Key to the Future

by Mark Phippen

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T

he man in chains was on his knees now, coughing as the dust billowed up from the ground from his impact. His jacket had been removed, it lay on the floor now, dirtied and torn. His shirt was ripped open across his chest. He lifted his head, trying to look his captor in the eye, but his bruised and bloody face was creased in pain, and he could see nothing through the tears in his eyes.

He didn't need to. Memories were enough. Places and faces flashed through his mind; Chatham and his beloved Mary; St. Christopher, talking through the night with Clunie; setting sail, Captain of the African, meeting the man who would be his captor for the first time.

He was a small man, his captor. White, definitely a Westerner. British? Probably a Scot. An unimpressive man to behold. Deceptive.

One of the other men circling the captive moved forward, a vague blur of movement. The captive braced himself. Another kicking.

But it never came. The British man was holding the other man back. 'No,' the white man was saying, 'you're not to hurt him.'

Relief washed over the captive momentarily, but was quickly replaced by a deepening fear. They wanted him alive. They were saving him for something. The captive's mind raced. This was Vodou country.

But the violent man, a Dagomban, was arguing. 'He deserves it! He is scum!' The man's English was good, but it still carried the strong tones of his mother country. This country.

'No more violence, or I set him free right now.' The white man's tone was hard, and he was jangling the keys he held to emphasise his point.

The captive's heart lept. 'Kick me!' his mind screamed. 'Kick me! Punch me! Cut me!'

But the Dagomban was backing off with a grunt, reluctantly accepting the white man's words. Another Dagomban spoke. 'The white man is right, it would make us no better than him,' the new blur with a voice kicked the dust in front of the captive, making him choke. 'We will show him mercy, show him how a really civilised people behave. We are not all like the Ashanti!'

The white man was nodding, resting his hand on the second Dagomban's shoulder. 'Here's your chance,' he said, handing him the keys, 'You're free, and you hold the key to the future. Make sure the world turns your way, just as the key turns the way you choose.'

The Dagomban paused, looking at the key in his hand. Despite his words of peace, there was evidently some doubt in his mind. To set free such evil? Could he do it?

The answer came as he bent down and placed the key in the padlock holding the captive's chains. Another pause. Then a click as the key turned, and the padlock came apart. A clink as the chains fell to the ground around the captive.

The white man was bending down, leaning on that umbrella he always carried, bringing his face level with the bruised face of the captive. 'I told you I would stop you, Newton. It's over. Now go. I cannot guarantee that this moment of grace and mercy will last.'

And with that, the Doctor turned and walked out of the village, his umbrella over his shoulder.