The ship was huge. As they followed behind the ever patient steward, Claire and Trevor looked all around them, eyes full of wonder and disbelief at what they were seeing. The thin corridor bustled with people dressed in the clothing of the period. Passengers were walking back to their cabins, ship's crewmen were carrying linens or food on trays to various destinations. Apparently it was near the lunch hour, or just past. The deck flooring felt solid under their feet. Around them the colors were vibrant and rich from new paint. The three of them slowly made their way aft, rising one deck via a small spartan staircase reserved for the crew. At its top, they passed a small surgical bay on their left before moving through a door into the covered second class promenade. Ocean stretched away to their left, visible through the windows. The steward opened another door before them, and they walked around a stepladder into the open air.
Above their heads, an overcast sky was beginning to clear. The distant sounds of seagulls could be heard. Trevor and Claire followed the steward onto the ship's aft well deck. In a daze, Claire stopped and turned, looking up.
"This is impossible," she said breathlessly.
Looking back the way they had just come, Claire's eyes travelled up the structure rising there. Above the door they had exited stretched the rest of the ship. The railings of two upper deck promenades were just in view. Followed by the top boatdeck where the lifeboats were moored, their interiors covered by white canvas stretched tight. Then, towering over all, the aftmost of the ship's four massive funnels, a thin haze of black smoke rising from the three funnels behind it into the still air.
Claire shook her head, but the image didn't go away. A thin breeze touched her face as it flowed across the well deck. Beside her, Trevor looked around, his arms straight out from his sides as he turned and appreciated the sight. He didn't seem to be having as hard a time with what he saw as Claire was having. As he looked over at her, he noticed her expression and realized Claire wasn't really accepting what was arrayed before her. Seeing that the steward still waited patiently, Trevor moved over to him.
"Thank you, fine sir," he said lightly. "You're a good man. But I think we can find our way back from here. I, uhhh... I remember where our berth is now. We'll go the rest of the way ourselves." Trevor patted him on the back, trying to convince him they would be fine alone.
Calmly, the steward looked at Trevor, considering it. He saw no harm in leaving them there since they were already in the section reserved for third class. "Very well, sir." The steward walked smoothly across the deck, opening the door they had exited, and disappearing into the ship.
Trevor walked back to Claire, who was still trying to grasp what she saw. "OK Trevor," she said. "This has got to all be in our heads..."
"Well, you're the pro-level player of mind games, Claire. What do you think this is?"
Claire nodded to herself. "A carefully crafted illusion. And I have to admit, its a good one. She's not bad."
Trevor blinked. "What?"
Claire looked at him. "That psychic lady. She touched us. On the forehead. Then we passed out. A little bit convenient, don't you think? And when we came to, we were here. You said it yourself, Trevor. She's a hypnotist. Who's to say we're not under hypnosis right now?"
Trevor smiled. "Hypnosis? Like those cheesy stage shows? Wow. You're cute when you're paranoid. Of course, you're cute when you're not. But you could be right. In fact..." Trevor suddenly got a strange look on his face, staring off into nothing.
"Trevor?" Claire looked into his eyes, concerned.
Trevor shook his head. "I'm getting a feeling..." His voice sounded distant.
"Trevor, what is it?"
Trevor touched his forehead as his shoulders dropped. "I think I'm..." He paused... before suddenly breaking into a chicken walk, flapping his arms and squawking.
Claire let whatever concern she felt evaporate in an instant. Rolling her eyes, she grunted in exasperation as she turned away. She knew when she was being made fun of.
Behind her, Trevor continued. "Come on, join in Claire. It's fun."
He finally stopped, smiling at her. "Something like that, right? Really, Claire, hypnosis? Get real. It can barely make you imagine small animals, let alone an entire environment."
Claire could see she would get no where trying to convince him. "Forget it, Trevor." She spun and walked off. Trevor followed behind her as she walked over to the port railing.
"Claire, lighten up a little. If we're hypnotized, why not have fun with it? Look, I'll clap my hands three times... we'll see if you have the sudden urge to take off all your clothes." He clapped and stared at her expectantly, getting only a glare from her in response.
Trevor shook his head. "Why don't those subliminal suggestion tapes I play in your bedroom while you're sleeping ever work?" He shrugged. "Oh well. Worth a shot."
Claire looked out over the ocean, doing her best to ignore him. She looked down at her hand as she held the railing, and felt it real under her hands, real under her wedding ring.
Trevor turned and rested his back against the railing as he stood beside her. "Hey, I think I know what will get us out of this. How about we try clicking our heels and saying... there's no place like Rome, there's no place like Rome."
"Sorry, Trevor. That's more you're delusion."
"Maybe. Or maybe it's follie a deux, a madness shared by two."
Claire looked around. "We're still in that carnival tent, Trevor. That old woman has us hypnotized and is feeding us a narrative of all this. She's the one making us think we're really here. That's the only possible explanation. And I... I think I know how to get us back."
Trevor looked away from her, amused. "You see delusions everywhere Claire. Occupational hazard." When he looked back, Claire was gone. For a split second, he wondered is she had been right. Turning, he saw her walking away behind him, determined. Trevor darted to keep up.
There was a group of passengers clustered on the aft part of the ship, one level up from where they were. Claire climbed the stepladder up to them with Trevor right behind her. Amid the clutter of white funnels and machinery were several wooden benches, half filled with passengers enjoying the sea air. More of them stood at the ship's railing, looking overboard at something. A male steerage passenger stood nearby, and Claire walked straight up to him. She grabbed his shoulders firmly and looked straight into his eyes.
"Excuse me," the man began to say in a polite voice. "Do I know-."
"Hi. I'm Claire." She laughed nervously. "And you're not real." She let go of the confused man and began searching for another one. Trevor gave the man an apologetic look as he followed, coming up beside her.
Trevor spoke under his breath. "Claire what are you doing?"
"Breaking the illusion." She grabbed a woman walking by. "Hello, you're not real."
Several passengers nearby began to give her strange looks. Trevor tapped her shoulder. "Umm, Claire? People are starting to look at you like your crazy."
"You're one to talk, Trevor. Besides, it's not crazy to ignore the opinions of imaginary people." Clare caught the gaze of one woman staring. Undeterred Claire called out to her, waving a hand. "Hello imaginary figment. You're not real!"
Claire moved towards the center of the crowd. One woman sat alone on one of the benches, oblivious as she stared into the distance, totally engrossed in watching somebody else. As Claire moved past her, it caused the woman to look up. Trevor behind and stopped beside the seated woman, watching as Claire weaved through the cluster of passengers at the railing, going person to person. He could just make out her voice from where he stood.
"Hi, I'm Claire Allen. Just reminding you that you're just inside my head... Excuse me, ma'am? I'm sorry. Your not real either. Umm, Sir? Pardon me, yes. I wanted to express my absolute conviction that you're not-... Well, it doesn't really matter what you have to say about it, because you're still not. Not in the slightest. Sorry to disappoint you. Hey. You over there... yes, you. You're not real. And neither are you..."
Trevor sighed as he watched. The seated woman beside him looked up and seemed to recognize him. "Mr. Collins?"
Trevor turned. She had used the same name that the nurse had called him by. "You know me?" he asked.
"Of course. It's me. Eileen, from the common room last night. I saw you a little earlier today. We were all very concerned when you and Mrs. Collins passed out this morning." Eileen looked over at Claire. "Is Mrs. Collins still not feeling well?"
Over by the railing, the rest of the passengers were starting to give Claire a wide berth. She spun around as she called out to the sky. "All in my head! Only explanation! I will not percieve this as real!"
Trevor looked back at the woman. "You'll have to forgive Mrs... Collins, did you say? She's still a little," he searched for a kind way to put it, "...distracted."
Eileen nodded and looked aft again, but not at Claire. Curious, Trevor followed her gaze.
Standing alone at the railing was a handsome man, looking forlornly out over the sea. He was the person Eileen was watching. And as Trevor watched her watch him, he saw that she had eyes for no one else on that deck. Trevor smiled, seating himself next to her. "I'm Trevor, by the way. Assuming I didn't tell you that last night." Trevor looked away and muttered to himself under his breath. "And assuming that was actually me..."
"Trevor?" she repeated, somewhat surprised by that name.
He agreed with her sentiment."Know exactly how you feel. So. I noticed you're sitting here all alone. Have to say I'm shocked. Someone as attractive as you without romantic... encumberance."
Eileen shoulders shook silently from gentle laughter. She looked away with a blush. As Trevor sat there, he noticed the man at the railing sneaking a quick glance at the two of them. Once his eyes met Trevor's, he looked quickly away, embarrassed.
Trevor nodded. This would be easy. He leaned closer to Eileen, speaking in a soft but encouraging voice. He nodded towards the man at the rail. "You know, it's been my experience that most conversations actually go better within touching distance. I mean, eye tag can be fun, but trust me on this. Why aren't you over there talking to him?"
Trevor tilted his head as he waited, smiling. He didn't even bother to look over at the man since they both understood who he referred to. Eileen's face looked panicked as she realized that.
"Oh, I couldn't..."
After finishing her circuit of the crowd, Claire walked back to Trevor. "Come on, Trevor." She said. "She's not real either so stop talking to her and let's get moving." Eileen gave her a strange look, but Claire didn't seem to care.
"Sorry, no offense intended. You're just not," Claire said.
Eileen turned to Trevor. "What's wrong with her?"
Trevor smiled. "Do you want a list? Well, in a nutshell... she's a nut. A kinky one too. Here, let me explain." Trevor leaned in and whispered into Eileen's ear for several seconds. Her eyes widened at what he was telling her.
"Oh my! Why I've never heard of... You mean only when she's-" Eileen put a hand to her mouth, covering a smile. "I think I see, Mr. Collins."
Trevor gave one satisfied laugh and stood up. Claire hadn't really noticed, instead she seemed engaged in some sort of self-help verbal affirmation. "I'm not insane, I'm not insane..." she whispered with her eyes closed, but not so sure she believed it. She was trying everything, it seemed. Trevor turned back to Eileen. "See what I mean?" He said, before facing claire again. "Excuse me, Claire? Why haven't you questioned whether I'm real? Maybe I'm in your imagination too."
Pausing only for a second, Claire looked at him from the corner of one eye. "It would explain so many things about the the past years. But I'm not that lucky."
Trevor turned back to Eileen, standing before her. "Trust me, Eileen. You really want to go talk to him. She who hesitates, buys batteries. Well, I guess we'll be going. I'm sure there are more people for Claire to offend further forward. See, she needs to convince them they're not real too because they have the annoying habit of not convincing themselves. Well, maybe one or two on Public Access television."
Trevor suddenly stopped as he gazed past Eileen, inadvertently looking off the side of the ship. He saw something he hadn't expected to see. Coastline. A lush expanse of rolling green hills, not more than two miles away, dotted with buildings clustered around a harbor. Now that he looked around more closely he noticed that the ship hadn't been moving. Both he had and Claire had been so caught up in finding themselves there that neither of them had noticed.
"Excuse me, Eileen. Where... are we exactly?"
"Anchored off Queensborough, Ireland. Some small tender boats have been ferrying in the last of the mail and passengers from shore before we head out into the Atlantic." She pointed to the row of spectators along the railing. "They'll be leaving in a few minutes and the crowd there is waiting to see them off."
Trevor thought. "Tenders? Still moored to the ship?"
"Yes, along the side. Further forward near the bridge."
Claire could see that Trevor was up to something. She looked at him. "Trevor, what are you doing?"
He ignored her. "Eileen, what's the date?"
"Umm, Thursday, the eleventh day of April."
Claire didn't understand why he was so worked up. "Trevor, what's going on?"
"Thursday," Trevor said, lost in thought. "Three and a half days until... You said the tenders will be going back to shore, right?"
Eileen nodded. "I believe so."
"Trevor, I want to know what-" Claire began.
"Thank you Eileen," Trevor said quickly. He darted over to Claire and grabbed her arm, dragging her away at a run. She was barely able to keep on her feet as she was forced to run beside him, surprised by his sudden urgency.
"Trevor! Why are we running? Where are we going?"
He ran to the rail and pushed through some passengers there. Leaning out, he looked forward along the ship's side. Then he saw it. A small tug-like boat was nestled along the ship's side with a wooden walkway leading into an opening in Titanic's hull.
Trevor turned to Claire. He saw their chance. "I'm saving our lives, Claire! Come on!"