When Sarah woke up, she looked at the design of white swirls above her. She thought about waves and almost smiled, thinking about the beach and soft sand. She blinked.

Then, she gasped and turned her head, but stopped as the movement shot sharp pain through her temple and eye. The legs of overturned chairs shadowed the floors beneath emergency lights, and broken glass bottles covered everything like morning dew.

The cruise ship. She was still there.

Sarah sat up and tenderly felt her head with a wince. Crusted, dried blood clunge to her hairline. It had not been taken care of at all. She was fortunate to have not bled out, though she was sure she had lost a lot of blood by the amount on the floor and the shakiness of her limbs. Perhaps Annabelle and the boys had left her, unsure what to do and not thinking with their drunkenness.

However, when Sarah looked around her, she saw Christian still passed out underneath the table. A pair of yellow sneakers stuck out over the edge of the stage, and Noah’s hand hung over the broken table top nearby. Jaxon had to be somewhere nearby beyond her sight.

Sarah mumbled curses beneath her breath as she ran across the casino floor, heading for Christian. For reasons she couldn’t explain, she felt the need to move quietly amongst the unconscious group of friends, as if she wasn’t intending to wake them at all; it was as if she still felt like she was in the wrong for ending the party, even if it was already long over.

It wasn’t until Annabelle groaned from the stage, and her sneakers moved, that Sarah dared to make noise. She pushed chairs out of her way, the metal legs scratching the floor like nails breaking the air.

After a few moments, Annabelle’s head lifted up, and they made eye contact.

“Where are we?” she mumbled.

“The cruise ship.” Sarah crouched next to Christian and shook him. “Christian. Christian!”

After a moment of staring with empty eyes, Annabelle’s face dropped. “What? We’re still here?”

Sarah nodded, still focused on Christian. “Everyone passed out.”

Annabelle cursed and hurried to her feet. She stumbled, her face tight with pain as if fighting nausea, and dropped next to Sarah to help.

“Christian, wake up!!” Annabelle paused with an exasperated groan and slapped his face. “Come on!”

No response.

Sarah hurried to the counter and looked for a bowl. Finding only bottles of wine, she removed the lid and poured the contents onto the floor, staining the tiles like blood. She refilled it with cold water from the tab and ran to Annabelle, who took it and immediately dumped it over the back of Christian’s head.

He gasped, and his eyes widened with surprise as he took each breath. His short hair dewed with the water drops, and his neck looked like sweat.

“Get up, now. It’s morning.” Annabelle stood. “We’re still on your dad’s cruise ship.”

Christian cursed and crawled to his feet. As he pushed around the chairs, he grabbed the side of his head with a groan. Sarah looked at Annabelle, who was suddenly awfully pale.


Annabelle’s cheeks puffed out and her eyes widened with panic. She leaned forward over her knees and vomited, her mouth hanging open and her neck flexing with the stress of her body’s reaction.

Christian looked away, tightening his lips and covering his ears.

Sarah touched Annabelle’s shoulder to comfort her. As she reached to hold her hair back, Annabelle pushed her back and turned away to wipe her mouth.

“Get Noah and Jaxon. I’m fine. We just need to go.”

Sarah hesitated only for a second. “Okay.”

She ran with Christian to retrieve the others. Noah was slumped against the broken table like a sunny-side-up egg on a pan, and as they neared, the stains on his face reeked of alcohol. His body glowed with hot sweat.

“Noah-” Sarah started.

Christian didn’t wait to punch Noah hard enough to jolt him awake. He sat up with a shout and wild eyes, grabbing the side of his face with his lips puffed out and open like a fish.

“Always wanted to do that,” Christian mumbled.

Sarah glanced at him. “To him, or just in general?”

Christian shrugged.

“Did you hit me?” Noah demanded, his cheek already swelling. “Wh-”

“We’re still on the cruise ship,” Christian explained with a tight voice. “We have to go.”

Noah straightened his mouth and hurried to his feet. “Why didn’t we leave earlier-” He groaned, leaning over to catch himself. “Oh, there’s the hangover.”

Christian looked at him unamused. “Speak for yourself as to why we’re still here. Everyone passed out.”

Everyone?” Noah looked at Sarah. “You didn’t even drink.”

Sarah walked away, breaking his gaze and focusing away from the ways his pupils taunted her. “Where’s-”

“Gosh, imagine having one job and not doing it.” Noah laughed. “Imagine.”

Christian laughed with him. It is natural for people to fall to levity when threatened with what they know could be wrong, but is yet being handled like it is not; Sarah wasn’t necessarily offended, but she also knew very well that the blame could be hers if such was decided. More than theirs, if she was honest with her insecurity. However, his insecurity was now being clearly highlighted to her; he immediately recognized the potential for blame and was sure to eliminate himself from pointing fingers as soon as possible. Or, at least make sure fingers were drawn towards a different suspect.

Still, Sarah wished it wasn’t so easy for others to find such attributes of a facetious nature to be charming. It had a habit of making her look like the bad guy.

“Where’s Jaxon?” Sarah asked again over her shoulder, looking around in panic. “Where is he?”

“Last thing I remember is the pool and Annabelle’s crying,” Noah said.

“Maybe he tried for another drink,” Christian said, looking at Sarah.

They ran to the counter, footsteps pounding against the floor. Over the short night, someone must have lost their shoes, evident to the smacking of sweaty skin against the solid floors. Noah followed, and Annabelle came beside them at a quick pace.

“There he is!” Sarah cried, running to where Jaxon had passed out, his arms folded strangely beneath him. His head was forced forward into his chest by the bottles propped behind the nape of his neck.

Noah took on the responsibility of authority and pushed forward bend over to Jaxon’s face. He stroked his face jokingly, and Annabelle nudged his shoulder.

“Stop, Noah.”

“Okay, okay, geez. Calm down.” He turned back to Jaxon and poured a bottle of alcohol over his head. As drops fell onto his bare chest and stained his open kimono, he jolted awake with a curse.

“What the-”

“We need to go, Jaxon,” Annabelle explained. “We’re still on Christian’s cruise ship.”

“It’s not my cruise ship.” Christian threw his arm out. “Everybody needs to shut up about that.”

“For reals? We’re still on it?” He casually moved to his feet with Noah’s help. As he swayed, he grabbed his forehead. “God, what is that?”

Christian slapped his shoulder. “That would be the hangover.”

Sarah grabbed their arms and pulled them up. “Guys, this is serious. If we get caught, our futures could be really screwed up.”

“You know, Sarah, I think we all really were aware of that risk when we agreed to come last night.” He grunted to grab a bottle of alcohol and twirled it in his hands. Finally, he popped off the lid and shrugged. “We’re not really worried because we’ve kinda accepted that.” He looked at her pointedly.

Sarah glared at him, her lips tight as her cheeks reddened.

A bang shot through the air like a bullet, breaking the tension between them but leaving their hearts racing to a new fear. Sarah turned pale, as if the noise had fractured her spine with shock. They stared wide-eyed, hardly breathing.


“Run,” Sarah whispered. “Run!”

They followed after her, panic causing their feet to grow louder than trespassing individuals should allow. Each noise felt like thunder against Sarah’s ears, blood pounding in her eyes like her heart had popped up. She stumbled, trying to focus on them moving forward rather than her blurred vision that turned the floor into ants.

“Up, up, up,” Christian whispered, pushing them in a different direction to the stairwell.

Sarah felt Annabelle falling behind, and she reached back to pull her hand along like a child in the midst of New York City sidewalks. She would never survive alone on city streets, and perhaps that is why she always surrounded herself with people--like Sarah--who could.

They swarmed into the hallway and squinted towards the opening exit, where morning light seeped in and long shadows swelled from the wall’s edge. Noah pushed Jaxon forward as he dashed, every motion loud. The cabin doors whizzed behind them as they ran, the knobs seeming like hanging mouths in a warning.

Noah burst into the sunlight before Christian could finish his plea, “Wait, Noah, they might be right there-”

The three boys stopped at the exit, unusually silent. Their feet had stopped like the sudden capture of rolling balls down a steep hill. It wasn’t out of obedience; something was wrong. Annabelle looked past them with a silent gasp pulled across her features and dropped to the deck between their knees, hands clasped over her mouth.

“What?” Sarah stood on her toes to see over their shoulders.

Any noise was sucked from her throat, and her lips puffed out as if the sight before her had somehow–ironically–dehydrated her. She flattened her feet and lowered beside Annabelle.

“My god.”

The unblemished sky faded into a yellow sun, dawn breaking on the horizon, which seemed to tauntingly point at them through the moving sea. Soft swaying water surrounded them like an army of sapphire, the depths unknown but its presence clear. Where concrete and crusty cruise ships were expected, the expansive sea was overwhelming to recognize and much worse to accept. Even the smell of salt burned Sarah’s nose to bring tears.

They were at sea; the closest thing to land was the four thousand-passenger cruise ship beneath their feet, only afloat according to the will of the ocean’s temperament.

Jaxon leaned back, his hands resting in his pockets. “Well… damn.”

A.R. Hansen

Author of Battle of the Mind