Captain paced around the deck, his arms behind his back. Grumbling, he took the watch out of his pocket, stood tapping his foot, and then, stowing the timepiece, continued in his little circuit. We dropped anchor three days after installing the locks, and there was no land in sight. Now and again he pulled out a spyglass, watching the horizon.
Since we left harbor, I had been practicing my little trick. Everywhere there was a new lock, I started picking at it with the nail. It was more luck than skill at first. After spending an hour fiddling, it would spring open, leaving me little wiser as to why.
I started to get it, though. By the second day I was down to minutes, and by the third I was getting an idea of what was going on. There is something that has too slide over, but there were levers in the way.
It had been an hour since a crewman shoved me into this little hovel. It didn’t even have a window. Staring out of the keyhole I watched the bow rise and fall, and spied Captain as he went right, then left, then right again. Sighing, I sat down in the empty dark room. Absently, I began fiddling with the nail.
I had bent the tip at an angle, finding it easier to manipulate the levers up and down with a little hook. Twirling the metal between pinched fingers, I stared at the little spot of light pouring through the lock. That was the real test, you see, could I undo the door? It was smaller than the locks I had been working on. Would it even fit, I wondered, holding the nail up to the light. Biting my lip, I stood back up.
It slid in, and I felt around. Something had a little give, it went back and forth but not by much. Close to this, I found something that I could move upward, it pushed back like it was spring loaded. I wriggled it as high as it would go, but it fell back down before I could slide the other part over.
Forcing it up again, I held it, and began pivoting the nail back and forth, trying to slide the bolt free. Feeling it moving, I smiled in the darkness. Bit by bit, it came, until it would not move. Holding my breath I took the knob in my hand. Turning it as softly as I could, I pulled the door open just a crack, and peered out on deck. It was unlocked, I was free.
Captain had his spyglass out again, and gazed fixedly to the portside. My heart, I shouldn’t wonder, was beating so hard that if a man were next to me, he would hear that organ banging against the insides of my chest. I removed the nail, and shoved it into my pocket. I can’t perfectly recall what my plan was, I think it had to do with jumping into one of the boats and sailing away, but as I tiptoed out on deck I began to wonder how exactly I was going to make a break for it.
In that moment of hesitation, as I was frozen in thought, Captain turned and saw me. His whole head grew bright red, and he threw the spyglass to the floor, shattering the crystal. His mouth, opening and closing, remained silent. Charging me in that strange little waddle of his, he shook his fist in my face. Neither of us seemed able to speak, and I was incapable of moving. His arms started stretching out and then pulling themselves back, a spastic sort of motion, reaching for my neck.
Then we heard it, a splashing. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a small black whale jumping out of the water right by the ship. Captain ran, swaying side to side, to port. Following after, I looked over the balustrade. Swaying with the waves, nearly submerged, a long dark vessel, of some sort, sailed beside us. On its deck a man in tattered black clothes stared up at us.
Yes, it was our master. The graying hair was cut short, sticking out like thousands of prickly needles. With that customary frown of his, fallen cheeks, drooping eyes, he seemed to gaze at us disappointedly, the same way he did when he caught me running away.
That winter night, so long ago now, when the celebrating fireworks held our camp captive in their glow, I knew it was the right time. I couldn’t remember when I had last tried to escape. Not sense I was a child. Heck, I had been on missions by myself. I had been sent out, and I came back like a dog. Then the war was over, in one battle we took the capital.
It wasn’t just that, I had been thinking about Lazarus, what he had said to me when I killed him. Do you remember Lazarus, the runaway slave? He’d run from the fields, used his sickle to kill the foreman, hid himself in the mountains?
I cornered him at a rock face, watched as he turned his head back and forth, hoping for an escape. Drawing my curved dagger I approached, and he seemed to smile at me. I think that’s what undid me, untied all the lies, made me see what we really are. It was a brief moment, whatever that expression was passing across his face. As I rushed him he said, “Better this—”
I had been trying to finish that sentence ever sense. And I figured it out, watching the soldiers revel, drinking ale, dancing. Better death, than enslavement, that’s what he was saying. In that victory you and I had spent the last decade for, I was so hollow, terrified. So, I grabbed my pack, and just walked away.
Our master came aboard, climbing up the ladder we threw down to him. Talking with Captain, his eyes wandered over everything. Then they fell on me. He was staring at me for a good while, and Captain turned, following his gaze.
Swinging the back of his hand into my head, he shouted, “I don’t know how you got out of that closet, Boy,” my ears were ringing, “but I don’t want you up here.” Whistling for a crewman, he ordered for me to be taken down into the hull.
They locked me up again, but with the lock on the other side of the door my skills were useless. There wasn’t even light from a keyhole down here, and so, I found myself drifting to sleep. I woke up to our master shaking me. Behind him, the door was open, and he was saying something, “Little Gakuto.” Once I opened my eyes, he continued in that broken speech of his, “Go to storeroom. Bring me brandy bottle.” He pointed out the door.
Rising, I started to stretch, and I felt his foot kicking me in the rump. “No time. Now!” he said emphatically. At a somewhat brisker pace, I came to the storeroom lock. Glancing over my shoulder I saw our master, his arms folded, frowning angrily, “Now!”
Taking my makeshift pick, I started to work the lock. “Hurry,” he said, “they’re coming.” Sweat was pouring down my brow when it suddenly gave. “Hurry!” Racing past the door I grabbed the first bottle of brandy I saw and jogged back.
“Good,” he smiled, and, taking the bottle, started walking away. “I think Captain will not hit you anymore,” he said over his shoulder.