Prompt: The year is 1912, and you are a passenger on the Titanic (movie world or real life). Before the whole “iceberg incident,” an apocalyptic plague breaks out! It can be anything from zombies to vampires, or it can be something brand new. Best of luck on your survival.
Six lookouts manned the ship, an impossibly small number for a vessel so large. More ludicrous still was the fact that the key to the binoculars cabinet was residing cozily in a desk back in Southampton. How Archie was expected to see over the bow, much less across the dark glass of the Atlantic was a question without an adequate answer. By the third day, he stopped asking, climbed the ladder to the Crow’s Nest for his miserable shift, and attempted to do his duty, inadequate though it was.
Reggie gave him a pat on the back as he found his footing in the tiny nest, the oldest member of the six handing off duties to the youngest. No one stayed to chat, not on the night shifts. The air was cold enough to freeze your eyeballs and the two-hour endurance test that was each shift got more tiresome with each passing day. In minutes his fingers grew numb despite the gloves. Nights had been cold but this was something else. Even the vapor of his breath seemed too cold to linger.
Another night, another watch, another fruitless shift singing Ada Jones in his head though he’d never admit his weakness for the songstress to the other crew. The song was three minutes long. If he sang it forty times his shift would close out, provided George showed up on time.
“Busted cabin clock my ass,” Archie mumbled to himself, forgetting his place briefly in My Hula Hula Girl.
He glanced down at the notes Reggie had left, keeping time and a modicum of warmth with the tap of his foot. Coordinates and observations. A disturbance just off port. A small iceberg 45 degrees starboard and maybe a hundred yards off. He missed the warmer waters, not only for the sake of his extremities but for the sights- the occasional dolphin pod or the strange characters stumbling the decks. No one would be out on a night like this. No one but the abused crew anyway.
Archie couldn’t figure out how Reggie was even able to write up here. His knuckles cracked and his fingers were nearly unresponsive. It was certainly the coldest night he’d ever felt, like sailing into the absence of all warmth and feeling. It was unsettling.
Before he could start his fifth song a flash caught his eye dead ahead. Another ship? A signal? He cursed the lack of binoculars and called down the channel to the cabin far below.
“No ships in the area,” came a terse reply. “Likely a reflection. Keep your watch.”
Archie gave his acknowledgment and squinted for a better look, the faintest wisps of breath clinging to his pale eyelashes. A second flash appeared, then a third, a fourth.
“I’m seeing four lights, can’t read the distance.” His shook as the words struggled to make it past the warmth of his lips. It seemed, somehow, to be even colder still.
But in the beats waiting on a response the world changed.
The lights, now a dozen, two dozen, grew more intense- tiny stars crashing up from the depths. They were close, closer than had had even expected, no farther away than the pods of dolphins that chased the ship out of Southhampton. As the sparks grew closer to the surface they took shape, but those shapes were not of marine creatures. They were men.
Archie rubbed his eyes with the back of his gloves but the visions remained. His body was frozen, truly frozen in fright and unable to even move the barest step needed to call down to the bridge below. They weren’t just men. They were giants of the deep.
A scream pitched from below, the voice of some courageous passenger willing to brave the arctic evening. The frost playing with his sanity- someone else had seen them too, the others, the monstrous humans seemingly built of icicles and glowing from an internal source like a winter firefly rising from the deep pools of the north Atlantic.
The sound was enough to pull others to the windows and even out of doors of cabins and walkways and halls. Archie was no longer alone in his crow’s nest, the one witness to this earthly phenomenon, but he felt more helpless than he ever had. What were these men? And what did they want? Those questions dominated his mind, the only part his of self not paralyzed with deep dread.
They drew nearer still, rising higher, nearer to the ship and shouting in some arcane language with words that stabbed to Archie’s core like daggers of ice cold steel. The words carried weight, though he knew not what they meant, only that they were breaking him down, freezing him and all those around him with every utterance. Soon even the questions abandoned him, his mind beginning to fracture.
Archie could feel the sensations in his fingers fade away, past even the pain of frostbite. His vision began to glaze as the sonorous chants grew closer, as he could feel heavy feet land on the deck below, powerful enough to provoke vibrations through the largest ocean liner ever built by the hands of men.
But then as quickly as it faded the feelings returned to his extremities. Heat, burning heat, flooded around him, fire as fierce as the frost was cold. His fingers filled with searing pain while tears leached from his boiling eyes.
The entire ship screamed at once, metal and men alike as boilers exploded deep below and steel strained under the pressure of the otherworldly heat.
The giants did not fear it. They brought it. And the last thing that Archie saw was her. Dark and terrible, grim as death itself.
The R.M.S. Titanic heaved, the great sea roiled, and the Midgard Serpent rustled in the depths at the heralding of the end of times.