The Boat

by Nicole Settle 
Since I can remember, I’ve been warned never to leave the island. Everyone was warned against this. For centuries, people have survived and lived in content on the island without ever trespassing in the water to see what might be found in the blue distance. 

I would spend afternoons on the beach looking as the blue of the water met the blue of the sky and wondering if, in the distance, the horizon held any other color. But for all my seventeen years, I only ever saw blue. Well, except for the occasional gray that ominously warned of a storm. Those gray days were more beautiful to me than the blue ones. Storms always meant massive energy, and you could feel that energy pulsating in the air as if it was alive. 

But today as I stood with my bare feet buried in the sandy beach, I only saw the blue and the sun making its way down in the sky. I looked on into the horizon without seeing anything else. 

 I knew the warning to stay on the island and not leave was for my own good. It was for everyone’s own good. As the granddaughter of the king, it was especially important that I not make mischief, and so I never told anyone about my desire to go into the sea and see where the water took me. I’m sure there were others that thought the same things and had the same impulses, but of course such ideas were frowned upon. It would not be good for it to be known that the king’s granddaughter had such unhealthy impulses.

The history of the island has always been elusive and never fully concrete, but there has been one truth that has been continued to be passed down from generation to generation—don’t leave the island. It is known as fact to many that the island is the last remaining hospital place in the world and to leave it would be suicidal.

I’m not suicidal.

I’m just too curious.

 Too impulsive.


I knew that voice anywhere. The second I heard it I cleared my head of such odd notions of leaving the island and turned toward the voice.

Fynn was walking towards me. He knew whenever I went missing that I came here—to this secluded spot on the beach hidden by the trees.

I watched and admired him as he was coming to me. His strong legs were carrying him with more grace than I ever had. His arms were lightly swinging at his side, and I could see the muscles of his arms. His dark hair fell across his golden eyes, and his full lips gave me a smile. He was intoxicating to look at. Everyone looked at him. Of course that’s all that anybody did. He was just a servant in the king’s household—too lowly in the social hierarchy to permit more than just looking, but he had always been my friend. He was a year older than me, but now as I watched him, he looked so much more mature.

“What are you doing here?” I asked him when he was close enough to touch.

“I could ask you the same thing. Your mother’s been looking for you. Dinner is going to be served soon. I took a break from dinner’s preparations to help your mom find you. Of course, I should have just come here first for you.”

I took a deep breath of the ocean air. I tried to savor it before I had to go back to the old musty castle where there was more dust than fresh air. I turned and started to walk back with Fynn. My dark blonde hair was flowing behind me as the wind carried it. It swirled around my head, and Fynn stopped us and tied my hair back for me.

 It was an intimate moment as I stood still next to him. Our height difference was more noticeable to me then. I barely stood above his shoulder, and I ached to lean back into him. I stopped that impulsion before I could act on it, not wanting to embarrass myself.

The moment passed, and we started walking again side-by-side.

 “I’m sorry I pulled you away from your duties,” I said.

 “Oh, it’s no problem. I’m sure my boss won’t give me too much trouble,” he teased.

His boss was his father. He was the main cook of the household, and Fynn worked under him, studying from his father with the hope of one day taking over his position.

“Another late night meeting?” Fynn whispered.

Even though there was no one around, we always whispered this question to one another when we asked it. It was our habit and our paranoia.

“I’ll be there,” I whispered back.

When we got back to the castle, we went our separate ways—he to the kitchen, and I to my room to get ready for dinner.

Dinner passed in a blur like most dinners did. There were always important people there, and they talked of things I didn’t always understand or care to. My grandfather was always the center of attention. People asked for his advice and help, and of course they praised him.

My grandfather was a just and fair king, and I loved him dearly for that. He listened to everyone with a patient ear. I knew that I could speak during dinner, and he would listen to me with undivided attention, but I never did speak. I wasn’t afraid to make a fool of myself in front of my grandfather, but I was afraid of making him a fool if I spoke and said something embarrassing and others commented about the king’s granddaughter embarrassing the family. I didn’t want anyone to speak ill of the king’s family. I could only imagine what might be spoken if I told our dinner guests of my desire to leave the island. I’m sure it would spread faster than a fire that the king’s granddaughter was insane.
When dinner was over, I discreetly left to my room. I would stay there until I had to leave for my meeting again with Fynn. We never met until late in the night when everyone else was asleep. It was the only time when the castle felt deserted, and we could wander it freely. We could also hang out with each other freely. During the day, Fynn had to work, and I was usually busy studying and taking lessons. At night, we were both free of our restrictions.

We always met in the library. We would meet there but would not always stay there. Sometimes we would go off into different parts of the castle. Maybe the kitchen and sneak in and eat some food, preferably dessert. Or we’d go to the weapons room and have pretend sword fights. Other times we would wander the woods that surrounded the castle. There were, of course, guards but that was half the fun—seeing if we could get pass them without being noticed. But not tonight. Tonight we would stay in the library and make a small trip to the king’s study.

When I got into the library room late that night, Fynn was already waiting for me there.

“What do you want to do?” he asked with excitement. It made me giddy to know he was always so happy to be with me.

“I want to do something a little different tonight,” I started to say, trying to prepare him.

“What?” he asked hesitantly.

“How are you at picking locks?”

He just glared at me and shook his head repeatedly.

“No, absolutely not! You can’t be serious,” Fynn finally said after all the head shakes.

“Come on! I’ve been telling you that I’ve wanted to do this since—”

“I didn’t think you meant it!” he said in a loud whisper, wanting to yell but knowing he couldn’t for fear of waking someone.

“What harm can it be? I mean, it’s just a bunch of books.”

“If it was just a bunch of books then they wouldn’t be locked away with a guard always on duty!”

I just glared at him, hoping that if I continued to do so he might give in. He didn’t.

 “All right then I’ll just have to do it myself.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

 “I’m not. I’m being rather serious.”

I turned from the library and started to walk down the halls of the castle towards my grandfather’s private study. There was always a guard stationed outside the room and inside the room there was a small bookcase that was locked and never opened, at least not since I could remember.

“Wait!” Fynn whispered harshly. “I’m coming.” He caught up with me.

 “All right then. I’ll be the distraction, and while the guard is not paying attention, you get inside the room and get the books.”

“If we get caught, I am totally making you pay,” he said threatening, but he didn’t disagree to the plan, which was the most important thing.

I turned the corner where the study was located, and Fynn stayed behind, hiding. I saw the guard up ahead and walked to him. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to distract him. I didn’t have a plan but figured something would just come to me naturally.

As I got closer to him, I started to make myself hysterical. I wasn’t sure how good of an actress I was, but I tried my best. My eyes started to water, and I got some tears to fall down my cheek. I turned my breath into harsh gasps. When I finally came to the guard, I looked and sounded a mess.

“You have to help! I just saw a monster! In the castle!” It wasn’t the most believable thing I could have said, but hey, I was the king’s granddaughter, they couldn’t just ignore me, even if I sounded insane.

“Excuse me? A monster?” the guard asked in apprehension. He was looking uncomfortable as he stared at my wet face.

“Yes! In the east wing! You have to go kill it before it eats everyone!” Yes, I definitely sounded mad. But believably mad, I thought. “Hurry! Before it eats us!” 

I didn’t know if he actually believed me or if he just wanted to get away from me, but he left in the opposite direction of Fynn, toward the east wing.

Fynn hurried down the hall, and we both barged into the king’s private study.

“Hurry,” I urged him.

He didn’t talk. He was too focused.

He dropped on his knees in front of the locked bookcase and started to try and open it. It wasn’t working. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. I scrambled toward the desk and opened all the drawers, looking for a key. Nothing. I was about to give up. After all, it wouldn’t be long before the guard realized there wasn’t a monster in the east wing. However, just as I was about to stop looking for the key, I found it. 

I noticed a lose piece of wood at the bottom of the leg’s desk. I picked at it, and it opened to reveal a hollow compartment. There was a single key inside.

I threw it towards Fynn, and he quickly got the bookcase open. There were only a couple books in there. It was mostly empty. He gathered the books and then threw the key back to me, and I stashed it back into the hidden compartment. 

We dashed out of the study and ran all the way back to the library. 

It took us long seconds in order to finally regain our breath. Fynn didn’t just regain his breath. He also regained his anger.

“I can’t believe you made me do that.”

“I didn’t make you do anything!”

“No, you manipulated me!”

I ignored him and grabbed the books he was holding in his hands. I was too eager to see what the books contained to argue with him. 

Apparently Fynn was more interested in the books than fighting with me, too. “What are the books about?” he asked and hovered right over me as I opened them.

It was simple enough to figure out what they were about. It was incredibly obvious.

They were about boats. 

How to make them and how to sail them. 

“We better put these books back,” Fynn said. His voice filled with anxiety. 

“We won’t get caught. We’ll be gone by then,” I said with a smile.

“You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking, are you?”

“Are you thinking that we’re going to make a boat and sail away?” My smile got even bigger.

That was what he was thinking I was thinking. 

And it was with some difficulty that I finally got him to help me make a boat in secret. Well, not a boat exactly. After all, there were only two of us to make it. It was more like a raft. 

I wasn’t as thrilled about sailing away on a raft. It didn’t seem very safe, but I guess that’s the definition of a risk. Sometimes you’re just compelled to take one, and I was compelled to take this risk. Fynn wasn’t so compelled.

“This is suicide, you know that don’t you?”

“There’s more out there in the world beside this island! I just know it!”

“And what if there isn’t? Who knows how long the raft will drift away until something other than water comes along? You can’t just follow every impulse you have! People care about you here! You can’t just leave them!”

He was right of course. What I was planning on doing was foolish. I did it anyways. 

I’m a fool.

That’s what I kept thinking as I drifted along in the sea on my horribly built raft. But at least I was a fool with company. At the last second, Fynn joined me. 

“I love you, so…” that was his explanation and all he said as he jumped onto the raft and sat next to me. 

I’ve been smiling ever since, but we are still both fools. We had brought some provisions, but they weren’t lasting very long. Our food supply was dwindling, along with our water supply. I was hoping for land soon.

Sometimes, during the really quiet moments, I would wonder what my family was doing. I had written them a letter before I left, but I’m sure they were still worried and probably angry. Fynn didn’t let me have too many moments like that. Whenever he saw shadows enter my eyes, he would just kiss me. I liked this trick of his. 

It was during one of these tricks that we finally did see land. We almost missed it as we were both too absorbed in kissing each other, but when we had to catch some air, we saw the land. It was majestic. We were anxious to set foot on it and could care less what was on it. We hadn’t traveled too long, and I couldn’t imagine living my life on the island and never finding this other piece of land so near. 

When we reached the beach, we looked around us, taking in the sight. It wasn’t as majestic as I thought.

There were tall buildings and streets that seemed to stretch out into oblivion. It looked like a grand city. I had never seen so much before. The buildings soared in the sky and looked like they touched the white of the clouds. The buildings also seemed to expand out in the distance without pause, making the city look like it went on and on. I felt so small standing there among the buildings. While it looked like a place that was home to a massive civilization, I found it peculiar that no one was there. Not a single person was in sight.

Everything was rotting, too. It looked like there was life here but not anymore. Everything had a deteriorated look. I had the feeling that if a strong wind came through then everything would crumple. There was silence like I had never imagined before. It was the sound of abandonment.  It was so empty. I couldn’t figure out what had happened to this place.

And then I saw a plaque on a building. It had a name and a date. I assumed the name was for the building, and the date was for when it was built. The date threw me. It wasn’t just years old. It was centuries. Centuries!

“Where are we?” Fynn asked quietly.

“I have no idea,” I said just as quietly back.

Before we could talk more, we both heard footsteps. We swiftly swiveled around, looking for the source of them.

There was a group of three. They seemed about our age, and in the distance behind them, I could see their own weirdly built boat.

They greeted us in some other language I couldn’t understand.

And that’s when it came to me.

We weren’t the only island. We weren’t the only ones looking for something more in an abandoned world.

© 2010 Nicole Settle.  All rights reserved.

Nicole Settle is currently an undergraduate at University of California, Berkeley. The inspiration for this story came from one too many daydreams during her geography class when she ought to have been taking notes.