A Dire Dilemma


by Aurelia


DISCLAIMER:  This is an original work of fiction. All characters are the property of the author and cannot be used without permission

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 © October 2015

* * *

Denny leaned against the rail and looked out over the gently rolling sea. For the tenth time she questioned her sanity when she signed up for the singles Halloween cruise. What was she thinking? What had started out as a bit of fun had turned out to be a real pain in the ass.

She pushed the mask up off her face and took a deep breath. The party going on in the main ballroom had been far too confining, with sweaty bodies constantly bumping into one another in the age-old sickening ritual of finding a mate–or, at least, finding a partner for the night.

Denny took solace from the moonlight shining off the sea swell. It was so pretty, casting splashes of silver over a blanket of black swirling water. There was something so primal about the sea. Untamed by nature, it ruled its territory with impunity, and she was aware of the risks involved in sailing on this particular domain.

A faint shuffle to her right drew her attention away from the sea. A few feet away from her stood another figure dressed in Halloween costume. Denny nodded at her, or she assumed as her because of her body shape, and said “hi”. The woman didn’t respond but continued to gaze at her.

Denny didn’t want to argue the point and turned her focus back to the dark waves. But she was aware of the woman still staring at her.

Finally, she couldn’t stand it any longer. “Can I help you?” The ceramic mask was a little unsettling–a white, almost blank face showing no emotion, with almond shaped holes for the eyes of the wearer. In the dim light she could see no eyes, just black void.

Denny’s gaze quickly swept over her visitor and noted that there was no skin showing. If the woman was trying to hide her identity she had done a good job. The woman turned and leaned against the railing, mimicking Denny’s pose of moments earlier.

Suddenly, Denny wanted to be surrounded by people. Standing alone on the deck with this phantom made her feel very uncomfortable. “If you’ll excuse me.” Denny walked by her and felt a shiver travel up her spine. She didn’t look back but she knew she was being watched.

As she approached the ballroom the sound of thumping music and the smell of sweaty bodies lost its appeal and she decided to retire to her cabin instead.

Quickly she undressed and put on her pajamas before climbing into bed. The cabin was a little claustrophobic for her taste, but the thought of meeting up with the mysterious woman again was enough to bury her discomfort and stay in bed. Something wasn’t right and she didn’t want to know what it was.

# #

She awoke the next morning to the sound of her cabin mate snoring loudly. Denny hadn’t even been aware of Lexie’s arrival during the night, however her presence was now sorely felt. As sleep was no longer an option, so she took the opportunity to shower. The tiny cubicle barely had room for her to stand in, let alone maneuver around for a shower, but she did the best she could.

Half an hour later she was in the dining room helping herself to the continental breakfast. There were only a few people around and, by the look of them, they were nursing sore heads from the night before. She didn’t envy them in the least.

Finally, she finished her breakfast with a coffee, sipping it as she studied those around her. What on earth possessed her to ever come on this cruise? She had hoped to find someone, sure, but was she really that desperate? Her enjoyment level so far barely reached five out of ten, and she was bored. Besides socializing, there was little else that she was inclined to take part it. Luckily, the sun was out, so she knew what she’d be doing later–finding a shaded spot on the sundeck to sprawl out with a good book.

Denny found a lounge in a quiet corner, which she claimed quickly. The deck was busy but not crowded so she took the opportunity to get some reading done. She had found that this was the best time, before the deck became crowded and very, very noisy.

She glanced around and found her gaze returned by a number of the passengers already making use of the facilities. Maybe her mystery woman was one of them. Did any of them look like they would be a stalker? Denny chuckled. She had already made the assumption that the stranger had meant her harm.

None of them immediately presented as strange or odd, but she wasn’t aware of a motive either. She dismissed her fellow passengers as holiday-goers and the mystery woman incident as an innocent meeting on the deck. In fact, Denny suspected that she wouldn’t see the woman again, even though the masked ball event was scheduled for the next three nights. People liked to play games and this seemed to be no different.

Denny placed the open book over her head and dozed off.

By the time she woke up, the sun had shifted and now bathed her in sunlight. The temperature had notched up a degree or two and it was no longer a relaxing position to be in. She stood and moved back inside to just catch the end of lunch.  

There was still plenty of food left over and she took a plate and filled it with the smorgasbord of offerings available. With a drink in hand, Denny easily found a vacant seat. She dug into the food on her plate while she continued to read.

“Is this seat taken?”

Denny jumped. Her focus had been on the book so she neglected to notice the woman standing behind the seat next to her. The dining room was nearly empty and the woman had the choice of just about all the seating, but she had decided to sit next to the only woman in the entire room.

“Err, no,” Denny said reluctantly. This would mean that she would be expected to make small talk, which was something she wasn’t good at.

“Hi, my name’s Cara.”

“Denny. Hi.” She reluctantly took Cara’s offered hand and shook it.

Cara took her seat and put down her plate loaded with food. “Been here long?”

“Since the cruise began.”

Cara gave a long, throaty laugh. “No, I mean for lunch...,” she glanced at Denny’s plate, which was half-empty, “…unless, of course, you’ve been trying to set some sort of eating record.”

Denny placed a fork full of food into her mouth in the hope of prolonging the silence. But Cara seemed oblivious to her disinterest and plowed on. “Enjoying the cruise?”

“It’s okay.” There was no way Denny could work up any enthusiasm for her reply.

“That’s too bad, especially considering we’re not even half-way yet.”

“Yeah, I know.” Don’t remind me. Stating the obvious wasn’t going to make the trip go any faster.

“So, nothing even remotely fascinating has happened?” Denny shrugged. “Can I ask you a question? Why did you come on this cruise in the first place?”

“I’m not really sure.” This was the first genuine answer she had given. “Maybe I was hoping to meet someone. After the first two nights of partying, I decided this wasn’t for me.”

“Honest. That’s refreshing.” Cara took a sip of her wine and gazed at Denny, who squirmed under her regard. “Maybe you haven’t been mixing in the right circles.”

“What else is there to do on this ship? Are you telling me it’s not for hooking up?”

“I can’t deny it there is that, but I’m sure there are more than one or two souls here who are looking for something more, or less, from this trip.”

“You mean you?” Denny inwardly chuckled. She knew what Cara was trying to do, so the question was a mute point.

“You never know.”

Denny looked around the mostly empty room then turned her gaze to her eating companion.

“Okay, maybe not. I don’t like eating alone.”

“I can believe that.”

“But, surely you must have someone to talk to. This cruise is…”

“Twelve,” Denny muttered.

“…twelve? Twelve days’ long and you’re alone. That can’t be good.”

“Give me a good book and I’m fine.” The casual glance from Cara at her book lying on the table didn’t go unnoticed. “There wasn’t a lot of choice in the gift shop.” Cara just grinned at her. “Okay, I was desperate.”

“And because of it you are missing out on enjoying yourself.”

“I’m enjoying myself just fine.”

“Uh huh.”

“Look, I don’t mean to sound bitchy or anything, but there are two hundred other seats to choose from. Why this one?”

“Why not? You were sitting here by yourself and I thought I’d join you. Is that a crime?”

“If it involves stalking, then it is.”

“Stalking? Has someone been stalking you?”

Denny could hear the concern in Cara’s voice. “No. Not really. Just ran into someone creepy last night.”

“Maybe we should alert–”


“Okay, you. Find one of the crew and report it.”

“Nothing happened. I don’t think–”

“Wouldn’t be better to appear a fool than end up a dead duck?”

Denny had momentarily thought Cara was her mysterious woman, but Cara’s insistence on reporting the incident made her think she was wrong. Who, in their right mind, would want themselves reported for stalking? She mentally corrected herself. No, it wasn’t stalking. It wasn’t even pestering. The figure had stood next to her and did nothing. That wasn’t a crime. It was just uneasy.

“It’s fine. I’ll probably never see her again.”


“I couldn’t see her face but she had the obvious… attributes.”

“Breasts. The word is breasts.” Cara chuckled as Denny shifted in her seat. “It could be a guy with an estrogen problem.” Denny’s eyebrow lifted. “Okay. It was a thought.” Cara moved her chair a little closer. “Why don’t you want to report it?”

“Because it’s silly. Just my imagination. She didn’t do anything but stare at me and stand at the railing to watch the sea. I felt uncomfortable that she didn’t remove her mask.”

“Maybe she didn’t realize she still had it on.”

“That, and the fact that there was no skin showing through her costume. It was like… like…” Denny searched for the words.

“Like she didn’t exist?”

“Something like that. I couldn’t see her eyes. It was pretty dark out there so maybe I missed that.”

“Hmmm. I see your dilemma. A story like that wouldn’t get past the crew member. They’d think you were… um…”

“Loony?” Denny supplied. “What about you? What do you think?”

“I think you’re someone who’s having second thoughts about being alone on a cruise ship full of single people.” Cara reached out and touched Denny’s hand. “How about you and I stick together until this cruise is over? At least you’ll have a witness if this stranger shows up again.”

Denny barely took in the words as she stared at their two hands on the table. She then looked up at Cara dubiously as what she said finally sank in.

“Don’t give me that look.” Cara removed her hand. “I am not making moves on you, okay?”

“Sounds like it to me.” She barely kept herself from blurting out her thoughts.

“So you think I’m this mysterious woman, huh?” Cara said curiously. “Should I be insulted?”

“It depends on whether it’s true or not.”

“It’s not true, but thanks for the vote of confidence.” Cara stood. “If you decide to go to the masquerade tonight, I’ll be at the bar.”

Denny watched the receding back of Cara, easily seeing the irritation she bore. She had overstepped the boundary… again. She just couldn’t get the hang of the social niceties and wished again that she hadn’t come on the cruise. All she could do was imagine what could have been…

# #

She had debated with herself the rest of the afternoon about subjecting herself to the rigors of another party, but somehow she felt she couldn’t leave things the way they were between her and Cara. She should at least apologize for her bluntness.

Before she could change her mind Denny donned her costume and mask and made her way to the Grand Ballroom. As expected, the room was filled with thumping music, sweaty bodies and the smell of alcohol, but no sign of Cara. Had she had second thoughts about attending? A quick sweep of the ballroom confirmed her suspicions.

Since the reason for her appearance at the event was not there, Denny retired to the deck and the cool, bracing air. She was deep in thought at the railing when her senses picked up footsteps heading her way. Half-expecting it to be her phantom woman, she was pleasantly surprised to see it was Cara. She had come looking for her, so had she been forgiven?

“Hey,” Denny said quietly.

“Hi. I thought I might find you here.”

“It was too noisy in the ballroom. I needed some air.”

“I noticed.”

“You weren’t at the bar.”

“So you were looking for me, huh?” Cara grinned at her. “That sounds promising.”

“I wanted to apologize for my behavior earlier. It was uncalled for.”

“Don’t worry about it. When I had calmed down I realized that it was perfectly natural for you to think what you did. You didn’t know me from Eve.”

“I’m just not good at these… things. I put my foot in it on a regular basis.”

“Now I’m forewarned.” Cara glanced around. “Any sign of your stalker?”

“Not so far. Maybe with you here she won’t show up.”

“Maybe.” Cara rested her forearms on the railing and looked at the moon. “Pretty night.”

“Hmmm.” Denny tried not to notice Cara looking at her.

“All the prettier because you’re here.” Denny winced. “I can deliver corny lines with the best of them.”

Denny’s attention was drawn to movement over Cara’s shoulder and she gasped loudly.

“What?” Cara looked in the direction Denny was staring.

Denny watched Cara’s response and realized she couldn’t see her. The phantom reached up and pulled off the mask to reveal Denny’s own face. She smiled and gave a “thumbs up” then faded away.

“What’s upset you?” Cara asked her with concern.

Was this a sign she had chosen well? Denny’s specter had spoken, and now it was time to act.

Denny threaded her arm through Cara’s and nudged closer. “Nothing. Must be just my imagination.”