Her maiden voyage will be the last for many of her passengers.
Death dallied in port an extra day. All her berths had yet to be filled, and she was not so impatient to be gone that she could not wait out one last cycle of the sun, providing it meant her belly would be full when she sailed.
So she brooded an idle hour longer upon South Hampton's still harbor waters, tied to her mooring like some ungainly beast. Her shadows were as great as her hulk, and they cast a long darkness over the pier binding her waist, shielding sunlight from the eyes of creator insects that stopped and stared up at her with awestruck wonder. And there before them lay a coiled, slinking death, as insidious and quiet as any cobra slithering through a garden. As quietly, she sent out her messengers of murder to find babes in their beds, to find mothers yet to wed, to find fathers all proud and boasting of their Victorian bearing that would see them dead. For this demise was no shy, self-shielding loner, she was a nymph of unprecedented lusts, and she would bed many, many conquests before her fate had run full course.
Now was her time to proliferate of purpose, to make known her presence and demand her victims come to be counted. Such demands as these were not made subtly, either, they were as broadcasting and base as a voice of foghorns bellowing into the night. Such demands as these came in a manner of telegraphs and official summons, at the hands of liveried messengers and uniformed functionaries. Such demands as these were not met with dread or fear, but with joy and anticipation. Death's demands were not simply awaited on this occasion, they were sought out and purchased at a premium price. These demands were bragged over and advertised once received, much as a man might display a new bride at the crook of an elbow, parading her finely shaped figure before an envious host, to be admired with open desire.
For she was desirable. She was the sultry wench in the lamplight, and her dark, secretive eyes were alive with appetite. She was the whore in the doorway, her forefinger bent with invitation. She was a lover's whisper in the darkness, anonymous and sweet, undeniable, filled with raw passion and gilded power.
To ride her. To know her. To be a small, unimportant part of her. This was her draw, her irresistible attraction.
As her wake, history formed and roiled away at her passage, cut into the annals of time, there to be remembered forever, until the last ripples of human knowledge expired. To be a small bit of flotsam in her surf, to be a bit of driftwood strung along by her tides, this was the desire. It was a desire that wafted across the countryside like a sweet scent, filling all with awareness of the scent's source and a longing to seek out that source as one would a fair flower.
I first saw her as a gull sailing over her decks and superstructure, eyeing her sublime form from above as a god. I could gaze down into the black depths of her four stacks one by one as I floated by. I wondered how it would be to dip one wing and dive into one of those dark holes, to dive until the very fires of her hot heart burned all my feathers away. Sure of flight, I turned instead into a less drastic descent, and ran my eye along her railing from stern to bow, dwarfed by a neat line of towering letters painted white upon her black prow. 'T-I-T-A-N-I-C', spelled a strange code, and, though I wasn't sure what it meant, I somehow knew this was the flower that had so attracted my father. This was the seductress that had been caught in his bed. Here, at last, was the spider in the midst of the web.
"Get away from there, Charles. You'll surely break it," hissed my mother beneath her breath.
She always hissed like that when she spoke to me in public. It would not have seemed proper to discipline me in a normal tone of voice, loud enough for other guests of the party to hear. Guests were people. People were busy bodies. Busy bodies were given to gossip and rumor.
I wasn't certain what gossip and rumor were, but they sounded like deadly diseases whenever my mother spoke of them. Whatever their true meanings, at the time I thought only to avoid these terms as soon as they so much as threatened to cross her lips. God help me if she should feel it necessary to offer me her 'Best Behavior Speech', for it was often delivered in a quiet corner with an abundance of ear boxing and arm pinching.
Moving reluctantly away from a grand model of the ship that would soon carry us to the fabled shores of America, I dared a last, wistful glance over my shoulder. I was no longer a gull circling the Titanic's elegant decks, or, if I was, I was a gull on a distant errand, one that would carry me far away among the island peoples of the party crowd. If it proved possible, I vowed I would return to ogle that fantastic toy and wish it were mine to float upon the pond behind our home.
"Come along," insisted my father, his hand guiding my head as was his habit from the time I first toddled across the lawn. "There are other children your age in the next room. Go play with them, and, mind you, be on your best behavior. If you shame your breeding, I'll hear of it."
So I was pushed along through the crowd, led toward a large, finely carved set of wooden doors. Beyond was a room as plush as the ballroom behind, but smaller. It was lined along the far wall with a row of beautifully framed windows, which were in turn lined with an uneven row of silhouettes. There were the children, giggling excitedly, pointing at something interesting on the other side of the window panes, something just out of view from the doorway.
Without a word of parting to my father, I bolted across the plush carpet and pushed my way to the fore of the crowd. Once the view was clear, I gasped with surprise.
The Titanic sprawled before and below me. I was the gull again, looking down on the beast. And I had an eery feeling she was looking back at me, like a predator in expectation of prey. She had been waiting for me all this time. She was alive and seething with a blackness I could not fathom, an inky shade the color of violent, bloody hatred, for she was, it seemed, hatred incarnate. She was a machine, cold and hard, inhuman. She was jealous of my heartbeat, and envied my breath, she loathed my warm flesh yet living and was quietly obsessed with my death.