Artwork by Pushing Normal

She woke back in her bedroom with the taste of fresh blood in her mouth. Throwing the sheets aside, she ran into the bathroom and stood naked in front of the mirror. No blood. No trace of what had happened. How had she got back to her room? She started to hyperventilate. Her vision had begun to black over when she heard a faint scratching noise at the door, a piteous, faint miaow, which brought her back to herself. She opened it a crack. It was Finn, Archie’s rescue cat. Glancing left and right to make sure that there was no one around, she picked the animal up and brought him inside. He was quite inconsolable, yowling and pacing from side to side. It must be true, she thought. Archie must be dead.

She sat down heavily on the bed and cried for the first time in years. The tears, once started, would not stop flowing. She felt a comforting warmth against her side, and realised that Finn was sitting next to her, purring loudly. She slowly stroked him and immediately felt a little better. Perhaps none of this was real, and she would soon wake up in her own bed back at the base with a monster hangover. Had she known cats were this powerful, she would have become a cat person much sooner. No wonder the Ancient Egyptians had worshipped them. 

Touching real, warm fur made the horrors of the human sacrifice seem distant and improbable. If she had been drenched in blood, after all, there would surely be a trace of it in the room with her. She could see the clothes she had been wearing folded neatly on top of her desk. Checking her necklace, she saw that it was nine o clock in the evening. Usually the concert would be on by now, and yet the ship was silent. That was strange. A bad dream and a night off did not a human sacrifice make, though. They could probably all do with some time not performing after their exertions. Perhaps she had inadvertently absorbed some of the previous night’s cocktail and was suffering the consequences. 

She felt eyes on her, and realised that Finn was staring up at her adoringly. He really was a gorgeous cat. She would have to look after him until Archie came looking for him. Which left her with a rather pressing problem. Where did one find cat food at this time of night? 

She slipped off the necklace, not wanting any sudden interruptions. She would have to forage for tuna. Or whatever it was that cats ate. Only moments earlier she had thought that nothing short of impending death would have convinced her to return to the dining hall. Yet all it had taken was a hungry cat. 

Tiptoeing down the staircase, she found the dining hall deathly quiet, clean, orderly and already laid out for breakfast. She grabbed a large plateful of the most fish like foods she could find, together with a large bowl of water, and ran back up to her room. Lying on her bed watching Finn eat, she considered what she had seen. It would have been simply impossible for the ship’s crew to clean up the remnants of three corpses so swiftly. Not to mention the damage to the floor and ceiling. There was only one possibility left. She was going mad. 

She contemplated this with equanimity. After a life like hers, it was a matter of when, not if, insanity followed. In any case, there was very little she could do except sit back and enjoy the ride.

When her watch alerted her to an early morning meeting with the Captain, she was almost relieved. This would be her reckoning. A chance to ask questions, a chance to be questioned. She ensured she was neatly presented, polishing her shoes and combing her hair. Standing outside the wooden doors of the Captain’s office, she no longer felt drawn to immerse herself in the beauty of their pattern. Instead she held herself back, alert and prepared to act. 

The doors slid open smoothly. The room was unrecognisable. In fact, it could scarcely be described as an office at all. It was pitch black, lit with glowing red tubes which adorned the upper corners of the room. The floor was covered with an array of bean bags, while at the centre of the room lay a huge black chair. Jessica could not immediately see the Captain. Walking forward towards the chair, she tried to work out where she was meant to sit. 

“Sit.” The Captain’s voice came from directly behind her. Jumping to face the other way, Jessica almost fell backwards into the chair. The Captain was upside down, dangling by one knee from a glowing red hoop which was suspended over the entrance. She appeared supremely comfortable in this position, and made no attempt to right herself. Jessica found herself trying to pretend that she was the right way up. Why she was not sure, but there was only so much one person could tolerate before breakfast. 

“Good morning, Captain. Did you sleep well?”

The Captain appeared to be inspecting her nails, which were long and purple with silver tips. No answer was forthcoming. Jessica sat and waited. The Captain produced a small jar of nail polish, and started touching up her manicure. She then whipped out a silver eye liner and proceeded to apply a perfect outline to both eyes without the apparent aid of a mirror. This was probably the most impressive thing Jessica had ever seen done with makeup.  It felt strangely as though she were being entertained, although the Captain appeared much more self absorbed than the average cabaret performer. Perhaps it was more like one of those shows where the camera observed people doing mundane activities. She had never understood the attraction until now, but after last night a little bit of boring went a long way. Especially when she had been fully expecting a good old fashioned bollocking. The chair was becoming pleasantly warm. She could feel herself sinking into it. She had no wish whatsoever to move from this spot. 

As she leaned backwards the chair automatically reclined and adjusted to fit her body. She could feel both legs being cocooned by a warm, viscous substance. As the Captain continued to adjust her makeup, the chair began to gently vibrate. They had had a massage chair when she was younger. It had lived in the pastor’s office. He had often sat children on his knee for a special treat while reading Bible stories. It was very obvious, looking back, that God had not been his main motivation. Jessica hadn’t been offended by it, she had found it slightly pathetic if anything. She wondered why this had come to mind now, and then realised that the chair seemed to be vibrating  between her legs. She felt small movements stretching and pulling her buttocks apart, applying a subtle pressure. She found herself inexplicably aroused, and was disgusted at the very thought of such a thing. Maybe this was how the pastor had felt about the children, she thought, and gave herself an internal slap around the face. 

She could not tear her eyes away from the Captain, who was still fondling her fingernails. She looked up, and her gaze met Jessica’s for the first time. Deliberately she raised one fingernail and Jessica felt the chair apply slightly more pressure to her clitoris. She then raised her second finger and the rate of vibration increased imperceptibly. Jessica’s excitement only came second to the sense of utter violation she felt at being so completely under another’s control.  She was close to orgasm when the Captain made a closed fist with her hand and the chair fell still and silent. She could not help but let out a sigh. Immediately, the hoop moved closer. The Captain was now suspended immediately above Jessica’s chair. Reaching downwards with her hands, she traced a line around Jessica’s left eye with her index finger, using the nail softly at first, then pressing harder, until Jessica was sure that she was drawing blood. Despite this she was still so turned on that she made no effort to resist. She was enjoying it. 

The Captain spoke in a soft yet menacing tone. “I see that we cannot trust you to look after this ship’s property. I see that we cannot trust you to carry out your duty. I see that you are weak, easily distracted by matters of the flesh. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

Jessica was speechless. She felt drawn to kiss the Captain on the lips but was unable to lift her head to do so, although less than half a centimetre’s distance now separated them. 

“I can see that you are a woman of many talents. I will take over your duties as ship’s doctor from this day forward. You are being demoted to Chief Nursing Officer. You will find, I think, that the duties are much more suited to your….abilities.”

Clicking her fingers, the Captain folded herself over the hoop as it was drawn upwards towards the ceiling. As she did so, the chair snapped back upright , releasing Jessica from its embrace, and the doors slid open. She drifted out of the room. Despite having been dismissed, she was still incredibly turned on. So much so that her first instinct was to try to return to the room, attempting to prise the wooden doors apart, but she was not able to budge them. 

As her mind cleared she started to process what had just happened. Had she just been fired? She had never in her life been fired before. A sense of outrage, of injustice, started to surface. She had just lost her job, while being actively molested, albeit by some kind of machine, and she had not lifted so much as a finger to defend herself. Not only that, but she had enjoyed it. She had loved every second of it. 

Turning to make her way back to the cabin, she realised for the first time that her surroundings were suddenly very different. The doors to the Captain’s office remained the same, as did the glass extending from floor to ceiling.  The white wooden staircase which had been opposite the entrance, on the other hand, had completely vanished,. In its place was an expanse of sea and sky. Not a trace of land. Jessica touched her watch, as if that might suddenly cause the stairs to reappear, but nothing whatsoever happened. She must have come out of a different set of doors. After all, it had been dark in there. She took a right and carried on along the corridor. As she walked the exterior view remained stunning, while the corridor itself became decidedly less so. The velvet carpet seemed worn and threadbare, dusty even, with some fraying visible at the edges. Finally, she came to a plain iron staircase. She had seen one of the kind before. It had led to Archie’s cabin.

Her watch fired into action again. 

DEMOTION IN PROCESS

ISOLATION MANDATORY

PROCEED TO THE CREW QUARTERS IMMEDIATELY

The watch started whining again. As it did so, Jessica felt a physical sensation of pain, as if the noise was setting her spinal cord alight. She rushed down the staircase, almost tripping over herself in her haste. She wasn’t sure how many levels she had descended, but it was not until the very bottom of the staircase that she saw the doors. She looked left and right, wondering which way to go. A door popped open and immediately the watch stopped its moaning. As she entered, the door slammed shut with a resounding clang. Panicked, she tried to open it again, but the door would not open no matter how she pushed and pulled. The watch buzzed. 

ISOLATION PERIOD: THREE DAYS

Three days? In this pit? They had to be joking. She hammered at the door to no avail. She was trapped in a small cabin with no window and, by the looks of things, no food. Jessica ripped the necklace off and flung it to the other side of the cabin in frustration. If she could have thrown it overboard again, she most surely would have done. 

Making a round of the cabin, she found that there was a small sink in an adjoining room, the size and style of an economy airline bathroom. It looked like a few other passengers had got there before her, and none of them had wiped down the washbasin, either. The less said about the bowl the better. No toilet brush. Disgusting. On the bed, there was no duvet. Just a bare bed frame bearing a dirty grey mattress and a coverlet that used to be cream. As she sat down, the bed shifted from side to side in the manner of a blancmange. She rather thought a loose spring was digging into her left thigh. Civilised it was not. 

Crestfallen, she wondered what on earth she was going to eat. A quick inspection had indeed revealed no food whatsoever, although there was a disposable plastic cup on the washbasin, complete with remnants of red lipstick. At least Finn would not go hungry. She had left him plenty of food for a few days. What about Amy? There was no way that the Captain had the knowledge to keep her sedated and ventilated, surely? Let alone monitor the child. Jessica decided not to think about it. 

She considered her options. Sleep seemed the best one by far. She drew back the coverlet and prepared to lie down. As she did so a couple of irregular marks caught her eye. On closer inspection they appeared to consist of the squashed remnants of several unidentified biting insects together with the bloody remnants of their last meal. It looked very much like she was being lined up as the dish of the day. Dropping it with a shudder, she decided that, all things considered, the floor looked pretty comfortable. 

There was only one problem. The room, while having no windows, appeared to lack a light switch. Improvising, she covered her eyes with her arm and tried to get some rest. 

Sadly her sleep was short lived. The cursed watch once more came alive. 

Bleary eyed, she read the buzzing display. 

PRAY FOR FORGIVENESS

She slid it away from her to the far corner of the room, using her cardigan to cover her eyes and her ears. It was no good. The noise intensified. Crawling along the floor, she reached out for it, only to bash her nose on the corner of the bed frame. It immediately started bleeding, dripping bright red blood onto the floor. Jessica cursed, pinching her nose with one hand. Still the watch would not be silent. Sitting herself up, she grasped the watch firmly. If she held it and looked directly at the display, it appeared to quieten down somewhat. The trouble was that in order to do so she had to let go of her nose, and as soon as she let go of her nose it started bleeding again. The thought crossed her mind that they might discover her exsanguinated body in here three days from now. What an obituary that would make. Tragic Army doctor perishes of severe nosebleed at sea. At least it would give her old mates a good giggle. 

It seemed she had just passed out when the watch went off again. She awoke in a pool of her own congealing blood with the watch flashing:

HAIL MARY FULL OF GRACE

Jessica ignored it. The noise became louder. 

She knew the words to Hail Mary, but had never said them. She had always been taught to pray direct to the big guy and bypass the subordinates. Besides which, she hadn’t prayed for many years and wasn’t about to start now. That noise was really getting to her, though. She tried to block her ears, but it was impossible to block both ears and pinch her nose at the same time. Getting up from the floor, she took the necklace into the toilet and chucked it into the bowl. The water seemed to deaden the sound somewhat. She tried not to consider the fact that she would eventually have to put it back onto her neck. Lying down on the side of the room furthest from the toilet and the blood, she tried to get back to sleep. 

Even with her eyes closed, it seemed that the light in the room was getting more and more intense. It was not at all clear to her where it was coming from. The light seemed to bore through her eyelids directly into her skull. Restlessly, she moved from position to position. Face down was no good, with her nose. On her side seemed to work, as one eye seemed to get a little rest from the light. She had got into a good routine when she heard a gurgling sound from the bathroom. Faint at first, it was followed by a resumption of the watch’s whining. She went to investigate, and saw that all of the water had been drained from the toilet bowl, leaving just the watch, still flashing HAIL MARY, and some rather suspicious brown stains. She decided to leave it where it was. There didn’t seem to be any toilet paper to cover it with, and she was approaching the level of fatigue where she would sleep through almost any racket. 

She was wrong. She woke after what seemed like seconds. The noise seemed to emanate from every corner of the room. She heard a tapping sound coming from the far corner, as if someone were trying to get her attention. Getting up, she went over to investigate, even going so far as to tap on the wall in response. None came, but the opposite corner of the room started tapping again, slightly louder. Someone must be in the next room. Maybe lots of people. She rushed over and started tapping the walls. No answer. She called out, “Is anyone there?” Immediately all eight corners of the room started tapping, tapping, tapping, and then the voices started, many of them, all talking at once, some male, some female. Some she almost recognised. She could tell that the voices were talking about her, but she could not quite hear what they were saying. They were getting louder and more distinct. 

“Why don’t you just die?”, a woman was saying. 

A child’s voice. “Why are you hurting me?”

As she listened she started to panic. The floor beneath her feet distorted and swirled, a vortex  sucking her in. She grabbed onto the edge of the bed frame but it could not hold her, she was sucked down, down. Suddenly she knew what the voices were. They were demons, fallen angels, tormented souls like her. She was being punished. Then she started to pray in earnest, reciting the Lord’s Prayer again and again in an attempt to fend them off. As she did so, the vortex gradually stopped spinning, and she found herself floating, gradually surfacing back on the floor of the room. The bed frame had gone now. The room was entirely empty. She knew she needed to cast the demons out, to purify herself. Rushing into the bathroom, she turned on the tap and started to drink. If she drank enough water, she would be cleansed of this madness. The demons in her would be diluted and they would no longer have power over her. She drank and drank until her ears were ringing and she felt as if her stomach would burst. Soaked through and dizzy, she didn’t feel herself hit the floor. 

A scratching sound at the door brought her back to herself. Immediately on edge, she listened for a return of the tapping but it did not come. The sound was familiar. Dragging herself over to the door, she pulled it slightly, but it would not move. The scratching continued. Was that a miaow?

Perhaps the watch would help her to open the door. She forced her aching body to its feet. Gingerly she lifted it from the toilet bowl and rinsed off the worst of the dirt in the sink. The watch was quiet now, no revelatory messages were being broadcast. Perhaps God was on his lunch break. Taking the watch over to the door, she tried passing it over its smooth surface, hoping to trigger some sort of automatic release. No joy. The miaowing outside continued. She wondered how Finn had got out of her cabin and made his way down here. Either way, she had better find a way out soon. She wouldn’t want the Captain to catch him. Racking her brains, she considered other possibilities. 

The Lord’s Prayer had freed her from the vortex. Perhaps praying would release the door. She tried it. There was no effect, but she did feel slightly better. Then it struck her. The watch had wanted her to say Hail Mary. She wasn’t keen on doing it, but her objections no longer seemed to matter as much. She might as well give it a go. She said one Hail Mary, and the door seemed to loosen slightly. She was able to open it a millimetre, perhaps. Encouraged, she continued to pray. Having said ten Hail Marys, she could now prise the door open a few centimetres. Finn was able to push his nose through the crack. He started purring loudly. She started praying faster than she had ever thought possible, and soon the door was open enough for the cat to come inside. He was delighted to see her despite her sorry state and immediately curled himself up on her lap. She started to feel almost human again. 

Something seemed to click into place in her brain. She had just opened her mouth to start the next batch of Hail Marys when the door sprang wide open of its own accord. Peeking out of the cabin, she saw a stream of people heading towards the end of the corridor. The ground had started to hum. The watch flashed once more. 

GO TO THE CONCERT HALL

MANDATORY PERFORMANCE STARTING IN TEN MINUTES

SUBSCRIBE NOW TO READ EPISODE EIGHT

Written by Liza Bec

Artwork by Pushing Normal

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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