in the head and now I'm here, lying on this table." I followed the movement of her eyes about the room. Her eyes couldn't focus on mine or the Captain's as she said it; she was lying, and I was sure of it.