It had been a busy night for Cody Martin—a busy New Year's Eve. With his angel tethered to his arm and his glass listing with St Julian's, he and the rest of the gala deck had watched the ball drop on live TV, and in the spirit of the moment, as if in reaction to some improbable victory, outcheered even Times Square. There'd been sparklers and streamers and in a haze they'd danced and sung along to last year's hits like drunken idiots under the dull yellow glow of the moon and no stars and the flat half-dollar glow of the moon. Purple and gold and everycolor confetti blustering about the deck like angeldust, floating in the punchbowl, curling and glittering through shapeshifting stagelights. Peppering Bailey's hair. Somewhere along the line he'd kissed her, made that pledge, that final looming commitment. And she'd kissed him back—the capstone to what had been in his mind the most sweeping, beautiful, dreamlike night of his life.
On their way back from the gala deck they found Cody's older brother lying curled up in the floor outside his cabin door. He wore an oversized Red Sox shirt and yellow pinstriped pajama bottoms. He was fast asleep.
Cody shook his twin awake, whispering: 'Zack?'
Zack peeled back his left eyelid. Then he sat up and yawned, scratching behind his ears. 'Morning, lovebirds,' he croaked. 'How was the party?'
'You mean you weren't there?'
Zack glared up at them. 'Obviously I wasn't missed,' he muttered.
'Ever heard of a bed?'
'Last night I left to get fresh towels and I accidentally locked myself out of my room.'
'You could've asked Moseby to let you in.'
'I thought I'd wait for Marcus, but he never showed.'
'Funny,' Cody said, helping his brother to his feet.
Zack asked: 'Mind if I hang out in your room for a while?'
As covertly as possible Bailey shook her head no.
'Kirby's still up,' Cody sputtered. 'Why dont you ask him to let you in.'
Zack opened his mouth, as if to protest. Then he froze, glancing suspiciously from face to face, slowly getting the picture. He thought he'd noticed something. Dry lips. Trembling fingers. The sparkle in Bailey's eyes, the position of her hands in relation to Cody's chest.
Zack placed a lazy paw on his brother's shoulder. 'Alright,' he winked. 'I dig.'
'Don't mention it.'
In bare feet Zack trudged up the stairway to the rec center, which was all clear save for two ravenous sophomores groping and making out behind the foosball table. Everything buried beneath confetti, flyers, the remnants of balloons.
He squeezed his way outside. The air was warm and thick. Eighty-five degrees. Since mid-October they'd been sailing resolutely southward, straddling the equator, baking in the sun. For Zack, the spirit of the holiday season had only been deadened by the stickier climate. After all, what was Christmastime without snow, without that tactile balance between outer cold and inner warmth?
He tiptoed past a cluster of his-age girls, keeping his head down, wary of being spotted traipsing around the ship in his PJs—especially on a night when he was supposed to be out partying, getting shitfaced, doing God knows what with God knows who.
'Zack? Is that you?'
'Nice threads. Your jammy-jams?'
'Maybe,' he droned slyly, turning around.
Already they were giggling, whispering, eyeing him distantly, as if he weren't actually there.
'What've you been up to?' Maya asked.
'On New Year's Eve?'
'More or less.'
'Well.' He clasped his hands together. 'What've you been up to?'
'Doesn't look like nothing. Where you headed?'
Another round of giggles.
'The engine room.'
'It's haunted!' beamed Sloane, her fingers posed like ghoulish little claws.
Maya rolled her eyes. 'Allegedly.'
'You should come with,' Sloane offered, eyeing Zack tipsily.
'Can't it wait?'
She flung her head from side to side. 'It's now or never, buster!'
'London's key's due back by two,' Maya explained.
'Come on! It'll be an adventure!' Sloane yanked Zack by the wrist as if he had no say in the matter and together with Maya they marched off toward the rear of the ship, leaving the others behind.
'I don't know if this is such a great idea,' Zack began uneasily.
Maya snorted. 'Don't be silly.'
'There's no such thing as ghosts.'
'How do you know?' Sloane put in.
'I've never seen one.'
Zack cleared his throat. 'I have.'
'Don't be silly.'
Sloane whirled around, suddenly fascinated. 'What did it look like?'
'A woman. Her name was Irene.'
'You're full of it,' Maya huffed.
'Why would I lie?'
'To scare us.'
Sloane made a face. 'He wouldn't do that!'
'You don't have to believe me, Maya.'
'I do!' gloated Sloane, clinging to Zack's arm.
Maya groaned incredulously. 'Did your brother see it too?'
Zack nodded. 'But he's since chosen to rationalize things.'
'Of course he has.'
'Not everything is knowable.'
'Some things are.'
'Like the nonexistence of ghosts?'
'You read my mind.'
The door to the engine room was pressure-sealed and keycard locked. After swiping London's card, Maya punched in the eleven-digit passcode, releasing the hatch. Then, with Zack's help, she wheeled the door loose and tugged it open.
'After you,' she smirked, hipping her hands.
Zack frowned. Sloane cowered behind him.
Beyond the hatch lay only sheer darkness. A low bass whirring. The occasional acoustic plimp of condensed water dripping on steel.
Clutching the doorframe, as if lowering himself into a pool, Zack eased a slow, probing step forward. The room felt huge, even swimming in darkness. He took another step, his bare foot dragging through ice-cold water.
He sprang backward. Sloane yelped. Maya nearly lost her balance.
Zack stood wiping his foot on the leg of his pajamas. 'Wet in here,' he muttered.
A loud clanging issued from the ceiling and, sensing motion, the domelights flickered on.
'He's just trying to scare us,' Maya snickered, slipping through the hatch.
Sloane followed sheepishly behind her. 'I wish he wouldn't.'
They waited for the lights to come up, the layout of the room slowly taking shape before them, emerging from the shadows, as if being created. They stood on a railed catwalk overlooking two enormous silverwhite enginepods, forty-foot steel cylinders affixed symmetrically with all manner of hoses and ducts and other strange ornamentations.
Concealed beneath four additional enginepods was a sort of control hub, connected by a maintenance ladder to the catwalk above. Three immensely complex-looking panels cluttered with unmarked knobs, switches and dials formed a giant horseshoe around the edge of the platform.
'What do you think all these buttons do?' Sloane shouted over the sixfold roar of the engines.
'I don't know,' Zack shrugged. 'But I wouldn't touch anything if I were you.' He winked. 'Grounds for expulsion.'
'See?' Maya began flatly. 'There's nothing spooky about this place.'
'It's too noisy to be spooky,' Zack admitted.
Sloane nodded. 'And bright.'
Zack studied the leftmost control panel, his fingers skittering nimbly over the instruments.
'Wonder if we could spy on Cailey from here,' he smirked, eyeing the four blank plasmascreen monitors situated above the console.
'Why? What're they up to?'
'Knockin boots in Cody's room.'
Maya arched an eyebrow. 'TMI, Zack. TMI.'
'They're so cute together,' bubbled Sloane.
'Kittens are cute,' Maya sneered. And then: 'I'm bored. Let's get out of here. It's New Year's, not Halloween.'
'We just got here.'
'And we've already seen everything there is to see.'
Zack waggled a finger. 'Not everything.'
But that was all.
The lights cut off sharply. Sloane shrieked. Zack stumbled into Maya, who had to wrap her arms around his waist just to keep from being knocked across the room. Zack flung out an arm, grasping at the darkness, took hold of something rigid and metallic, used it to regain his balance. Whatever it was gave way the instant he pulled himself upright.
'We're okay,' he breathed. 'We're okay.'
The airducts were hissing.
'What happened to the lights?' Sloane whimpered.
'How should I know?'
'Get out your phones,' Maya instructed.
Instantly three glowing blue squares winked open from the black like portals to some brighter dimension.
'We're okay,' Zack said again, his chin illuminated in a pale white V.
'I'm with Maya,' Sloane stammered. 'Let's get out of here.'
'Can you make it to the ladder?'
She swung around, using her phone's display to locate the first rung. Zack started toward her, dragging Maya by the wrist. Sloane went first, the floors of her sandals nearly crushing Zack's fingers as he scrambled up after her.
One by one they pulled themselves up, began threading their way along the catwalk.
The hissing in the airducts had quieted to a low whisper.
Zack heaved open the door at the end of the platform and stumbled out into the brightlit hallway beyond. It was roasting in there. A thin layer of steam clinging to the ceiling, the floor soaked, walls coated with shining beadlets of condensed water.
Sloane made a little noise, but nothing further. Maya eased the door shut.
Together they scurried up the stairs to the wraparound deck and escaped finally into the cool night air.
'What do you think happened?' Sloane wondered.
'Doesn't matter,' Maya replied. 'It was a stupid idea, going down there.'