One By One. Short Story.

Mark sat on the bed, knees pulled tight to his chest. Someone knocked on his door.
“Go away.”
“It isn’t safe for you to be alone.”
“What does it matter? It isn’t safe with people either.”
“Just let me in.”
“Go away.”
They thumped on the door twice more, Mark sighed, “Fine. I’ll be out in a few minutes, ok?”
“Don’t take too long.”
Mark shook his head slightly. Samantha was always so pushy, why couldn’t she just leave things alone sometimes? He didn’t want to be around people, he just wanted to be left alone, to deal with things by himself. Of course she wouldn’t give him that luxury. Everyone else had the decency to let him grieve in peace, but not Samantha. He lowered his head onto his legs. He wanted to yell at her, to scream and shout, but he wouldn’t. He knew she meant well and in a way, that kind of made him feel a little bit better. It was nice to know that someone cared about him. He rubbed at his eyes to make sure there were no tears there, then he stood and stretched. Samantha was right, even if she could be annoying. He shouldn’t really be alone. That would make things more dangerous. He took a few deep breaths then unlocked the door and stepped into the hallway. Everyone would be in the hall no doubt. Most people had moved in there. Mark had never been a huge fan of the place. It always seemed just a little too big, just a little too clean.

He stepped into the hall and froze. He knew there weren’t many left, but seeing everyone here together, huddled in a circle really drove home how many were gone. He quickly counted, twenty four people left of seventy five. He felt his cheeks redden slightly as he saw Danny crying. It was selfish of him to lock himself away. He wasn’t the only one to lose someone. Even if they hadn’t lost family, everyone had lost friends. As he entered the room everyone looked up sharply, Samantha was there, she gave him a small smile. Her parents were holding onto her tightly. He was surprised they let her go to his room alone. People in the circle bunched up and made a little space for him, Mark grabbed his own sleeping bag and folded it over, using it as a makeshift cushion. Everyone was quiet. No one was talking. A few people were sniffing, holding back tears, while one or two were openly crying. “Any news?” everyone shook their heads, there were a few muted no’s. It was another two weeks before they were supposed to arrive, and another week before anyone would be able to get to them. It seemed like it had been longer than a week since the first noted disappearance. Three others had gone missing before that, but everyone just assumed they were somewhere else. In the week since the emergency beacon had been activated, fifty one people had disappeared. No one knew what happened to them, or where they had gone. The only thing they knew was that they were not on the ship anymore. On the second day search parties went out, checking over the ship, scans were performed, everything anyone could think of. There was no sign of any of the missing. The ship helpfully reported the number of living beings on board, it was never more than the passengers and crew and it counted down with each disappearance. What ever, or who ever was making everyone vanish still hadn’t been found. The last person to go, Jeremiah, had been by himself, everyone else had been in the hall. No one bothered searching for him. The ship reported him as gone, like it had with the others. Not that it would have helped Jeremiah if he had stayed with the group, plenty of others had simply vanished while in the presence of others too. One moment they would be there and everything was fine, the next they were gone without anyone seeing them leave or being taken.

Mark suspected that who ever was doing it had planned it. After all the communications failed about a week and a half into the voyage. Not a huge deal as they’re usually not used for anything too important, but it prevented them from reporting exactly what was happening on the ship. The only thing they could do was activate the emergency beacon. Who ever had stopped communications didn’t want anyone knowing what was going on on the ship. Maybe it was just some fucked up experiment and once you were disappeared you joined the others and at the end of it all you’d be let go. He had heard rumors of things like that before. Stories about how they ran experiments on ships, testing and prodding. Sometimes it was governments behind it, other times it was corporations. Mark hadn’t really believed them when he heard them, even if he did get a nervous tingle in his stomach every time he went on a long voyage.

That night Mark found it difficult to sleep. He kept tossing and turning. Every time he closed his eyes he saw his parents, smiling at him. It was hard, but he managed to stop the tears. He needed to be strong, everyone needed to be strong and work together to figure out a way to keep themselves safe. At some point Mark passed out.

He was woken by people shouting. He sat up and looked around, there were less people in the room, “They’re just gone, how could no one have heard it?”
Mark looked around the room, looking for who was missing. Samantha and her parents were gone, so was Danny and two others. His heart was thudding heavily in his chest, drowning out the sound of shouting. They were all going to vanish, there was no way they could stop it and no way they could hold out for another six days.

“Ok everyone, be prepared, we don’t know the nature of the emergency, once we find out what’s wrong, we’re going to have to work quickly. Are you all ready?”
“Yes, sir!”
“Good.”
He stepped through the airlock and waited for the door to open. When it did the captain was standing on the other side, smiling. “Welcome, please come aboard. I’m sorry for any panic that was caused, it was only a false alarm.”
“False alarm?”
“Yes, our communications failed a week and a half in, someone accidently set off the emergency beacon while trying to get them back online.”
“I see. We’re going to have to a full sweep of the ship to make sure everything is in order.”
“That’s perfectly all right, you’re welcome to take a look around.” The captain grinned, “it’ll be nice for everyone to see some fresh faces.”

They filed out of the ship and split into teams to conduct the search. They did a quick headcount in the hall, seventy five people, “and is this everyone present on the ship?”
“It is indeed.”
“Good. Stay here. Any people found outside that room will be dealt with with lethal force.”
The captain nodded, “I understand.”

The teams started to move through the ship, unaware that they were already missing three people.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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