The banquet hall was full. Glasses clinking. Cutlery scraping against ceramic. Laughter. Chatting. Past-Artie would have hated it, but Now-Artie, for some reason, welcomed it all. The silliness and frivolity and how people so easily lose themselves among others. Perhaps it was just hunger-soaked delirium, but he was almost elated sitting there he could hardly eat.
It had almost been an hour since he was snatched-up from the ocean and tossed onto this cruise ship. Ironically, it was similar to the one he was on that had been taken-over by pirates then crashed into a rock and ignited. But Artie didn’t care. He was like an animal released from captivity for the first time, free to run around and eat gazelles. But instead of gazelles, Artie was devouring chicken fritters and scallops, but they could have easily been anything else and he would have enjoyed.
Artie looked around and noticed how crowded each of the tables were. Unless things had drastically changed, there was still the viral outbreak, but people didn’t seem to care. It was almost as if the US had just shrugged its shoulders at the rising cases because a bunch of rich people needed to continue making money or else society would fall apart. Because society relied on people spending money even when it was dangerous; it was as if no one really thought about whether or not this was a sustainable way to situate a society and just continued building off a sinking foundation. Anyway, Cedric the Entertainer came onstage in front of the banquet hall. Everyone clapped. Artie just kept stuffing his face.
As soon as Cedric faced the audience though he started weeping. “I–I–what happened to my career?” Tears poured from his face. His lips quivered. Everyone silently looked at each other. Artie just kept eating though.
“I tried calling my friend Steve Harvey. I–I told him I wanted his life. Why can’t I have his life?! But he just told me to take a chill pill and find Jesus! Awwwww!”
The room was quiet as Cedric poured his heart out between sobs. But then there was some laughter coming from the back. Everyone turned and spotted Artie, fork in mouth, howling his face off. Artie couldn’t help it. He knew it was wrong to do, laughing at another’s misery, but it just came out. He couldn’t understand why. But no one in the banquet hall was having it and, before he knew it, Artie was being tossed overboard. As he bobbed in the water he watched the cruise ship move on without him.
Over back on the island (not the initial island which has been destroyed, but the new island which is a lot like the first one,) Claire and Zmed have finally met-up with Sheila and guy.
“IMMA KILL YOU!” Zmed clawed the sand, trying to crawl towards Sheila who just stared at him. “IF IT WEREN’T FOR YOU, I WOULD STILL HAVE BOTH MY LEGS!”
“Zmed, calm down, your face is really red,” Claire said.
“Sorry, but we still need to work as a team, right?” Claire wanted everyone to just, for once, stop arguing and work together, and be happy. But she wasn’t sure if she was saying the right things to accomplish this. She struggled for the right words, but nothing came. She just stood there. “M-maybe we can play a game?”
“That sounds like fun!” The guy said. But they were ignored. The two people that seemed to matter were Sheila and Zmed.
“Zmed,” Sheila said calmly, “I apologize for what I made you do. But, your actions were your own.”
Finally, Sheila walked over to Zmed who started snatching at the air. Claire gasped. The guy just watched with a blank expression. He was a little confused and more concerned about what game they might be able to play soon.
“Zmed, if you’re ever going to find peace, you just have to let go.”
Zmed’s hand fell into the sand. He started to pant. His face red. “You…bitch…”
“That’s not very nice. But, perhaps you are right. But I have learned not to care about things. To be one with the ocean. To adapt to every storm. Every wave. Every beating sun. Don’t try to force change.”
Zmed continued panting. “Sounds…bullshit…weak…hiding…” His face then fell into the sand. Silence.
“Whoa. Um…” the guy said, “is he okay?”
Claire walked over and nudged him with a stick. “Oh no.” She then flipped him over. “Oh no!” She started pressing down on his chest, but his eyes were open, unmoving. Sheila watched Claire’s futile attempts and then walked away.
“NO!” Claire started pounding on his chest. Zmed was dead.
“So, did he have like a heart attack or something?” The guy asked later that day. But Claire didn’t answer. She was sitting in the shade, her eyes lingering on the foaminess of the waves.
“And it’s like she didn’t even care…” Claire said.
“Yeah, I think she’s trying to be all Zen or something. But I don’t know, seems defeatist. Is that the right word?” Claire spotted Sheila at the edge of the beach, alone. She stood up and started marching towards her. The guy was still wondering about the game.
Finally, as Claire was near, she noticed something about Sheila. She was standing over where they had buried Zmed, her face cast downward, almost as if she was about to cry.
Claire, when she was marching over, was going to confront Sheila. She wasn’t sure what she was going to say, but now, seeing Sheila up close, it all dissolved away. “Sheila?” She asked softly. “Are you okay?”
“I try…” Sheila muttered, holding back tears. “But…I…fuck!” She kicked some sand. “I don’t know. I’m so confused. I thought I was onto something. That this was the right way to go. But I was floating up there, watching myself watch Zmed dying. Before being stranded here, I thought of myself as an activist. But I had no idea what I was doing. I mean, I was right about things, for the most part, but the way I was going about it…I knew it wasn’t right. But what I’ve become…I’ve become something even worse. I just don’t…”
Claire hugged her for a few silent moments over Zmed’s grave. The guy walked over and saw this from a distance. “Hm. That’s hot.”
About a week later, they were rescued from the island and taken back to the US. Sheila fell back to her old ways. While going to school she joined protests at her school; however, she felt a little bit wiser, and she had an empathy for those who struggle, one she did not fully possess before. She also kept in touch with Claire. Claire had an optimism that bordered on psychotic, but it was inspiring at times. Sheila wasn’t always sure if what she was doing amounted to anything, but she had faith, largely because she learned to from Claire. Eventually, they drifted apart, as people do, but the impact they had on each other remained.
The guy also fell back to his old ways. He went back home and contrived a story about how pirates laid waste to the island. But Clyde, his stepfather, was still upset with him and kicked him out. But, to appease Henrietta, gave him a fund consisting of a million dollars. It didn’t take long for the guy to blow it. He started working by delivering food to people’s homes though his clients would often complain of missing chicken nuggets or half-filled shakes. However, he soon joined an improv group and slept in the basement of the playhouse. At least he finally had access to wi-fi.
Now, you might be wondering how these three were rescued. Well, Mara did make it to the mainland, swimming over hundreds of miles of ocean. She was able to organize rescue teams which found the three. Soon after, she went on other adventures. She would uncover mysteries, survive perilous conditions, but she never really learned much of herself. She was driven by something, but she never allowed herself to stop and consider what that might be. Because she was the hero and she had to continue acting lest the world fall apart.
Zed also soon found his way back to the United States thanks to the help of some parasailers. He had an ambition to invest that $5 and start his own business. But it was stolen by a pelican. He eventually also started delivering food to people’s homes, conjuring up a dream to use the money saved to create his own app. Eventually, he believed, he would have an even bigger boat than Clyde’s.
As for the cave-dwellers, well, they were, of course, pirates. And as soon as that cruise ship abandoned Artie, they seized the cruise ship and took Cedric the Entertainer hostage. However, no one was willing to pay the ransom and Cedric just kept crying. The pirates, disillusioned by such a failure, soon disassembled their crew and went on their ways. However, Larry, perhaps inspired by Cedric, became a performer as well. However, instead of jokes or depressed wailings, Larry would just walk onstage and proceed to sleep on the floor. His performances were hailed as “avant-garde” and “brave.” However, after a while his schtick got old and soon disappeared. No one knew where he went, and no one particularly cared. At least the old man finally got accepted into medical school. So that’s good.
But what about Artie? Well, Mara was never able to find him, and it didn’t take long for the seagulls to get to him. He woke-up and found himself back on a cruise ship. But there was something unusual about this cruise ship. He looked out the window and saw that, instead of water, they were moving through long stretches of desert sand. When he went up-deck he found Zmed standing, looking over the edge.
“What’s happening? Is this a dream?”
“Wish I could say that.”
Artie then remembered what the seagulls did to him. “So, we’re…”
“Yup. Dead. Dead dead dead.”
“Oh…so, how much longer are we–”
“No idea dude. Just leave me…” Zmed walked away on both of his legs. Suddenly, there were tons of people surrounding Artie, chatting, laughing, arguing, playing, drinking, eating. An older couple passed him.
“I know we shouldn’t have gone back on the cruises so soon,” said the older woman. “The virus–”
“Oh enough about the bloody virus! I’m so sick of it! Even in the afterlife we can’t escape from it!”
“Well, we did die from it.”
“You don’t know that. Maybe that’s what they wrote down to inflate numbers of covid deaths to get more funding, but for all we knew it was due to our high blood pressure. You don’t know.”
“Anyway, let’s dance.”
“I don’t feel like it.”
“Alright.” And they walked away.
Artie then realized something: he never was with a woman. He didn’t even care about sex, but it was the fact that he never had someone who cared about him. He had lived alone, living a barebones, safe, stream-lined existence. The only reason he was on the original cruise was because he had won a ticket while playing the lottery and figured he needed to “take a chance on life.” He sighed and returned his gaze to the desert, but then looked away. He had a feeling he was going to be seeing a lot of that desert and for a very long time. He didn’t want to spoil himself.
Well, I guess that’s it. Thanks for…wait. Oh yeah, I forgot the most important character of all: Clyde. After his island had burned, he discovered from his accountants that he still had enough to buy not only a new island, but for another private jet as well. He was elated and died 30 years later at the ripe old age of 104. But fortunately, when he died, he found himself on the premium afterlife cruiseliner reserved only for those who amassed power and wealth during their lives.
where they didn’t have to spend an eternity with plebs.
Artie and Zmed, from their low-tier, basic cable cruise ship, watched all sorts of celebrities and powerful folk on the awesome premium ship riding in the distance.
“Man. I should be over there.” Zmed said. “I bet they’re having all sorts of ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ parties over there.”
“Does it matter?” Artie asked. “I mean, how is their ship that much different from ours?”
But Zmed didn’t answer and just continued to pout. “We just have the poor, stupid nobody-afterlife. Plus, I think that’s my dad over there. Fuck.”
“Well,” Artie said. “Um…” Artie tried to find some way to console him, but couldn’t think of anything and just shrugged. The ships pushed along the sand, across the dry, dusty dunes of eternity where all things go and all things live on.
Welp, it’s over. Finally. It was a fun ride (kind-of) but I’m satisfied with the end result (not really.) I was pretty much making things up as I went so that’s my defense in all this. Don’t know what your excuse is for reading. Anyway, whatever it is, hope you enjoyed it anyway. Okay, bye.