Ocean of Memory (Flash Fiction)

By Don Bishop and Rose Bishop, age 5 at time of story creation

Lilly watched the village slip out of sight. It was empty, as the village elders had decided this voyage would include the whole town. Lilly was eleven years old, and like all the children, was excited to join the first fishing voyage of the season. This year she would be able to help a little, rigging the lines and nets to catch the large tuna they hunted. She felt ready to contribute.

But a week or two was a long time to be away from home and all her toys. She wished she could bring some of them. The village was a couple of hundred people, now spread among the fourteen small ships they had. She might not see her friends much, but the boats would come together from time to time during the voyage, and she could see her friends then. That would make the time away from home more bearable.

Lilly watched their small island disappear and did her best to distract herself by doing her part on the trip just like her mother said to. She helped her mother clean the first tuna they landed near the end of the first day. At the end of the day they met up with another craft to place the large fish into its hold so they would be ready to catch more. They caught their second tuna late in the morning of the second day. If they could keep catching fish so quickly then perhaps this quest wouldn’t seem so long after all.

During the hours of waiting, Lilly occupied her mind singing songs and asking her parents how to know where to go to find fish. Catching two in as many days was encouraging, but when could they expect to catch another? She hoped the journey wouldn’t drag on too long before she could get back home.

At the end of the second day Lilly slipped while dodging under the boom and managed to steady herself on the mast. Her hand slid and she cried out in pain. There was a large sliver right in the middle of her palm! Her mother helped her remove it, but her hand hurt enough that it slowed her work repairing lines and nets. Would boredom and pain be the hallmarks of this cruise? If only she had known how trivial those were.

A few hours after dark at the end of the second day out, and about an hour after the most recent atoll had slipped from sight, men and women began shouting to wake everybody up. Something was different about the ocean. As Lilly woke she thought she could hear rumbling. As she stood in the boat, she saw a line on the surface of the water, traveling too fast for belief. The narrow line ripped from the horizon to the vessels in a matter of seconds.

The wave smashed into the fleet. Only a foot or so tall, it nevertheless struck with such force that it left the boats heaving to and fro. Two rigs capsized. The smallest children in the fleet started crying from the sound of the impact. Then it was gone. A moment of eerie stillness reigned while people recovered from the shock of the blow.

Men, women, and adolescents shouted and those in the water hurried to swim back to their boats. Others from nearby craft swam across the gap to help them right their boats. After several minutes’ struggle, they were just getting the boats upright and starting to scoop the water out, when a second wave hit. It toppled three boats.

During the next half hour, two more waves hit the small fleet. In the end, nine of the fourteen ships had been capsized, and four had been crippled beyond repair at sea. The people of the village banded together and rescued their companions in the destroyed rigs, and righted the boats that had been capsized but remained salvageable. But now each ship was carrying almost twenty people instead of the intended fifteen. They had lost supplies overboard. Food and fresh water were low. Equipment had been knocked overboard. They couldn’t catch more food.

At least everyone survived.

                Everybody lost sleep that night, too. As morning approached, the elders gathered on one ship to determine their plan of action. With the craft all damaged and supplies depleted, they must return home. They rationed food and set sail.

The trip back took three full days. Lilly’s hand ached as the splinter wound tried to heal. Everybody was hungry, but the food had to be rationed for unexpected delays. Lilly thought her thirst was the worst of all. Everybody had survived, and everybody was going home, but the paltry water ration left Lilly parched. She tried to imagine getting home and crawling into her comfortable bed after finally sating her thirst. To sleep without fear of another wave knocking over their rig! Her hope of getting home seemed just enough to keep her going.

On the third day of the return trip Lilly croaked to her father that she could not continue. He did not give her an extra drink of water. He wordlessly dipped a rag in their fresh water and handed it to her. She eagerly put the wet scrap in her mouth. Oh, how glorious! But after a moment the effect was gone. Lilly suffered on.

Finally, they approached their island. Lilly could almost cry with anticipation for an end to all her anxiety and tribulation. They rounded the bend to bring their village into sight.

It wasn’t there. The destructive waves had come here, had grown in height while racing in to shore, and washed their home away. Only mud remained.

When they landed, the elders decided they would rebuild, on higher ground, farther from the water. Lilly would live in another hut with her parents, would yet play with her friends, and would enjoy the food she loved.

But her first home was in the ocean, now only a memory.

This story came out of a writing prompt shared in a group of writers on Facebook. The prompt was “something lost.” My daughter Rose and I worked together to come up with this story about a young girl.
– Don Bishop