The following is the opening to my second novel The Other Half, to be electronically publish this summer.
Mercaj clung to the rock pillar watching the tide lap at his feet and decided he had chosen the wrong place to wait. With high tide reaching its peak he would soon run out of pillar and be left swimming against the tide between submerged columns that conspired with the waves to kill him. He looked around him. Could he could get to the next highest one without hurting himself? Not likely. The moon didn’t offer enough light to see well and he would likely smash himself against a pillar rather than climbing one. And he didn’t feel like dying, not tonight, not on his Vigil where he was so close to meeting his other half. Tonight would decide whether he would go into the sea forever or bring his other half out of the waves where they would go sail the world together.
Either way he would get off the island and make the Headman and Headwoman happy.
Not that their happiness meant anything to him, of course.
On an island like Lesser Tanuj you did what the Headpair told you or you left. Shells! Just look at the way they all treated him. The Headpair hated him so everyone else did and that was that. Even his own parents did their best to ignore him.
They hadn’t even wished him good luck before he left on the Vigil. It could have been the last time they ever saw him and they hadn’t shifted themselves from behind the pile of work the Headpair had given them. He hadn’t expected anything different from them, but it still hurt. The accounts they worked on day and night held much more interest for them than their only child who couldn’t seem to find a place for himself on the island. Perhaps if he had spoken to them in numbers instead of words they might have understood him, or even wished him well. Then again they probably hadn’t remembered that he turned sixteen tonight.
Tronae’s parents had of course remembered their daughter’s birthday. They had come down to the beach to kiss Mercaj’s best and only friend goodbye, both of them with tears in their eyes. She let them blubber for a bit then pushed them off laughing.
“Enough with the crying,” Tronae had said. “I’m coming back. There’s no way I’m going to sacrifice myself to the Sea. I’m going to live on top of the waves, not under them.”
Mercaj envied his friend’s confidence. He felt no such assurance. The Headpair was also there to wish Tronae luck. They didn’t much like her rebellious attitude, but given that Tronae planned to become a trader just like Mercaj, they were at least polite to her. Not so with Mercaj who, for a reason he had never understood, they had always wanted dead.
“May the Sea swallow you whole,” the Headwoman hissed at him on her way back up to the village.
“Finally, we’ll be rid of the abomination of your existence,” the Headman added.
The latest in a lifetime of insults and maltreatment, he paid their comments as little attention as ever. He wouldn’t focus on anything negative on his last night of childhood.
“Ignore the stupid squids,” Tronae told him after they had left. “As soon as the night’s over we’ll get married and within no time at all we’ll be off this island forever. The four of us circling the whole world. I doubt the Headpair have ever been farther than Council meetings on Greater Tanuj. I feel sorry for them, really.”
Mercaj laughed. Tronae was so vibrant, so sure of everything. He wondered sometimes why she was even friends with him, he was so opposite, sure of nothing ever. The only things they had in common were their birthdays and their desire to get off the island. Tronae because one island would always be too small for her, Mercaj because he had no other option. They had spent their childhood down in the port, harassing whichever trader was around to teach them about boat building and trading. They shared everything and had helped each other build the two boats that would take them to their new lives.
“Now, go away,” she said, not willing to share this one thing with him. “I’m going to strip down and get into the water. Don’t forget to put your clothes somewhere dry. And stay away from the south end of the beach. That’s my territory.”
She undid the fabric wrapped around her wrist and tied her long black hair in a knot. Mercaj hoped his other half didn’t have straight hair like Tronae’s or like his own. He did, however, hope that she had Tronae’s dark coloring. His own skin was too much like the sand on the beach, too pale to be beautiful.
“And smile!” Tronae added pulling at his ear like she always did when his thoughts had taken him somewhere. “It’s not the end of the world, you know. It’s the beginning our of lives!”