Flash Fiction: Captain’s Luck (1243 words)

Enil used to spend the beginning of every night laid flat on the narrow roof of his family’s home, watching the sky for lucky stars. The unlucky ones fell, leaving their chalky streaks across the growing dark, and the constellations continued their spin around the seasons. The lucky ones appeared here and there, steady, bright, and wandering all alone. He used to save up wishes for when he found them, hanging them on their bright points in order of what he wanted most. The very important wishes, he pinned to two or three stars, and twisted his fingers that one of them would hold its fidelity.

He often twisted his fingers, always avoided the cracks in paving stones, and touched the toes of the warrior statues every time he passed them.

He caught lady bugs, looking for the ones with an odd number of spots. He slept facing south. He wore his red shirt as often as his mother would let him between washings.

He used to have a pair of socks which always seemed to take him down wrong turnings that worked in his favor. He wore the socks until they were thin as paper, and barely convinced himself to throw them away when three toes poked through the ends.

His grandmother watched him for a long time before she finally made him sit down in front of her and told him in the steadiest tone, “Enil. There is no such thing as luck.”

“We found her,” Galen said. He was barely fourteen, but already tall, more bone than body, though his shoulders and chest were thick after four years aboard ship. He was a good sailor, all quick movement when it was needed, all steady hold and careful fingers when his hands were in the lines. He’d already been strong when he came aboard, used to heavy lifting in the carpenter’s shop, but the ocean’s sway taught him confidence.

Enil watched the boy carefully. It was odd to see the awkward way his arms wrapped around the bundle of blankets. He wasn’t sure how to touch the weight inside it, what part to cradle like glass, and what he was just supposed to hold close and warm. He blinked more than he should have, and his mouth never quite shut. He might have asked a thousand things, but he couldn’t find the questions. Beside him, Connell – shorter, but just as wide in the shoulders – couldn’t unbend his eyebrows, looking at the baby like it had come up with an insult he’d never heard before and didn’t quite understand.

The long cabin creaked around them, the early morning sunlight touching careful fingers to the water on the horizon, and turning everything into pleasant shades of gray. Crossing his arms over his chest, Enil leaned back against his desk, and kicked one heel up over the toes of his other boot. He wasn’t really sure he was awake yet. He thought about yawning.

“You found her,” Enil repeated, finally.

“Yes, sir,” Galen said.

“Where?” Enil asked.

“Some alley,” Connell said. He shrugged, shoved his hands into pockets. “She was just kinda… lying there.”

“And no one nearby?” Enil asked.

The boys both shook their heads.

“We asked,” Galen said. “No one recognized her. No one could remember seeing anyone go down that alley in days either.”

“It wasn’t really the bouncing-baby side of town anyway,” Connell added.

Enil glanced at him questioningly. The boy shrugged again, quick.

“And I think she’s one of ours,” Galen said. He shifted slightly, tilted one arm down, jerkily and slow, and the baby’s hand twitched in the blanket. Her hand was clenched tight around a strip of leather. An infant’s Sea Clan wristband, though someone had cut it away from her and damaged it along the way. Enil rubbed his thumb along the leather around his own wrist, turning it absently.

“And why were you on this not-bouncing-baby side of town anyway?” he asked slowly.

Both of them shifted on their toes immediately and it wasn’t like the motion was large, but the floorboards beneath them squeaked and played tattle-tale.

Enil hid a smile. “Why were you in this… alley?”

Connell shrugged for a third time. His shoulders stayed by his ears too long, and he shook his head back and forth. “Luck,” he tried. His shoulder dropped. “I mean, really, she’s just a really lucky kid.”

“There is no such thing as luck,” Grandmother said. Sitting opposite him, she leaned as she spoke, like shortening the distance between her mouth and his ears would make him understand better.

Enil just stared at her and slowly raised one eyebrow. It was the same look his father gave when he was too polite to say out loud that Uncle Ked was talking crazy.

Grandmother just repeated herself.

“Yes, there is,” Enil told her. “I’ve seen it.”

“You are twelve years old,” Grandmother said flatly. “You haven’t seen anything yet, boy.”

Enil pulled back, his other eyebrow joining its brother at his hairline. “I know there’s luck. How do you explain–”

“There is no such thing as luck,” Grandmother said for the third time, and this time it came down like a hammer, held his tongue inside his teeth and pushing him farther back in his chair. Still, she hadn’t raised her voice. “Argue with me one more time, boy.”

For some reason Enil took the invitation. And she laughed.

Taking a breath, Grandmother leaned back too, looked away, smiled so wide. She shook her head. “All right,” she said. “There’s something in the idea, but it’s not what you think.” She met his eye, and her smile faded, holding on at the corners of her lips, but abandoning her eyes to the seriousness she’d held a moment before. “Luck is only the kindness of strangers. Sometimes you will never see it coming. Sometimes you will never understand a single piece of their decision to do whatever they did.” She raised a hand, cutting his protestations off in one swift, quiet motion. “Sometimes you will never even see your stranger. Sometimes the stranger is just Fate standing on her side of the sky sending the right wind your way.”

Enil blinked. He took a small breath, and still didn’t believe her.

Grandmother smiled at him. “Just stop counting lady bug spots,” she murmured. “All luck is, is someone’s unreasoned kindness.”

Galen shifted the bundle in his hands again. He jerked a little, spread his fingers wide to catch the baby’s head and held her close to his shoulder. Then he looked at Enil. He was too tall to be looking up at him, but Enil still thought he looked a little small, shoulders curled in to wrap themselves around the baby as well.

“What do we do, Cap’n?” Galen paused.

Connell looked at the baby like he’d figured out a piece of the insult and didn’t like it.

“Do we…” Galen tried again. “Do we keep her?”

Enil pushed away from his desk. Taking a careful step forward, he pushed the blanket away from the baby’s face. Her cheek was round and pink, and she threw her hand out at his touch, caught him lightly in the arm before wrapping her fingers in his sleeve. The cloth slid out of her grip, her fingers too small, her body not yet her own.

“Well…” Enil said, and paused, tightening the muscles of his jaw thoughtfully. “She’s lucky, apparently. Why would we leave her behind?”

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