"I don't know what scares me more," Archie said. "Getting killed in this war or surviving it knowing I'll have to get back on this ship!"
Sol would have agreed if he could only speak, but his sickness had muted him and bound him to his bed. The entire voyage had been one disaster after another. The ship itself, a transport called the 'Pocahontas', was believed by most of the men on board to be cursed.
The first time they'd set sail, they managed only a hundred and fifty miles before the engine failed and they were forced to turn back. After three weeks of repairs, they tried again, only for a fire to break out in the coal bunker before they'd even left the pier. They endured another eleven days before trying a third time... but sailor's superstition prevailed once again. Having sailed a few miles without issue, they dropped anchor to await the rest of the convoy, but a storm arrived during the night and they were struck by an oil tanker.
The ship was cursed, they said.
They would have turned back for a third time, but Colonel Hayward refused, insisting his engineers could repair the damage. And to the great relief of all those on board, they did exactly that, and the curse was apparently lifted.
But the journey had only just begun, and the greatest dangers still lay ahead.
After nearly two weeks of long, sleepless nights, the men's nerves were wearing thin. The late December days were short and gloomy enough, but no light of any kind was permitted during the night—not even the dim glow of a lonely cigarette—for fear of alerting the ever-searching sights of a submarine. If they did, they would be torpedoed into the Atlantic, so countless hours were spent in perfect darkness which magnified every roll of the waves and the seemingly endless see-sawing of the ship's bow upon them. Dawn always came late while dusk was ever early, and even during those few light hours, the darkness left its shadow over the men's hearts.
As Sol lay there on his bed, one hand on his stomach and the other on the lip of his bucket, he heard the muted echoes of a piano calling to him from the deck above. A voice was singing along with them. It was Jim Europe and Noble Sissle, he knew—and thank the heavens for them. Though he couldn't hear the song distinctly, the sounds that reached him were suitably forlorn, aligning with his sorrows and lifting him above them. No matter how bad things got, he knew he'd be alright—so long as he had music.
"Hey, Sol," Archie said after a long silence. "You awake?"
"Yeah," Sol exhaled.
"I think it might be after midnight. Happy Christmas."
Sol was about to return the well-wishes, but then he felt his stomach turn and rolled over to shove his head in his bucket.
YOU ARE READING
* Next chapter this weekend * Manhattan, 1929. The City is on its knees following a devastating crash in the stock market. Thanks to the Prohibition, criminals are making a killing off illegal bars while thousands of honest labourers can't find a si...