Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not “sad.” I’m fucking pissed. The Robbery I witnessed was beyond criminal – it was amoral, the antithesis of anything good in this world. The evil I’ve faced didn’t only lack a conscience: it seemed to laugh in the face of all consciences, to demand an answer to its unanswerable quandary of why good is better than evil.
This Robbery – my preferred euphemism for the act of utter evil I witnessed – didn’t bring about any sort of end result, not on the side of evil or the side of we complex mortals who for lack of a better term prefer to consider ourselves good. And maybe that’s the worst part in my mind: there was no resolution. No end to this pattern. Nothing to imply the robber doesn’t still intend to rob me next.
No matter when in the future you happen to enjoy my nihilistic rambling, there are two factors to the Robbery I feel I should explain. The first is the COVID-19 pandemic: hopefully by your time, coronavirus is a distant memory, just a brief period of time your kids don’t really believe ever happened. But as I write this, the entire human race is still living in fear of this novel virus, wearing masks like plague doctors and hoarding hand sanitizer like it’s the cure for stupidity.
The other major player in my life that I hope you’ve been privileged enough to forget is Mackenzie Weaver. She was overshadowed by the worldwide pandemic, but just before COVID hit she was making a bit of a splash on the pop culture scene. I don’t know if anyone really believed the legend, any more than they believed in The Blair Witch Project or that “paranormal” airplane disaster that happened a few years back, but the conspiracy theorists and documenters and creepypasta writers had latched onto the idea of an undead serial killer with no intentions of letting go. And I always suspected, as much as it disgusts me to say, that people hadn’t missed the fact that this particular undead serial killer was a woman. This opened up a whole new genre of Internet-based fandom, somehow perverting the memory of a dead girl even more than supernatural forces ever could.
For those of you who don’t know the story – which I hope is most of you – Mackenzie Weaver was an ordinary kid from the Midwest who snapped one day and murdered thirteen of her classmates with a sword stolen from her history teacher. The cops put her in the ground, but to hear the masses tell it she had no problem digging herself out. They like to say she’s still out there, slicing up all the classmates she missed in her first go – which sucks to hear, since I happen to be one of them.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I’m not stupid either. I can recognize a pattern, especially one that involves old friends of mine disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Six years ago it was her senior year boyfriend Johnny Trevor. The year after that it was Eddie Majors, bayoneted as he was stepping out of his car. A couple years ago it was my sophomore year crush, Kimberly White.
I’m not going to tell you my thoughts on Mackenzie Weaver. Because whatever I thought before doesn’t matter now.
Maybe it was fate, or the arguably less believable subconscious, that led me to the most haunted city in America. But pretending there exists such a thing as free will, I like to imagine I moved to Savannah because it was a change of pace from my cold, rural hometown where I’d seen thirteen friends, three teachers, and one hall monitor murdered in cold blood. I found a cheap apartment and a retail job I quickly left in favor of a more unique paycheck-earning experience: a short-cruise riverboat, complete with big red paddlewheel and wedding cake paint scheme. The paddlewheel didn’t work, to the tourists’ disappointment, but the massive diesel engines were enough to take us up and down the Savannah River three times a day. It was hot work, especially being from the Midwest, but I managed to adjust and ended up working there for the next few years.
COVID-19 hit the riverboat like the iceberg hitting the Titanic. Where we used to run three cruises a day with almost a thousand people onboard each time, we were now down to one or two cruises with a couple hundred at most. We lost all our revenue from the sightseeing tours: no one wanted to sit on the exposed top deck in the scorching heat while they were legally required to wear a face covering. It was nice not having to rush around and put out a million fires, but the cruises ended up dragging for too long with no obnoxious guests to occupy my time.
The only real bright side of corona was that we had a new employee: a student from the art school who signed on as a deckhand after she realized she wouldn’t be allowed back into the dorms. Her name was Hope, and she was the greatest person I’ve ever met.
I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t like that. She was seventeen or eighteen, I was older, and cradle robbing isn’t my thing. I didn’t like her like that, I liked her for the way she lit up every room she walked into, the way she always seemed to be smiling, and the way nothing ever seemed to get her down. A guest could be yelling in her face, and she would smile in a way that implied understanding, not sarcasm. I once saw the rattling old A/C unit dump a gallon of filthy muck all over her blond head and white uniform, and all she had to say about it was “That’s why they pay me the big bucks.” Which, by the way, they didn’t.
There were only two other deckhands on duty during COVID, and they were both a good forty years older than me, so I ended up spending a lot of time with Hope. She was a smart kid, I decided, even if her constant cheery attitude could give off a ditzier impression. She wanted to be a writer, I found out, and was attending the Savannah College of Art and Design with the hope of making connections in that field. When I told her what I thought about higher education – namely, that it was all a scam, especially the gimmicky art schools like SCAD – she just shrugged and told me she wasn’t attached. “It’s maximum four years,” she reasoned, speaking in cadence with the mop she was scrubbing across the floor. “If I move on, I move on. But as long as I’m here, I might as well enjoy it.” At the time, that miffed me a little: I assumed that she was loaded, or at least deep enough into the middle class that her parents would let her come and go from colleges like they were houses on Halloween. I still don’t know if her family has money, but I eventually realized I was looking at it the wrong way. If my parents had money – money enough to help me live wherever I wanted – I would take their help in a heartbeat. How could I blame her for using every opportunity she was given?
There were times when I considered telling Hope about Mackenzie Weaver. She was still pretty big in the media – or, whatever media was enduring the pandemic – but I could never bring myself to breach the subject. Usually the urge would hit me after work, when the deckhands and chefs and waitresses would sit out on the Savannah riverfront, drinking beer and sharing stories about entitled customers. Hope and I would usually talk about this that or whatever, and sometimes, sitting there with my back to the inky, bottomless river, a chill would go up my spine and I would imagine Mackenzie Weaver rising from the polluted Savannah, water streaming from her cutlass and blood still trickling from the bullet wound in her scalp. It was then I would be tempted to tell Hope, hell, to tell anyone: I had lived with what I’d seen for years, had never even tried to see a shrink for fear of totally breaking down. I had to tell someone, just to talk about it, or I would drive myself as insane as Mackenzie.
But whenever I almost brought it up, almost asked her if she knew the real story behind the urban legend, I would meet her dancing blue eyes in the light of the streetlamps and see her as something else, something far removed from my wretched psyche. Maybe it was the white uniform, or her big, innocent eyes, but she seemed pure, like an angel, or like a child. The idea of corrupting her with the knowledge of what I’d seen felt blasphemous, like throwing paint on a portrait, or like cursing in church.
So I never told Hope about my past, and we kept on pushing through the light workload. What I also didn’t tell her was that I seemed to be healing. I could never say this to her, for obvious reasons, but there seemed to be a correlation: around the time I started talking to her often, spending almost every cruise working beside her, I could almost feel the degrees by which my depression and paranoia were rolling back. Seven years I had been stuck in the same mindset, the idea that I had to just keep pushing through the pain and maybe someday some tiny little bit of it would go away. But somehow, just by spending time with my giggly coworker, that tiny spark of hope that had kept me from ending it all was growing into a flame, then a fire, then a blaze. I wasn’t healed, I’ll never be healed, but Mackenzie Weaver almost stopped haunting my dreams. A couple times I almost went a whole day without thinking about her.
I was in probably the best place I’d ever been that day in mid June. Mackenzie was far from my mind, I had cut down on my drinking and wallowing, and Georgia had warmed up to the point where, when I wasn’t at work, I could stay outside all day and bask in the tropical climate. I hadn’t made many friends in Savannah, I’d never really had the energy, but as Hope’s cheery attitude elevated my own I found myself reaching out to the servers and hosts on the riverboat, actually getting to know them a little deeper. For the first time since 2013, everything was looking up – and I hate that I was stupid enough to believe it would stay like that.
I don’t have to think very hard to remember that the date was June fourteenth, 2020. On Sundays, the riverboat managed to choke out three cruises, though none of them ever saw more than two hundred guests. First there was the brunch cruise, then the sightseeing cruise, then the dinner cruise. Since quarantine, the deckhands were often put to work scooping food for the dinner buffet; I managed to wriggle free of this responsibility when the chef caught me telling people the catfish was baked dolphin.
As the newest recruit, it was Hope’s job to count the guests as they boarded. She would stand at the head of the gangplank, like I had before she arrived, clicking the head counter, greeting people with a smile that was visible even behind her surgical mask. She always wore her hair in a braid while she was working, which I silently appreciated: the other blonde in my life, the one who had murdered my friends, had worn hers down.
That day, June fourteenth, I stood on the bow with Hope, looking like some kind of Men in Black agent in my sunglasses, black clip-on tie, and sweat-soaked mask. I left the greeting and the smiling to her: I just watched the guests board like a creep. Most of them looked too poor to drop eighty bucks on a two-hour cruise, but hey, don’t judge a book and all that. As usual, there were the moms asking after an elevator for their strollers, the ex-Navy guys who mistook me for the captain, and the occasional bachelorette party consisting of a regal-looking bride-to-be and her gaggle of already-drunk bridesmaids. They were all fairly standard riverboat guests. Only one passenger made me look twice, but only because of how she was dressed: she wore a long-sleeve shirt and jeans devoid of rips and tears despite current trends. Like the other passengers, I couldn’t see her face behind her surgical mask and sunglasses, which were hidden in shadow from the wide-brimmed hat she wore. I could understand why she’d chosen that particular accessory: even on its way down, the Southern sun was hot and bright, and what little I could see of her skin was very pale and obviously burnable. The girl walked slowly and carefully up the ramp, and after the rest of her group parted I could see why: her left arm was held to her chest in a sling, throwing off her balance. I moved to offer her a hand, but she shook her head and boarded the boat.
“Were they together?” I asked as the group disappeared up the stairs. The girl in the sling was trailing behind the others, but it was almost unheard of for someone to board the cruise alone.
“I don’t know,” Hope replied. “I thought she would ask which deck she was going to, but she just followed them.”
“Maybe she didn’t pay for the dinner,” I suggested, “And she’s trying to get a freebie.”
“Following them won’t do her any good when the hostess can’t find her name,” Hope reminded me. I could tell she was smiling – she was always smiling – because her eyes glittered above her mask.
When the last of the dinner crowd had boarded, we raised the gangplank and dropped the lines, the captain three decks up manipulating the incidental joystick to move the sixteen-hundred-ton wedding cake away from the dock. Hope disappeared to help at the buffet and I lingered for a minute at the gunwale, watching the Savannah riverfront grow smaller and smaller as we motored upstream. For whatever reason, that was the moment my mind decided to betray me and drift back towards my old thoughts, my old paranoias: Where was she? I wondered. Was it really possible she had come back? I couldn’t deny that several of my friends had been killed or turned up dead since that day in 2014, eleven months after her rampage, when Mackenzie Weaver was said to have come back from the dead. If none of that was true, if someone was impersonating her, the question remained…why. Why her. Why at all.
I shook off the creeping return of anxiety and went to clean something.
Later, as the sun went down over the Savannah and we turned around to head back towards Old Fort Jackson, I made my way to the second deck dining room to check on the buffet. As always, it was a bit of a clusterfuck: the guests weren’t allowed to scoop their own food anymore, so the chefs and deckhands were forced to shovel fish and prime rib and grits onto their plates, usually spilling half of it onto the tablecloths.
“How’s that going for you,” I said, slipping in behind Hope.
She ignored me and smiled at an old guy in a make america great again hat. “Can I get you some catfish?” she asked.
“Sure,” the guy said, “What the hell.”
Hope shoveled some catfish onto the guy’s plate and he moved on. “Could be worse,” she said, her voice bright. “I could be cleaning the A/C machine.”
“This is true,” I replied. There was a lump in my throat, I realized. Some-thing felt off. Something felt wrong. Was it because I’d allowed myself to think about Mackenzie? Or because I still felt like I needed to tell Hope about my past, at the risk of ruining my idealistic vision of her as the only part of my life not poisoned by my anxieties?
I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the chef, a tall guy who usually managed to stay calm amidst the chaos. “Go grab me a pan of shrimp?” he asked. I nodded and headed towards the galley. As long as he didn’t ask me to scrape the dishes.
In the galley, the waitresses were running around and yelling at each other and dumping plates into over-full garbage cans that I would have to empty. I weaved around them and grabbed a fresh tray of shrimp and grits, carrying it out into the dining room. On my way to the buffet, something caught my eye: the girl from earlier, the one in the sling, sitting alone at a corner table. She was still wearing her mask, which was obviously not mandatory while eating, but even weirder she was still wearing her sunglasses and hat. She had a plate full of food in front of her, but she was just moving it around with her fork.
I replaced the old shrimp tray with the fresh one, then slid in behind Hope again. “What’s with the girl in the sling?” I asked.
Hope glanced at me, then across the room at the girl. “Oh yeah,” she replied. “She didn’t talk at all, she just nodded when I asked if she wanted catfish. Do you think she’s…?” She looked up and met my eyes, and a sick feeling twisted my stomach. Do I think what? Do I think what, Hope? What are you implying?
“What,” I choked out. The lights in the dining room seemed to grow brighter.
Hope leaned closer to me and pulled down her mask. “She’s hiding her face,” she whispered, almost not smiling. “You think she…?” Subtly, behind the table, she made a punching motion.
She was wrong, I knew, somehow I could feel that she was wrong, but I nodded and gave a noncommittal response. I knew what she was implying – that the girl was in a bad home situation and had come aboard to escape for a couple precious hours – but I knew this wasn’t right. Silently, I stepped away from the buffet and slipped onto the outer deck.
The boat had a designated employee smoking area where I liked to hang out, but I didn’t feel like being cramped in the stern right now. I stood on the port side deck, among the tourists and bridesmaids, and leaned on the rail. It was still light out – one more week till the solstice – and I could see Savannah painted gold as we moved downriver. In the distance, standing for eternity in her own miniature park, was the world-famous Waving Girl of Savannah: to hear the locals tell it, she had stood at the edge of the river for forty-four years, greeting every single ship that came and went from the port, welcoming them or bidding them bon voyage, for reasons that remain lost to time. She was looking for something, I’d always thought: looking for an escape, maybe. She felt trapped, unable to escape her life, and only found her egress in death. Now, she was immortalized by other hands, a girl of bronze waving her frozen handkerchief at every ship that would pass her till the end of time.
When I felt like I needed to move again, I went to find something I could clean or fix. There was a knot in my stomach, and I couldn’t say why. I couldn’t let myself say why.
The rest of the trip passed without event; I avoided the second deck and occupied myself organizing the mop closet. At one point I found a couple guests on the closed-off first floor, standing uncomfortably close to the emergency release that would seal off the engine room and fill the entire hold with a gaseous substance that could kill any fire, and any person as well. There was no one down there on the cruise, but I couldn’t risk the tourists destroying the engines so I ushered them back upstairs.
By the time we reached the Savannah waterfront, the sun was down and the partygoers were out. From a hundred yards downriver we could hear them laughing and whooping in the animalistic tones you only hear in cities where it’s legal to drink outside. As we got closer, I was not surprised to hear the sounds of a trombone blaring the Titanic theme song: the musician, if that’s what you want to call him, was there every Saturday and Sunday, serenading us and all but begging the tourists for cash tips. I had told him before to play something else, that referencing the Titanic or its eponymous movie was serious bad luck around boats, but he didn’t seem to care. He was safe on the dock.
The captain stood by the gangplank to usher everyone off, while I went up to the exposed fourth deck to pick up trash. I still felt like crap, for reasons I didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand, but I knew once we gave the boat a once-over we’d be allowed to leave. I thought I might forgo drinking tonight and just go home. I felt tired, more tired than normal after a ten-hour shift.
What usually happened was the older deckhands would clean the heads while Hope and I did the heavy lifting. The servers cleaned the dining rooms and galleys as quick as possible then hopped the gunwale and went to argue over who was grabbing the first round. Once the other deckhands left, Hope and I would finish up whatever needed to be done and the captain would lock the doors and kill the lights. It was no different that night, and by ten p.m. only Hope, the captain, and I were left on the riverboat.
Hope and I reconvened in the first deck dining room, where I grabbed a much-needed cup of water and sat down for the first time in ten hours. “What happened to you?” I asked, pulling off my foul-smelling mask.
Hope glanced down at herself. Her white aviator shirt was covered in greasy brown splotches. “Someone spilled a plate of prime rib on me,” she laughed. That was the difference between us: if someone had ruined my twenty-dollar shirt, I would’ve put them in the fucking ground. Or the deck, as the case may be.
“That wasn’t such a hard day,” I said, despite my body disagreeing. I felt like I’d done something terrible: the knot in my stomach was mostly guilt, though I had nothing to feel guilty about. “Not a lot of people.”
“I didn’t see you during the dish rush,” she shot back. “I had to scrape every plate by myself!”
“And such is the price of being the new kid.” I forced a smile.
We hung out in the dining room for a while, waiting for the captain to show up and tell us we could leave. I tried to steer our conversation away from the boat, but Hope managed to hit on the one subject I was doing everything to avoid. “I saw that girl later,” she said, and I felt myself cringe. “The girl in the sling? I saw her out on three. She was standing on the aft railing, looking down at the paddlewheel. I told her she wasn’t allowed back there, and she left. She still didn’t say anything.” Hope looked curious, like she thought there was some great mystery to the girl who never took off her sunglasses, but I knew she was just making conversation. She believed she would never see that girl again. She had no reason to think that girl’s presence would have any effect on me.
“Weird,” I managed to say. The knot in my stomach felt more like a basket of snakes: guilt and terror and revulsion writhing around and threatening to crawl up my throat.
“At least we know she wasn’t trying to jump off,” Hope continued, oblivious to my discomfort. “If she did, she would’ve just gotten caught in the paddle-wheel. I think she was just a Titanic fan.”
“Don’t say that name,” I murmured, my mouth suddenly dry. We’d had this discussion before, but it seemed to go right over her head: Hope, I was pretty sure, didn’t believe in bad luck. Good luck, maybe. All she had ever known was good luck.
Hope asked me if I was okay and I said I was fine. I had already taken off my radio, but I grabbed it off the bar and called for the captain. He should be on deck three or two, I thought, descending the many staircases and locking all the doors on his way.
The captain didn’t reply, which wasn’t unusual: he normally ditched his radio right after we docked. But something in the silence elevated my nausea, and the entire cabin seemed to grow quieter to match the radio. Half the lights were still on, but the dining room suddenly seemed darker, the carpet a river of shadow and the walls black curtains of night. Only my friend seemed untouched by the darkness, in her white shirt and her light hair, her usual smile enhanced by a quizzical look of perplexion. She was worried, I knew, and I also knew I was acting strange. But I couldn’t help it. I knew.
“I’ll be right back,” I murmured, heading across the dining room.
“Where are you going?” Hope called. Her voice, usually soft and unobtrusive, cut through the silence like a sword.
“Just to check deck three,” I lied. Should I take her with me? I wondered. Would she be safe? No, I thought: she needed to be as far from me as possible. Everyone did.
I climbed the faux-expensive stairs, up half a level, then to deck two, then half a level, then to deck three. The captain wouldn’t be on four: there were no doors to lock up there, just an open deck beneath the stars. I called his name into the darkened cabin, but there was no response.
I stepped into the silent dining room. The streetlamps from outside hit the chairs and tables and empty buffet stations, throwing their shadows into stark relief against the patterned wallpaper. Everything was silent: the engines had cut out an hour ago, the voices of guests had trickled away, and even the drunken laughs from the docks were too far below me to hear. I tried to call for the captain again, thinking he may be in the galley or the heads, but my voice didn’t seem to work: I couldn’t speak for fear of disturbing this unbroken, silent darkness. It was almost a presence, I thought, almost a sentience, as if the shadows themselves were watching me, daring me to walk further towards what I knew was coming next.
Somehow, my feet propelled me across the dining room. The A/C had been turned off, and it was hot: the humidity clung to my body, drawing sweat across my face, and I could almost imagine that was the warm embrace of the shadows as they reached out to grab a hold of me.
I checked the heads. The floors were still slick where they’d been mopped, the mirrors as scratched and stained as they always were. My heart crawling into my throat, I stepped into the galley.
The small kitchen area was empty, all the equipment cleaned and stacked up for later use. There was nowhere to hide, so I moved on. At the other end of the galley was a door leading to what we called the chiller: a miserably hot, cramped, noisy room where the A/C units growled their profession twelve hours a day. I stopped at the door, my hand on the handle, and took a deep breath, as silently as I could. What did I expect to find in the chiller? I didn’t know. I couldn’t say. I couldn’t allow myself to say. But I had to do it. I had to go inside.
I threw open the door and stepped out, snapping my head in both directions, looking port and starboard down the thin corridor between the bulkhead and the bank of A/C units. There was nothing there, just the grimy surfaces and bags of trash I’d forgotten to take downstairs. I almost let myself take another breath – then I saw that the A/C unit was leaking red.
Red leaks were common on the riverboat. Most of the drinks we sold were ninety percent grenadine, and the guests had a habit of dropping and shattering their novelty glasses. I had mopped up hundreds of red stains in my riverboat career, some brand new and some discovered months after the fact. So I knew, even fifteen feet away, that the red liquid pooling out into the chiller wasn’t anything mixed behind a bar, and neither was it the usual slime of rust and rainwater.
With another glance to port, I made my way towards the starboard end of the chiller, slowly, my shoes scuffing against the rough plastic deck. I held my breath, and somehow, I held my fear as well. I was no longer feeling. I was thinking, and I was considering.
When I came to the pool of blood, I didn’t hesitate. I stepped over it and turned to look between the A/C banks, taking in the sight that I’d expected, the sight that I had feared, the sight that I had somehow known I would see since the moment she stepped aboard. My thoughts were frozen, my breath was still. O captain my captain, I thought. My mind felt far away from my body.
The riverboat captain, a man in his prime, a man whose loving wife and beautiful children I’d had the honor of meeting, lay slumped against the back wall, his body crumpled up between two silent A/C banks, his white uniform shirt stained the same brilliant crimson that ran beneath my feet and pooled at the far wall. A cigarette had fallen from his lips and gone out as it hit the liquid remains of his life.
Above the captain, only now turning to face me, was the girl in the long sleeves and the sling. She still wore her surgical mask and sunglasses, but she’d lost her hat at some point, and in the glaring fluorescence of the chiller’s lights, a mottled red and fleshy bullet wound stretched across her scalp: a souvenir from the police officer who had shot her dead.
I didn’t run. I couldn’t move. She was four feet away, the dark lenses of her glasses trained on me as she turned fully around, revealing the cutlass she held in her free hand. How, was all I could think. I felt disconnected, as if I was watching myself from the outside, watching in more surprise than fear as all my paranoia and anxiety was given form in the resurrected body of Mackenzie Weaver.
She could have struck me down right there, could have taken one step forward and run me through. But she only stared, her eyes invisible behind those glasses, as she angled her cutlass through the straps holding her left arm to her chest. With a clean sweep, she cut through the sling and let it fall to the deck, where it soaked into my captain’s blood. She flexed her arm, now free of its restrictions, and I traced my eyes down to where her wrist ended in a stump of rotten flesh and congealed pus, drained of blood just as she had been drained of life.
I don’t remember running. I don’t remember leaving the chiller. But I did, somehow, and somehow I was running down the inside stairs on the other side of the boat. The fear was back and coming in waves, choking me, almost causing me to lose my balance. She was still in the chiller, I thought, or at least coming down the aft stairs. But if the captain had locked the exterior doors, she wouldn’t be able to get out, and she would have to –
It was stupid. Ridiculous. Trying to logic my way out of this, trying to imagine that she was restricted to the same physics that kept the human race sane.
I almost careened into the wall before realizing I had made it to the first deck. I plunged into the dining room and saw Hope, untouched, still sitting at one of the tables. “Run!” I cried.
“What?” Her eyes were wide as she stumbled to her feet.
“It’s – ” was all I managed. I skidded to a stop. What could I say? How could I explain this to her? Why hadn’t I told her the truth? “We have to get out,” I choked. I could feel her, one or two decks above us, stalking us, like a cat playing with its much weaker prey. I grabbed Hope by the arm and slammed into the door, but it didn’t move. “Shit.” Someone had locked it. Not the captain. “Come on,” I said, and led her towards the bow.
I stopped her in the foyer door, edging forward and peering up the dark staircase. If she was on her way down, she couldn’t also be out on the deck.
“What’s going on?” Hope demanded. “Where’s the captain?”
I shushed her and, despite the situation, immediately regretted it. But the captain was dead, and I wasn’t going to tell her that. Not now. Not while we could easily be on the same path.
Something moved in the shadows. She was up there, walking down, descending towards us. Only four half-staircases stood between myself and her other victims. But there was time. I dashed across the lobby, Hope in tow, and slammed into the bow door.
Nothing. Nothing. This door was locked too. “How?” I cried, as if I didn’t know how. As if I didn’t know that the person capable of returning from Hell could block all our escape routes without us noticing.
“Who is that?” Hope cried, reading my own panic. I stopped, catching her eye, wasting a few precious seconds wondering what had changed about her. Then I realized: she wasn’t smiling. For maybe the first time since I’d known her, Hope’s eyes weren’t glittering, and there was no mirth in her voice. She was terrified and confused, left in the dark, for once giving face to the undeniable truth that no one could truly never know fear.
In that moment, she reminded me of another girl I’d once known: another bright young lady who had the power to light up a room just by smiling. A girl who’d given everything and asked for nothing, who everyone claimed to love, even while taking advantage of her good nature. A girl I had once considered a friend; a girl who was now trying to take her revenge for how good of a friend I’d really been.
“Just run,” I growled, and Hope followed me back across the dining room. There was only one staircase inside, and Mackenzie had almost reached the bottom level. With all the doors locked, there was nowhere to go but –
I stopped. Across from the bar was a white door with a sign commanding no one to enter without proper authorization. And next to that door, a pull cord behind a pane of glass.
Years back, I had dug in my heels when the captain told me to send out for my TWIC card. Back then, I thought if I took my employment to that level, I’d probably never be able to leave this job. I wanted to keep my options open, not to get stuck in a single workplace for the rest of my life. But tonight, it seemed that all the stars had aligned, that I had struck on the first good luck I’d experienced since the day I met Mackenzie Weaver: I had earned my TWIC card, and I had it in my pocket.
Moving fast, I tapped my card to the ID pad and yanked open the door leading to the engine room. A wave of hot air blasted us but I shook it off and pulled the door till it caught on the carpet and stayed open. Without a word, I led Hope down the thin hallway to the heads.
When I dragged her into the big stall and locked it, she pushed away from me and flattened herself against the wall. “What the fuck is going on?” she hissed. She was aware enough not to yell, but I couldn’t help noticing it was the first time I’d ever heard her swear.
“It’s…” I swallowed hard. I couldn’t think of the words. She was gaping at me, her eyes full of fear and what almost seemed like hatred. Why why why? Why couldn’t she just trust me and ask questions later? “It’s…” I tried again, barely choking out the words. “It’s Mackenzie Weaver.”
She knew the name. Of course she knew the name, she had seen the documentary and the Halloween costumes and the online excitement at the concept of a real-life female Michael Myers. But I could tell she had never considered the possibility that this story might be true.
“It…that’s impossible,” she murmured. There was no conviction in her whispered words.
“It’s her,” I murmured. “She came back. She killed my classmates, then she came back to kill the rest of them. Including me.”
Hope swallowed and looked away. There were tears glittering in her eyes. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She wasn’t supposed to be here. She wasn’t supposed to be crying. Everywhere I turned, everywhere I looked, my entire life was haunted by the specter that had killed my friends. My past, my present, my future, it was all concealed by the dark cloud of terror that was embodied in Mackenzie Weaver. And now, my friend, my best friend, the only person I’d felt any affection for in seven years, was caught in the middle of it all.
“Stay here,” I murmured, unlocking the stall. I walked to the bathroom door, but stopped when Hope whispered my name.
I turned around and met her eyes across the room. Whatever emotions I wasn’t feeling, whatever fear and regret and sadness were now giving way to anger, were clearly visible in the eyes of my friend.
“What did you do to her?” she asked, barely audible, emotion cracking her voice.
I looked away. Her gaze was piercing me, and suddenly I felt more afraid of her sad blue eyes than Mackenzie’s dead ones. What did I do to her? What did any of us do to her? What could motivate someone to move from one Hell to another and seek vengeance against those on a different plane of existence?
“No more than everyone else,” I murmured, slipping out of the head.
The door to the engine room was still propped open when I stepped inside. Even with the engines cooling off, it was over a hundred degrees down below, and the cold sweat turned hot on my face.
I stepped onto the metal catwalk and peered over the railing, down into the area near the engines where we kept all the boat’s tools, ranging from hammers and wrenches to welding equipment. I took a deep breath, the hot air burning my throat, and called her name.
Mackenzie Weaver appeared at the foot of the stairs, looking up at me, her cutlass dripping the blood of my captain onto the engine room’s grimy deck. She made no move to climb the stairs, and as I looked down at her, I felt the most insanely hilarious urge to apologize. Maybe I should say I was sorry, I thought. Maybe she would just leave. Maybe she would forgive me, like she forgave Johnny Trevor and Eddie Majors and Kimberly White. Or maybe I could fight back, grab a knife from the kitchen, and cut off her other hand.
Then, she lunged for the stairs and any thought of fighting back disappeared. I shot back into the cool air of the dining room and slammed the door behind me, not pausing for breath before I drove a fist through the protective glass case and yanked the cord beneath.
The alarm picked up almost immediately: a miniature air raid siren, warning everyone in the engine room that they had thirty seconds before instant death caught up with them.
Hope appeared out of the heads, and something slammed into the door from inside. I pushed against Mackenzie, gritting my teeth and digging my feet into the carpet, counting out thirty seconds that seemed to grow longer as they went on, until finally it was over, the alarm grew softer and the door stood still.
I met Hope’s eyes, and knew that she had changed. Mackenzie was inside her. The terror and suspicion had made her see me as something similar to the undead killer: something ethereal, something inhuman that couldn’t be understood or reasoned with.
“Where’s the captain,” she murmured, and I didn’t reply. She knew where the captain was.
“Come with me,” I said, nodding across the dining room.
Hope shook her head.
“I don’t wanna leave you down here,” I said.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she replied, and I didn’t miss the implication: she wasn’t going anywhere with me. Not ever again.
I swallowed and walked away. Mackenzie was laying on the catwalk, pumped full of poisonous gas. Unless someone was planning on showing up and doing another voodoo ritual or whatever had brought her back in the first place, I had ended the threat for good. So why didn’t I feel anything resembling closure?
Making my way up the stairs, I pushed through my residual fear and stepped into the chiller, where I retrieved the captain’s keys. I tried to ignore his gaping eyes and bleeding mouth, but to reach in his pocket I had to brush against the skin that was even now growing cold and stiff to the touch. I got out of there as fast as I could, unlocking the door and stepping out onto the third deck catwalk, where I would at least be able to see down the length of the boat.
I went down two flights of stairs and to the rear door, where I could see Hope still standing across the cabin near the engine room. I unlocked the door and beckoned for her, but she didn’t move. “Come on,” I called, and again, she didn’t respond. Was she in shock? I wondered. Was she paralyzed in fear?
I stepped inside the cabin and hurried towards her, the shadows parting around me, and then I stopped.
The ugly food stains on her shirt had been consumed by the same glittering crimson that decorated the captain’s. Her mouth hung open, and her once beautiful blue eyes were drooping shut, without the strength to remain open or close for good. And from her chest spouted a dark red blade, curved and vile and dripping the life force of the person who had saved me from ending it all.
As the cutlass slid back, through Hope’s heart and through the engine room door, she collapsed onto the carpet like a ragdoll, her light hair seeming to fade into white as her blood turned black on the floor.
And with a creak, a sound too similar to a human death cry, the door opened to reveal another girl I had once cared for, the girl – the monster – that had committed the final and ultimate crime, the Robbery of life, the murderous theft of an innocent girl’s future.
Mackenzie Weaver stepped into the hallway, her cutlass black and her skin almost translucent in the pallid shade of death. Her face was concealed behind a block of metal, what I now realize was a welder’s mask stolen from the engine room below. The gas had done nothing to stop her: if she had paused her assault on the door, it was only to better arm herself.
To this day I don’t remember what I said to Mackenzie across the silent, darkened cabin. I don’t remember if it was an apology, a plea for mercy, or a curse of hatred. But sometimes in my dreams, when I relive that night in agonizing detail, I find myself saying only three simple words, almost conversational in their tone: “You’re still here.”
There was no chase scene, no epic swordfight, no duel between the living and the undead. Mackenzie watched me across the cabin, eyes hidden behind the Plexiglas visor of her helmet, standing above the dead body of Hope as if she’d already forgotten, one hand clutching her black blade, the other a bloodless stump. I stepped backwards, one foot, two, three, until I stumbled through the door and pulled it shut, somehow finding the dexterity to lock it behind me.
In a daze, barely moving at a walking pace, I stepped onto the dock and pulled myself up the ramp, finally reaching the bricks of the riverfront and standing on solid ground for the first time in half a day. I grabbed onto a lamp post to keep from falling over, the tourists passing around me and the drunks assuming I was one of them.
Down the ramp, past the dock, a distance of twenty feet that could have been a mile, I could see the window in the first deck door, and behind it, the blank rectangle of a welder’s mask, its visor catching the light from the riverfront. She – it – was there, watching me, knowing she didn’t have to hurry. There was no rush for Mackenzie Weaver. She had robbed me of Hope, and, in time, she would rob me of my life.
It didn’t matter where I ran, how far or how fast. She would always be there. And eventually, no matter how long it took, she would get me.