Ship in a Bottle

The beginning of the trip, with the streamers and the champagne and the leis and the smiling staff – that was wonderful, like I was in a movie. Everybody was so happy. Maybe my mistake was watching the land disappear behind us, or following cruise ship disasters on the Internet.

In the expanse of charcoal blue water, under the blue sky, with only a thin horizon line to separate the two tones, all I could feel was an impending sense of doom. Bilbo Baggins could commiserate, I’m sure, and I suppose if I had an all powerful wizard helping me along, I would have felt a bit better, but instead I just had a smiling cruise ship attendee who moved my room away from windows and made sure I sat in the middle of the room at meals, away from that ruddy blue ocean.

Getting away from windows meant gambling, movie watching, and a ridiculous amount of alcohol, because even though I wasn’t looking at the ocean, I felt like it was lurking behind every door, waiting to slosh menacingly after me, full of spiny, fluorescent things from the deep.

After I had lost all my money, seen the six movies they had on board three times each, and gone through my allotted alcohol tickets, I took to wandering around the ship armed with Diet Coke and a small mirror that I used to look around corners. I knew the ocean was just waiting for me to let my guard down, so I kept vigilant.

It would cost me about 800 dollars to fly home from our first stop, and since I had spent my savings on the cruise and the gambling, I knew I was stuck for the duration of the two weeks to Acapulco and back. I had 2 days to fill until our first stop at an uninhabited island.

Below deck seemed vast, and I couldn’t help feeling that I was traversing a skyscraper laid on its side. The crew got to know me, chastised me for missing the sunny weather up on deck, encouraged me to use the pools, or, barring that, the video game room. I would just tip an imaginary cowboy hat and continue on, arm outstretched, mirror in hand.

I only had 8 hours to kill before we hit that first island that I couldn’t pronounce, but it seemed to stretch on into infinity. I had gained access to the crew quarters, and I passed kitchens belching seafood smells and a never ending supply of steam as lobsters met their end. I went deeper.

“Sir.” Someone behind me wanted my attention, wanted to put me back on the top decks, in view of the water. I didn’t want to be forced back up to the place where I didn’t belong. I turned a corner, and then another.

“Sir! Please stop!”

Up above, there were hundreds of signs that pointed reassuringly to a blue, person-shaped sticker in the middle of a cartoon cross-section of the ship. You Are Here! The sign merrily shouted in reassuring green type. Those signs were few and far between down here. I could hear the man yelling after me, but it was fainter with every door I went through, every turn I took.

Eventually, I turned around and stopped hearing anything all together. I looked at the door I had just come through and only noticed then that it didn’t look like other doors on board. I turned back to look at the hallway and saw it was lit in bright, primary colors. There were people, but they were silent. I took a step but I couldn’t hear my sneakers. The carpet here was a deep, dark, luxurious blue.

A man came to greet me in a sharp, shiny blue suit with a skinny tie adorned with boats.

He tapped my shoulder and I followed him wordlessly. There were bottles every so often, placed at regular intervals along the corridor. They were labeled in a language I couldn’t understand.

We left the corridor via a mahogany door that seemed too large for the wall, and he closed the door behind me. We were in a library.

“Sir. We are glad you could join us.”

“Where are we? Are we still on the ship?”

“Of course. Take it easy.”

It was quiet down here. I felt my shoulders slump like whatever had knitted them up in a permanent shrug had been cut. I realized that for the first time in four days, I had let myself relax.

“Where am I?”

“You are on a cruise ship bound for Acapulco. And we are happy to have you on board.”

“But where am I now?”

“Some people can’t relax on board a ship. They never get their ‘sea legs.’ I call people of your type ‘landlubbers.'”

“I miss land.”

“We know.” The man stood up, straightened his tie, went to a shelf where a bottle was. He handed it to me. It looked like water, but it was dark blue and roiling. “What do you think that is?”

“It looks like the ocean.”

“Do you have any idea where we are on the ship right now?

“No.”

“Good. Drink.”

“Salt water?”

“All the bottles out there, they are the answer to fears. Fears are just unanswered questions, aren’t they? And aren’t you worried that you’ll drown out here, so far away from land?”

“Yes.”

“Then uncork the bottle and drink the ocean before it drinks you.”

The liquid looked menacing, just like I imagined. The water line was choppy with tiny white caps. I opened it, I drank, and felt my question answered.

This is what it felt like to die by drowning. When I couldn’t breathe, I watched the man fade away, and the amber lit library was replaced with light green, then light blue, then dark blue, then charcoal.

Two words followed me through the water when I felt the burst of calm from before settle on me like a blanket.

“Man overboard!”

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