Hello, all. So it’s the middle of November, which means, as always, that it’s time for me to provide you with an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo project. I have an excerpt that I’m particularly proud of and want to share, but it actually has very little to do with the premise/main plot of my story, so I don’t think I’m going to share that one (even though it’s my fave).
So instead you’re going to get a different excerpt! The general premise of this dumb story: an outbreak of a mysterious, unidentifiable, deadly disease occurs on a cruise ship. Due to the mortality rate of the disease and the fact that no one knows what it is or how it spreads, the ship is denied the ability to dock at any country, forcing it to basically become a floating hospital that is rapidly turning into a floating morgue as more and more people become sick. The story follows three individuals – Jochem (a passenger), Hugo (the captain) and Dr. Wex (the ship’s main doctor) – and how they cope with the fact that they know they are probably going to die on the ship.
To set the following scene: the ship has been unable to dock anywhere for three weeks now because every country is afraid of this unknown but very deadly illness. So this ship is out there wandering aimlessly, trying to approach various countries for, if not the ability to dock, at least some provisions and fuel. By this point, a decent number of people are sick and the captain and crew have decided to dedicate an entire deck as a “quarantine deck” on which to keep the sick and those suspected to be sick to try to stop the illness from spreading.
Right now, they’re sailing through some nasty weather on their way to South America. The captain, Hugo, has been woken up by the storm and has decided to do a quick check of the crew as well as (in this scene) the deck that has been transformed into a quarantine ward.
GO! (I know, I know, the writing is terrible as always. It’s NaNo, what do you want.)
Upon leaving the wheelhouse, Hugo’s next destination was the quarantine deck. He hadn’t been down to visit it in a while – such a while, in fact, that it was only upon his reaching the elevator bay on the north end of the ship that he remembered that he had ordered that the elevators be shut down to try to prevent people from accidentally stepping off on the off-limit floor. Heading to the stairs, he met with the posted security guard who said that he could go and fetch Dr. Wex for the Captain if he wanted to be escorted through the quarantine region.
“I don’t want to bother the doctor,” Hugo responded, forgetting momentarily that it was far too early for anyone else on the ship to be awake, apart from himself and the men in the wheelhouse. “Just let him sleep. I’ll talk to him in the morning.”
But the security guard shook his head. “Oh no, he’s up right now, sir,” he said. “Dr. Wex hasn’t been sleeping much as of late, and when he does, he has mighty odd sleeping hours. I’ll go get him for you.”
The guard had been correct; Dr. Wex was awake and greeted Hugo with a kind but tired smile as he ascended the steps to meet the Captain.
“Late rounds, sir?” the doctor asked, running his hands through his greying hair in an attempt to tame any flyaways that had jutted into existence during his sleepless hours.
“No later than yours,” Hugo said. “I hope you’re getting enough sleep, Adrian. I know it’s in a doctor’s nature to put their health last after everyone else’s, but the last thing we need is for you to collapse from lack of sleep. Hell, you saw what a case of exhaustion did to me, and I’m sure I wasn’t working any harder than you currently are.”
“I’m doing fine, Captain,” the doctor said. “I’m used to these types of long hours; it’s part of what you come to expect being a doctor. Though I must say it has been taken to a bit more of an extreme in this particular case, given what we’ve had to deal with.”
Hugo tipped his chin in the direction of the stairs. “Am I allowed down to the quarantine deck? I’m assuming by your lack of mask or body suit that you don’t suspect the illness is airborne.”
Dr. Wex shook his head. “No,” he said. “Not airborne. Not yet, at least. There’s no guarantee that it will remain that way. There’s really not much of interest that you’d be able to see down below, but I’ll take you if you’d like.”
“I would, thanks.”
Hugo followed Dr. Wex down the dark stairway to the fifth deck. The conversion from regular passenger’s quarters and public areas to a secure, patient- and doctor-only quarantine deck had happened as recently as five days ago. But despite how recent the conversion had been carried out, the formerly lively, passenger-filled Plaza Deck was now a quiet, eerie, unwelcoming place. The main lights on the deck had been dimmed, mainly to save on power and fuel since no one was really utilizing the deck the way it was usually utilized, and places like the library, internet café, and the two large aft dining rooms were hauntingly empty. It brought on such a feeling of discomfort that Hugo actually shivered.
“The most critical patients are still on the lower deck, in the ship’s main medical center,” Dr. Wex explained as the two men made their way through the main plaza and towards the passenger rooms. “But we’ve quarantined the mildly ill band those who we feel might become ill – family members, those who have been in contact with people who are already ill, and the like – up here.”
It had been an unusual effort made by the ship’s crew to transfer all passengers who had had rooms on the Plaza Deck to rooms that were higher up on the ship. Luckily, due to the time of the year in which the ship was cruising, it was only at two thirds capacity passenger-wise. This meant that there were, in fact, enough rooms to accommodate the sixty or so sets of passengers who had to be rehomed when the order for vacating the fifth deck came into action.
“How many of these rooms are occupied?” Hugo asked as they made their way down one of the hallways. Usually, when one walked down a hallway that was flanked on both sides by staterooms, one could hear a general din of muffled talking, laughing, stomping, and shuffling of luggage and belongings. This hallway had none of those sounds; it was almost as if all the rooms were completely empty.
But Dr. Wex gave the Captain a number that surprised him. “Thirty, I’d say,” he answered after a moment of contemplation.
“A fair number of those are just precautionary,” Dr. Wex assured him. “We’ve taken to quarantining those who have just been in brief close contact with sick individuals. People who have sat at the same dining table as a sick person, or people who have visited a sick person’s stateroom, that kind of thing. Most of the people in these rooms are, as far as we can tell, not actually sick. Sick of being quarantined, maybe, but not sick with the illness.”
“Are they all being fed in one of the dining rooms?”
Dr. Wex shook his head. “To keep contamination to a minimum, we’ve opened up the room service menu to include anything we’d offer in a regular dining room or at the buffets and have encouraged people to just order food to their rooms. It’s keeping the chefs a bit busier – at least, those who are still working – but perhaps that’s a good thing. It helps keep everyone from thinking too much about possibly getting sick themselves.”
As they continued down the hall, the ship gave a big, unexpected heave, and the two staggered to stay upright in the dim hallway.
“Woah,” Hugo muttered after the ship had rocked herself back to a steady position. “We must have hit that wave at just the wrong angle.”
“Do you need to go up and check on things, sir?” the doctor asked.
But Hugo shook his head. “It feels like we’ve steadied out. Can’t blame the crew for those rough waves that hit us like that. They’re doing the best they can.”
The doctor nodded. “They’re doing better than I ever could.”
Before the two could continue moving down the hallway, a low moaning sound filled the space around them. It took Hugo a few seconds to realize that the sound had made its way through one of the stateroom doors that was right next to him. He nodded towards the door and spoke in hushed tones to Dr. Wex.
“Is… are they…?”
“Are they infected?” the doctor finished for him. He shook his head in response to Hugo’s nod. “No, they’re one of the ones that was quarantined out of precaution. Thomas Bond is his name. He’s got wicked motion sickness, though; I can’t imagine how he’s feeling right now having to stay cooped up in that small stateroom with all of this rocking going on. Though I guess, to be fair, the swaying of the ship is much less pronounced on these lower decks than it is on the upper decks, especially the open ones. I believe his original stateroom was on the tenth floor, so this quarantining should be an improvement in his motion sickness, at least.”
Dr. Wex paused; he noticed that the Captain was paying attention to what he was saying, but was also propping himself against one of the hallway walls and was doing his best to stifle a yawn that had crept up from his lungs into his mouth. He had no choice but to release it, though he tried to do so discreetly.
The doctor couldn’t help himself from commenting. “You should go back to bed, Captain,” he said gently. “Try to get some sleep. There’s nothing you can do to help these people down here, especially not now.”
“I can try to get them medicine,” Hugo muttered through another yawn. “Once we’re out of this gale and closer to the South American shoreline, I can start sending out distress calls – calls for supplies, medicine, anything.” He lowered his voice, afraid that someone might hear through their stateroom door. “Currently we’re not at the point where the supply of provisions outweighs the demand, but if more and more get sick and deteriorate in the same way we’ve seen with the first few deaths, we might be needing less and less as time goes on. But for now…” he trailed off. He was so tired that he didn’t know where he had intended to go with what he’d been saying.
“But for now,” Dr. Wex finished for him, “there’s nothing you can do. No radio signal is going to get through this storm, anyway. Really, Captain, I suggest you go get some rest while you can. If there ends up being a crisis down here that I cannot handle on my own or my medical team can’t handle, I’ll let you know. Right now, everything is being handled as best as we can.”
The Captain gave him a tired nod after a moment of consideration. “I suppose you’re right,” he conceded finally, letting out another yawn. “I’m sorry I can’t guarantee you a break, Adrian,” he said as they turned about in the hall and started heading back towards the stairwell. “If there ever is a lull in your duties – which I suspect is rare, even when the ship is not plagued by a mysterious illness – please feel free to just go to your stateroom and relax or have a meal. Shower. Recharge.”
Dr. Wex smiled at him. “I will,” he said, “if such an opportunity ever presents itself.”
The two made their way back to the stairwell and Hugo gave the doctor one last parting “thank you,” complete with a congenial pat on the back. Hugo figured if anyone had an excuse to be more tired than he currently was, it was the doctor. But he trusted Wex in his ability to know his own limits when it came to sleep deprivation, so he left him to his lower deck duties and returned to his own stateroom.
The swaying of the ship had neither gotten worse nor improved; the same could be said about the sounds of the wind as it whistled through every open space or over every unsecured item on the decks, creating a mix of whistling, whipping wallops and an accompanying melody of unsecured objects repeatedly crashing into the deck.
Hugo was able to tune out these noises, in part because he had gotten used to doing so on almost every other seafaring job he’d held over the years and in part because he was so tired. Once he was back in his stateroom, he stumbled with exhaustion toward his bed, unbuttoning and shedding his coat in the process, kicking off his shoes, and removing his pants as well. There was nothing more comforting and enjoyable than sliding beneath the heavy silk covers that sat atop his soft bed, and in an instant, all thoughts about the swaying ship, the perilous gale and the relentless illness were replaced with the sweet, seductive tonic of sleep.