Today's Story by Jamie Mason

"Show no fear." I touch her shoulder. "You are a daughter of the waves, of the island. In this there is honor."


“Why are you leaving the island?”

“Because there, I am not free.”

The child frowns, confused because I told her I had emigrated to the island from elsewhere.  “Then why did you come in the first place?”

“Because it was freer than home.”

The boat carves northward in a cloud of salt-spray.  The shapes of the other vessels in our flotilla are barely visible through the mist.  The child at the rail stares into the foggy light, old enough to understand the gravity of our situation, too young to believe she knows everything.  She appeared an hour after the soldiers put us onboard.  Like anyone her age, she poses an endless stream of questions.  Even to a stranger.

“Where did you live?”

“In Morro.”

“So did my father.  Your room was small?”

“It was.”  I smile at her use of the word ‘room.’  “Too small to stand up or stretch out in comfortably.”

“My father walks with a bent back now, like an old beggar with a sack.  Your back is not bent.  How long were you in your room?”

“Nine months.”  I feel the engines thrumming through the deck beneath our feet.  “I have endured worse.”

“In your home?”

“Yes.”  I force myself to unclench my teeth, my fists from around the railing.  “For my crime they put me in a small room, too.  But there the room was not physical – it existed only in your mind.  Yet it was far worse than the one at the Morro where I had to go to the bathroom in the same space I ate and slept.”  I inhale and taste a salt softer and more bitter than that served at table.  “There were times I despaired and wished they would take me out of that room in my mind.  Although I knew they only did that when it came time to kill you.”

“What was your crime?”

“I sang.  Which, in my home, is how we communicate important things.”

“We sing too.”

“I know.  Such beautiful songs …”

“To whom did you sing?”

“To the man I loved.”

“But you are a man.”  She frowns again.

“In my home that is permitted.  Sometimes.”

There is love.  And then there is obligation.  Mine was an arranged marriage – to one of the largest landholders on the continent.  Diminishing resources made our union a necessity.  When I could endure it no longer, I fled.  In one final tryst my lover and I sang our undying love for one another before I made my bid for freedom.  And failed.

“I am frightened.”  The child bends and presses her cheek to the railing.

“Me too.”

“But you are grown up.”

“In years only.”

“You speak in riddles!”

“Sometimes they are the only truth.”

The song of my lover awoke me from my room.  He ransomed my release with his life.  I barely recall my staggering, tear-blinded flight.  I remember the vehicle spiraling down through darkness to smash the lake’s surface in a blaze of light, then the astonished faces of soldiers pulling me from the wreckage.

Before their leader in his smoke-filled room, the soldiers explained, with deferential whispers and averted eyes, how they had found me.  The leader’s gaze glittered with frightening alertness.  He dismissed them before questioning me at length – mostly about the way we lived.  He grew excited when I described the ways our government controlled us and he applauded my refusal to bend to the landowner’s will.  Then, his beard curling in a bemused smile, he told me I could stay.  And so I was free again.  For a time.

“Do you like the ocean?”

“We have an ocean in my home.”  I catch a whiff of petrol on the wind.  “The whales are a luminous green.  With patience, they can be taught to whisper in the language of men.”

Her eyes widen.

The engine’s song drops a half-tone and the boat slows.  A dark shape coalesces in the fog ahead.  Land.  The child raises her cheek from the railing and stares.

“This place … do you know it?”

“No more than you.”

For a moment she is uncertain.  “What will they do to us here?”

I do not answer.  I am remembering the day Castro’s soldiers emptied the prisons and mental hospitals and herded us down to the boats at Mariel Harbor.  Ours was a forced exodus: the criminal, the troubled, the unlucky.  And one man who fell from the stars who was all three.

“Show no fear.”  I touch her shoulder.  “You are a daughter of the waves, of the island.  In this there is honor.”

The child listens with great seriousness.  She bites her lip and nods.  The mouth of the harbor opens ahead.

Men stand on the docks awaiting us.  As the fog clears, I see them beckon.  Some wear green like the men who pulled me from the lake that first night.  I see the banner beneath which they stand – a flag with red horizontal stripes, in one corner of which is a field of …

“Stars!”  My voice softens with wonder.  “Their flag has stars on it.”

“Didn’t you know?”  The child grins.  “Even I knew that.  It is why we left the island.  Because we were not free.”

“One journey ends, mija.  Another begins.”

Again my voyage arcs into stars, into the unknown.  Again the arms of men in green assist me from a vehicle of deliverance.  A few are smiling.  Again I am a stranger.  I know nothing of this place.  Except that it is freer than home.



Jamie Mason is a Canadian sci-fi/fantasy writer whose short fiction has appeared in Abyss & Apex, On Spec, the Canadian Science Fiction Review and other magazines.  His young adult sci-fi novel ECHO is scheduled for publication this month by Drollerie Press.


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