I had given up trying to escape the hull at that point. We had obviously set sail. Still holding the neck of the bottle of brandy I paced about the dipping rising floor like the staggering men returning to their ships from the alehouse. I had never set sail before, and wondered curiously at my turning stomach. If I had had a meal that day I would have lost it.
Slowly, I realized my position would be much improved if, when found, I was merely a stowaway, not a thief. Halting my steps, I looked at the troublesome bottle in my hand. A little light came in through the porthole, but the window was covered in glass. This was no simple matter of throwing the bottle overboard.
The best course, it seemed, was returning the spirit to the stores. I looked across the tossing turning path. Orderly rows of hammocks swung, their mismatched patchwork the only deteriorated things onboard. Everything under Captain’s command was neatly stacked, firmly tethered, and strictly organized.
On the island, the half of our warehouse that was still a warehouse consisted of piles of overturned boxes, crates of forgotten goods, and a corner where anything edible was shoved. The only thing with a semblance of structure was the jewelry under the counter. Even then it was a hodgepodge of goods ranging from fool’s gold and glass beads to treasures from Pharos’ tomb. This was a whole new world I was walking through, a world run by an alien logic.
The storeroom had no lock on the door, and no light to see past it. I took a step, and smashed into the doorframe. This, coupled with a sudden lurch of the ship, sent me and the bottle crashing to the floor. You often asked me about my scars, well, that was it. Nothing quite as exciting as you had imagined, huh? I landed face first in the broken glass of a brandy bottle.
The stinging, searing pain burned my face like fire, and I screamed. It had been a long time since I had screamed. Even when the back of my brother’s hand would bruise my cheek, or a sailor’s cupped fist would box my ear, I never screamed. The only times I remember screaming was in my dreams, in waking from my wordless dreams.
It wasn’t long after that the darkness of the ship’s belly was broken by the deep red of the setting sun. The stomping, heavyset walk of Captain marched down the plank-wood steps leading into the hull. After him, the lockstep of two crewmen followed.
Writhing on the floor, I remember hearing him say something like, “Take him,” and I quickly found myself hoisted into the air by two firm grips about my upper arms. My crying tears were blinding, but I heard the scraping sound of a chair being drawn along the floorboards. I could almost make out the shape of a man sitting down in front of me.
“What happened to the cross?” Captain asked. When my squealing cries were all the answer I could give, I heard the creaking sound of a fat man rising from an old chair. His lumbering, pounding walk drew closer. I could almost make out his face. With a delicacy, his hand reached up and pinched one of the shards of glass in my cheek. He started to press it in. “Where is the cross, Boy?”
“What cross?” I nearly shouted. His hand must have been gloved, because, at my answer, he let go of the shard and slapped me across the face. The glass didn’t seem to bother the skin of his hand as it did my flesh. “The Italian,” I whined.
“I know every pirate and privateer who sails these waters, Boy. There’s no Italian of the likes you described. Now, who did your brother sell the Cross to?” I had to think a moment, and as I thought we started to move. I was thrown into the chair Captain had sat in, and felt a fist strike my belly. Spitting up something—it was probably blood, but I couldn’t see—I started a hacking cough. And while I coughed I remembered the man who had first bought the cross.
“It was a passenger,” I shouted happening upon the man’s face in my mind’s eye. “Yeah, religious type. He was sailing on the, on the—”
“Don’t lie to me, Boy.”
“The figurehead,” I continued, “it was of a bird.” It was a perfect lie, giving him just enough information to connect the dots himself. There had been a group of proselytes who visited our shores about the same time the cross had come our way. Wore robes, chanted, and didn’t drink; they nearly drove my brother mad. Their ship had a dove, or something, instead of a naked lady, and they called her the Mary. It was perfect, because everybody knew what had happened to the Mary, caught in a sudden storm.
My vision was clearing, though my face throbbed and burned still, and I watched Captain as he turned a pale yellow color clutching at his collar. He looked at me like a starving cat would a mouse. Muttering, he began pacing before me and the two crewmen. “He’s the last one to touch it,” I heard him say, “last surviving person…” Stopping, Captain turned. He leaned over his great belly ‘til his nose nearly touched mine.
“I’ve got some good news for you, Boy.” His spittle splattered all over me. “I was going to throw you overboard—watch the sharks eat you—but I’ve had a change of heart.” He grunted and I was again lifted into the sky, my kicking legs knocking over the chair. Looking down at it with a sneer he barked, “Clean him up,” and I was marched out of the hull into the setting night.
I heard the sound of the chair being erected and shoved into a wall, and just before we ascended the stairway, felt the jostling vibrations of Captain’s run. The sun was nowhere to be seen, but the horizon softly glowed a soothing blue. Seemingly emerging from the ground like a terrible phantom, Captain followed after us, his hard breathing like stormy waves smashing into a sand wall.
I was being carried so that my back progressed before my front, and felt the horrible dread of the unseen as I was taken along the deck. The sounds of working men became the footfalls of cannibalistic monsters, and I was being marched into the center of them. Huffing and puffing, that dwarf stomped along our trail. “Hold a moment,” he shouted, and we stopped. Blood started trickling into my eyes again so I don’t really know what happened next, say what was said.
“This here is our new cabin boy,” Captain bellowed. “He’s a might anxious to take leave of this post, though. So, as a general order, he is to be locked up before making port, or if we are in contact with any other ship.” I think he spat or something then. “Carry on,” he concluded.
And I was carried along. In Captain’s quarters one of the men held my shoulders down while the other plucked the glass out of me like a chicken pecking the ground for worms. Still pinned, a bucket of water was then dumped over my head. I started coughing the liquid out of my lungs as rough rags were drawn across my face. Bleary eyed, I saw another bucket posed to douse me, and took a deep breath. Eventually, the crewmen, deciding I was “cleaned up,” wrapped bandages around my head, and I was allowed some leave.
In the deep-set night, I looked out into the ocean, wondering in what direction my little shack lay.