Leena crouched silently on the white banks of the El Nido Sea, the silver veined green waters hissing as they struck the pale sands, with repeated retreats softer than a whisper. She had drawn up her legs and wrapped her tan arms around them, the dyed indigo material of her coarse dress spanning her knees like a bridge. Fuzzy from being caught by the prickly underbrush, it was, once Leena had plucked out all the stiff nettles her skirt had ensnared, the perfect place to rest her chin on.
Her waist length hair was the vivid hue of cinnabar, rusty strands a perfect compliment for the sassy personality that people assumed was hers as soon as they had a glimpse of her reddish mop. It swayed languidly on the breeze, caressing her face and throat, lightly sweeping the grains making up the stretch of sterling gold on which she sat upon. When one thick scarlet tress unfurled like the mast of a sail near her jaw, Leena absentmindedly reached up and looped it, the shining coil wrapped around her pointer finger like a new copper ring.
Her peridot eyes were listlessly staring out at the horizon point, translucent with impassiveness and determined not to let any strong surges of emotion cloud their lucidity. It was the closest form of meditation her thinking ever touched upon; even before she had become entangled in the bewildering events she didn't fully understand as of yet, she had always regarded her life as chaotic.
She had not been conceited to think so; any girl at her age who had a brood of youngsters to watch over and arduous chores to attend to would have. Perhaps Arni was no longer a fishing village, having been deeply troubled the premature death of an entire family a few years past, but remnants of the previous steadfast work ethic prevailed. Although the inhabitants were now determined to cherish life, and bond with their neighbors in a more profound and sentimental way than being shipmates while harvesting the ocean's crop, years of seaman's culture endured.
The wooden supports of the simple seaside shacks may be constantly bedecked with fragile flowers of many vibrant, tropical shades, to remind the dwellers of the diverse beauty and susceptibility of life, and many of the men may had chosen to cleanse themselves spiritually rather than labor away hours that could be spent purifying the soul, but some aspects of the lifestyle of a decade or so remained.
Leena was grateful that she did not have to squander her childhood years digging through the bloody, stinking entrails of gutted fish before spreading them out in the sun to dry so they could be taken off to market for profit, as her forbearers had done, one generation after another, without complaint. Instead of the salty reek of seawater and decay that wafted through the memories of her very early life, now a delicate perfume of jungle blossoms drifted in her house every time she opened the door to let some air in. Her mother had not done so previously, before the village discarded its surviving-on-the-resources-of the-ocean ways and wove decorative flowering vines everywhere. Afraid that the overpowering stench would invade her home and make indoors stink as unbearably as out, she had kept all but a few openings (needed to prevent suffocation) shut off, making the house stiflingly hot on summer afternoons, if not less odorous.
Even just being outside had been somewhat repulsive. Most of the villagers prepared their catch for sale right outside their houses, on the pavements, so that they could go back inside and fetch needed tools at their leisure. They scraped the scales off the fish and had their children remove their innards, and them piled them in tubs for the next step in the preservation process. Although they had tried to be tidy and discarded the unwanted leftovers of their work where it would not bother others, the ground had been constantly littered with opaque flakes and smears of red, mingling with shreds of leathery fish skin. Leena had often tripped as a little girl over the disgusting leftovers of her village's main source revenue. Luckily, the sun blazed so hot that it dried the wet carrion, thus preventing the invasion of hordes of buzzing flies. Yet by late afternoon everyone was forced to go inside anyway, to avoid the influx of screeching gulls gorging upon their daily feast.
No one complained. No one wanted much to socialize at night, despite it being cooler. Everyone was too tired from the day's work to talk and just wanted to rest so that on the next day they could handle their routine without collapsing from exhaustion. The pernicious gulls and their petty squabbles over abundant food left as soon the sun set, and the standard bedtime was around that time, as it was the earliest opportunity to pass out blissfully without a sea bird's squawking tearing at your eardrums.
And so being near the sea had been a mixed blessing, although none would acknowledge it as anything but full up until a few years ago. Constant work, depravity of fun, and forfeiting childhood games to assist your parents in their trade had been an accepted part of life. The sea regurgitated its children so that they could thrive; therefore, it was a beneficial entity in all ways. Of course, a few men had been lost in expeditions, but that was rather rare, as Leena's people were adept at predicting the moods of the waters and had developed a sixth sense about the tides over time. Bedsides, risks could not have been completely avoided; all professions presented some hazards. The sea was the sea; it gave and it took, but any sorrow related to its unpredictability was not its fault. It had no evil intentions towards the villagers that made their living from it. It was as bound to cycles as the sun and moon. That was what they all were convinced of until the ocean laid upon them a grief too strong to for them to pass off as coincidental.
First Serge had been taken. That in itself would have left Arni's denizens numb with anguish for a period of time. Serge had been such an adorable little boy; his smile was sweet, his cobalt eyes gleamed with innocent curiosity. He had been too young to actively participate in the workload, but had made his parent's jobs less of a burden with his quick ways and adorable nature. He made the young couple laugh while they carried out their mediocre existence as work-bound individuals, darting here and there with the other young children, so distracted by waving to his parents that he often lost at tag and races. He was so shy he rarely opened his mouth, but when the kids had backed far away enough, he would run off to his mother and father and chatter away about his day while clinging on to their stained clothing.
He had been especially endearing to Leena. The other children their age had been so silly, lying casually just to impress, always smacking each other and crying, fabricating little dream worlds that made their detached village seem less homely. Serge was a serious child, whose claim to undisputable charm could have nothing more but his unusual solemnity and sapphire eyes. He hung around her a lot more than the other toddlers, and to the untrained eye it didn't make their relationship much different than the ones Serge had with his other friends. It was.
Just like twins sometimes develop their own language that only they could understand, Leena and Serge established a system of signals that was almost undetectable. Some of the signals were simple and obvious, others extremely complicated. For example, an easy one was a tilt of the head, which meant: "pay attention to me." A smile told the other "I'm happy." But a smile with closed eyes was interpreted as "I'm happy, guess why." Adults would puzzle over their type of friendship, where the two would sit together while Leena babbled and gestured as Serge stayed silent, listening, yet somehow responding when a reply was needed.
They weren't exactly close, as their youth prevented them from "discussing" or caring about things that would have made them kindred spirits if they were older, but no one was devastated more than Leena when Serge was mauled by a monster, with the exception of his parents. They had all been shaken, but the resentment for the sea did not stem from the attack. It was well known that weak beasts patrolled the coasts, so puny that even children could manage to wrestle them off if they were feeling bold enough to take on a human. In the history of Arni there was never a death brought on by monsters but with the rumors that much more powerful creatures stalked the shadows of the continent's caverns, roamed the chambers of abandoned ruins, and thrived in the muck of putrid wetlands, it was not hard to accept the idea that one had simply lengthened it's usual migration pattern.
But the bad things come in threes, a new superstition for an already superstitious tribe. Serge's mother, Marge, had been left sterile after the difficult birthing of her only child, and although she had never been bitter about it before, the loss of her sweet child allowed her affliction to rub salt in her raw wound. She left one day for the cliffs, to visit Serge's gravestone, she said, but when she didn't return in the space of a week, Leena's mother decided to stop by the modest tribute to check up on her friend. A detour for a needed trip to Termina, no others would go with her, preoccupied with the daily chores that a fisherman's lifestyle demands. With her daughter and a load of fish, she had traveled to the site and clambered up the rocks with Leena and her basket strapped on her back, only to find that Marge was nowhere in sight. Instead one of Serge's colorful bandannas that she had stitched in the stolen minutes of the days was draped over the ominous rock.
She had set her bundle of dried herring on a brittle patch of moss and left her little girl to entertain herself with pretty pebbles nearby, then had went on a thorough search of the vicinity for her grieving neighbor. It took her an hour to find the poor woman's corpse sprawled over the rocks a good 50 yards below the tombstone of her son, jutting out of a ledge. Bloated and not yet inhabited by writhing white maggots, Leena's mother had been able to identify the body as fresh. Only god knew how many hours the childless mother had spent huddled in front of the memorial to her son, aching heart forcing her to go without sleep or nourishment so all energy could be putting the dilemma of whether to go on or end her unhappy life to rest.
Abandoning both the basket and the fish, Leena's mother had fearlessly lifted the lifeless woman into her arms and somehow managed to carry her back home, descending the rocky cliffs and through the wooded plain, back to her husband Wazuki. Leena had walked beside her, gaping wide-eyed at the slender young woman, stiff and bloodless clutched in comparison to the flushed flesh of her parent. Death had been so strange to the little girl, and it was still puzzling at best for the mature Leena.
Wazuki's fate had been similar. He had taken one look at the frail body laid out on the floor by Leena's weary but faintly triumphant mother, and had gone running for the docks. The rope, which tied his boat to the posts in complicated knots to prevent it from drifting, was hacked to pieces by a knife he carried in his belt. The colorful vessel that Wazuki had crafted himself along with his departed family had been a speck on the horizon before anyone could complete their mourning of Marge besides her miraculously well preserved corpse and seek her husband out.
None knew of where he had gone, but he had gone without provisions and the proper equipment. Even a fool knew that when the tropical storm kicked up two days later that Wazuki had no chance of survival. Their somber conclusions had been confirmed when a fortnight later news reached them of a brightly garbed dead man found splayed on a beach near Termina, spat out by the licking tongues of an aquamarine tide.
They had offered to ship the body back to Arni, but there was none that had the courage that assume the ability of embalming that was usually entrusted to the family. Wazuki had no family, and the women of the village had been too disheartened by the recent preparation of Marge's dead body to bear repeating the ritual again. His body would undoubtedly be more grotesque, being older and no doubt half rotted by now. They had permitted for the native born Arnian's body to be tossed back into the sea from where it had came from.
Leena paused in her train of thought as she saw an adolescent gull wheeling high above her head, attempting to alight on the ever-active fronds of the palm trees. Keening eerily, it responded to the fainter calls of its companions in the distance. As she watched, the vagabond of the flock changed its mind about drifting. With several rotations around the tree, it beat its wings hard to rejoin the cloud of grayish white birds fast disappearing into the skyline, where the caps of the ocean meet the white fringe of the sky. She smiled, a little.
Serge had been the only member of his family to be formally remembered. People still went to his gravestone and paid their respects by piling orchids, left over from decorating their own homes, upon the rock balcony. Wazuki and Marge were much loved, but seen as traitors; they willingly released themselves from the confines of life, whereas Serge had simply fallen victim to a mishap. Nonetheless, it was the entire tragedy that brought together the village and made them turn their backs on the sea. How could they still respect it as their benefactor when it was a haven where you could die in times of hardship? It had been sullied. It was a sanctuary graveyard for the runaway.
Ignoring the fact that farming was always done individually in private gardens, a commonwealth was formed and fields were sown with seeds, contributed by those who had them. And the produce belonged to everyone. Fishing was still done, but the situation was reversed. There were no more group trips; a man took it upon himself to cast his own line on the docks if he wanted a fish for dinner.
The work ethic was being maimed mercilessly by sentimentality and kept feebly kicking only by its own sheer stubbornness.
Leena listened to the piercing pitch of sea birds shrilling, summoning or locating their clans.
Serge had come back.
She didn't know if he had continued maturing in the realm of the afterlife, but he was her age and insisted upon remembering her. He had assembled a comically diverse group to aid him in some quest that no one on their own really knew what was, but mutually acknowledged as urgent. The only thing that had remained constant in him was the way he looked and his silent ways; as a child, he had never been so commanding, or noticeable trough personality. He had stopped calling upon her for her help, as she could do very little on the battlefield. But whenever his business brought him to Arni, he always paid her a visit.
She had missed him. And still did now, whenever he wasn't at her side. But knowing that he was different, and fine on his own, lessened the ache that used to be so intense.
She had asked him what the life was like where he lived, when he wasn't here, in her side of existence.
Hardship. Fish organs. Pushy birds every late afternoon.
Any flowers, she had asked? None.
Religion? What about it?
Beauty? Relaxation? Savoring life? He'd smiled.
Did you die? She wanted to know. He had shaken his head, unsure of the answer.
Do you know what heaven's like? He had asked her.
Maybe he hoped that he was there. That he was at peace, instead of hell, or even worse, an inconclusive destination.
"You're closer then you were before." She breathed softly, echoing what she had said to him before.
Leena recalled watching her mother throw open the sash of the window this morning to let the nectar-y smell of freshly cut flowers ventilate the house. Of Una eating porridge for breakfast made out of oats and fruit instead of boiled fish. Her younger sister languidly brushing stokes in the water to stay afloat, a daily practice for her, when their mother at her age had been scooping the intestines out of her father's catch every day.
"Thank you, Serge." She muttered out loud, lowering her head onto her arms dejectedly
The sea birds continued to signal with their lonely cries, imploring the members of their extended families to come.
The ending's pretty bad. Confusing. Oh well.
Standard rules apply. Leave a review, and if you want to speak to me personally, try emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I figure this is a little like "Sweet Like Chocolate", and if you really want to know what the hell she's talking about, tell me and I'll post an extension. (Even though I'm not quite sure myself what's going on.)
Sorry about the length and the many paragraphs. I've had this for a while now, and I remembered liking it, so I figured I'd just hurry up and finish it or else it'd never get done. I know the quality of the writing is almost embarrassing, but I haven't been writing too much lately.
A lot of things are off. I just felt like being melodramatic, I guess.