It took almost an hour to find her. The ship had come to a halt and several concerned passengers were on deck. Still he searched, not stopping. But at every turn, before every lifeboat, she was never there. He knew she was probably searching for him as well, but luck wasn't with them. He could almost hear the fates chuckling. Then, Trevor heard footsteps and turned, seeing her running towards him.
She was in tears, face distraught as she ran into his arms. He held her tightly, thankful she was there. Claire sobbed into his shoulder.
"I tried to stop it Trevor, but they wouldn't listen. They didn't believe me. So it's happening again. I know I told you we shouldn't change things, but I had to try. These people don't deserve to die. If only they had listened..."
"It's OK, Claire. I'm here."
She looked into his face. "What are we going to do, Trevor? We both know what's going to happen."
Trevor's voice was full of conviction as he tried to comfort her. "We'll stay together, Claire. I promise, together we'll get through this." He noticed the trickle of red on her forehead.
"You're bleeding," he said, worried
"Oh, it's nothing. Some ice was knocked loose when we hit and it missed me...mostly. It was just a graze."
Trevor wiped her forehead clean. They held each other there, as the deck began to fill with passengers. A crewman darted past on some errand but they ignored him. As the minutes passed, the deck crowded. They held on to the only thing they knew was real, each other. Trevor wanted to always hold her, he realized that. And for once Claire didn't question how close they had become. She knew he was more then just her 'patient'. Here at least, in this crazy fantasy where neither of them knew what it meant. Neither could fully face what they felt. But in that moment, it was all they had. The first of the flares began to go up.
It had been more than just a graze. For both Claire and the ship. In the frightful hours that had followed, they had witnessed the panic on the decks as around them the empty ocean beckoned in the night. Trevor did his best to dress Claire's wound, but nothing seemed to stop the bleeding. No one responded to the flares as the ship began to tilt more and more, growing ever steeper before the passengers were really conscious of it.
He held on to Claire, still waiting for a spot on a life boat. She drifted in and out of consciousness from her blood loss, forcing him to hold her up. Trevor kept changing the bandage on her wound, and tried to get some medical assistance from one of the crew. In the mayhem, most refused to help them. Those that did offered little less than consoling words. In the greater scheme of things the problems of two steerage passengers didn't seem to hold much importance. In the end Trevor couldn't leave her. So he stayed as he had promised, arms around her even as the last lifeboat left. Trevor lost track of time, dazed as the ship twisted and broke around him, holding Claire close.
The great ship had finally slipped beneath the waves. Like a whale diving for the depths, its massive structure fell deeper into the icy Atlantic. Trevor found himself underwater, floating free as he held on to Claire's arm while the suction of the ship's passing dragged them further from the surface. When he was finally able to hold his position in the water, he pulled her towards him, but he felt her body go limp. Panicked, Trevor looked into her face. Claire's eyes were closed, her head falling against her shoulder.
The world seemed to pull away as Trevor lost conscious thought. Memories of Chicago fell away, unimportant. The piercing cold of the ocean was ignored. All he could see was that shining spark of light that was her... fading.
Not her, he thought. This can't be the lesson for me.
Trevor shook her and got no response.
Please, not her. Don't let me lose her. Anyone but Claire, please...
Her body remained limp in his hands. Trevor felt his soul wilt to nothing. The despair began to drive him into a frenzy.
Don't leave me, Claire. I've got to do something..
In a desperate panic he wrapped his arms around her and kicked for the surface, but the water was pitch black. Bubbles flowed crazily around him, swirling every which direction. He couldn't tell which way was up. Looking at her, Trevor realized he was losing her. He still held the one last breath he had taken before the water had swallowed them, and he came to a decision. Grabbing her head in his hands he pressed his lips into hers and blew into her mouth, trying to give her some slim chance, hopeless as it was.
The oxygen depravation began to make him feel woozy as the deep ocean seemed to swirl around them. With heavy lidded eyes he looked at Claire and still saw no response. They were going to die. Nothing could change that fate.
Trevor was seeing things, there was no doubt about it. The bubbles seemed to dance past him, forming shapes. A swirl appeared like a galaxy turning slowly, with bubbles in place of individual stars. The galaxy condensed, falling in on its own shape. Trevor calmly wondered why bubbles would do that, instead of rising to the surface. He didn't realize when, but he began to feel a strange sensation, as if he were being watched. Looking over, he saw Claire was still unconscious. And he was quickly heading for the same thing. But before he succumbed, he looked around quickly to see if the two of them were alone. The only things around them were the bubbles.
Passing in strands separated from the main undulating mass, streams of bubbles rose silently upward, in twisting lines rising to the surface. Trevor knew he should follow them up, but his mind was hazy and tired. He couldn't find the strength to move, or to even remember why he should. But still, he felt watched. With a sudden realization he knew where the sensation was coming from. It was coming from the mass of bubbles, hovering a few feet away from them in the water.
Trevor passed out but came to almost immediately. Everything began to slow as if time were stretching. The hazy cloud condensed even further. The bubble streams ascending around him came to a crawl. The cloud condensed into a shape, a form. A figure of a man. The figure came silently towards them like a wraith. Somehow, it spoke.
I WAS RIGHT. IT IS YOU.
Trevor heard the voice in his head. He replied in his own thoughts, the air in his lungs long since gone.
As he spoke the figure began to dissipate, his 'body' forming curving swirls that arched outward as they separated. The swirls began to turn towards Trevor and Claire. The voice continued.
- What are you? Are you in my head? A hallucination?
PERHAPS. BUT WHO'S HALLUCINATION? HERS, YOURS, OR THE WOMAN IN THE TENT?
How do you know me?
I KNOW ALL OF YOUR KIND, FOR I AM ONE. YOU ARE A FAR PLACE AWAY FROM OLYMPUS.
Neptune? No. You can't be. You're just a mirage. This is all from the oxygen depravation...
DID THE OTHERS SEND YOU HERE AGAIN? ALWAYS HOPING YOU MIGHT LEARN. WHAT IRONY. GETTING CAUGHT IN YOUR OWN LESSON WHILE I TEACH THESE MORTALS ONE OF THEIR OWN. THE WORLD FOLDS IN ON ITSELF AS IT'S CONSTANTLY REBORN. EVEN GODS CAN BECOME CAUGHT IN THE CREASES.
You did this? You caused the ship to sink? Why? For what possible reason?
FOR ARROGANCE. MINE AND THEIRS. MY ARROGANCE FOR COMPLETE RULE OF THE OCEANS. THEIR ARROGANCE FOR NO LONGER FEARING THEM. THEY HAD TO BE TAUGHT A COSTLY LESSON.
Too costly. I have a mortal with me. She doesn't deserve to die like this. She's beautiful and kind. Caring. Please, help her.
I HAVE NO COMPASSION FOR MORTALS. THEY ARE TRIVIAL.
No, they're not. You haven't seen what I've seen. Felt what I've felt. They're amazing. They're wondrous. They're... fragile. Help this one, I beg you. Please.
YOU CARE FOR HER?
Yes, no matter what form either of us takes, I love her.
AS YOU ALWAYS HAVE. THIS MORTAL HAS ALWAYS HELD YOUR HEART. IF I DO AS YOU ASK, THERE MUST BE A PRICE, WHETHER YOU ARE ONE OF MY KIND OR NOT.
I'll pay any price. Let her live, please!
YOU WOULD PAY MUCH, BUT I ONLY ASK THIS...
- YOUR PENANCE SHALL BE YOUR FORGETFULLNESS, AS BOTH OF YOU PASS THROUGH THIS LIFE AND ALL THE MANY AFTER. YOU WILL HAVE A MEMORY LIKE WATER. YOU WILL NEVER HOLD WHAT CAME BEFORE. YOU WILL NEVER REMEMBER THE LESSONS YOU MUST RELEARN. EACH MEETING BETWEEN YOU WILL BE LIKE A FIRST RAIN, PURE, NEW, AND OLD...ALL AT ONCE.
The bubble streams raced towards them. Trevor suddenly realized something. That was it. That was why he didn't remember this life, this place. That was the price. Without warning the bubbles crashed into both of their faces, flowing in through their nostrils and mouths, filling their lungs with air.
- YOU WILL REMEMBER NOTHING BUT THE SLIGHTEST. ONLY THE SMALLEST DROPLETS OF MEMORY. YOUR ROAD TOGETHER WILL NEVER BE A SIMPLE ONE. THIS... I DECREE.
Trevor felt the oxygen returning to his brain as his thoughts began to clear. The air depravation made him feel like he were coming out of a trance. But now he revelled in the sensation of breathing underwater. Surely he only imagined the stream of bubbles pouring into him. He turned his head and looked at Claire as her eyes fluttered open. Still dazed, she reached for him. Trevor grabbed her hand.
Two more bubble streams arched down beneath them, rising quickly until they flowed past their bodies, lifting them. Their speed increased as they rose, riding a tingling jet of bubbling air. The surface loomed above and Trevor felt his eyes go heavy again, tired. Looking over he saw Claire was already asleep, a curtain of bubbles rising between them. Trevor smiled when they broke the surface. In a haze, he imagined the bubbles continuing upward, flowing into the night sky to form distant stars, before he passed out.
Coming to, Trevor shook his head to clear it. He no longer felt any water encasing his wet body and clothes. Looking down at his chest, he saw a thick blanket wrapped around him. Lying next to him was Claire, wrapped in a blanket of her own, soaked as he was. A man loomed overhead, outlined in black against the starry sky. His lips moved as he asked a question, but Trevor heard nothing. Still dazed, Trevor propped himself up on one elbow.
They were in a lifeboat. Wet and cold, but alive.
Trevor laid back down and laughed. He mouthed a silent thank you to the heavens. Then he turned his attention to the man over them.
A lit cigarette dangled from his mouth, its point glowing orange in the night. Trevor recognized him from the ship. He had been on deck trying to calm him when he had been looking for Claire. Tenderly, the man touched their foreheads and held his fingers there, checking their conditions. Smoke billowed from his mouth as he exhaled, one finger on each of their faces. He watched them both with gray eyes, eyes Trevor remembered seeing somewhere before.
"So," the old man asked. "Did you learn anything?"
Recognition registered on Trevor's face. But before he could answer, a blue light flared underneath the old man's fingertips and again Trevor fell into nothing.
The old woman suddenly exhaled the breath she had been holding, blowing out smoke vapor as she did. Calmly she pulled her fingers away from Trevor and Claire's foreheads. Lit cigarette still dangling from her lips, the wrinkled psychic reached up and held it between her fingers as she inhaled deeply. Her gray eyes watched them carefully in silence.
Trevor and Claire snapped their eyes open the second she pulled back, both coming awake. Quickly they looked around in confusion, wondering if they were still floating in the North Atlantic since their clothes were still wet. But slowly they realized where they were, in the psychic's tent at the carnival. Their soaked clothes were the same clothes they had entered with, drenched from the downpour that continued to pelt the roof of the tent above. They sat exactly where they had been before, on two metal folding chairs, placed directly across from the fortune teller.