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The deafening noise around her faded to a forced silence, and her legs gave way as she slumped to a helpless kneel. The smoke and shock constricted her breathing, but it didn't matter. Everything she ever knew or loved was gone. "They didn't deserve this. Nobody deserves this," she thought. She didn't want to die, not now, not like this. The poisons in the air shifted her hazy vision, and she gasped for breath only to inhale hot smoke. Mouth dry, body bruised, knees bleeding, and eyes bloodshot, she shivered.
Miles and miles of blue stretched from horizon to horizon, not even a sliver of land in sight. The sea teems with all kinds of life: fish, birds, crustaceans, coral reefs, and kelp forests. Tiny fish dart between towering stalks of kelp, and crabs take refuge in rocky crevices. Enormous schools of silver fish dance in perfect synchronization, like a shimmering cloud, twisting and curling beneath the surface. Along comes a pod of dolphin-turtles, intent on catching their prey. The hunters use teamwork and technique to corral the school of fish, and they take turns swimming through, picking off their prey left and right. The helpless school grows increasingly chaotic, and the numbers dwindle as the dolphin-turtles eat their fill. In only a few minutes, the school of fish is completely gone, and all that remains is the silent kelp forest, swaying in the current.
Compared to the underwater view, there isn't much to see from the island. It's a lot of blue. Actually, everything is blue, the sky, the ocean, everything. Island life, likewise, is quite different from the life underwater. The islanders have lived the same way for centuries. Generations come and go without anyone leaving the island. Many islanders never see anything except the endless blue that meets the sky. For that reason, the island and the village don't even have names; it's not like the inhabitants will ever tell anyone where they are from. The village, if it could even be considered a village, is really just a bunch of huts and little shops surrounding a "village square." It's a quiet life indeed, living each day like the last one, and knowing the next day will be the same.
Every now and then, ships pass by, and sometimes they even dock. Aside from exotic foods, artifacts, and spices, the sailors bring their stories. Villagers flock to the docks to hear exaggerated stories of dragons, kingdoms, riches, and spirits. The sailors boast about slaying sea monsters, smuggling with pirates, and traveling to the ends of the earth. For days upon end, the villagers revel in these tales, dreaming of snowy mountains and temples made of gold. But, the visitors are soon on their way as they rig up their masts and sail off into the blue. Once again, the village returns to its quiet lifestyle, and the waves continue to wash ashore.
At night, all the fishermen gather in the "bar" to drink and gamble. The bar isn't really a bar so much as it's just a larger hut. Either way, it's the liveliest place on the island, which isn't saying much. Fishermen cluster around Mahjong tables, betting whatever they have to offer from copper pieces to random items washed up on the beach. The routine follows the same pattern every time: each fishermen brags that he will win, the game commences, only one player wins, the losers accuse him of cheating, the winner buys everyone drinks. That pattern repeats itself well into the night, pretty much every night. This is where the story begins: a noisy little bar full of drunken fishermen.
While the fishermen hooted and hollered as they placed bets, the Old Man leaned back in his chair, smoking a wooden pipe. Well, nobody actually knew his age, but at least he looked really old. A weathered grey beard covered most of his face, and he wrapped a tattered white cloth around his head. Deep wrinkles and tan lines ran across his dark skin from years out at sea. His hands were calloused and rough, the skin broken and healed time after time while working with coarse rope. He took puffs from his pipe and blew rings of smoke into the air, watching the wisps unfurl and vanish. The Old Man looked unassuming and common like any other fisherman, but his eyes told a different story. His piercing blue eyes cut through all of the wrinkles and scars. Others simply couldn't look him in the eye, intimidated by the intensity of his stare. After sailing through storms and spending days upon end on the open ocean, the Old Man's eyes reflected the brilliant life underneath the water's surface and the wildness needed for survival.
He never spoke, and for that reason, nobody actually knew his name. Everyone just called him, "Old Man." He never drank or joked around with the others. He never played Mahjong or gambled. Every night, he sat in his corner and smoked his wooden pipe, saying nothing. Nobody really acknowledged him besides to give a greeting if they happened to pass by. Even so, he unnerved many of the fishermen.
They whispered to each other in hushed tones.
"Who is he?"
"Why won't he speak?"
"What is wrong with him?"
There was something obviously different about the old man with the grey beard and piercing blue eyes: he was the only person not from the island.
Nobody knew where he came from, or when he arrived. Nobody in their right mind tried to ask him either. Every now and then, the fishermen dared each other to go and ask him questions, but they chickened out nine times out of ten. On this night, however, they took advantage of a particularly drunk guy wearing a lopsided straw hat, and sent him over to question the Old Man.
The drunk stumbled over.
"Hey there old-timer, whatchya got there? Is that a pipe?"
The Old Man stared back at the disheveled fishermen, his hat tilted ungracefully to the side. He took a puff from his pipe, ignoring the drunken man standing before him.
"Why are ya always so quiet? Why don'tchya talk for once?
The Old Man put down his pipe and sat forward in his chair. His unmoving stare cut through the fisherman's stupor, and caught him by surprise.
The fisherman trembled.
"I'm only doing this because they dared me to."
He pointed to the group gathered around the bar.
"Just tell me where you're from."
The Old Man closed his eyes and sighed. Then, he did something that nobody had ever seen him do before. He stood up, and when he did, the entire room went silent. All conversations ceased, and the gambling paused. Standing straight, the Old Man was taller than expected, and he looked stronger and more able than anyone would have guessed. His features softened as he looked back at the silly man in the hat.
Life seemingly drained out of his eyes.
"I'm from a place very far away."
And with that, the Old Man brushed aside the confused man standing before him, and left the bar in silence. The rest of the fishermen remained frozen in place, unable to comprehend what just happened. After a few minutes, the laughing and gambling started up again, but by then the Old Man had made his way across the docks and down to the shore.
Tonight, the moon rose full and bright, and the waves calmly crept up the shoreline. The Old Man continued along the edge of land and sea, not knowing where he was going, not really caring either. That question caught him by surprise.
Where are you from?
Scattered memories connected together as the Old Man thought of his past. The truth is, he traveled all over the world, and saw so many sights. While the fishermen in the bar wondered about the wild tundra of the South Pole and the deep canyons in the middle lands, the Old Man knew those places to be real. The spirits, too, invisibly lived among them, their world connecting with the physical. His eyes reflected back all of the sights he had seen, but they also concealed the experiences he wished, in vain, to forget.
An odd noise broke the tranquility. At first it sounded like nothing, but the sound developed into a distinct noise with a definite source. Farther up, on the edge of the shore, the Old Man spotted a bundle in the sand. As he neared the bundle, he recognized the sound to be that of crying. The moonlight illuminated a wooden basket and, inside it, a pure white blanket. When the Old Man examined the odd basket, the crying stopped altogether. Gently unwrapping the white blanket, he uncovered a baby boy. Compared to all the wild, crazy things he'd encountered in his lifetime, the Old Man decided this might be the most surprising. What was an abandoned baby, no more than a few weeks old, doing next to the ocean with high tide coming in?
The Old Man picked up the baby and brought him into the light. The infant had pitch-black hair that contrasted with the white blanket, hair blacker than anything the Old Man had ever seen before. Then, he looked into the baby's eyes. The baby unflinchingly stared back at him, causing the Old Man to blink in surprise. The baby boy didn't smile, laugh, cry, or make a sound: he just gazed at the Old Man with wide, dark eyes. The eyes reflected neither fear nor happiness. Instead, they held a sense of knowing, a certain type of wisdom seemingly impossible for a baby to possess. The baby from the edge of the ocean uttered not a single sound as the Old Man carried him back to the village.
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