Short story and title photo by Wanda Sonnemann
Abeni stood as if frozen, trembling, watching the ocean for the first time in her life. She couldn’t see water, only fog, whirling and alive, set on fire by morning sunlight.
The ship in the harbour, a massive construct of wood and steel was preparing to set sail. It would take her away from home and to a strange new city. She had been excited, getting out of this town of rust had been her dream all her life. But between her and her new life lay an eternity of mist and uncertainty.
Every child knew that hell was on the bottom of the salty ocean. The souls of people who drowned at sea were lost forever, dammed to stay in the depths for all eternity. The waters were their tears; cried since the beginning of time. They would never journey to the stars; they could not even become wind like her older brother Trai, whose ashes had never reached home.
She could see the captain; a dark, grey haired woman in the empire’s uniform talking to the Tye of the vessel, the man that would make sure the ship never touched the water. He seemed awfully frail for one who kept a vessel trice the size of her house floating on nothing but clouds. Tall, with narrow shoulders and a high ponytail that only emphasized the strangeness in his face.
The bell rang. The Tye bowed to the captain and climbed up to his post in the back of the ship. Fog rose from its harbour bay and the ship trembled in its tethers restlessly. The bell rang again. This was her last chance.
She was fifteen years old, held her ticket for the journey in her hand and carried her second set of clothes and the book about the great wonders of the southern cities in a bundle on her back. She did not want to die. She did not want her soul to be drawn into the depths, forever to be lost. But going back to her house, the place she had lived all her life was no option either. She could not move, could not even lift a finger. Maybe she would try her luck inland. She could enlist in the military, like Trai had. He was dead now, but at least his soul was free to roam the wind and maybe, just maybe make the journey to the stars some day. The bell rang a third time. She took a single step in direction of the ship, and then froze again. Her eyes burned with unwept tears and shame; in the end she was not as daring as she had dreamed.
The ship gave a deep, long hoot that hurt in her ears and resonated in her bones. Inch by inch is rose from the water, workers on the dock released the tethers. Slowly, like a waking giant it floated over the port basin’s stone embankment and towards the open sea. She watched it leave until she no longer could make out the Tye on deck and the fog and the rising sun had swallowed it. Left with nothing but the dread of the ocean in front of her, she turned away and towards the harbour town, and the desert behind it.