‘Shadows in the Water’, Selena Martens

Illustrations © 2017 Katharine A. Viola

 [ Library, © 2017 Katharine A. Viola ] THE GROWLERS ARE COMING.

The shadows taunt her, writing letters of smoke which appear, floating against the peeling Victorian wallpaper. Astrid has a lot of practice ignoring ghosts. Still, the letters make her stumble. She darts out of the hall, into the library. Black shapes slide beneath the wood and glass bookcases, like roaches retreating from the light. At night she hears them whispering, placing bets about speed and distance as the temperature drops in her bedroom until she can see her breath turn to crystal mist and frost forms over the blankets.

Astrid can’t tell her brother. She is the one who is healthy, the one who can go outside and stand in the sun. He claims not to mind it—Hart has his books, walls and walls of leather-bound classics and slim volumes of obscure poetry. He does not feel the house tip at night, nor smell salt in the air.

Hart is in the library when she enters, sitting in one of their grandfather’s ridiculous high-backed, brass-legged chairs. There are books piled in teetering towers around him. A cup of tea is balanced precariously on the armchair. He looks too young for the setting—his round, boyish face appears even younger than twenty-five, framed by floppy golden curls. He finally spares her a glance.

“Ah…” she cannot say she ran into the library because she was being followed by ghosts. “I was thinking of inviting Gertrude up for drinks.”

“Gertrude?” Hart frowns, wrinkling his nose. “Our tenant, Gertrude?”

She can’t help the wild thought that perhaps the shadows won’t bother her with someone else around.

“No,” Hart says, gaze set firmly on the book in his lap. “I don’t want strangers in my house.”

Our house,” she reminds him. Astrid tosses her long hair over her shoulder, glancing up at the ceiling, where black spots swirl around like migratory mold. She feels like she’s at the bottom of the ocean, with shapes swimming above her. “Gertrude rents the basement, so she’s already in the house, and she wouldn’t be a stranger if you got to know her.”

Hart huffs, but doesn’t say anything. They both know Astrid will do what she wants and he’ll hide in his room if the anxiety is too much. He continues to stare at the book and she fights the childish urge to rip it out of his hands. She wants Hart to be better. She wants to have friends again, to go out and leave the shambling old house and the tiny village called Winder’s Way.

In the front hallway, the grandfather clock slices off another chunk of time. Not the right chunk, but then, there are shadow-men in the gears, warping it.

“She is weird though, Gertrude,” says Hart. “What kind of person wears a fur coat these days, anyway? And with sneakers.”

Astrid shakes her head, and when she looks again, another shadow is leaning against the wall behind her brother. It’s the shadow of a man leaning casually on his elbow, propped against something, and even though there’s no face—there’s never any face—she can feel his eyes watching her and her skin crawls. She snatches up the closest book—a collection of seventeenth century verse—and hurls it at the shadow man’s head.

The shade darts across the wall, slipping and sliding to the floor before curling under the bookcases. The volume cracks against the wall with a bang, a few pages fluttering loose.

“Astrid!” Hart shrieks, leaping from his seat. “What’s wrong with you?” He kneels before the book like it’s a wounded bird, afraid to touch it for fear of causing greater injury.

Maybe she is crazy. Wouldn’t that be a relief?

A sharp knock at the front door gives her an excuse to back away from Hart’s hurt, angry glare.

Gertrude stands on the porch and blinks in surprise when the door flies open in her face. Astrid stares at her. Gertrude is tall and heavy, with pasty-white skin, and too-short black hair that sticks up in places. She has dark, emo glasses, but she’s not wearing the offending coat, so she looks fairly normal. Astrid struggles to remember how to interact with other people. “Yes. Uh, did you need something?”

The woman twirls a rent cheque, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh. Oh, right. Thanks,” Astrid takes the cheque, but avoids her eyes. How could she think of inviting Gertrude in? She is lonely, but she is also crazy and haunted.

“I thought I’d go for a walk,” says Gertrude. “Want to come?”

Astrid glances outside. The sun is high in the sky, but the lemon tree in the yard blocks most of the light with its dark leaves. There really isn’t anywhere to go in Winder’s Way, but it would be an escape from the house, at least. “Sure,” she says, taking up a white, wide-brimmed hat and pulling on a pair of sandals.

Outside, once they are standing on the road, looking back at it, the old Victorian looks anachronistic, monochrome, abandoned. The roof is comprised of pointed peaks and its walls are stained, its gutters clogged with dead leaves. She wishes she could run away, somewhere warm, somewhere without blackflies and muddy lakes. Somewhere the sun is always shining high and shadows never form.

“Everything alright?” asks Gertrude. “You seem worried.”

Astrid nearly laughs at that.

They walk, the dirt crunching under her sandals. There’s not much to see in Winder’s Way. It’s built around a now-abandoned hospital that can’t be torn down because of the asbestos, so stands empty in the very heart of the village, surrounded by a black iron gate. There’s a small library, an old stone courthouse and post office. At the end of the street, they come to a graveyard with a corner store plunked in front, mangling the view of the hill.

“Why did you move here, anyway?” asks Astrid. She and Hart inherited the house. Her dream had been to study art at Ryerson and then maybe live in Montreal or Vancouver. Not here.

Gertrude only laughs.

April 12, 1912.

The water was cold and dark and went on forever. The ship cut through the waves far below and Hart stood on one of the lower decks, between the widening maw of the North Atlantic and the icy air and stars. It had taken an hour’s exploration to find an uninhabited deck. The sky and ocean were both black, falling and bleeding together, folding end-on-end into eternity. The wind carried a sharp chill, slicing through the velvet of his jacket. Hart ignored it, stretching out his arms as though he could touch that empty, uncanny void.

He smiled, but his mouth wavered. His muscles were not quite under his control. He was tired. Tired of weighing every word before he said it, of guarding every action. His thoughts went to past lovers—fleeting, secret connections made in parks and bathhouses, none willing to risk more for fear of ending up like Wilde, in chains. He even felt at risk remembering—kisses in front of the fire, the graze of hands, a heated gaze, flushed skin—as though something in his face might give him away. No, it was safer to let the dark, icy night fill his mind. His grip on the metal rail tightened. The cold bit his hand.

He thought of Astrid, gliding across the Promenade Deck’s ballroom in a champagne-colored gown. It would be cruel to leave her. He was meant to be escorting his sister home, to Toronto, after her holiday abroad. He should be inside, talking with her, greeting the other plutocrats. Instead all he could think was: it would be a long way to fall, from the deck.

He imagined how the liner would look from above—its golden-warm light bobbing in the darkness of the ocean. It was beautiful. The fastest, largest ship in the world. The pinnacle of man’s achievement. He should at least see the edge of happiness from here.

Starlight glittered on the waves. Hart removed his jacket and let it go, caught on the hands of some invisible sprite. He gripped the railing again, bracing against the icy bars.

“Hallo!” a voice called—male, German. “Is this yours?”

Hart froze. Feeling like a fool, he slowly released the rail and turned. The German held his jacket. “It’s a little cold for that, isn’t it?” He had a sharp smile with long, narrow teeth and hard, green eyes.

Hart swallowed. His jacket was thrust into his chest. He caught it with numb, fumbling hands and pulled it back on. There was nothing else to do. He blushed. “I—I only—you see it was—”

“Come, now. I’ve seen men do what you were planning.”

“I wasn’t—”

“It would have left a bitter taste on her maiden voyage.”

Other passengers made their way onto the deck. No space remained quiet long, on a ship such as the Titanic. Champagne glasses sparkled. The party had found him. The cold settled in his stomach, but he was jolted by the German’s hand on his shoulder, guiding him.

He caught sight of Astrid. She wore a pale yellow shawl draped over her elbows, her curls done up with strings of pearls and silk flowers. She looked like she belonged. They were twins—how could they be such opposites? He was acutely aware of his own messy hair and unbuttoned jacket, the creases in his waistcoat.

“Hart, where have you been?” she asked, hurrying towards him. She paused when she saw his companion, dropping smoothly into a curtsey. “Oh. Good evening, your lordship.”

Hart glanced at the man beside him. In the light he was unbearably handsome. “Are you a lord, then?”

His sister glared. “Hart!” she whispered angrily, “this is Graf von Rychtarik.”

He wondered how she always knew everyone. Presumably she listened to the long-winded introductions at dinner. He couldn’t be expected to know the identity of every lord in Europe. So much for the Oxford education.

“Please, Liebling,” the man grinned, taking a champagne flute from a passing tray, “titles have little meaning to anyone anymore. Just look at France. You must both call me Michael, I insist.”

He led the way back to the Palm Room, where the band played against the constant heavy thrum of the engines. Michael plucked a white daisy from one of the crystal vases and placed it in Hart’s lapel. He froze, quite unable to breathe as their foreheads brushed. Surely the German didn’t need to stand so close. “Come and sit with me.”

Why? He wanted to ask, but the protests died on his lips.

Michael handed him a glass of wine and he drank until he felt some of the chill leave his bones. They sat in cozy wicker chairs and listened to the orchestra. There were sweet hothouse grapes and peaches. White Star had wrestled Heaven down to the deep with this ship. And they would throw him out if they knew, sent into exile or imprisoned. His thoughts colored the food with a bitter aftertaste.

“What are you thinking?” Michael asked.

That I want to dance with you. Of course he couldn’t say that, but Hart allowed himself to wonder if Michael ever frequented the types of saloons he did, back in London. The Graf seemed unwilling to let him out of his sight. He felt the heat crawling back up his throat.

The other passengers moved around them, men in their long tails, twirling walking sticks, placing wagers against the ship’s speed.

How to even begin this conversation? “I’ve been living in Oxford for the past decade.”

“But you are not English, I think.”

“No,” he confirmed. “Sometimes I feel like I’m not a citizen of anywhere.”

The German leant closer. He was so close, Hart could smell the brandy and cigar-smoke on his breath. “Perhaps it’s not the country, but the Age. I often find myself wondering—dreaming, really—that—” he murmured something Hart couldn’t hear. The ocean roared up, filling his ears.

Hart wakes uncomfortably slouched in his armchair in the library, drooling on his chest. Rubbing his eyes, he looks at the old clock on the mantel. It’s late afternoon. He has been having the Titanic dreams nearly every night since he moved back. Sometimes the sharp chill off the ocean waves or the thunderous, ever-present roar of the engines stays with him, lingering after he wakes. He shifts in his chair, dislodging a stack of books with his feet. He winces as they topple.

If he could stop sleeping as easily as he stopped going outside, he would. His body is stiff from the chair as he pulls himself up. The library is safe, familiar and defined. In real life, Hart could never get on a ship like that—the cabins would be fine, and the long, narrow passageways—but to stand out on the deck, a tiny speck in that vast, awful ocean? Like an astronaut, spinning untethered and running out of air…

Astrid is out in the void right now. Hart always knows when his twin isn’t there, and he always worries. He knows it’s stupid to worry, especially in a town like Winder’s Way, where you could walk from one end to the other without encountering a single soul. But still. Knowing its stupid does nothing to make the fear stop.

Hart puts the kettle on for tea. He doesn’t like to think of himself as an agoraphobe, so much as a claustrophile. He just needs to have the edges of his world in sight. He needs corners and walls and a roof over his head. And no surprises.

As he pours boiling water into the pot with a packet of Earl Grey, he thinks of how Astrid would say he’s the most boring person in the world, but he doesn’t know how to be any other way. It seems like any other way will get you killed. Green-haired Baudelaire died in an alley, reduced to rags. Rimbaud in agony, missing a leg. Lorca was shot to death by soldiers in the Spanish Civil War. History holds a catalogue of grimly deceased poets. It’s better not to exist at all, or to come as close to that state as possible—he is invisible here, and Winder’s Way might as well exist outside time and space.

Gertrude is a modern poet living under their house, as Astrid likes to point out. They should get along, make friends. Hart’s read Gertrude’s oeuvre and does not find it special. Her only writing credit is a collection of short stories and poems published by a small horror press.

He wishes he didn’t feel the cold. It’s not even winter yet and a strong, damp chill permeates the house. The wood groans and creaks like old bones.

A knocker raps on the front door and Hart nearly drops his tea. He freezes in the doorway to the kitchen. The knocking continues—a series of sharp bangs that make his skin jump. He can’t help wincing. Go away.

Hart shudders. He sets the tea down carefully.

This, he hates. He doesn’t want to open that door. What if he goes to his room and lies down with a pillow over his head? The knocker will give up eventually. But Hart has already stepped into the main hall. He stares down the narrow corridor. Light spills in through the edges of the wood.

The knocker isn’t giving up.

Taking a steadying breath, Hart walks softly to the door and opens it a crack.

The knocker is a man in his thirties, tall and impressively dressed in a dark Armani suit, a grey tie knotted around his neck. He flashes a grin at Hart and his breath catches because it’s the same grin as the one in his dream—accompanied by the same green eyes.

“Hi there. I’m Michael. Michael Rychtarik.”

No, he thinks, unable to breathe or back away.

“I’m a friend of Gertrude’s…” Michael trails off, grin fading at Hart’s expression. “I’m sorry, I thought she was living at this address?”

Hart gathers himself enough to say: “Yes—she rents the basement. There’s an entrance around the side, there.” He begins to shut the door. Michael reaches out and forces it back open. He feels the heat rising like an itch up his neck. This can’t be real.

“Yeah, I tried that.”

Hart exhales. “Well, she’s not here.”

“Right. So, do you know where she went?”

“No,” his voice sounds odd, strangled.

“Look, can I just come in for a second? It’s been a long drive and—”


Michael stares at him for a moment. Hart thinks that he should never have answered the door. What was he thinking? Who is this man? He wants to cry and he wants to laugh. Maybe this is his mind beginning to crack. Soon reality will shatter, crumbling around him, and he won’t be able to tell his house from a doomed ocean liner. He will wind up in a psychiatric ward, ranting about lifeboat regulations and icebergs.

“Okay,” Michael says, frowning. “I’ll leave.”

Hart grips the door on the inside, ready to slam it shut. He doesn’t need to. The stranger walks away, over the creaking front porch. Hart manages to shut the door quietly, like a normal person, though his chest is a mess of tightening knots.

This is what happens when you open the door, when you go outside or let the outside in—it unravels the borders of what’s real and possible. The universe does contortions. Nothing remains static or safe. The man of your dreams might actually step out of them, onto your front porch. And then what? What else might change?

Astrid is enjoying the walk—up through the graveyard, beneath trees reaching up like souls on Judgement Day. That’s how she thinks of graveyards, as arboretums. There’s nothing really interesting—no stone angels or mausoleums—it’s a tree-dotted hill with a park-like trail winding through it. At the same time, it’s beautiful and open and she can see the sky. Selfishly, she wishes Hart were there, knowing he wouldn’t enjoy it, though maybe he could if he recited some Walt Whitman.

Gertrude pauses to examine some of the older, crumbling stones. Some of them have been so smoothed by time that nothing remains legible—no names, no dates. Well, that’s alright, she thinks, they will become shadows who slide under our front door and haunt our library. She begins shaking.

Gertrude turns and see her, raising an eyebrow in question. “Hey, kid, you okay?”

Astrid covers her face with her hands and realizes she’s laughing—a nervous, hysterical laugh she can’t stop. Gertrude stands, brushing dirt off her black jeans and grabs her by the shoulders. “Hey! Talk to me!”

Lowering her hands, Astrid looks Gertrude in the eye. “Have you seen anything, in our house?”

The other woman remains frozen, hands still gripping her tightly. “You know?”

I know?” she breaks out of Gertrude’s hands. “Of course I know! I live there!” Though she thinks of Hart, and how he doesn’t see them, so maybe it is unusual. She turns on Gertrude, “wait! You mean you know?”

“You asked me why I moved to Winder’s Way,” Gertrude shrugs. “When I moved in, I told your brother I was coming north for the peace and quiet, and to work on my next book. Well, that was partly true, but—”

“No,” Astrid shakes her head.

“I read about your house in a book on hauntings by a local author—”

“And you came here too—”

“Why are you getting mad?”

Astrid sputters. “Our house is not a sideshow!”

“Of course not,” Gertrude catches her hand. “Look, I didn’t mean it that way. I’ve always been interested in this stuff. Ghosts. UFOs. The paranormal.” Her fingers are soft, soothing against her own. Astrid almost relaxes. “Why don’t you tell me about them?”

Astrid yanks her hand away and stomps up the rest of the hill, muttering angrily. Gertrude follows slowly, casting her weird looks.

At the top of the trail they hit a side-street and begin the walk home. She tries to calm down. Gertrude changes the subject and chats about city life. Astrid feels a pang of longing, but squashes it down. By the time they get back to the house she’s nearly better.

There’s a silver Mercedes parked in their driveway. She freezes at the sight of the car—it’s been so long since there were strangers, apart from Gertrude. A tall figure gets out and turns towards them.

“Gertrude?” the man asks.

Beside her, Gertrude seems equally surprised. “Michael?”

“It’s been years,” he says, a wide grin cutting across his face.

“I know!” she blinks, seeming unsure of how to react. “How—how are you?”

They hug—hesitatingly, awkwardly. Astrid wonders if he’s an ex, or something else.

“It must be ten years since we saw each other—”

He laughs. “More like fifteen, Gert.”

“As long as that? God, we’re old, Michael.”

“And you’re hard to find. Why can’t you be on Facebook, like a normal person?”

Gertrude makes a face at that and Astrid nearly laughs, but she feels like a third wheel. She should go, but it’s her house. She shifts her weight awkwardly from foot to foot, scuffing her sandals in the dirt, while Gertrude tells Michael he must be doing well, with the fancy suit, the expensive car.

He shrugs. “I guess. I’ve been working for an investment firm out in Vancouver, but I transferred to their Toronto branch when I made junior VP—”

Gertrude whistles. Astrid doesn’t know much about business, but it sounds impressive. She smiles uneasily when his eyes flicker in her direction.

“I ran into Shawn,” Michael continues, “and he said you were only a few hours north—”

“More than a few,” she points out. Gertrude’s expression shifts into confusion. “Why are you here, Michael? You couldn’t have driven all this way—”

“To see an old friend? Why not?”

“Well, come in, I guess,” Gertrude then turns and gestures to her. “This is Astrid, my landlady.”

“Her?” Michael laughs. “She looks about sixteen.”

Gertrude sighs. “Astrid, this is some jerk I went to high school with. Ignore him.”

“We were best friends,” Michael says, putting an arm around her shoulders.

Gertrude rolls her eyes, shoving him off. “Oh, we were not.”

They bicker at each other like brother and sister. Astrid relaxes enough to smile. This, at least, she is familiar with. “Why don’t you come into the main house?” she offers. “There’s more space.” It would be nice to hear other people in that part of the house, as long as Gertrude doesn’t ask about the ghosts.

“Are you sure?” Michael asks. “I don’t think your boyfriend is too keen on visitors.”

Her face grows hot. He spoke to Hart? “My brother,” she says. “Hart. I’m sorry if he was weird to you. He’s… he doesn’t leave the house. He’s kind of…”

“What? Not ever?” asks Michael.

Astrid bites her lip. “He has anxiety… it’s a mental illness. It got worse, the last few years. We left the city and came back here, to our grandfather’s old house. There are less crowds, it’s less busy. I thought it would help, but…” she shrugs. What can she say? It did the opposite. “One day he just wouldn’t leave, not even as far as the tree.” She hates the pity she sees on Gertrude’s face. The ghosts would be a better topic.

“If he can’t come out here, we can bring the party to him.”

“Party?” Gertrude frowns. “Michael…”

“What else do you call it when old friends get together?” he smiles at them. And even though they’ve just met, he does feel like an old friend to Astrid. She has a powerful feeling of déjà vu when she looks at him and Gertrude standing together. The house throws its century-old shadow over them and the dark leaves of the lemon tree rustle.

“Okay…” Astrid nods, leading the way to the front door. Her heart pounds. Her palm is sweaty when she reaches for the brass door handle. She no longer knows if she’s fearing Hart’s anxiety, or her own. Shadows slip across the foyer, but nobody comments. Old light fixtures flicker and the floor creaks beneath their feet.

The living room, beside the kitchen and the library, is a mess. Old armchairs are covered in coats and scarves. A loveseat holds more of Hart’s books, and her own art books are spread out, open, on the coffee table. There’s an old, sagging sofa and a fainting couch beside the fireplace. An ancient tube-TV and some old videos, both covered in dust, rest on a mahogany cabinet. There’s a closet full of old board games from when their mother was little. She feels unequipped for hosting parties, get-togethers, or soirées.

Gertrude and Michael don’t appear to mind, however, cheerfully moving the piles of books, pulling back the heavy drapes on the windows, chatting about their school days. Astrid is pulled deeper into the house, looking for her brother. She hesitates outside the library, remembering the shadow she saw there that morning. “Hart?”

In the next room, she hears Michael and Gertrude shifting through vintage board games, laughing over finds like Battleship and Candyland and Clue. She can go to the kitchen and use some of the old vodka they have stashed away to mix drinks. They can still have fun, with or without Hart, but she wishes he was there, so sharply it hurts.

“Hart?” she calls again. The hallway—has it always been so dark and clammy? Astrid shivers, rubbing her bare arms. A chill leaves goosebumps trailing down her neck. The dark is thick. It shifts around her, and suddenly she is surrounded. The narrow corridor is full of shadow-people.

They push past her, running. The floor tilts, rising sharply. She can’t hold onto anything. She slips, falls down. Invisible feet trample and kick her, knocking the air out of her. A high pitched wail rises in her head, so ringing and sharp she can’t block it out. She can’t fight it as she slides down. The shadows are screaming.

April 13, 1912.

 [ Deck, © 2017 Katharine A. Viola ] Hart wore a waistcoat and a long, black dinner jacket. There was a white flower in his lapel and moonstone studs in his gloves. The band played in reception where they sipped their coffee and Michael kept casting him glances.

“Oh, have you met Lady Gertrude?” asked Michael, standing as a woman approached. She wore a black-brimmed hat and a double-breasted sweater coat over her long, grey skirt—practical, but he’d not seen any of the other ladies wearing one. Her black hair was short and curled at the sides of her round face.

“Hello there,” she said, after Michael made introductions. “Marvellous adventure, isn’t it?”

Ja, but do you like this better or worse than Graf Zeppelin’s airship?” asked Michael.

“You’ve flown in an airship?” Hart was impressed. He’d heard of their construction in Germany, but half-believed it wasn’t true.

“I tried telling her it was no place for the fairer sex, but—”

“But I would throw you overboard,” she said.

“See? She’s more Amazon than lady,” Michael told him. “We’ve been on many adventures together.”

“We’ve just returned from a journey down the Nile,” Gertrude supplied.

They were relaxed in each other’s company to the point of scandal. Hart found himself jealous of Michael and Gertrude’s easy speech and quick, small smiles. He introduced her to his sister, who was dressed in another Parisian gown, slim and gauzy satin, accented with a warm wrap. She was eager to hear about flying on silver ships.

With the sky and sea conquered, what was left for man? Hart felt dizzily on the precipice of the future and isolated by it. Born into the wrong era, he thought, remembering the Graf’s words.

He and Michael could have retreated to the smoke room, but Hart was happy to sit with Astrid and Gertrude, catching the lilting murmur of their words.

“Are you feeling better?” asked Michael. The deck seemed a lifetime ago. The Graf’s hand moved over his own. It was warm and roughened by callouses. He sat perfectly still, for fear that Michael would remove his hand. “You know…” said Michael, but he left the words off, abandoned. Hanging in the air like smoke.

A few feet away, Astrid spoke excitedly about the Parisian art world, about Cubism and its influence by the late Cézanne.

“You know there is an artist here on the ship with us,” said Gertrude, “an American.”

Astrid laughed loudly at some comment Gertrude made, and Michael pulled his hand away to turn to them, asking her to repeat it. Hart tried not to mourn the loss of contact. His fingers curled around his knees. He resolutely thought of nothing.

Later, Hart sat in his cabin, sometime after midnight, unable to sleep. He rose and dressed, and took to wandering the ship’s corridors. The ever-present rumble of the boilers and furnaces working below vibrated through everything. He stumbled, clumsy as a somnambulist, when he saw Michael at the other end of the hall.

“It’s late for a stroll.” There was concern in his eyes. Hart saw him hold one hand poised to knock on a door, but he lowered it and turned to face Hart instead.

I’m not going to throw myself overboard, he thought, but didn’t say. People died on ships all the time, it should have been easy to disappear beneath those dark waves. Why did the German care, anyways? Michael and Gertrude had adopted him into their social circle with disarming ease, and the evening had ended with them making plans to breakfast together in the French café.

“Are you going to see Gertrude?” Hart blurted out. An uncivilized question. Akin to shouting: is she your mistress?

Michael only laughed. “I was, but I’d rather see you.”

“She’s your lover.”

“No,” Michael raised his brow. “Have you been talking to the servants? Never mind. It pleases them to think she’s my lover. Ah, your face—” his lips were curved into a teasing smile. “No, I suppose a girl like her causes quite a scandal. But the truth would upset them more.”

“The truth?” Hart swallowed nervously. Michael stood quite close.

“They would like it if I took a wife and moved back to the estate,” he shrugged. “I don’t care to, and as I am the Reichsgraf—my family’s title was appointed by the Holy Roman Emperor himself—it doesn’t much matter what the servants, or anyone else, would like. I’m sick of old castles. I want to see the world.” He stared at Hart while he spoke, his eyes searching for something.

Gertrude opened the door to her room. She wore her dressing gown, and frowned at them. “The hallway is not the place for this conversation.”

Michael made a little bow to her. “I was going to invite him back to my bedroom,” he said.

Hart felt his face catch fire, but Gertrude merely said, “well, do it, then,” and shut the door in the Graf’s face. “Gute Nacht.”

Michael stepped forwards, placing his hands on Hart’s shoulders. “What were you planning, wandering the ship so late?”

Hart found he could say nothing, as he felt the Graf’s lips press against his forehead.

They walked hand-in-hand down the deserted passageway.

Someone knocks on the library door and Hart jerks awake, again in the uncomfortable chair. A volume slides off his lap, knocking the tea-cup over. It’s just a dream, after all, but he can’t shake the feelings it stirs up.

Michael stands in the doorway. Before Hart can open his mouth to say ‘what are you doing here?’ Michael says, “your sister… I think she fainted. Do you want us to call an ambulance?”

Hart stumbles to his feet, shaking his head. “Help me put her on the couch.”

The lights flicker. Michael steps back, into the hallway, and Hart follows. Astrid lies there, long yellow hair tumbling across the carpet. He feels ice water slide around his ankles and shakes his head, backing into the edge of the library door.

Michael, kneeling by his sister, glances up at him and Hart wrestles his face blank. The sight of her, reminded him of something he can barely comprehend.

His sister ran and clung to the railing of the ship, leaning over. She peered up at the iceberg so close they could touch it, so close it knocked ice onto the deck. “Did we hit it?”

“She’s alright,” says Michael. “I think. I mean, she’s breathing.”

Hart exhales slowly, dropping to his knees beside his sister.

Michael takes Astrid’s pulse. “She doesn’t have any medical conditions, does she?”

He shakes his head, trying to sort out dream and reality. Why does it feel like the floor is tilting?

When he reaches for her, his fingers brush against Michael’s and the other man flinches. “Your hands are like ice!”

April 14, 1912

The four friends spent the day together, exploring the various decks and rooms—running up and down the grand staircase, peeking in at the library in the first class lounge, with its green sofas. They played bridge in the café, surrounded by the pretty trellises and potted plants. Gertrude launched into a lecture on spiritualism and described a séance she’d attended in London. Astrid played with a Pekingese one of the other ladies had brought on board, chasing it around the deck with some laughing children. The little dog barked joyfully at the attention.

When evening fell, they dined on lobster, plover’s eggs and quail. The tables were laid out with vases of pink roses. It was warming, to sit together amid such happy, laughing companions. They spoke of technology, art, spiritualism and poetry all through the eleven-course meal.

Afterwards, they sat drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. No one aboard seemed ready to retire, as all around them the festive air continued. When the restaurant closed they moved to the smoking room and Hart relaxed, seated beside Michael. The ladies weren’t meant to be there, but apart from a few glances, no one objected to their presence. Astrid sipped a hot lemonade and they broke out a pack of cards.

“Poker,” said Gertrude.

Michael sighed, but his lips twitched into a smirk. “You are the worst lady I know…” he shook his head, but began to deal.

When the blow came it felt very nearly like nothing at all. There was a knock, a tap against the ship. Some grumbling, but she barely shuddered.

Then the engines went silent.

Astrid stood. “What was that?”

They were still, feeling the hush that had descended over the liner.

“We’ve stopped,” said Hart.

Michael laughed, dispelling the tension, and leaned back in his seat. “I’m sure it was nothing.”

“Maybe a propeller is out?” Gertrude offered, not looking up from her cards.

“Come on,” said Astrid, tugging her arm. “I want to see.”

The four made their way out onto the deck, shivering and stomping their feet. Astrid gasped and Hart put an arm around her. The ship was pushing past an iceberg which reared up beside them, towering over their heads. It was there for a second, and then it was gone.

“Did we hit it?”

Ice knocked onto the deck. Michael strode over to it, shaking his head. “Grazed, perhaps,” he said, kneeling and scraping a handful of snow off the ice. “Don’t worry, little one. This ship is unsinkable.” He packed the snow into a ball and threw it at Gertrude.

She shrieked and darted around Hart and Astrid, laughing. Skidding on the slippery, cold deck, Gertrude darted around, grabbed up her own fistful and lobbed it back at him.

A chunk of snow struck Hart in the shoulder and he found himself laughing. Soon they were joined by more passengers, all running and tossing snowballs around like school children, before breaking down into giggles.

The engines had not resumed, but surely it was only a matter of time. Let the engineers work and the stokers toil, Hart thought. He was happy.

The house groans above, shuddering. Astrid wakes on the couch with Gertrude looking down on her. “Are you okay?”

Hart and Michael are on the loveseat. Her brother leans forward, elbows on his knees, to study her. “Astrid?” His curls are damp with sweat and his face pale.

“You know…” Gertrude, leaning back, laughs nervously. She takes her glasses off, cleans them, shoulders trembling. “Don’t think I’m weird, or whatever, but something about the four of us being together is… nostalgic? Is that the word for it?”

Michael nods slowly, fingers drumming against his leg. “Like déjà vu, or—”

“Fate,” Astrid whispers. Her throat is scratchy.

“Do any of you believe in past lives?” asks Hart.

She props herself up on her elbow to look at her brother. Hart stares off into the distance, fidgeting slightly, not meeting anyone else’s gaze. They fall silent for a moment.

“Let’s play a game,” says Gertrude.

Hart pushes Battleship off the coffee table. “Not that one.”

They spend the next hour playing Monopoly, a game Michael is endearingly bad at. He takes off his suit jacket and tie, laying them on the arm of the seat. Astrid make popcorn and mixes drinks. Gertrude doesn’t bring up ghosts. Even Hart relaxes.

Everything is going well, until a shadow unfurls from beneath the table, flipping the board.

This time everyone sees it—the giant towers up to the ceiling. Plastic hotels and fake money spill on the floor, but no one takes their eyes off the shape. It bleeds into the plaster, only to be replaced by shadow hands that reach out, stretching towards them.

Hands rise up from the floor as arms sprout from the walls, stretching, writhing. Long fingers flex and curl.

“The growlers!” Astrid screams.

Faces appear, mouths in frozen screams.

Michael leaps to his feet. Hart grabs his arm. “What—”

Astrid climbs up on the couch.

Gertrude stares at the shadows unblinking, attention rapt. She looks like she wants to reach out and touch one, when Michael shouts at her. “Gert! Get out! We all need to get out!”

Arms grow like trees, hands branching off, pointing, groping fingers. The entire house heaves, like something massive lurks beneath it. The shadows are only the edge of the thing. The walls shake as though battered by high wind. The windows rattle in their frames. The temperature plummets until they see their breath puffing out in clouds.

An old laundry chute rattles and clangs and they all turn to it slowly, eyes wide. The door flies open, slammed against the wall by a flood of ice-water that spits out, churning with foamy froth. They all begin speaking at once, shouting. The water keeps coming—trickling from the corners, then running down the walls in thicker rivers, until the wallpaper warps and peels before sloughing off altogether.

“Where is it all coming from?” cries Gertrude, staring up at the ceiling as pictures slide down, crashing and shattering against the floor.

The walls vibrate, their old VHS tapes clatter and jump off the shelves. Chairs slide across the floor as though the house were picked up and twisted onto its side.

Astrid feels the cold bleeding through her skin and bones. This is what she has been afraid of—what she’s always felt coming. She begins to laugh, high pitched and hysterical.

The black water falls faster, sliding down the walls in thick sheets that burst into a thick salt-spray against the floor. The water does not run under the doors, it stays, pooling on the ground. It’s licking the wooden legs of the couch. Gertrude kicks at it, still staring in wonder. Astrid jumps up and down on the damp, soggy cushions, flinging wet hair out of her face. “Don’t do that!” she shouts. “Get away! Get away!”

But they can’t. The water becomes a churning pool beneath their feet. The others climb up on the furniture as well. Wild, dark shapes, impossible and huge, slither across the walls, which are now only sheets of a waterfall. Mist hangs in the air.

Hart straightens, balancing on a bobbing chair, head thrown back. A terrible feeling uncurls in her stomach and Astrid screams at him. Gertrude, beside her, holds her on the couch as Hart, entranced, takes a step and vanishes through the floor.

They all scream, because the floor should be there, beneath a few inches of water, but it’s not. Astrid keeps screaming, because her brother is gone.

Across from her, on the tilting loveseat, Michael rolls up his sleeves and follows him.

Her clothes are soaked, clinging to her tightly. Her face is frozen and numb. Gertrude holds her, as they rock on the waves in freezing air. She feels her hand smoothing her hair, which is stiff with ice.

And why are they the ones left behind? Astrid chokes, gasping, and tries to break out of Gertrude’s grasp. She can’t. Her heart hurts, sitting in her chest like a slab of ice. She presses her face into the other woman’s neck, sobbing.

The house is dark. She sees nothing.

April 14, 1912

The bottom of the ship had been ripped out. The iceberg, bumped, in passing, was a growler, the mass of it concealed beneath the oily black waves. The call came for everyone to put on their lifebelts. Gertrude vanished back to her cabin for a moment and reappeared, Hart saw, with a thicker sweater and fur coat. She carried an armful of sweaters for his sister, as well.

“She may still limp along,” said Michael, “but you ladies should get in the lifeboats.”

Despite being wrapped up in her furs, Gertrude merely laughed, shaking her head. “And miss all the excitement happening up here on the deck?”

Astrid pulled a sweater on and Gertrude helped her fasten a lifebelt over it. Hart watched as the crew prepared the boats for lowering, sixty feet into the cold waters below. They appeared small and flimsy compared to the bulk of the ship.

He shivered at the taunting waves, pulling at them, and looked away. Gertrude put her hand on his shoulder. “You know, it’s strange, these past hours, I’ve felt like I’ve known you and Astrid before—”

Beside her, Michael nodded, peering out, into the night. “We all knew each other, well before—”

Always,” agreed Astrid. Gertrude placed her hands over his sister’s as the two leaned against the railing.

Hart found his throat thick with emotion. He couldn’t deny it. “And we just found each other again.”

The engines were not turning on, and the deck was listing, slightly to one side. “You should get in a boat, Astrid, Gertrude.”

“Not without you!”

“Women and children first,” said Michael, “that’s the law of the sea.”

Gertrude struck him on the arm. “We’ll wait to the end, then.”

Michael and Hart helped the crew usher women into the boats. Some were only clad in dressing gowns and bathrobes, shivering violently in the bitter air. The orchestra, who had played in the lounge earlier, came and set-up again on the deck, though it was after midnight, and struck up some popular tunes. This calmed some passengers, and he caught Michael, glancing at him with a smile. “See? It will be alright.” He hummed along with the music.

But, Hart thought, they wouldn’t bother with this if it wasn’t serious.

They helped the crew for an hour, and the listing deck became more pronounced. Overhead, rockets tore off from the ship, leaving burning trails against the night. Below them, the lights of the ship bounced and wavered in the water. Some of the men started asking if they could climb into the boats as well.

A crewman, passing, saw Gertrude and grabbed her arm. “What are you doing? You should be in a lifeboat!”

“Let go of me!”

“All of the women should be in lifeboats!” he insisted.

Michael moved to interfere, and they started shouting.

Astrid clung to Hart’s evening jacket. He hadn’t bothered with a lifebelt. He, out of all of them, had no reason to be saved. A few hours ago he had contemplated meeting the same end by his own free will.

Isn’t this what you wanted?

The black curtain descends –

He shook his head at the inner voice—Yes. No.

“I’m not leaving you,” said Astrid. “We’re twins. We came into this world together, we can leave together, too.”

Reality was becoming as hard-edged as the ice that had gutted them. The ocean rose. “You have to go.”

Michael and Gertrude continued arguing with the steward. More of the passengers gathered on the deck.

“Please go.”

It would be his fault if she died, he felt it in his gut.

Astrid shook her head.

Gertrude returned and wrapped an arm around his sister’s waist. “Come now,” she said. Her eyes were dark as the sky. Whatever the steward said, he finally changed her mind, Hart thought.

Michael lifted Astrid in his arms and carried her to the boats. They dangled off the edge of the deck, a few feet away, as the ship was tilting. She reached over Michael’s shoulder, stretching her hand out towards him, and Hart raised his in a stiff wave. He forced his face into a mask of calm. He couldn’t quite bring himself to smile.

Michael threw Astrid across to the boat. She landed and it swayed on its ropes.

Gertrude clasped Hart’s hand and hugged Michael. He embraced her for a long moment, and then offered her his knee to climb on. “Now, jump,” he whispered. Her hand lingered, balancing on his shoulder. She nodded and leapt from his knee to the side of the craft, as they were lowered.

Hart sucked in a breath, bracing himself. Around them, the ship’s crew were calling for more women. The band struck up a waltz and Michael grabbed his hand suddenly, pulling him across the floor. They weren’t even the only men dancing. Of course, what did it matter now? The black ocean rose.

They danced all around the deck, through the crowds of anxious, fearful people. Through the tearful goodbyes and the begging and the prayers. Hart closed his eyes and felt the music and Michael’s hand clasping his waist, their bodies held together.

The ship groaned. There was a terrible clatter beneath them. The band switched to the somber Song of Autumn, and they stopped, catching their breath. Hart leaned against Michael. He had one hand on his shoulder, and the German covered it with his own, rubbing his fingers gently.

Hart shuddered. His throat closed up. They were going down.

“Goodbye,” said Michael, and kissed him.

© 2017 Selena Martens

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