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Hundreds of miles away from the island, converging trade-winds met over the water, forcing warm air, heavily laden with water vapor, to rise. As the vapor gained altitude, it condensed into water droplets. This phase change from water vapor to liquid releases latent heat, which further warms the atmosphere and allows it to become more and more buoyant. Then, the air rose even more rapidly and began producing violent thunderclouds. Due to the earth's rotation, the trade-winds spiraled and formed a tropical storm.
From the island, no one could've predicted the onset of a tropical storm. Even with clear, cloudless skies, a tropical storm could strike within minutes without warning. The unpredictability of a storm struck fear into the hearts of sailors. Out at sea, wind and rain rendered boats useless and left men at the mercy of the violent waves. There was no way to avoid a storm if it hit, so most of the time sailors bet on their luck. The Old Man always said, "It's a matter of being in the right place at the right time." As Wake worked on his boat, he had no idea that he was in the wrong place at the worst possible time.
Sixteen years passed since the Old Man cradled Wake on that fateful night. Wake was no longer a mysterious baby, and he stopped playing Mah Jong years ago. Time tempered Wake's outlook on life and weathered his imagination. Well, he was still creative as ever, and he still had a beautiful mind, but he began to see the cruel reality of the world. Now, when he looked out onto the ocean, he saw it not as an enigma but as an obstacle that stood in his way. More than anything else Wake felt imprisoned by the island. Everywhere he went he heard the noiseless clanging of invisible shackles. He stopped dreaming of worlds of ice, golden temples, and fiery seas because he knew none of this was possible. Even if such places existed, he knew deep down he'd never see anything but the mocking ocean and the horizon that laughed in his face.
The years had an even worse effect on the Old Man. People considered him "The Old Man" sixteen years ago, so now he was a really old man. Each passing day his limbs weakened, and his joints deteriorated. Like all things he was eroding away under the pressure of time. He wasn't afraid of death, not at all. The Old Man was tired, so very tired. Breathing was a struggle, and even the slightest movement sapped the energy out of him. No, the Old Man wasn't afraid of death, but he was afraid for Wake.
The boy with black hair took over all the responsibilities of cleaning the hut, putting food on the table, and taking care of the Old Man. He could no longer do the things he loved like writing in the sand. Fishing wasn't a pastime: it was a necessity for survival. Everything was work. The Old Man winced whenever he looked into Wake's eyes, absent of the electric spark of when he was a boy. Nowadays Wake's eyes were dark, devoid of passion, and obscure like a storm. The Old Man understood what Wake was going through. He had been in the same position decades ago. That's why he told Wake to build a boat.
"Do you remember the story of the three friends and the boat?" asked the Old Man.
Wake sat at the bedside, "Of course, that was the first time we sailed."
"Good," the Old Man nodded, "Good."
A moment of silence ensued before the Old Man continued, "You've been acting different lately. What's wrong?"
Wake shifted in his seat, "I feel incomplete for some reason. I feel like I'm not supposed to be here, like I don't belong here. I don't even know who I am."
"Hmmm," the Old Man sighed, "Well, if I've learned anything it's that it doesn't matter where you're from. We all have the opportunity to "create" ourselves." He smiled, "and you are quite a creative person."
"I just don't know if what I'm doing is right. I have no idea what my purpose is." Wake looked into his eyes, "what happened the night you found me?"
"I've told you the story countless times; it's the same as it's always been. I found you at the water's edge, wrapped in a white blanket. That's all."
Recently, Wake became more and more obsessed with his origin. Some orphans live their entire lives away from their biological parents, but when they reach a certain age they become interested in whom their "real" parents are. Wake's situation was similar except he had nothing, no information, memories, not a single picture to relate to. He knew absolutely nothing about where he was born, who his parents were, whether or not they were still alive. This incompleteness eroded inside of him, and he spent every second of every day replaying the Old Man's memory in his own mind. There had to be something the Old Man missed. Maybe there was a note, or perhaps some kind of trinket hanging from his neck, but the Old Man always gave the same dissatisfying answer, "There was nothing."
Wake found it more and more difficult to sleep. He tossed and turned night after night; he was angry but he didn't know why. Whenever he did fall asleep, he dreamed of blackness, a dark nothingness that enveloped everything. Then, he dropped, an endless freefall into the darkness. Sweating and breathing heavily, he woke up, vaguely able to remember the dream, still as confused as ever. The worst part was nobody could help him; nobody would understand.
The Old Man returned to the topic of the three friends, "Their situation wasn't so different from yours. They built the boat to sail away. They hit a stagnant point in their lives and wanted to leave everything."
"So you're saying I should just leave?" Wake asked bluntly.
"I'm saying you should consider the possibility," the Old Man paused, "Take my boat and use its parts to build your own boat that will be strong enough to travel across the ocean. When you're ready, store some supplies and take Hunter with you." His eyes twinkled, "It's about time you saw the world."
He weighed the option and its consequences, "But what about you! I still need to take care of- "
"It's okay," he laid a hand on Wake's shoulder, "It's okay. You've done enough. I'll be fine."
At first Wake was shocked by the proposition, but he accepted the reality of the situation. Staring into the piercing blue eyes, he knew this was what the Old Man wanted. Somewhere deep inside him, Wake knew this to be true. The boy was never meant to be an islander, going about a daily routine, living simply. He could feel the lure of outside world pulling him like a magnet. The two friends never spoke about what would happen after Wake left; they didn't have to. They understood each other.
Hunter flew over to the bucket and returned to Wake with a rope in his hooked beak.
To say the osprey-dove grew would be an understatement. The predator was every bit as imposing as the Old Man said. Now fully grown, the bird had developed all physical attributes necessary for hunting and killing. Its reversible outer toe allowed it to grasp slippery fish. Its vision, adapted to detecting underwater prey from the air, made it the perfect predator. To attack, the bird hovered momentarily then plunged feet first into the water; it rarely missed its mark. Weighing over ten pounds and stretching an eight-foot wingspan, Hunter couldn't really chill on Wake's head anymore.
Wake used most of the parts of the Old Man's boat for the main structure. The boat itself was roughly thirty feet long and eight feet wide. The wood was battered from wear and tear, so Wake spent a good portion of his time reinforcing the mainframe with fresh wood he cut from the forest. The sails and mast, on the other hand, were frayed and splintered beyond repair so he scrapped those altogether. As replacements, he chopped down a strong maple for the mast and stretched out a sheet of tarpaulin for the sail.
At the moment, the mast was set in place, but it still needed to be stabilized by rope tension before he could hammer in the nails. Standing up a fifteen-foot wooden pole is easier said than done, especially for one person. Wake wrapped the rope tightly around the mast and tied four diagonal lines to perpendicular corners of the boat. That way, the balanced tensions kept the mast in equilibrium. When he reached for his tool bucket he felt the first raindrop.
Across the ocean, storm clouds methodically rolled in. The sky darkened and a warm breeze blew across the island. His pulse quickened because he knew these signals foreshadowed an all to familiar tropical storm. Children pointed up to the sky and scurried indoors, and their parents poked their heads out of the doorway, saw the looming clouds, and retreated back into the safety of the house. Wake bit his lip.
If he left now, the winds would surely blow over the unstable mast. If that happened, it could crush the mainframe or even cause the boat to capsize. If the boat capsized it would be impossible to resurrect. The remnants of the boat would surely become a habitat for underwater life. Wake grimaced. He didn't have enough time or enough men to drag the boat to shore either: he would have to finish the job alone.
Hunter ruffled his feathers and screeched. Thunder rumbled quietly in the distance, and the bird took flight, retreating like the rest of the village. Wake frantically began hammering in the mast. With each clang of metal, the sound of pattering drops multiplied. His grip on the hammer slicked with sweat and water. After he drove in the first nail, he reached over for the next. "Nine to go."
The slight drops picked up into a steady drizzle. The sky muddled darker and darker and increasingly grey. Far out over the ocean, storm clouds visibly circled and twisted in the current of air from the trade winds. It reminded him of the smoke of an extinguished candle, furling and unfurling from the smoldering wick. The only difference was those winds were strong enough to rip a tree out of the ground, and they were approaching fast.
Wake lowered his head and focused on the task at hand, but he knew in the back of his mind that the storm would hit in a matter of minutes. The rain wasn't the problem; it was the wind he was worrying about. With each passing second, the rain grew heavier and heavier until it was impossible to see clearly. The boat rocked back and forth as incoming waves slapped against the port side. Droplets beat like drums on the surface of ocean, freshwater meeting saltwater. Rain streamed down his face and dripped from the ends of his wild black hair. He squinted and wiped his eyes with his free hand. The constant clash of the hammer drove the nail deeper and deeper into the soft wood. "Eight to go."
He breathed in the static charged air. The ozone in the atmosphere always heightened his senses during a storm. He felt the wind before he heard it. A strong West wind blasted the palm trees anchored in the ground. This coupled with the rain blinded Wake whenever he looked up, and for that reason he kept his head down and focused on making each blow count. He ignored the fatigue in his chest and shoulder. "Seven to go."
The rain fell in sheets, and it was impossible to discern the ocean from the sky. Everything was wind and water. Wake could barely see the nail right in front of him. The puddle of seawater in the boat quickly became a pool that submerged up to his ankles. Lightning flashed for a split second and subsequent thunder reverberated, sending chills through his mind and body. He simultaneously hammered the final blow. "Six to go."
An oscillating creaking noise came from the base of the mast. "Oh no," he thought. The mast slowly began to tip towards the right, and he noticed the opposite rope had come undone. He fumbled with the rope, but the end was frayed from the wind and water, and the mast was tipping fast. He clenched his teeth and pulled with all his might until the mast returned to its vertical position. The coarse rope irritated and rubbed against his skin. He needed to figure out a way to anchor the fourth rope.
Instead of retying the knot, he wrapped the rope around his back and used his own weight to balance the mast. The twine-like rope cut into the skin of his shirtless back, and he cried out as seawater splashed into the open wounds. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes as he winced in pain. Taking a deep breath, he took the hammer in his blistered hands and continued. "Five to go."
He couldn't tell whether blood, rain, or a combination of both ran down his back. The pain seared each time he struck, and the saltwater smarted his eyes. Again, a bolt of lightning pierced the sky and temporarily illuminated the swirling tempest of wind and water. Thunder muted the clanging hammer, but Wake continued even in the deafening noise. "Four to go."
He reached for another nail, but he couldn't lift his arm. The wind and rain numbed his fingers and lactic acid built up in his joints. Closing his eyes, he choked back tears. Letting the hammer slip from his grasp, he dropped to his knees and knelt in the pool of blood and water that accumulated in the boat. He tilted his head towards the violent sky, "What did I do to deserve this?"
The unfinished boat rocked side to side in isolation. The boy's black hair plastered to his forehead, and he smiled with his eyes closed.
"Are you happy now?" he smirked.
The storm howled, indifferent to the question.
"You've never made it easy," he yelled at the sky.
"I used to think I had some kind of purpose!"
"What a great lie it was!"
All of the pain and rage built up inside of him. How could the world be so cruel, so unforgiving? He was born with nothing, no name, no parents, nothing, yet the world still found ways to take everything away. Wake's inner chaos reflected the storm outside. In the midst of the swirling madness, beaten down, bleeding, and broken, Wake let out a last cry of defiance.
"I don't even know who I am!"
Stillness. Silence. In an instant the wind faded and the noise subsided. When he opened his eyes he couldn't believe it. As if gravity ceased to exist, hundreds of thousands of water droplets levitated in the air. There was no wind, no thunder, and no lightning. The world around him froze in place.
Wake slowly rose to his feet. He reached out to touch one of the hanging water droplets. Upon contact, it broke and plopped into the ocean. Rings rippled from where the drop hit the surface. Peering into the motionless water, he stared back at his clear reflection. The levitating raindrops reflected the light like glass pearls. Wake took a deep breath, and in a fluid motion, the suspended raindrops began merging, creating a liquid dome that stretched for hundreds of feet in all directions. The water circled around Wake like an axis, and the distorted images of huts and palm trees wavered from the outside. Wake watched in speechless awe as the dome expanded farther and farther until it faded into water vapor.
The boy with black hair stood alone in his unfinished boat. Hunter glided in on a soft breeze and perched on his shoulder. Neither of them understood what had occurred as they gazed out upon a calm ocean and blue sky.
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