Passengers, All

Fiction

Image by Ray Harrington

     Cold Pacific waters drip from the river otter’s fur as she bounds along the pebbled ocean shore, her hunt for shelter having led her to the edge of her usual territory. She blinks, staring through the shredded mist at the tilted ferryboat on the sandstone shoal ahead.

     On the bank, a cedar groans, firs whisper in fear. To the south, where the trees dull into fog, the leaden gray bulk of an impending superstorm looms. A hollow log or shallow den is not enough to weather the violence that ever-changes the coastline. The otter’s den has washed out in the last storm, the clay bank slumping under a watery onslaught.

     She lopes toward the rusted ferry, down salt-weathered bedrock, past limp dead wrack, rotting sea stars, and empty mussel shells. A dozen too-smooth, too-round logs jumbled against the ferry hull make a convenient bridge. She bounds along the largest one, then dives under the ferry’s submerged railing to arise on the slanted deck. She stops, wrinkling her nose at the foul odor of diesel, then scrabbles across the rust-streaked surface past huddled cadavers of cars and trucks.

     A sudden click and the otter jumps sideways. From the solar paneled roof, an automated recording begins to blare.

Welcome aboard Cascadia Ferries. Your safety is important to us.

     The otter’s whiskers twitch, then she leaps from stair to stair, reaching the foredeck through the half-open door rusted in place. Dank waters lap the leeward side, and the otter paddles with her hind feet before slithering out onto the pristine blue carpeting that slopes upward. She slips be- tween rows of vinyl seats and sneezes several times. No sheltering hollows here.

Please report any safety concerns or questions via the easily-downloadable phone app. Note that you may see government drones taking water samples, or the flashing of garbage patch warning lights, or vessels retrieving dead marine mammals. These are routine operations and are not considered hazardous.

     Mid-way across the lounge, the otter bats at a shampoo bottle bobbing gently against an opened suitcase, the imprinted instructions of “rinse and repeat” still persisting a full decade after the tragedy. An abrupt gust of wind rocks the ferry, sending icy waves sloshing over the otter’s back and against the intact seats.

     An oolichan struggles feebly, caught in a swirl of plastic trash. The otter gulps down the tiny fish and glides farther into the room, eyes bright for burrows or tunnels.

Be advised that sudden weather events may occur. The continual underestimation of the size and virulence of recent superstorms by the Canadian government exempts Cascadia Ferries from any liability. Please see our website for further information.

     By the stern door, fetid clothing jumbles with greenish bones. A broken skull juts from salt-crust- ed rags, empty eye sockets facing upward.

We appreciate your patronage and your trust during these trying times. Cascadia Ferries strives for the comfort and safety of our passengers.

     The voice shrinks to an uncertain whisper as the solar cells’ batteries near depletion for today.

     The ferry rocks slightly and something metallic creaks loudly far below. The smell of diesel grows stronger. The otter slips out between the rear doors.

     There can be no shelter here.

Thank you for sailing with Cascadia Ferries.

     As the otter crosses back ov*er the slippery logs, a faint rainbowed sheen appears on the water next to the rusted hull and begins to spread with each lap of the waves.

     On the top rail, a cormorant shakes his head, once, twice, before flying off over the restless gray chop.

     Clouds bruise the sky and the wind has grown chill. The superstorm will arrive soon.

     The otter glances back and sneezes once again before heading north along the shore toward Deso- lation Sound. She runs swiftly along the high tide mark, dodging debris, bound to the earth and the ocean, a passenger still.

Holly Schofield’s stories have appeared in Lightspeed, Analog, Escape Pod, and many other publications throughout the world. You can find her at hollyschofield.wordpress.com.