Doldrums

By Eve Taft

Journal recovered from the CS Dolores, found empty and dead in the water on July 9, 2005. The crew, including Ben Hawthorne, author of the journal, remain missing and presumed dead.

July 6, 2005
I’m sober again. I took a job on a container ship as an “Ordinary Seaman.” My brother didn’t even joke about the title on my ID card when he dropped me off, which showed me exactly how worried he is. However-many-years-later, it shouldn’t still make me guilty, but it does. I suppose the flip side of the coin is that they shouldn’t still worry, but they do.

My father, who was in the passenger’s seat, handed me this notebook right before I walked onto the gangway. He said that it can be lonely at sea, that I should write to—and here I know he was going to say “stay sane” and thought better of it, so he said “give yourself something to do.”

A lot of people with various psychiatric qualifications have told me to keep a journal. I only did it once, at sixteen, and I wrote about how the demons in my head wanted me to kill everyone in my ward and roast them on a spit. My social worker, after reading it, said that if I ever got my act together, I’d make a good horror novelist. Then she told me to knock it off, because I was her most difficult case. I liked her well enough, so I did.

The problem is, when I’m not making stuff up, the blank page gets too threateningly bright. Writing about myself feels like going to confession, which I always absolutely hated. But I’m giving it a try now, rambling a little, and it seems to be okay, as long as I don’t think too much about what I’m doing.

It’s day three of living here, and I’m starting to see why all those Victorian women were taken to the seaside to make them stop having fainting spells or whatever. There’s something about the air that makes my head feel clearer than usual. No one makes me talk, and the work is difficult, but in a way I can manage, hard on my muscles, not my mind.

July 7, 2005
It rained today, and my back aches. I’m back in bed, and when I’m done writing, I’m going to read until I fall asleep. These past few nights I’ve slept all straight through, something that I can’t remember doing in ages.

I guess I’m supposed to talk about my feelings so here: weary.

July 8, 2005
The crew don’t seem like a bad lot. Played cards with them last night, got cleaned out, but apparently that’s what always happens to newcomers. Weird to see no land no matter how far out I look any-which-way. Once when I was on a transatlantic flight as a teenager, I started hyperventilating, because I couldn’t see any ground out my window, and I couldn’t imagine how anyone would find us if the plane went down. The flight attendant gave me a bag to breathe into, and my father bought us both shots of whiskey ‘til I dropped off to sleep. I think the stewardess knew he was giving them to me but wanted me to shut up enough that she pretended not to notice. I woke up in Italy with a hangover.

This time I don’t feel so bad. The open space is just extra room to breathe. Maybe it just overwhelmed me the first time. Maybe if I’d stayed awake I would have gotten used to it.

July 10, 2005
Something happened.

There’s no one left on board but me. I woke up today and dragged myself to the galley, but the place was dark and empty. The kitchen staff get up around four to start meal prep, so they should have been there for hours. I wondered, can you go on strike on a ship? Not likely. Some of these guys might be apt to bring back the custom of keel-hauling when they get hungry enough.

I took a few granola bars and went looking for someone—any other human being. Something felt wrong, really, really wrong; there was this tinny ringing in my ears, so bad I started to feel dizzy. I tried to ignore it, but then I realized what it was: everything was quiet. The engine wasn’t running.

After that I panicked a little, but it doesn’t matter, because no one was around to see it. I ran through the cabins, banging on doors, even up to the bridge and down to the engine room. No one’s here. The coms are dead. I’m out in the middle of the ocean alone.

I got too scared to be in the quiet, echoey inside of the ship, so I went up on deck and looked around at the towers of metal cargo containers, the still gray water around me, and the place where I thought the horizon was, but it was so misty, I couldn’t tell the difference between clouds and fog and ocean. I tried shouting a few times, but my voice was so tiny it made me even more afraid.

It’s night now and I’m back in my cabin. I’ll try to sleep, because I don’t know what else to do, and maybe everything will make sense in the morning.

July 11, 2005
I spent the whole day in the bridge, trying to get communications working. What I’ve learned is that this thing is essentially a brick that floats. Everything’s down, except the electricity and the bilges and stuff—I won’t sink, but I’m not going anywhere. Not on my own, anyway. No cell service, either.

I’m moving (I think, there’s no landmarks to go by), but that’s the sea, not the engine. All of the navigation systems are shot too, and I sure as hell don’t know how to go by the stars or whatever people used to do. I tried to read some of the manuals in the engine room, but they all assume you know a lot of words that I don’t.

Last night I heard some noises that I thought were just the ship creaking, but I know they were too rhythmic for that. They’re like footsteps, huge, slow ones. I can’t tell where they’re coming from. They started up again after the sun set. I’ve locked my cabin door. I can’t bring myself to turn out the light.

July 20, 2005
I’ve given up hope that I’m still in the shipping lanes. Today I saw another container ship on the horizon, and I tried sending up flares, but it passed out of view either without seeing them or without caring.

I wonder how deep the water is here. I wonder what’s underneath me.

July 23, 2005
During the day, I try to convince myself it’s just the ship making noise. It’s not, though. It’s something moving.

The sound came right past my cabin last night. Drag-thump, drag-thump, drag-thump. I sat in my bed, waiting for the door to open, but it went straight by me, as if it didn’t notice the sliver of light coming from under my door. Eventually it faded away.

At around five in the morning, after trying to sleep for a while, I thought about getting in one of the life boats. I was trying to figure out how to work the things, when I realized how insane it was to leave a huge ship with food and water for a tiny dinghy.

Now dawn’s breaking and I’m cursing myself for not striking out while I had the courage.

I’ve thought about occupying my time with a relapse—I could probably find some booze, but it wouldn’t help. First of all, drink stopped being enough to get my brain to shut up a long time ago, and second, this isn’t happening my head, unless I’m adding severe hallucinations to the list of stuff wrong with me, which I doubt. I’m usually lucid, miserably, horribly, tortuously with-the-program, and that’s the problem. I can’t tolerate reality. Or maybe reality can’t tolerate me. Anyway, all a few shots would do is flavor me for the big monster that can’t seem to decide whether or not to eat me.

I don’t even really like being drunk (or high, or whatever), it just dulls up the edges, and that helps. I was always an addict sort of tangentially, as a side effect of methodically trying all the things that might make me feel at home in the world. Heroin came close to working, at least the first time, but after the last OD, I figured I was costing my family too much money so I had to actually bother getting off the stuff. Which is how I ended up here, so maybe my first mistake was checking into rehab.

July 25, 2005
This place felt huge when I first boarded, like an island or a floating city, not a boat. Now it seems tiny, like a cage I’m sharing with a monster: nowhere to hide. I imagine something coming up from the water, swallowing me and Dolores whole, a wave smoothing over where we’d been. We would be a trinket on the seafloor, down where even light can’t go.

When I’m in the bridge, aimlessly looking for some mechanical way out of this, I find myself moving stealthily, like a kid sneaking somewhere I’m not supposed to be. I’ve mostly given up on flipping the right switch, but I have to go through the motions, which is something I’ve always been good at. Use the coping skills, go to the meetings, really-really try at whatever new thing was supposed to make me pull myself together this time.

The silence itself starts to feel like it’s watching me, warning me not to break it. It being the silence. Warning me not to break itself.

It’s stupid. I’m alone during the day. It’s at night the thing walks, never varying pace, through the stacks of cargo that seem like cold, slick skyscrapers, their insides always as much of a mystery to me as the shipping crates. I don’t know if it’s hunting or patrolling or maybe just pacing, like how I do sometimes on the deck.

It comes by my door every night, and I’ve almost gotten used to it, but last night, I’d swear it paused, for just a minute, before it continued on.

July 27, 2005
Apparently, I have some survival instinct left, because after another night of it waiting outside my door for a bit, I decided that while running isn’t really an option, hiding definitely is. I picked a container near the center, where I figure I’ll be safest, and pried it open. Inside were a bunch of boxes filled with t shirts, which was lucky, because moving anything heavier would have been a pain or maybe impossible. I burrowed my way through and cleared out a space in the middle, dragged in my mattress and some rations. At night, I close it and pile as many of the t shirts up against the “door” as I can—these things weren’t meant to be locked from the inside, so I’m mostly relying on the fact that I’m hidden in the maze of metal. It’s pitch dark inside, which helps. If I sit perfectly still, breathe shallowly, it’s like I’m not even here.

July 29, 2005
During the day, I can’t stand being in my container-room. It’s too close, too easy to get cornered. I spend most of my time out on deck—it’s warm enough wherever I am. I make myself go to the engine room and the bridge to try to get back online, but nothing works. It’s harder to make myself explore the guts of the ship—anything could be around those corridor corners. Even in daylight. But I look for signs of people, and I find nothing, so I’m relieved when I get back to the deck. It hasn’t rained, but there’s also no wind, and I can’t tell how far I’ve gone or if I’ve gone anywhere at all.

July 31, 2005. Or August 1. I don’t know what time it is. It’s too dark in here to even tell if it’s night still.
The noises woke me up, and I burrowed under the t shirts for a while—how long I don’t know. I can’t see any light from in here, so it could be noon or it could still be night.

About an hour ago, I slithered out because breathing was getting hard and I wanted to write, but I’m sure I’m going all over the page, because I can’t stand to turn my light on, because that’ll make me easier to find. I’m shaking, too, my hands quivering, even though I’m looking at them and begging them to stop. It’s like they don’t belong to me: they don’t listen, and now I’m thinking about all the things they could do, if it’s not me in charge of them and I can’t stop can’t stop can’t stop.

High Noon
I don’t know how long I laid there crying about my hands, but eventually I got hungry, and I was out of food in the container, so I came to the galley. It’s better here; there’s light. I’m not shaking as much, and my hands are doing what I tell them—and pretty much only what I tell them, so I’m trying to push away the idea of them strangling me in my sleep.

I started throwing stuff overboard, thinking it might work as a breadcrumb trail. The camp chair sank. The wooden pallet is still floating, but it’s barely ten yards off. Neither of us, it seems, are moving.

Evening
This is the part where I’d say it’s getting closer, but it’s not. In fact, the sounds seem farther away, and some days I don’t hear them at all. Even whatever-it-is has left me. I went back to my cabin last night and slept there, and nothing bothered me. Also, when I woke up this morning, the pallet was gone. I don’t know if we drifted away from each other or if it sank.

I’m starting to think I’m not on the Atlantic anymore. That I passed through something, accidentally, that I wasn’t meant to (or wasn’t meant to live through) and now I’m in limbo, which I think the Vatican II got rid of, because the ideas of unbaptized babies having their own special version of hell was worse for PR than all the molestation. On bright days, when it’s quiet, it reminds me of the moments between being found and being resuscitated all the times I ODed. I remember asking an EMT why she’d woken me, I was having such a wonderful dream. She looked at me, exasperated, like a mother looks at a kid who really just doesn’t understand, no matter how many times she’s explained, that you aren’t supposed to stick forks in electric sockets.

Maybe that’s what this is; maybe I’m in the thirty or so seconds that I’ll later learn I was legally dead for.

I went out on deck and yelled “DON’T BOTHER!!!” It’s not that I want to die, but I have some respect for the rules, and I’ve dodged the reaper a lot of times now. It might just be my moment, and dragging it out doesn’t do anyone any good. There’s got to be other people in this ER who need help.

Tomorrow
That was another thing I asked, back in group therapy, what if I was the red king dreaming? Then we all had a talk about coping with delusions, and my roommate told me to knock the pretentious Alice in Wonderland shit off, because it was cliché and I was just a sick idiot trying to worm my way out of talking about whatever my issues were. Then this chick who did a ton of acid and almost died from serotonin syndrome got all self conscious and put her jacket back on because she had a “We’re all mad here” tattoo on her right arm. So we had a talk about tempering honesty with sensitivity. I didn’t bother pointing out that the red king is actually from Alice Through the Looking Glass not Alice in Wonderland, because Through the Looking Glass is a chess game and Wonderland is a card game.

I also didn’t bother asking my next question which was the same but about Lovecraft’s whole “in his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming” thing, because I didn’t want to get accused to trying to sound profound again. Really I just wanted to ask if maybe there was a possibility that some people dream the world and other people live in it. If no one’s dreaming, does the whole place just go away? Which might be why we have time zones, to make sure someone’s always asleep. Or it’s mostly cats dreaming the world, or babies, or koalas, which I think sleep like twenty hours a day.

Actually, maybe that’s what happened: everyone’s stopped dreaming and all that’s left is the loading screen of the video game, which is where I am now.

You aren’t supposed to ask those questions, or ones about what happens when the universe experiences heat death, or about black holes or how many multiverse there are or why we don’t feel dizzy even though the earth is falling and spinning and so is the solar system. People tell me to stop thinking about these things, but it never works, because I have a superstition that at least one person has to worry about them or we’ll lose track, and then fly out of orbit or get hit with a meteor or wander into another dimension. Which probably is what happened anyway, so I guess they were right: no point.

When we were kids, sometimes my brother would offer to worry about it for me, so I could get a break, and that helped, but after a while I realized he was just saying it and not actually thinking about all the things I told him. So I had to go back to doing it all the time. I’d come up with a bunch of new questions to think about, anyway.

Once I started panicking about atoms, how technically they never touch, because of the opposing force between them; all you’re feeling is that opposition, not anything else, and it meant I’d never touched anything or anyone for real. It was a stomach-clenching loneliness, one that made me start screaming, and I got a sedative jammed in my ass.

You’re not supposed to wonder about these things.

Later
I don’t think I’m dead. I would have run into someone by now.

Even Later
Today I leaned over the side of the ship and stared down at the water for a bit, wondering what might live there, what creatures would see me and the CS Dolores as a cloud over their sky. For once, I didn’t get that ningling feeling that I wanted to jump. I just felt like I was part of the sky, or the sea, since I can never find the line between them anymore.

I went into the galley and made soup and thought more about dreams; what if there was a global plague, and it attacked people’s ability to sleep, and now there’s this universal insomnia, so I have to dream the whole world for everyone else, but they never dream it for me. That would explain why I’m stuck here. Maybe that’s my job: stay here and dream. It wouldn’t be so bad. But I get the feeling the feeling reality is pretty complex and big, and lots of people have to dream it at once. I don’t think my brain can handle it on its own so…my guess is everyone’s experiencing a fair few glitches, which I feel bad about. I took a nap after, and told myself I was dreaming the world. I tried to think of good things as I drifted off, so if I really was constructing reality for seven billion people, they’d at least have a nice time.

Whenever
I can’t tell if what I see up ahead is clouds or land. I’m laying on deck trying to decide what I’m hoping for.

This is an odd feeling: like I have all the time in the world. Like life’s coming at me at a reasonable pace, not on fast-forward. I can think about everything, the atoms not touching and how big the universe is getting, and out here, when there’s no horizon because of the mist, the questions don’t run up against the edges of the world and get trapped. I can just think them and they don’t crowd me until I can’t breathe. I’m not about to panic my way into oblivion and then get dragged back against my will. It’s okay here. There’s enough space for everything, and really, I’m not that much lonelier than before.

I must be in a current of some kind. It guides me gently, toward something that might be land or might be—you can’t get a mirage on the water, can you? What’s the opposite of a mirage, imaginary land you see on the water? Anyway, I’ve been moving toward it this whole time. I just was too panicky to feel it, but now, if I shut my eyes, and lie back on the deck, I know I’m on course. I don’t know where to, but I never really have. When I think back, I don’t even remember where Dolores was supposed to make port. I’m not sure I ever knew.

Penultimate
I’m not taking this notebook with me when I get there. I have an idea that it’ll explain where I’m going and what happened, if someone ever finds it. Except it won’t, because no one will understand, and I should have tried harder, been clearer, organized my thoughts so I didn’t start new ones before getting to the end of my first one. It’s what always happens, but that’s no excuse. I don’t mean to be this misshapen and hard to figure out—everyone used to think I was putting it on, like a mask. Except it was my real face, and no one would believe me. I told the truth much more often than anyone gave me credit for.

This too is what really happened, at least I think so, though I don’t know which of us dreamed it.

(Bio: Eve Taft is an American writer who lives in Limerick, Ireland. She can be found at https://evetaft.wordpress.com/ . She can also be found at Eve Taft on Facebook. She writes a horror column called “Quaint and Curious Volumes” every month at Luna Station Quarterly, as well.)

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