By: Steve Carr
The merchant ship, The Mary Andrews, violently rose and fell on the turbulent waves of the Atlantic Ocean during near-hurricane conditions, fifty miles from the Florida coastline. It carried two dozen containers that were stacked on its deck like cords of wood filled with crates of machine parts made in South Africa. With each sudden drop from a large wave that the ship had been riding on, ocean water washed across the deck, smashed against the containers, and spilled through large metal grates, filling the cavernous cargo holds. The hundreds of shackled dead inside the holds were either totally submerged, flailing about aimlessly from the floors of where they were chained, or bobbed up and down in the seawater like floating bottle corks, accidentally detached from their previously secured positions.
Battered by rain and wearing a yellow slicker, Tom Lennox grasped onto a heavy rope as he sat on the edge of a grate, his legs dangling in the air, and stared down into a hold. Despite his protests, he had been assigned to keep watch over the dead while the rest of the crew tended to keeping the ship afloat and the containers from breaking free and sliding off of the decks and into the ocean. "All those souls down there are already dead. What good does my watching them do?" he complained.
"Once they're trained how to pick fruits and vegetables or sweep streets or wash vehicles those souls will be worth more than all the machine parts in all the containers on this ship," the captain responded, pounding his fist excitedly on the passageway wall for emphasis.
Staring down at the dead men whose heads would temporarily rise above the surface of the water as the ship rocked from side to side, he found it hard to imagine them being trained to do anything. Already dead, they had been rescued from another cargo ship adrift at sea in the middle of the ocean and slowly sinking. That ship had no markings and no crew. Several of the crew of the Mary Andrews had been bitten by one of the dead during the transfer of the dead from the other ship to the Mary Andrews. They quickly died and now splashed about in the water with the rescued. Tom crossed himself when he saw the head of his friend, Johnny Tress, suddenly appear in the water several yards below his feet. He looked eastward through the slashing rain in hopes that the Mary Andrews would reach sun-drenched land soon. A loud banging noise caused by the crashing of one of the containers against another one immediately took him out of his reverie.
Several of the crew were yelling to one another, and to no one in particular; emitting screams of danger and fear. "If it goes so will the rest on this side of the ship," one of the crew shouted. "And take the rest of the ship with them."
Tom glanced down at the dead bobbing in the water, shuddered, and stood up. Fighting the howling wind, he made his way to the side of the ship where several of the crew were attaching additional lines of rope and chains to a container that dangled on the edge of the ship. He looked about, trying to assess where he was needed most. A hand firmly grasped his shoulder and turned him about.
"What are you doing here?" the captain bellowed, his face red with anger.
"We could sink," Tom stammered. "I don't want to join the dead."
"I'll throw you in with them if you don't get back to your post, right now!" the captain shouted.
Thrown off-balance by the extreme tilting of the ship from one side to the next Tom staggered back to the grate, started to sit down, and then looked down. The hold was empty of a lot of the water. Most of the dead were still chained to the floor and walls, but those that had been floating about were gone. Using his flashlight and unable to discern what was going on in the far end of the hold he quickly looked about, not certain who to tell that in all probability the hold doors had given way, loosing water and dozens of the dead into the passageways of the lowest deck. Armed only with the flashlight and a flare gun he went to the hatch leading to the lower decks, opened it, and descended the stairs. As soon as he stepped into ankle-deep water on the lowest deck, he knew his hunch had been correct. He raised the flashlight and shone it into the dim light at the end of the passageway. Three of the dead had one of the boiler technicians against the wall and were eating him, alive. The man's face was contorted into a mixture of unbearable agony and surprise, as if he was dying in a way he had never imagined.
Tom found the alarm button on the wall and pushed it. The resulting siren reverberated throughout the ship. He turned and ran back up the stairs and onto the top deck. The container that the crew had been trying to secure, along with several others, had slid to the edge of the ship. The entire Mary Andrews leaned heavily to the right. Several crew hung onto rope lines and chains that hung over the water. There was no sign of the captain.
As a large wave washed across the deck and over the containers, sending them into the ocean, Tom thought about his wife and twin daughters. He turned in time to see Johnny Tress come through the open hatch, his arms outstretched, fresh blood dripping from his mouth. Then the Mary Andrews capsized.
Minutes later, Tom rose to the surface of the water, a huge bite mark on his neck.
He began to swim toward Florida, with some of the dead trailing behind.