It turned out that fifteen hours straight was impossible, but Sila kept I told you so in his jacket pocket as Joanna opened one eye, kicked at his thigh from under the duvet and asked him where the black guy was.
‘You mean the Interrogator General? Don’t know. Just said he was going out again.’
‘He came back?’
‘He was here when I opened the door. Had that book open again. Don’t know if he was trying to ask you anything.’
‘Told you already, the weird questions he was asking me before, about you. That’s where he was pulling them from.’
‘I don’t remember that.’
‘You had the duvet over your face.’
‘I remember the Spanish playboy on the main deck.’
‘Ah, the ship guidelines guy. Without a doubt, one of my best-loved topics.’
Joanna reached under the pillow and came back with her phone, grunting when she saw the time. ‘Where did the black guy say he was going?’
‘Is he not the black guy?’
‘Yeah, and his name’s Tak. Not sure what it’s short for, but, maybe you should use it instead of-…’
‘Where did he go?’
‘I told you, he didn’t say.’
She jabbed her phone up towards the ceiling. ‘Are there still people out there?’
‘Upstairs. Near the Cafeteria.’
‘Don’t know, I’ve been here a while.’ Sila held up the Romanian mythology/history book he’d been reading. ‘Non-cabinet stuff.’
‘Where did you go?’
‘Nowhere really.’ He looked at the front cover of his book, then got up and walked over to the bathroom doorway, briefly peeking in. ‘Above deck. The cafeteria.’
‘What were you doing?’
‘Nothing much. Studying Romanian. Reading the ship’s guidelines. Hanging out with very loud men.’
Sila nodded, mostly to the brown stripe wallpaper, then sat down on Tak’s bed. ‘Actually, there was one woman. Quite weird-looking, calm, wearing one of those traditional dresses. Like blood red with little spiral patterns on it. Said she was from Pakistan.’
‘Boat of man.’
‘One of the North African guys tried to hit on her but she shrugged him off. Quite bold. Seems like she’s alone too, so really bold. Unless there’s some guy tucked away in her cabin.’
Joanna lay back down and draped the duvet over her face.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Don’t feel good.’
‘We’ve still got another six hours…’
‘Wake me up in four hours.’
‘What about me?’
‘Use that side,’ she replied, pointing at the narrow strip of mattress next to her.
‘You’re sleeping diagonal, there’s no space’
‘It’s impossible, I already-…hey, zombie face, don’t sleep, it’s too early. I’m bored. Hey. Hey, you hearing me?’
‘Goodnight is not a solution. Joanna, don’t close your eyes. Wake up. Talk to me. Where am I gonna sleep?’
Joanna clearly didn’t give a shit where he slept, even though it was nearly one in the morning and he couldn’t keep reading the same page about Vlad for six more hours, his eyes would go bloodshot, and he couldn’t stay sitting on the bed much longer either cos the black guy would come back soon, Tak would come back and he’d want to sleep, probably, so what was Sila supposed to do?
Sleep on the floor?
Was it even possible?
The cabin was tiny and the space between the two beds was about the width of Charlotte Gainsbourg, nowhere near enough for a normal sized man who wasn’t dead, who didn’t have his arms folded on his chest.
Maybe he could sleep head to toe with her?
Would there be enough space?
Probably not, he could see her body shape through the blanket and it was worse than diagonal, it looked like a running icon, but if he couldn’t sleep on the bed he’d actually paid for then the only other options were to
a] walk around the ship for six hours, occasionally reading a book
b] go where he should’ve gone four hours earlier, to fuck that Pakistani woman who’d practically dragged him into her room
gods help him
c] play cards and make new friends.
There was a noise from the lock of the cabin door, the key turning the wrong way then the right way and then Tak coming back in, putting his book down and, without a stutter, lying down on the bed next to Sila.
‘Sorry man, I’ll get up.’
Tak stared at the ceiling and rubbed his head.
‘I was being kicked off the other one,’ added Sila, pointing to the one Joanna was lying on.
Tak stopped rubbing and turned to the other bed, either acknowledging what Sila had said and checking that there was still a second bed or…
‘How long has she been asleep?’
‘Her.’ He pointed at Joanna. ‘How long has she been out?’
‘She just woke up and went back down again. She’s probably not even asleep.’
‘She’s got a duvet over her face.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Do you not sleep with her?’
‘Do you sleep near her?’
‘Man, why do you keep asking this stuff?’
‘Forget it.’ He got up and walked over to the other bed. ‘I’ll look myself.’
Sila sat up and reached for his inside jacket pocket. ‘Hey, what are you doing?’
Tak didn’t pay any attention, he just flicked the duvet up and looked down at Joanna’s head.
‘Fuck, back off…’
‘It’s not there.’
‘Are you deaf? Get off her, you weird fuck.’
Tak put the duvet back down and turned to Sila, who was on his feet now, grabbing hold of Tak’s jacket.
Tak took hold of Sila’s hand and removed it from his jacket like it was stray seaweed. ‘You done?’
Sila didn’t make any attempt to re-grab, so Tak moved past him, got a book out of his bag, sat down on the bed and started flicking through the pages.
‘Clean of what? For what?’
Tak stopped on a page and nodded, muttering something Sila couldn’t understand.
‘Why is she clean?’
‘I’m going out,’ he answered, closing the book and pushing himself up off the bed.
‘Hey, don’t dodge. Why is she clean? What were you looking at her head for?’
‘Give it a rest, mate.’
‘Rest? We’re sharing a cabin for another six hours…’
‘…and I can’t sleep if I don’t know what you’re up to. Fuck, that doesn’t make it any better. Yeah, so?‘
Tak looked at Sila, then patted his own mattress. ‘Just take the bed, I don’t care.’
‘What? I didn’t say anything about your bed. I just want to know what’s going on. Why she’s clean. Why you’re looking at that book all the time and asking weird questions.’
‘Cos I’m weird. Now go to sleep and think of other stuff. Pretend I’m not here.’
‘That doesn’t make me feel much better,’ replied Sila, moving to the bathroom doorway as Tak moved past.
‘Why do you need to feel better?’
‘So I can sleep the next few hours without needing to keep my eyes open.’
‘You’re easily rattled.’
Tak stopped at the door, his knuckles resting on the handle. ‘I meant what I said, you can take the bed. I’ll be back just before we dock.’
‘Hang on…you’re not gonna sleep at all?’
‘Don’t touch my stuff while I’m gone.’
‘Where are you gonna go?’
Sila mouthed the word back to himself, not sure he’d heard right, then laughed, finally giving in and sitting down on Tak’s bed. ‘Fuck, have you been on this boat? There aren’t any. It’s wall to wall men.’
‘I’ll find one. Knock on doors if I have to.’
‘You heard me, mate. I need to fuck something.’
Sila glanced over at Joanna.
‘Not her. Something else.’ He opened the door, peeked his head out, looking both ways down the corridor then went out, saying, ‘take the bed, honestly, I don’t give a shit,’ to Sila before closing the door.
Need to fuck something.
Sila lay back on Tak’s bed, lay there for a few minutes, but nothing stuck. Cabinets or Pakistani models. British weirdos or alien death doors. Losing arguments to the most pedantic pedant in Pedantsfield or…
He pulled himself back up, took out his green knife and stared at its edge
stared at it for over an hour before Joanna woke up again and asked him to throw her jumper over to the bed, she was cold, and when Sila asked why, it wasn’t time to go yet, she shouted at him, asking him why he’d woken her up if the boat hadn’t docked yet, and even though he said many, many times, he hadn’t done anything, hadn’t said a word, she didn’t believe him as
in her head
she’d heard him calling her name and shaking her, lifting the duvet off her head and if he was that bored, why didn’t he just go and read the fucking ship guidelines again and stop messing with her sleep time like a sulky child.
‘Okay, you delusional fuck, I’ll go and read the ship guidelines, leave you to fate. Or the fucking book weirdo, see how you feel when he gets back and says you’re head’s not clean, see how much of a child I am then.’
‘Too loud,’ she said, and then did what she did best, pulled the duvet over her head, leaving Sila to either sit on the bed opposite and wait to be re-shouted at or get up and leave
go fuck a mesmeric-looking Pakistani woman
with Urdu powers
and a semi-ethnic red dress
yeah, that was the way
go and see her
sleep in her bed, in her muff
if he could remember which cabin she was in.
The general route was okay, he could visualise that, but not the exact door or number as he hadn’t got close enough, and she had said it to him, but that part of the conversation was gone, edited out.
Count by doors perhaps?
Each corridor had about eight in a row, and he was pretty sure she’d passed five of them.
Yeah, it was possible, just knock on one or two doors and see who opened. It’d be her eventually. And that’s what he would do, right after he’d finished the end of this chapter on Vlad imprisoned in Hungary.
Actually, the last part he’d read was pretty weird, the kind of singular anecdote only medieval history could wheel out, as back then there were kings and no regulations to keep them in check, to stop guys like Vlad or Kurzsan cutting off some guard’s head just for chasing a thief into his prison courtyard.
Jezus, it was so egregious that it even made the king of Hungary laugh.
But as he read more of the chapter, he got bored. There were no more anecdotes, just fact and analysis about why Vlad was there and the politics of his cousin in Moldova and it was so dry that Sila put it down and fished in his bag for the other thing, the French demon book, the one he’d picked up in Copenhagen.
He’d only read the first few pages [it was all in French], but it was a comic so he could follow the pictures if he got stuck.
He picked the book out of his bag
‘Cruisage de la Demonik’
and flicked to the page where the ship’s captain was lured to the beautiful woman’s cabin and
the French was 50% too hard to translate but
ah, she’s a demon, she’s sucking out his soul, or that’s what it looked like. He flicked to the next page and then the next and
‘Can you turn the volume down?’ said a duvet-muffled voice.
‘I’m not doing anything.’
‘I can hear the pages turning.’
‘Jezus, you’re sensitive.’
‘I can hear you breathing too.’
Sila got up and walked to the door, opening it full force and saying, ‘you know what, I’ll get out of your way. Enjoy the fucking silence.’
She didn’t respond, so he went out and back along the corridor, demonik book still in hand, and thought about turning right and then right again and heading roughly in the direction of the woman’s cabin, but as soon as he thought it, his heart started beating fast and he remembered the days in London on the tube when he was stuck between Holborn and the next station and the train didn’t move for an hour and the two women were right in his face, talking and he couldn’t even move his arms, couldn’t stop sweating, couldn’t stop thinking about pushing them out of the way and smashing his way through the window onto the track and
not good, not useful
Without explicit command, his legs took him above deck, back to the same spot he’d sat earlier, looking at the purple vapour support beams in the sky, and even though it was freezing, there were other people out there, other men obviously, four or five of them, and an older, gentle-looking one was sitting on the bench reading a book with French words on it.
Choosing solidarity over sulk, Sila sat down next to him and continued reading his own Demonik.
The other man was North African like the others but he was clearly alone, clearly weird enough to be above deck at 2am in the freezing cold, reading a book that
what was it, that title?
Sila leaned forward and glanced at the cover again, catching the author’s name.
Simone de Beauvoir
Ha, that old chestnut, the blood of others, he’d read the Slovene translation a long time ago, his mum’s copy, and found it weird that a female author would write the main character as a man, why was that? Because it was historical and the other way round would be unrealistic? But there were female resistance leaders surely…
‘… … … … … … …?’
Sila blinked and realised the man was asking him a question.
‘You are not French?’ the man asked, looking at Sila’s book.
‘But you are reading a French book…’
‘This? Yeah. Trying to.’ Sila looked at the page he was on and pulled the same face Mark Wahlberg had after being slapped by Joanna Russ at Man-con. If he were tested, could he say what any of this meant? Nope. Wouldn’t he look like a fool then? ‘Actually, I’m struggling with most of it.’
‘Struggling. I’m finding it hard to understand the French words. Maybe you can help?’
‘I will try.’
Sila handed him the book and the man studied the page he’d left it on. ‘This page says, the woman wants to find some man, to take his heart. She says there is nothing that can stop her to do this. She gets power from the boat and the sea. Does it help you?’
‘Ah, I didn’t get the boat and the sea part.’
The man flicked the page over and didn’t speak for about a minute.
Sila glanced over his arm and saw why.
The demon woman had stripped naked and was riding the corpse of the guy she’d just killed. Jezus, you could actually see the stump of the dead man’s cock at the bottom of her vagina.
‘I think this page is okay for you to understand.’ The man handed the book back and returned to Simone.
‘Sorry, I didn’t realise it was so explicit.’
‘It is no problem.’
‘Wasn’t like that before, on the other pages.’
He said again it was no problem, he’d grown up with French films and Japanese manga, he’d seen all kinds of things.
‘Are you French or Algerian?’
‘But you don’t mind French film?’
‘I don’t mind all film.’
‘Or Simone De Beauvoir.’
‘She is okay. My friend recommend to me and, you know, this boat is a long time so…’
‘Yeah, very long.’
The man nodded, said it’s true, and returned to his book.
‘I didn’t know the sea was so wide here…between Genoa and Barcelona, eighteen hours, it doesn’t seem right. But I guess they’d go faster if they could. It’s not like they’d go slow on purpose.’
The man said ‘yes’ and read his book for another thirty. Forty seconds. Then hacked a cough, got up and walked off with a jovial ‘back into the catacombs’ aimed at the nearby funnel.
Sila looked at his own book, the page currently transmitting from his lap, the demon woman with bouncing breasts, riding the corpse, riding it because
cos of the power of the boat and the sea?
cos French men like tits?
He fixed eyes and effort onto the lifebelt hanging on the rails of the boat and pictured the Pakistani woman and her tits, in her cabin, waiting for him to knock on the door and walk in and lie on her bed and fake die so she could get on top and fuck him for at least three and a half hours
three hours and forty five minutes if he got up now and got down there
but what if she’d found someone else
it was possible
there was a whole ship full of men
but were any of them worthy of her, were any of them not perverts who didn’t wear shoes or feigned intrigue in ship guidelines?
Okay, maybe the guy who’d just gone back into the catacombs, but he probably hadn’t seen her
and she hadn’t seen him
but if there was this one guy then there were probably others, sitting on their own in various parts of the boat, reading French philosophical fiction or Algerian poetry, secretly waiting for a weirdly beautiful woman in a cropped red dress with spirals on it to sit down next to them and lean forward so they could look down and see, just like he’d wanted to do when she offered him Romanian lessons.
Gods, he would do anything to do that right now and he didn’t know why
it’d been nearly two years since
two years excluding the Kurzsan horror in Innsbruck or the one time with the Chinese murderess and
ah fuck it
three and half hours left
she was either free and awake or she wasn’t, no authentic harm in knocking.
Sila folded up the demon terror porn and mapped out the way back to her cabin. Then paused.
He stood up, walking auto-didact across to the railings, where the red cropped dress lady from Quetta was struggling to throw a gigantic tennis bag over the side.
‘Are you okay?’ was the obvious question and he used it, reaching out his left hand for the edge of the bag just as she managed to force it over.
It dropped like a corpse into the dark flatness below, creating a brief splash of dirty white and nothing else.
‘My ex-boyfriend’s things,’ she said, turning to Sila and placing her right palm on his forearm. ‘Please, don’t tell anyone.’
‘Is he…’ Sila started to reply, but the rest was opaque, and wouldn’t get any less opaque cos she was staring at him and stroking him and as long as it wasn’t the ex-boyfriend himself, who cared?
‘He is not someone I need to worry about anymore.’
‘Aren’t you cold?’
She peered down at her own body, blank, as if her skin weren’t skin but insulation fibre.
‘Here, take this…’ Sila took off his jacket and attached it to her, even slotting in her arms. ‘Better?’
She spread out her arms and flapped them like a penguin, smiling. ‘It’s very layered.’
‘Guaranteed warmth. Mostly. Won’t keep out the wind though. Or that purple stuff up there…’
The woman seemed to instinctively know what he meant as she refused to look up at the sky. ‘Are you not cold?’
‘Not really. I’m Slovene and British, lots of harsh winters.’
‘Ah, that’s your heritage.’
‘I read that Quetta gets quite cold too. In January and February. And there was an earthquake a hundred years ago that destroyed most of the city, but you rebuilt it, and now the population is…two million? Or one million. Can’t remember. Think I’m getting it mixed up with somewhere else…but it’s around that number.’
‘Thank you for telling me about my home city.’
Sila paused a second, checking her face was the one he thought it was, then laughed.
‘What is it?’
‘You sound like someone I know.’
‘Ha. More like a manacle round my neck.’
The woman moved her fingers up Sila’s waist, then back down again, curving the slightest bit inwards. ‘You must be getting cold.’
‘At the risk of being rejected a second time, it’s warmer in my cabin.’
A purple slither drifted past, about fifty feet above the deck, drawing him in.
‘If you want to stay with me?’
Her fingernails scraped his attention back, knuckles brushing against the inside of his thigh as she pulled him in and…her lips…just hovered there…next to his own
whisps of cold breath
that she may or may not have scented
telling him to bring down the fucking papier-mâché barricades
come back to her cabin and
for at least three and half hours.
‘Give me twenty minutes to prepare, then come,’ she said, pulling in the side of her ill-fitting jacket tight to her chest, then stepping back.
‘Which cabin is-…’
’47. Knock until I answer.’
In his head, he nodded, but to her it may have looked like a stone statue, and it was too late to check as she was already halfway to the door, the hem of the red dress sticking out from his giant jacket.
Have to get that back at least, he thought, sitting back down on the bench and re-opening his French demon book.
And if I go that far then…
Fuck, twenty minutes.
He looked down at the page he’d randomly flicked to, the neatly-drawn nipples of the demon woman, the stump of her victim’s cock, loose pubic hair, a speech bubble with ‘give me your power’ in huge, bold blocks.
Was this a sign?
Had Joanna sneaked a sketched page in without him knowing?
He closed his eyes, picturing the lump under the duvet, telling him to stop being so loud.
The constant pedantry.
Get back to your own pillow.
Your mission is mo liu.
That’s it, whispered the purple, dipping down to the bench beside him, she’s willing to teach you Urdu, is pedantic in a funny way, when it’s called for, like the Quetta incident, has a body you could hibernate inside, won’t tell you to go back to your own pillow, won’t hassle you about Ljubljana, why would she, probably doesn’t even know where it is, won’t be coy about fucking either, won’t wrestle for control, no yellow eyed demon detaching from her inner side, pure honesty, lucidity, anarchist eyes, dangerous yet loyal, stylish
and all of that
just off the top of my misty head.
Twenty-four minutes later, in the space between cabin 46 and 47, Sila stood leaning against the pale blue wallpaper, looking down at the same nipples, the same dick, the same page.
Fuck, this book was cruel, it really was, why would a demon want to fuck a man anyway?
It didn’t make sense, the writer must have been a man, or a teenage boy. Who’d probably be doing the same thing I’m doing now, if he were here, if he’s still alive?
What am I doing?
He looked back, double-checking the corridor for voyeurs, and repeated his stock answer: she’s either genuine and ready for sex or asleep and won’t answer so either way nothing will be lost.
Okay, here we go.
He stepped forward and knocked, the first three bars of the Blake’s 7 theme, not that she’d know it.
God, but if she did, that would be-…
The door opened slowly, but there was no red cropped dress behind it and no beautiful Pakistani face to moan that he was four minutes late.
The door stopped forty five degrees from the cabin wall, too abrupt to be natural. The rest of the room was dark, almost pitch black.
‘Hello?’ he called again, blanking on her name.
Just the slight bobbing of the floor as the ferry rode out some trenchant waves.
Sensing a distinct lack of eroticism, Sila reached under his Matjaz hoodie and stopped when he remembered the green knife was back in his cabin. Ah, probably for the best. Had to be her behind the door, messing around. No need for stabbing.
Pulling his hand back out, he edged forward into the room, tense, sexually feral, annoyed.
‘Anyone here? It’s me, Sila…your first Urdu student.’
As he cleared the edge of the door, he started to crane his head round to see who had opened the thing, but then he thought light switch and pressed that instead.
The effect was stark, instant giallo.
On the bed, was the Pakistani woman, nameless and naked, with dark red holes on her stomach, and still-leaking slash across her neck.
And then the bed shimmered and it was the Pakistani man, not Amir, stripped with the same wounds, beautiful, dick at least ten inches.
Calling it a shit mirage out loud, Sila went for his jacket pocket again and spun, but wasn’t fast enough as the person behind the door pushed full force into his back then grabbed his jacket, pulled him forward and followed him down onto the bed.
His face landed just above the dead man’s thighs, hovering for half a second before the subsequent force from the attacker on his back pushed him right down, onto his pubic hair.
Only it wasn’t not Amir anymore, the mirage dick had vanished, replaced by either the clit or the labia. And the rest of the body…no idea…cos the murderer was like a fucking shipping crate on his back.
Get off came out as guudov, and everything after it was muffled even worse as loose bits of pubic hair got sucked into his mouth.
He tried to jab his elbows back, but whoever it was behind the door had him pinned down too tight. He stopped struggling, trying to trick the guy into loosening his grip, but it didn’t work, in fact it made things worse as the attacker used the freedom given to slide a knife to the side of his throat.
Sila froze, not even spitting out the stray pubic hair.
‘What you doing here?’ the attacker asked. ‘You know them? You working with them?’
Hang on, that voice…
‘You dumping the bodies?’
Sila tried to twist round again to confirm it was who he thought it was, but the guy was as strong as a Korean builder, so he gave up and stared at the corpse instead. His potential fuck for the night. The woman who’d slinked off deck half an hour earlier wearing his jacket. Throat cut. Dead. Killed by the lunatic who was probably about to do the same thing to him.
‘You’re not talking,’ said Tak, pulling the blade back a little.
‘Drop the knife first.’
It was a rogue request, and Sila didn’t expect much from it, but, surprisingly, the touch of metal vanished and, a second later, something hit with a thud on the carpeted floor.
‘Now the arm.’
‘Do you know them?’ asked Tak, tightening his grip.
‘Do you know them?’
‘Why you here then?’
‘Met woman upstairs. Arranged an Urdu lesson. Her teaching.’
‘You came for a fuck?’
‘Don’t do that.’
‘Waste my time faking surprise. You know what I asked you, answer it.’
‘Dressed like a high class escort, inviting you back to her cabin. Did you come to fuck her? Is that the truth?’
‘My arm is breaking off.’
‘Jezus fucking…’ Sila tried to straighten his arm out, but the weirdo interrogator held it firm. ‘Is this judo?’
‘Did you come to fuck her?’
‘I can’t twist out…’
‘Can’t even…start the process of it…’
‘Did you come to fuck her?’
‘Fuck, loosen a bit…it’s fucking-…’
‘Okay, let me simplify. Either you’re here cos you’re helping the thing or you’re one of their sex victims. Which one?’
‘Truth. Which one?’
Sila closed his eyes to try the thing he’d seen on an episode of Blake’s 7, the idea that if you broke with reality for a few seconds, you could move outside your body and analyse the scene from afar.
But instead of this cabin he pictured Avon judo putting a Federation guard in a leg lock and squeezing his neck to snapping point and
that was no good cos
he wasn’t in a leg lock and
the only fighting experience he had was amateur from the cabinet hunt, and jujitsu lessons at high school, just before the teacher had been arrested for fingering Audrey in the stairwell outside the science block.
‘Stop pretending to faint…’
‘I’m not.’ Sila opened his eyes and was about to explain the theory behind what he was doing, hoping that honesty would mellow Tak a little, or distract him long enough so he could twist round and…do something, avenge his prospective Urdu teacher perhaps, but then he looked up from his private patch of pubic hair and saw the woman’s head moving.
A reflex? Death spasm?
Seemed likely…until her eyelids lifted too…and two neon green eyes stared up at the ceiling.
‘Just tell me straight…were you here for a fuck?’
‘Just say it. Fuck or not?’
‘Tak, her head, it’s…’
‘…moving, her eyes. Fuck, get off me, she’s not-…’
Sila didn’t get to say the word dead as the woman shot up and, with one swipe of her strangely sharp right hand, backhanded both of them across the cabin.
Somehow, or perhaps due to blind luck, Tak managed to twist around mid-flight, shifting Sila behind and using him as a cushion against the impact.
The wall felt like brick, or tiles, hurting Sila the same way the toilet wall in Copenhagen had, then dumping him onto the carpet like a used condom.
He tried to look around the cabin, to plot a way out, but his vision was blurring, his spine felt snapped, the lights were dimming and
the last thing he saw before the common void was a naked Pakistani demoness, eyes glowing green, blood dripping from her neck like a nascent waterfall,
claw seizing Tak by the throat and