Voyage Of Broken Dreams
Freezing Water and Frozen Hope
It was a bright and cheerful, yet slightly chilled morning. Anticipation hung in the air so thick that you thought you could almost taste it. The dock was bustling with people milling everywhere finishing last second tasks before the grand event happening later. Everett Simmonds adjusted his coat as he stared at the massive ship docked in front of him. The H.M.S Titanic was to be the grandest passenger liner of its kind and he let out a whistle at the sheer size set out before his eyes.
He maneuvered his way around the activity taking place on the dock as he approached the loading area meant for crew. Two men from the White Star Line stopped him as he approached. “Papers. No entrance without papers.’
“Oh yes, of course.” Everett stammered as he fiddled with his jacket pockets to find the necessary identification. “Here you are.” He handed the card to the men.
“A fireman hey? You’re going to be one of the men to keep our beauty steaming over the water, are you?”
“Yes sir.” Everett couldn’t believe it even as he said it. He was a Southampton native and had lived here all his life. Times had been hard, employment was scarce, but he had had the good fortune of running into a high ranking official of White Star in a local pub. They had spent a night drinking together and the man had told him of the ship they were building and the plans to sail it to America. The man told how it was going to be unsinkable and about the massive amount of crew that would be needed to make the voyage. Everett had expressed how he wished he could be there for the voyage and the man had offered him the position of fireman. It was an incredible stroke of luck and Everett had jumped at the opportunity. He would work hard, he knew that, but he also knew that this was his chance to change his life. He had heard stories of America and how it was the land of dreams, and he couldn’t wait to get there.
“Well, are you getting on or what?” One of the men snapped him back to attention.
“Yes, yes. Of course. Sorry.” Everett walked up the ramp and paused right before he boarded the ship. He took one last look around at this town that had been his only home for his twenty-six years. It saddened him a little to know that he would not see it again, would not see his family again, but he had kept his plans a secret for a reason. Once he got to New York, he had no intention of ever coming back and he didn’t want anyone talking him out of his decision. He took one last long breath of the crisp morning air and went inside.
Aboard the ship it was just as busy as it had been outside. People were rushing everywhere, making final preparations before the launch. He found his sleeping quarters, dropped his stuff, and went to report for duty. The engine room was like nothing he had ever seen before, the two main engines were sixty-three feet long and were powered by twenty-nine boilers, which is where he would be stationed. The room was a small town itself as there were one hundred and seventy-six firemen onboard working around the clock to shovel coal into the boilers and keep the ship moving forward. It was going to be hot, exhausting, and dangerous work, but Everett was ready for it if it was what was going to get him to his goal of reaching America.
The final tasks were completed, the passengers loaded, and at last the mighty ship pushed off to start her journey across the sea. Everett worked furiously to feed the hungry boilers and power the enormous vessel through the waves. He worked without a shirt as the room was filled with heat almost immediately. He paused to look around as the room was lit by an orange glow from the fires in the boilers. Noise was everywhere. There was the roar of the boilers, the rumble from the engines, the distinct sound from the shovels hitting the coal piles, and the excited shouts of men trying to converse above the ambient noise. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits, even as they worked at their back-breaking labor. He guessed that he was not the only one leaving home for the first time and that that was the cause for the excitement. This was a momentous occasion, they were aboard one of the greatest objects ever built by man. An unsinkable hotel floating across the ocean. The excitement surrounding the ship had been building since the moment White Star had announced the plans to make the three largest passenger ships in the world for their fleet. Their fist ship, RMS Olympic had been a sight to behold when completed, monstrous and extravagant, and was the talk of the entire United Kingdom.
Titanic was the second to be built and was more impressive than the Olympic. They were roughly the same size, but Titanic had a larger cubic capacity and had spared no extravagance for its guests. The ship also employed a new technology of having the hull divided into sixteen compartments separated by bulk heads that extended above the waterline. Eleven watertight doors could be closed at the bulkheads to seal off individual compartments in the event of an incident making the ship what the White Star touted as ‘unsinkable’. It was this unsinkability that had made the Titanic a celebrity. It was on the tongue of every person and had become so famous that even the rich had wanted to be associated with it. It was the reason there were so many wealthy people aboard and why thousands had shown up to watch the launch, everyone wanted to be a part of the Titanic’s story. Everett had to admit that there was a small part of him that took the job for that reason too. Aside from finally getting to America, he wanted a story to tell and being part of the maiden voyage of the most luxurious passenger liner in the world sounded pretty good.
Sweat dripped off his body as Everett shoveled more into the boiler. They had been at sea for four days now and he was exhausted. They worked long, hard shifts and when he did have time to rest, excitement kept sleep from coming. When he was not on shift, he enjoyed mingling with the steerage passengers in the gathering areas that had been set up for them. These were his people, people like himself who had dared to make the voyage across the ocean in the anticipation of a better life ahead. He liked to sit on one of the staircases where he could be up a little higher and had a better view of the entire room. He watched as there was music played, dancing, and loud, boisterous conversation. There was no ill-will, everyone was welcomed, and personal differences were set aside as each person knew they all shared a common goal. Everett liked the feeling he got from the room, it felt like hope.
It had been a typical shift. Everyone was working hard, working in rhythm. The boilers were aglow with the fire needed to drive the ship. His muscles ached and his lungs were sore from breathing the hot air. Suddenly, there was a panic in the room. Men were screaming and they were ordered to shovel faster. Everett was confused, he didn’t understand the reason for the alarm and then he heard the command of full reverse. He thought maybe a passenger had fallen overboard and they were going back to try and rescue them. He couldn’t imagine any other reason since when he had been on deck earlier that evening it had been a clear night with no visibility issues that he could see. They shoveled faster for a few more minutes when suddenly there was a sound that Everett could best describe as God himself running his fingernail down a blackboard.
The screeching whine continued for a few more seconds and then there was complete silence from the men in the engine room. It was an eerie feeling as the only sound was the reverberation of the boilers and the engines. All other activity had ceased as the men stared at one another with their jaws agape. The room was trying to guess what they collided with when short, shrill, pings rang out. It took a moment for people to realize that it was the rivets holding the sides of the hull together that were firing out like bullets ringing through the silence. As more and more rivets gave way, the cold sea water started to fill the engine room. Men were knocked over and swept off their feet as the silence was replaced by the thundering roar of the ocean entering the vessel and the screams of men trying to escape the room.
Confusion and chaos reigned as Everett and the men tried to avoid both the freezing water and the flying rivets. Steam filled the area as the fires of the boilers were doused by the ever-increasing water entering the ship. Darkness filled the room and Everett stumbled, trying to find an exit. His legs felt as though they were being stabbed with a thousand tiny pins as they were immersed in the freezing water. It took all his energy just to keep them moving. A group of men had found one another in the confusion and were now moving in single file through the flooded room, navigating past the bodies of their fallen co-workers. Everett had his hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him as they slowly moved through the darkness. There was another loud ping and the man dropped right in front of him. Everett tried to stand him back up and noticed he had been struck in the head by a flying rivet. He gently lowered the lifeless man back into the water and pushed him to the side as they continued to move toward an exit.
After what felt like an eternity, they came to a staircase and ascended from the watery hell they were in. The chaos was just as dramatic outside of the engine room as the halls were filled with passengers and crew running everywhere. The men from below the deck tried to gather their senses as they surveyed the scene happening in front of them. Crew were trying to close off hallways and gate staircases to seal the upper decks from the water encroaching on the lower decks. Everett and two men made their way to a stairwell just as the crew were trying to close the gate.
“Stop! There are still people here!”, Everett screamed as he grabbed the gate.
“We need to seal it off! The ship is going down! We can’t have everyone down here storm the decks or it will put us over for sure!” The crewman kicked Everett in the chest and knocked him back.
The second man pushed past Everett and landed a punch to the jaw of the crewman. “These are people down here, not animals!”
The crewman fell against the opposite wall and grabbed his jaw in shock. “Screw this! You want to die, that’s fine. I’m getting out of here.” He ran off down the hall, leaving the group behind.
“We can’t be going down, we’re unsinkable right?” The second man looked at Everett with disbelief in his eyes. “That’s what they said right? Unsinkable.”
“I don’t know.” Everett said straight faced. “That looks like a lot of water to me. Let’s just get up top and see what is going on.”
They followed the crowds and struggled through the hallways and stairwells, some lined with people who had not survived. They emerged out onto the main deck where the loading of lifeboats had begun. The masses pressed closer and closer to the rails as overwhelmed crew tried to hold them back while lowering and loading the boats. The cold night air hurt Everett’s lungs as he tried to breathe. His pants felt more like cardboard as the wet fabric froze in the cold. There was struggle and turmoil as boats were loaded half-full of women and children before being lowered to the ocean. The night was filled with the sounds of confusion and panic as people struggled to understand the situation they were in, as well as music. Everett found that strange. Why was there music? He looked around and saw a quartet of musicians set up on the deck, calmly playing their instruments amidst the strife. He stared for a few seconds, appreciating the beauty happening in the middle of horrendous disarray before he was knocked to the ground by a new throng of passengers pushing toward the lifeboats.
He lay on the deck, trying to protect himself from the passengers walking over him. He yelled in pain as his leg was stepped on and he tried to pull himself under a nearby deck chair for cover. As he cowered under the chair he thought about his journey and what he had hoped to achieve. He wasn’t even sure what he would do once he landed in America. He had a good head for numbers so he thought maybe he could be a bookkeeper for a shop somewhere, or perhaps open a small grocers for himself. He had read stories of the American West and the rush for gold. Stories of how the government was helping settlers acquire land. He thought he may try and head to the west. He liked the idea of owning land. It had been an amazing dream, but it did not look like that was how it would end for him. He was sorry he had left his family now. He stood himself up and stared out over the rail at the ocean below. It was unlike anything he had seen before, the ocean was absolutely still, there were no waves at all. He wondered out loud what they could have collided with on a calm ocean with clear skies.
“Iceberg.” said a well-dressed man standing beside him.
“What?” Everett asked.
“It was an iceberg. Large one. You can see it from the other side of the ship. It appears to have scraped down the side peeling back a large portion of the hull like a can opener.”
“But they built compartments for that right? To seal it up so we stay afloat?”
“She was built so that four compartments could fill, and we would float. Five compartments have been compromised. I assure you, she is going down.”
“Who are you? How do you know all this?” asked Everett.
“My name is Thomas Andrews, I designed this ship.”
“Everett Simmonds. Wish I could say I was glad to meet you but under the circumstances…”
“Of course, of course. What are you doing on this ship Everett?”
Everett could not believe the calmness of Andrews. Chaos happening all around, and the man wanted to have a conversation. It served to quell his own anxiousness and his breathing slowed a little. “I was a fireman. I was shoveling coal when we hit.”
“You were below when it happened? And you managed to get out?” Andrews looked shocked.
“It wasn’t easy. I thought I had luck on my side, but now, I don’t think I did.” He stared out at the ocean again. “Are there no rescue ships? No one coming to help?”
“Any that are coming will be too late I’m afraid. In a matter of hours, she will be at the bottom of the ocean.” Andrews stated coldly.
“You’re pretty calm for a man that believes that.” Everett said.
“No reason to fight the inevitable. The water is below freezing Mr. Simmonds, death will be in minutes, not hours, for anyone left in it.” The band still played in the background.
“Maybe so, but I still wish I had a life vest.”
“Here, take mine.” Andrews raised his right hand and held a life vest for Everett to take.
“Thanks.” Everett quickly slipped into the vest. “Are you sure you don’t want it?”
“Won’t be necessary. Take it. Good Luck, Mr. Simmonds.” With that, Mr. Andrews made his way back into the rooms aboard the ship.
Everett watched him disappear and then looked to find a way off the boat. He was helping load passengers onto a lifeboat, hoping to find a spot for himself when there was a loud crack and the snapping of guidewires as one of the ships huge chimneys started to fall. The ensuing panic in the crowd forced people closer to the lifeboats, knocking Everett over the rail and tumbling to the icy ocean below. Every inch of Everett’s body screamed in pain as he hit the cold water. He lost consciousness from the impact and his body floated aimlessly thanks to the life vest.
Debris fell from the deck and splashed near Everett, the cold water hitting his face brought him back and he stared at his surroundings as he tried to re-orient himself. He wasn’t sure how long he had been in the water, but he found himself a large piece of wood and climbed on top, attempting to get out of the chilly depths. His body shivered uncontrollably, and he tried to rub his arms and legs, hoping to warm them and keep the blood flowing.
There were screams and yells for help that filled the air, both from the deck of the ship and from the water’s surface. Everett stared in disbelief as the bow of the great ship started to dip below the surface and the mighty stern raised into the air. As the giant propellers from the ships massive engines rose above the surface of the water all lights onboard went out causing more panic as the ship was now thrust into darkness. The stern continued to rise until there was a thunderous, deafening, boom and the mighty vessel cracked in two. The stern fell back into the ocean and caused a wave which knocked Everett off his makeshift raft. He once again fell into the icy ocean. He struggled to catch his breath under the immense cold. His body lay bobbing on the surface as he stared, struggling to believe what he saw as the great “Unsinkable” slowly had her two halves sink below the surface.
He thought about his family as his body shivered in the cold, dark water. He thought about his mother, how she would feel, how she would have no body to bury, no chance to say goodbye to her son. He tried to shed a tear, but it froze instantly on his face.
The cries for help became less and it was becoming silent now. A feeling of eeriness took over as he stared out at the darkness. It was a clear, but moonless night. He leaned back and stared up toward the sky as he began to lose feeling in his legs. His teeth were uncontrollably chattering as he stared at the stars above him. There were more stars than he had ever seen in Southampton. He imagined that this is what it would be like in the west. Standing on your porch, staring out over land you owned, looking at a sky with more stars than you could count in a million lifetimes. He liked the feeling, and he managed a little smile as an incredible tiredness overcame his entire body. He couldn’t feel his arms now, he hoped for someone to come pull him from water. He tried to yell to one of the lifeboats floating nearby but no sound came. He stared back at the stars again and tried to imagine what his life would have been like as a cowboy. He was picturing it when the sleep finally came, and he slowly closed his eyes for the last time.
About the Creator
I'm a 48 year old aspiring writer who has finally taken the time and put in effort to make the dream come true instead of just keep wishing it. I currently have 2 books available on Amazon, 'Amazing Grace' & 'The Brand of Brotherhood.'
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