The Ghost By the Sea
The Ghost By the Sea
In the distance, a fisherman stood on a small wooden raft, his hands tightly gripping a fishing pole. The air was heavy with humidity, as if it wanted to join its body with the sea, but the ocean only lapped at the shore, reaching for something entirely different. The small raft drifted quietly in the ocean, neither sinking nor floating, seemingly only a figment of the imagination.
The children of the village often whispered about the old man, telling tall tales about how he lost his eye or where he acquired his limp. Some believed the gods punished him for his misdeeds, while others believed he was attacked at sea. The adults did not share the children’s love for tall tales; they only thought the old man a fool, for he could not catch any fish with his poor vision and impaired gait.
The old man lived alone in a hut by the sea. He came into town once a week to sell whatever he had caught, which usually wasn’t very much. None of the villagers ever came near his stall or his hut, as the village believed that the old man had long been abandoned by God. They whisper that God’s gaze did not fall upon his hut and that anyone who stepped near it would be cursed to be abandoned by God as well.
The old man first caught little Johnny snooping around his hut on a late autumn afternoon. Little Johnny was a twelve-year-old boy who had lost both his parents in a fishing accident at the young age of eight.
“What’s a youngun like you doing hanging around here?” the old man asked.
Little Johnny stared wide-eyed at the old man, before pointing at a little cardboard box that had been left in an unseen corner of the hut.
“You want a look?” the old man asked, the corners of his eyes crinkling in resemblance of a smile.
Little Johnny nodded.
The old man limped towards the cardboard box and gestured for Little Johnny to follow.
Little Johnny looked on with fascination as the old man opened the box. Inside were trinkets Little Johnny had never seen before. A gold medallion with a red ribbon, a hand grenade, an army knife, and many other things Little Johnny could not name. The gold medallion had one line engraved on it: Tristan Becker, for his services in the war.
“Why do you keep them hidden?” Little Johnny asked.
“Do you know what it means to fight a war, kid?” the old man asked.
Johnny shook his head.
The old man limped over to a worn-out chair and slowly sat down, gesturing for Little Johnny to sit near him. “In times of war, most are content to live, and not to dream,” the old man said. “But in the hidden corners where even God’s gaze does not fall, there are those who dream of dreaming. I wanted to be a sailor, and if I were braver or more selfish, I would have run away when I was drafted. But now, ya see, no crew would be willing to accept a man missing an eye and with a limp.”
“But isn’t it brave to fight a war? The village people would accept you more if they knew you were a hero,” Little Johnny said, clutching the golden medallion.
“It’s no honor to make violence in the name of something you do not believe in,” the old man said, closing his eyes.
Little Johnny frowned. “But you defended your country, isn’t that honorable?”
The old man smiled sadly, “What is patriotism to a man who doesn’t believe in his country?”
Little Johnny fell silent, pondering the question the old man posed.
The old man smiled and rose from his chair. “I set out at six a.m.,” he said. “You’re welcome to join me if you grow tired of the town’s company.” He walked off, leaving Little Johnny to stare after him.
Johnny accompanied the old man on every trip after that, and eventually, the old man even cleared out a room in his hut for Little Johnny. One night, the old man asked Johnny what his last name was, and Johnny replied that he didn’t have one. Before long, the old man filled out adoption papers, and Johnny was no longer Little Johnny, but Johnny Becker.
The year Johnny turned eighteen was an exceptionally cold year. Unable to procure fish and bring in enough money for medicine, the old man passed away after a bad fever. He left the hut and everything else in his possession to Johnny.
Maybe it was years of living in that hut abandoned by God, or maybe it was the old man’s story, but when the notice of a draft came for Johnny some days after his 25th birthday, he was no longer the scared orphan the old man had adopted. With no one left to disappoint, he set off at six a.m. the next morning with the old man’s little boat and his fishing rod. He sailed into the open ocean with no real destination, only knowing that he did not want to fight a war he did not believe in. He never once looked back, content to dream in the hidden corners where there were no prying eyes to judge him.
No one really knows what happened to Little Johnny, but on especially clear mornings, the village children say you can see a fisherman leaving the abandoned hut down by the ocean at exactly six a.m. If you look hard enough, you can see a tiny raft in the ocean, a huddled figure, and hands tightly gripping a fishing pole. The small raft drifts quietly towards the horizon, eventually getting swallowed by the waves, but it lingers in the children’s minds.
EVA YU is 16 years old and originally from Beijing, China but now lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has attended Interlochen, Iowa Young Writers Studio, and Kenyon’s Young Writers Workshop and her work has been recognized by Scholastic. In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing, painting, and playing video games.