Ship in a Bottle


The tall man exited the room immediately and returned less than a moment later carrying a lightweight, collapsible wheelchair. It unfolded without a sound and, after placing it beside the older man and doing a quick visual check to make sure the wheels were locked, he stepped away.  He stood at attention, passively staring at the uniform grey of the submarine wall as his master laboriously shifted his stiff disabled body into the wheelchair.

He followed at a respectful, and more importantly, a safe distance from the man in the wheel chair.  They exited the room and proceeded down a hallway.

“Jed.” The broad shouldered man in the chair did not look back when he addressed his subordinate.


“You always know your place. That’s a good quality in a man. I think I might keep you. For a while, at least.”

That was high praise, coming from his master, but Jed knew better than to allow his emotions to respond in any way.

“Thank you sir,” he said in his well practiced business voice.

As a stiff soldier opened the door into the holding cell, Jed felt another wave of fear and confusion, so powerful that it took a lot of concentration for him to remain where he was and not stumble back. He was fairly accustomed to others invading his thoughts and emotions, but this—this was different.  It was so forceful that it completely overrode all his defences as if they were but feathers torn from the sand in a storm wind. It was so complete that it seemed as though it were coming from him, not the boy who sat, stiff and wide-eyed, strapped to a chair.

“Tied up?” said the wheel chaired man with feigned sympathy. “This is no way to treat our guest. Jed, unbind him. You will behave youself? Won’t you, son?”

Why should I? The boy’s voice boomed loudly, though he hadn’t moved his lips. 

“Because that way you won’t get hurt.”

The boy just stared at them.

“Jed, unbind him and wait outside the door,” the man in the wheelchair ordered.

Jed did as he was ordered, shutting the door quietly behind him. The child did not move when untied.

   *   *   *   

 Benny hadn’t stopped screaming since he’d watched the submarine sink beneath the waves. Oh, he’d stopped using his vocal cords to scream, but inside he was a shouting knot of red hot fury.

He wove down a busy corridor, keeping the tray balanced so that the juice didn’t spill. No one paid him any mind. Just like no one seemed to mind that Joshua was missing. Oh rumours were swirling around the ship like notes in a fast Mozart. But nobody was actually missing Joshua. Nobody knew who he was, except maybe Jimmy. And he had hardly seen Jimmy. The older boy seemed to be always penned up in the Captain’s quarters and had barely shared a few words with Benny.

The anger was so strong that Benny suddenly stopped walking and forced himself to take a few deep breaths in order not to suffocate beneath it.

When he reached his destination a few minutes later, without looking up, he pushed the tray into the hands of the boy who had ordered it.

He went back to the kitchens by a different route, but though he wasn’t really paying attention to his surroundings, his attention was suddenly drawn to something out of the ordinary. It was that little girl with the wild black hair that he’d seen in the Captain’s room the day Joshua had come on board. She seemed somehow out of place, although her clothing was ordinary enough, a pair of old brown corduroy overalls and an ivory button up shirt, (ok, well, it wasn’t exactly in fashion, but not everyone on board was). But there was something strange about her, maybe it was her messy hair or her wide eyes, or maybe it was the way she was just standing there, leaning against the wall in an empty corridor.

He stopped and looked at her, then realized he would probably have to say something to account for his stopping. He searched his mind, but couldn’t come up with some excuse. She saved him the trouble by speaking first.

“I want to show you something,” she said.

“OK,” he said, not knowing what else to say.

“Come on,” she said, and sprung into motion, darting down the corridor and dodging down another.

He had to jog to keep up with her. She flitted along in front of him, leading him down multiple levels to a place on the ship that he’d never been before. Finally she came to a stop at a little doorway. She produced a tarnished key from the breast pocket of her overalls and opened the door. She then turned a light on and Benny found himself stepping to a tiny room, which must once have been used for storage, but now was empty but for an old wooden table with a chair pulled up to it.

The table was clearly being used as a sort of workshop. There were a few carving knives and whittling tools, tubes of paint and paintbrushes, sandpaper and a small saw. What was remarkable though, were the model ships. There were at least twenty of them, all perfectly crafted and nestled inside luminous glass bottles. The largest one was contained in a huge glass jug that was as big as a life saver.

“Cool,” said Benny, drawn to the little ships as though they were magnetic. He looked at one after another, leaning in till his nose nearly touched the glass. There were names on each of the ships, a few of them he recognized as famous ships, but most of which he’d never heard of. “Where did you get them all?” he asked. She didn’t respond right away and he was too busy admiring the ships in the bottles to notice.

“I make them,” she said finally. That got his attention.

“Wow, really?” But he could see the evidence of her work, and didn’t really doubt her, although he was very much amazed. He noticed that one of the ships was still in progress; its cork was not yet in place. He bent to peer in at the ship and noticed that it the name, written in neat little white letters on the black hull, was Joshua.

He looked up at the girl again. “Did you know him too? I saw you there when he arrived.” For the first time since Joshua had been taken, the thought of him did not spark Benny's anger.

“We met,” she said. “But you were his friend.”

Benny didn’t know what to say to that. This girl was strange. She spoke so directly. Again, she saved him the difficulty of coming up with something to say in response. She tipped her head a little to the side and got a distant look in her eyes, as if she were listening to something. Benny couldn’t hear anything but the usual quiet humming of the ship.

“We’re almost to the dock,” she said, with relief in her voice. She bent over then, and leaned on both hands against the table, letting out a sigh. He didn’t understand this. She was acting as if she were suddenly very exhausted.

Then she looked up again, and took his gaze with her big eyes, “we should go.” She opened the door and switched the light off and the magnificent ships fell into darkness and suddenly as they had appeared from it. Benny hurried through the warm outline of the doorway and she closed the door behind them.

She began walking away again swiftly.

“Thanks for showing me your ships!” he said, trotting after her. “They are amazing,” he added when she made no response.

She was moving quicker and quicker, and he was worried he was going to loose her in the passageways. It could take him a long time to get un-lost if she abandoned him.

“Wait!” he shouted as she disappeared around a corner, “I don’t know my way out!” He ran to corner and began down the next passageway. The girl was no where to be seen. He started to panic.

Then she stepped back into the passage and looked at him. “Oh,” she said. “Sorry. Hurry, though.”

So Benny ran through the ship, following this strange speedy girl. He couldn’t wait to tell Kendal about her and her fantastic ships. Finally, up on a higher deck which Benny recognized, she stopped, not at all out of breath.

“Know where you are now?” she asked.

“Yeah, I think so,” he panted between words.

Then she turned and left.

“Wait!” he found himself shouting for the second time. “What’s your name?” She paused again and turned. “I’m Ophelia.”

“I’m Benny. Nice to meet you—see you around!” he would have like to have said more, but she was already gone.

The End

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