Luke and the Titanic
Chapter One – Luke and the Titanic
What Luke Martin knew about the RMS Titanic’s fate meant nothing. The twelve-year-old American had tried and failed to generate any one of the other two-thousand passengers’ interests in the subject, but had only been met with derision and condescendence. He was usually locked in the lower decks when the ship sank, but sometimes he managed to keep his mouth shut and watch the carnage from the main deck. Once, he had even managed to clamber aboard one of the lifeboats only to drift off and wake up on the second day of the voyage yet again. He had been trapped on-board the doomed liner, reliving the voyage and the sinking for so long and in so many different ways that both time and escape had lost all meaning. He could not even remember an existence before the ship anymore and struggled to function in any real capacity at all: all his attempts at suicide had also simply resulted in resetting the course of events. The only way he could be certain if of any sense of the passage of time was to count how many loops of the voyage he had been through. The number was almost twenty thousand and Luke was certain it had driven him insane as a consequence.
As the boy sat on the benches on A Deck and watched the liner cut through the endless expanses of water that surrounded it, he wished he could bring himself to cry about it all. Unfortunately, having done exactly that on innumerable occasions over the cycles Luke no longer found himself capable of such an act. Instead he simply chewed the sleeve of his fraying coat and let his eyes close. He hated the other passengers and their ignorance of what was to come. It was not fair that they could forget what had already happened countless times before and simply enjoy the wonders of the voyage as if it were the first time again. They never remembered the horror or the destruction once things began anew: they just went blank every time. As he listened to the sounds of idle chatter and the thrum of the ship as it steamed forwards, he was aware of someone nearby.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself looking at a man in an immaculately pressed suit leaning over the guard rail. Luke had never seen this man before. Luke had NEVER seen this man before now. The boy had seen everybody on board at least five times and spoken with all them at one length or another, but not this gentleman with his curiously combed hair and powerful frame, not once. The youth stared at the unknown man in silent awe before realising the man was staring back at him. The man’s face, which had been solemn as he regarded the ocean, broke out in a warm and friendly smile as he rested eyes on Luke. He gestured to the sea.
“It’s quite a view isn’t it?” The man said jovially in an English accent whilst strolling over to the bench. Luke tried to compose himself and offer a coherent and reasonable answer, but could not help blurting out the source of his secret torment immediately.
“Do you know this ship is going to sink the day after tomorrow and almost everybody is going to die?” The man furrowed his brow but nodded in agreement.
“Okay.” He replied whilst sitting down beside the youth. Luke was expecting to be smacked in some fashion or other but instead simply found the man’s hand squeezing his shoulder. “Are you hungry lad? You look like you haven’t eaten in days. How about we chat about this during dinner? Would that be alright?” Luke frowned at him with a mistrust that by now seemed an intrinsic part of his being it had been so long. The stranger seemed nice and that in itself was odd enough to almost make the boy run. But the man was a stranger, one he could not place no matter how hard he tried. Luke had to ask.
“Where did you come from? You’re not one of the passengers or the crew. You’re…someone else.” The man’s face broke out into another smile. He took his hand off the boy’s shoulder before dropping it down to his waist ready for a handshake.
“Let’s start again: I’m Jack and I’m from a place called Castleford in Yorkshire. How about you?” Luke regarded the hand offered to him for some time. Twenty thousand times. Twenty thousand times and in not one of those loops had anybody he talked to or begged for help or understanding even presented this basic courtesy much less anything else. It just made him wonder who he was dealing with and whether he was human at all. He shook the hand cautiously.
“I’m Luke Martin. I used to live in New York.”
“Well it’s nice to meet you Luke. So you want to go for that dinner or what?”
Luke was uncomfortable just going near the prestigious and exclusive grounds of the First-Class A La Carte restaurant: they always treated him like a leper or worse. He found even that was bearable to sitting at one of their tables within the restaurant as he and Jack were now. The man did not seem concerned about their distinct lack of polish at all nor did he seem overly bothered by the disgusted looks of the staff and other diners as he scanned the menu.
“It all looks good to me lad.”
“We shouldn’t be here. They don’t like us here.” Luke said practically as a whisper. Jack looked over the top of the menu at him and grinned.
“We’re not the right class of people?” The man asked. The youth shook his head. Jack put the menu down on the table-top, leaned back in his chair and snapped his fingers twice. “Can you do an English accent?” He said. Luke unsurely nodded knowing he could just about perform a passable approximation of the dialect. Jack winked. “Just follow my lead then.”
A serving member of staff, a stiff and cold man in his early thirties that seemed to have always hated Luke, approached the table. “Can I help you?”
“I would like to see your manager please.” Jack said having affected a very convincing upper-class accent that was far removed from his usual northern voice. Luke could not help but raise his eyebrows at the transformation. The server sniffed at the request.
“And why is that…Sir?”
“I was rather wondering why we have been sitting here for five minutes and you have been standing there for five minutes without even trying to offer us service. I want to speak to the manager to have you dismissed for such poor professionalism and bearing.” Jack said before tugging at the hem of the man’s jacket, “And your general turnout is so…lacking I find it hard to believe you could even secure a position in the catering business.” This belittling speech was met with a visible flush of embarrassment from the server followed shortly by a nervous cough and a noticeable fiddling of his shirt cuffs thereafter. Luke had never seen anyone behave in such a brazen manner with the crew, not before the final hours of the sinking anyway. Jack’s act delivered though: the server apologised and was humble for the remainder of his duties. The man ordered first and was near enough flawless in pronouncing the French name for his lobster dish. Then it was Luke’s turn.
“What would…would you recommend?” The youth inquired in an accent that close enough to his companion’s to surprise him. The server said something to him in French and stated it was popular with younger diners. Too nervous to try his luck with another full sentence and in an effort to stop his leg shaking, Luke nodded as firmly as possible and let Jack finish the conversation.
“I shan’t be drinking in front of the boy so if you would kindly furnish us with some iced water, I think we will overlook your earlier coarseness and proceed as if it never happened.” The man informed the server with a smug condescendence that somehow complimented his accent perfectly. The server nodded and walked away moments later leaving them alone.
They waited until the waters had arrived and the server had retreated out of earshot before dropping pretences. Jack nudged Luke’s foot with his own underneath the table.
“That was a bloody good effort lad. Your accent was pretty good for a Yank.”
“Thanks. Do you this a lot?”
“Playacting? I do it from time to time. Now that we’ve got the orders in and a nice table, how about you tell me how this voyage of ours is going to end.” Jack said laying his hands on the table and meshing his fingers together. Luke had wanted a captive audience for as long as he could remember and now that he had finally got one, the boy could think of nothing to say. He attempted to start his story twice but was already tripping over himself by the fourth or fifth sentence, completely unsure of how he could order his experiences into any kind of coherent structure. Jack was patient enough to give him another opportunity.
“Just calm down and relax. Take as long as you need.”
“I’m just not used to being listened to. People ignore me here.” The man responded to this by reaching across the table and placing his hand on top of the youth’s. He squeezed it.
“Well I’m not going to. You just talk lad. Just talk.”
Luke managed a full rendition of his story after that assurance from his new friend. He told him about the original voyage and how he had stowed aboard when it picked up passengers in Ireland. He explained in as little detail as possible that he had begun his career as a stowaway six months earlier when he left his mother and siblings behind in New York to see the world. Even now, seemingly an eternity later, it still hurt. He skimmed over the actual disaster since out of all his cycles it was surprisingly the least traumatic. He had hit his head and only half-conscious when he drowned below decks, so it was quick and relatively painless compared to what he experienced after. Then he told Jack about the cycle and the pattern of endless repetition. He explained his various attempts at escape and the ship’s refusal to part with him. He said how it always ended in a painful death and then started again.
This is the Titanic and I just want to stay dead.” Luke told his companion as a fitting conclusion to his tale all things considered.
Jack had comfortably cleared his plate during the boy’s story but never seemed distracted or bored by Luke’s rhetoric. The boy had dissected rather than eaten his food, but had managed to swallow a few bites as he relived the grimmer parts of his torment. Luke guessed his companion was a difficult man to rattle; even suicidal comments provoked nothing more than a nod as a response.
“You said you knew everybody on the ship, right?” Jack said wiping his mouth with the napkin.
“So you know who all the passengers are, right?”
“So do you know if any passengers didn’t turn up for the voyage?” The boy was certain of some people having missed the voyage, sketchy on others but he nodded. He did not want to disappoint Jack.
“I guess so. Why?”
“I’ve got an even better idea than this. Come on.”