The freckled boy led us and several other children who had recovered from their headaches down the hallway. The Chinese boy and the black-haired girl who had awakened me earlier came with us.
The hallway was brightly bathed in lamplight. Our feet sank into the crimson carpet, which felt plusher than any carpet I’d ever stepped on. The softness nearly made me lose my balance and fall down.
I muttered this aloud, and the Chinese boy replied, “Yeah. We must be on one of the upper levels of the ship.”
“How do you know?”
“On this kind of ship, the upper levels are reserved for the first-class passengers. They can afford to pay through the nose to go on a luxury cruise, and that’s why the lounge and the cabins, and even the hallways are so fancy.”
“But if you go to the lower levels, they cram the sailors and the second and third-class passengers into cheap rooms. So they skimp on the amount of lighting, and the carpets look worn out. Go even lower, and you’ll find the cargo hold and the boiler rooms, which look so grimy, you can’t even imagine you’re on the same ship anymore.”
“…You know an awful lot about this sort of thing,” the freckled boy muttered in an accusatory tone.
The Chinese boy smiled wryly. “Come on, don’t look at me like that. I just happen to have some experience being a third-class passenger.”
As we walked along, we introduced ourselves to each other. The freckled boy called himself Huey. The Chinese boy was named Yang. “What about you?” they asked me.
I answered, “Alex. Nice to meet you.”
“Are you French? It’s just that you spoke French at first, and you have a little bit of an accent to your English.”
“No, I’m from Sauvure.”
“Oh. So they speak French in that country, huh?”
The black-haired girl apparently didn’t understand either English or French, but she seemed to catch on that we were introducing ourselves, so she pointed at herself: “Ree.” And then she counted off her fingers to show us that she was fourteen years old.
Just as Yang had described, that luxury lounge seemed to be on one of the floors nearest to the top of the ship. Once we found a stairwell and climbed up, we immediately found the deck. We emerged onto the deck one by one. As each kid climbed up onto the wooden deck, which had clearly been in service for many years, the planks made a stiff creaking sound.
And once we were all outside … we were lost for words.
All we saw was the ocean—the ocean, and the night…
We were shrouded by heavy darkness, unimaginable in the city. Black waves sloshed around the ship. The pale moon was far above us, its image reflected on the surface of the ocean as a single line of light. There was only water as far as the eye could see, and nothing else in sight except for the ship itself.
One boy ran across the deck. “He-ey!” he shouted. “Is anyone out there?! Help us!”
The quiet sound of waves came back as the only reply.
A Hungarian girl, tall and plump, also ran forward. She leaned over the railing, and just as she was about to give a yell of her own…
I heard something slice through the air—a strange whistling sound. Then came the girl’s shrill scream.
Huey was startled. “What’s wrong?”
“Something just grazed my cheek. Right after I walked over here, something flew at me and fell into the water….”
Huey reached out to touch the girl’s face.
Even in the darkness, I could clearly see thick blood smeared on his hand.
A shallow gash ran across the girl’s right cheek as if something had scraped it, drawing blood. When she realized what had happened, she screamed, and sank down to the floor.
I went to help the girl up. The black-haired girl, Ree, also lent a hand.
Huey and the others went to investigate in the direction where the Hungarian girl had pointed, but it was too dark to tell what could have caused something to fly through the air like that.
Yang had gone to the bridge before all this happened, but now he came back out, shaking his head. “It’s no use. The rudder is broken. No… Someone broke it.”
“How can that be? Why are we here? And are there any other people on this ship? Why are kids the only ones on board?” cried out one boy.
But Yang just shook his head in dismay. “I don’t know.”
Huey stood up. “At this rate, we’re just going to end up stranded. Wait, how about finding the radio? This kind of ship should carry a radio, right?”
“Yeah. Hey, Alex… The radio room should be in the bow of the ship, shouldn’t it?” Yang asked me. But I had never been on a ship like this before, and I shook my head, unable to answer him.
“Let’s go!” Yang and Huey ran off together. But soon enough, they came back, their shoulders slumped.
“We can’t make it…. There’s this huge smokestack, and it’s blocking the way. It’s impossible to cross the deck from stern to bow. I guess the smokestack’s probably for decoration…. But it’s still much too big. Almost as if someone deliberately made it that way, just so we wouldn’t be able to get to the radio room….”
“Then what should we do?”
Huey looked up at me. “There has to be a way. If not by the deck, then we could try going through the inside. We can go down the stairs, walk back through the hallway toward the bow, and go up the stairs on the other side. Once we’re across, we can call the coast guard on the radio.”
“Right. It shouldn’t take long.” Yang nodded.
Then I suddenly felt something soft lean against my arm. Ree had come to my side to cling to me anxiously. We couldn’t communicate with words, but I tried to nod at her reassuringly, to let her know we were going to be okay.
We both propped up the Hungarian girl, who had blood running from her cheek, and went back down the stairs. The hallway was still bathed in that painfully bright light. The soft red carpet now felt a little different from before; now it looked more like the lurid red color of blood. The Hungarian girl at my side started to cry silently. I exchanged a look with Ree, and tightened my grip on the girl’s arm.
We got back to the lounge, and found that the other kids seemed to have recovered from their headaches. When they caught sight of the injured girl, they were shocked into silence.
Everyone had been sitting in the chairs, staring down at the floor pensively. Their pale faces were lit up by the blazing light of the chandelier, and their eyes wore a dark look.
Several of them stood up. “What the… Wh-what happened?” they said, approaching us.
Huey pushed them back, saying, “Here’s the situation.” He took on the role of representative and explained what happened on the deck, then suggested to them that we all head to the radio room in the bow. The others nodded, lacking the strength to resist.
We started out by giving each other a simple self-introduction: our names, ages, nationalities, and how we ended up on this ship. There was one thing about us that differed every time: what country we came from. These included England, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, America, Turkey, Arabia, China, and … Sauvure.
There were several other kids besides Ree that we couldn’t communicate with, but apparently, among the eleven boys and girls assembled here, no two came from the same country. We had been brought together from all over the world.
But we did have something in common.
We were all orphans. If we disappeared, no one would come look for us.