For NF, or C, or S. ILY.
Isaac was a fisherman’s son, red hair and freckles and a strong build all the town’s girls swooned over, but more so he was a simple boy, thought simple things, and enjoyed simple days at the shoreline three or so miles from port. Here the rocks were roughest and the waves crashed in with white peaks and foam eddies around the tallest dark spires.
“Day’s lovely, ain’t it?” he asked Wanda one morning, dawn cresting over the distant sea, the sky painted in pink and vermilion.
“Always, Isaac, when you say it is,” she answered. Wanda had been and would always be his closest friend, he’d decided some time ago as he adored her for her bravery, always precariously perched upon the black rocks, lower half perpetually covered in sea foam as the waves crashed and her amber hair blew around her pale face in the sea breeze.
“I could say the sky’s dark on a Sunday and you’d still agree,” Isaac said with a smile as Wanda turned momentarily westward to meet his eyes from where he sat on a small outcropping of sand where the waves barely made it.
“Perhaps,” she said, smiling equally. The wind caught a tuft of her hair and draped it over her eyes; a delicate hand brushed it aside and Isaac merely watched peacefully.
“A storm’s coming,” she crowed over the thunderous water and they both silently acknowledged the darkening horizon. In his mind he imagined small sparks of lightning flitting beneath the distant clouds, dark squalls of seagulls chased away and the fish restless for days to come, his father grumbling at the broken fish lines and his mother cleaning with everlasting fury until his passion subsided.
“Think it’ll be as bad as last time?” he asked.
“Certainly,” she said softly, “if not seven times worse.”
“Only seven?” he asked, eyes soft in the morning sunlight.
“Perhaps six.” He could see her smile reflected in the sea.
“Think I should warn father then?”
“Absolutely not,” she said. “He’ll know in his own time today, or else he won’t know at all. All the better for him then, I should think.” She crossed her arms, her stomach suddenly the smoothest Isaac had ever seen as she held herself upright against the force of the sea tugging her toward the churning waters below. He smiled, not knowing why, and resigned himself to looking elsewhere.
They sat there in silence till mid-morning had come and gone, and the storm clouds had drawn ever closer even, ever closer than Isaac had even thought possible in such a short time span as that had been.
The wind was cold and vicious now, and small droplets carried in her breast stung his face as she blew in from the writhing sea.
He’d risen from the sand already, was standing now as the waves rushed in and out and in and around his feet, up to his knees, tan trousers soaked to see-through and then some, but to him it did not matter. He enjoyed it here, at the rocky coast, with Wanda and the wind and the waves. Simply seeing this place calmed him, solemn yet serene.
“You should soon head home, Isaac,” Wanda whispered, her voice carried westward into Isaac’s ears as the sea gurgled and garbled and gave up its lunch in small clumps of seaweed and clamshells that stuck to the sand. “The storm’s ruthless today, and you’re further to home than I am.”
“Always,” he said softly, looking past the sea for a moment, then narrowing his sight upon Wanda on the rocks. She had wrapped her arms around herself, pale as never before when adorned by the dark sky beyond, and shivered as the breeze whipped and whistled its winding tune. “You’ll leave soon, won’t you, Wanda?”
“As soon as you’re out of sight,” she said, “so hurry along, boy, or would you rather the waves get me first?”
He laughed, her threats always the same either when storms or nightfall came, or his father called from down the shore, or his mother rang the dinner bell sore.
“Be well, Wanda,” he shouted over one more crashing wave as he backed away and turned southward and started running for home. He never glanced back, knew Wanda would be watching if he did (he’d tried it once before, but she’d found him out then, too), and only ever glanced to the east to see the encroaching storm if his sight wavered from straight ahead. It was moving in even faster now, sucking up the sea and smashing her down again as thunder rolled in and lightning lit the sea-strewn skies.
It was raining by the time he saw the port, and raining harder by the time he reached his door-front. Mother was standing there waiting and grabbed him inside as soon as he was in reach; father was already grumbling stove-side, ignoring the windows turned bleak from the storm.
Isaac climbed a ladder to his small attic bedroom and grabbed his blanket and his pillow and curled up beside his round-shaped window. He rested his head against the glass, felt the penetrating cold of the rain, and closed his eyes as lightning flashed and braced himself for the thunder to follow. He stayed like that for hours it seemed, days perhaps, till he fell asleep and dreamed till the storm had passed away and sailed off into the west.
Two days passed before the flotsam and jetsam had been cleared enough for him to escape the scurrying townsfolk and return to the rocky coast. Wanda was waiting for him, just as he had imagined she would be, but another surprise waited as well: Caught between the furthest rocks, a sailboat creaked and moaned as its unbroken white sails flapped in the wind on broken ropes. The once-blue hull was almost entirely worn away of paint, and not a name was in sight as Isaac watched it rock and sway with the sea.
“It’s been there since the storm,” Wanda said as if hearing his thoughts as he thought them. “I suspect the storm blew it ashore, though it doesn’t at all look like any of the boats from town, does it, Isaac?”
“Not nearly,” he said, admiring the craftsmanship so apparent even from afar. “Think I could fix it?”
“With some rope and some wood chips, perhaps,” Wanda said, her tone teasing just enough as if to challenge him to try. “Bet you can’t have it ready to sail in a week,” she added, eyebrows raised as she locked eyes with his.
Isaac laughed. “A week?” He crossed his arms, still caught in the allure of the sailboat trapped in his special place. “I bet we could have it ready in three days.”
“I’m not helping, dear.”
“Then a week it is.”
So he climbed from rock to rock, testing his balance in ways he hadn’t tried it before (even sea legs were no match for some of the slickest rocks there, and he nearly broke his neck twice just trying to reach the boat), but once he made it inside he was even more stunned than before. The sail was of the finest cloth he’d ever felt, though the rope had somehow rotten all on its own; and the deck and the cabin and the doors and even the mast and the remaining woodwork remained well-crafted and in solid state. He shed a sly smile then, as he finished his inspection. He’d win Wanda’s bet in no time, no doubt at all.
Four more days passed before Isaac could return with the rope, and when he got to the rocks, Wanda wasn’t there. A surprise, he decided, as he slung the rope over his shoulder and began once more to the sailboat. He made it as safely as before, with one fewer accident along the way, and got right to work on tethering the sail and tying all the sailor’s knots he knew to make it good as new.
When at last he had finished, the sun was setting, and on the sixth day of his bet, he went fishing with his father–still grumbling about the storm, even though all the fish had settled since then–and couldn’t return until the seventh day. And when he returned, he carried with him the largest wooden rod he could carry without drawing any undue attention.
Wanda once more was absent, so he got to work on the ship as dutifully as before. With the rod in hand, twice his height easily, the walk across the rocks was the easiest he could ever recall it being, but the hard part came when he got close enough to jab the rod into the sea beside the ship and start rocking to release it. Three times he’d thought the wood would snap before it came unstuck, and when finally the sailboat was dislodged of the shore, he almost lost his footing and plunged into the rocks below, but what stopped his heart and caught his balance was the realisation of something he’d not even dared to consider: Tethered to the shore no longer, the ship had started to sail all of its own accord and was drifting further out to sea even as he watched in panic as it went.
Undecided inertia overcame him then and with a leap and howl, Isaac rushed forward, slamming the rod against the rock, and leapt forward. It felt like flying at first, then he knew it was falling, and then it felt like dying and he shut his eyes and curled himself to land in the water– But instead he crested the sailboat’s rail and rolled safely along the deck of the boat until he rolled into the cabin and came to a sudden stop.
He heard Wanda’s voice and shook himself to full attention. In a minute he’d gotten to his feet and ran back to the railing, but by now the wind had opened the sails and the shore was too far to reach anymore.
Wanda took no heed, however, and pushed off the rocks, slipped under the water, and a few moments later, popped up a few feet shy of the sailboat.
“I’d have thought you’d wait for me,” she said, smiling, knowing no pain as she had portrayed in her words, amusing Isaac as ever much as she ever had before.
The wind had settled, and Isaac had drawn the sails, and the boat was drifting slowly now, such that even he, a meager swimmer as he was, would be able to keep up with it for a short while before tiring.
“Want to come aboard?” he yelled out to her.
“I’d much rather swim,” she sang, splashing water his way. Of course nothing more than misty droplets made it the distance, but he ducked to dodge them nonetheless.
“Isaac,” she said, and through the wind and the breeze and the everlasting sea, he heard a tone in her voice he had never heard before, a certain softness, a subtle depth, a note of compassion and longing he’d never known in her before. “Would you like to join me?”
“I’m already here,” he whispered, knowing the words were too soft to reach so far, but knowing she’d hear him no matter.
“In the water, I mean,” she said, softer than before. “We could go so many places, see so many things….”
He blinked and looked over the boat. “How’d we get it back then? No one else is here to steer it to shore.”
“Silly,” she said. “Isaac, we wouldn’t be returning. It’d be just you and me now, and the sea, all the glorious sea.”
“I don’t swim so well,” he said, “not as well as you do anyway.”
She smiled. “Do you love me, Isaac?”
“Love you?” His eyes were wide, face stricken. Is this what he felt of her, love? “Wanda, I–”
“Isaac,” she shouted– “Do you love me?”
“Then come with me, come inside me–let’s swim away together and own the sea forever!”
Her passion moved him, but still he stood standing at the rail, peering over. Her face was alight for a moment, then slowly, as he simply stood there, moving not, her warmth faded and her paleness became jaded and dark clouds of shadows began to cover her face.
Isaac recoiled from the sorrow he saw, shuddered to think of Wanda any less than smiling, knowing he could weather any storm with the thought of her company to return, could take on any challenge when posed in her voice, could sail the sea forever more if meant seeing her smile just one more time.
He couldn’t stop himself before he realised what he was doing; but by then he was already running, already moving to fly, already leaping over the railing and flailing his arms as he fell and plunged into the sea.
The water was warmer then he thought it would be. It wrapped up around him and ripped off his clothing, tearing away at his flesh until he was bare inside and out. The pressure pulled him downwards, pulled him deeper. He opened his eyes.
And that’s when he saw her, swimming towards him, only half human; instead of the legs his mind had made for her, he saw the silver-green scales of a fish’s tail. Wanda grabbed him by the shoulders and pressed her lips against his. The contact made his heart swell and his blood race, his mind waver and his breath escape.
“You stupid boy,” she said as she pulled away and he struggled to free himself from her grasp to reach the surface at last, “you foolish boy.” She kissed him again, filling his lungs with air and calming his nerves only slightly. And as soon as they parted, he struggled once more.
“You don’t need to worry, dear,” she said close to his ear. “The sea has you, like the sea has me.” And as she let go of him and started to swim away, he realised she had not filled his lungs, he had–and when he moved to swim skyward, he no longer felt his legs, but instead felt a fin as beautiful as hers.
He floated in the water there, not knowing quite how to move or what to think, and looked upwards toward the surface. The sunlight skirted beneath the tumbling waves and sent diamonds scintillating across the surface. A shadow graced the sky where the sailboat’s hull remain half-submerged. He didn’t know what had happened, or why it had happened, but he didn’t wonder such things anyways. He wondered briefly about mother ringing her dinner bell to no avail, of father grumbling about the fish, the townsfolk scurrying after the coastal storms.
“Are you coming?” Wanda said, drawing his attention back to the sea, back to his closest friend now seen in full. “The sea’s waiting,” she said, “every inch still to explore, every secret still to discover.”
He smiled then, watching as Wanda locked eyes with his, grinning as she crossed her arms. “Isaac,” she said, turning her chin up to challenge him, “I’ll race you.”
His smile broke into a grin and not a single word more was needed before he swam after her, said goodbye to the shore and welcomed into him the sea, forever more.