Flash Fiction: Islander (378 words)

Kath made his decision the same way he always did: slowly, quietly.

For some uncounted number of days, he rolled his reasons over, tucking them under every other thought of the day until they disappeared behind oatmeal breakfasts and afternoons hauling lines and shoving the wind to the proper side of the ship with the crack of supple canvas. Under afternoons trading coins over a barrel top with the gentle direction of hands won and lost. Under the taste of salt always on the back of his teeth. Under the roll and rush of waves that roared and shouldered their way beneath the hull. Under the creak and whisper at midnight, lulling him to sleep after his watch.

And then it was there, a conclusion heavy as iron, enduring as stone.

“Are you sure about this?” Captain Ullan asked him when they had made port.

Kath held his sack easily over his shoulder. There wasn’t much in it. Holding it with the straps wrapped around one hand, he tried not to smile at the fact that that might not be true for long. The islanders didn’t place such high value at being able to stack all their belongings into one small locker, one small bag.

“I’m sure,” he promised.

“Last chance,” the Captain said. “Consider what you might be giving away.”

Kath glanced at the ocean behind the mast. He didn’t doubt he would miss it. He only doubted that it was the best thing within his reach. And that it would drive him mad one day to not see what solid ground felt like under his feet.

Gently, he met the Captain’s gaze. “I don’t love it like the rest of you. Fate watch you,” he said.

“You as well,” the Captain said.

“But not too close,” Kath said with a tilted smile that made the Captain laugh, and clap him on the shoulder, and push him toward the gangway.

“Go on, then,” he ordered.

Kath moved under his hand, then stumbled to another stop, turning back to face the upper deck. His mother, the First Mate leaned against the rail. He saluted her, sharply, the way she always wanted, and collected a smile.

Then he walked down into the port, each step longer than the last.

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