The Rudolph family of Waynesville, Mississippi gathered around the television as usual, ready for their Monday night routine of watching a children’s show that had been a bit of a running joke between them. It was a show with a simple, silly premise—a group of mischievous kids up to no good—that was somehow inexplicably captivating. Enough of a Disney feel that it placated Mom and Dad's worries about exposing their children to too much television.
Tonight, however, the show didn't come on. Instead, static filled the screen, and Virgil Rudolph began his normal troubleshooting routine. His son Andy wanted to help his father, but Virgil was old school. He had to do these kinds of things by himself, as a man should. Virgil fiddled with the rabbit ears on top of the television set, while his wife Dara checked the connections in the back, and the two children hit the side of the set in frustration.
But nothing seemed to work, and the static remained, buzzy and constant. Then, as if by some unseen hand, the static began to clear, and the image on the screen began to sharpen. The Andy and Rowena clapped excitedly hoping that their Monday night routine of watching Roger and the Blinkers remained intact.
The family's mouths dropped in disbelief when they saw the image that slowly came into focus. It was the deck of a large, broken-down ship, engulfed in flames and bobbing in the turbulent ocean. The ship was clearly sinking, its bow slowly disappearing beneath the waves.
"Oh no, Virgil! Change the channel! Kids, cover your eyes!" Dara ordered as she set up trying to prevent her children from witnessing the horrors unfolding on the television screen before them.
But Virgil was transfixed by the horror on the screen, as was his son, Andy.
Though the family knew the ship was not real—that it was simply a video playing on the television—they could not tear their eyes away. It was as if they were looking into another world, a place of chaos and destruction that seemed to be so alive and so real.
The family noticed figures in the wreckage, clinging to the bow of the ship and desperately trying to escape. Dressed in old fashioned clothing and unable to prevent the disaster unfolding around them, the wreck victims began to slide into the ocean. Children screamed for their mothers before they drowned.
It was too late: the ship was already sinking too quickly.
Soon, the image on the television changed and the family found themselves looking at a beach, with a large crowd gathered near the shoreline. The Rudolph family watched as a row of stretchers were laid out on the sand, and people weeping and consoling each other. They knew without a doubt that this was the aftermath of the sinking ship they had just seen.
The family was in shock, unable to comprehend what they had just seen. How had this footage been captured? How had it been broadcast to their living room television set?
But the questions only increased as the television changed channels again and the family was presented with an entirely new scene: a newsroom studio, with a woman speaking in front of a large crowd. She said the footage the family had just seen was of the sinking of the HMS Titanic, a ship that had sunk in 1912, over a hundred years before the development of television and video recording.
Virgil Rudolph turned off the television, but the damage had been done. The family knew what they had just witnessed. A true shipwreck, a historical disaster no less. It was clear to them that the footage they had seen had been recorded live. But how was that possible? And it was equally clear that the people in the footage had been real, and that they had lived at least until they hit the icy water and perished.
The children wept a little as they held their parents.
Yes, the Rudolph family had just witnessed a recording of a century-old event that had taken place—as far as they could tell—in the middle of the ocean. But now, their curiosity was piqued.
The family finally made their way to bed, unable to sleep. For the first time in her life, Dara Rudolph didn't pray before bed. Instead, she asked Him questions.
God, what has the world come to? Why would You allow such a thing to happen to those people?
Eventually, Virgil Rudolph drifted off to sleep, but he was awakened by a telephone call first thing in the morning. His boss at the bank said there was an emergency meeting at the bank that morning.
After the meeting, Virgil did not return home. He arrived home only at the end of the day, after work.
"Virgil? Where have you been this whole time?" Dara asked in disbelief.
"Somewhere where I could get a chance to think about the footage we saw last night on television," Virgil responded, with a thoughtful look on his face.
"What footage? What are you talking about?" Dara asked as she finished making her famous potato salad.
"The footage of the sinking of the Titanic," Virgil said.
"What? What are you talking about?" She laughed as she poured him a glass of tea.
"I'm talking about seeing video footage of the real sinking of the Titanic that took place almost a hundred years ago," Virgil said, shaking his head. He couldn't believe he was telling his wife about what he had seen. But he knew she wouldn't laugh at him.
She set down the glass of tea and looked at him like he was crazy. "Virgil! Stop having me on. I don't know what movie you're talking about. I never saw a movie about the Titanic. Ugh. Never would I sit down and watch something like that. And neither would the kids."
"It wasn't a movie. I saw it happen. We all did, Dara! It may have been special effects, but it was real things! That all happened when the Titanic sank."
"Oh, Virgil," Dara shook her head and walked toward the television set. "The television set hasn't worked all week. Remember? You were supposed to take it to the repair shop this morning. I see that you forgot. Hey, any word on that cruise your brother Archie offered us? I'd love to take the kids on a family vacation this year."
Virgil stared at his wife as if she had three heads. Had he stepped into an alternate universe? Clearly, he and his wife had different memories of their recent life together.
Thankfully the house phone rang, and Virgil picked it up happy to have a moment to think about what was happening here.
"Rudolph residence. This is Virgil speaking."
To his surprise, the caller was his brother. They hadn't spoken since Christmas. "Hey, Virg. I've got those tickets. Pay me when you can and if you can't...well, let's just call it even. You've done so much for me."
"Yeah, you workaholic. You know, it's not a good idea to skip multiple vacations with that pretty wife of yours. She's a keeper and that means you need to keep her happy. By the way, you'll get a kick out of this year's cruise theme. Welcome Aboard the Titanic! Isn't that a hoot? I tell you; Kathy is pulling all the stops for this one. I'll pop those into the mail to you, Virg. Have a good one!"
Virgil woke up on the floor with Dara's worried face looming over him.
This couldn't be good...