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By Jipper's Common
Jipper’s Common was a small town square on the edge of the peninsula town of Saint Elias, the town where I used to live. Just beyond the town is a wide white beach edged by a vast gray sea. To get from the square to the beach, one had to wade through a deep field of lush rye and dune grass speckled with lavender colored blooms.
Back in my younger days, my parents owned and operated a tiny hardware store near the center of Jipper’s Common. Our home, a small, four-room flat—standard housing for us town square people—sat above the shop. When I was young, I enjoyed going up to my bedroom and pressing my ear to the wooden floorboards, listening to my parents’ customers and pretending I was a spy. When my eventual best friend Traiser moved from a nearby village to the building across from us, I shared the pastime with him as well.
When I was twelve years old, my parents gave me permission to walk down to the beach by myself. I had, up until then, had to walk down with a trusted adult escort at my side. Strange boats occasionally would drop anchor on or near our beach, and my parents feared for my safety.
The same day on which I was granted my freedom, I took Traiser and left the square, trekking down through the narrow meadow toward the beach. We could hear the seagulls calling to one another, A-reek! A-reek! and the ocean waves splashing against the ivory sand.
Then, looking farther out into the bay, I could see the miniscule figure of a boat coming into focus, its bright white sails contrasting subtly against the slate gray sky.
Traiser squinted out at the choppy water. “What’re you looking at?”
“There’s a boat. Out there.” I pointed in the general vicinity of the approaching craft.
“Oh. It’s getting closer.”
And sure enough it was. The boat was now only about a hundred meters from shore.
“Maybe we should go back now.” If the boat docked here, I knew my mother wouldn’t be happy with my being anywhere near strange sailors.
“No,” Traiser contradicted eagerly, “Let’s stay and see who it is.”
So we stayed, and watched the boat draw nearer. Five or so minutes later, the boat glided up to the shore and came to an abrupt stop in front of us. There was a young boy behind the wheel, looking very battered and slightly shaken.
“Hi,” I said. “Who’re you?” I asked out of habit, not because I expected an answer, so I was quite surprised when the boy said, “Isaiah. Who’re you?”
I told him my name, and Traiser told him his. It was probably a bad idea, but I didn’t really see how it made much difference at the time.
The boy hesitated, then croaked, “Well, I guess there's no point in keeping it a secret now.”
And he told us his story, in such a perfect cadence that it seemed almost as if rehearsed from a script written by a person much older than this boy’s years.
“Three or four years ago, the governing council of Mount Magnus Isle—the island where I lived—took a vote. They planned to monopolize the other villages, you see, so our people could obtain the resources in those places that were unavailable to them on Mount Magnus. They could not, for some reason, fathom that taking over another town was a terrible way to do that. Many voted for a treaty, but they were overthrown.
“So the government sent out spies to track the different towns, see what resources they best produced and the best way to get at them. My father was recruited as one of the spies. I was seven at the time, and he took me with him on our boat, to circle several of the towns and islands. We were out at sea for two years, gathering information.
“But then we were discovered. A man on Jessopha Peninsula about fifty kilometers from here saw our boat. He reported it and my father was taken captive. Our supplies were raided and I was left on the boat to die.
“That was about a week ago. I stayed on the boat for about four days, drinking rainwater and eating live mice and rats. Then one night I woke up and it was very windy. I pushed the sails out and sailed away. I only stopped here because there's a leak in my boat’s hull. See,” he pointed. Sure enough, the bottom of the boat had sprung a leak.
We stood in silence for the next few minutes, Traiser and I processing his story, until we heard Isaiah's stomach growl loudly. I wondered if I should give him something to eat. If I brought him into the town, what would people say? Of course, it wasn’t like he could continue his spy mission now. But still I wondered.
Eventually Traiser and I brought Isaiah back to Jipper's Common. His eyes widened with what looked like fascination when we passed the town grocery market. The window displayed golden corn, fresh beef and poultry, apples, and a sign announcing the fact that these crops and livestock were all locally raised in the agricultural inland area of Saint Elias Peninsula.
“Come on,” I told Isaiah. “I’ll bring you to my house. You can eat something there.”
We arrived at my apartment and my mother warily gave him food—my parents were both kind and generous to a fault despite their cautiousness—and listened to his story. I suppose my mother decided to trust him for his honesty, because she found a spare bedroll and laid it out for him in one corner of my bedroom, insisting that he stay the night.
Then it began to get strange.
When we both crawled into bed that night, I saw him take a small blue notebook under the blanket with him.
Around midnight, I awoke to hurried footsteps and a slamming door.
In the morning, Isaiah was gone, and one of our town-owned boats from the public dock was gone too.
Running up to my bedroom, I saw the small blue notebook I had noticed last night. It was on the floor. He must have forgotten it in his rush.
Opening it, I found several pages of handwritten notes, mostly on sailing and direction and such. On the last two pages, however, I saw something different, something that made my heart pound and the hair on the back of my neck stand up. On those pages was scrawled:
Attack by sea
I pocketed the book and ran out the door of my house to find my parents, my feet slapping the rough cobblestones.
The next day our entire peninsula had been informed and we were slowly evacuating. Word had been sent ahead to a place I did not know, the place where we were to take refuge in, the place where we hoped to be by the time Mount Magnus returned.
Around noon, a boat was ready for my family to board. In the distance, I could see the smoke from hundreds of fires as farmers burned the crops they were unable to carry with them.
My father helped my mother aboard, then turned to me. “Go on, now,” he told me. I nodded. Before boarding, I turned back to glance at the place that had been my home for the past twelve years of my life—my entire life. Then I stepped off the sand and into the boat. My father followed me.
I looked ahead, toward the horizon. The boat pushed off. I didn’t want to see the sand, the meadow, the smoke from the blazing crops. I stared ahead until I was sure the beach by Jipper’s Common had disappeared forever behind us.