“Move or get out the way!” I did both. I did not know they were going to open the doors so soon, or I would have made sure to have been on the other side of the ship. As such, I was caught by the throng of passengers eager to leave the ship, arrive on land, or both. The flow of people was too much for me to pass through and I had no desire to leave the ship, so I pressed myself to the side as best as I could to wait out the stampede of people.
It wasn’t good enough.
“Move, bitch!” Despite being clear of the passenger, they shoved me against the low rope railing to gain another inch of space for themselves. The rope stretched from the pressure and I fell overboard.
I only fell a few feet before I was able to grab a slack tie line that wasn’t in use. I used the inertia of the fall to swing my lower body around to wrap my legs around the line as well. In the waters far below, I saw dark shapes moving quickly at the surface, giving the water the appearance of boiling.
A crewman shouted at me. He said I couldn’t get back on the ship from this end, and that I would have to crawl my way along the rope to the other end, where it would be anchored over the stern deck and I could drop safely. He apologized for not being able to rescue me, but noted that like life, sometimes we have to rescue ourselves.
I wasn’t mad at him for his honesty, and thanked him for the direction. Once I began to move along the rope, I was instantly at the stern anchor for it. I released my leg grip and allowed myself to hang from the rope by my arms. I found myself a few unseen inches from the floor of the deck. Saving myself was as simple as letting go.
I lost my footing upon landing just the same and bumped into a large black man. He steadied me and apologized for being in the way as I apologized for running into him. We both laughed and mutually forgave each other.
“Listen, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could you give me a hand? I need to find my cabin and clean it before I leave. I don’t want you to help me clean it, I just need to find it!”
He pointed to his eyes and I saw that both orbs were completely clouded over and were dull and dry. I was not afraid of him and said that the least I could do for him catching me was to help him reach his cabin. He took my hand, and the moment I set a foot forward to find his cabin, we arrived at the door.
“I have cloths to clean with, but I don’t know where the mop head is. Would you find that for me, and then I have no further requests for you. You have done so much for me already.”
I opened the door to find a white middle-aged woman seated at a table and a black middle-aged man seated on the bed. The woman didn’t even glance at us as we entered. The black man started berating the blind man for wandering away.
The woman was calculating a bill on the table and she was angry upon finding a room cleaning fee had been assessed against the account. The only way to have the fee removed, was to clean the cabin before disembarking. Both the woman and the bed-seated man vehemently refused to even pick up after themselves, much less wash and dust.
I asked the blind man if this was why he needed the cleaning cloths. He admitted as such and calls to the woman to take them to begin cleaning. She took them from him only to throw them back in his face. “There! I’m fucking done! And now I’m on break! Don’t bother me, even if you piss on yourself!” She sat back down and lit a cigarette before looking back on the bill. She because to curse vehemently as a new charge had appeared on the paper, for smoking in a no-smoking cabin. “I wouldn’t have needed a smoke if that fucking cripple didn’t aggravate me so much!”
“Don’t call my brother a fucking cripple, bitch!” The tone of the bed-seated man’s words did not match their content. “He’s a useless waste of human flesh! That’s what he is!” He leaned back and laughed for a moment before trying to kick the blind man.
I picked up one of the cleaning cloths, attached it to the mop head, and began to sweep the floor. The blind man picked up another cloth and began wiping down the walls. As we worked, the woman caretaker complained about the stress of dealing with her charge and the bed-seated man alternately consoled the woman and talked viciously about his brother. Both of them told me often that the blind man was useless and needed to hurry up and die from an accident but he was always in the best of health and always avoided certain death by a series of unusual near misses.
I was ready to throw both of them overboard, personally.
After we finished (and had the cleaning charges removed from the bill), the blind man gestured me to stand before him. He was tall enough to pat me on the head three times with gentle ease. He then laid his right hand on my head, raised his left hand in a gesture of benediction, and said words I could not understand but made my eyes itch.
“That bitch is stealing my due! I earned that, not her!” The caretaker jumped to her feet and called on the blind man’s brother to intervene and take whatever I was being given.
“Slow down, baby.” He pulled at her but she pulled away to light another cigarette (and cause the cleaning fee to return to the bill). “She ain’t getting anything. She came with nothing and she’s leaving with nothing. Besides, your bill is autopaid every month. As long as he lives, you got a check.”
A voice over the announcement system called for all passengers to disembark immediately as the voyage of this ship had come to an end. I turned towards the door and was immediately at the last few feet of gangway. When my feet touched the ground, the scene changed. I was now in a place of rolling hills with steep mountains in the near distance. A river has cut a deep channel through the countryside between the hills and the foot of the mountains. There are dragons everywhere.
“Have you come for your dragon, Miss?” A dark skinned youth with curly golden hair held out a bundle of rods. I looked past him and saw many people in varying stages of befriending their personal dragon. I understood the dragons represented individual fears.
“Ah, no. Just because I can sit with my fear, doesn’t mean I want to keep it. I don’t want to be mastered by my fear, and let’s face it, appeasement only works until you have something it wants.”
“You still don’t see clearly, yet. That’s okay. When you do, I’ll be here.” The boy held the rods in a crossbody sling. His tunic seemed too large for his small frame. A crudely sewn patch was attached over his heart. It looked like a small shield. The arms of the red cross extended to the edges of the patch. The white background remained pristine. I was not uncomfortable to see it, but I knew I should know what it meant.
“What’s your name?”
He smiled with sincere warmth. “George.”
I turned towards him. I felt an immense dragon settle behind me. Its shadow covered us. George’s skin became darker even as his hair glowed with subtle golden light.
I recognized the shield. “Wait… Saint George? Like the dragon slayer?”
He laughed. “I only slay dragons if they are slaying first. By all means, kill your fear! But don’t kill what carries it. Don’t smash the mirror because you don’t like your reflection.”
The dragon behind me moved to take a guardian position over me. Even with my back turned, I knew the protective posture it had moved into. I turned around to confront it.
An angel in shiny black unadorned armor stood where the dragon was. The lowered visor hid the face. What skin I could see was as black and as transparent as shadow. They held out their right hand to me. I did not take it.
I wanted to run. I wanted to wake up. I wanted to cry. I wanted to do anything but be here in front of this angel. “George, I’m afraid.”
He moved closer to me but did not step into my field of view. “I know.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Ignorance breeds fear.”
I found myself able to slightly turn my head towards George, but I still could not look away from the angel. “Knowledge kills fear. Help me learn.”
“See you in church.” George then crossed himself.
All of the dragons suddenly took off into flight. The sun had set and night was moving quickly to claim the scene. I was still too afraid to move. George stood with me, holding his bundle of rods that had started to glow in the dark with unintelligible markings.
The angel continued holding their right hand towards me as they stretched their wings. Instead of settling back into a folded position behind them, they brought their wings forward to encompass both George and I without touching either of us. Still standing on my feet, I fell into a deeper sleep.