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Cold and Hungry Waters
It starts with screams. I’m annoyed as the shrill noise pierces through the haze of sleep that envelops me. After all, ruckus parties are common-place on the lower decks of the Titanic. Then, as the warm whisper of dreams takes its leave, I notice the desperation that taints the yelling. Something is wrong, I know it immediately.
I ignore the shiver of adrenaline that runs up my spine and face the wall. This panic will not affect me. It is probably a foolish drunk with too much booze in his head to fire the pistol he’s waving with his grim-encrusted hands. Security will arrest him, and everything will quiet down.
But there’s a pounding on my door, and the frightened voice of a young boy tells me to put on a life belt. My bunkmates stir slightly and settle, not aware enough to understand what they’ve just heard. I can’t quite comprehend it myself. Aren’t life belts meant to keep us afloat? There was no need to stay afloat on an unsinkable ship. I lay back down, convinced it is all a practical joke created by some bored workers.
I try to laugh at the stampede of feet in the hallway, the frantic and confused shrieks. I want to scoff at the idiocy of those people rustled into terror by a few choice words. But there must be a flickering doubt in the recesses of my mind, telling me that this is real, because I suddenly can’t find the strength to be amused.
Scrambling off the bed, I hit the floor in an unceremonious heap. My colleagues grumble as I shake them awake. I quiet them by saying something may be happening. When they ask what, I tell them we were ordered to wear life belts. Unlike me, they chortle easily at the preposterousness of the command. Do they really think they can fool us into thinking the Titanic is sinking, they say.
They’re shaking their heads and calling me gullible when we hear the sloshing of water against wall. The ubiquitous tang of sea salt in the air sharpens and I feel something cold on my bare feet. The laughter dies away quickly when we look down. A thin, clear film of water coats the carpeted floor and laps at our toes.
Needles of pain prick my feet for an instant before they’re numb. I look up at my friends’ faces and our gazes meet. We each know what the others are thinking because the next second we’re running for the door, for safety.
I’m swept up into a crush of pushing arms, kicking legs, biting mouths. My head slams against the wall and I lose focus. A child is shoved at me and I have just enough time to see the fear in her eyes before a hand grasps her wrist and she disappears. A strained voice tells us to remain calm, but no one listens. Fear has found its way into my stomach. It twists and squirms and creeps into my mouth until I add my own cry of dread to the chaos.
I push my way back into the throng and heave forward. The thin layer of water has become a thick coating. I can’t feel my ankles. Still, I surge further. The corridor is widening. Soon we’ll reach the stairwell and get to higher ground. I try to remember why Titanic is unsinkable, but I can’t.
The stairs are within my sight. They are even more crowded than the hallway. The hurried movement of hundreds of different beings merges as I stare and the horde looks like one beast, clamoring upwards. For some reason, it’s not getting anywhere. My eyes pass over the entrance to the next level and I see the problem. Burly men with guns and sticks are forming a wall driving the desperate creature back.
Somehow the logical part of me reasserts itself and forces me to calm down and think. I look past the stairs and see that the hallway beyond is far less populated. By kicking, biting, threatening and screaming, I finally break through. There is no water here, it’s easier to walk. I begin to run. There has to be another exit.
Why was there water? What had happened? Why was security barring our way up? Do we have to abandon ship? Questions race through my mind faster than my legs as I flee through passages and lobbies. I turn a corner. I’m running up a hill now. There’s a door ahead. Another staircase? I slam into it, but it doesn’t budge. They’ve locked me in.
I turn intent on backtracking, but I quickly see that is no longer possible. A dark, hungry wave is eating its way up the sharp incline of the floor. The air becomes icy and covers my arms with gooseflesh. I pound on the door, pleading for help at the limit of my voice, but there is no one but me and the water that stalks forward determinedly.
I sink to the floor and watch my grim reaper approach. The only noise that echoes of the walls is my sobs. The menacing beast before me is deathly silent except for a soft gurgle, though its bottomless stomach is full of people with mouths frozen in permanent screeches.
The wave reaches me. The cold fingers instantly steal all warmth from my legs. I feel the pain of stiffening muscles for a second, then I can’t feel anything below the waist, and the water is rising. It tickles my stomach and traces my ribs, making me jerk and shiver, trying to get up. But my legs won’t obey me anymore. I dare to reach into the water to touch them, and I find they’ve become hard pillars, barely recognizable as flesh.
My jaws clatters and shakes, making my breaths come out in uncertain white puffs. I want to scream, pray, anything to break the silence, but my teeth have become knives, ready to cut into my tongue.
The fear in my stomach explodes, overtaking me. All the adrenaline that had fueled my alarm leaves quickly when I realize I can’t get out of this situation. And that knowledge, the fact that for the first time, I can do nothing to save myself, leaves my mind as numb and useless as my body. In a few minutes, I’ll be gone, taken by the black abyss that doesn’t hold any light.
Some people would pray for redemption. Some would want to go out fighting, crashing into the door until they were swept away. Others would retreat into their mind, going to that moment in their lives where nothing could go wrong. I don’t know what I should do. I don’t have a God to plead with. I can’t move. Happiness has always evaded my slippery grasp.
Endless terror is all I have now. This fright is worse than any kind I’ve felt, because it doesn’t make my breath catch or my heart stutter. The water has control of my body, so the terror takes control of my spirit. It pours into the crevices of my soul, shuns any comforting thought from my sluggish mind. The horror is a greedy black hole, taking everything. It taunts me as the cold reaches my chin and I struggle to tilt my head towards air. It jeers and laughs as ice pours into my mouth and my body freezes. And I know, as my unblinking eyes cease to see, that even when my soul frees itself, the terror will stay.