The Passenger in Cabin Seven: What would you do? A short story about the Ebola crisis by W.C. Turck

The storm lashed the great cruise ship from stem to stern. The storm had grown out of the mid-Atlantic almost unnoticed a few days before. For the twenty-two hundred and eighty one passengers and crew on board the “Song of the Caribbean” the storm was of little concern, except for the breathtaking sunrises the first week out to sea. That evening the waves were up. The crew watched the storm turn, growing to a category one Hurricane and knew they couldn’t outrun it, but at better than fourteen hundred feet in length and a dead weight tonnage of two hundred thousand pounds the storm was of less concern than the passenger in cabin seven.

“We’ll make for port at Port de Paix,” Captain Arneaux’s white bearded face was lit by the radar screen before him.

First officer Peters, a capable Norwegian who’d cut his sea teeth as skipper of a NATO Frigate before running freighters through the pirate infested waters off Somalia, was at his shoulder. He’d worked beside Arneaux for the better part of 10 years aboard Song, the two of them closer than many married couples.

“If the Haitian’s give us permission.”

“Any word from the line?”

“They’re trying?’ said Peters. “The storm’s turn caught everyone off guard. Warnings are up and the government’s priority will be on preparations.”

Arneaux nodded thoughtfully and sighed. It was weighted by worries about the passenger in cabin 7. The ship had already been refused entry into two ports, despite repeated guarantees that the passenger had been quarantined and confined to her cabin. Arneaux looked up at Peters, finding his piercing green eyes. Peters’ brow was bent with mounting tension.

“They won’t make us face a cat one storm in the open ocean,” said Arneaux. “I won’t allow it either.”

But the Haitians did refuse their port, followed by island nation after island nation. Three days earlier Mexico and Belize had denied them port. Meanwhile the storm grew stronger, seeming to chase after the ship. It added to the mounting tensions of both crew and passenger; all that tension and worry embodied in the passenger in cabin seven. The specter of contamination to the other passengers and beyond took on monumental proportions. Governments, fearing that the disease might spread to their shores banned the ship from docking. The Cubans sent a pair of gunships to shadow the cruise ship for simply passing close to its shoes.

By midnight the storm was now a category five storm, with winds howling near the center at better than one hundred and twenty miles per hour. Arneaux knew for certain that they’d not make it home to port in Florida. Simply the attempt would put them into open ocean and fully at the storm’s mercy. He closed the decks and asked that passengers remain in their cabins. Passing west of Pas de Paix, Arneaux knew he could not turn back. He had another plan; one he hoped would protect the ship and her precious cargo.

Rain Squalls and howling winds buffeted the ship with ever increasing intensity. Even the crew was forbidden on deck except for emergency operations. It was simply too dangerous. Massive waves hammered the Song. By midday the storm had grown to a bludgeoning power the likes of which Arneaux could not recall in his five decades at sea. They pummeled the ship with such force that Arneaux feared losing control to the storm at every moment. The Song of the Caribbean was fighting for its life now.

The sea was a monster. The waves rose and fell like mountains, carrying the ship up one mountain only to plunge it downward a moment later with such force that Arneaux and the exhausted crew on the bridge felt certain they would dive headlong beneath the waves and drive straight for the bottom of the sea. The heat rose in the wheelhouse with the fevered sweat of men and women engaged in mortal combat with sea and storm. Evidence of that effort fogged the windows and painted the faces of that stalwart crew.

Arneaux watched with horror as the churning gray sky disappeared as the ship slid fast and steep into one of these monstrous waves. He caught his breath, his heart interrupted a moment from its maddening rhythm. He nearly crossed himself, certain the ship was doomed, but just at that moment a young sailor, sharing that same terror, looked to him. Arneaux, hoping to rally the young woman’s faltering spirits gave a reassuring nod. This was the worst of the storm, at least for the Song. The eye of the hurricane and the deadliest winds ground across the Caribbean one hundred and eleven miles northeast, but even here, Arneaux understood, it was far more than the ship was designed to sustain for very long.

At that moment the whole ship seemed to rise as if lifted. For just an instant it was suspended between two waves. Everyone aboard felt the ship fall before it was hammered sideways by a punishing wave. The impact tossed Arneaux, First Mate Peters and the rest of the crew around the bridge like rag dolls.

Shaken but unhurt, they climbed back to their stations, but Peters and Arneaux knew instantly. Their eyes met from across the bridge. A moment later the helmsman turned and announced that he’d lost all control of the ship. The Song was helpless. When word came minutes later that the ship was taking on water Arneaux pondered the order that every Captain dreads. The damage was far too great. He gave the Song of the Caribbean no more than seven hours before would she sink beneath the waves forever.

“I’ve no choice, Mister Peters,” he announced. “No one can help us in this weather.”

The lifeboats were enclosed and could be put to sea to give the passengers their best opportunity at survival. Though the storm was beginning to wane, it was much too late for the ship. There was just one last consideration. Arneaux could feel himself aging for it already. What was to be done with the passenger in cabin seven?

“I’ll remain on the bridge until the last person is off,” he said grimly. “I’ve got an assignment for you, if you are able.”

“Cabin Seven?” Peters replied knowingly, his gut tightening. He knew what the captain was about to ask of him. “Is there no other way?”

“Tell me now if you cannot carry out the order,” said Arneaux, “but I cannot risk the lives of any other passengers.”

“We don’t even know for certain that she is infected. The incubation period…”

“Can you afford to take such a chance?”

“There is no other choice?”

“To risk the lives of hundreds or thousands? There is no time.”

“What if , if she…”

Peters was silent for a dreadfully long moment. The weight of this eclipsed the storm still raging around the ship. Peters nodded once. Arneaux laid a hand on the man’s shoulder.

“She cannot leave the ship, but we cannot leave her to drown. I take all responsibility. In my cabin you will find a pistol. Go quickly and find a place on one of the lifeboats.”
“I’ll return here and remain on the bridge with you, captain.”

“That’s an order, Mister Peters.” His tone was firm, but softened. “The passengers will need you during the rescue operation.”

Later Peters would recall being thrown from side to side in the passageways of the dying ship as the storm maintained its unrelenting assault. But at that moment, cast as executioner, he felt pulled, as if by great chains to the captain’s quarters. There, in a small safe and within a small wooden box he found an antique Colt pistol. There were six bullets under the box. He loaded them one at a time into the chamber and pushed it closed until it locked into place. Wrapping it in a towel, as to not attract any attention, Peters closed the door and started back through the ship towards cabin seven.

By now the order had been given to abandon ship. The passageway quickly filled with passengers wearing life jackets. Peters could feel passengers reaching out to him, desperate for information; comfort. He ignored them and pressed against this somber tide and continued to cabin seven. When at last he reached the cabin the passage was empty. A single crewman was standing at the door. He handed Peters the key to the cabin and left at once to join the evacuation.

Peters waited a moment to be certain this part of the ship was fully evacuated then slipped the key into the lock. He stood back and pushed the door open. There, at the edge of a neatly made bed, clad in Capri jeans, clean white tennis shoes and a big orange lifejacket sat a small middle aged woman. Her soft brown eyes rose to meet Peters, looking as if she’d at long last been rescued. Peters stepped inside and, averting his gaze from the woman, closed the door behind him.

“Are we going to the boats?’ she asked simply.

Peters crossed the room and set the pistol down on dresser. It was still wrapped in the towel. In the mirror he could see her eyes go to it, her gaze betraying a sudden realization. Peters looked at the towel. He spoke softly, clearing his throat first.

“There are not enough boats.”

The woman’s eyes darted, her head cocked as if trying to organize a thousand conflicting thoughts. “I’m feeling fine. No fever. Please.”

“You cannot understand how difficult this is.”

“Please, Mister Peters!” she pleaded, standing and stepping towards him. Peters backed away from her, keeping his hand on the towel.

“We can’t risk the other passengers,” he said, “and we cannot leave you aboard the ship.”
She should have fought him. He would have fought, and he fully expected her to resist. Instead, much to his horror, he turned and slowly removed the lifejacket. He wanted her to fight, to resist, to do something that would make her less sympathetic. Instead the woman placed it on the chair beside her bed and turned to him. She turned and lifted her arms out to her sides in a sort of surrender.

“What will you tell my children?” she asked. Tears fell across her cheeks. She wiped them quickly away and somehow managed a chuckled that somehow bespoke the absurdity.

Peters replied the only way he could, bowing his head as he slowly began to unwrap the gun. “I don’t know.”

“Tell them…” she began. “Tell them…”

The pistol lay bare on the dresser for a moment, beside the woman’s Nivea night crème, a hair curler and a postcard from the ship.

“I need one thing,” she said, pulling a picture of her children from a pocket. “Just let me look at them one last time, and then I ask that you see it gets to them.”

Peters nodded and lifted the pistol. Weighing it in his hands he thought that he should know something of this disease. What he knew was from the news, and nothing more than that. That the disease was the scourge of Africa, killing thousands there and creating a panic back at home in America was merely background at the moment. Peters felt himself on the frontline of that war. He couldn’t know if she carried the disease or not. She had cared for a man who had died of the disease, and several of her colleagues had come down with the disease. It was just as likely she was not infected, but how could he know for sure? What if she began the epidemic that caused the deaths of hundreds or thousands? Nor could he leave her on the ship to drown.

“I’ll see to it,” he said. The woman closed her eyes and held out the picture. Peters lifted the gun in one hand and took the photo with the other. Without looking at it, he slipped it into his shirt pocket.

He had never taken another person’s life. Throughout his military career he had pondered the question, but it always carried an abstract quality. Murder is always abstract until it happens. Now at this moment Peters still could not be certain he was capable. The pistol hung by his side, a seemingly impossible weight. It was part of him, as if the long black barrel, the cold pistol grip, the smooth trigger beneath his index finger and the polished lead bullets were part of his DNA.

A thousand permutations ravaged his mind. Was he a murderer or savior? He loathed the thought of bringing her pain, and prayed for a steady hand that it would be over quickly and mercifully for her. How he would accomplish that was suddenly an insurmountable problem. What if her blood or tissue found him somehow? Would a shot to the heart or to…Peters raised the pistol.

The woman breathed heavily. It was a stuttering breath. She whimpered slightly. How would history judge him, he wondered. Did he have any right? What of god and his own conscience? There was nothing now; no storm or stars no world beyond that tiny room. The heat seemed to rise as well. It stifled his breath and sent cold sweat slithering down his spine. Each second felt like an eternity and each felt terribly cruel to the doomed woman before him. Peters raised the pistol and aimed it at the woman, wondering if he was saving the world or dooming himself. He wondered if he was saving the lives of untold victims or playing the part of murderer. His finger tightened on the trigger and he begged god’s forgiveness…

Learn more about how the State Policy Network aids ALEC and spins disinformation in the states.

The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a conservative think tank with offices in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, and member of the State Policy Network. IPI is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011. IPI is also a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and Education Task Force. Senior Budget and Tax Policy Analyst, Amanda Griffin-Johnson, presented model legislation (the “State Employee Health Savings Account Act”) to the HHS task force at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting.[4] Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy, is a private sector member of the Education Task Force representing IPI. He sponsored the “Local Government Transparency Act” at the ALEC 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit. In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute states that it made a grant of $50,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.

CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit

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