Chapter 8 - The Captain of the Barge

I was inside our room with Molly once again. She was not saying anything: she just kept on sobbing. Why ate? Why... hic... hic... I was faithful. I was faithful until the end. I even promised myself that I will be serious this time. I’m head over heels in love with him. But he said that he didn’t feel the same, that he never did. He just dated me because of my looks—never of my whole being, uwaaa...

It was the worst. 

I was never good at consoling people and giving them pieces of advice. I tried comforting my sister but with no avail. I didn’t even know the boyfriend Molly was referring to since she had been dating down to an art, to begin with. I even attempted asking WikiHow about how to comfort someone who had just had a breakup when a message came in.

Teacher Jelly, the headmaster wants to talk with you regarding your late submissions.

It was teacher Grumpy. Oh, no. I had been passing my LPs late. 

I was about to send a reply when I heard a feeble voice calling me out: Elly... Elly! Hey… you... wake... 

I jerked up and hungrily gasped for air. People were about the perimeter. A middle-aged man was over me—checking me up.

“Are you alright? Here, try to hoist yourself up slowly,” the man suggested with a lot of concern in his voice. He supported me up to lean against his left arm.

“Jelly! Oh, my God, we thought you’re gone!” Ritchelle interjected.

“Hey! What are you saying? It’s just you, not we. And, don’t say that, Ritch. You’re scaring her,” Alyssa added.

“Hey, Elly, can you hear me? I know it’s hard, but please keep on breathing,” Vhina said seriously, putting her hands on my cheeks. She thought she had just given me a bit of good advice, but somehow, with her choice of words, it seemed kind of off.

“Everyone, kindly clear up the area,” the man requested, who was evidently a doctor. His facial features were of a robust type for an Asian man. He had a good-looking face with a well-trimmed beard paired with a strong jaw and a short but attractive goatee.

Something started boiling in my chest.

I went over a lot of check-ups and interrogations by the doctor, accompanied by teacher Mary, when the crowd had subsided. I could hardly notice the surrounding people—my eyes couldn’t maintain focus. My glasses, according to Ritchelle, were nowhere to be found. I felt groggy and fell asleep.

† † †

I was almost drowning in my sweat when I woke up. I was lying on a makeshift bed made of random clothes and blankets. I checked my surroundings: nothing much was around except my stuff. I was inside a small space with a pointed roof: surely a kind of tent. I studied the cramped space that might have been oddly cozy if not for the temperature. It was too hot inside, so I decided to go out.

People were busy amidst the glare of the torturing sun. I could count to almost half of the number of people I had counted on the barge, including the crew. I saw the doctor who helped me earlier attending to someone else now. The young-looking, old lady I had seen on the barge was walking around, giving pieces of pan burikat and different types of chicharon to eat. The Pikachu shirt had been replaced with a tiled-Jigglypuff sweater. 

What was with this manang?

The shoreline was dotted with different makeshift tents that were made of almost anything—from cloth to wood and metal that might have been pulled out harshly from somewhere. 

Metal? 

In a matter of seconds, it all went back to me. 

The barge!

I approached teacher Mary who was keenly observing the people doing things on the shore. “Where’s the barge, cher?”

“Oh, Jelly! Glad you’re already awake. Have you eaten already? Ate Corazon, can I ask for some food and water?”

The old lady who was handing out provisions came and greeted us awkwardly. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’ve run out of food already. Maybe we can get some inside the island. There might be locals here as well.” The Jigglypuffs were all crumpled and soggy from her sweat.

“That’s okay, te. Besides, I’m not that hungry yet,” I lied, trying my best to suppress my hunger.

“Well, if you say so. Thank you, ate. Now, what were you asking me?” teacher Mary clarified after the old lady scurried away.

“About the barge, and also these.” I gestured around the camp.

“Oh, yes. By the time I woke up, we were already ashore on an island. We tried to use our phones with no avail. We couldn’t get any signal. People were crying, especially the students. They were in the orange tent, by the way.” She pointed at the awful tent on the left side of the shore. It had no orange color at all, except for the bold word “ORANGE” that was rashly stenciled on a piece of driftwood. It was hung around a protruding metal from the pointed roof. Teacher Mary might have been the one who initiated the idea. She was an organized person and on top of that, she loved colors. But with the lack of actual colors, she improvised. “The barge has been anchored behind that cliff where you can find a cove, and we’ve got a situation.  Some passengers are missing. I’m afraid to tell you but there’s only half of us left.”

Jusko,” I said with a sinking heart, saddened by the news.

“Abled men are also trying to get the captain out of his cabin because he never got out. What terrified us was that he never once called out, nor even made a noise,” she said.

Teacher Mary went on talking about what had happened to the captain. She said that the captain’s cabin was not soundproof; he could have shouted or banged the door if he wanted to. She also added that there was a fresh pool of blood in one of the cabins of the crew. And that, they couldn’t identify what or whom the blood belonged to. “Let’s hope it’s not from one of the passengers. Also, we can’t exactly tell the hours we’ve been stranded here; our phones have been malfunctioning.”

However, teacher Mary had estimated that it had been two to five hours since then.

“Who are the ones missing?”

“I can’t even tell. I’d appreciate it if you take your rest for now. We will need a lot of manpower to at least survive another five hours, or a day if push comes to shove until rescue will arrive.”

Teacher Mary was sure one of our families would eventually notice something strange and report to the authorities. Some of us were trying all means of communication outside of the island as well.

“But, cher, please. Tell me who are missing among us at least,” I insisted.

She shot a menacing look straight at my eyes, trying to grasp what I was thinking through the doors of my soul. She should have understood why I’d be so concerned about it, and the relentless bravado I continually emitted should tip her. She might have noticed a flicker of my resolution that would not be shaken because she gave up and reluctantly sighed. “Seven. Five teachers and two students.”

“Who are they?”

“Please, don’t bother now, Jelly.”

“Please, teacher Mary. I should know! Are they my friends?” I cried out of anger and stress. 

“Yes. Blanch, Veruca, Chevonne, Josh, Samuel, and Arjun for the teachers. And—”

“The students?”

“Finlay and Priscilla.” She stiffened and changed her expression, then ordered, “Don’t give me that, teacher Jelly. Consider yourself in luck. Go back to your tent. Rest properly.”

She must have hinted I was about to give in. I unimaginably managed to pick myself back from an almost breakdown. 

“It’s too hot inside. Can I go inland and explore for a while?” I suggested. 

It made her mad and she approached me with an authoritarian gait, then she shot her face close to mine, leaving an inch gap between. “Go. Get. Some. Rest.”

I slouched my shoulders and pivoted to go back when a commotion brewed from the cove where the barge was anchored. Lots of people—mostly the crew—rushed to the ship, and shouts and screams followed suit. I squinted my eyes because I could not see it properly, but a figure was surely approaching us. Teacher Mary was just standing with crossed arms, indifferently assessing what the hullabaloo could be about. The figure reached us in a matter of seconds—out of breath. It was Alyssa. 

Teacher Mary allowed her a moment to catch her breath and ordered me to get some water for her to drink. Luckily, I still had my hydro flask in my bag. I gave it to Alyssa, who straightly drank from it, and after some mouthfuls, finally reported, “Cher, the captain’s cabin has been opened.”

We rushed to the cove. It was not afloat nor anchored in a manner that I thought it was: approximately one-fourth of it had already sunk. The water here was too shallow for us to walk across. If it was not, it would have been over for the captain already. 

People were now congregating around the captain’s cabin area. What intrigued me the most were their expressions; it seemed as though they had seen a ghost inside. 

“Give way. We would like to see what’s happening inside,” teacher Mary calmly said, rather, ordered, making sure that her voice resonated—not too loud nor too weak but intimidating enough for everyone to scurry aside. When we reached the threshold, our jaws dropped in the maddening sickness of the sight.

It was chaos. A disaster.

It looked like a monster had a wild party inside. The walls and furniture were all damaged, and some were wrecked by something unimaginable. Scratches could be seen everywhere: from the roof to the walls and on the floor. I kneeled to inspect them. 

It was nowhere near humane. 

Teacher Mary let out a screech when she saw a figure at the far corner of the room, which made me jump out of my place as I had never heard her screech before. I followed teacher Mary’s line of vision until I saw a blurred figure sitting on a sort of armchair. I squinted, but not enough light was reflected in my eyes for me to see the figure clearly, so I drew closer until it all became lucid enough for me to see the accentuated body line from the shadows. The figure was of a human being, but it looked weird. I dauntlessly moved closer until a crystalline view of it made me stop in my tracks, and the feeling of nausea climbed up my throat.

It was the captain sitting on his armchair—holding his own head. The neck area was a mess.

I lurched to the side and threw up. Teacher Mary collected herself and covered the decapitated corpse with the captain’s jacket, which was lying around, enough to cover the neck area up to the waist. The crew members were still barring people from entering, but some had seen the decapitated captain and retreated to the shore to spread the news. Other passengers were now coming and pushing each other around the perimeter of the deck. Teacher Norkie and Selena came to order people to vacate the area and to go back to their tents. The crew also helped in pacifying the passengers about what happened inside the cabin.

A ruckus had now erupted from the shore. The news spread like wildfire, and it was terrifyingly uncontrollable.

“Teacher Selena and teacher Norkie, please proceed to the orange tent and make sure the students don’t get to see this. In case they needed to relieve themselves, accompany them outside. Always, wherever they go,” teacher Mary hastily ordered.

The two teachers rushed to the tent and the rest of the crew continued clearing the place out, trying to be forceful as some of them were already forcing themselves in and crying out in gobbledygook. This kept the crew occupied, leaving teacher Mary and me alone in the cabin. Or so I thought.

“I’m so sorry, ma’am, but you will also need to leave this cabin,” one of the crew members dauntlessly asked teacher Mary as he noticed that we were still inside the cabin. “It’s something gruesome that you ladies would not fancy looking at.”

“Yes, we’ll leave in a moment. I’d like to investigate the situation. Is there anyone here who’s more suitable to do this job?” Teacher Mary flashed an ID to the crew’s face for a moment and pocketed it. “I’ll leave once you introduce me to someone I’m asking for.”

The man scratched his head and at length left us alone.

I moved closer to teacher Mary and asked, “What was that, cher?”

Teacher Mary moved a little bit farther from me; might be from the smell of my vomit. “Nothing. Just an ol’time job,” she matter-of-factly replied. “So, what could have happened here?”

We approached the captain’s study table and rummaged through anything that we could find. We found different IDs, personal belongings, some porcelain ceramics, and jars full of ginamos and hipon in the overhead cabinets. Teacher Mary was brave enough to put her hand in one of the pockets of the captain’s pants. She salvaged a purse, which contained ten five-centavo coins and three fifty-peso bills—also a condom. She threw it away in disgust and muttered something incomprehensible under her breath. She lifted the jacket she covered the body with to examine what the incident had left the captain with. Here, I went outside and sat on the cold, metal floor, putting my weight against the cabin’s icy wall. I sobbed and asked God why such thing had happened. It was starting to traumatize me.

After a few moments, teacher Mary went out and nudged my shoulders. I looked up and saw my reflection from the broken windows of the cabin: I had puffy eyes and my face was smudged from my tears. She might have noticed how I felt by the way she looked through me and thought of words she could use to ease my mental shock. 

“Let’s go back now,” she said afterward.

“What did you find out there, cher?” I murmured, trying my best to be stable.

She paused for a while, then said, “Nothing but one.”

“What was it?”

“It might be too gory for you to hear.”

“Try me, cher,” I lied, faking a front. I was terrified, but at the same time, I wanted to be indulged.

“It’s the captain’s right eye socket. It has been scooped deep and hard, enough to leave a bloody hollow. I couldn’t find an eyeball near the area. This hints that this is not of a natural occurrence. Someone must have killed the captain.”

“Well, it’s quite clear just by looking at the chopped neck. Does it not terrify you?” I remembered it again and started to feel like vomiting. 

Teacher Mary gave a wistful smile, and then she put an arm around my shoulders, supporting me on my feet. “I know it’s your first time to see such a sight. I might be asking too much from you, but please, try to forget what you have seen, or at most, get over it. You don’t want your students to see you like this. They’ll surely freak out, so please overcome this.”

I started sobbing again. How could she demand such an impossible thing? 

It would take forever for me to forget such a gruesome scene. If only I had not accepted to be part of this training camp in the first place, things would have been different. If only not for my romantic encounter!

Teacher Mary comforted me for a while before we went down the deck. We were guided by some crew off the barge and into the water. 

Sloshing their way from the shore, Vhina and Ritchelle greeted us halfway with worried faces. I tried my best to act cool and indifferent to the matter.

“Hey, how are the students?” I intrepidly asked while keeping my voice from cracking.

“They’ve stopped crying and teacher Selena found a way to keep them occupied. Is it true there?” Vhina boldly asked, pointing to the nearly half-sunken ship with teary eyes.

“We’ve heard stories but they varied from person to person. What really happened?” Ritchelle asked. Her knees were starting to wobble. I sensed that they might have been horrified. How would I tell them what we had seen inside? 

Teacher Mary handed me out to them and told us to go back to the shore immediately. When asked where she was going, she told us there were some things she needed to examine. 

She sloshed back to the barge, then turned and gave me a look for a second that I automatically understood. She reached the barge in no time and talked to the crew. They lifted and assisted her up and around the deck.

“So, will you fill us in?” Vhina started as soon as teacher Mary was out of sight.

“Why so eager? Let’s get back to the tent first. I’ll tell you everything there.”

Right after we reached inside the rashly made shelter of a tent, Vhina handed my hydro flask and I snatched it out of her hands. I jugged a mouthful, sighed deeply, and then told them everything we had seen. Ritchelle could not believe it and started crying her eyes out. She slumped and threw herself to Vhina, who was oddly calm about what she had heard.

 “Trust me, guys, I know how this would turn out. We’ll get killed before anyone can even rescue us!” Ritchelle said in a quavering voice.

Vhina started to sob a little, but her brows crumpled in a way that showed bravery and resiliency. I stood and slapped my cheeks, remembering teacher Mary’s look. 

I needed to cool my head and act accordingly from now on.

“We need to tell everyone about what really happened,” I announced with noodle knees.

“And, how? How are we going to tell them amidst the misunderstanding? It’s almost dusk and it would be too hard to gather them around. Some are already moving inland to find more food and locals. Some are even forming their own factions, not trusting the crew of the ship, not trusting us, believing that the only man who can get us out of here is already dead. Headless!” Ritchelle continued sobbing, then added, “We are now divided, Jelly. We can’t control them! We can’t do this.”

“I know, but somehow we need to break the news to them. It will leave a bad taste in my mouth if we keep it to ourselves.”

“Wouldn’t it be much better if we gather the teachers first?” Vhina suggested.

“Yes, we’ll do that first. And the students. No matter what happens, don’t tell them. This kind of crap is too much for them!” I lashed out.

“What about the rest? There are still some who can’t decide for themselves and chose to stay on the shore. They might be hoping for us to do something since they think we are the capable-looking ones.”

Ritchelle wiped her tears and brought herself up to her feet. She grabbed my shoulders, forcing me to sit on my makeshift bed. “Jelly, I’ll gather everyone that I can around here, teachers and strangers alike. You tell them the news while we keenly observe each one of them for any suspicious acts.”

“I’ve seen the doctor went to the barge earlier. Teacher Mary might have called him for some help with the matter. I think he’s out of the picture,” Vhina shared.

“How about the varsity guy? He has a large built and he surely is suspicious, bringing that baseball bat with him. I don’t believe he keeps it around solely for self-defense,” Ritchelle asked Vhina with curious and somewhat vengeful eyes. I couldn’t follow with the conversation they were having. 

“I’ve seen him go inland. He was with a lot of younger women and as I’ve heard, he assured them that he will protect each one of them with all his strength. If he’s the one, he’ll be a tough one to bring down.”

“Are there any suspicious-looking guys you’ve noticed?”

“None that I can remember. Why are we deducing it to guys only? Women are also capable of doing it.”

“Well, are there any suspicious-looking women that you think could have done such a terrible thing?”

“Um... none that I can think of.”

“So, we don’t have a lead yet. How about the teachers?”

“Where is this coming from, Ritch? How could we do such a thing?”

“You know pretty well that we can’t rule ourselves out here, Vhi. He or she might be among us, lurking around the shore at this moment.” Ritchelle touched her chin, thinking hard, almost recovering from the shock of the news. She was rather moving on faster than I thought she could. 

“So, this might be something that happened between the time the captain warned us of the seaquake while we were on the barge, and the time we all got washed ashore here. Anyone remembers who woke up first?”

I could not stand it anymore so I jolted up on my feet, bringing my fists up in the air, and in a confused but inquisitive manner asked, “Hey, you two, stop it! I can’t understand a thing you’re saying. What are you up to? What’s with all the nonsense you’re talking about?”

They gawked at me, and then they looked each other in the eye. With a sigh of finality, Vhina answered, “Elly, we are trying to trace the captain’s murderer. He or she is absolutely one of us.”

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