fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

The machine clicks to life, a soft humming sound whirring into a clacking drone of gears thumping together before easing into a steady turn. Somewhere deep within, a whistle squeals and chirps while the pistons sigh. Old timing belts moan as the heart of the engine exhales.


The floorboards reverberate with the startup, startling the guests, all gratified to feel a pulse once again. The yacht continues to roll across the ocean while winds and heavy waves batter it. I, the captain's son, at ease in the same chair that I always sit in, observe the lights flickering on overhead. As always, I begin watching. In just thirty minutes, people will begin dying.


I must be prepared.


It's a dim room, chandelier placed at an angle to amplify the room's red velvet overtone. Outside, sea spray crashes against the hull, providing a rocking motion to the chandelier that could render any man seasick if he stared at it long enough. My chair is situated to the right of the fireplace, where I can see every guest without taking too much notice on myself.


I am the youngest man in the room. Barely above my age and around the crowd, a dapper man with silvery blond hair and a spruced up, loaned black overcoat flirts with a woman in a scarlet dress. She is considerably older, but she hides it well (if stuffing one's age into a corset and covering it with makeup can pass for subtlety).  He is not as charming as he believes either, laughing more than social propriety merits while his twinkling, inebriated eyes flit down her neckline. He is Mr. Hair. She is Ms. Silky.


This rectangular room has three doors--two on the sides and one main door at the far end, opposite the fireplace. To the right of the main door, a young woman wearing a deep blue dress sits at a black, upright piano while staring at the ceiling board where the rain gets in and trickles behind the red wallpaper. She is watching the wallpaper pulse like a living artery, wondering whether she can play the piano without drawing too much attention to herself. Her mother, sitting on a sofa with an older man at her side, is watching her intently, crows feet skewing her vivid blue eyes so that her intent is all the more visible. Her mother's fingers are twitching against her teal blue, shimmering gown, counting years of paid tutoring towards a moment, a crowd like this. The mother wants her daughter to play, and the daughter wants to play, but their reasons are too different. The daughter is Ms. Piano. The mother is Ms. Twitch.


The older man cares little for the company and more for the comestibles, which are bountiful. To his right, he has carefully commandeered a golden tray of glacé petit fours, carefully arranged (by him), to cover the silver platter bereft of prosciutto wrapped melon slivers, pungent cheeses, and spicy sausages. No one is fooled of course. Ms. Silky has passed the low appetizer table twice, just to give him the benefit of the doubt. This man's sleek black shoes are off; his gouty feet snake through the coarse, sable fur of the panther skin rug. He is Mr. Walrus.


His son is situated on the couch opposite him with a young woman under his arm, champagne glass cradled in that same hand. This son's head is back, and his eyes are closed, moustache carefully groomed to always depict a restful smile. His ears are open to the woman seated at the piano, awaiting music. He thinks he likes music, but he really enjoys the sound of her body making music. He is a professor at a prominent university, the lowest caste person in the room besides his woman, although the woman under his arm would have him, and everyone else, think her a simple student in his classroom. In truth, her silver sequined dress, gaudy in the ruddy undertones of this mansion-yacht, covers her fervor and her wrath. In her leather purse, on her left hip facing me, her hand slips in and out of contact with a bible and a paring knife. He is Mr. Comfort. She is Ms. Church.


In any passive exchange, I am more the victim than the perpetrator. The surviving member of the onslaught in twenty minutes will finish me off before throwing herself overboard. That is a bad outcome.


Mr. Walrus will lean towards the table to "discreetly" grab the next platter of hors d'oeuvres when his right leg spasms, kicking hard against the couch and careening him towards the platter. His diabetic seizure contorts his head strangely as his head slaps the table, body girth providing the momentum to snap his neck. His son sits bolt upright, shaking champagne onto the hand and into the purse of the Ms. Church, soiling her bible if that ever really mattered in the first place. She reaches for the knife while these sounds are silenced by the piano beginning to play. She cuts Mr. Comfort's throat with a series of reckless jabs while Ms. Twitch heads for the main door. The piano is resolute, pouring out Chopin's "Revolutionary Étude," likely Ms. Piano's favorite song.  Ms. Church stands and twists, looking for someone. Mr. Hair has started screaming, though Ms. Silky fails to ascertain why, reflexively slapping him hard across the face. Neither of them can stop Ms. Church from ending Ms. Piano's song.


When Ms. Twitch returns, she has a revolver aimed at Ms. Church's chest, but the sight of her daughter at the piano sends her wild, firing into Ms. Silky directly behind Ms. Church's shoulder. The bullets skitter through and scrape gold coating off of the trim that lies between the red wallpaper and the maroon wood paneling beneath it. It is enough to rouse Mr. Hair, who moves to grapple with Ms. Church. He is stronger than he seems. Though Mr. Hair takes many cuts, she winds up with the knife in her stomach, sobbing for reasons only Mr. Comfort might have known as she drops to the floor. Ms. Twitch's nerves tremble against the trigger, firing again. It's one shot in the chamber, now, and I am the only one left in the room when the lights go out.


That is a bad outcome.


Twenty minutes before the outcome, I begin to loiter around the group more. I know their timing. The hum of their motions before they happen resonates within me, urgency kicking my nerves into action. The first objective is to take the knife. At nineteen minutes, the professor lifts his head and whispers something into Ms. Church's ear. At that moment, her hand twists out of her purse and begins to rest on her stomach. This gesture lasts approximately seven seconds, three of which are receiving direct eye contact from Ms. Twitch. When her glance lifts over their shoulders towards Mr. Hair once again, her real target, I have four seconds to reach down and snatch the knife.


The next step is more risky. The loss of Mr. Walrus is the instigating factor in the violence, not the knife itself. Worse, if Ms. Church realizes that she no longer possesses the knife, and she will at seventeen minutes and thirty seconds, she will begin to look for an alternative weapon. The silver spatula on the platter that Mr. Walrus will soon bash with his face will wind up in her hand in exactly three seconds after he dies. I have to do something with the petit fours.


I use the paring knife to spear and eat as many petit fours as I can manage. The objective is to counter his capability to eat himself into a seizure. I target the cakes that I know he will go after, in the order that I know he will go after them, carving those that I cannot eat into tiny pieces that his fat fingers cannot pick up. As the time draws near, with a full knife stacked with miniature cakes, I let Ms. Church see me from behind Mr. Walrus' couch. I let her watch as I intently gaze into her eyes, licking the cakes off the end of her vengeful knife, one by one. She cannot hide her horrified expression as I pocket the knife and return to my seat. As dangerous as Ms. Twitch can be, she receives no instigating factor in standing when her daughter starts to play the piano, except that Ms. Twitch truly doesn't like the "Revolutionary Étude," beginning to squirm in her seat. Ms. Church is pinned by the fact that her chair is facing away from me, the most dangerous thing in the room, and Mr. Comfort is too much in the moment of listening to let go of her. Mr. Hair and Ms. Silky are getting along fine.


Mr. Walrus does not spasm and fall towards the table. He falls asleep on the arm of his chair, propping his head up with one large fist. Ms. Church does not budge, as much as she wants to look over her shoulder and ascertain my location. As the time ticks forward, counting to thirty-five minutes, I know my victory. I stand up and exit the room through the right door, so that she cannot see me leave.


I walk through the hallway and out onto the deck, where the sheets of wind and rain dance across in elegant arcs. I embrace the rain on my face and overcoat. No one died. In five minutes, I will be free.


"Release me! I solved your riddle!" I shout to the sky even as my mouth fills with water.


Unrelenting, the rain continues to beat down upon my face as those familiar sounds begin anew. The lights, as they always do, flicker and die in the cabin and on the prow.


"Release me!" I gasp, sputtering water. "I performed your task! I saved everyone, and I did it in only two steps! What do you need now? What else could you possibly need?"


No reaction other than that the distinct sound, continuing as always from the forty minute mark.


The machine clicks to life, a soft humming sound whirring into a clacking drone of gears thumping together before easing into a steady turn. Somewhere deep within, a whistle squeals and chirps while the pistons sigh. Old timing belts moan as the heart of the engine exhales.


The floorboards reverberate with the startup, startling the guests, all gratified to feel a pulse once again. The yacht continues to roll across the ocean while winds and heavy waves batter it. I, the captain's son, at ease in the same chair that I always sit in, observe the lights flickering on overhead. As always, I begin watching. In just thirty minutes, people will begin dying.


I must be prepared.

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fodschwazzle

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