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Free to Roam

by Megan Baker 9 months ago in Short Story · updated 3 months ago

A Young Man is Ready to Brave the Sea

Free to Roam
Photo by Shot By Ireland on Unsplash

Collin stares out at the sea, transfixed by the transition taking place before him. Half of what he can see is stormy, choppy, and clear of ships, while the other is still bright and various ships crowd the view as they race to shore. Over them, blue skies dotted with wispy clouds beckon safety. One cloud looks like a sailed ship, following the fleet inland. He watches as it passes behind the distant lighthouse, unsurprised as the storm front reaches him with the first wind-born raindrops. His attention turns to the black clouds gathering above him, with lightning flashing miles off and booming thunder drawing near. Beside him, his hosts' horse begins to show signs of distress.

“All right, all right,” he mutters gently to the animal, patting the gray mare soothingly, “We’ll go back now. I know, I know - it sounds scary, hm?”

He mounts, then directs her to turn. Unsettled, she begins to trot towards the safety of her stable once she is faced with the way home. He suspects that they will shortly outpace the storm, and he is torn; he enjoys - nay, relishes! - the stormy weather bearing down, but he cannot force the frightened horse to endure in good conscience.

He will have to enjoy what he can of the storm from indoors. He’d much rather stand out in it.

The animal knows her way, and she maintains the trot until on the property, where Collin urges her to slow to a walk as they approach the stables. The old dog, Spook, greets him by sitting up and wagging his tail. His white facial markings against his dark fur makes him look like a floating skull in the approaching darkness and Collins grins at the sight. He’s grown quite fond of the dog - he wishes he could have met him in his youth. Collin’s hosts are always telling amusing stories of the crafty fellow in his younger years and he satiates his inability to know the dog in those years for himself through these tales.

By Maria João Correia on Unsplash

“Hey, Spook,” Spook begins to rise, his worn joints shaking with the effort, “Nah, stay there, boy; I’ll be back soon enough! You stay!” ‘What is it they say to keep him from getting up with his old joints?’ “Rest!” Collin breathes with relief when the old dog lies back down, longingly looking after him. He decides he’ll have to slip him an extra treat under the table at supper to make it up to the old fellow. Collin is sure his hosts intended to have a stew for tonight; perhaps he could slip Spook a carrot or two.

He leads the mare into the stables. He’ll have to ask what her name is again; he’s always been terrible with names. Removing the riding equipment, he wipes her coat off like he’d seen his hosts do in the last few months and checks her food and water before he locks her in for the night. He takes a moment to scratch behind the ear nearest him, soothing the horse as thunder and wind rattles the windows.

“Easy, easy. It’s okay,” Collin tells her. After a few minutes, she calms down enough for him to leave the stables. Cold rain now pours down steadily, but he doesn’t mind it enough to feel it. On the back porch, Spook rises to go inside with him.

The wife, Ronda, opens the back door to toss some food scraps into the compost pile just outside the door. Collin waves as he and Spook pass by her, and immediately enjoys the scent of a hearty stew permeating the house. Spook’s tail begins wagging eagerly as he catches the scent too, and he begins licking his chops.

Ronda seems sullen and withdrawn today; stormy weather seems to have that effect on her. She fills a bowl with stew and seats herself at the dinner table without a word. Collin, despite enjoying the wafting scent, finds himself lacking an appetite, and sits at the table with her without grabbing himself a bowl.

The husband, George, enters a few minutes later. He takes note of his wife’s sulking demeanor and silently washes up and bowls himself some stew before sitting down opposite her. As he waits for his meal to cool, Ronda finally turns towards the table and slowly begins to eat hers. The quiet is only broken by the patter of the rain and the low rumble of distant thunder. There’s been a lot of silent meals lately, and Collin wishes he knew some way to help.

After their meal, the couple leave the table. Collin makes his way to the spare room he’s been staying in and lays down on the bed. Through the window opposite, he watches the sky light up with each brilliant flash of lightning. Restless, he itches to go stand outside in the storm. He resists for hours, but eventually, he can’t deny himself any longer.

After midnight, he quietly makes his way outside onto the back porch. Spook stiffly gets up and follows him out. The wood creaks underfoot as he settles, leaning against the wall of the house. For a minute he takes in the unhindered sight, sound, and smell of rain. Then, finally, he steps off the porch to stand in the downpour. Chill water runs over him therapeutically, and within minutes he is soaked. The cold and wet don’t bother him though, and he remains that way for some length of time.

Once he feels he has satiated his desire, he begins to head back to the porch. A loud crash of nearby thunder shakes the ground, and Collin hears the stables erupt in a cacophonous chorus of frightened horses. Quickly, he rushes over to calm the animals.

By Philippe Oursel on Unsplash

All the horses are worked into a frenzy by the storm, restlessly pacing and wide-eyed. Collin begins making his way down the stable, talking to and petting each horse in an effort to relax them. The gray mare, however, will not calm, and Collin enters the stall.

“Hey, hey. It’s okay. I’m here,” Collin says. He hears old Spook pawing on the other side of the door, and he lets him in. The dog slowly lays down in the far corner of the stall, giving the upset horse a wide berth. Eventually, the mare lays down, and Collin slumps down next to her, petting her. He begins staring out the window at the storm again, and quickly finds himself lost in thought.

He thinks about the sight of the ships fleeing the storm earlier. He’s never been a seafarer, and often been quick to dismiss the idea of being on a boat himself. It’s never been a thing of interest to him. But he finds himself recalling the visage and the stirring feeling it inspired briefly: the tenseness in the air as the ships sought to outrun the oncoming storm, the contrast of the sunny skies colliding with the thick, ominous front bearing down, the jockeying of the boats as they each sought safe harbor. And then that loose cloud, simply sailing away in the vast, open sky beyond the lighthouse.

“To sail away with the same abandon…” Collin mutters wistfully. He looks to each side to find both of the animals in the stall with him are fast asleep. Morning light now spills in through the stable windows, and realizing it is now morning, he decides to make his way back indoors, lest his hosts worry about his whereabouts. He rises, less stiff than he thought he might be after many hours in the stables, and begins his return to the house. Spook slowly gets up, affected by the morning chill, and follows to the porch.

He still doesn’t have much appetite as he enters the house, which he presumes is just his nerves getting the better of him lately. Maybe he’s finally getting homesick? As he walks in he notices that, unlike all the days prior in his stay, today no morning meal has been prepared. He also quickly becomes aware of the sobbing coming from the main sitting room and makes his way over.

Ronda and George both sit on their couch. Ronda is crying openly, while George lets the tears stream from his face in silence. A local man named Dave sits in the chair on the other side of the room, face strained and worn. And on the coffee table between the couple and Dave lies a newspaper, clearly brought by the man to show them. Collins approaches, then reads silently.

The headline on the obvious page reads, “Body Found Near the Pier”, and below it is something that runs cold through Collin; his picture. Collin looks at the people in the room, then waves his arms around and tries to get them to look at him. No one does. He shouts, but no one hears.

By Marjan Blan | @marjanblan on Unsplash

How is this possible?’ Desperate, the young man turns back to the article, seemingly the only thing that may provide him answers.

‘Collin Smith, 27, was found floating dead near the local pier. A charismatic young man, Collin was traveling abroad when he came to town. His hosts, George and Ronda Clyde, reported him missing three weeks ago after Collin never returned from a late-night walk in a mild storm. The couple said he did not seem distraught upon his disappearance and was actually joyful about walking in the rain. They believe his death was an accident and that he simply walked too near the area and slipped in and drowned, and are saddened by his loss.’

‘Dead. I’m dead…’ Collin takes it in for a long moment, looking at each face in the room in turn. He barely registers that Dave has begun speaking to the couple.

“He was a nice young man. I’m sorry for your loss - I know you had both grown quite close to him.”

Ronda bursts into harder sobs at his words, and Collin’s heart shatters as he realizes he is the cause of her sullen moods lately and not the weather. The silences were because they were mourning him. George sniffles noticeably. Scratching at the front door gets Dave’s attention, and he turns to the door behind him. There, Spook sits, pawing for entry.

“Hey, Spook, come on in,” Dave says. Spook immediately rushes over to sit beside Collin, who absently pets the dog for comfort. He remains next to him, even when Dave attempts to call him over, unaware the old dog is already receiving his desired petting.

An hour later, when Dave says his goodbyes, Collin sneaks out the door with him. Knowing he is the cause of their sudden misery, Collin now can’t bring himself to stay. But where should he go?

By Nathan Jennings on Unsplash

A storm as potent as the one the day before brews on the horizon again, and again ships flee before the front. As Collin takes in the visage of the lighthouse and harbor, full of ships going every which direction once the weather allows, he realizes he desires to board one and sail away to wherever it may be going. He had been wandering place to place for years before his recent death; why not continue on after it? While he formerly only traveled by land, he realizes he had in fact been fearful of the seas in his life. Now that he is dead however, what is there to fear? He can’t die again, right?

His mind made, he takes an hour to gather sea holly. He wants to say goodbye to George and Ronda, and this is the only way he can think to do so; he had offered Ronda sea holly when he first appeared to ask them for shelter months ago. He hopes she remembers, and leaves the flowers between the outer door and its handle. Collin then turns towards the lighthouse, and begins his trek to the harbor. Spook begins to follow, and Collin’s voice cracks as he calls out.

“Rest, Spook! Stay and rest.”

Short Story

Megan Baker

A Colorado native and secondary caregiver to her younger brother with special needs, Megan enjoys her adventures in World of Warcraft, various types of documentaries, and making homemade items for the critters and people in her life!

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