There is a moment, when Terror – already caught by the pack that has circled them for days – ceases her gentle rocking beneath his feet and the sudden absence throws Edward off balance, has him hold onto the foremast for a moment, heart racing.
The moment ends. The disequilibrium does not. Edward doesn't know how to move on a ship that does not move with him. Edward stumbles through the decks, blunders through his duties. It's too much like being landlocked: trapped, with the stagnancy chafing at him, and Edward always on the wrong foot.
He never feels quite steady again.
Edward is a good lieutenant.
He knows what detractors hush behind his back: Sullen, tedious, square; Too soft for a hammer and too blunt for a knife.
But Edward is a good lieutenant. Steadfast, solid, measured: The Navy's in his blood, he could run a ship backward and blind.
Then that thing sneaks on Terror, starts snatching people from right under their feet, steals back into the snow like a specter. Crozier looks at him and Edward draws a blank. He runs into the darkness regardless, but there's nothing but the grainy whiteness and the ground too hard for prints.
Terror's hull – reinforced and double planked and iron clad to within an inch of its life – is breached by winter '47.
As Terror bows her head in unbearable slow motion, Edward moves more mindful in the slanted passageways; Edward walks the faded planks of the lower deck calculating strategies and rising water levels in the hold; Edward nods in meetings and makes evacuation plans for the men.
In the privacy of his cabin, with the ship groaning all around him, Edward turns his head to the wall to focus on the steady beat of his heart until he falls asleep.
And suddenly the heat – shockingly intimate – louder than screams – so bright your eyes water.
You are backing away, caught up in limbs and yells and bodies stumbling into you and you stumbling over bodies, and then your back hits the glacier, and that's it, finally, the end.
You are going to burn, in the coldest God-forsaken place on earth, all your choices dwindling fast.
And in that moment, poised between the inevitability of the ice and the raw consuming hunger of the fire, you leap and take the hand of the boy with eyes as clear and blue as sky.
the endless shingle
the hollow knocking of your knees
the wind and wear turning your coat the color of dirt
the hardened angles of the men walking beside you
the grey face of Tom Jopson as you abandon him to turn to bones bleaching on the shale
You cannot recall what green looks like. Red is easier, staining your fingers when you touch your teeth. Blue, a memory, as the sea, as a song, so long gone from you.
You cannot remember what survive means. You don't want to be another nameless shapeless faceless thing in this void. You walk.