by V. Shalace
When three shipwrecked sailors in a lifeboat fish a bottle from the sea, they find a rather unlikely letter inside.
Morri groaned, trailing his hand through the cool seawater with a look of great suffering. “It’s torture to be sure, stuck out here with so much water and not being able to drink any of it.”
“Don’t talk to me about water, mate,” his companion groaned, sprawled in the bottom of the lifeboat at his feet. “You’re ruining my concentration.”
“You never had any concentration,” Morri scoffed. “Besides, what’ve we got to concentrate on except water?”
“I’m praying for rain of course.”
“You idiot. What do you think will happen if it starts raining now?”
“We’d get a drink, that’s what.”
“Pah! This toothpick of a vessel would sink, that’s what. Then you’d get a drink all right! So much to drink we’d all drown in it.”
“Ah shut up you two,” the final member of their small crew grunted from the prow, not taking his eyes from the fishing pole he’d fashioned from a length of driftwood and some string he’d found in the emergency chest below the boat’s single bench. “I’m tired of listening to the two of you bickering.”
“Better than having nothing to listen to at all. Ain’t that right, Jaer?”
“No it ain’t.”
The fisherman snorted. “I don’t care. I’m the only one doing anything useful around here, so what I say—goes.”
“You’re not going to catch anything out here at midday.”
“At least I’m trying.”
The three fell silent, each sunk in their own contemplations of the vast, undulating expanse of aquamarine ocean that went on as far as the eye could see in every direction. Of their ship and crew, all that remained was their tiny boat with its chest of supplies that had run out days before. Still, they had lived, and that was more than most could say after playing witness to a storm at sea like that one.
His mind and gaze wandering for the hundredth time across the gentle waves, Morri sat up, squinting. “I think I see something out there, mates.”
“If we can’t eat it, I’m not interested,” Jaer muttered from the bottom of the boat, his eyes screwed shut.
“It looks like a bottle.” Waving at the fisherman, Morri added, “Pass me that rod of yours, Rall.”
“Don’t fish it up,” Rall told him, but handed over his fishing rod all the same.
Aiming carefully, Morri tossed the line out towards the object bobbing in the water. Pulling back with care, he waited until he felt the hook catch before reeling it in. “It’s a bottle all right—wine bottle if I’m not mistaken.”
“Has it any wine in it?” Jaer asked, his eyes still closed.
“Nah, looks like a scrap of paper.”
“Put it back then, I’m not eating paper.”
“You don’t have to eat it. It’s what’s written on it that interests me.”
“Ah don’t open it mate,” Rall sighed, retrieving his fishing rod from where his friend had dropped it and tossing the line back out. “I’ve no need for knowing some poor wretch’s dreams.”
“How’ll we know it’s wishes unless we open it?”
“But I’ve just told you that I don’t want to know.”
“That’s too bad because I’ve just opened it.”
Giving the green glass bottle a shake, Morri pulled out the folded piece of paper and smoothed it out across the knee of his trousers. The parchment had yellowed with age and it took him a moment to decipher the words scrawled in elegant curls across the page. “It makes no sense, mates.”
“I told you not to open it.”
“That’s not what I meant. Look.” He shoved the paper into Rall’s free hand and he sighed, setting down his fishing pole so he could take a better look.
“Thank you for opening the bottle,” he read aloud, his voice rough from years shouting into the salty, ocean wind. “In reward for setting me free, I’ll grant you any three wishes you want.”
“It’s a scam,” Jaer’s voice drifted up from the bottom of the boat at once. “Throw it back in the sea, Morri. I hate being scammed.”
“You think there was a genie in the bottle or something?” Morri asked, ignoring his comment.
“I don’t believe in genies.”
“Do you believe it’s going to rain?”
“It’ll have to eventually.”
“Then what you believe ain’t count for much, mate.”
From his seat at the prow, Rall growled. “I wish you two would stop arguing and shut up.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, silence descended upon the lifeboat. Glancing at his two companions, Rall noted the surprised looks of peace on their faces and shrugged. “If that isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is. There’s your answer, Morri. It works. We got two left. What do you want? I’ve already got my wish.”
“Water,” Jaer said at once. “I wish for as much drinking water as this here boat can hold.”
Instantly, two huge barrels appeared on the planks beside him. Mustering the energy from somewhere, Jaer sat up and pulled off the lid from one of them. Its contents were clear, cold, and fresh—and he had never tasted anything better in the world. They passed a cup around, refilling it every time it was emptied until they’d finished half the first barrel. Thirst sated, Jaer leaned back and looked at Morri. “Your turn, mate.”
Folding his arms behind his head, Morri looked up at the sky, giving the question some serious thought before saying at last, “I wish that we’ll be rescued by some nice ship with lots of food and a good crew.”
A shout rang out in the distance and they turned their heads to see a ship moving fast towards them. Within moments, it had pulled up beside the lifeboat and sailors were leaning over its sides to wave at them. A rope ladder was lowered and they helped the three men aboard, marveling at their salt-crusted garments.
“You’re lucky we came along,” the captain told them as he sent someone to fetch some food for them from below deck. “It was a strange thing though. We wouldn’t have come this way at all if it weren’t for the wind pushing us off course. Mighty odd wind too, let off the moment we saw you.”
“We must’ve wished for you,” Morri explained, showing them the aged paper he still held in his hand. The sailors all gathered around him to read the message with murmurs of wonder and disbelief as the three recounted their story.
“I don’t believe in magic,” a sailor muttered, casting an uneasy look at the three newcomers. “Where’s the proof that it was a spell that brought us here?”
Rall shrugged, staring morosely up at the ship’s full sails. “You’re here aren’t you?”
The sailor opened and shut his mouth, but said nothing as the captain lay a placating hand on his shoulder, giving the three an odd look. “And you wasted that opportunity on water and being rescued? Why not ask for gold?”
“You can’t eat gold,” Jaer muttered, tearing off a chunk from the hard biscuit a sailor handed him.
“Then wish yourselves back to land.”
The three friends looked at each other and shrugged. They weren’t much interested in the discussion, but everyone around them seemed keen on having an answer.
Morri spoke for all of them. “I don’t like stopping halfway on a journey.”
“But water, a ship, and food?”
“Of course. What else do we need?”