Well, it’s been a productive day for writing. I have just hit over 21,000 words and started part II of Maelstrom. In an effort to catch up, here’s another chapter! It’s a short one, but one of my favorites so far.
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Just a reminder, this is unedited, a rough draft, is the product of too much caffeine and CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WHITEOUT AND DOWNPOUR. You have been warned!
Links to previous chapters: Prologue,
7. Cheers to the End
As promised, James and I were comped a lavish suite with a full mini-bar on one of the top floors of the hotel. By the time we got there, the sun had already risen, and it was nearly ten o’clock in the morning. As much as I wanted to have a stiff drink, the plush beds and blackout curtains called to me.
Despite his protestation and general unhappy demeanor, James had laid face down on his own bed and fallen fast asleep. Hunting monsters, escaping government facilities, and uncovering conspiracies really takes it out of you.
Before being dismissed, Ahab told us that we would have a week to make preparations. At that time, the next aircraft carrier was scheduled to make a trip through the triangle on its way to Puerto Rico. We were to act as an escort, and neutralize any threats that might arise on the way.
One week was more time than we usually had to prepare, so overall, I was feeling relaxed. With thoughts of massive squids and terrible gnashing teeth, I fell back onto the bed to enjoy a mix of horrible nightmares and dreamless sleep. It didn’t matter, so long as I had a few seconds to shut my eyes, and there was a drink waiting for me upon waking.
When I woke up, the sun had already begun to set and the day was gone. Rising slowly from the plush bed, regretting that I probably wouldn’t sleep in another of its equal for a long time, I walked over to the windows. They ran from floor-to-ceiling and provided a birds-eye-view of the gaudy strip below. People ran about laughing, drinking, and preparing to gamble away their life’s savings. It was my kind of town, and I was sad that we’d have to be leaving it so soon.
While my sleep had been plagued by nightmares of being dragged to the depths, I still felt rested; more rested in fact than I had in a long time. My limbs ached from the exertion of the previous day, but even so, I felt the foolish confidence of a man about to embark on a suicide mission.
I opened the double doors from my bedroom to the main room of the suite to find James sitting on a long couch, looking out at the reddening horizon. In his hand was a tumbler with ice that had been filled to the brim with brown liquid. On the table before him were several empty mini-bottles that had been haphazardly discarded.
“Started without me I see.” I walked over to the mini-bar and found that James had left a wide selection of rum for me. He might have been ill-tempered, but was always thoughtful.
James did not look away from the view outside. Looked at from above, the strip was beautiful at sunset. “I can’t go back there, Nick.” James’s voice was low and quiet.
“We all have to someday.”
“Not all of us pissed off the guardians of the Land of the Dead.”
“No, not all of us have. But hey, at least this time the company will be better.” What awaited me in the afterlife was not something I liked to think about often. I’ve pissed off all manner of demons, spirits, gods, and everything in between. There’s a special circle of hell I’m bound for, and the certain thought of eternal damnation is too much. Hence, I try to keep myself in a constant state of blissful ignorance.
Unscrewing one of the mini-bottles and not bothering to find mixers, I tipped it back and savored the warm feeling that accompanied it. In a rare moment of clarity, I picked up the bottles and went to sit next to James. It was rare to see him drinking, and based on the redness in his eyes, it had not been a short affair.
“This stuff,” I gestured to the bottles, “It’ll numb the pain for a while, but it shortens our time.”
“Are you about to lecture me about drinking?” asked James, taking a defiant sip from his glass and slurring slightly.
“Of course not.” I unscrewed and drained another mini-bottle. “It’s the only way I know how to deal with it. The prospect of death and what lays beyond is terrifying, but what I am saying,” I hesitated, the words catching in my throat. Pride can be a difficult thing to swallow. “You can be better than me James,” I half-mumbled.
James turned to me, eyes watering.
“Come off it, don’t do that. All I’m saying is you have a chance to redeem yourself. Live a good life, and make it long. Somewhere along the way, you might find another path. There are many places beyond this one that are better. It just takes the right eye to find them.” I had no idea if it was true, but it sounded comforting, and there’s always more than meets the eye when it comes to the afterlife.
“Do you really believe that?”
I was finding out quickly that James was quite the emotional drunk. I’ve been known to launch into speeches of inspiration, but I generally try to save true feelings for the darkest corners of my apartment and the deepest bottles I have. “I actually do, kid.” I was fifty-fifty on the subject, but we both needed to be at our best, meaning only one of us could shoulder the burden of infinite pessimism.
“One more cheers to sea monsters then I guess.” James raised his glass and clumsily spilled on the table. “Ah shit,” he muttered. “Ah well, guess it’s on the CIA’s dime anyway.”
I found a tumbler haphazardly discarded on the ground, filled it with a potent mix of various brown liquids, and raised it. “To sea monsters, and the great mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.” We clanked our glasses together and both drank deeply. It was a bonding moment, and made me more nervous for the mission at hand. I had already lost James once in search of the mythical, and had no intention of doing so again.
“Alright, the ship leaves in six days, and we’ve got to supply with weapons, liquor, and more weapons.” The thought suddenly occurred to me that all of our money was back at headquarters, my dirty flat, and that I had no intention of blowing it on the CIA. “How in the hell do they expect us to pay for this anyhow?”
The question was rhetorical, but James grinned and held up a small White envelope. He passed it to me and I examined its contents. Inside was a small slip of paper with a hand-written note on it reading: For any expenses you might incur. Behind the slip of paper was a matte black credit card. “Looks like this is going to be more fun than I thought.”
There was only one place I knew to start looking for information about goings on in the Atlantic. It was a place the CIA would never think to look, and one they would be unhappy to see their card being used at. “How do first-class tickets to Haiti sound?”
“Haiti? Not exactly the paradise I was imagining.”
“We’re working, James,” I admonished sternly. “Besides, we’re just going to be stopping at the airport. Familiar with a little place called Tortuga?”
“The old pirate town?”
“Old yes, but still there, and beneath the surface, more active than most would think…”