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Ocean Maiden and Apple King - short story by Josie Henley

Ocean Maiden and Apple King - short story by Josie Henley

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Published by Josie Henley-Einion
I am uploading stories, articles and extracts from stories that have previously been published. This is a complete short story of 2357 words. ‘Ocean Maiden and Apple King’ was originally posted at www.writersbeat.com and was included in the Writers Club magazine, April&May 2007 Issue 12.
I am uploading stories, articles and extracts from stories that have previously been published. This is a complete short story of 2357 words. ‘Ocean Maiden and Apple King’ was originally posted at www.writersbeat.com and was included in the Writers Club magazine, April&May 2007 Issue 12.

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Published by: Josie Henley-Einion on Aug 10, 2007
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/19/2009

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Ocean Maiden and Apple King
By Josie Henley-EinionThis story was originally posted atwww.writersbeat.com and was included in theWriters Club magazine, April&May 2007 Issue 12. I was born at sea; I spent the first 100 years of my childhood in the ocean; if itwere my choice I would die at sea. The land is not right. It is heavy, hard andstatic. The water is uplifting, yielding and fluid. The first time I came to land, Icould not force my legs to work properly. They felt like great lumps of meatwith big clunky feet, knobbly knees and horny toes, it was all wrong, wrong!Not like the smooth and beautiful rainbow-reflecting scales that I was used to.In the sea there are three dimensions: forward-back; left-right; up-down. Onland you can’t dive down deep or leap up high. On land you must stick rigidlyto a two-dimensional life. If it were my choice I should not visit the land everagain. But it is not my choice, for I have been sent on a mission to this dry andbrittle realm. I must bear the desiccated land until I have completed the taskset out for me.As children we are taken up the channel, gradually a few miles more eachyear through the noxious brackish water. We must learn to bear it until we areprepared for dry earth. I have a strong memory of the relief felt whenswimming back out of the channel to delicious cool salinity. Each time I makethe journey, this memory floods my mind and I am a youngster again.I have been sent three times in total, and this is my last chance to accomplishmy duty. The first time I travelled this path the baby was male, whichhappens. As the wise one told me, it cannot be helped and it must be borne.Some stay and raise the child themselves for as long as they can, some find ita home or abandon it and escape to the sea once more.It is a risk to stay for love. Soon enough the son will turn against the mother, itis inevitable. We are different. Compared with their short and brutal lives, wemust seem immortal. There are other minor differences: our famed beauty isentrancing, our voices captivating. It is a great burden to bear, to be soattractive to those for whom one can only feel sorrow.There is little of us in a boy, perhaps a talent for fishing and a love of sailingcoupled with a propensity to stare wistfully out to sea on long evenings. Istayed until he was weaned and it broke my heart to leave him, but his fatherwas a good man. The longer we stay, the more difficult it is to go back but Ihave heard of those who chose to linger before returning, and those whonever return. I have heard tales of ones who were driven out by the locals, orworse: burned, and the child too.I knew that the day would come when they noticed how I did not age, and Icould not let this happen. I still think about my son sometimes. His darkbrooding eyes contrasted with the blonde curls that all our babies are born to
 
bear. I called him Benjamin for his father. Although he is long dead now,perhaps his descendents continue to work the estuary.My second child I rarely think about as it hurts so much. It is my own fault thatshe perished. I went too far inland to satisfy my curiosity and when the timecame to birth I could not make it back to the sea. She was born a mile fromthe coast in the hovel of an old woman. I was running, running along the trackwhen she caught me. I screamed for her to leave me for I still thought that Imight reach the water. But she pointed to the trail of blood and once she hadhold of me my legs crumpled. I lay back and she put her hand on the baby’shead. At least I was on the earth and not confined between the woman’sstone walls.A few minutes later I was holding my daughter. If the old woman expected meto be happy then she was disappointed: I was disconsolate. I cried sopassionately that my tears washed the child until her skin glistened. I beggedthe woman for a bucket of water and tried to sink the baby in it, but she stayedmy hand. She thought I was trying to drown the poor mite. It would have beentoo late anyway. If the baby is not born under water then she will not becomea full Ocean Maiden.She would not die from exposure to the air, but neither will she find her fins.She will be forever trapped with legs and lungs, wandering the barren earth insearch of something that she cannot say, yearning and hoping and eventuallybeing driven mad with unrequited need. I did not want that for my daughter. Ileft the old woman’s shelter some days later and suffocated my poor darling,taking her little body back with me to the deepest trench to mourn my loss. Ihad not named her, as this would have contributed to my suffering. Followingthat I stayed in the sea for some centuries and have not ventured out. But Ihave been told now by the wise one that I must go. I must fulfil my obligationto my grandmothers.My mother had three daughters, and my sisters each have two already. I amthe only one in our family who has failed in this way. Thus my desperation thistime to conceive a girl and bring her to birth. I so want a daughter and it is thiswanting that draws me forward, out of the water.The method of choosing a man is taught to us before we make our first journey to land. He must be clean and free from disease; he must be youngand fit, not burdened; he must have a spark of intelligence. But most of all, hemust be alone.I fall on the rocks several times as I pick my way toward the land, try to makeit to the thick sharp salty grass. But finally I give up and drop onto a hard,smooth boulder, naked, bruised and shivering. I shall lie here and wait fordawn, gathering my strength. I am a fish out of water.***
 
I was born under an apple tree. My family have owned this farm for centuries,and now I run the business. We brew organic cider and perry and haverecently experimented with liqueurs for the growing market. I am not rich but Iwould say that I’m comfortable. Folk around here call me The Apple King,which does make me laugh. My name is Benjamin, a name which has beenhanded down through my mother’s family for generations. Most of the familyon her side were sailors, but my father’s family were farmers. The land is inmy bones, the cider my blood.I like to think that I have a bit more intelligence than the average Neanderthalyou might meet in this small town. I read classics, I play sudoku. I run my ownaccounts and use the internet to sell my specialist liqueurs. The internet isalso a handy way to keep a track of the latest competition. I have somecompanionship in the form of my employees, but my parents are both deadand my only brother emigrated to New Zealand to run a sheep farm. I amlonely, you see, and isolated. I can’t think of a way to change that situation asI’m also painfully shy.I like to drink at a coastal bar, which is really just an old stone shack with acouple of barrels and some rough seating. I prefer this to the ‘local’ which isall done up for tourists. Don’t get me wrong, I like the local, and the tourists.Between them they give my profits a hefty boost. I like them, but I wouldn’twant to drink with them, if you know what I mean. This bar is the only onewithin walking distance that doesn’t have a TV blaring in the corner.On a Friday night I generally find myself drinking my own cider at the bar,paying a bit extra to drink it from a glass instead of straight from the barrel.Shep comes with me and sits under the table. He gets an ashtray full of bitterand lots of petting from the old guys who gather to play dominoes. Apart fromthe mobile phone in my pocket, this could be fifty years ago. I like that. Soonenough the sleepiness of this town will be overtaken by the global machine.Why not enjoy its last days of leisure?Occasionally we get a disorientated tourist here. The lost adventurer who hasmade it past Ice-Cream City, through Amusement Arcade Jungle anddiscovered that there is life beyond Theme Pub World. A weekend ramblermarching out into the landscape and confused by the lack of facilities. Ishouldn’t do them down, really. Some of them are pretty smart folk. But themore that come, the more likely the landlord is to give in to the pressure torenovate the soul out of the old place.So far the only concession to tourists is the old dog-eared poster writing upthe history of the house, done back when the current landlord first took over.Apparently, hundreds of years ago, an old dear used to cater for sailors andtravellers. She was mobbed by locals for helping a witch to kill her baby andthe place was burned down. No-one wanted it so it fell into ruin. Folk said itwas cursed and haunted and all that. It was turned into a bar then in 1920 byan enterprising old navy man and a photo of him hangs between the optics.He looks a bit like Popeye.

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