The following is a piece of fiction that came to me in a dream a few nights ago. I've put it down in nearly the same structure as it appeared in the dream, with very little editing or change to the narrative. I only hope the piece has a 1/16 of the emotional impact that the dream had when I awoke from it. Those first few moments after a particularly moving dream are the hardest to capture and translate to the page. Especially when they're as weird as what follows.
Thanks for reading.
*Sound of hand held, micro recorder switching on*
I'm doing this in case anyone ever comes looking for us. In case anyone is alive anywhere to come looking. I want there to be a record of what happened here.
It happened on the fourth day of our first Caribbean cruise. One minute I was standing on the deck of the Carnival cruise ship Valor, staring through a pair of binoculars (that I'd bought especially for this cruise) at the widening line of the island of St. Martin, and in the time that it takes to brush your teeth in the morning, fill out a census report, or sign the forms to disconnect an ailing parent from life support, I found myself swimming away from the sinking, gleaming white hulk of the ocean liner as it upended and sank into the shallow, warm, coke bottle-colored waters.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
*Sound of recorder switching off and on again**
Okay. Let me try and start from the beginning. My wife, Del--only I call her that. Her real name is Delaney. Anyway, Del landed her first, real photojournalism assignment about 3 months ago. She was supposed to shoot a fashion spread featuring some designer I'd never heard of down in Montserrat, and we'd decided to make a vacation of it. We found a criminally good deal on a cruise out of Miami, and we would have arrived in Montserrat two days before the shoot was scheduled to begin. It was going to be a combination celebration of the first job of her new career and our honeymoon. We'd never taken one when we got married two years ago. Times were tough. We just couldn't afford it.
Lately, though, it seemed our ship had come in. Sorry. Bad pun.
Her assignment happened to coincide with the first sale of one of my stories. It was only a short story, and the magazine was small, which meant that the payday was even smaller. But I retained the rights to republish in the future, and it was my first time in any publication. It was significant no matter the size.
Needless to say, we were in the clouds. Drunk on the very notion of our first accomplishments. There wasn't really any money to substantiate our success, but money was never the reason for our endeavors in the first place. So, despite the miniature size of our bank account, Delaney booked the cruise. We were on our way to sun and sand.
*Sound of recording device switching off and on again*
There're some clouds building up on the horizon. From where we're at on the French side of St. Martin, I suppose we're staring out towards the pregnant, western edge of Africa. But we can't see Africa. All I see are these really odd clouds stacking up on each other.
But never mind that right now. I have to finish this before the batteries in this thing run out.
Where was I?
Oh yeah! We set sail on May 14th, and saw not much other than ocean for two and a half days. Frankly we were already getting tired of seeing the same people over and over again. We were ready to give our land-lubbing sea legs a reprieve on some firm ground.
Delaney was getting a tan, and reading some trashy tabloid magazine while I watched the Leeward Islands grow in my binocular lenses when my ears popped.
And then they popped again.
A sudden gust of wind blew the magazine that Delaney had been reading out of her hands, and sent her fumbling and cussing after it. For a moment, it felt like the earth had drawn a colossal breath of air and was waiting to exhale. I looked back at the island with my bare eyes, and thought I saw something queer. I jerked the glasses back up to my eyes and fixed the shoreline in my view. And for a moment I saw a beach that had grown in size where the sea had receded from it.
And as I inhaled sharply in surprise and turned back towards my still cussing wife, the earth let her breath out in one long, fierce sigh.
Before I could even wonder at what had happened, I was grabbing Delaney and pushing her up as the huge ocean liner canted and deck chairs began to slide towards gravity.
I think a lot of us got off. Some of us swam away from the drowning, white titan. Others grabbed on to bits of floating flotsam, and others found life rafts and began the task of rounding up the old, young, and weak. But I think at least a third of the passengers and crew met their end within the walls and bulkheads of that great, metal ship.
Delaney and I were pretty fit people, and we paddled slowly but surely away from the wreck, using a large foam alligator from one of the kiddie pools as a flotation device. There was little else we could do. We knew that we could make it to the island. And anyway, the boats were better suited to the people that needed them most.
The clouds are growing out there on the ocean like the white belly of a swollen, beached whale carcass, but it's hard to tell which way they're moving. Pretty sure hurricane season doesn't start for another month or two, but whatever. With everything that's happened already, what's another natural disaster?
Still not sure what happened here. Out there. There's no power or communication on the island. Anyone who managed to keep or find a cell phone now has a fine plastic paperweight. Nothing works, except for things that are battery powered or gas and diesel generated. But possessing those things on this tiny island, and not having the ability to defend against looters and usurpers is as good as a signed death warrant. Or at least it was.
There are fires burning all over the island, and occasionally something volatile will explode in the distance. We could hear scattered gun fire pretty regularly the first two weeks we were here, but now a lot of that has died off. Either power is being centralized out there somewhere, or resources are being burned up and used so quickly that there's very little left to fight over.
We're staying in a hotel on the beach. But it's not as glamorous as it sounds. The lower floors are flooded and ruined, and the seaward facade of the building is almost completely gone; leaving the rooms and interiors of much of the structure exposed. The building is crumbling around us, but we don't know where else to go right now. I guess we're hoping that help will come from the sea. For now, we--most of the survivors of the wreck--are sticking together. Staking our claim to certain floors of the defunct hotel, most of us have chosen rooms that face out towards the sea. At night, from what used to be the beach, our cooking fires are visible, glowing in the gloom of the dying building; their orange flames reflected a hundred times over and over again in the clear waters below.
*Barely audible scratching noise in background and muffled speech*
Del? Will you grab the specs and take a look out there? Are those clouds moving this way?
*Scratching noise again, and speech resumes at normal volume*
Okay. Where was I at?
Shit. I lost my train of thought.
Well, anyway. We are living, but only just. I'm lucky as hell to have Delaney. Some weren't so fortunate. A lot of people who came here with boyfriends, girlfriends, or spouses made it to shore only to realize that they alone survived. The first few days, when the air wasn't populated with the crackle of gun fire, a steady stream of hopeful lovers called out in vain to their significant others. Over and over again. But that eventually stopped.
Back home relationships of convenience were looked down upon. But here no such notion exists. People huddle and gather together for warmth and comfort. And sometimes more. But mostly people need the comfort of another soul that shares the same plight, the same heart space as they do.
I remember hearing the lyrics from that Steven Stills song Love the One You're With as a teenager and thinking that they were just a bullshit hippie way to rationalize sleeping around, but now they seem to make sense.
*A loud unintelligible sound and then the sound of the recording device switching off again*
*Sound of recoding device switching on and scratching and popping sounds*
I want to say that Delaney and I are realists. We don't believe in the bogey man. We don't believe in monsters. And with God as my witness, I never believed that I would be speaking these next words into a miniature recording device.
There are things out there in the clouds. As I was recording the last few minutes of this journal, Delaney was watching them with the field glasses. When I heard her gasp I turned around to see that the cloud mass was less than half the distance from the island as it had been when I first spotted it. Delaney says that she had been watching it the whole time and never noticed any movement. But they've moved. They're still building out there, about a mile from shore. Piling on top of each other like mounds of sheared sheep's wool.
But we can see shapes in the clouds now. And I can tell that they are getting gradually closer and closer to us. I'll try and describe what I see through the binoculars.
The clouds are fluffy at the spot where they meet the ocean, but near the top they are darker; almost like smoke. But not really like thunder heads. It's almost like there's a fire burning in there somewhere, but that doesn't make any sense. But what is most alarming are the. . . structures that loom within the body of the cloud mass. As the clouds grow and shift, the edges of them appear gray and white like noses of giant airliners. But that's not quite right either.
In any case, whatever it is, it will be close enough to describe in more detail very soon.
*Scratching sound and muffled shouting in the background*
Delaney and I are standing at the very edge of the room we're staying in, where the floor meets open air. I shouted over, up and down to other survivors to see if they were seeing what we're seeing. Nearly everyone is standing out at the edge, hands raised above their eyes like visors.
There, Del! Did you see that?
*Voice becomes really excited*
Out there! In the cloud mass! I just saw some sort of rippling light. Maybe fire. Maybe lightning. This is isn't any sort of natural occurrence. Of that I'm quite sure now! Del, when this is all over, we may have to revise our views on the extraordinary!
*A muffled shout and a loud thump as the recording device is dropped*
*A long pause with only vague impressions of shouted words and screams in the background*
Okay. Shit. I don't think there's much time left. The cloud bank is nearly hanging over us, and the structures moving behind the clouds bare an uncanny resemblance to some sort of large vehicle.
*Unintelligible shouts and screams in the background*
The building just shook, and something like a. . . an inaudible soundwave passed through us. To the left, the northern part of the island, there are other shapes. . . seeping through the blue sky. It's hard to tell what they are, but I know that they don't belong there. And there!
There! Did you see that, Del?!
A stream of fire just leaped out from the shapes down at the end of the beach! It looks like the whole northern part of the island is on fire!
Oh, Jesus. They're riding the ships. They're there on the noses. I don't know how to describe what I'm seeing. All along the waterfront the clouds are spitting fire, and the shapes nearest to us are coming out of the clouds.
*More muffled scratching, the sound of running footsteps, and muffled shouting*
Okay, not sure how much more I can record, or if it'll even matter. There are some sort of bodies riding on the noses of the structures and it looks like they have faces. Their hoses are spitting fire and turning everything to ash. It's only a matter of time before. . .
Del? I love you.
*Crackling sound and static as recording goes silent*
Comments are welcome. Thanks for reading, as always.