by Greg Sisco
Whatever woke Henry didn’t do it violently. He roused instantly from a deep sleep and became fully alert, but somehow it happened comfortably, like his subconscious bringing him breakfast in bed.
He’d never slept as well as he did on the cruise. Something about the subtle rocking, like a baby in its cradle, even though the mattress seemed too firm when he first lay on it, he’d never been so engulfed by sleep as he was here.
But it was the middle of the night, and for some reason he was awake.
He rolled over to put an arm around Mia and found she wasn’t there. The mattress was still warm, like she’d gotten up only a moment ago. Maybe she’d shut the bathroom door? Maybe the sound of it was what woke him? But then there would have been light spilling through the crack under the door, and there wasn’t. The stateroom was dark. Dark except for an ominous green that spilled in through the window.
“Mia?” he called. Then louder, “Mia, you okay?”
She didn’t answer. He got out of bed and flipped on the bathroom light. She wasn’t here. He was alone in the stateroom.
So she was restless and went for a walk around the ship. You’d never seen stars like you saw out here. She probably went out to look at them. Or whatever that green glow is. That ominous…green…
The voice came back to him, the strange old man at the bar, the one who said he’d done the round-the-world cruise every year since he was forty.
“Don’t you two go leaving your room tonight. The Southern Lights play tricks. Every year when we pass through these waters there’s somebody goes to sleep in their bed and the next morning we can’t find ‘em. Every year we search until there’s nowhere left to search and we say maybe they went out alone, leaned a little too far out for a look. Somebody says the sea took ‘em, but we old timers know better. It’s not the sea. It’s the lights take ‘em.”
A shiver shot through him and an instant later he scolded himself. Spook stories. Creepy legends getting into his head in his semi-awake state. Even if he felt a little more than semi-awake. Even if he felt as awake as he ever did. He didn’t believe a word of that stuff.
But there was still an urgency to it as he dressed and ran out.
“Mia!” he called, walking through halls, a little louder than maybe he should have. Loud enough he was probably waking passengers in the rooms around him, still trying to convince himself he wasn’t panicking.
He came out of the far end of the hall onto the deck in a half-sprint, but the lights stopped him.
It was a spiral in the sky. A vast, expansive cluster of tendrils shining down like it meant to swallow the Earth. It shook him, scared him, at once made him feel menaced and taken in by its beauty. He wondered if he’d ever felt awe before, or if it was only a feeling he knew about from books. If he hadn’t, he sure knew it instantly when he felt it.
Many nights you could hardly see a thing over the rail, maybe a hint of moonlight reflecting off the water, but tonight you could see each glacier in the distance as clear as day. Every snow and ice covered protrusion standing out of the sea was bathed, along with the sea itself, in the same haunting glow as the sky.
He looked right, to the ship’s bow, to where the glow stretched as far as the eye could see, then he followed it left, all the way to the stern, where…
“Mia?” he called to the silhouette at the stern. “Mia!”
He ran. This time he gave up trying to convince himself he wasn’t frantic. He was. The figure at the stern was standing not just on the first rail but the second, and there were only three. Her shins were pressed against the top rail and her hands were out at her sides, maybe making believe she was flying. But he could see it. He could envision her leaning forward, letting her feet slip off the rail, and disappearing over the side, gone in an instant, slipping beneath the icy waves below.
He got to her before it could happen. Wrapping both arms around her waist, he ripped her from the rails and put her on her feet, nearly throwing her to the deck with the force he used.
“What are you thinking?!” he screamed. “You could have died, Mia! If you slipped, you would have died!”
She didn’t seem to hear him. Still wearing just the silk gown she slept in, having not even bothered to put on shoes for the subzero temperatures, her head was tilted to the sky, mouth open, turned up at the corners in a smile.
“Mia?” he asked, more softly, trying to make his heart slow down. “Mia, did you hear me?”
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered, a tear rolling out of one eye and freezing on her cheek. “Have you seen how beautiful it is?”
“I know,” he said, taking off his coat to drape it around her shoulders. “Come on, you can’t be out here like this.”
She put a hand on his cheek, ice cold, even colder than he would have expected, and she finally looked him in the eye.
“Kiss me, Henry.”
A part of him was still furious and a part concerned for how she was acting, but he obliged her. It was meant to be a quick kiss to placate her, after which he could put an arm around her and take her back to the room, but she wrapped both arms around his neck and pulled him into her, pressing her mouth to his with a passion he hadn’t felt in years, like she was trying to steal every breath from his lungs. She ran one ice cold hand up the back of his neck, fingers slipping through his hair, and with the other she unbuttoned and unzipped his pants.
“Whoa, whoa,” he said, pulling away to button them again. “I don’t think so.”
“Make love to me,” she said, taking a step toward the rail.
She climbed the rail and sat atop it, her back to the green, glowing ocean, pulling up the hem of her gown with both hands, keeping neither on the rail.
“Make love to me here, under the lights.”
He reached out to grab her and she snatched his wrists in both hands with a strength that wasn’t her own. She pulled him into her and her eyes glowed with the same green as the lights. The same green that bathed the ocean and the sky, coming from above and below at once.
“It’s not the sea. It’s the lights that take ‘em.”
She leaned back, her hands still latched to his wrists, and pulled him with her. Through the freezing air they fell, holding each other, the green from the sky reflecting from the water, getting brighter as they got closer, until the green of both her eyes and the lights engulfed them.
The water crashed over his body and the green went black.
When he surfaced, there were no lights. The sky was full of stars and any glaciers in the distance were invisible in the dark of night. The ship was leaving him behind and the space between it and himself was growing fast. And he was alone.
“Mia?” he tried to call out, but his shocked and freezing body wouldn’t let him speak above a whisper. “Mia, where are you? Mia?”
Mia awoke in her stateroom as well-rested as she’d ever been. She couldn’t remember having slept as well in her life as she did on the cruise ship. Henry had suggested it was the way sea rocked them like a baby in a cradle. She supposed he was right.
She looked at the clock. Almost noon. Wow. Maybe one too many drinks last night.
She rolled over. Henry wasn’t next to her. Her first thought was the bathroom or the shower, but no. He didn’t seem to be here.
She shivered for a second, remembering the old man.
“It’s not the sea. It’s the lights that take ‘em.”
She shook away the thought. He’d gone out and let her sleep. Surely. She’d take a shower, get dressed, go down to the breakfast nook, and she’d find him. There, or at the gym, or playing shuffleboard.
He’d be there though. He’d be somewhere. Lights don’t take people away.
Greg Sisco is a novelist, screenwriter, and film director. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies such as Worst Laid Plans, Halldark Holidays, and Nox Pareidolia. Perpetually restless and habitually nomadic, he has lived in four countries and is most at home in the movie theater. A newly expanded edition of his novel “In Nightmares We’re Alone” is coming March 15 from Off Limits Press.