The hull had already flooded as water stampeded through the tear. It was going to be gone in five minutes. He was supposed to be next to me, we’d practiced this. Alarm, lifejacket, lifeboat, safety. That was the plan. Around me people were calling out in the darkness:
“Lifeboat eight go!”
“Williams! Tighten your lifejacket!”
“Lifeboat nine go!”
We were supposed to be in lifeboat ten and he still wasn’t there. I thought every passing face was him until I was surrounded by him; but they morph back into the faces of the terrified sailors, all scrambling to find their boat. We were about to get into ours.
“Get in Smith!” Lieutenant Kilburn shouted.
“I can’t, not without Fred.”
“If he’s not here we can’t wait for him.”
“He’s my brother!” I yelled. From behind me, I heard metal snap and a sharp scream.
“There’s no time!”
Someone behind me shoved me into the boat and I smacked my head on the floor. Another dragged me up and threw me into a seat and I was too dazed to protest. The boat juddered as we landed with a crunch in the sea. The little engine in the boat was kicked into life and we chugged away as another lifeboat crashed into the sea behind us.
I stared back up at the ship, only the top two levels were still above the water. The people still on board had abandoned order and were just piling into lifeboats as another level disappeared beneath the waves. I prayed that Fred was one of those last few grabbing a place in the boats. Or if he’d gone earlier. And that someone was taking care of him.
The prayers stopped when we passed a group of bodies, limp and pale in the water. The first one I didn’t recognise, but the second was-
“Fred! Fred! It’s Fred!” I screamed. I tried to stand up but I was pulled back down into my seat.
“We can’t stop Smith,” Kilburn said. I hadn’t noticed him slip into the seat opposite me.
“But we’ve got to. He might just be unconscious. He might -“
“He’s dead Smith,” was the hushed reply.
“We need to take his body home then. Mum will want him there for the funeral. She needs to say goodbye.”
Kilburn shuffled in his seat and glanced at Fred then back at me. He began to mumble something, but then shook his head.
“No. There’s not enough space. He’ll be buried at sea. There are worst places to be buried.”
I sunk into my seat, my soul numb with the shock and cold. He was borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.