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Free Seas
    by David Lubar
Free Seas
Artwork by Lance Card

"Which boat is it?"

"Shhh. Quiet. It's Pace Cruise Lines," Andy whispered. He crouched down on the pier next to Mary.

"There. That's it," she said.

"Yeah. Good job." Andy felt a rush of adrenaline shoot through his gut when he realized they were going to do it. Not just talk and plan. Not just daydream. Really do it. There was the ship. He could see most of the name, except for a couple of letters that were blocked by a cargo crane. There was the P on the left, then the E on the other side of the crane arm, followed by CRUISE LINES. It was the ship Brennan Winston had told him about.

"Ready?" he asked Mary.

"You sure about this?" she asked.

"Yeah. It'll be awesome. We'll blend right in with the passengers. It's just for three days. But think about all that food and fun."

He crept toward the ship, trying to move silently on the old wood of the pier. He could hear Mary slipping along behind him. All they had to do was sneak down below and hide. Brennan had told him how to do it.

"It's real dark," Mary complained as they made their way up the walkway and onto the ship.

"Shhh. The passengers aren't boarding until tomorrow morning. Just follow me." Andy led Mary down below.

"What if we get caught?" Mary asked when they reached the bottom of the lowest deck, guided only by dim night lights.

"I told you, they won't do anything. We're minors. They'll just wait until the boat gets back to the dock and make us leave. Keep calm and they won't catch us. Okay?" Andy reached out and gave her shoulder a squeeze.

"Okay," Mary said. "I guess . . ."

The rocking of the boat woke Andy the next morning. "Hey, we made it," he said, nudging Mary's shoulder.

She sat up fast, looking startled, and he had to shush her again. "I need a bathroom," she said.

"No problem," Andy told her. "Put on your suit and we'll go up on deck."

Mary pulled off her shorts and top, revealing she'd worn her suit underneath. Andy grabbed his from his backpack. He noticed that Mary turned around when he changed. She'll get over it he told himself.

"Now be cool," he said. "We belong here. Just keep that in mind and nobody will pay any attention to us." He opened the door and peeked out. There wasn't anyone in the hallway. As long as they weren't spotted coming out of the storage room, there'd be no problem.

Andy braced himself to meet people. He knew the first moments would be the toughest. But all he had to do was nod and smile, or just ignore the other passengers. That would work. Adults expected to be ignored by teens. You're on vacation, he reminded himself.

They didn't meet anyone as climbed the steps from level to level.

"Must be early," Andy said.

There was nobody on deck.

"This is wrong." Mary grabbed his arm. "This is really strange."

"Relax," Andy said, though he had to fight to keep the calm tone in his voice.

"It's a ghost ship!" Mary stepped away from him and spun around, as if searching for something to prove her wrong.

"Mary, stop acting crazy," Andy said. "There's no such thing as a ghost ship."

"Yes there is. Look around. There's nobody here. Nobody. Just us." She ran back down the stairs toward the cabins.

Andy cursed and ran after her. He knew he had to calm her down before she got them both in trouble. He managed to catch up with her halfway down the corridor. "Wait. Look, everything is fine. I'll prove it to you."

He reached for the nearest doorknob, frantically trying to figure out what to do once he opened the door and came face to face with strangers. He realized he could just pretend he had the wrong cabin. That would work. And Mary would see that everything was fine. So would he.

Andy gripped the knob of cabin A37. He figured that the doors were probably locked. But even that might help Mary realize there were people on the other side.

The knob turned smoothly in his hand.

Andy eased the door open and peeked inside. An old guy was lying on the bed, fast asleep.

"See?" Andy whispered.

He waited until Mary nodded, then eased the door shut. "Look. It must be early. That's why everyone's still asleep. Come on. Let's see if they've put out any breakfast yet. I'm starving."

They went back up.

There was no food.

No waiters.

No crew.

"This is crazy," Andy said. He looked around the deck. Then he looked toward the ocean. There was no land in sight. They were far out at sea. "When we get back, I'm going to tell Brennan that Pace Cruise Lines sucks."

Mary let out a small whimper.

"What now?" Andy asked. He was starting to wish he'd asked someone else to come with him.

"It's not Pace," Mary said.

"Huh?" Andy wondered why she was whispering.

Mary didn't answer him. She pointed up at a mast above them. Andy noticed her hand was shaking.

Fluttering overhead, a flag displayed the name, "Pyre Cruise Lines."

"Pyre," Andy said. English wasn't his best subject. The word took a minute to register. When it did, he knew that the man he'd seen in the cabin below wasn't asleep. The man was dead.

Everyone on the ship was dead.

Pyre. As in funeral pyre.

Music began to play over loudspeakers. Slow, sad music. Beneath his feet, Andy heard the crackle of flames and felt the rising heat of the fire.

In the distance, Andy saw another ship. Squinting, he could make out the name PACE CRUISE LINES on the side. Dots of moving color told him that people were frolicking on deck, having the vacation of a lifetime.

Mary screamed.

The pyre grew. Andy turned to run, but there were flames everywhere.

"Look?" the first mate asked the passenger, offering his binoculars.

"Thanks," the man said. He peered across the water at the rising flames. "Wow. Pretty spectacular. What a way to go."

The mate nodded. "Yeah. At least they're feeling no pain." He stood at the deck and watched as the burning funeral ship slowly drifted into the distance. "Rest in peace," he whispered as the last glow vanished from sight.

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