Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice: 1
“Tell me where you go
When you reach the edge of the world
Tell me why you sail
Away on sun swells and moon tides...”
The melody floated through the dark on intermittent guitar strums and alto sighs, waking me from a light sleep. I soaked in the words, the melancholy tune. Beneath me, the ocean rocked me as gently as any mother with her baby. No wind pushed my boat along and no moon guided the way. I drifted.
“Tell me who you love…”
“Hello!” I called.
“Well met, sailor,” I heard in response. The singer’s voice pierced the lonely night. “I haven’t seen anyone on these waves in days.” She laughed. “I suppose I’m still not seeing. But hearing is good. I’ll take it.”
“Same here,” I said, smiling even though she couldn’t see it. A weak breath of wind rattled limp sails. “Where are you headed?”
“Mother Ocean willing, I’m making for the Bahamas,” she said. “Closest land by my reckoning, and I’m in bad need of supplies.” She paused, plucking at the guitar strings. “I’m hoping, you know? Just hoping.”
Hoping for an explanation. For news. For signs of life.
I’d packed for a month at sea and sailed a week before the world stopped. No power of any kind. At first I’d thought my boat had died. Then I noticed the absence of planes, freighters, anything powered. I’d spent the last two weeks alone, passing the occasional sailboat in the distance.
We fell into silence. It had been too long for me already; I’d forgotten how to make small talk. Or maybe the world seemed too big for it anymore. I stretched out on the bow, staring at the starry field above. Turning my head to either side, I strained to see my companion.
“Are you still there?” I asked.
“Will you sing?”
“If you’d like.”
“The world seems smaller,” I said. “It’s a good feeling.”
So she sang. Some songs I knew, others I didn’t. I fell asleep to the sound of her sweet voice and woke to the hint of sunrise, and the bump of another boat against mine. Damn, but I hadn’t slept so well in weeks. Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I blinked the small vessel next to me into focus. It wasn’t meant for long trips like mine, maybe a day cruise here and there.
My balladeer lay curled up with her guitar. Frail, too thin. I wondered how long she’d been without food.
I opened my mouth to wake her with a good morning, to offer her breakfast, but her stillness became mine. I squinted, watching her chest. Five seconds became fifteen. She didn’t breathe. In her left hand, a scrap of paper rested in her loose fist. A note? A last request? I found I couldn’t let her go without knowing.
I lashed our rails together, the still air and calm sea making the job easier, and crossed over to her boat. I checked her pulse first to be sure. My hands shook to touch her warmth, to find the proof of her faded life. I worked the paper out of her grip and smoothed it open.
Thank you for seeing me to the end.
Tears stung my eyes.
“Thank you,” I whispered. I touched a finger to her soft cheek.
I took the few supplies she had and her name. Just in case I made it home. I’d tell someone about her.
I pushed our boats apart, the wind picking up at last. I made for the Bahamas, taking one last mental picture of her. The name of her vessel, painted in dark blue scrolling letters, came clear as the sun rose.
“Ain’t that the truth.” Adjusting my heading, I let the wind wash over me. “Tell me who you love,” I sang, “when you reach your journey’s end.”
Cara Michaels is the author of the Gaea’s Chosen sci-fi romance series and host of the #MenageMonday flash fiction challenge.