MS Glacial Adventurer
Somewhere in the Arctic Ocean
Simone Rousseau beat her fist against the locked stateroom door while she frantically jiggled the master key in the lock with her other hand. “Chloe! Are you in there? It’s me! Let me in!”
In between strikes, she thought she heard something. Footsteps. A person.
She stopped knocking and tried to calm her racing heart. “Chloe? Is that you?”
There was no answer.
At that moment, the deadbolt finally slid free. Simone put her shoulder against the formerly impassible barrier and shoved with all her might. A man’s voice cried out in alarm, and through the widening gap in the door, Simone caught a fleeting glimpse of her sister’s boyfriend, Scott, backpedaling and then toppling onto his rear end. His head cracked against the floor with a painful whack.
“Oh no!” Simone said, rushing to his side and kneeling. She grabbed Scott’s hand and drew him into a seated position. “I’m so sorry! Are you alright?” The pungent tang of old shit and sweat wafting off his unwashed body made her gag. Scott had a faraway look in his eyes, and he couldn’t seem to focus on anything. He wore the same jeans and blue fleece sweater he had been wearing the last time they were together, but now a thick layer of stubble covered his jaw and his hair was a matted, greasy mess. He looked and smelled like he had been sleeping on the streets. Simone snapped her fingers before his eyes. “Talk to me. What happened? Where’s Chloe?”
A viscous string of drool spilled over Scott’s lower lip and stretched to his lap.
“Scott? What’s going on here?” Simone looked past the catatonic man, scanning the room for any sign of her sister. Her eyes were drawn to the nearby bed, where she spied a hint of black hair amidst the tangle of sheets and blankets. “Chloe!” She shouted, forgetting all about Scott and scrambling across the mattress to her sisters’ side. “There you are! It’s me, Simone.”
Chloe’s limp body offered no acknowledgment.
Simone didn’t even have to touch Chloe to feel the fever radiating off her. “Scott!” She shouted, twisting around. “Can you find something I can use to bring down her temperature? I need—” The words stuck in her throat when she noticed Scott still was sitting where she had left him, still staring off into the distance. “Scott!” She screamed.
Scott’s eyelids fluttered, and for a second, Simone saw a glimmer of recognition. But only for a second.
“I’ll be right back,” she said in a soft voice, smoothing Chloe’s hair back. She rolled from the bed and dashed into the adjoining room. The cramped restroom was a disaster, with towels and filthy clothes covering the floor, and all manner of personal care items strewn about the narrow counter tops. An electric shaver sat on the side of the sink basin. Black and gray whiskers clung to every surface like dead ants. She chose the least dirty towel she could find and put it under the faucet and turned on the tap.
“Hello?” Scott called from the other room. “Simone?”
Simone bolted back into the sleeping area. Scott had gotten to his feet in her absence, and stood scratching his head like he had just awoken from a long nap.
“Scott! Thank God!” She said. “What the hell happened—" She stopped. That wasn’t important. “I—I need water—for Chloe. Do you have any?”
Scott stared at her with a vacant expression. “What day is it? I—”
“Not now! We don’t have time for this!” Simone said, cutting him off. She wanted to scream. “I just woke up myself. Chloe is burning up! Do you have any water? The bathroom isn’t working.”
Scott’s eyes slid shut and his chin fell to his chest. For a terrifying moment, Simone thought he had nodded off again, and that he was about to topple over like a dead tree. Then he murmured “My bag—” He raised his left hand and made a weak gesture toward the wardrobe directly behind her.
Simone yanked open the closet and discovered a well-worn orange backpack, the same one Scott had been wearing upon her arrival several weeks before. That day seemed like a lifetime ago. She picked up the pack and hefted it. It was full.
Back at Chloe’s bedside, she yelped in surprise when she found her sister’s eyes had opened a crack. Relief washed through her as she dropped the bag on the bed and took Chloe’s hand. “You’re awake!”
Chloe let out a baleful moan.
“You’re going to be fine,” Simone whispered, with a gentle squeeze. “I’m here now.”
Chloe’s eyes closed, and Simone’s heart nearly stopped. Only when she detected the steady rise and fall of Chloe’s chest again did she realize her sister had simply drifted off to sleep.
She took the ruck sack and wrestled open the top. It took a moment to figure out how to access the bladder, and when she finally did, the water was so cold against her skin it was like being burned. She drenched the cloth and spread it across Chloe’s forehead.
“What’s wrong with her?” Scott muttered, approaching the bed. “Is she sick?”
“I don’t know,” Simone answered, unable to tear her eyes away from Chloe. “I don’t know.”