“Isaac Wasserkind you are a lousy writer”, she told him. “You connect the words yet you write nothing new. A real writer invents.”
He could not let his eyes off her even though other landsmen did the opposite. They said she was courted by Stanislaw, a fearsome landsman at the helm of the land guard.
“I write what I see. To write new, I need to see new. I need to see you” his voice fell deep.
It was pouring that day. In the time of quiet it rained a lot.
The great calamity was coming and all landsmen had to wear uniforms. He didn't. He was different - weird - according to his friend Bill. “A landsman doesn't imbibe noble drinks especially when his buddies are drinking beer!” Bill grumbled at draft parties.
He was in no hurry to report to the draft house. The landsmen considered time in the army a waste but he did not subscribe to that view. A day without her was unbearable regardless of location. He’ll wear green just not today.
The war has already started, as far as Stanislaw was concerned. His land guards were seeking out the draft-dodgers here in the Land City. “Already a thief you are a coward too!” Stanislaw said to him with pretend surprise. “My ancestors made cowards wear women clothes. Wait till you see what I do with them!"
"With women clothes?" he winked at Stanislaw ignoring the precariousness of his situation. One of the guards slammed a rifle butt in his chest. They pushed him to the outskirts singing and drinking along the way.
It started to rain. This was a good sign, he thought. It took him a better part of adolescence to shake off childish superstitions. He still rushed to take a look outside the window after waking up from a bad dream. He accepted the rain as nature's approval for what he was set out to do. He turned face to face with the guard who was following him. Struck by a sharp head butt the guard held onto his head as if it were a cracked vase. He picked up the dropped rifle. Stunned Stanislaw and his crew were on the receiving end now. In a few seconds they were spread out on a muddy ground in no mood for another blow.
Wielding the firearm was not what he envisioned when starting fencing, but his teacher, the grumpy Shapiro, would probably approve of his handling. Weapons change, reflexes don't - the maestro parried those who called fencing an archaic sport. Sitting down on the grass next to Stanislaw he asked, “Do you happen to know what my ancestors did to cowards?” Stanislaw only groaned in response. "I too never inquired” he mused “being a coward is enough of a punishment...“
The land turned quiet once more. He published memoirs but he held no memories. Soldiers fire and forget, he wrote and forgot. Looking at a daisy flower on the book cover that he was asked to sign he hesitated because the medal of daisy was the land’s rarest prize. His memories lived on in books he wrote but none dwelled inside him. To write a new story he, reincarnated from within, let go of the old ones.
He did not get his daisy for killing even though he’d seen plenty of it, especially in the beginning. With one decisive battle the armored columns of the invaders wrecked havoc on the famed horsemen - the land's main force. The invaders were now at the gates of the land city - the home of the venerable landlords. That night he mounted a stealthy raid on the invaders' command center bringing back a map of their key facilities.
Snatching the map was easier than asking the landlords to act on it. At the end of the night the cornered landlords ordered the land guard to overrun everything that was flagged on the map. "Think of the invaders as draft dodgers" he suggested to Stanislaw with a wink.
Against their convictions, the landlords honored him. One landsman, they believed, caries no meaning only collective makes a difference. They were right in a sense. A landsman can't carry the burden of the entire land, not for a long time. Undertaking more missions he started to forget his identity. It fell upon Bill to convince him once and again that he indeed was Isaac Wasserkind, a writer from a small, rural town except that now Bill was gone - cut down by an invader's bullet. By the end of the war he let go of all that mattered to him. He forgot her too.
One day he was invited to attend a play based on his war memoir.
“Someone is expecting you in the booth” a land guard's officer told him during the intermission. More a private stage extension than anything, it was off limits to regular landsmen.
“How's the show?” Stanislaw asked inside. “Judging by the bartenders' attitudes it’s not so great.”
“Try wearing your regalia, this will get their attention” Stanislaw suggested passing him a sealed letter. Except the signatures of all three landlords, known to every child in the land, the letter's text was a cryptic collection of random words.
“The landlords want you to write again” explained Stanislaw.
“The landlords have enough writers.”
“Landlords have enough of everything” Stanislaw suddenly screamed. "They want you to cover a project in the Far South" he added in a low voice.
"What is it about?" he asked.
"That is up to you. You will have all the resources and" Stanislaw put the emphasis on the last word, "time."
The great sea of the South gave him joy, always. He first saw it many years ago from a horse-drawn carriage while traveling with his mother. The sea appeared from beyond the valley only to play hide and seek behind the rolling hills. He felt it was a piece of the bright blue sky so beautiful and miraculously near. At the first opportunity he leaped in it and kept running even after his feet were no longer touching the ground. Only his mother's pleas disguised as threats would force him to come back. Now there was no one to stop him from doing what he wanted.
Years back, when he was still a child, he overheard a school principal talking loudly inside a teachers’ room. She was complaining about a parent who gave money to an animal charity at the time when landsmen, for the most part, earned just enough to cover their living expenses. “She could have helped people here” the principal ranted, “instead she chose to tend to foreign dogs as if their stray are more important than ours.” Even his kind and understanding mother told him that the money could be better spent on people. He did not feel that way any longer. The love for the land to him did not mean the love for the landsmen.
Shortly before sunrise his crew brought the news about a whale being stranded on the nearby beach. This whale, quick measurements have shown, was a good fit for the experiment, first of its kind. Blueberry, he named the animal for its light blue color, was to become a passenger or, using the right term, a cargo. Either way it was going where no cetacean has been before.
Flying low over the land was the largest airplane ever made by the landsmen but that was not the reason why their eyes were glued to it. Strapped to the top of the plane from the tail to the cockpit was a sixty feet long whale. Those with the sharp eyes saw a small dot moving back and forth alongside the animal. That dot was him. Wearing a thermal suit and a safety harness he kept Blueberry cool with icy water.
A lot faster than the plane traveled the news of the landlords’ benevolent wisdom. The landlords said that cool waters of the North Sea will make the whale swim again. The landlords were ruling over the land and now, they were laying a claim to the sea and the sky.
It was getting dark when the plane landed. Unlike loading, which involved dozens of landsmen, moving Blueberry off the plane was done quickly. The plane simply drove into the water and halted when only a cockpit remained above the water line. He untied the knots that were holding the whale down. "Swim" he said floating alongside but the whale did not move. “Swim!” he yelled spanking the creature fifty times his size.
The whale heeded the call. It shot forward before disappearing under surface. It came back up right beside him raising a hill of bubbly water. Overwhelmed by the watery avalanche he was sinking with eyes wide open seeing blurry red particles around him rise up.
It was late in the afternoon when a mailman brought a letter requesting his immediate presence in Stanislaw's house. Taking a shortcut through a park he saw Bill sitting on a bench. “I want you to say a few words about me” said Bill extending his hand. “Be objective. Here they talk about dead landsmen as if they were all good saints.”
“I'll say you were dogmatic and pragmatic” he smiled passing to Bill a handful of sunflower seeds from his pocket. He knew where to get the right ones, deeply roasted and unburned. Unlike walnuts, each sunflower seed left its own, slightly distinct aftertaste.
“And fair, maybe” he added when Bill declined to take more than a few of them.
Writing on the go, as was his habit, he did not give too much thought about the deserted park. Motion rendered his already poor handwriting indecipherable but he never read his own notes - he typed them up from memory instead. He took his eyes of the notebook just in time. The park was not empty after all. Seven men were blocking his path. All of them were aiming their rifles at him. “Isaac Wasserkind, a writer from a small rural town, was honored today with a seven gun salute to his heart” he composed an impromptu eulogy that would never make it to a typewriter.
In their midst stood Stanislaw. “You owe her the fact that you are still alive” said Stanislaw looking at him through a rifle scope. “I promised her not to harm you but landsmen only keep their promises to the living." The sunflower seeds in his pocket were gone. He clenched the last ones inside his fist and threw them at the firing squad. In the mid-flight the bullets pierced the seeds and flew in his face. But instead of a burning pain he felt salt water entering his mouth and a subsequent deep cough that his body initiated to cleanse itself of the sea water.
It was Blueberry who pushed him to the surface. He held onto the small hump on Blueberry’s back. "Now it's your turn to give me a ride Blueberry” he said getting on the whale. When his crew emerged from the cockpit in the lingering twilight they saw a strange silhouette rapidly leaving the shoreline.
Stas Holodnak originally from a small rural town now lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.