There are three known approaches to stress: acceptance, rejection, and denial.

Acceptance was easiest found in Noah; running across the deck, he slid to his knees and opened his throat up to the sky like a wolf. Everyone watched in alarm, and of course, amusement in Jaxon’s glazed eyes, as Noah crawled to the edge and pulled himself up the steel taffrail. He leaned over, dangling his arms towards the licking waves that slapped against the body of the ship.

“Let’s go!” he yelled with a prolonged “O” like a cheering stadium, then pounded the metal with an echoing rumble. He turned to look at the rest of them with flushed cheeks. “Do you even realize the freedom we have?”

“We need to sit down and talk about this,” Sarah warned softly. “This is serious.”

“Don’t ruin this,” Noah whined, facing the open water. He raised his toned arms and sighed. “This is an opportunity.”

“Some of us have lives to get back to-” Sarah started, too quietly to be heard.

“You’re so dumb,” Jaxon chuckled at Noah and strolled towards him, his hips coolly paced ahead of his shoulder. He glanced back at them and rolled a pointed finger at them. “But you all are goofy because he is absolutely right.” He leaned against the metal beside Noah, and spoke loud enough for the wind to carry it to Sarah’s ears:

“It is what it is.”

Annabelle, still hunched over the deck beside Sarah, stared with a blank expression as if she was not only seeing the situation for what it was but also regretting everything that had led up to now. Sarah touched her shoulders to breaking the trance, but Annabelle had no response.

She never possessed a hushed demeanor as she did now.


Christian laughed nervously above their heads, and Sarah looked up.

“What are we going to do?” He pushed his hands through his hair and walked across the deck like a father on a leisurely stroll trying to remain calm about losing means to his family’s income. However, his shoulders hunched slightly, evident of weight hanging over him. “How- what-” He swallowed. “We can handle this.”

Noah stepped away from the railing with a laugh, grabbing his side. It only took a minute for Christian to shove worry deep into his mind and instead find a way to mess around as if all was normal. Strangely, as they tossed a chair into the sea--the very being that kept them trapped--it was as if they didn’t even see the water; none of them could look directly at the ocean.

It would break them eventually if they didn’t manage it now.

“What, we’re just going to be okay with this?” Sarah stood. “We have to do something-”

Noah nudged her as he jogged past her into the hallway. “Just let other people have fun, even if you can’t, alright?”

“I’m not-”


He disappeared, and Jaxon followed after him.

Sarah spun, watching with genuine horror. “Where are you two going?”

“Enjoying what life has handed us.” Jaxon held an imaginary glass in symbolism of a celebratory cheer over his shoulder. He disappeared into the shadows.

Annabelle awoke suddenly with a start and crawled to her feet quickly.


“Where did everybody go?” Her lips hardly moved.

Sarah hesitated. “They went inside. Who knows what they’re intending to do, but they aren’t handling this well. That’s dangerous.” She eyed Annabelle, ensuring she received her subtle warning. “We need to find out what happened…”

Annabelle’s eyes were not open; though her eyelids were resting where any alert people should be, the life behind her corneas was disconnected. The beaded stare reminded Sarah of the elderly woman she once met on the side of a street, controlled by a drug--this time, adrenaline--rather than her mind or soul.

“You’re smart,” Annabelle said, lips unnaturally animated against her pale skin. “I can’t help you figure this out. That’s not who I am.”


“I’m going to join them. Where I belong.”

“No, wait-”

Annabelle disappeared, hurrying after the boys. Denial sometimes cannot be sustained on its own, instead falling to a response more similar than not: acceptance. She could not believe it, so she numbly became what the situation asked for. Perhaps wondering just made it worse; questions are like worrying twice sometimes.

Christian stumbled in an unbalanced run to follow, but fell over his knees with a groan, catching himself against the doorway. “I think I might need to just sit down this time- oh.” He yelped, kneeling until his nose dug into the floorboards. “You know, I don’t… often…”

Sarah touched his shoulder and helped him to lie on his side. His eyes squinted against the sunlight, and he twisted his head to shade beneath his broad shoulders. As she straightened, she felt blinded by the sun rays bouncing off sea slivers. Her tightened eyebrows pulled up the dried blood on her face, reminding her of its presence. Finally, her body took a moment to recognize the blood loss she had experienced from her fall that night, and her limbs suddenly trembled with weakness.

Though all she wanted to do was lay down like Christian, her stomach rose in her throat, and she ran to the railing to puke, the acid bodily fluid smearing the white mass before reaching the water. Wiping her lips, she dropped to the ground and pressed her cheek against the cold metal; at least like that, she could feel something other than pain.

She would get them off this sea. She had to.

Yet, as thundering laughs echoed out from the hallway behind her, she immediately recognized their greatest challenge ahead of them: why would they ever want to leave a ship that seemed to erase their complicated lives? At least here, things might seem simple: eat the plentiful food intended for a full cruise ship, have a party anytime, shout at the top of their lungs, and claim an entire division of their own. Never had they measured to deserve even an inch of that sort of freedom.

But then again, five isolated people could surely have a way of magnifying issues that were otherwise small or undaunted. And the sea had a way of creating a prison unimaginable. Some beasts that are best left alone could be provoked by unintended elements that only arise in situations such as an abandoned cruise ship. They were in their own world now, and survival instincts were not the only mentalities aroused by that. This place could make people realize and do what they didn’t know they were capable of.

“They’re so loud,” Christian groaned, rolling over on the floor.

“Yeah,” Sarah whispered as she kneeled against the railing. She pressed her head against the metal, and her fingers picked away at the dried blood on her scalp.

“Is it going to be like this the whole time?”

He spoke as if either of them even knew what “time” implied; it could be days, weeks, or years. Or forever.

Sarah shrugged. “I don’t know.” She swallowed and looked towards him, his eyes hidden beneath his sheltering elbow. With a numb sigh, she closed her burning eyes, knowing tears wouldn’t come. They hadn’t in a while; they wouldn’t now.

Though she couldn’t think of it yet, somewhere inside her was dread, knowing the addiction that would come to serve the situation they were in; here, they would have to survive each other, not the sea. The world is simple, and not always good. They would obsess over each other, the only dynamic and interest in their lives becoming one another.

Sarah rocked slightly back and forth with the pushing waves below.

The cruise ship was their very own drug.

A.R. Hansen

Author of Battle of the Mind