Shrouds of Grey

It was 1915, and though we weren't in the war yet, the United States and United Kingdom were secretly sending envoys back and forth as we discussed buisness pertaining to the Great War. That's what I was then, in fact it was my first assignment, and to this day those screams haunt my memory, urging me to tell the tale of what happened that day in May all those years ago.


9. Fourteen Minutes of Terror

   ~May 7th,1915;  2:16 pm

   George raced down the tilting halls of the ship as he entered the 2nd Class berthing areas of the vessel. It was hard for him to get through as hordes of people from below tried to race by almost trampling one another as the vessel plowed down and under towards a watery grave.

   "God dammit George!" Joe yelled over the crowd's screaming, "Get back here for Christ's sake, the case isn't worth your damn life!" His words were of no use as his younger partner plowed ahead, driving through the masses of frightened souls as he pushed towards their cabin. There was a sudden but minor rumbling followed by a violent rocking of the ship as everyone fell to the floor.

   "Gah!" George mumbled as he fell into the wall, "That rumbling must've been a boiler exploding from rapid cooling by seawater, I haven't much time then." He forced himself up and began top again trudge through the crowd of recovering passengers with Joe quickly gaining on him. Joe caught him by the shoulder right as he flung open the door to their cabin which was now on the lower end of the list. 

   "Dammit all George!" he yelled, "What are ya bloody thinkin', this little stunt of yers could easily have killed us!" His fury was compacted with his fear as he heard a tinkling noise coming from across the room; the porthole was half submerged by green seawater and the glass was cracking under the pressure of the twisting hull and the recent explosion. "Alright, fine we're here now. Go get the freaking case and let's go!"

   "It's more of a shoulder bag but alright," he smirked as he ran into his room where the bag was hidden safely. Upon returning he was quickly ushered from the room by Joe who had watched a small trickle of sea water run down the inner wall from the slowly growing crack in the plated glass porthole. 

   The angle of the ship's list was growing worse and worse by the minute along with the forward angle of the vessel. Avoiding the main crowd the pair went down another companion way and thrust open the steel hatch only to see why people had ceased traversing this route. 

   "Lord Christ on high!" Joe spat, "Her forward deck's already gone under!" The pair rushed around the corner and began to struggle up the port side boat deck. Though sparsely populated as all the passengers had clambered over to the starboard side once launching the lifeboats on the port side proved impossible because of the angle of the list, the deck was still a hazardous mess of twisted inward davits and dangling boats and ropes.

   "God damn!" George spat as a oar fell free from a dangling boat above and caught him on the right shoulder sending him tumbling to the deck. He held his shoulder as he tried to regain his footing, all the while cringing in pain as he hurried after Joe who was now a good few yards up deck. "Where the hell are you going!?"

   "Aft!" Joe responded in a frenzied state as George managed to catch up to him finally. "At this angle, not even the lifeboats are a safe bet at his point!" He paused briefly to gather his vague knowledge of the ship before darting inside the ship once more. "Our best bet at this point is to wait on the fantail of the ship's stern and step off when she goes under and swim for it."

   "Swim for what!? The Irish Coast, that's eleven miles in sub-zero water, we'd die of hypothermia in around twenty minutes!" He caught up to his partner as he began to bolt down a small rack-stairwell. 

   "Not for the Coast you moron!" Joe spat as he kept going, now gasping between breaths as he wasn't used to so much close quarters running, "Swim for... the nearest boat in the water.... The force of the ship as she goes under... it'll sever the lines... and free the boats."

    "Oh, alright then," George finally grasped a hold of the idea, "You alright, you're sucking more wind then anything."

   "Too much running for me," he gasped as he clung to a railing. Another mumbled explosion as the ship shuddered violently caused the two of them to cling for dear life to the railing. "Either we just sheared off one of the screws or another boiler just went." 

   "All these explosions are gonna rip the ship apart if they're not careful up there on the bridge!" George edged his way to his part as the angle of the ship suddenly began to steepen as the Lusitania began to go through her final death throws. The two men managed to find their way to another rack-stair well and began to descend, Joe first followed by George as the pair steadily semi-stepped and slid down the stairs and bulkhead of the ship. 

   "The ship doesn't have much longer at this point, look!" Joe pointed to the lower end of the listing as the starboard side of the ship began to submerge at a quick pace, "We need to stick to the port side as it seems to be the high side! It's likely the ship will roll over if this list continues!" Hurrying along the high side of the ship the pair soon found their way to the fantail along with a good sized congregation of fellow passengers who had resigned themselves to not being safely put into a lifeboat. 

   "Class doesn't matter now it seems," George commented in shocked amazement as he looked around him to find women, children, men of various class and status all huddling together at the edge of the ship's violently angled stern seemingly wondering what their final fate would be. Some peered over the railing as if pondering if they should jump if they could avoid the violently churning surf of the propellers which turned with immense ferocity as the sinking ship plowed along on its way to the bottom.

   "At the end of the day, even the king goes back into the same box as the pawn," Joe commented as he too observed the strange scene before them as the list grew worse still with no sign of correcting itself, indeed it seemed as though the mighty Lusitania would just heel over and plow below into the icy depths of the Atlantic leaving more than perhaps a thousand souls fighting for life on the frigid surface. It was then that he noticed a fairly empty lifeboat drifting just astern of them with a small group of people struggling to maneuver the craft as they were woefully undermanned for the job of maintaining an even row.

   "You see them too, huh?" George spoke above the growing roar of panicked voices and churning screws of the ship as they began to kick out of the water. "Question is can we make it, and second, if we did make it would they take us in?"

   "If they didn't they'd eventually be sucked into the props and diced to bits," Joe pointed subtly so no one would hopefully notice the close bastion of safety. "See look, they're caught in the current of the screws, if they don't regulate themselves soon the suction will pull them right in."

   "What about the documents and the bag?" George pondered as he patted his hand against the shoulder bag. "What happens if they get wet, our mission will have failed."

   "Hell with the bloody documents, it's either our lives or death now Georgie boy," He grunted as he climbed onto the rail having made his decision. "I've made my decision, it's time for you to make yours!" Before his eyes he watched as Joe launched himself as far as he could from the ship as it plunged ahead, his trajectory aimed at avoiding the screws. George slammed himself against he brass railings as he searched for his partner who it seemed had just committed glorified suicide before to his relief he saw his head bob up to and break the surface a good many yards away as he appeared to be searching for the ailing lifeboat which now hung closer off the starboard port quarter of the ship.

   "Make my choice, huh?" George stared at the bag which hung loose on his shoulder for a moment as he decided his fate and how it'd play out. "Stuff it," he finally said as he lept over the side, launching into the air towards the lifeboat with all the force he could muster.

   ~May 8th, 1987; 16:18hrs

   "Holy shit, you actually jumped for it?" This was the first time all voyage long Eugen had cussed significantly but after hearing all that he had, it slipped out without him realizing it until it was too late. "Please," he corrected himself, "I hope you can excuse my outburst but still... You realize how seemingly suicidal that could've been I imagine."

   "Oh I knew the risks, but I wasn't going to wait to die," Mr. Callahan chuckled, his laughter turning quickly into a prolonged coughing fit. Slowly his face turned bright red as the blood rushed to his face from the coughing which only seemed to grow more violent until with the turn of a knob and the release of more oxygen from the tank on the wheelchair's posterior did he calm down again.

   "Are you alright?" Bret asked with minor concern in his tone as he began to set the laptop aside. "You looked pretty winded, would you like to take a break?"

   "No, no I'm fine," Mr. Callahan wheezed, "Just my body reminding me of my age and the stupid things I did when I was younger." He sat back a moment to collect his lost breath and relax before continuing on again.

   "Looking at the time, should we take a quick break, use the facilities and all?" Eugene asked with brevity as Mr. Callahan nodded in agreement to which Eugen carted him off while Bret wandered off and out onto the starboard side of the vessel to look at the spot where the ship lay. During their interview he felt the gentle lurching motion as the ship turned over and retraced it's path to stay on target.

   "And to think, in eighteen minutes that ship was on the bottom," he then did something he didn't do often; pulling out a hand rolled cigarette he flipped the top on his lighter and struck it. Taking a long puff off of the cigarette he exhaled and then murmured to himself, "And of the eighteen, for George and Joe it really was more like fourteen minutes of terror... Jesus Christ...."

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