Spiritual Fiction posted September 11, 2019

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A young sailor searches for a place to belong.

The Art of Belonging

by CadenAaron

Once there was a young man who felt trapped and constricted on land, so he naturally took to the sea. On the open ocean, he found his first voyage perilous; and a storm struck their course, causing the ship to flounder. Lo and behold, along came an ancient fish, larger than the continent of New Zealand itself. The aquatic monstrosity parted its wide, scaly lips to filter for cocktail shrimp, and, in passing, gulped down the boy who'd been floating near his crew's demise. Bits of splintered mast and floating debris whacked at the giant fish's hide but was of no interest to the beast, and the little sailor boy went unnoticed as the fish meandered along.

Upon being swallowed, the sailor vomited out the brine water in his lungs, shook himself, and assessed his predicament. He stood on flat ground. The air was moist, but no more humid than the tropics of Central America. Green algae skies hung for miles overhead, carpeting the roof of the fish's mouth; and dollops of brightly colored sea vegetation, no doubt the remnants of some long-ago eaten salad, had taken root and flourished into beautiful gardens as far as the eye could see. It wasn't wholly uncomfortable, thought the boy.

"You there!" cried a sentry. "Welcome!" A feeble man brandishing a whalebone cane hobbled over. "Name's Jonah. C'mon, I'll show you the city."

"Jonah?" A flicker of recognition blipped into the boy's mind. "I know you. But I thought it was just a story. Didn't God spare you from the belly of that whale?"

The grimy coot shuffled on with a shrug. "Sure. But everything was nuts up there. So, I asked God to put me back in a fish."

Before long, Jonah had led the sailor boy into a city. Homes had been erected from bits of shipwreck debris and dolphin vertebrae. Old fishing nets were strung up in the kelp forest, to billow in the breeze, laden with a fishy tang. People bustled to-and-fro about the driftwood settlement as care free as the day they were born. All was simple. All was well.

"Welcome to Driftwood!" Jonah exclaimed with lazy satisfaction.

After Jonah had completed the tour and introduced him to the happy castaway populace, he served him a hearty bowl of fresh squid gumbo. Pleasant as that seemed, the boy still couldn't shake the feeling of being out-of-place. It followed him from the land to the open sea, and now here, in the belly of the fish. He spoke these thoughts to the old man.

"Ha!" Jonah crowed, "a lost soul will remain lost 'til he decides to be found."

Even so, Jonah took the sailor boy high above the city to where the blowhole was. A slip of sunlight trickled down from above, illuminating the gravelly mountain top; and the boy noted in awe that they were standing on a ridge line made of glistening pearls. Jonah shot kelp pebbles from a slingshot to tickle the roof of the beast's mouth. With a curt goodbye, a tunnel of wind suctioned the boy up, and out he was spewed, into the sea. A drifting freighter spotted him by happenstance, and carted him to dry land.

Years later, the sailor boy was no longer a sailor, but an accountant. Now a man, he thought this new place in the world would finally give him a sense of belonging. He worked tirelessly for a grand Senator and thought he'd enjoy the comforts and excitement of governmental employment. But the bland nature of politics coupled with the occasional sinister motive disheartened him and he often found himself longing to be elsewhere. The fluorescent light bulb on his desk cast light on his coffee mug, and the white ceramic seemed to pique his interest. Loftily mesmerized, it urged him to recall the mountain of pearls. He thought about what the old man told him years ago, and wrinkled his nose.

Maybe it was the scent of tuna melt wafting from the break room microwave, or maybe it was the stale air of subtle corruption; but the office had taken on the smell of fish.

Fond thoughts of smiling castaways bloomed in his mind. All that governed them was a peaceful sense of togetherness. He peered around the office and noted his coworkers buried in their cell phones. Their eyes had lost the dewy sparkle of connection, and the deafening pulse of disinterest echoed from wall to wall. It was then that the perennial light bulb clicked and the man's mind was made up.

He vanished from the firm in a wave of newfound ambition, never to be heard from again. But stories bubbled up from far corners of the seven seas, telling the tale of a lost boy who became a lost man, who had finally been found.

Short Story contest entry
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Artwork by iPhone7 at FanArtReview.com

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© Copyright 2019. CadenAaron All rights reserved.
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