The clouds swam left, and then right, then left again. The sky was swaying to the wayward rhythm of the ocean.
As the waves crashed and collided onto the banks dory, he laid on his back in the rocking boat, gazing up into the heavens above. He thought about the sky falling, and the world coming to an end and made a “click” sound with his tongue to take a mental picture. The picture would go onto the canvas tonight.
Having felt somewhat fulfilled and satisfied, he stood up so quickly he thought the boat was going to capsize . His vision went blank with dizzy sparks flying all over the horizon. That image would go onto the canvas as well.
He tossed the net into the ocean and hauled it back hard against the flow of the waves, pulling it back onto the banks dory. Today, as with many other days, there was not a single fish caught in the net. He shrugged and started folding the net neatly back into a box. Before finally calling it a day, he caught sight of something shining brilliantly at the edge of the net, like a flint burning white light so strong, it surprised him and hurt his eyes.
It was a bottle with a message. A message in a bottle.
Excitedly, he rolled up the net feverishly and untangled the bottle at the end. With impatient strength, he opened it and unrolled the piece of paper.
There was no message on it.
He threw the bottle into the ocean, along with the piece of paper. Then he sailed back home.
Edward was a scholar and an artist, but his parents left him with nothing but a feeble boat and a bundle of limp fishing nets. In the old days, young Edward would go on fishing trips with his father where he attempted to read while his father was busy navigating the seas and catching fish, but the words on the pages would be dancing a little too frantically for his eyes, and he would throw up. Having had enough, his father tossed the book and its wild words into the ocean. Instead of choosing to idle around without his book, young Edward would sit on the stern, carefully observing his father. To reward him for his kind attention, his father taught him all the tricks of the fishing trade.
Now, Edward is fishing for his own livelihood. He’s not awfully good at it, but sometimes, he would catch enough for a sumptuous dinner with surplus to sell at the local wet market. Other times, he would go back without anything and wake up the next morning with an empty stomach. When he had money in his pants, it never once occurred to him to buy bread or milk; he would instead shuffle his way to the nearby art supplies store to buy brushes and oil colours and then strut back to his old, dilapidated family home with his loot. As a result, some nights, he was so hungry he could barely sleep, and even dreamt about eating his paints and brushes to fill his stomach.
The other villagers were worried for him, and tried to extend a helping hand without any success. Over time, he became known as the stranger in town, the boy with the white blond hair who never bothered to say hi, or to return a friendly smile. He was the silent young man who kept way too much to himself, avoided anyone’s pitiful gaze, who chose to walk the dark alleys alone even if it meant he’d have to walk twice as long to reach home. Once he returned to the family house, the door would be shut, and not a single window would be opened. As a result, his hair became even whiter, his clothes became washed out and his skin turned translucent under the glare of the sun. Edward was disappearing so fast that even the face in the mirror wasn’t there anymore.
Soon, people were beginning to report sightings of a strange white apparition gliding along the streets. Both the fishmonger and the art supplies seller began to hear whispers from time to time, especially the fishmonger, whom, one Sunday morning at church, declared loudly that he had been possessed by the devil. With bloodshot eyes, he shouted at the top of his lungs that the devil gave him fresh fish and took his money. Traumatized by the fishmonger’s honest and public confession, and having known the devil’s rather unlikely vocation as one of their chief food providers, the townspeople refused to eat any fish until the priest performed an exorcism on the fishmonger. The exorcism was reported to be a huge success, and the fishmonger and the townspeople went on with their lives.
The commotion meant that Edward could no longer sell his fish to the markets, and very soon, he would no longer remember the smell of money or the sound of coins clinking in his pockets as he walked. They were simply no longer there, like a teddy bear he used to adore when he was younger.
When he was a solitude figure in the middle of the ocean, or when he was painting alone in his house, Edward was a bright young man with ideas, hopes and fears. Amidst the chatty townsfolk and the bustling crowds, he was nothing but a wandering ghost. It was just a matter of time, before he completely disappeared from the face of the earth.
(nb: this is part of a short story project called “distortion”, the concept of which would be revealed as the stories unfold its grand and final conclusions. stay tune if you like it.)