CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (15)

Your eyes have adjusted, now, to the dimmer artificial light here in the inside passenger cabin. Above your head approximately somewhere are Bob, the owner of the Diamond Ranch High School class ring, Joan, the captain of this boat, one of her two—that you’re aware of— crewmembers, four high school boys, and more seagulls and blinding white than you care to think about.

Someone on this boat is a murderer. It isn’t you—that much, and not much else, you’re sure of.

Before you is this woman and the boy on her lap who, apparently, told the captain that he’d seen you push the old woman overboard and into the Pacific. The woman is looking up at you angrily and the boy is likewise looking up at you. You open your mouth to speak.

What you do know is this: Marjorie Shorter was on the open-air deck with you when the majority of the boat’s passengers went down the two ladders to the V-shaped bow to look at porpoises skipping in the water alongside the prow of the boat. She spoke to you briefly as this boy and the woman (who you’ll just assume is his mother) left as well. You went down to the bow soon after and as far as you can remember there was no one else on the open-air deck aside from Mrs. Shorter when you left—but you weren’t paying much attention at the time. In the next few minutes her neck was broken and she was bobbing in the boat’s wake. At some point while she was up on the open-air deck, she or Bob or some third person dropped Bob’s ring, which you found.

Your mouth is still open. You try to sound polite and official. You keep your voice low. ‘Your son seemed to be in some distress earlier,’ you say. You paste a fake half-smile on. ‘Understandably, of course! Another passenger suggested I may have inadvertently alarmed him somehow, and while I don't know if that's actually the case, I thought it would be best to make sure that the two of you are alright and see whether there's anything I can do to help you.’

She continues to stare at you. Her eyes are a deep brown.

You are beginning to wonder why you’re even trying to speak to her. The boy is doing something with his fingers that looks like each of his hands is climbing up the other vertically into the air in front of his face.

‘Ma’am?’ you say.

‘No you cannot help us,’ she says, finally. She speaks with some kind of faintly lyrical accent. ‘This boy is afraid of you. I ask you please not to make him more afraid.’

The boy looks fine, but you decide not to press the issue. You try again. ‘I’m very sorry that your son is frightened,’ you say. ‘I was just hoping that you or he could help me understand what happened earlier so that I can talk to the captain and get the boat underway again.’

She snorts a bit of laughter. ‘Help you understand,’ she says. ‘I saw you with the woman. I saw you talk to her, I saw you the last one with her. The boy saw you as well. You do not need our help to understand. We do not need your help either. And your friend the boat captain does not need our help either.’

‘I’m sorry,’ you say again. ‘I don’t really know the captain and I don’t think she likes me very much.’

‘Mommy the boat should go,’ the boy says on the woman’s lap. He turns his body toward hers and nestles slightly into her chest.

‘Shh,’ she says, her chin tucked down. Her eyes tilt up at you. ‘I do not know what that woman did to you or your boat captain.’

‘I want only to help,’ you say.

‘Ha,’ the woman says. ‘This is also what the boat captain said to the old woman. Your kind of help no one needs. Please leave us. Thank you.’

The sun flashes off the peak of some wave far off outside the tinted windows of the passenger cabin and you turn your head toward the ocean and there is nothing out there but water and even far away, hidden neatly beneath the gradual curve of the horizon, only more ocean, all the way down to Antarctica, the world unchanging and blank in a straight line. You look back at the woman and you do not think there is much else that you can say to her right now. You hold your notepad up again look at the bottom line that you’ve written— Boy – witness? and can’t decide what to do with it. You are still standing above this woman and her son and the absence of the high school class ring in your pocket feels weighty—when you had it, it felt like a solid clue, the sort of thing that would be the first of many, a tactile accumulation that would slowly and inexorably lead you to some kind of solution. Now there is nothing in your possession but a cheap ballpoint pen and a notepad with far too few scribbles on it.

Something occurs to you. ‘You saw the captain speak to the old woman?’ you say.

The woman seated in front of you closes her eyes lightly and rubs the boy’s back through the fabric of his blue teeshirt. ‘You know that they fought very loudly,’ she says. ‘Yet why do you ask me this?’

You write one more word on your notepad on the right-hand side: Captain. You click the cap back on your pen. ‘Thank you,’ you say to the woman. ‘And I’m sorry, again. If you need anything, look for me.’

Close behind you is the Earth sciences teacher, Rick Chavez. Across the cabin is the crewman with the clipboard, eying Gavin, the pest. You turn to go. Mrs. Shorter’s daughter and her boyfriend are standing and heading out the door to the bow. His arm is around her side, and her arms are folded tightly. You clip your ballpoint pen to your notepad and take a breath.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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