CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: ARK (3/5)

270 46 3

The two men talked long into the night, though it was Sol who did most of the talking. Ramgor asked him question after question, hungry for every mundane little detail he could learn about Sol's way of life. Sol rarely managed to answer one question without the captain butting straight in with another, but he was happy to oblige if it kept Ramgor from sending word to the Emperor of his whereabouts.

There was another benefit to keeping Ramgor entertained, however.

For as long as Sol continued to talk, the captain continued to drink... and whatever the bright green substance in his tusk was, it seemed to be making him more than a little merry. His blinking had become heavy and his speech had started to slur. He laughed loudly at things which were not funny, but Sol laughed along with him regardless.

"You are a funny being, Sol!" wheezed Ramgor after Sol had explained the purpose of postage stamps. "This world of yours is a remarble... remarkable place... I wish so much that I could see it... but this... this is the closest I will ever get..."

"If I ever come back," Sol said, "maybe I could bring you a film."

"A film? What is that?"

"It's a moving picture. You project it onto a screen and you could see my world just like you were right there."

Ramgor pointed a greasy finger at him. "That sounds like magic... I hope you're not lying to me..."

"I'm not lying, I promise."

"Then I want to see it! You must bring this film to me! Promise me you will bring it to me!"

"I will... if the Emperor doesn't kill me first, that is."

Ramgor's smile slipped. He stared at Sol for a long time. There was no hint of humour in his eyes. "I have enjoyed you so far, human... Don't ruin it now."

Sol said nothing.

"I think... it is time I slept." With some effort, Ramgor pushed himself to his feet and staggered to the far end of the room where his enormous bed awaited. "In the morning... I will inform... the Emper..." He collapsed onto the mattress and went quiet.

Sol sat there in his net, rocking back and forth with the movement of the ship.

"Captain?" he said.

A long silence followed before he was answered by an almighty snore.

Sol gripped the netting with both hands and pulled with all his might. He could get his head through easily enough, but his broad shoulders didn't stand a chance. After several exhausting efforts, he slumped back with a sigh and regathered his strength. He looked to the top of the net where the hook held him aloft, and he started to climb.

The higher he went, the narrower the space in the net became. When he had climbed as high as he could, he tried to reach up to grab the hook, but it was still a couple of feet out of reach. He swore. Even if he could get his hands on it, there was no way he'd be able to push the net high enough over the hook to free himself. It was a good six feet long, at least. He climbed back down, sweat collecting on his brow... but he soon stopped.

His net had rotated, bringing him face to face again with the giant fish.

He looked back at Ramgor's bed where the captain's snores were growing louder.

He turned back to the fish.

"Alright..." he said.

With both hands gripping the net, he leaned backwards then immediately forwards. The net swayed slightly. He leaned back again, synchronising his movement with that of the net to amplify its momentum.

Forward and back.

Forward and back.

The net was swinging nicely now, back and forth towards the giant fish, inching closer and closer.

"Come on..." Sol muttered. He reached one arm through the net, his fingers grasping mere inches from the dead creature's teeth. "Come on..."

He swung again, and this time he heard the whoosh of air as it whistled through the ropes. He poked his arm through, stretching for the fish. This time, his fingers touched one of the long teeth and he held on tight.

"Gotcha!"

The net tried to pull back, but Sol had himself firmly anchored. He pulled himself closer to the fish and grabbed another tooth with his free hand, careful not to grip too high as the tips of the teeth looked razor sharp... but that was exactly why he wanted them.

With a little effort, he managed to lift part of the net over one of the lower teeth so that the tooth was holding the net in place. Gripping the net with both hands, Sol began to move it up and down, using the tooth as a saw.

It didn't take long for one of the strands making up the rope to snap.

Encouraged, Sol began sawing faster. The rope was thick, but the tooth was sharp enough that it cut through half of it in next to no time. Sol slowed as he got down to the last few strands and took a firm grip on one of the teeth. With his other hand, he continued to cut the rope until at last it was severed.

"Thanks, friend," he said to the fish, and he let go. The net swung back, and this time Sol let its momentum die. When it had slowed, he glanced again at the snoring captain before slipping his feet through the damaged section of the net. He sat there for a moment and took a few long, deep breaths to steady his nerves, then eased his body through.

He held on very tight as he took the entire weight of his body into his hands outstretched above his head. He was outside of the net and hanging well over fifty feet above the ground. If the captain should wake up now, he thought...

He wasted no more time. He kicked his legs out and started to swing his body, trying to build up momentum again. It took him most of a minute to get a good swing going, by which time his fingers were starting to burn. He was losing strength in his arms, too, and didn't know how much longer he could hold on. He knew he may as well use up all his strength, however; he'd only get one shot at this.

When his arms and fingers could hold him no more, he thrust his legs out for one final kick and forced himself to let go. He tumbled backwards as he soared through the air, inadvertently pulling off a rather sloppy backflip as he plunged towards the big red armchair. He lost sight of it for a moment and could not tell if he was going to hit it or miss it, but before he knew what had happened, he landed with a whoomph on the padded chair. He rolled over several times before crashing into the chair's back where he came to an abrupt stop. He quickly got to his feet and scrambled up the arm to look at the captain's bed, relieved to see he was still fast asleep and snoring.

With the easy bit over, Sol hurried to the front of the chair and carefully eased himself over one corner. He wrapped his feet around the wooden leg and slid down slowly, as much to keep quiet as to keep from falling. He soon touched down on the floor, and with trembling legs, he made for the exit.

The door was closed, and Sol didn't need to look up to know there was no chance of reaching the handle... but he'd already decided on a different plan.

The gap under the door was not huge, but it was big enough that Sol thought he might be able to squeeze beneath it. He got down on his hands and knees and felt a cold draft on his face. The space was not even a foot tall. He lay down on his back and started to shuffle under, but it was extremely tight. There wasn't even enough room to turn his head and his chest was squashed flat against the bottom of the door. He didn't have far to go; the door was only a few feet thick... but the last thing he wanted was to get stuck halfway across. He couldn't go back, however, so he slid one foot out and tried to pull himself further under the door.

Progress was painfully slow, but inch by inch he advanced. When his head seemed to get wedged, claustrophobia started to set in. He tried to take a deep breath to calm himself, but his ribcage had no more room to expand and his panic doubled.

"Slow down," he told himself. "You're almost there."

He stretched one arm out and felt for the far side of the door. His fingertips found the edge and he managed to pull himself a little further. For every inch he managed, his grip improved and he found new strength. The pressure on his chest started to recede until, at last, he shuffled free and emerged onto the other side.

ElderlandRead this story for FREE!