At first it actually garnered a chuckle. There was plenty of shrieking, of course, as much from surprise as anything else, but even as a good number of the passengers began to flee the ballroom in hopes of sparing their fancy clothes, elaborate hairdos, and desperately-unsubtle toupees, several others let go a snicker of resignation. A few even laughed outright, a childlike glee triggered somewhere inside of them as they held out their arms or danced and splashed about. No matter how each passenger reacted to the event, however, the cause of it all seemed plain to everyone: something had triggered the ship’s sprinkler system, and they were all getting very wet.
The phenomenon was not limited to the ballroom, either, as those who poured out into the atrium were soon to discover. The dining areas were suffering the same fate, as were the shops, the hallways, and even the individual cabins. Some irritated souls doubled down on their bad luck, retrieving umbrellas from their bags and opening them up to hold over their more hydrophobic possessions. It soon became apparent throughout the ship that there was no escaping the sudden deluge, but annoyance gradually gave way to something darker. Hidden under tables or chairs, under spiral staircases or even the odd umbrella of the less superstitious, droplets of water began to form.
As the passengers became aware of what was happening, their first thoughts again grasped for the logical explanation. They reasoned that the water must be getting through somehow, or rolling underneath until it fell. But as the downpour grew steadily heavier beneath beds, newspapers, overcoats, and raised hands, the unwelcome conclusion began to assert itself even among those least willing to accept it. There was no sprinkler malfunction, and there were no leaks in their coverings. The water was simply falling from everywhere, and there was no refuge. When the temperature dropped and the hail began, even the few nervous laughs that had persisted thus far fell to silence or screams.
The hailstones grew quickly from pebbles and peas to mothballs and marbles, and they drove with a force that gravity alone could not have inspired. They first scraped, then began to pierce the exposed skin that they encountered, and windows, mirrors, and dishware all began to shatter. Sinks filled to overflowing, and the floors began to rise. The enormous chandelier that linked the atriums of the upper and lower decks shed layer after layer of clouded glass, competing with the hail for the damage that could be wrought. Clothing was gnawed to ribbons and discarded coats and umbrellas soon lay dismembered where they had fallen. Tables began to crack and bones to rupture.
The shouts grew louder as the passengers, dizzy from the blows, tried to fight their way free of bathrooms, cabins, and entertainment complexes, only to learn that the full effects of the storm had infested the entire ship. Some fell unconscious, and many succumbed to the allure of madness that promised a respite from the pain and the dread that had so swiftly encircled them. These were soon buried, the dead and the dying, by the rising ice tides that altered the dimensions of every space.
The temperature plummeted further, and slower passengers began to feel a tugging at their legs as the slurry of hailstones and water began to freeze. Lightning bursts electrified the landscape and cooked screams in midair, singeing the throats of their makers. The panicked drive toward the exits trebled in urgency, yet the frozen grip from below was far too strong by then for most to fight. Those nearest the outside windows had spied blue skies and sunlight just beyond the glass, and the cries of the ones trapped within sight of their redemption were the cruelest to bear. Finally, a blessed few emerged from the horrors within the ship and collapsed onto the warm, dry deck.
The sun shone down on the dozen or so who had managed to wrench themselves free, and they slowly gathered, most of them bereft of their wits and many grieving the loss of a loved one left behind. But none had time to reconcile what they had seen with what reality had always promised them, as the cacophony of swelling ice from within the ship was drowned out by other ominous sounds. Crashing could be heard somewhere far below, along with an occasional pop and a small burst. The deck seemed to shake, and awareness struck that not even the engine room had been immune. Those still in control of their thoughts formed a plan: they would lower one of the lifeboats and put some distance between themselves and the lurching ship.
They made their way to the evacuation point but could go no further. Near defeat, they addressed the chains that held the lifeboats in place and searched longingly for a control box or a lever to aid their endeavor. Meanwhile, another explosion rocked the ship, and despair shook the few who had any hope left. They gaped desperately at the swinging instruments of their escape, their minds nearly ruptured from all that they had experienced, but somehow not even tears would come. And finally one of them let go of a tired, helpless sound that began to churn itself into a laugh. The rest looked on with pity and confusion before turning their eyes toward a more bewildering sight, the one that had inspired the mirthless laughter. Far above them, the heavens had opened in the cloudless sky, and as the first drops of rain began to fall, a cold wind swept toward them from across the sea.