It appears that we’ve sprung a leak. The water sloshing around my feet is cold, seeping through the worn and splitting soles of my commission boots. I wriggle my toes, trying to stimulate a little sensation back into them as I whip the hefty flashlight in my hand across the hole that now gapes in the belly of our beast.
The water floods in. In the half light it almost looks like the jagged mouth of a great demon, pouring destruction and black, foul smelling fluid across the floor. It’s mesmerising and unsettling; my stomach churns a little at the rushing, roaring noise as it swells throughout the bowels of the ship.
“Sir!” One of the privates is floundering his way towards me, staggering against the list that I had barely noticed take hold. He grabs hold of one of the nearby crates and heaves a little with the excretion of moving against the swirling current. I forget his name.
“The Captain’s requesting a report Sir.” He’s shouting over the roaring rush of the water. I know there isn’t a way back from the brink we’re now teetering on. I glance around me at the explosives and ammunition in the many boxes surrounding me. Just one spark from the buckling hull and we’d be nothing more than food for the creatures that haunt the bottom of the ocean.
“Sir?!” My brain stutters back into life and I reach out and grab the young man’s arm pulling myself away from the gaping wound.
“Tell them we must evacuate, immediately. She’s lost, I want everyone off as soon as it can be done.”
He plunges back through the water, his pace quickened; fear biting at the back of his heels. I drag myself back through the yawning expanse of hull after him. It takes nearly all of my upper body strength to heave myself and my saturated clothing up the stairs and out of the swirling, misty waters below.
Thumping up the stairs, two steps at a time I emerge onto the deck. The cold night air is chilling my already frozen face to the point of pain; above my head the stars twinkle and laugh at our misfortune.
I can see the ship that hit us, out to the North East, circling back around, guns at the ready preparing for a second attack. Bodies are flying past me at an extraordinary rate, eager hands grabbing at life jackets and spare bullets, a few manning the guns readying us for the last battle. It’s the easy way out really, we’re all going to die in these waters.
The ship is listing dangerously to the right, the water we’re taking on weighing her down with a super human hand, pushing us under. The boys are starting to panic, the water is chomping at the right hand side; over three quarters of the ship already under water. We all know what’s going to happen.
I make a bolt for my cabin, pulling myself along the ship with all the strength I have, my feet sliding away from underneath me, trying to pull me overboard. I reach the open door and fling it wide, heaving myself over the threshold and into the room. Stumbling over to the great desk at the far side I throw myself into the chair, fixed into the floor thank God.
I reach for the second shelf down and give it a tug and a little pull upwards. used to the way it gets stuck in the thick, expanding wood. Throwing a few papers onto the floor I put my little finger into the tiny hole on the right hand side of the bottom of the draw and pull up the secret compartment. Lifting out the Webley No.I Mk.I issue pistol I pause for a moment to feel the weight of it in my hand. It’s loaded, I always keep it loaded, you can’t be too careful on these ships, months cooped up with nothing to do and no new faces can turn a man real quick.
I pull back the pin. I can still hear someone screaming orders, the rumble of engines in the background; I don’t know if they’re ours or theirs. Everything outside this little room is dizzy and sick with chaos and fear. This sanctuary, this blessed place. It could be my last.
Lifting the gun with heavy shaking hands I place the barrel to my temples. The feel of cold metal against my skin is more shocking than I imagined and I suddenly feel the weight of what I am about to do. The fear grapples at my throat like a giant clawing hand until my breath is coming in short, sharp gasps. I suddenly realise that I’m sobbing now.
Throwing the gun down I grasp at the edges of the table. Tears still wet on my face; using one roughly sleeved arm I wipe them away. Got to be a man, got to stand up, got to make this right. On unsteady legs I stand and move my way across the listing, groaning ship; its death wail reaching fever pitch, mingling with the yells of my crew mates. Grasping the door handles with sweaty, uncertain hands I wrench them open and step forward into the hellish hysteria of war.