The throbbing of the ferry’s engines vibrated through Jeff’s body as he stood at the railing, staring into the mist. Hard to imagine they’d be docked in under an hour.
He took a breath, his chest aching. The sea air was doing nothing for him. Coming outside had been a mistake. He should have stayed in his cabin, tried for more sleep.
Whoever said travel by sea was relaxing?
Back inside, a young couple held hands as they ambled along the corridor. They didn’t even move when Jeff sighed loudly, so he plodded behind, reading cabin numbers. 1033, 1034. With 1037 in sight, he called out a brisk ‘excuse me’ and pushed past.
The man reached forward and pushed his key into the lock of Jeff’s cabin.
The door opened, and the woman barged in, somehow squeezing her bulk past Jeff without him feeling a thing. He was about to say something else, when she opened his bag.
Only it wasn’t his bag. And those weren’t his pyjamas tossed on the unmade bunk. And he definitely didn’t have a red coat like that.
He stepped back, and the man slammed the door in Jeff’s face. He was about to say something when he saw the cabin number. 1038.
Jeff turned to the next door, read the number. 1036.
“Should’ve flown,” he muttered as he scanned the corridor for 1037.
* * *
Half an hour later, by the reception desk, Jeff wondered how to explain that he’d lost his cabin. It seemed an impossible thing to have done, and he didn’t know whether to be annoyed or laugh about it. When some guy with his gut hanging over his shorts pushed in front and started jabbering away at the receptionist, Jeff clenched his fists, but didn’t make a scene.
The delay gave him more time to think.
He’d had no problems finding 1037 when he boarded the ferry. He didn’t even get confused by the different decks. But his cabin was no longer where it had been before.
“This is going to sound odd,” he began, when XL-guy had gone, but the girl didn’t look up. She tapped away at a computer, muttered something he didn’t catch, then walked off.
She didn’t turn. It was like she didn’t even hear him.
A man in a uniform rushed past, and Jeff called to him. But he didn’t stop.
Why were the staff so rude this morning?
* * *
Another failed search for 1037, and Jeff needed fresh air. The mist was now rain, and this kept others inside. A few smokers wrecked their lungs under whatever shelter they could find, watching vacantly as the ferry pull alongside the dock. They didn’t disturb him, and he ignored them.
The tannoy called for coach and lorry drivers, then car drivers. When the call came for passengers to disembark, Jeff joined the end of the line. He’d figured out how to explain that he’d lost his luggage along with his cabin.
But the two crew members, in their too-white shirts, didn’t even look up at him.
“Last time I travel with you lot,” he said, stepping into the covered walkway.
For a moment, mist covered Jeff, like he’d stepped outside. And then he was back on the ferry. Only now, he was opposite the exit walkway.
“What the hell?” he said as he staggered and fell onto the green carpet.
The staff pulled a chain across the walkway and wandered off, ignoring Jeff’s groans.
* * *
Others walked past him, but nobody checked on him. After a few minutes, not knowing what else to do, Jeff rose and wandered round the ferry.
With no travellers, it was a different place. Cleaners darted from cabin to cabin (but never to the non-existent 1037), and cleaning machines trundled over the floor. In the shop, a couple of women stacked bottles on the shelves. At least they were talking in English.
Jeff called to them. When they didn’t respond, he reached out to the closest one.
“You okay, Debs?”
“Just went all shivery. Like someone walked over my grave.”
“Probably the air-con.”
Jeff walked off, shaking his head. He balled his left fist, and tingles ran along his arm. And his chest was still tight.
* * *
Jeff walked every inch of the ferry. Nobody bothered him. It was like he was invisible.
Hours later, passengers returned. He followed the couple into 1038, but left when they started kissing. He didn’t remember opening the door, though. Just found himself in the corridor.
As the ferry filled, life flowed round Jeff, but it never touched him.
In the early hours of the following morning, when the ferry was empty, did Jeff feel any peace.
* * *
Jeff wandered the ferry. Days passed. He walked through sun and rain, snow and mist. He tried disembarking, but the mist returned him every time. Once, he jumped over the railings, but he never hit the water. Instead, he found himself on the top deck, where a couple of cooks shared a bottle and resolutely ignored him
Passengers came and went, as did staff. Jeff learnt their jobs, their names. He knew their routines and their habits. He followed them all.
The newest girl had a limp. She walked slowly as the head steward gave her the tour, starting with the cabins.
She asked, in her stilted English, why there was no 1037.
“Renumbering, last year,” the steward said. “1037 became 1038, 1038 became 1039, and so on. Something to do with 1037 being unlucky.”
He shrugged. “Cursed, they say. Too many incidents. Some old woman broken her neck falling from the top bunk. Then a couple from that room threw themselves overboard. And the last one was some guy, had a heart attack in his sleep.”
They walked on, but Jeff stayed by 1038. The cabin that had once been his.
He put a hand on his still-aching chest, and started to cry.
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