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.

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5. The Memory


   ~May 8th, 1987

   It was somewhere around noon time when either Eugene or Bret caught sight of Mr. Callahan. When he was found he was on the port side of the vessel, hands gingerly entwined with the railing gazing over a patch of the azure-green body of saline that was the Atlantic in early May. Bret was the one who found him idly sitting there, staring out into the wild blue yonder. Bret knew exactly where the spot he was staring at, it was a flat patch of the water only about a couple meters off their port side, a seemingly unimportant patch of water to all those except who knew what lay under the surface so deep down in the dark and cold; Lusitania.

   "Mr. Callahan, is everything well?" Bret quietly called just loud enough to be heard over the mild whipping of the oceanic winds. Stepping to the elder man's side he leaned on the railing and became still in expression. "You know where it is, don't you?"

   "I've been staring at the spot for the past hour or so," the elder man replied without breaking eye contact from the sea. "You know all these years later I can still see the ghost of that ship going under... right there." One of his wrinkled fingers pointed shakily at the spot as Bret could swear he saw a tear come to the man's eye.

   "All that loss, in such a short time can be traumatizing I suppose," Bret acknowledged as he hung his head low for a moment as if he were trying to hear something that wasn't there to be heard.

   "Gone in eighteen minutes, and with her over a thousand lives..." Mr. Callahan murmured in despairity. "All those good people gone... all from a single torpedo..."

   "War is a horrible thing, isn't it? Not sure when your might become a casualty," Bret answered as he stood up, moving to Mr. Callahan he smiled and outstretched a hand out of habit a gesture of respect and kindness. "How about we go get us some lunch and then return to the lab to pick up the interview?"

   "That sounds like a sound plan of action young man," Mr. Callahan mused as he released his hands from the railings and allowed Bret to take control of the wheelchair. On their way to the dining area Mr. Callahan began to speak more in depth about parts of the voyage.

   "You know what always struck me as strange was how regardless of the warnings, the ship steamed on a straight course, with very little variation in speed the whole time," he began to ramble on as we entered the ship's dining area and sat down for some food.

   "You don't say.." Bret trailed off as he snatched out his notebook and a writing utensil from the inside pocket of his jacket. "That is a bit strange I suppose. Then again, you were safe from the submarines until you got close to the English Isles so it makes sense in a way."

   "Hmm, true and yet something still doesn't sit right with me about that voyage... something just never seemed right."

********************

   ~May 3rd, 1915

   Standing on the boat deck, leaning on the forward railing on the ship's starboard side George stared out at the endless ocean as his thoughts danced about in his head going from one thing to another with no relative sense to be had from any of them. So he stood there, poised up against the railing with his eyes set on the sea and his thoughts flooding about the crevices of his mind.

   "Hey George!" called the familiar brassy voice of his partner as he strode up to him and took a stand beside his partner. "So what are you staring at?"

   "Well what do you see Joe?"

   "Hmm, I see..." he looked about the barren oceanscape trying to find anything that his friend could secretly be staring at but found nothing. "I see ocean, barren ocean." George sighed and smiles slightly as his head hung low for a minute before returning to a normal posture.

   "That's what I thought," George spoke as he took out a cigarette and lit it. "Well Joe to be honest, I wasn't looking at anything in particular, just lost in thought was I." He blew out a cloud of ashen colored smoke and tar as he pulled it from his mouth and tapped on the thin stick to knock off the now burned and useless stub of the cigarette.

   "What's the matter?" Joe asked as he too withdrew his own stick of cancerous relief and lit it, taking a large puff, allowing the cloud to steadily grow in size in his lungs before exhaling a long whispy cloud of blackened breath. "You only ever light up when you're troubled, so what's on your mind?" There was a moment of silence where the only noise was the gentle roar of the ocean and the whispy wind blowing before George answered in a quiet tone.

   "I'm not sure but I don't have a good feeling about this voyage, it's all been too peaceful to be in war in my honest opinion."

   "Ha, ot's only peaceful now, wait till we get to London," his partner laughed out between gags of black smoke. "Trust me George, the world is at war and soon enough we'll be involved in it as well, wether Congress sees it comin' or not."

   "I just have this...feeling of something bad to come," spoke the still hazy eyed man as he extinguished the cigarette and tossed the butt into the sloshing sea. Standing erect, George frowned slightly as he began to walk away, back down the boatdeck towards the entry to the stairwell that would back down to their cabin.

   "Hey, where ya goin'?" Joe called as he ran to catch up having also thrown his cigarette into the sea. Slapping his companion on the back which caused him to stumble a few steps before griining at him. "Come now George, let's enjoy thiseace and quiet for as long as it lasts cause once he land in Liverpool, it will be strict business."

   "Yeah I know, I just can't shake the feeling-"

   "Aw to hell with the 'feeling,' c'mon, let's go get som e drinks from the cafe," grabbing onto his wrist, Joe tugged on George's arm with force enough to keep him from breaking away. Soon enough the two of them were knocking back some scotch and lime in the back corner of the ship's cafe. Laughter filled the room as the two them told jokes and memories of fun and whimsy to pass the time, all the while the sun was setting, painting the sky and ocean in a beautiful scheme of pinks, reds, blues and greys.

********************

   ~May 8th, 1987

   "Hmm, that seems like somewhat of a bittersweet memory to me," Bret sipped from his coffee as Mr. Callahan finished regailing Bret and Eugene who had joined them part way through the tale in the ship's dining room.

   "Still, atleast there was some joy found," Eugene added to keep Mr. Callahan in a somewhat positive mood. The elder man however seemed to slump in his chair a bit as he finished the story.

   "If only I knew what was going to happen, if only I knew just how right that sick feeling I had was," he commented in more of a muttering whisper. He looked down at his half-eaten bowl of tomato soup as the remaining contents sloshed slightly side to side with the gentle rocking of the vessel. His reflection was somewhat distorted and served only as a hollow tribute to this man's emotions and regret over the affair that he was now retelling.

   "Mr. Callahan, if you need to take some time-"

   "George, please -call me George," Mr. Callahan spoke up as he finally reconnected eye contact with the other two men. "The time has passed for formalities, besides using my surname makes feel as old as I know I am and I don't want to feel old."

   "Very well then, George," Eugen answered as he took the man's wrinkled hand, "George, if this is too painful, we can stop the interview, we can send you home if you'd like."

   "No, I'm fine, it's just a memory of long ago after all," he continued.

   "Hey Eugene!" called the voice of a plucky looking young man as his head poked into the room, "Sea Robin's going back for another look at the ship, you're needed in the control room."

   "Excuse me gentlemen, it seems I'm being called away for the moment," as he stood up and left, Bret sat there and looked the elder man who he could now see small streams of tears running down the man's face and felt utter shame for making this man relive something that obviously brought him so much pain. There the two of them sat in silence until with a quiet grunt the old man looked at him with a small grin on his face.

   "Well sonny, are you going to help me to the lab or not?" George spoke, "I'd like to continue this interview in the viewing of the ship if you don't mind."

   "Ofcourse not, let's get going then," Bret too smiled as he closed up his notebook and took the handles of the wheelchair and together the two men moved on out of the dining room and down to the lab where the feed to the sub was up and running.

   "And to think," Bret thought to himself, "All this emotion being projected by a memory, a memory of something so long ago...."

 

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