The Halloween Project 2022 - Story 7: Horror on the Douro
Abilio, nicknamed “O”, a staff member on the cruise ship, discovered the severed foot in the pool.
The Amelia Rodrigues, a beautiful new river cruise liner, had never experienced a minute of controversy since it launched in 2019. Within minutes word traveled fast, and a demanding horde of passengers crowded the small front lobby. On this journey, the ship carried only 48 guests, less than half its capacity. The 22 staff members took pride and care of the passengers on the 125-mile journey from Porto to Barca d’Alva on the Portuguese Douro River.
“Enough! Please!” shouted Captain Da Costa over the heads of staff and guests.
“Be calm and rest assured, we are doing everything necessary to prepare for our next stop in Barca d’Alva. There are no ports in between.” He hesitated, then began again with a deep breath.
“We have no victim. We’ve accounted for all the staff and the passengers. No one is missing.” He shook his head.
“And what about us?!” a voice on the edge of frantic shouted.
The captain turned. His presence quieted the crowd. He was in his 40’s, excessively handsome, with a bearing that spoke of competence and resolve.
“You trusted me to pilot this ship over 100 miles. Trust me now to deal with this…situation. Go back to your cabins…or to the bar,” and he gestured with a gentlemanly sweep of the arm. It was 7:00 P.M. the setting sun spraying golden rays on the wake left behind.
Grumbled voices snapped and chattered, as passengers made off for the captain’s options: here the bar, there a cabin.
Two dozen men and women sat around the bar and in surrounding couches and overstuffed chairs. Gabriela and Branca served drinks nonstop. Ranging in age from 50 to 75 the guests were a crosscut of educated Americans. The National Trust, Smithsonian, Colgate, Bryn Mawr, Notre Dame and the Universities of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington were all represented. Cocktails poured and a general sense of dread and accompanying fear was supplanted by the wit and humor that mounts when alcohol runs. Conjecture flew.
"Who was it that died? Was it an accident that occurred in the 100-foot high lock the ship had passed through hours earlier? How could they find just a foot? Has this ever happened on a cruise before? Or anything like this? Perhaps on a huge liner with a thousand passengers or more, but not here.”
The captain returned, moving fast, followed by two stewards, Claudio and Tomas, and the chef. All eyes and martini glasses turned.
“There has been another…accident. This time a young man has been found. One of the staff. Clearly something terrible is happening here and we are making all speed to arrive at Barca D’Alva.
We should be there by 1:00 A.M. Perhaps you should all go to your cabins.”
“What happened to the ‘young man’” Rita intoned.
“We’re not sure, except to say that he perished”.
“Where? How?” she persisted.
“Perhaps that is best left for the authorities when we reach Barca d’Alva.”
A scream rang out above decks. The encroaching night had enclosed the small liner in a darkness carved from a moonless sky and vertical grapevine hillsides cloaked in shadow. The captain insisted, “Return to your cabins, please. We will send around staff members to check on you and take a roll call.”
“Do you think any of us are missing? Do you think one of us might be…?” Rita’s voice trailed off.
“I am not making any assumptions, but something very wrong is happening here. We must figure out what that is. We have radioed authorities and they will be waiting for us. Please, I insist, return to your cabins.”
Grumbling and random questions emerged, but movement broke the seated guests. Many made another trip to the bar to re-fill their cocktails, several asking for double shots of whiskey.
Eventually, quickly or lingering, everyone moved toward the cabins beyond the foyer. T.V. and wifi were non-existent as had been predicted by the cruise line. The mountains bordering the Douro were steep and close. Signals simply failed. The first hour was quiet. Quiet beyond that of the hills and the water. Quiet seeped in through the doorways. Through the French balcony door. Quiet unexpected and poised as if waiting.
Then the screaming began. From the bow. Then the stern. A moment later shrieking from the top open floor, where the pool ran red and chaises were flipped and stained. Footsteps running, crashing, falling. Pleas for help emanated from all corners of the ship. Crashes unknown and unknowable. Dishes tumbling, The smell, perhaps of smoke or something else. Then a waning, keening high-pitched voice, slowly dwindling, quieter now. And silence crept into the ship.
The engines stopped. The Amelia Rodrigues came to a halt in the middle of the Douro. Few lights on the shoreline barely dotted the arched cliffsides.
The intercom in each cabin beeped.
“Dear passengers, this is Captain DaCosta. We know that you have all been frightened by the sounds you have heard onboard over the last hour. We have the situation under control and ask that all of you please move now to the community room and bar. We will explain all that has happened and why the ship has stopped.”
The intercom fell into silence.
Slowly, hesitantly, doors cracked, heads peered out, right then left. First steps taken. Then in each hallway passengers emerged, holding hands, moving, just barely moving, toward the community room. Passing through the foyer, beyond the bar, finding cushions and fellow guests they had come to befriend. The quiet prevailed.
DaCosta entered the room wearing a new uniform, crisp and straight on his strong form. Close behind he was followed by Claudio, Tomas, “O”, Gabriela and Branca. No drinks were poured. A minute passed then DaCosta turned.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen,” he repeated slowly, emphasizing each syllable.
“This plan of ours has been in the works for more than a year. This is our celebration. Our New Year’s Day. Our birthdays. All rolled into one.”
Passengers looked at each other. Comprehension lost.
“We were 22. The staff I mean. Now we are six. “
“What?!” a voice called from the back.
“We are six. And you are 48. Well, not really, perhaps 41 or 42. We are not really sure at this point. After the last hour.” He looked back at his crew and they all, to a person, smiled.
“Why has the ship stopped?” one of the Smithsonian members asked.
“Well, we have business to take care of. With you. With each and every one of you. Now. Here on the Douro. On this ship. On the Amelia Rodrigues. Tonight.”
“What are you talking about Captain? You’re not making sense!”
“Let me explain very simply. On this boat. This evening. Here in Portugal…” He spread his arms wide to the crew flanking him.
“There are vampires.”
The Amelia Rodrigues lights extinguished, joining the darkness of river and hill.
And the screaming began again.