Three people were dead: Huey, the Hungarian girl, and the Turkish boy. Ree had fainted from pain and blood loss, and I carried her on my back down the hallway, toward the radio room at the bow of the ship. Now there were six of us left: Yang, the Chinese boy; the black-haired Ree; me, plus a strapping Italian boy with strong features. In contrast to him was a tall, thin American boy, his hair loosely curled like a cherub’s. There was also a petite French girl with long, braided brunette hair.
We said nothing as we walked along, our faces tense with fear.
Unlike the luxurious upper floors, the lower levels were dark and dreary, giving me a unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach. The lamps and doorknobs that dotted the hallways seemed to be shifting into slightly plainer and more utilitarian designs.
The French girl walking in front suddenly let out a forlorn cry. She looked over her shoulder at us and shook her head helplessly.
Once again, we had found a wall blocking the middle of the hallway, and we couldn’t pass. We turned around back to the stairwell to go down yet another floor.
Yang called out to me. “Alex. That was brave of you back there.”
“Nah, that was nothing compared to what you did….”
“Do you still have that gun?”
I nodded, and Yang asked if he could see it. I handed it over to him.
“This is the safety,” he said. “You need to release it before you can shoot.”
“Oh.” I nodded, then I thought for a moment. “…So if I had pulled the trigger before, nothing would’ve happened?”
“Yeah. But I didn’t think you would do that anyway.”
Our eyes met. Yang smiled at me, his eyes narrowing into thread-like slits.
We took the stairs, descending one more floor. The five of us walked down a hallway that seemed even gloomier than the last one. Ree was still unconscious on my back. I worried that her bleeding hadn’t stopped yet, but for now there was nothing I could do except keep on walking. I concentrated on just getting through this hallway, praying all the while that it wouldn’t be blocked off by another wall.
This floor had many old and austere-looking cabins and dining rooms for the second-class passengers and the engineers. The lighting was shadowy, and the carpet, which must have originally been crimson-colored, was darkened and threadbare.
Suddenly, the French girl started to talk softly about something completely unrelated, about the countryside where she grew up. I scratched my head at the unexpected topic.
“We used to raise sheep. But we were poor, so we didn’t own that many. My family ate cheese that we made from their milk. We were all in good health back then. I had a friend from a rich family, and I used to go play with her in her family’s wine cellar. I miss those days…”
If I looked closely at the girl with the braided hair, wearing ragged boys’ clothing, she was actually pretty cute. But now her face was ashen with fear.
After listening to her for a while, the American boy decided to join in, speaking loudly in a forced tone of cheerfulness, “Eww, sheep cheese! Who’d want to eat something stinky like that?” His voice hadn’t changed yet, and he sounded girlish and sweet.
The French girl pouted, and tried to argue with him, “Oh, but it’s so tasty.”
“Hmm… I used to live next to a cornfield. Do you like corn? Back then, we made corn soup nearly every day. Sometimes we put it in a meat stew. …I could sure use some right about now.”
In his calm and gentle voice, Yang began to tell his own story. When his father was still alive, they used to go traveling together. After Yang was orphaned, he was able to eke out a living unloading cargo at the port. The traveling lifestyle was lots of fun….
Now the Italian boy let out a bored snort. “Should we really be talking about this right now? I don’t want to hear it.”
With the wind taken out of our sails, we shut our mouths. For the next few minutes, we walked in silence.
Then the American boy suddenly spoke. “None of us is the killer. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Everyone stared at him, startled.
The American boy continued eagerly in his girlish voice. “I’ve been thinking. It’s true that we might be the only ones on board this ship, and that there’s weapons hidden all over. But it doesn’t mean any one of us is a murderer. That’s what I think.”
“Yeah!” enthusiastically shouted the French girl, nodding. “I think so, too. There must be some other bad people who locked us up in here. I don’t know why they would do that, but there’s someone who brought us all the way to this ship, and were even mean enough to break the rudder, just so they could have fun watching us suffer. That’s why they built these walls in the hallways. It’s not something any of us could have done.”
The two of them nodded at each other. But the Italian boy with the sharp features snapped at them, “Don’t be ridiculous! Then how did Huey die? There wasn’t anyone there except us. When Yang turned on the flashlight, Ree was the only one around. And there was that knife in that girl’s throat….”
As he spoke, he seemed to think back to that scene, and his voice trembled. “If that Hungarian girl had met some stranger who wasn’t in our group, wouldn’t she have at least screamed? But when she got stabbed, she didn’t make a sound. That means the person who killed her was one of us.”
“Well… you have a point…” The American boy groped for a response, but in the end he could only hang his head.
Silence descended upon the group.
Then Yang looked up at me. “Alex… Do you remember when we went to the deck?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“When that Hungarian girl hurt her cheek, there was something she said….”
I thought back to that time. After we came out to the deck, the Hungarian girl walked to the railing, and then cried out for help.
Something just grazed my cheek….
I remembered that. She said…
Right after I walked over here, something flew at me and fell into the water….
Yang nodded. “That girl must have stepped on something. Once she did, an arrow or something shot out and grazed her cheek. Because there wasn’t anyone standing in the direction that she was pointing in.”
The Italian boy leaned toward him. “So, what you’re saying is…?”
A cautious look passed over Yang’s face. “What if the person behind all this laid out traps for us to trigger automatically? Maybe no one stabbed her with the knife; it was just set up to jump out when someone passed through that area.”
“You’re kidding me….”
We started trying to open doors and move around furniture, while crouching low to the ground for safety’s sake. In one particular room, an arrow shot through the air the moment we opened the door. The Italian boy went inside, and carefully searched every nook and cranny. But there was no one there.
In another area, a hammer fell from the wall, narrowly missing the French girl’s head. Yang pushed the girl away in time for a large chunk of metal to pass directly in front of her nose. The hammer was rigged to fall when someone stepped on a certain part of the floor.
These traps weren’t in every room or hallway. But we could sense how ruthless and irrational they were. We were terrified. Everyone pulled closer together as we walked, trying both to warm our bodies and shield each other from harm.
After a while, the French girl suddenly shuddered.
“…I hear water.”
We strained to listen, but didn’t hear anything. I began to ask the French girl again what she had heard, but Yang shushed me, and I swallowed my words.
I started to hear a faint dripping sound.
What could be causing it? I stood there for a moment, uncertain.
Then Yang yelled out, “We’re sinking!”
“It’s happening slowly, but water is entering the hull. My guess is … we’ll sink by tomorrow morning. Let’s hurry! We need to get to the ship’s bow!”
The moment that we all nodded at each other, I heard some children scream somewhere in the distance.
I ran to the source of the scream as fast as I could. I turned the corner and arrived at the elevator, which was glaringly illuminated by lamps. Since we had descended to the lower levels of the ship, the hallways and rooms were gloomy and bleak, but this corner happened to be oddly bright, almost blindingly so.
The scream had to have come from around here. But I didn’t see anyone….
I was looking around in confusion when suddenly a thick arm appeared out of nowhere. That arm grabbed my hair roughly, and yanked me to the side. I let out a scream.
Then the owner of that arm spoke in my ear. “Help me!”
…It was a familiar voice, speaking in a German accent.
I turned around and saw that the arm came from inside the elevator. The two German and Austrian boys were standing inside the iron cage. Their large, grownup-looking bodies shook spasmodically as they reached out to me.
“Help us! Unlock it, unlock it!”
I went to lower Ree down from my shoulders to the floor, and ran back to the elevator. I banged loudly on the iron lattice doors, but they were locked from the outside and wouldn’t open. The rest of the children rushed over and asked what had happened, but the two boys inside were frightened out of their wits and couldn’t give us a straight answer.
“I saw a ghost!”
“It took our gun, and threw us in here!”
Yang turned to us and yelled, “That reminds me. Alex, the gun!”
I took out the gun, but when the two boys saw it, they screamed, overcome by fear.
“Stand back!” I yelled. I aimed at the lock, and pulled the trigger. A powerful shock wave ran up my arms to my shoulders. The sound was so loud that my ears rang. My first shot missed, so I shot again right afterwards. The lock shattered and fell from the iron lattice with a muffled clank.
“Thank God!” I breathed, relieved from the bottom of my heart. I saw the tension drain out of the boys’ expressions.
Yang quickly reached out to open the latticed doors.
But that very moment…
The elevator suddenly began to drop.
The boy’s faces stiffened in terror. They opened their eyes so wide that it seemed like their eyeballs would pop out, and they grabbed my hair again with their sturdy arms. I screamed, and they shrieked back. I heard the sound of my hair getting torn out by the roots. A dull pain ran through my scalp, prickling the inside of my eyes.
Through the metal lattice, I caught a glimpse of their faces, stricken with horror and rage. The iron cage jerked from one side to the other, and then suddenly fell, disappearing into the abyss.
Their screams ripped through my eardrums, but after no more than an instant, those too faded away.
Far below, I heard something splash.
The elevator was broken. Yang and I tried desperately to bring it back up, but it wouldn’t move. In the end I was reduced to crying and banging my hands against it.
The American boy gently placed a hand on my shoulder. I turned to him with tears in my eyes, and silently shook my head.
The French girl was standing behind him, crying soundlessly.
“Those two … are already dead,” said the American boy.
“It’s already been ten minutes. The elevator would have flooded by now … and they would have drowned.”
The Italian boy pounded the wall, howling like an animal.