Ship

I can still feel it singing. I dug a deep hole in Ferrick’s field and buried it. I climbed up the Witching Peak, I made shelter in the cavernous rock, but even when I clutch my knees to my chest and I bellow as loud as I can and the howls multiply and echo around this twisting cave and they all come back at me louder until it smothers all other noise, I can still feel it singing. In my bellyache, in my chilled bones, and my mother was right. It’s not going to stop.

My mother is a field worker and has been since the ship brought her home. She stepped back onto the pier, head new-laden with knowledge of the land, and she set to work. She tells me she is happy, but when she tells me that I look at her hands.

As soon as you are enough to speak the words, you are led down to the Winking Bay. The creatures gather there, crawling over each other in a mass gathering of clicks. Embedded deep in the shells on their backs is a single stone of glass, and in the midday sun the sand ripples with light. When you are led to the Winking Bay, you speak the words. Once spoken, you will be found. No other creature shall come for you but one, and when he does, scuttles into your waiting hands, the glass shall loosen from his back. This stone is yours now, and when you come of age, it shall sing. Then the ship will come for you.

It is always empty, it only ever takes a single passenger, and when they return from their journey they are changed. They know what they must do, and they do it. The person they dreamed of being dies, and they become the person they were meant to be. This is a very good thing, said my mother, rubbing her hand.

My first memory is standing on the sands of the Winking Bay, waiting for my creature. He did not come. I spoke the words again, a little louder this time, and the other parents started to mutter to each other. I stood there for nearly an hour, tears stinging the corners of my eyes, until I felt a nip at my heels.

Some stones sing old harvest ballads, and when the ship brings them home those children are set to work on the land. Some beat out triumphant tribal haka, and when they hold this stone in their grip, the children know they shall return a hunter. Some sing shanties of sailing the waves, some the boisterous grub songs of the banquet hall. For the councilmen, trumpets. For the poets, strings. The villagers always gather to see the ship come for the dancers; their songs are so beautiful. Some sing late, and some never. The stone of John Killard never sang, and he is muttered about still. When he would drink he’d tell you that he must’ve missed the song, that it passed him by one night as he slept, but I know that’s not true. I know that once it begins, your song is not ended until you are on the ship.

One night, not long after my fifteenth birthday, mine started to sing, and it sounded like the last whispers of a dying man; soft, horrible words, sung with parched and brittle breath. I tried to smother the noise with my pillow, but the diseased melody could not be hidden. It was not the melody I had heard in my dreams.

It was taken before the council. The books were consulted. There was no record of this particular song in any of the scripture. There were no translation for the words. When I asked what I should do, the councilmen conferred, then told me to step onto the ship and “surprise us”.

I would not go. I would run. I packed a bag but my mother stopped me at the door. She told me that I would be happy when I returned. I looked at her face, and she meant every word. I looked at her hands, and I ran. My mother must have lost some vital part of her when the ship took her away. She must dreamed as I did. As I still choose to do.

I feel the song as I lie beside the fire, but it will not draw me from my peak. I close my eyes and I sleep.

In my dream, the fire is out; drowned. The floor of the cave is flooded, and I’m woken by the damp and the cold. I walk, sloshing through the water, into the bright sunlight of the outside, to find that the sea has risen to meet me. The village beneath me is gone. There is nothing but ocean in every direction, except for me on my lonely peak of rock, and, far in the distance, but getting nearer with every passing moment, a ship.

I scream, but the dream doesn’t fade. So I scream again. And again.

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