I have to be going insane. There’s just no other explanation for this. I mean, I know I’m on the Titanic 2 (not by choice mind you), and I know it’s probably the most cursed ship on the planet, but this is just insane. There really is no other word for it.
I’m no one special in life, and on this ship I’m no one special either. I don’t mean to say that I don’t feel special (though the guests rarely acknowledge me beyond when they need more tequila), I mean that I am just another of the staff on the Titanic 2, the latest in the cruise line owned by … well, I forget who now. At one point it was a Carnival cruise, then Royal Caribbean, and then some rich mogul briefly owned it for a personal yacht (until he realized how ridiculous it was), so now we’re back to being a regular cruise ship. The most notorious one on the planet, probably forever, due to the infamous ending of the predecessor.
Yes, we officially dispelled any notion of repeating the same mistakes. Though the first Titanic used steel that was strong as any other steel at the time, it was under extra scrutiny due to some unscrupulous reporting of a small test subject that had been excavated. Well, we have high-quality, high-strength steel running the length of the ship, the appropriate number of bulkheads, and as advanced a GPS system as is available to avoid going 22 knots through an ice field.
So none of that is the reason that I am going insane. I wish I could have transferred from this ship, to really any other ship, but basically every job I wanted required some kind of experience. I’ll never understand how I’m supposed to have experience for a job I’ve never had, that requires experience to get the job that is being filled. These are entry-level positions, and I’m just trying to pay my bills. My parents want me to check in all the time and my girlfriend is accepting but very reluctantly supportive of my post. I’m just a deckhand on this ship.
But, I’m an educated deckhand. I am University educated, having graduated with a fine GPA from a State University (not important where, but if you must know, it was in New York), and I loved a lot of subjects totally unrelated to cruise ship deckhands. I enjoyed Chemistry, Biology, English, and my favorite was honestly Mathematics, really of any kind. Math just always came naturally to me, simply and clearly, and it was like a language I always knew as soon as I learned it.
Every day I followed the same pattern of actions on the ship, as was the case for most of the staff. Up at the crack of way-too-early, walk the up the port side of the upper deck, clean up any trash missed by the night crew and polish any particularly offensive railing. Once at the bow, validate that the flags are appropriately hoisted, the pool is clean, and the shuffleboard area is free of clutter. Then, walk the starboard side, the same as the port side, until I reach the stern, where I perform the check every deckhand does, that nothing of consequence was left in the water behind us. (The manual and classes we took made us fear that anything from a person to a whole engine could be left behind, but the worst we have seen was some bottles and a single life preserver accidentally thrown over by a drunk middle-aged man, who was charged an appropriate fee.)
On the third day of this particular cruise, I realized something I had noticed in the back of my mind, but hadn’t really consciously registered. I had been observing an increase in some odd patterns of dirt on the deck, as well as grime on the railings. It happened at a consistency that made it seem almost unnatural, but an irregularity that meant it had to be man-made in some form. I cleaned up each spot as expected, but kept noticing similar patterns all around the ship, from the port side, all the way back around to the stern. Even in the water behind the boat I was noticing some patterns that seemed too regular, but obviously those were just the churns and turns of the engine.
On the fifth day, I noticed an increase in the frequency of these patterns. I figured that, as with most cruises, as the guests became more accustomed to location and freer with their inhibitions, they would be messier. (There is no term for this, but there really should be one. It’s always talked about by other deckhands who have been around longer, and was something our instructors in the training program mentioned.) I didn’t expect that the patterns would continue at a rate that seemed to match that though. It was no longer just seeing dirt and grim, I was now seeing other things. One in particular, about every three to four feet, was some gum being stuck to the second railing. I cannot describe with anything less than a malevolent passion how much I hate cleaning up gum. But I did, and the day continued on. In case you are curious, I counted, because of how infuriated I was. It was 303 pieces of gum off the second railing, from port all the way to the stern. And a lot of curse words too.
On the ninth day, I was at my limit. The regularity of this escalating pattern observation caused me to report it to my supervisor.
“Mr. Leipzig, we need to address the guests and try to curb some of the poor behavior they’re exhibiting.” My supervisor always spent time explaining to us that although he had a German last name, that he had never been to Germany, but enjoyed a good Berliner as much as the next. His love for puns made us friends, but also made me groan more than I’d like to admit. As I rattled off my complaints, the tall man listened patiently, waiting for me to finish.
“Terry, I wish I could tell you that your complaints were unique. You’re actually the fourth person to report something like this to me today. By any chance, was there any pattern or anything? Any kind of consistency to what you’ve been experiencing?” His curiosity was accompanied by a tone of mild interest and a tilted head.
“Sir,.. yes, actually. The dirty floors and railings are about 9 feet apart, the gum has been every 3-4 feet, and I’ve noticed only today that someone has been scratching the top railing, about, well, about every 3 inches.” The more I talked, the more I thought about what I was saying, as though a light bulb was going off in my mind. There was definitely a pattern, a pattern that was clearly more than coincidence.
“Okay, Terry, here’s what I want you to do, and what I asked Sandra in Guest Services, John with the Kitchen Staff, and your night-shift counterpart Bill to do. Measure the distance, and report to me tomorrow. I have an inkling of what’s going on, but need more data.” He made a fist and looked off in the distance. “Damn, but I wish they’d put those cameras in. ’Spare no expense’. Like hell.” He shook his head and returned to looking at me. “Anyway, I’ll look for your report tomorrow morning.”
I nodded, and resumed the rest of my morning shift, already preparing in my head for how I would measure and log this information. Before I knew it, I was laying down to try to sleep through the noise of the ship and its guests, trying to find respite in the white noise maker I had purchased specifically for sleeping through the ruckus. It seemed like only minutes passed and my alarm was loudly informing me it was time to wake.
I practically ran through my morning routine and out onto the deck, ready to measure, count, and log the results of this irritating behavior. On initial inspection, it didn’t look like anything new had happened, just the same dirty deck, grimy railing, gum on the second railing, and scratches on the first railing. I raced around the deck, as quick as cleaning would allow, and finished my inspection before 10 AM. When I found Mr. Leipzig, he looked at his watch, and made a thin-lipped grimace.
“Sorry I’m later than expected sir.” He shook his head at me, indicating I was not the source of his grimace.
“No, it’s not you. It’s something else. Sandra reported that every 19 minutes, between normal issues with guests, she’ll receive a report from a group of 3 people, one of which will have a toddler or a baby. John said the kitchen has moved from normal ebb and flow to a line of people every 31 minutes. I’m sure your report will mimic Bill’s, but let’s hear it.”
I paused and furrowed my brow, feeling like I was on the verge of understanding what was happening, and that maybe it was more than just hooligans causing trouble for the staff.
“Well sir, looking at my notes … I scraped 303 pieces of gum, spaced every 3-4 feet, found dirty spots every about every 9 feet on the railing and deck, and found, as expected, another round of scratches again, about every 3 inches apart.” I felt like I was so close to understanding. Obviously there was a pattern. Obviously someone or something was trying to communicate something, or … I just don’t know.
“And today is the morning of the tenth day, really just under 10 days since we left port in Florida. You reported to me at 9:51 AM, about a variety of occurrences, like Bill did, that were spaced apart at a clearly consistent rate. These are showing up all over the ship.” He paused his summary of what had been reported, and walked over to the railing, as though bracing himself before he continued. Joining him, my mind racing as I wanted to figure it out, I looked at the waves lazily moving in the distance.
“Terry, it’s clear what’s happening. I know this ship is unlucky and some were convinced that time and space itself would try to prevent a smooth sail. Somehow, through some force I don’t understand, through circumstances we clearly can’t prevent… we’ve been invaded … or perhaps hijacked, by pi rates.”