Marie E. Reid
Marnie Tolliver lay back on the lounge chair on the verandah outside her cabin. How appropriate that the sky was as dark and gloomy as her thoughts. The recent death of her mother had been a psychological blow. Everyone knew her mother was going to die; yet the actuality had been debilitating. And coming home each night to the house they had shared since her father’s death seemed pointless. Her mother’s presence hovered over every room, but the house was void of all warmth. Yet, it wasn’t until her aunt Margaret suggested a cruise that Marnie even contemplated the idea of getting away.
Margaret Tolliver, Mags to family and close friends, was Marnie’s paternal aunt. Even after her father’s death several years ago, her aunt had kept in touch with her sister-in-law, Marnie’s mother. And Mags had been a godsend during those last days of her mother’s illness. She had moved in, helped with the nursing, and she had promised to stay as long as Marnie needed her.
“Come on, Marnie, you need the break,” her aunt had said. “I’ll make the arrangements. You just go, relax, and take care of yourself. Nursing your mother while working a full time job . . . you have to be exhausted.”
“Thanks, Mags, I guess I could use a time out.”
So, here she was, on a cruise, sailing out of Fort Lauderdale on the Holland America cruise ship, MS Rotterdam. She had been at sea for two days; it seemed like more. And still, she couldn’t shake the haunting memories of her mother’s last days. Of course, she hadn’t done anything to occupy her mind. She spent most of her time in her cabin moping. Well, the first port of call was Puerto Limón, Costa Rica. She had signed up for the shore excursion into the rain forest. Maybe communing with nature would shake her from her stupor.
Suddenly, Marnie bolted upright. Disoriented, she looked around, not sure what had captured her attention. She remained still, head cocked to one side, she listened. Then she heard it, the sound of someone knocking. Re-entering her cabin, she hurried to the door.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“Housekeeping,” came the muffled reply. Marnie opened the door. “Would like service today?” the steward asked.
“No, thanks, not now,” she said. “I’ll be out of the room for dinner around eight. You can take care of everything when you come to turn the bed down.”
“Thank you,” came the smiling response.
Marnie closed the door, looked at her watch, and was surprised to see that it was three-thirty in the afternoon. Where had the day gone? If she didn’t snap out of this malaise, the trip and Aunt Margaret’s money would be wasted.
Marnie went into the bathroom and started the shower. Maybe a hot shower held the mystery to the relaxation she was supposed to be enjoying. While she waited for the water to warm up, she turned and stared at her reflection in the mirror. The haggard look that had concerned Aunt Margaret was clearly visible. Her hazel-green eyes had lost their sparkle, and her reddish-brown hair was limp; it could use a good wash and condition. And those dark circles under her eyes made her look like a raccoon. Her ginger-colored skin seemed sallow. Hell. She was only thirty-five years old; she looked older.
Disgusted with the macabre mask of her former self, Marnie spun away from the mirror, dropped her robe to the floor and stepped into the shower. She adjusted the showerhead and stood motionless beneath the pulsating sting of the water. She allowed her mind to go blank, fully concentrating on releasing the pent up tension of the past few months. She was on this cruise to soothe her soul, and to escape the pain of her loss, not to sit around brooding.
Feeling refreshed from the shower, Marnie laid out her clothes for dinner. To jump-start the healing process, she decided a little narcissism wouldn’t hurt. She meticulously dried and styled her hair, and then she did her nails, knowing that the strappy sandals she planned to wear would display her brightly colored toenails and her toe ring. By the time she was done, the illuminated dial of the bedside clock drew her attention to the time; seven forty-five. In a panic, she jumped to her feet. She was never late; she dressed in record time.
Rushing from her cabin, it wasn’t until she was in the corridor that she noticed the choppy movement of the ship. She held on to the side rails as she hurriedly made her way to the dining room. After dinner, she strolled along the promenade, looking in shop windows as she moved toward the bank of elevators closest to her stateroom.
It was relatively early when Marnie reached her cabin. So she quickly undressed, showered, donned her nightgown, and then she laid out her clothing for the morning’s excursion into the rainforest. Retrieving the brochures about the rainforest that she had collected at the tour counter when she signed up, she climbed into bed. She perused the booklets, and then she set them aside, still not understanding what she was going to see. But, according to her aunt, it was a mystical place . . . a place of peace and harmony. Well, whatever . . . her aunt had paid for her to go on this outing, so she would go. But the bottom-line . . . she couldn’t work up any enthusiasm about it.
Marnie switched off the lights, snuggled down beneath the covers and immediately fell asleep.
The ship had already docked when Marnie woke the next morning. Infusing a little excitement into her demeanor, she quickly dressed and made her way up to the Lido Deck for breakfast. Opting for a light meal, she had half a grapefruit, a cup of coffee, and a bowl of raisin bran. Afterwards, she hurried to her assigned departure area.
Once her group left the ship, they formed a clique around their designated bus, clamored aboard, and headed out. Listening to the non-stop babble of her fellow travelers, the time passed swiftly. When they arrived at the entrance to the forest, a deafening sound of silence erupted into the incessant chatter inside the bus. Marnie stared out the window, mesmerized by the sight of such rich green foliage and the mist that seemed to envelop yet evaporate as the bus plowed forward.
The bus pulled into a parking lot dotted with other buses and came to a stop. Marnie emerged captivated by the magical quality of the setting, and attuned to the sounds . . . birds chirping, and insects buzzing. Her attention floated back to reality with the intrusive sound of the tour guide’s voice giving the standardized instructions about the necessity of staying together. When the guide started off down a trail leading deeper into the forest, Marnie and her fellow companions dutifully followed. As the trail narrowed, they were forced to walk two abreast, which left Marnie to bring up the rear alone.
Engrossed in the beauty and the musical sounds of nature, Marnie had no idea when, or how, she got separated from the rest. But she didn’t panic. She had a good sense of direction and she was sure she could find her way back to the bus. Continuing along the isolated path, she moved deeper into the forest. Then suddenly, she stopped. Head tilted to one side, she listened. A hushed silence enveloped her. The birds had stopped twittering; the insects had quit buzzing.
Marnie moved forward cautiously; she had the eerie feeling of being watched. Pulling her camera from her bag, she held it up to her eye, and panned the area while she adjusted the focus. Through the view finder, she noticed what appeared to be a face, partially obscured by the shadow of the trees. She lowered the camera and stared at the place where the face had been. It was gone. Pretending a nonchalance that she didn’t feel, she moved forward while peripherally keeping sight of the place where the face had been. When the face didn’t reappear, she shrugged. Maybe her imagination was on overload. The place did have a whimsical quality.
She lifted the camera up to her face and proceeded to take pictures of the surrounding area. There were exotic flowers that she couldn’t identify. But she wanted to capture their beauty in just the right light so she could have the picture enlarged and framed for her aunt.
After several shots from different angles, Marnie continued her trek deeper into the forest until she entered a small clearing. It appeared to be a perfect circle, which made her think of the pictures she had seen of crop circles, and a cold tingling sensation shot to her nerve endings. Cautiously, she moved forward until she felt she was dead center, then she stopped. She lifted her camera to her face, and was about to pan the area when she froze.
Marnie was no longer alone.
©Marie E. Reid