“Boatswain, have you seen my Felix? He was just here.”
Bastian’s hand found some wooden protrusion and steadied himself, and he spat an oily wad of phlegm onto the deck. But he didn’t retch this time. He felt his atrophied skills most profoundly in his limbs, heavy and distant, like a stranger’s. Braced by the brittle sea air, he soon had command of his senses once more. A gull shrieked above him, its wings frozen by memory. Bastian wondered how long it would hang there. Until there is no one left to remember. Or longer. He turned to face her.
“Oh, you’re not the boatswain,” said Patrice. She twirled a pink parasol over her shoulder as she studied him. Her dress was all layers and lace, a garment unfit for adventures in lonely halls. Bastian’s eyes latched on the satchel dangling at her waist.
“You’re here to trade,” she said, understanding the look. He nodded, “Yes, that’s right.” It was Patrice, but a Patrice that did not know him. Best to get down to it.
“What’ve you got?” she asked, propping the parasol against a tarp-covered crate. Her hair was shorter than he remembered. Bastian walked across the deck, planks creaking underfoot.
“Words, mostly. Good ones, though. I’ve got ‘lame de fond.’ It’s French for…”
“Groundswell. Yes, I know,” Patrice snapped. “Look where you are. We’re lousy with seaman’s tongues.”
“Right, of course,” Bastian rubbed the back of his neck. “Stupid.” He looked out at the ocean. It stretched into forever, turning into a grayish smear on the horizon. A word bloomed and he rapped the crate with his knuckles. “I’ve got one for a Japanese flower.”
Her eyes went wide and nearly snapped his heart in two. “Give it, then!”
“Let’s see yours first!” Bastian tapped the top of the crate, falling back into the groove of his business.
Instead of opening the satchel, Patrice revealed a locket shining at her neck. Bastian felt the cold at the core of the sea flood up into his legs. “I have this. Isn’t it lovely?”
“No,” said Bastian, too loudly. Patrice took a step back, concern in her brow. “No…we deal in keys.” And if you traded that to me I’d never see Patrice again.
She nodded and pulled a ring laden with keys from her satchel. They tinkled and clanked as she fanned them over the tarp. “Here’s one that has ‘343’ on it. I’ve got a ‘660’ as well…”
“Worthless. No numbers. I want shapes, sigils.” One of his many bitter lessons was that the numbers on the doors were lies.
“What about this one? It looks like a bat.” He could see he had offended her. She wouldn’t look directly at him, finding bits of lint to pick out of her dress. Bastian wanted to apologize, to explain. Instead he nodded, scooping up her offering. It did indeed look like a bat. Patrice blinked, relieved.
Bastian turned to leave and then remembered. “Sakurasou. It means ‘longing’.” Or ‘home’. Patrice smiled quietly, eyes drawn inward to study this new acquisition.
He knew Oubliette would be impatient by now and, his business concluded, he ought to return.
But something suddenly occurred to Bastian.