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Adventure Fiction

Orion was ten years old the first time he went sailing. For years, he had asked his father to take him with him, and for years, his father had said no. It was too dangerous for a little boy. Even the day-long fishing excursions weren’t suitable. It wasn’t until the tenth anniversary of his birth that his father finally said yes.

It would be a simple overnight of fishing and leisure on the ocean with his father’s friends, but to Orion, it felt like the dawn of a new world. He was finally enough of a man to learn to sail. That was more than enough for his little heart to handle.

His mother had knelt before him, his baby sister on her hip and her dark eyes focused, and was brushing his hair out of his eyes. “Be careful,” she said, moving her gaze to his father. “I mean it.”

“You have nothing to worry about,” his father said. “You know that.”

“Sure.” She kissed Orion’s cheek and got to her feet to kiss his father. “I love you both.”

“We love you too.” 

His father grinned, as he went to hug Orion’s twin sister, Ophelia, who was standing behind their mother. She allowed him to take her in his arms, but her eyebrows were knit together, her lips set in a thin line. “Why don’t I get to go? It’s not fair.”

Their father kissed the top of her head, gesturing for Orion to go ahead of him onto the boat. He never answered her question. There was no answer he could give that she would accept, and he knew it. Orion only wished there was something he could do to make his parents let her come too, but it had been enough of a fight for him to be allowed to go with his father. He wouldn’t jeopardize his chance in a fight he knew he would never win.

He left his sister behind and made for the sailboat. It wasn’t large but it wasn’t small either. Rather, it was a medium size, large enough for himself, his father, and eleven other men to spend the night on. As he leaped onto it, it rocked with his weight, the wood strong beneath his feet.

His father chuckled. “Mind your movements, son.”

“Why?” Orion asked, watching as his mother dragged a still-whining Ophelia away by the hand. He wished she could come too, but their parents had said it wouldn’t be right. A little girl didn’t belong on a boat otherwise occupied entirely by men. It didn’t matter that he knew she could handle it perhaps better than any boy such as himself ever could.

“Why? Because this is not a large boat. It’s easy to rock.”

“And rocking is bad?”

“Too much of it can be, yes,” his father said. He held out his hand. “Now, come here and sit with me until we’re ready to leave. You can ask me all the questions you want.”

When Orion looked back on it later, he was certain his father had regretted telling him that, but in the moment, he had taken it as a ticket to talk as much as he pleased. He asked so many questions so quickly that his father hardly had a chance to open his mouth much less answer them. Still, he was patient. He sat and listened to the incessant questioning—a hand on his son’s shoulder—until they had drifted away from the dock.

The wind was perfect—not too strong but more than strong enough to move them along—their sail catching it like flames caught on dry brush. The sky was turning a brilliant orange and the clouds a brilliant pink, as the sun descended to make way for the night. The other men on the sailboat were sitting back—drinking, smoking, chewing—and doing anything other than what they were supposed to be doing: fishing. Sitting beside his father as he smoked a pipe, the breeze in his hair, it didn’t make a difference to Orion. The sea was the sea.

“Dad?” he said once the sun was gone from the sky and the stars had come into view once again. He was sitting up against the side of the boat, staring up at the sail exploding into the sky.

His father slid to the ground beside him, his boots scraping gently against the wood. “What is it?”

“Which one is the North Star?” Orion pointed up. It was a remarkably clear night, not a cloud in sight and the moon brighter than he had ever witnessed it. 

A grin crossed his father’s face. “Do you remember when I showed you the Big Dipper?”

Orion nodded.

“Find it.”

He scanned the sky, remembering the words his father had said to him years ago. The sun god Apollo’s sacred number was seven. There are seven stars in the Big Dipper, the brightest in the sky. Like they’re trying to mimic the light of Apollo’s sun. You can always remember Apollo because he and his twin sister Artemis, goddess of the moon, are the ones the giant Orion was created to destroy. If you find and connect those stars, you have your constellation. 

He found the seven stars and straightened his back.

“What about Little Dipper?” his father murmured. “Can you find it? Follow the line from the Big Dipper’s scoop to the Little Dipper’s handle.”

Orion looked up but lost what he was looking for. The stars above the Big Dipper were all the same to him: random little dots lording over their world. “I don’t know how.” 

“Watch,” his father said, and he took hold of Orion’s wrist. He lifted his arm with a gentleness that made his actions easy to follow and easy to trust. He stopped. He had leaned over so his head was on his son’s shoulder, and they were seeing the sky from the same point of view. Their eyes were on the same star. “There it is. The end of the Little Dipper’s handle. You see?”

Orion nodded. “Now what?”

“Nothing.” His father brought their hands back down, but neither of them moved their gaze from the star at the end of the handle. “That’s the North Star.”

It couldn’t be that simple. “That’s it?”

“That’s it.” His father ruffled his hair. “Always remember this, Orion. When you’re lost, it will always lead you home.”

A gust of wind caught on the sail and propelled them forward. Orion felt his father tense, but he relaxed before long. They could allow the wind to guide them so long as it was tame. One gust wasn’t enough to be of concern.

Orion got to his feet and leaned over the side of the boat. The breeze had returned to being as it was, calm and gentle. The ripples of the ocean were a deep blue under the night sky, and though they were still close enough to the coastline that it was within sight, it felt to Orion as if they had drifted out to the middle of the sea. They were disconnected from everything, separate and free from the world. There was no law here. There was only the mercy of the tempest.

His father didn’t have to stand to do the same, remaining on his knees as he turned to look out as Orion was, a hand on his son’s back. “You like this then?”

“Yes,” Orion said. “I always wanted to do this.”

“Of course. But wanting to do it and actually liking doing it are two very different things.”

“I like it.”

“I’m glad,” his father said. “Because I think I’ll be needing a new fishing partner.”

Orion straightened and let out a small burst of laughter. His heart was on fire. “Really?”

His father did not respond but grinned, reaching out to the water below. His arm was just long enough for the tips of his fingers to brush its surface, but he was using his other hand to hold on to the back of Orion’s shirt, preventing him from leaning forward to do the same. He was far too small to reach and would undoubtedly tumble overboard and into the abyss if he tried. Then, there would be only time at sea. Forever and always, as his body drifted to the ocean floor, weighed down by rocks and devoured by schools of fish.

“The sea has never been my life,” his father said. “It is a pastime I enjoy. But for you, I suspect it may be more than that.”

Orion smiled and closed his eyes. The air was fresh with the faint scent of salt, the breeze as beautiful as his sister’s eyes. She was the only thing he would miss. His partner in everything since utero. But even still, he and Ophelia would not need each other forever. They would become their own people with their own desires.

At that moment, the warmth of his father’s hand on his back was one of the only things keeping him in the world of men. He knew he would miss his sisters and his parents if he left home, but he knew even better that leaving would soon become the only thing that could satisfy him. The only free life he could live was a life on the sea beneath the stars.

March 09, 2024 02:48

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1 comment

David Sweet
19:02 Mar 09, 2024

Wasn't really sure if this was meant to be based on the Greek character or this was just a name for this particular character. I was going to just mention that if this WAS the Greek Orion that the Greeks referred to the Big/Little Dippers as the Big Bear (Ursa Major) and Little Dipper (Ursa Minor). I don't meant to sound picky, just an observation. It is also cool that Orion has 7 major stars as part of its constellation. Orion's story is interesting. This is also a cool story with Ophelia being a character to draw upon for further adventur...


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