I smell fish.
Oh god, no. I wake up in the captain’s cabin aboard a ship.
That means I’m either the captain or the captain’s comforter. No one else is here and the clothes fit me. Looking out I see I’m on the upper deck of a pretty big ship.
I get dressed and open the door. It’s the bridge. A guy is standing at the wheel. He turns around to greet me.
“Hey, Captain. Sleep well?”
“Yeah, sure. Great.” Wonderful. I know nothing about running a ship. But at least I have a crew. I’ll order them to do anything I don’t understand.
“That’s good,” says the fellow, beckoning me over. “Captain I’m having some trouble. Been waiting for you to come out. You came out of the door marked ‘Captain,’ so I’m assuming that’s you? I have to confess to you, I’m not sure where we’re going. I guess I nodded off here for just a second, but… well I simply cannot remember what to do. Am I even supposed to be here?”
The man seems completely lost.That’s two of us. “Which direction have we been going?” He points straight ahead. Nothing ahead but water. “Okay, keep going in that direction. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“But Captain!” objects the man. “I don’t feel right. Don’t leave me alone.”
“Look I will come back in a few minutes, I promise. Just keep going that way.” Okay, if he’s having a stroke and I’m transcarnated, I need to find someone competent to control this vessel.
I go outside and down a deck where I encounter a crewman cleaning gardening tools. “What body of water are we on?” I ask him.
“Nobody knows,” he shrugs, not looking up. “Something very weird is going on.”
Screams come from the main deck below. I lean over the rail to see a man in a state of panic. No one is trying to help him. He’s cowering on the deck in fetal position. I rush down to him. “Are you hurt?”
“It’s the water!” he trembles, curled into a quaking fetal position. “How did I get out here? I’m terrified of the ocean! I would never come out here! It’s a nightmare! My God, my God! What is going on? This makes no sense! Get me to land! Get me to the shore! Please!”
“I’m working on it,” I confidently assure him. Not gonna mention that I don’t know where we are.
Okay, I’m sensing a pattern. People don’t know where they are or why they’re here? That’s a regular day for me. I’m starting to feel right at home.
The sound of a jet engine in distress suddenly draws the attention of everyone on deck.
The sickening plunge of a large passenger jet into the water miles away is witnessed with a collective gasp.
Seeing this, a woman shrieks and jumps over the rail into the water before anyone can grab her.
Why would she do that? What the hell is happening? A single life preserver is thrown toward her. Can she reach it? Will she even try?
I return to the bridge, hoping to study the instruments and make sense out of them. The man who was steering is gone. The Captain’s door is open. I see a shadow move inside.
“Hey,” I shout, “how long has the ship been…?” But before I finish a man in a sleek diving suit comes out.
He pulls a knife, bringing it just short of my throat.
“I know the ships, captains, what they carry and how much that’s worth.Where are you hiding it?” demands the stranger.
“Cool, I haven’t had my throat slit yet,” I casually inform him. “Maybe that will end this for me. I’ll bet it hurts, though, even if only for a second…”
“You want me to kill you?” growls the intruder. I like that he knows what he’s doing.
“You know, you seem to be the only person on this ship who isn’t confused,” I observe. “The only one who knows what he’s doing here. Why is that?”
“Oh, I’m confused all right,” he complains, “because things aren’t where they’re supposed to be! Nobody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, anywhere. What is it with you bastards? It’s like the entire world is hung over.” He takes the knife away, pacing anxiously barefoot, flippers under his arm.
“Let me see if we can get some news,” I suggest.
“When I got up this morning my son was looking at everything like he was new to the 21st Century. I thought he was on drugs. I dropped him at the grandparents then went for breakfast. The streets were so empty it was spooky. Heard about a huge flurry of missing persons reports coming in to the police on the radio. At the restaurant waiters messed up orders, the food was shit, and I realized I hadn’t heard music all morning. Just then some hysterical nut case ran by claiming to have gone insane.”
I turn on the satellite feed for news from the mainland, whatever it may be. Channel after channel shows strangely abandoned cameras with static shots of people randomly milling about. I also see physical fights breaking out between individuals in all kinds of neighborhoods and office buildings. I finally get a channel with a news anchor, albeit a disheveled one.
“Things are happening weirdly,” the anchor reports tentatively. “I guess… um… Okay, home invasions are trending on social media. But social media itself is stuttering badly. None of my passwords are working. Um, okay… looks like aircraft are dropping out of the sky. This is happening everywhere. It’s like every pilot forgot how to fly all at once. Crashes abound. I canceled a flight for today only last week. Some police are robbing people at gunpoint. What? Oh my god. The world has gone crazy right along with me. Shit.”
All media feeds stop. All media goes dark.
“It’s as if everyone has forgotten who they are,” I point out.
“Except me, I guess. I’m an unassuming academic living in Saul Ste. Marie, Michigan and teaching at Lake Superior State University. I’m living at the junction of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and I secretly monitor every ship going to or from Lake Superior. I live in a modest apartment along Shunk Road with my son, and using some storage space rented in Bruce Township, I’m just a quiet professor leading a double life when my boy stays over with the grandparents. In my other life – this life before you now – I’m a phantom pirate known only by rumor in the high waters as The Great Laker. Ever heard of me?”
I nod negatively.
“No? Never heard of The Great Laker, armed with a sonar-proof pressure-adjusting uniform, an electric shock aura, a 6-hour oxygen belt, sonar vision, undersea lasers and four mini-mines? It’s a tragic story, mine is,” he opines. “I developed freshwater technology using assorted resources from the university allowing underwater activity in extreme conditions.But, unable to get anyone to help me commercialize my inventions because of their ‘limited market appeal’ I started using them to help myself.”
“A pirate, out here on a job all by yourself?”
“Well,” laughs the Great Laker, reveling in revelation, “picking off the salties is lucrative and simple.You know what a…? Well salties are the only ocean-going vessels small enough to pass through all the sea locks of the Great Lakes.”
“We’re on the Great Lakes?”
“You’re the Captain!” shouts the Great Laker. “You don’t know Lake Superior when you’re ridin’ her?”
“I’m…never mind.” What’s the point?
The Great Laker is enjoying his sharing. Obviously he has no one to talk to about his capers but now I’m a captive audience. “Salties are smaller boats and likely to be carrying as much light weight precious cargo as possible – unlike your vessel, a laker. Taking on the lakers is a challenge.Yours are the biggest boats, thousand foot single aft superstructures too large to leave the upper lakes.The target aboard might be hard to reach, but the scale of the ship itself gives refuge during the operation, shelter against storm and prying eye. And of course nearly 5,000 shipwrecks lie at the bottom, some holding bountiful treasures awaiting some future organized expedition. As The Great Laker I can get to some of them now.”
“You have a son,” I remind him. “What happens to him if you go to prison? Or worse?”
“I have no choices,” the Great Laker insists. “Without the money to pay for my family’s health care I lost my wife to heart disease and my daughter to cancer. Now my son is left. So I’m very careful. Never talkative like this. But…today, there is definitely something going on with almost everybody. Something freaky… anyway, my jobs are clandestine. I mean, what if the cargo vanishes somewhere between start and finish without a hint it’s happening? Cargo has been replaced with fakes that can go undetected for years. Like I said, I’m a phantom.”
It appears that everybody is in my boat, both literally out here on Lake Superior and figuratively everywhere else. We’ve all just arrived in a new Earth and none of us know what we’re doing. Zero guidance. Mass transcarnation. I turn on the ship’s intercom.
“Steady,” I say, my voice booming above the din. “Listen up. I’m experienced with what you’re going through. We can survive this if we stop panicking. Now I know this sounds crazy, but only one thing is gonna straighten this out for all of us…
“We all need to fall asleep.”
Then a blow to my back takes the air out of me. As blood gurgles up my throat the Great Laker whispers in my ear, “Thanks for listening.”