women and children first.

there is nothing here but the dark and cold.

somewhere subterranean, a man wakes up alone and he is terrified because the texture of the night is a threat. he sits up to the curious sensation of water pressure. his trembling fingers seek heat and hit the frigid edges of metal, the structures of a bunk bed boxing him in as a shelf. his eyes begin to separate the palette of the darkness into shapes and shadows; he realizes he is in a narrow room with six beds slotted above and below on either side of the wall. somewhere there is a table. no windows exist.

somehow the angles are not right.

there is no light and the room is a stolid, rectangular affair. but somehow the man senses that the walls are narrower at the foot of his bunk bed. and it seems like the floor slopes a little too much and the corners of the room collide and overlap with one another. above him the ceiling feels extraordinarily far away, reminiscent of a cathedral dome, and yet when he unfolds himself from the bed he stoops to avoid bumping his head. the dimensions feel unsteady, a sloppy blueprint being discarded and redrawn over and over again.

he feels more fear than curiosity, because somewhere in his ears he still hears the ocean roaring. he knows, unequivocally now, that he is underwater. though the silence is cemetery and the floor below his feet is steady (but isn’t it narrower now on the other side?) there is the feeling of brine on his tongue, salty and swollen.

his feet move him unsteadily and his fingers probe the suggestion of a door.

suddenly everything floods with heat and light. the man estimates three feet between the room he left and the hallway he has entered but somehow there is glittering brightness. the walls are so white and close they blind him, they gleam with polish, bouncing light back and forth between each other in an endless flirtation. there is the smell of cigarette smoke filtering in hazily through the whiteness.

he screws up his face against the chaotic brightness. his skin runs slick and hot.

somewhere a piano trills up and down, ivory and ebony keys jarring together to create a dissonant jazz. it plays backwards and forwards bizarrely. he hears dancing and laughter, raucous shouts punctuating the two. but there is no one in sight down either end of the hall. just the same blistering white walls and floor:

the man has excellent eyes- his pupils retract slowly and absorb the shocking flood of light. it is enough to see that the hallway suffers like the previous room. it does not match itself. the visible ends melt like candles guttering out; the walls spill their own guts against the floor, white on white on white.

he spins to his left and starts running down the hall. he moves so slowly it feels like the air is parting only one molecule at a time. he runs toward the noise of the crowd, hopeful for the sight of people. by now he knows he is on a ship; the hallway is inconveniently narrow and he sees life preservers hung neatly in niches along the walls. the sight of the puffy vests makes his flesh crawl like a dying animal dragging its carcass for miles. it is a slow, creeping fear that threatens to envelope his entire body as he forces himself against the atmosphere in this comically slow sprint.

every fourth step brings him closer to the noise. the fifth step sends it back behind him, from where he started.

he stops when he passes his ninth set of life vests. his legs ache with the failures of increasing age and his chest is caving in on itself. he staggers against the wall, breathing heavily, but no sounds issue from his panting mouth. he is as mute as the sea here, and he pounds his fist angrily in frustration.

a vest falls from its hanger, collapsing at his feet. emblazoned across the front in small letters is a fussy, slightly crooked font. it reads property of white star line.

the fear solidifies in his stomach, an ugly curdled thing; he knows where he is now and why he is scared.

the man stands in the oddly shifting hallway of the rms titanic and listens to the piano play once again in reverse.

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