“What Rides the Sea” by Jessica Stritch
Akashic Books is proud to introduce a new flash fiction series, Duppy Thursday. Though we’re based in Brooklyn, our location envy of the Caribbean is evident throughout our catalog. One aspect of Caribbean literature that appeals to us is the integration of folklore into contemporary stories—a perfect example being Jamaican author Marlon James’s debut novel John Crow’s Devil, which we published to great critical acclaim in 2005. Whether it be the spider Anansi, the devil woman La Diablesse, the Soucouyant, Mama Dlo, or Papa Bois, these mythical beings have injected life (and death) into the literature of the region. As with our other flash fiction series, we challenge you to tell your story in 750 words or less.
This week, Jessica Stritch goes to a dangerous place.
I been told their words will steal my heart. Heart of not just me and not just flesh—though I hear they capable of that too—but the heart of respectability, the heart of family. I walk to the rhythm of them words; they beat through the heat an’ they beat through my feet so my steps follow their message and keep me inland. My feet more obedient than my mind. My mind, it wanders, but my feet keep me in safety. They are the healer to my curiosity, but lately their prescriptions—Stay away from temptation girl, and, Walk the same path walked before you, girl—are being ignored, and with each insult, they grow weaker, my mind takes over, my feet begin to stray.
I clamber through a jungle of stars. It only lunchtime, but our jungle is dark, just pinpricks where the light gets in, the illusion of night sky. We stop our straying for a moment, my wandering mind and me, and let my soul breathe. If another night is created by trees and sunlight, it makes me think that at night the lights gotta be getting in from somewhere, another layer living above us, blocked out by our sky. Our only glimpse of it glimmers like fish at the bottom of the sea. That awakens me. My heart leaps and my feet follow from damp earth to warm sand an’ the difference makes me shudder. Hot an’ cold, damp and dry, the meeting of the two ‘gainst skin, ‘gainst advice. But I’m old enough now. Old enough to make my choice.
I’m at the bay, which fits its name. A light mist dances over the sea, and the sand is marbled beneath my feet, dark and light swirls like a cake half-mixed. My stomach clenches—I know this ain’t a safe place. No one comes here no more. It only exists in people’s minds, in human breath an’ words from safety. Safety like our dinner table, loud, crowded, hands and food and drink and words that don’t mean much while you’re among the chaos. ‘Tis a dangerous place. ‘Tis said they be seen riding the crests of waves, their riches displayed an’ sparklin’ like weapons, weapons to catch young girls like you who’ve the same twinkle in their eye. But among the warnings, I dug to find the truth of the stories, and unearthed words from their grooved lips like beauty and might and god. Men ’twas the true story, who ride the waves and promise change, and they are young and restless and searching, just like me.
I stand on the sands, sweat drying on my hands, the back of my neck wet and alert, all the hair standing to attention, readiness—for what? For the things they speak of and I don’t yet know, but I am here to learn to be torn from my childhood, my fear of ghost stories and to confront them. They live in the deep, deep. They rise from the deep, deep. Make sure it is not with you that they meet, meet. A smile curls my lips. The mist is beginnin’ to shake and quiver in a fever, fighting the power of the burning sun, writhing beneath its glare. If they could see me now—their wagging fingers, their knowing eyes, their empty words. But I will make my life real, I will not be old and empty, I will be young and full.
My toes play a tune on the gentle ending of waves that bow at my feet, and then it begins. The sea sucks back on itself, away from me, yet with a feeling like it wants to draw me with it. I rise up onto my toes, my body arched against the pull of water, the wind whipping my dress around me like beating hands, but I am still, ready. And there they are.
I never saw such beauty. They are as white as the sun itself. They glow, carried toward me on the water. They come from other seas, this I know, they are not like me, far too grand and knowing. They are blinding. I begin to cry. I know from where they rise—from the Atlantic, from colder skies. And they will rise and rise and rise and I will have to bow, this is not a meeting but a seizure, and though his grip is warm and he is tall, I suddenly don’t want it at all.
JESSICA STRITCH is an English student at the University of Cambridge with a particular interest in postcolonial studies and a love for Caribbean literature. She is inspired by history’s hidden voices and has a love for all modes of storytelling.
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a Caribbean location and incorporate some aspect of folklore, whether centrally or tangentially.
—Include the location and the referenced folk tale or figure of the story with your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Duppy Thursday are typically posted 2–4 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Feb 18, 2016
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