Thirteen Minutes

a short story

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Thirteen Minutes

Lu Henry-Mitchell

The following short story was submitted by one of the Annie Writers members, Lu Henry-Mitchell.

Warren McClane started awake in the dark.

He shifted in the hard-plastic seat of the Seattle ferry. His foot had gone numb. He must have been asleep a while. But – dark? Lingering drowsiness evaporated, leaving a strengthening confusion. They should have arrived hours ago. He peered out the window to see the colors were skewed: the sky was inky and starless, the water a surreal pitch-black. He blinked a few times, but his eyes refused to adjust.

A frown haunted his face as he turned back to the cabin. The expression froze in place. All the lights were out, and the space was dim, but it was still easily possible to make out that cabin was empty. Warren stood. The rows of seats and the neat aisles that divided them were still slightly grimy, worn with use, but there were no passengers, no purses or wallets or fast-food wrappers. The clock on the bulkhead read 12:00 midnight. As far as Warren could see, it was the only thing with electricity. He checked the watch on his wrist for confirmation only to see that it had been set on a timer. 13 minutes. As soon as his eyes fell on the number, it changed to 12:59 and began to count down. Warren hit the clear button. It kept counting. He pressed it again, then pressed it and held to reset the watch. Nothing happened.

A chill prickled at the back of his neck. What the hell? he almost said aloud, but something stopped him. He glanced again around the empty room, as if he might catch sight of some other passenger asleep – even of some shred of evidence that there had ever been other passengers. He could have sworn it was darker than a minute before, but Warren was quite sure he was imagining that. Surely he wouldn’t put it past himself. He was sometimes too skilled at imagining for his own good. He used to imagine all kinds of things when the lights went out. He used to be terribly afraid of the dark…

He hadn’t thought about that in years. Before he could stop himself, he checked his watch. 11:26. He dropped his arm again, annoyed at himself. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw something flash through the window, but the black water was smooth when he looked. Probably a bat. He was not at all very comfortable standing there in the dark, empty cabin. Warren reached into his pocket and fished through the keys and receipts for his phone. The comfort of it in his hand vanished as he hit the power button and the screen stayed black. He frowned at it. It couldn’t be out of charge – it had been at over fifty percent when he had boarded the ferry.

Warren shoved it back in his pocket, frustrated. No flashlight, then. Could it really be getting darker? Perhaps it was simply getting later. He refused to check his watch and looked out the window instead, finally pinpointing what was wrong with the sight through the glass. The black water was still. The ferry was eerily quiet. No roar of the engines. They were dead in the water.

Warren stood for a minute in the dark – thicker than before? – and then straightened his jacket and began walking quietly through the still ferry, into the next room. He had a vague idea of the where the engine room ought to be. There was likely nothing he could do once he found it, but it certainly didn’t seem that anyone else was going to fix it. Perhaps he would find more passengers on the way, he thought, but even to him, it sounded hopeful. The timer read 9:04. The quiet thud of his shoes against the floor was uncomfortably loud.

The next room, and the next, were empty. In the third room, a viewing deck with wide windows onto the shades of black that made up the scene outside, there was a soft sound just as Warren’s shoe hit the floor. A little thrill of adrenaline went through him. He turned to stare into the shadows of the dim room, but there was nothing. Had it been his own footsteps? He couldn’t be sure. Damn it. He snatched a glance at the timer. 7:27. Through the window, the black water and inky sky were nearly indistinguishable.

Uneasily, Warren turned and kept walking, a little faster now. There was nothing there. There was nothing on this entire goddamn ship. After a few paces, the metal behind him gave a quiet creak, as if adjusting under weight. He turned again, but only thick shadows filled the room. He couldn’t make out anything beyond ten feet. How was it so dark? The watch read 6:14. He hit the clear button one more time as he walked quickly between the rows of plastic seats. He must be nearing the stern by now. He squinted at the sign on the nearing bulkhead. Stairs? He couldn’t quite read it. Something shifted just beyond the edge of his vision. Warren itched to turn around, just like he used to when he would walk down the dark hall towards his room. He shoved open the door with his shoulder and started down the narrow stairway without pausing to check if it was the right one. It might be. He was halfway down when the door thudded closed softly behind him. Warren sped up. His head brushed the ceiling. He could barely see his feet. He missed a step and stumbled the last few feet, colliding with the door. He thought he caught the sound of footsteps on the stairs, but the thud of his heartbeat was superimposed over everything.

The little green numbers read 3:46.

Warren stumbled down the hallway. There was a sign on the wall, but he couldn’t read it. The hallway was cramped and pitch-black. Soft sounds came from the darkness behind him, what sounded like muffled footsteps, creaks, something dragging. His eyes scanned frantically for the doorway as he hurried down the cramped hall.

2:03.

He could just discern the rectangle of deeper black on the wall up ahead. Warren broke into a run. The rush of the blood in his ears and the echo of his footsteps reverberating through the ship drowned out any sound behind him. He ducked through the doorway, fumbled for the knob, and slammed the door shut behind him. 1:35. He whirled to scan the room, but it was too dark. Blotches of black might have been chairs, but he couldn’t even see the controls. No, no, no.

1:03.

Something scratched against the linoleum floor outside. Warren stumbled back from the door and collided with something behind him. He scrambled again to his feet. His heartbeat was a roar. Through it, he thought he could hear the doorknob creak as it turned. Did it lock? The shades of darkness were becoming one. He couldn’t make out the room around him. He held up his wrist and even the numbers were going dark. 0:34.

Something dragged against the metal of the door. The adrenaline was bright and dizzying.

0:21.

Warren stared into the dark, but he couldn’t see anything but black. The watch was dim.

0:15.

Quiet footsteps outside. He thought he heard the door move.

0:08.

Heard it open? He couldn’t see. He couldn’t see anything. He heard movement, shifting, rustling, that same dragging.

0:05…

0:04…

Warren took a step backward and collided with the wall. The noises were getting clearer. Everything around him was black. He strained to read the numbers on the watch.

0:03…

0:02…

0:01 –