Once back in the hallway, the creature had disappeared. It was still too alien to reliably follow, but Barnabus knew they would meet again.
He began to wander the halls, looking to see what kind of ship he had stowed away on. After a while, Barnabus felt something that must have been masked by the apparition. Following the feeling took him to a large toy store. Slipping inside, he found a large collection of stuffed animals. An insistent susurrus emanated from the pile.
“Hello,” the bear said, “my name is Barnabus. I was wondering if you could help me.” It wasn’t asked, but an expectation.
“I’ve heard of you, dude.” The voice was deep and friendly. Barnabus followed the sound to a large bear with white fur. The upper left arm had a bright red heart with Janice stitched inside its borders.
“Janice,” the bear said with a smirk.
The large bear sighed, giving a nod. He climbed down from the shelf. He dwarfed Barnabus.
The smaller bear looked around at the other plushes. “So, who knows anything?” Janice shrugged, but several others hesitantly raised a variety of limbs. “Yes?”
A crab waved a claw in the air. “It has been around for a little while, maybe since the last port.”
A bird joined in. “Yes, I don’t recall it before that.
A rat in a chef’s coat was the next to speak. “It is ravenous. I have seen it flitting from room to room one night.”
“The staff are trying to keep people from becoming alarmed by the number of passengers that it has made ill,” said a ragged alley dog.
Barnabus sighed. “It will be miserable trying to catch it if the creature moves so quickly among the victims. I’d best get started, then. Thank you for your help.”
“Wait,” said a snowman, “we can help you look for it. Please?”
Janice looked thoughtful. “Sounds like a good idea to me,” said Janice.
Barnabus looked around at everyone and looked thoughtful.
“Let’s do this, then.”
The army of plush animals began to climb down when a soft, trilling voice began to speak. Barnabus turned to see a collection of dolls. The voice came from somewhere in their midst.
“Poor little bear, hands bound with hatred. A simple bear cannot prevail. You will fail to save them, Barnabus, and all shall be planted in the gardens.” The plushes shrank back from the mocking voice, but the bears stepped forward, Barnabus raising the Rook and Janice pulling out a massive, wooden axe. The dolls began to speak in unison, but were caught unawares when the bears fell on them.
One of the plushes, shocked at the violence begged them to stop.
“A bunch of awakened dolls are just as dangerous as the creature we seek,” Janice said soothingly.
The plushes accepted this, but looked at the bears had become wary of the bears. Everyone split up and spread out and dispersed throughout the ship. Janice began to follow Barnabus, but the smaller bear looked at him curiously.
“Shouldn’t we better our chances by splitting up?”
“Nah,” He shook his head. “Better to both be ready to attack at once.”
Barnabas started to speak, but paused and shrugging his shoulders, Turning to walk on. Janice, following along, sniffed the air.
“Do you smell of lavender?”
Barnabus ignored the comment and carried on down the corridor. Behind them there were shouts from the gift shop.
Ahead of them was a promenade and a festival was in full swing. People wandered around in playful costumes to the delight of children. There was a lively music drifting through the ship. The bears wandered through the crowd, trusting in their ability to remain unseen. It was a shock to them when a group of children approached them.
“I don’t recognize them,” said one, pointing at the pair.
“What movie are they from,” asked another.
Barnabus muttered “Why me.”
The children pinned them to the wall, petting their fur and chattering on until Barnabus raised his paws and hissed for silence.
“Yes, you can see us, no, we are not performers, and yes we are real. This bear and I are hunting a ghost that’s making people sick. Have you seen people getting sick suddenly?”
The children stood still, shocked into silence, until one spoke up.
“My mother loves boats, but she has sea-sickness and is in our cabin.”
The bears leaned in and Janice asked when nothing else was forthcoming.
Within moments the bears were racing down the halls two decks down. The slid around corners, attempting to keep the pace up. They began to feel the air of menace as they approached the cabin. They passed through, drawing their weapons to find an empty room. Looking closer, though, the bears saw the mother on the bed, sweating and in a deep stupor.
Janice began to look around the chamber while Barnabus closed his eyes, focusing on the sensation. Becoming more aware of the environment of the ship made it easier to trace the signs of the creature to dozens, possibly scores, of victims. The bear hissed in frustration.
“There’s too many. I can’t isolate it from everyone under the spell!”
The snowman suddenly stuck his head through the floor.
“We found it,” he squealed in excitement. Again, the bears were off, racing through the ship, arriving in time to see the apparition exiting a cabin. The other plushes were attempting to menace it, but were obviously trembling. They did provide a distraction, though, allowing the bears to take it unawares. It turned their direction in time to see them sailing through the air. The tackle drove the creature towards a door to a nearby balcony. The three tumbled over with both bears pummelling their enemy.
The three became a rolling brawl with the bears gaining the upper hand. Barnabas rolled free, drawing the Rook. Janice ducked the swing and the sword struck the creature, ripping through it with a sound of tearing fabric. The other bear stepped to the other side to trap it between him and Barnabus. His axe tore through their enemy producing the same tearing sound. The gaping holes showed that the ghostly apparition was a disguise. A lean, muscular arm emerged and ripped away the tattered image.
Janice’s jolly attitude disappeared as he roared “Demon!”
He charged in again, only to have his axe harmlessly slide off the beast’s flesh. The demon laughed at the bear’s impotence. It swung a powerful arm, knocking the bear into the nearby pool. His plush waterlogged quickly, dragging him under.
Turning to Barnabus, the demon grinned, showing a mouth full of crooked, jagged fangs.
“Well, what does the little bear intend to do now? You should have just kept traveling.”
Barnabus took on a pained expression as he sheathed Rook.
“No, you cannot be harmed by a teddy bear’s usual weaponry, he said. He removed his cap and tossed it into a corner. Moonlight glittered on the bear’s violet eyes. Claws began to extend from his paws, teeth lengthening into fangs. “Fortunately,” he growled in a deep, rumbling voice, “I am not one of Teddy’s descendents.” Without a sound, he leapt at the startled demon, mauling the creature. The task didn’t take long, and Barnabus threw the rapidly decaying demon over the rail. Turning around, he saw the plushes watching in terror from the balcony. He raised one talon, still dripping ichor, to his muzzle and whispering “Shh.”
Janice struggled out of the pool, sloshing along the deck. He looked around in shock until his eyes noticed the sizzling trail of slime leading to the rail.
“You threw it overboard?”
“Yes. The people here should be better soon now that it is off the ship. No,” he said, stopping the following questions, “it is over and that is all.” Barnabus looked up and saw that their smaller companions had fled the balcony. He retrieved his cap and looked at his companion.
“If you aren’t busy, I could use your help.”