Michael Karlesky

A cabinet of wonders. Minus the cabinet. And possibly the wonders.

My first fairy tale…

I asked her if she’d like to hear a bedtime story. “Yes,” she said. I hadn’t been entirely serious. “About a sailor. Make it happy.”

And so it was that I wrote my first fairy tale…

UPDATE (July, 2014): After having since written several more short stories, I’ve returned to this one to revise and expand it to read in the style of the others.

On the Hook

Once upon a time there was a young sailor. Perhaps it would be truer to say that she wanted very much to be a sailor. She lived in a pretty little house on the sea, and she loved her father who happened to be the captain of a big ship. Her father the ship captain was admired by all those who served on his crew.

The little sailor begged and pleaded with her father to sail with him on his adventures. Of course, because she was young and small each time she asked he would simply smile and tell her that maybe some day she could come with him. She was persistent. She grew, and her pleading with her father only grew right along with her. But her father continued to refuse her—always, of course, careful to be as kind as he could be in dashing her hopes.

The little house the ship captain and his daughter called home was built up on a bluff with a clear view of both the water and the sky. While he would not let his daughter sail, the ship captain taught her as much as he could. They both especially loved the night sky. She would ask him to tell her the names of the stars (though she knew them by heart for years), and he would explain charts and how to navigate on the sea using the stars. When her father was at sea, the little sailor would climb down to the inlets and basins below and spend hours at the water’s edge with all the creatures that lived in that other world. Urchins and sponges often starred in the tales she spun.

One night while her father was away, the little sailor found a star in the night sky she had never noticed before. It twinkled a little differently than all the others. She decided it was her very own wishing star and wished upon it that she could go off to sea with her father the ship captain.

Not long after her father returned from his latest voyage, the little sailor pleaded with him once again to sail with him on his next trip. Finally her father relented. The little sailor could join the crew but only if she did all the work that the other crew members were expected to do. The little sailor was ecstatic. She could hardly contain herself and threw herself around her father’s neck in a hug at least twice as big as herself.

And so it was the little sailor went off adventuring at sea. She swabbed decks, trimmed sails, kept night watch in the crow’s nest, and did all the other things on the ship she was asked to do. Her father was very proud of his little sailor.

Days at sea stretched into weeks and then weeks stretched into months. As supplies on the ship naturally dwindled, like always, the crew turned to the waters full of life for their meals. The little sailor was panicked. She thought of all the fish as her friends and remembered all the stories they had told together and could not bear to drop a hook in the sea. She knew that soon it would be her turn to fish for the ship’s supper.

The little sailor asked her father to do anything else onboard the ship other than fish. Her father had been a fisherman for many years before becoming a sea captain. Though he loved her very much, he simply could not understand why she refused to fish. As the ship’s captain he reminded her that she had agreed to do all the work asked of her in order to go out to sea on his ship. She would have to fish. He grew more and more frustrated with her as she continued to refuse to do what the ship needed her to do.

Finally, one night the young sailor’s father did not allow her to eat supper with the rest of the ship. In fact, he told her that if she wanted to eat, she must fish for her supper. He gave her until morning. His voice was a mix of a stern father and the wise old captain the crew had come to respect.

The ship was anchored in shallow clear waters under a bright moon. In its way, the cove reminded the little sailor of her times near the water at home. Our little sailor stood on the deck of the ship with her fishing pole all night. She stared into the night sky and did not know what to do.

The dark of night was fading, and first light peeked from behind the horizon. One by one each of the stars disappeared. Just as the very last star was twinkling its last twinkle, the little sailor suddenly recognized it. She had found her wishing star again. So she wished with all her might for some way to be spared from plucking her friends from the sea.

The little sailor mustered her strength as much as her hope and cast her line high into the sky, not sure what might happen. Magically, instead of falling into the waters around the ship, her hook stuck in the sky itself. It hung there, magically, on the very star she had wished upon. Wide eyed, she did not know what to do, but her father was calling to her. He intended to see what she had caught in the night.

So the little sailor pulled hard just like she did with the rigging on the ship’s giant sails. Just as her father the captain appeared on deck, the star came loose from the sky and fell to earth in a brilliant streak. It landed in a flash of light not far from the wise old sea captain’s ship.

The little sailor and the ship’s captain gasped in wonder. Just below them in the shallow clear water was something like they had never seen. The little sailor’s father never asked his daughter to fish ever again, for they had together beheld a beautiful miracle. And this is how starfish came to be.