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Eight years passed since the Old Man discovered the mysterious baby next to the ocean. For eight years, the Old Man raised the child as if he were his own, teaching him how to sail, fish, and take care of himself. In return, the boy taught the Old Man to smile again, to be free. The boy brought life back to the Old Man's face, and gave him a new reason to live. Where the Old Man had been hollow inside, the boy filled his life with meaning.
The boy wasn't the Old Man's son, and the Old Man wasn't his father. The two, despite their obvious age difference, were simply great friends. For that reason, the Old Man never parented or restricted the boy from doing anything; not that it really mattered. Unlike other children, the boy with the pitch-black hair carried himself with an indescribable sense of maturity, far beyond his years. Most kids spend their time playing in the water, making games, or building toys. From a young age, the boy took a serious approach to life, insatiably trying to learn everything he could about anything. He spent his time examining different plants and animals in the woods, learning all the species of fish in the coral reef, and teaching himself how to read.
For his sixth birthday, the Old Man gave the boy a fishing pole. From that day forward, the boy worked day and night, making improvements to the pole. He reinforced the line with strips of twine that washed up on the shore, and he improved the pole with flexible wood he found in the forest. As a result, the pole could cast out farther than one hundred meters, deep into the abundant coral reefs. Discovering his newfound passion, the boy woke up early every morning to fish. He caught all sorts of fish, crabs, and eels with his pole, and he sold his catches to the local markets, earning a nice little profit. He stashed his money in a wooden box beneath his bed, and waited for the right time to use it.
That time came a year later, when trading ships from the West arrived at The Island. The sailors brought all kinds of goods: swords, musical instruments, and, most importantly, scrolls. Not many villagers had ever seen a scroll before, and most weren't too impressed with the sheets of marked parchment. But, the boy constantly pestered the sailors, asking about the scrolls. He was captivated by the intricate designs and illustrations that ranged from curvy flowers to Japanese Maples to fighting styles to cooking instructions.
He would ask, "What are the markings?" and "What do they mean?"
The sailors jeered.
"If you want to know so badly, you're gonna have to pay, bub."
And he did pay. He used his earnings from fishing and purchased a single scroll. To say the boy was obsessed with the scroll would be an understatement. The scroll was filled with ink characters and confounding illustrations of animals: sky bison, koi fish, badgermoles, and dragons. He stayed up late at night and traced the symbols. He dared not get even the smallest smudge or speck of dirt on his precious scroll, so he carved the symbols into pieces of driftwood, mastering each line-stroke to perfection. Piles of carved driftwood accumulated in the corner of the hut where the boy slept. Eventually, the Old Man forced him to stop because neither of the two got any sleep with the candle burning throughout the night.
Somehow, from scrutinizing the scroll countless times and carving the characters, the boy taught himself how to read and write. The Old Man had no explanation other than that. He had not the faintest idea how the kid figured it out, but he did: he taught himself to read and write. With his newfound skills, he used a bamboo shoot to etch characters in the wet sand. He composed his own words and stories, and read them back to the Old Man. As he improved in his technique, the trails of characters spread far down the shoreline. The high tide washed away the slate, and the boy started a new project the next day.
He constantly impressed the Old Man with his grasp of logic and his innate ability to understand things. The Old Man taught him how to rig a sailboat; the boy sailed off by himself the next morning and came back with ten pounds of fish.
"The key to fishing," said the boy, "is to find a school of fish, and corral them like the dolphin-turtles."
The boy thought differently than everyone else; he looked at the world from a new angle. It was, perhaps, this genius quality that so enchanted the Old Man. Over the course of his life and travels, never before had the Old Man met such a unique individual. But, no matter how happy the Old Man was, there lingered an overwhelming sense of regret: the boy was confined, unable to leave the island and share his talents with the world, at least for now.
Fishing boats anchored off the coast of the island, and the midday sun rose high in the cloudless sky. The ocean was calm today, and everything seemed to move in slow motion. The boy sat with his legs hanging off the side of the wooden dock, his ragged white pants rolled up to his knees. His wild black hair almost reached his shoulders, his back tan from sitting shirtless in the sun. He stared out at the unchanging ocean and motionless boats until he realized nothing was going to happen, and then he let out a long exasperated sigh.
The Old Man watched from the entrance of the hut, smiling and shaking his head. He made his way towards the dock and the kid who was bored out of his mind. As he approached, the boy remained slumped over, his legs swinging freely off the side of the dock.
"What's on your mind Wake?"
The Old Man grinned.
"I find that hard to believe."
"Well, believe it."
The Old Man took a seat next to Wake. The two sat in silence and watched the boats do absolutely nothing. The Old Man didn't mind spending time with the boy, even if that time consisted of doing nothing. After twenty minutes or so, the Old Man broke the silence.
"Why do you stare at the ocean from a distance if you could just sail out there and see it up close?"
Wake shifted in his seat.
"I dunno, I guess I'm just too lazy to rig up the sails."
Even though he was only eight years old and small for his age, Wake discovered ways to tie up the sails and rig the boat with makeshift knots and pulleys. It wasn't traditional, but it worked.
"Well then you're in luck because I already rigged the boat this morning."
The boy's lethargic attitude didn't change.
The Old Man laughed.
"What does that mean? Sailing out and seeing what's going on is better than sitting here until you melt into the dock."
Wake weighed the proposal.
"I can't argue with that."
The young boy jumped up like a spring and dived headfirst into the water. He emerged fifty meters away at the side of the Old Man's boat. Getting a good grip on the rope, the boy pulled himself up and tumbled over the side. Soaking wet from head to toe, he shouted out:
"I'm waiting on you Old Man!"
Fortunately, the wind picked up soon after they set off. The white sail caught the wind just right, and whitewash leapt from the sides. As usual, the Old Man controlled the sail, and Wake manned the rudder. Neither of them had to do much, since the wind caught at the perfect angle. Before long, the island faded from view, and the endless open ocean surrounded them. Around half an hour into the journey, the Old Man spoke up:
"I think this should be far enough. Watch out for the boom."
Wake instinctively ducked as the boom swung across, and then he positioned the sail parallel to the wind. Out at sea, the boy's attitude changed from bored indifference to fierce determination. The Old Man noticed Wake's focus as he let the rope go slack, and brought the boat into a neutral standstill.
The kid wiped a bead of sweat off his brow.
"Let's see if the fish are biting."
Waves gently rocked the boat. The midday sun crept across the sky, yet not a single fish took the bait. At one point, Wake thought he had a snag, but it turned out to be a piece of kelp. He was visibly annoyed:
"No wonder those boats weren't doing anything. There are absolutely no fish today! This is ridiculous!"
The Old Man shrugged.
"If they ain't biting, they ain't biting."
The boy turned his attention to tying weird knots with the rope. After that, he leaned off the side of the boat and ran his hand through the water. Finally, he turned back to the Old Man:
"I've been listening to the sailors' conversations at night in the bar. Those guys have been everywhere!"
The Old Man smirked.
"Oh really? Like where?"
"All over the place! One guy talked about a mysterious swamp where people disappear. Another guy went to the far North and met people who can talk to spirits. But, the craziest story was the story of the moving island; one day it was there, then the next day it completely vanished."
"And you believe their stories?" the Old Man asked.
"I'm not sure what to believe. I hope the stories are true because that would be awesome!"
Even though the kid was mature for his age, he still showed childlike curiosity and innocence.
"I'll tell you a story, but it's up to you if you want to believe it," said the Old Man.
The skinny kid nodded like a goof.
"Alright then, here is the story."
"A very long time ago, three friends grew up in a land filled with mountains and rivers. The air was crisp and the forests were green. Like all young people, the three friends wanted to be free, free to see the world. One day, they cut down trees from the forest, and they built a boat. It was a beautiful boat made of hard, strong wood, and it had two large sails. Over time, they stored supplies like food, water, and money, and then when the time came, they left. They left without a single word or goodbye to their families. The friends and families of the three young men had no idea what happened, and they would never find out for as long as they lived."
The Old Man paused to stroke his long, grey beard.
"With that boat, they sailed all over the place and saw incredible sights like the fiery Western coast and temples hewn from mountainsides. But, one fateful night, the three friends got caught in a merciless storm. Thunder crashed, and lightning screeched. The brave wooden boat lasted as long as it could, but it filled with water and capsized. The three friends jumped out at the last second and grabbed onto anything they could find. They tried to stick together, but the rough waves separated them. The wind and rain drowned out their shouts as the ocean dragged them farther and farther apart."
"By the time the storm subsided, the boat was gone and the three young friends were never heard from again. Many say they survived by making it to shore. Others say they perished in that storm. Some even say the spirits saved them."
Wake remained silent for a few moments, thinking about what he just heard.
"Is that a true story?"
The Old Man's blue eyes twinkled.
"You tell me."