Last Call Marcus Hook—Daniel Enderle
Reginald had retired to his cabin early in the evening and, after reading in his bunk for an hour, had put out the light and fallen into a deep slumber from which he gradually surfaced, sometime well after midnight, due to the persistence of increasingly excited voices in the corridor outside his door. He ignored the periodic disturbances with the hope that they would eventually subside, but he abandoned that dream when someone rapped on the door and shouted some sort of instructions. The only part of these he understood were the words “to the boat deck.” He clicked the light and stared at the overhead with a sense of exasperation mingled with mild curiosity about what had transpired while he’d slept.
His determination to go back to sleep evaporated with two nearly simultaneous realizations. First, he felt a certain uncanny stillness. The quality of complicated ambient noise associated with the forward momentum of the ship had simplified. Second, he felt certain that his feet were now just slightly, but perceptibly, higher than his head.
He climbed down and put on fresh stockings and the shoes he had worn to dinner. He wrapped a white silk muffler around his neck and put on his heavy coat over his pajamas. He looked around the cabin, put his watch and chain in one pocket and the book he was reading the other, and opened the door which surprised him by falling open and banging against the bulkhead. He stepped into the now empty corridor and climbed the inclined deck to the nearest stairway.
The canted stair treads induced a most unfamiliar sense of vertigo. He felt as if he might just pitch backwards, so he gripped the handrails on both sides and hauled himself up to the next flight which, as it faced the bow, made him feel he might fall onto his face. He continued climbing without encountering anyone else. A roaring rush of noise grew louder as he got closer to the upper decks and, by the time he stepped outside into the frigid embrace of the night, it was deafening.
He looked up at the clouds of steam blasting out of the funnels and, despite his rising apprehension, smiled at the black sky full of stars so bright and numerous that they seemed close. Somewhat reluctantly, he lowered his gaze and scanned the crowded deck where people stood calmly murmuring in small groups, some solitary figures seemed frozen while others, mostly men, strode purposefully past empty lifeboat davits. Some people stood at the rails looking down. There was no moon and no wind.
Reginald walked downhill, as it were, on the wooden deck for several hundred feet until it sloped into green water well short of the bow. The sight of deck lights glowing beneath the surface unnerved him. For the first time he felt fear. Those lights shining underwater seemed distinctly ominous. He turned and walked back uphill until he reached crowds of passengers most of whom were now moving up towards the stern. Few remained calm. He wondered at his failure to don a hat. He heard his own voice. He said, “I might die tonight.”
He wanted to be away from all these people before him so he climbed, with difficulty, down two decks and made his way through a large dining room where light fixtures hung at odd angles from the ceiling. A baby grand piano pivoted on its rear legs and the keyboard swung so that it faced downhill. The lights flickered. Reginald entered some sort of service bar filled with many bottles of liquor behind rails that prevented most of them from crashing to the floor. Some bottles had broken and the air swirled with a strange elixir of mixed vapors. He closed his eyes and deeply inhaled the exotic alcoholic perfume. The idea of a strong drink held seductive appeal. The chiming impact of the piano at it crashed into a bulkhead in the next room brought his eyes open and he exclaimed “WAH !” as he spotted a dapper, bewhiskered older gentleman standing behind the bar. The gentleman replied, “What will you have, lad?”
Reginald said, “All the boats are gone.”
“That’s true, but I think we still have sufficient time to enjoy a few drinks.”
“The word I get is that we struck ice.”
“An iceberg? In the middle of the Atlantic? How could that even happen?”
“Well, I surmise it was an exercise in very poor judgment.”
“Oh my God.”
“Indeed. Now then I suggest brandy would be just the thing at this juncture. I happen to have come across a reasonably good example here. I’m afraid I must report that I have begun without you.”
“That sounds perfect. May I have a double?”
“Very good, sir.” (TO BE CONTINUED)