That Final Passage

That Final Passage

A Story by R J Fuller

The holiday ends in tragedy, but doesn't have to be one of fear.

A random journey on a sunny voyage for scores of people seeking to escape the everyday pillage and plunder of existence in reality. 
Here they will find elegance, relaxation, amusement, friendly dialogue with kind strangers seeking new acquaintances in their daily lives. 
And the object of their seemingly secluded world, is the luxurious cruise ship, seemingly sliding across the ocean waves as if they were on glistening ice. All find majestic contentment in their experience and revel in grace and dignity afforded them. 
An ever-present crew is also there to tend to their every wanting need. Sheer enjoyment. 

All persons on board were in various different locales when the next event happened. Some lounged by the pool, others were dining on a scrumptious meal. Still others were relaxing in their cabin. Regardless of their position, they were all subjected to the information. 

As it was, even crew members also gained the same enlightenment. No one, save for a possible crewman who didn't partake of such properties, was spared, tho he was immediately informed of the event-at-hand. 

"Captain, the passengers are upset over a text message they have received," a young female cruise attendant informed the ranking officer. 

"I received it too, Miss Jones."

"Well, what do you make of it?"

"I have no idea."

Already, other crew members were attempting to address mass assemblies of passengers. 
"Ladies and gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen!" the young male attendant called out. "I know you are all upset. We have spoken to the captain and he is just as confused as we all are. We're trying to figure out what it is about and how it happened."

"But can it happen?" a young woman yelled. 

"Will it?" another passenger called out. 

"We are checking for any possible events as described and finding nothing that gives a hint of being what is foretold. It may be a hoax, but for now we are treating it seriously."

"So everyone got the exact same message?" an elderly passenger inquired. 

"It seems so, Mr. Evans." 

Without being coaxed, Mr. Evans looked at his own phone and in his stern yet majestic voice, he began reading: 

"Attention. In approximately thirty-nine minutes, this ship upon which you all stand will no longer be floating, but will sink. You will not all survive. Get your lives in order now and prepare to depart from this mortal realm."  

A pair of Latino women began crying. 

"Yes, that's what we all got and about five minutes ago now. We are checking everything to make sure there is no truth to this message, so please, remain calm."

"Do you feel it necessary to begin loading lifeboats?"

"We don't at this moment, Mr. Evans, but we are keeping that option on the table."

The throng of passengers and deck crew remained wary as the minutes slowly ticked by. About ten minutes had passed and much of the ship had been extensively searched, discovering no hint of problems of any kind. Many persons continued to observe their phones, in case another message should appear, offering further instruction as to what they must do. In all likelihood, it truly was the calm before the storm. 

In the next instant, the ship rumbled. Passengers were shaken to the floor. Screams were incessant. Lights blinked, stayed out, then blinked some more and returned. Plumes of smoke poured in from one side of the ship, causing passengers to rush to the opposite side. The crew sought to guide them and give them instruction. 

In no time at all, a definite list to the side where the smoke originated was noticed. Hysterical persons made their way to the opposite deck, straining to stand up in some fashion to reach the swaying lifeboats. 
There was difficulty in entering the lifeboats when made available by crew. With the ship listing people were all but climbing human ladders up the deck floor to the waiting escape. 

The ship groaned and gave a hint of steadying, but many of the lifeboats on the opposite side were still immersed in thick, black smoke from the unexplained explosion just beneath them. 

One of the Latino women who cried earlier as Mr. Evans read the harrowing email, she was now hysterical and crying as she clutched the small girl with her. The little girl had no hint of what was taking place. Why everyone seemed upset. The child only found contentment with her mother, her protector. 

But the little girl, firmly clenched in her mother's arms, looked out over the pale blue sea and saw something new. She pointed her tiny finger. 

"Mama," she said, then louder. "Mama!" 

The crying woman looked at her child who was turned away from her and followed the direction of the small, extended digit. Now she saw it as well. Other people were now also looking. 

The ship teetered a bit, gave a rumble, but many people had grown silent in seeing the sight on the open waves, and paid no attention to the ship's impending destruction. They all stood transfixed. 
Slowly the rescue vessel drew near, virtually silent of any sound whatsoever. The craft seemed to gleam the most pristine color of white, virtually blank, it seemed, but not blinding in the reflecting sun. 
The passengers on the previous ship watched this new craft nearly cease movement right beside them, virtually parallel in location. 
They could see a capable boat ramp on the side, ready to extend and take them on board, but the crew, all wearing dazzling white, merely stood, unmoving. 

"Greetings, Captain," came a voice of a speaker. "We are addressing you and all your passengers and crew. Your ship is doomed and will sink beneath the waves. The only people who survive will be those who enter the lifeboats. We will accept any and all who wish to board this vessel, but they must have the understanding that this is a vessel to the after-life. They will never return to their mortal existence. 
Half your lifeboats are unsalvageable, so everyone cannot enter the boats. You must decide who will perish in the sinking or who will venture forth onto this ship."

With that, the crew extended the ramp as a bridge between the two crafts. The smoke grew thicker on the other side of the ship. 

"Who . . . . who are you?" asked the crewman standing nearest the boat ramp as it was attached. "What are you saying?"

There on the ramp, stood a tall, thin officer from the other ship, who had slowly walked out to speak to anyone who would listen. 
 "I'm saying the choice is yours. Not everyone can be saved, but if you like the agony of death can be spared and you can quietly and pleasantly board this ship to the after-life." 

"Are we boarding?" someone yelled. People didn't seem to comprehend what he was saying. 

"Everyone, listen," the young crewman shouted. "He's saying we'll die on that ship! It's not a rescue ship. It's not going back to civilization." 

'We won't die," a young braggart in a flowery shirt boasted with a laugh. A couple of friends with him agreed.  "Come on, let's show him!" and with that four or five burly young men rushed the bridge and charged over to the other ship, shoving the unresisting officer aside, almost pushing him off the bridge, laughing and whooping as they made their way. 
Once they reached the spectre vessel, all was quiet once more. 

"Who's next?" the placid officer asked. 

"Where did they go?" the crew attendant asked. 

"They are now secure on this vessel with no worry of the impending disaster here." Overhead smoke seemed to get thicker and more apparent. 

A few children ran forward, their parents seemingly right behind them. One woman comprehending something was hollering, "no, no!" as she chased a small boy. 
The people all crossed to the other ship, with the boy and the woman behind him bringing up the rear. She tried valiantly to stop him, but once he was on board, she followed suit, and all was still yet again.

"He's saying they're dead!" the crewman yelled to the gathered passengers still on deck. 

"Start loading the lifeboats! Get these people out of here," he ordered some other crew members. 

"You can't all get in the lifeboats," the other ship's officer calmly said. 

"Shut up! Why are you here? Give me back those passengers!"

"Come and get them if you like," the officer seemed to taunt. 

"We don't want to be rescued by you!" the crewman yelled. 

"One way or another," the officer spoke. "Either pleasantly or cruelly."

"Go away!" a female attendant screamed. She hurried some elderly passengers to a nearby lifeboat that was swaying with the ship. 

"You should really make it easier on yourselves, for some of you, anyway," the officer stood on the ramp and spoke. 

"You're not wanted here! We need to be saved, not mocked! Pull back! We're not going with you!" 

"It seems there are still others who disagree with you," the officer said, smiling. 

The crewman turned around to see an assortment of elderly women. 

"We can't manage that lifeboat, if this ship is available," one of them said. 

"If you try to cross, you might fall," the crewman attempted. 

"They won't fall." 

"Shut up!" 

"We think it's best this way. What better way to leave this world if not on a luxury cruise?"

With that about three of the elderly women crossed, but one stood back, tears on her face. 

"Are you coming, Amanda?" asked one of the other women, looking back. 

"I just want to see my daughter again," she sobbed. 

"Oh, Amanda. She knows you love her."

"Ma'm," the crewman said, "please head to the lifeboats." 

She cried fitfully as she watched her friends cross the walkway, then she journeyed on herself to the next available lifeboat. 

An assortment of men from below deck appeared, with several female passengers in tow. They had been informed of what was taking place as well as some of them heard the announcement when it was made. 

"I guess this is it for us then," one of them said. 

"No, the crewman replied. "It doesn't have to be. This fellow is speaking nonsense. Absolute nonsense. Send those people back now." 

"Doesn't matter. It was a good life," and before the crewman could stop him, several of the men had crossed the walkway, and a couple of young women followed, with the same results as before once they reached the other ship. 

The ship gave a sudden lurch. The ramp seemed to remain attached and now slanted, with the officer still standing in position, tho now leaning. 

A few more passengers and crew raced up the diagonal ramp to the other ship, then they were followed by still several others. The crewman could only hold on to the rail and watch. 

"You are a sick man!' he snarled. "You are twisted!" 

In that moment, the captain and the ship's doctor appeared. 

"That will do, Simmons," the captain said. "See if you can make your way to a lifeboat. I think one remains. Doctor, will you see . . . . . "
"I think I will remain here, sir," the doctor said. 

"As will I, sir," replied Simmons, the ever-present crewman. "If this man is truly receiving passengers and crew unto death, then I will most assuredly be joining them on the other side," and with that Simmons raced up the ramp.

"Simmons!" the captain yelled, but Simmons had now scampered, almost crab-like, up the ramp, then looked back at the silent officer from the other ship, and Simmons flung himself against him from the back, as if to push him upon the first ship's deck. 

But the officer remained standing, unflinching, as Simmons collided into the back of him. Now only the smirking officer was preventing the dazed and near unconscious Simmons from tumbling more or less back to the previous ship. 

"Simmons, you fool!" the captain said. 

"I shall assist him, sir," the doctor said. 'I can do no less," and with that he climbed up the ramp and lifted Simmons, throwing an arm across his shoulder and carried him up to the wraith ship. 

"Pity to see such a brave soul depart," the captain said, looking at the phantom officer. 

"We all have our moment when it arrives," said the officer, "and now there is you, captain. Shall you board? I believe all lifeboats have nearly departed and are making their way out from between these two crafts." 

"It seems I must have no further alternative," the captain uttered, and with that, hurled himself over the railing so he vanished beneath the water, which was now much closer with his ship going under. 

The officer watched the water ripple outward where the captain had vanished, then spied the man surface a bit further away. 

The lifeboats sailed away, and the last one waited to receive the captain, who saved himself only to foil the grim officer from the second ship. 

The officer turned and boarded his ship, the passenger way was drawn in as well, as the previous ship sank beneath the enveloping waves. 

The officer watched the lifeboat that contained the captain who thwarted his intentions for being there, then gave the order. "Prepare to depart."

"Aye-aye, sir," said one of the crew. 

The officer looked to Simmons who simply stood and said nothing. "Well, I got Simmons from you, as he sought to be so brave, and now he will be no more. But that is something you won't soon forget, will you, Captain? Then our eventual encounter that is destined will have to wait for another day, when it is time." 

© 2020 R J Fuller

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Added on June 16, 2020
Last Updated on June 16, 2020
Tags: cruise, disaster, rescue, death, voyage, final