21

Dark hall. Long. Narrow. I stumble forward. The hallway lurches to the right; my arms fly up to protect me as I stumble against the wall. Now a lurch to the left. Earthquake? I grab the edge of a nearby doorframe for stability. Behind me are gas lanterns, fixed on alternative sides of the walls, flickering. I try the door latch. Locked.

I continue with one hand touching the wall, just in case. Looking down, I see my shoes are black, shined to a gloss that reflects the unsteady light. The carpet is a thick pile, cheap, with a red and gold pattern. Faux royalty. Worn. Dirty.

 

Another door on my right. Also locked. I peer through a small window set at eye-height. A long hallway, with doors on either side, spaced alternatively left and right. All closed. A tray sits on the floor beside one door. Piled with dishes. Hotel?

Peering forward, I see a doorway at the end of the hall. Open. Thick frame, raised threshold. I creep forward. Stairs lay just beyond, reaching up into darkness. I hasten my pace, still sliding my right hand along the wall.

The hallway tilts to the left. Slow. Like a plane making a long, banking turn. I jump through the doorway and grasp the stair’s railing with both hands. The slow lean stops, and begins to tilt back. Not like any earthquake I’ve ever experienced. Maybe it’s the Big One they keep talking about.

 

I wait, holding my breath, and look back. The hallway levels out, but keeps going in the other direction. Not as far. Then back again, still less. Like a pendulum. Had I been drinking? No. I remember. I ate yogurt and drank water. Then I went home. Didn’t I? Home to Stella and Keren and Ally.

 

A horn sounds. Muffled, from above. I hear a voice. Quiet and tinny. I can’t make out the words. It was crackling and faint, like the radio sat on the credenza in my parents’ living room. A big, wooden radio, with two large plastic knobs, each with a needle pointing to numbers on a gauge. I wasn’t allowed to touch the dials. I wanted to. At night, I lay on the floor, playing with my toys, while they listened to music. Jazz, perhaps. Then, under the music, thin static noise grows, threatening to obliterate the music, horn by horn, guitar by guitar, drum by drum. My dad makes a “harumph” sound, lifts himself from his chair, and goes the radio, turning a dial back and forth, like a thief cracking a safe, and then—

 

I jump at a loud ringing. Alarm? It seems to come from everywhere. A red flashing light begins a fast cycle, making the hall look like a scene from a horror movie. Fire alarm?

I hear a whoosh behind and look back. Yellow flickering light. I see flames.

I leap up the stairs three at a time. At the top are double doors with handles. I throw them open with both hands, then almost fall as my feet nearly slip out from under me. The floor is slick.

Not a floor. A deck. Not a hotel. A ship. People are running and screaming. Men, women, children. Running towards the bow as the ship begins to tilt back—

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