He burst through the doorway, escaping the stuffy room and taking a deep breath of the cool, salty air. A second later, the door fell closed behind him and muffled the jubilant music and laughter inside.
Dancing lessons. What had he been thinking?
The corridor was blissfully empty (Heaven knew how hard it was to find a bit of privacy on this dang ship), so he wandered over to the railing and looked out over the water. The ocean breeze cooled his overheated skin, soothing against the damp, sweaty spots on his shirt. It wasn’t exactly quiet, not with the rumbling of the cruise ship’s engine, but it felt peaceful. No dance classes, rock climbing walls, or trivia competitions. He could relax—at least for a few minutes until Pam came out to find where he’d gone.
He gazed at the horizon, the division between the night sky and dark ocean almost imperceptible. A half-moon shone overhead, its shimmering silver reflection prancing across the waves. The sound of water lapping against the side of the ship calmed him, and music came from somewhere below, a gentle lullaby that made his eyelids feel heavy. Rushing from one scheduled activity to the next, he hadn’t realized how tired he felt.
And this was supposed to be his vacation. What a joke.
He leaned more of his weight against the railing, his mind drifting. He should really find a bench or make his way to the glorified closet that served as his room. But then he wouldn’t be able to listen to the music anymore, and it was surprisingly wonderful. Where was it coming from? And who was singing?
He didn’t realize his eyelids had fallen closed until he opened them. Looking down, he saw women in the water.
The sight should have jolted him awake, but oddly enough, he felt like he’d expected to see them. They swam gracefully alongside the ship, barely visible in the golden light coming off the deck. They were as pale as lilies or newly fallen snow, as pale as drowned, decaying corpses. He’d never seen anything so beautiful. Long pearly hair trailed behind them, bulbous black eyes gleaming in the moonlight. They opened mouths of sharp, jagged teeth stained with fish guts and sang a song too exquisite to be real.
He leaned forward, and the railing pressed into his stomach. The melody caressed him, sending a delicate shiver down his spine. He needed to get closer to hear it better. He didn’t want to miss a single note.
Dimly, he was aware of a door banging closed behind him.
“Honey?” Pam called.
One of the women below waved a webbed hand at him, her bloodless face splitting into a smile. The message was clear: come with us.
He tipped over the railing and embraced the dark waters.