Thursday 24 November 2022

Bibek Limbu, Short Story 2022 Shortlist

Ocean Spirits

Every weekday morning, as the clementine sun rose behind the murky clouds, the man would begin his long journey up the cliff near his brick house. The mornings were serene, unrushed, so he took his time, listening to the soft lapping of waves against rock. Once he reached the top he’d run his hands over the mossy rocks near the edge, searching for a place to sit.

Once he’d found the perfect rock he’d flip open his cardboard tackle box, stuffed to the brim with leaves. He’d select the greenest, fattest leaf and fasten it to the end of his fishing pole as bait. He had crafted the fishing pole from a hollowed-out stick of a mulberry tree, a tiny iron hook, and a piece of silvery twine he’d weaved from spiderweb.

He would cast the fishing line deep into the tranquil ocean waters, aiming for the horizon. He’d let the line drift far away from his perch, rising the smooth current. And then he’d wait. At high noon he’d draw a rye sandwich from his bag and gobble it down, never taking his eyes off the fishing pole.

When he felt a stir at the end of the hook, a small whirlpool swirling around the hook, he’d reel it in with vigorous tugs. Curled around the leaf would be a faceless, twisting being, an ethereal vapor. Always of a blue color, but never the same shade; peacock to turquoise to navy. Cool to the touch, slightly rough, covered with flecks of salt from the ocean. He would cup his hands around the being, shaping it into a writhing sphere. He’d take a glass mason jar, thoroughly wiped clean with a wet cloth, and force the being inside before hastily screwing on the aluminum lid.

As the dark began to eat away at the sky the man would scoop his jars up into his bag and mosey back down the cliff, the furious sound of the battering waves behind him. Once home, he would unload the jars, taking a leather satchel from his desk drawer. Inside the satchel he’d take plastic berries and rich vines and decorate the jars, fastening the adornments with a tree sap adhesive. The beings would have turned an angry scarlet by then.

He’d walk to his small shop and stack the jars on mahogany shelves, eat roasted wild chicken or turkey for dinner, and sleep in his woven, netted hammock. On weekends, he’d open his shop to the townsfolk, who would rush inside waving paper bills in the air, clamoring for the newest jar to place on their white window sills or use as a centerpiece for their sleek dining tables.

But one weekend, as the man was preparing to return home, a young girl walked in, jingling the silver bells on the door. She was less than four feet tall, with combed blonde hair, tight pink shoes, and unnerving blue eyes. She walked around the store, bobbing up and down, observing the beings in their prisons. Each time ran a finger over a jar her eyes narrowed, fists clenched tighter.

The scream was unexpected, terrifying, horribly thin, shrill, sonic, even. It flew out of her mouth and bounced across the room in rings, shattering the jars as they collided. How someone could produce such a noise the man did not know.

The beings were free. The man crouched down, eyes wide as they peered over the counter. The beings hopped, leaped, bounded, twirled, experimenting with their newfound liberty, eventually coalescing around the girl. The spun around, faster and faster, becoming a red – no, blue, they had changed again – tornado, shot into the air, the girl in their clutches, bursting through the roof, leaving behind a gaping hole, soaring back to the calm ocean.

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