the shades of men walk the decks
Meanwhile, Max’s mishap continued in the absence of any explanation.
After that other mysterious ship faded into the mist, he wandered the deck for a while. Seeing nothing else of any use out here, he finally summoned the nerve to go back inside. It nothing else, he told himself, that little kid he was so sure he saw earlier probably shouldn’t be walking around such a creepy place all on his own.
Resisting the strong impulse to toss his radio overboard, as it wasn’t enough that it taunted him with silence when he tried to talk to his friends, as absent from the sea above as they were from the airwaves. It also had to make eerie noises at him, and the part the disturbed him most was that none of the intermittent voices he heard sounded even remotely like either of his friends. Still, he understood that whatever was disrupting their radio contact might only be a temporary phenomenon, and if he could get in touch with either of his friends again, it might just be the single most urgent call of his life.
Or at least since their misadventures in the Harken Building, he reminded himself. Recalling that disturbing place probably wasn’t the smoothest move, he decided, yet it was hard not to think of his desperate intercom conversation with Shades, fearing that it might be the last time he ever got to hear his voice again. And he could all to easily picture them shambling about these abandoned, mist-shrouded halls… and was most relieved to know that this time Bandit wouldn’t have to experience that nightmare.
These thoughts led him to the jarring conclusion that if he was stuck here, Shades may also not have been able to make it back to the ship, either.
With a renewed sense of urgency, he resumed his search of the derelict. With every step noting how grimy the floor felt, knowing it could potentially trip him up if he had to run. Combined with a misty haze that was so thick, he could hardly see ten feet ahead of him in some sections, he was all too aware of how dangerous these narrow corridors could become were anyone, or anything, lying in wait for him. If there were any of them on this ghost ship, Shades would need some backup. And after his fun experience nearly getting mobbed by the walking dead, he didn’t feel up to taking such enemies on alone, either, injuries or no injuries.
His arm only served to undermine his confidence in a place that didn’t exactly inspire such feelings in the first place.
He debated with himself for a while about whether or not to call out to his friend, fearing that Shades might not be the only one around to hear him. For now opting for silence as he stepped up to one of the doors. The latch felt gritty to the touch, and both the mechanism and the hinges were rusty, such that even his slow, gentle movement still produced a stuttery grinding noise as he opened it. Having lost any semblance of stealth, he instinctively hung back, keeping the door between himself and whatever may be inside.
After waiting a few seconds, and getting no response, he peered around the corner, seeing an empty cabin. Rust-stained walls, moldy blankets scattered on the bunk, a blotchy dark mark in the middle of floor that he didn’t care to dwell on. Otherwise, devoid of anything noteworthy.
Max was about to move on to the next room, fairly confident that he was alone in this part of the ship, when he heard footsteps trudging down those eerie passageways.
Now sure he had celebrated too soon, he ducked into the musty room, hiding just around the corner so he could see anyone entering before they saw him. Laser sword clutched tightly in his uninjured hand, he killed the light, so as not to be seen first. Then he waited.
When he found he could make out more than one set of feet making that sound as they drew nearer, it was even less reassuring to him. Even as he tried to figure out what he should do, his instincts leaning toward bottle-necking any attackers in the doorway to hold them off, he spotted a movement out of the corner of his eye.
Max could hardly credit what he was seeing. What he saw, if he had this right, was the shadow of the open door inching ever so slightly along the wall. It took him a moment to figure out why this couldn’t be right when it finally clicked. The faint moonlight shimmering in through the room’s lone porthole hadn’t changed at all.
If the hairs on his neck weren’t standing before, now they were trying to leap off him altogether as he watched a parade of shadowy man-shapes march past the door in time with its own shifting shadow. He couldn’t recall later if he still heard footsteps, but his headphones piped up again, bringing him faint garbled snatches of conversation that somehow seemed to fit the spectral scene unfolding before him. All he could do was just stand as watch as a dozen or so shadows worked their way across the wall, the sound of voices fading into the pop and hiss of static.
On a walk from nowhere to nowhere.
It was then that Max finally remembered where he had heard the name Sweet Lady before. Not only did it have nothing to do with his parents’ travels, it was something he could kick himself for not remembering more easily before. From his own journey. So tired and muzzy earlier, but now he could see it clearly, printed on that scrap of paper he found in the Harken Building only weeks ago.
Behold, the Sweet Lady of Twylight… That this must surely be what Justin was trying to warn them about earlier. As the full weight of his predicament sunk in, he found himself looking around these dreary decks in silent horror.
Max would stand there leaning against the wall for some time, after that ghostly procession departed, only able to conclude that there was something terribly wrong going on aboard this ship.