Samantha takes a cruise with her friend, finds trouble.
| "Ophelia Tours and Travel" read the sign. Hundreds of women milled around, chatting, laughing. Boarding wasn't for another hour.
"How did I let Lillian talk me into this?" Samantha wondered.
She thought back to a month ago. Sam ran into Lillian at the pharmacy.
"Sam, it's been too long," Lillian had beamed.
"At least a year," Sam had replied. "You work here now?"
"Subbing," Lillian had said. "Mike's having some unfortunate surgery and I'm pharming until he gets back."
"You look good--well, I mean. How are you?" Sam had stammered. Lillian looked more than just well, she looked fantastic.
"Are you blushing?" Lillian had twinkled.
"No. Maybe. Why? It's just--look at you. Look at me." Sam had motioned.
Lillian had leered playfully at Sam, "When was the last time you went on a date?"
Sam had turned a brighter red and said nothing.
Lillian had continued, "Oh my goodness. Not since we dated?"
Sam had forced a smile, but still stayed silent.
"Honey, that was six years ago. Six!"
Sam's eyes had bulged as the realization set in, "Six years. Wow. I guess I need to get out more. Wow."
They had finished the transaction and Sam left.
She should have known it wasn't over.
The very next day, Lillian had shown up at Sam's practice with this Alaskan Lesbian Cruise idea. And here she was, wandering around, avoiding eye contact, regretting every moment.
"Samantha? Is that you?" said a voice, familiar, but not Lillian.
"Goddess protect me," thought Sam.
"It is you. I tasted you on the air, sweet and rose-scented, and here you are," the other melodically mused.
"Meghan. How have you been? What's up?" Sam asked through tight lips.
"Beautiful. That's how I've been. This is my fourth time on this trip in twice as many years is what's up." Meghan slithered closer and continued, "This is a hook up cruise, fair one. I figured you'd have found a nice man, settled down, and raised a child or two by now."
Sam's head swam, "No men, but you knew that already. Please, find someone else to play with."
"Play?" Meghan twisted in, "When I play, you'll never see it coming."
"Lillian!" Sam waved frantically as her friend showed up in the distance. "Uh, Meghan, Lillian is my girlfriend so if you'll excuse me." Sam ran toward Lillian and kissed her before she could say a word.
"Started celebrating early?" Lillian asked.
"That's Meghan," Sam stage-whispered.
"The Meghan? Meghan Henna who tore your heard out and stomped on it?"
Sam nodded, still smiling.
Meghan caught up, "Please introduce me to your exceptional friend."
"Meghan? Lillian. Lillian? Meghan. We've been together six years." Sam hoped to the Goddess that Lillian would go along with it.
"Six years. Seems like only yesterday, or a month ago."
"Lillian? Meghan and I were in high school together," Sam added.
"Don't be modest, Samantha. We're all adults here" Meghan leaned in, "I was her first."
Lillian immediately said, "And may I be her last," before taking Sam's hand. "If you'll excuse us." She pulled her toward the boarding area.
"Take good care of Samantha," Meghan called out. "She's an exceptional woman!"
After they were out of earshot Sam gushed, "Oh thank you, thank you. I didn't want her thinking I was available."
"God, she is creepy. Can't she read minds or something?" Lillian asked?
"What? No. Not really. She's a psychic leech. She literally feeds off of the emotions of those around her. At least, that's what she was back then. By the--what if she can read minds. She'll know I was lying," Sam felt herself panicking.
"Chill, Sam. You don't owe her anything. If she knows you were making things up, she should be smart enough to know why."
Three hours later, check-in, and using the map to find their cabin (paid extra for the ocean view), the two friends relax.
"So," Lillian started. "I was planning on getting out in circulation, looking for some no-strings, bumper-to-bumper action while out here."
Sam snickered, "Yeah, you playing up the whole 'chapstick lesbian' thing. Fit and buff suits you. In case you didn't notice, I went in a different direction, a bit more marshmallow shaped, dumpy even, also older than any almost every other woman I've seen, and my empathic abilities mean I'll know how someone feels about me before they do."
Lillian grinned, "You're curvy, experienced, and intuitive. Sounds like a winner to me. But what I was trying to say is that I can't pretend to be your long-term girlfriend if I want ol' Jane to have company. I mean, we could say were polyamorous but that just complicates things even more." Lillian made a face, "The idea of you watching me with someone else is just too bleh."
Sam sighed, "I know. I'm sorry. I... well I panicked. She was an awful person back then, but she helped me figure out who I was at a difficult time."
Lillian put a hand on Sam's shoulder, "What did I say? You don't owe her anything. She only has a hold over you if you let her."
"By the way," Sam asked, "How long as it been for you?"
Lillian feigned doing math in her head, "98 days." She glanced at her wrist, "and counting. I am not getting to 100, you hear?" Lillian stood, "Now," she said, "let's get to orientation so we'll know the croquet schedule."
Cruise Director Madeline Wei, petite but with a booming voice detailed the itinerary for the next 8 days, the stops, the sights, the food, the activities, and reminded us all that, even though everybody on the boat was a woman, please refrain from hitting on staff and crew.
Sam and Lillian had dinner at Gallagher's, then drinks and dancing at La Luna. Lillian danced and made new friends while Sam watched, smiled, and nursed a single mixed drink.
"You alone?" someone yelled over the music. She was too tan but radiated gentleness.
"What? Sort of? I guess?" Sam yelled back.
"Can I sit?" the other asked.
"I'm Alice, she said.
"Sam," she replied.
"The one you're watching on the dance floor? She's your friend?"
"Yeah, roomies for the trip. We've been friends. Off and on, for ten years."
Sam felt a shift in Alice's energy, "Would your friend mind if I took you for a walk?"
Sam snorted, "Yeah, sure." But, after feeling an undercurrent of loneliness, added, "Wait, you're serious?"
Alice smirked, "Why wouldn't I be?"
Outside La Luna, they could talk at a normal volume.
Alice said, "You seemed shocked that I was--look, I'm a pretty good judge of character, good intuition, and you seemed like the right person. Is that weird?"
Sam smiled, "Not at all."
Out here, in the sparse hallways, Sam could better appreciate the quiet beauty of Alice's energy. It was subtle, full of healed over scars, achingly bulging with history, with stories of tragedy and triumph. Evidence of a life well-lived, of balance. It was comfortable, like a leather sofa, you just wanted to sink yourself in it and be embraced by its warmth.
"Sam? You okay?" Alice asked.
Sam blinked her eyes and gathered herself, "Speaking of weird, you have a fascinating aura."
Alice faked a laugh.
Same felt another shift, "I'm sorry. Did I--do I sound like a flake?"
Alice shook her head and a wave of sadness washed over Sam, "No. It's just... she led me to you. I'm sure of it."
"Who did?" Sam asked.
"Christine. My--I'm--she was--I'm a widow," Alice said. "Four years now. She could see auras, too. She was talented and pretty, too good for me, that's for sure."
Both were silent, but Sam could feel the tumultuous emotions bubbling inside Alice.
"I'd be more than happy to talk with you about whatever it is you need to talk about," Sam offered. She was a licensed therapist, after all.
Alice's cabin was single occupancy, interior, no windows. Hidden. Like Alice had been. They talked for hours, raided the mini-bar, ate the complimentary fruit, laughed, cried, shared secrets. They fell asleep side-by-side some time around dawn.
Sam woke up an hour and half later, "Crap. Lillian will be worked," Sam thought.
Alice was still sleeping, but had a smile on her face. It was enough to make Sam tear up.
She left a note and noiselessly exited the room.
"Around two corners, and up one deck," Sam calculated in her mind, remembering the best route to her cabin.
Exiting the stairwell, Sam bumped into Meghan.
"Good morning, fair one. What would your girlfriend think of you skulking around all night?"
Sam was in too good a mood for this, "You know what? It's none of your business." She pushed past and didn't look back.
Her cabin was empty. Looked like Lillian never made it back. "Good for her," Sam thought as she plopped on her full-sized pillow-top mattress with Egyptian cotton sheets and promptly fell asleep.
Same awoke to the sound of the door opening.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you," Lillian whispered.
"S'fine. Where?" is all Sam managed to garble out.
"Her name was Ashleigh with an L-E-I-G-H and she was like twenty years younger than me. 'How many days, Lillian,'" she asked herself. "'Well, that'd be zero, Lillian'" she answered.
"High five," Sam offered, raising her arm.
"True dat," said Lillian slapping her palm.
The two friends slept until noon.
Lunch was at Castor's Bar and Grill. They have amazing soup. Everybody on the ship was more relaxed, getting into the groove.
Sam opted not to tell Lillian about spending the night with Alice. Besides, Lillian was more than willing to discuss her night with Ashleigh in detail. Vivid detail. Including "Have you heard of something called 'the bowling ball'?" and "I will never look at hand sanitizer the same way again."
Sam felt a nagging fear, minute but ever present, that she was being watched, stalked. "You really need to get over Meghan," was Lillian's advice. Lillian wasn't an empath, couldn't feel the life force of the earth and its inhabitants, but "maybe she's right," Sam thought.
After lunch, Lillian wanted to hit one of the Fitness Centers.
"I'm 'hitting' the hot tub on deck 5," Sam replied.
"I'll meet you there when I'm done and we can both hit the pool. It's Olympic-sized!" Lillian suggested.
Sam lasted about twenty minutes in the hot tub, sat on a lounge chair chatting with fellow passengers for ten, got back in the hot tub for another thirty, started to feel sick, and decided to head back to the room. "Lillian will have to change first," Sam thought. "I'll run into her one way or another."
Sam shivered all the way to the room, even after a quick, hot shower, even after climbing into bed.
"I'd better not be getting sick," she thought as she dozed off.
In the dream, the ship is empty, no other passengers, no crew. Just her. Corriders go on for far too long. Doors open to emptiness. Stairs dead-end. She finds herself below decks, in darkness, but she can see. It's freezing and smells of mud. "Your friends are in danger," says a voice, her own voice, but harsher. "You?" Sam says. "No, you," is the reply as the impostor steps into view. The face, the body, it's uncanny, everything but the eyes and the mouth are perfect. "There is something on this ship that hungers. You and your friends are in danger," says the impostor. "Meghan?" Sam asks. The impostor smiles and only says, "Wake up."
Sam heard banging on the door. "Ms. Orramayn, are you in there?"
She was no longer cold.
"What?" she opened the door to see two members of the crew she had not met before. "This is First Officer Bowman and I'm Security Officer Sommers," said the taller of the two. "Would you please come with us?"
"What is this about?"
Sam sensed their genuine concern and went with them. They led her to the ship's infirmary. "Now, before we go in, keep in mind, she is alive and seems stable."
"What do you..."
First Officer Bowman took Sam's hand, "Lillian was in some sort of accident. She was found below decks, unconscious."
"By the--let me see her!" Sam shoved them aside and burse inside.
The infirmary had three beds. Two were taken. Both occupants were slight blue in color and unconscious, unmoving. Sam didn't recognize the first, but knelt beside Lillian and felt her wrist for a pulse. Ice cold and far too slow. "What happened? Who did this?"
Using her third eye to look The Other Way, Sam could see thousands of tiny wounds covering both patient's auras and the auras themselves were pale, torn, and weak, like something had attacked and drained them."
"What are their vitals? What sort of blood work can you run? Did you discover any puncture wounds? Find any needles? See any lividity?"
"Easy," said another voice. "I'm Dr. Jain. Their vitals are... not great."
"How? I'm a doctor, too, DO," Sam added.
"Oh. Well, it looks like hypothermia. Slow heart rate, slow shallow breathing, low body temperature, but we can't see how it happened. They were below decks, not exposed to the elements, and environmental controls keep it at 72 degrees. We're rotating warm blankets on them, heating them up in a clothes dryer since that's all we have."
"Do you have a chart?"
Dr. Jain glanced at the two officers who glanced at each other before Security Officer Sommers just shrugged. Dr. Jain handed Sam the chart, "The first patient was discovered 18 hours ago, your friend about two. Both had body temps in the mid-70s when located. We've got number one up to 91, but she's still out and your friend was at 77 last time we checked."
Sam flipped through the chart. Not much to go on.
Security Officer Sommers spoke up, "We were hoping you knew the other victim--patient, too, Pamela Brandis?"
Sam shook her head.
"Were they found in the same spot?" Sam asked.
"No. Both on sub-deck A, but not in the same place."
Sam felt a trickle of worry from Security Officer Sommers.
Samantha respected his worry but had already made up her mind. She looked at Lillian and set her jaw, "Okay, then."
She swiftly left the infirmary and headed to sub-deck A, pausing for a few minutes in the stairwell to cry.
It's difficult to keep the third eye open for extended periods without astral projection. That would leave her too vulnerable, so Sam managed to keep looking The Other Way while staying in her body.
"The energy of this deck is off," she noted. "Full of static and cracks and gaps. Something of The Other is here and it is not being quiet about it."
"Thought I'd find you here, fair Samantha."
Sam saw the familiar aura, bleeding, grasping, needy, but already knew the voice. "Meghan! Did you do this!" Sam demanded, slamming her third eye shut.
"Why would any of my kind do anything like this to anyone? We thrive when our friends thrive," said Meghan.
"You said it yourself; this is your fourth time. You drain innocents every time? Or were you working up to it?" Sam was very close to Meghan.
"Samantha, fair one, I only take that which is given freely. You know that," Meghan calmly replied.
"Yeah, you have a loose definition of 'freely' if memory serves."
Meghan stood tall, "I shall do as I have always done and tell you the truth."
Sam backed off, "Better be good."
"This may surprise you, but I am here hunting the thing below decks. I was tipped off that there was a brewing anomaly nine years ago and it's been growing ever since. This is the first time it's attacked anyone. It may be manifesting enough to finally confront it."
Sam remembered back to a night in college, when something nearly killed her friend, it had left her cold and drained. She fell the blood leave her face, "if it's what I think it is, then we need to go right now and call in a professional."
"You still don't understand. I am a professional, Samantha. This is what I do."
"No, you don't understand. A shadow thing nearly killed one of the--no, the best sorcerer I've ever known."
"Ah," Meghan said. "It's not one of those. Those leave behind the smell of tar and asphalt, not dirt and flowers. This is something altogether weirder."
"Oh? And what do you know about it? My friend is upstairs in the infirmary, comatose and suffering from hypothermia," screamed Sam.
"What do you know about it? You've spent years studying nature magic, yes? You could just as easily tell me." Meghan goaded.
Sam caught the smell of cedar and honeysuckle, felt a shift in the room.
"Call them out, my fair one. They're right here."
Sam centered herself.
"I call upon Morrigan
As she watches over all
May she turn her gaze here
And show what is hidden
May all her children be revealed
In the name of the Great Goddess
As above, so below
As within, so without
So mote it be."
who remembers, scratched a barely audible voice.
who indeed, another.
orchid and iris, says the first.
serve the goddess, says the second.
They alternate back and forth as it part of the same mind.
she forgets us
let's this place die
let's the world forget
kills our sister
"Lilly?" Sam asks, looking for the source of the voices. "Lillian?"
There. Two girls, floated in the air and draped in purple, locked in an embrace.
it is with great sorrow
that we act
The girls morphed into a jellyfish creature with hanging tendrils, waving like flat tentacles. As they came toward her, Sam felt an almost unbearable guilt pouring from them. She also saw they were lined with innumerable tiny mouths and she understood what had drained the others' energy.
"No! Warped faeries, you will not feed her again!" Meghan jumped in front of the tendrils and let them wrap around her. She grunted, but held fast.
The faeries partially returned to the girl form but kept the lower half jellyfish tendrils.
There was a rushing sound and the air filled with grit.
The temperature immediately dropped at least 10 degrees and the debris seemed to dig into the skin.
All went black.
Sam's next memory was of leaning against a wall, stroking her temples. She heard Meghan, "Lily is dead. It was necessary. She was Broken, an abomination, while you are only Bent. You still have a choice. If you leave, I am authorized to let you go in peace."
The faeries were crying.
no place to go
no place in the world
Sam felt moved, "Hey, Orchid and Iris."
Sam propped herself up, "What is it you need? Running water? Trees? Life? Reverence to the Great Goddess, the Earth herself?"
Sam smiled, "Come home with me. I share a four-acre piece of land with my neighbors. Small creek, frog pond, trees left mostly untouched. Nature is cherished. I even worship there sometimes.
The faeries shimmered with joy and confusion.
"You acted out of love for your sister. Not malice. I could feel that. I can forgive you, but only on one condition," Sam said. "There are two very sick women upstairs that you owe a favor. Return what you have taken or as much of it as you can. You acted out of love, true, but that doesn't make it right."
Sam asked Meghan, "What happened when I passed out?"
"If opposites attract, fair one, what of two of the same?"
"You out-leeched them?" Sam posed?
"Just the one, Lily. Her devoted sisters merely lured in and held prey for her. Lily was completely broken and unaware that she was already gone and her sisters kept her close so she'd never know." Meghan asked, "I saw murder in your eyes when you thought I was capable of such things. Why do you show these creatures kindness?"
Sam thought, then said, "I felt their love, but also their fear and sorrow. They did what they had to do, even though they didn't want to. From their perspective, they had no choice but to protect and try to heal their sister the only way they knew how."
"Yes, love makes fools of us all. They have a rare chance to become whole again." Meghan added, "Thanks to you," with obvious pride in her voice. "But how do you think Lillian will feel about you rescuing the very things that tried to kill her?"
Sam shook her head, "If you are a follower of the Left Hand Path and me the Right, then she follows the Middle Path. To her, death is part of life and balance is more important than 'good' and 'evil'. She'll understand."
The faeries changed their appearance into withered versions of their namesake flowers and Sam gently retrieved them. She turned to head to the infirmary.
"Fair one," Meghan said. "Please leave me out of this. I am that much more effective when few know that I act."
"Effective at what?" Sam asked.
"Pest control," Meghan smiled.
Sam nodded and jogged to the infirmary.
With flowers in tow, she took a deep breath and stepped inside.
Pamela was sitting up and Lillian was stirring.
"By the Goddess!"
Dr. Jain was practically glowing, "Miraculous. This just started about half an hour ago. Maybe some sort of fast-acting virus. I really don't know."
Later, when asked how they ended up on sub-deck A, Pamela swore she'd heard her nephew calling for her and she smelled a strong smell of wet pine. Then she blacked out. Lillian said she heard Sam yelling for help and smelled grass before blacking out.
That's when First Officer Bowman told everyone that sub-deck A was haunted, had been for a decade, and people, crew mostly, heard whispering voices and children laughing, felt cold spots, saw moving shadows, caught out-of-place smells, and even lost time down there.
"That was not in the brochure," Lillian pointed out.
They were both still recovering, so Pamela and Lillian had to spend the rest of the trip in their quarters with Dr. Jain visiting often. Sam gave up her bed so Pamela could be in the nicer room and she took Pamela's room. It was on the same deck as Alice.