He was a beautiful boy. Black hair and black eyes set in skin like sandstone.
“Boy,” she said. “What are you doing in that bottle?”
He stood tall and straight, his head just grazing the top of his glass prison. The bottle lay over on its side, a cork stuck in the neck.
“Girl,” he smiled at her. His voice was muted, like hearing through water. “What are you doing out there?”
She thought it a strange question from someone who was trapped.
“Why are you in there?” she amended. She pressed the palm of her right hand to the glass, her breath leaving a mark like frost that soon faded.
“A better question,” said the boy. He walked over to where the girl stood observing him and put his hands in his pockets. “Are girls usually so inquisitive?”
Her cheeks flushed as she removed her hand. They both watched as the print began to disappear.
“You didn’t answer my question,” she said.
“Just because I’m trapped here and must listen to the ramblings of travelers who happen to pass my bottle, does not mean I have to answer questions simply because they are asked.”
His words would have stung, but they weren’t said with venom. The girl had an ear for those sorts of things.
“I’m sorry if I bothered you,” she said. “Would you like me to leave?”
This time the boy laughed bitterly. “And exactly how would I stop you from doing just that?” He motioned to his fragile home. “What am I to do to keep you here? I suppose I could beg, but the thing about begging is that it usually does nothing but make you look like a fool.” He smiled. “Well, I already look like a fool, don’t I? So I can save myself the trouble and skip straight to the end.”
He turned on his heel and sat down near the bottom of the bottle. When the boy saw the girl didn’t react, he shrugged. “Please, come or go, stay or don’t. It’s all the same to me.” He leaned his head back on the glass and closed his eyes.
The girl sat down in the sand as close to him as she could. It was slightly wet from the ocean waves, but she didn’t mind. She took a fistful in her hand, letting the grains run through her fingers just for something to do.
After a long pause she broke the weighty silence. “You seem quite unhappy.”
The boy opened his eyes, slowly angled his head toward her and laughed a belly laugh until tears rolled down his cheeks. Wiping them away, he looked as if he would try and say something else, but another giggle fit took his breath.
The girl started to get annoyed. “Well!” She started. “If you’re so unhappy about your circumstances, why don’t you just break the glass!” At that, the girl gripped a rock nearby and made to throw it at the bottle.
“D-Don’t!” The boy sobered up from his laughter and desperately waved his hand in the air as if he might catch the rock.
She paused, mid-throw, as the corners of her mouth twitched upward. It was the first bit of information the boy had revealed and the girl wasn’t about to let the moment pass unnoticed. “Why not? If I break the glass, you’re free to go. Aren’t you?”
The boy put both hands against the glass and pleaded. “Please. Put the rock down.”
She gripped the stone tighter, the jagged edges digging into her palm. “Maybe you don’t want the glass to be broken. Maybe you’ve grown to like your prison.”
The boy’s eyes darkened, his nostrils flaring as his cheeks bloomed with color. Red, the color of blood. Crimson, like a heart ripped open.
Sensing a sad story like a hound on a scent, the girl went quiet; allowing her eyes to soften. But she did not lower her hand or ease her grasp on the stone. Instead, she set her face in the most determined expression possible and spoke quietly. “If you do not tell me why you are trapped in that bottle, boy, I will break this glass.”
He hung his head, an admission of defeat. When he finally lifted his chin, the boy said slowly and clearly, “If you break the glass, you break me too.”
The girl lowered her hand and dropped the rock in the sand. “Why?” She emphasized the word by putting her hands firmly on her hips and mustering her best withering stare.
He rolled his eyes and then proceeded to kneed them with the heel of his hands. “Because!”
Returning her glare with one of his own, the boy replied in level tones and little inflection, embellishment or emotion: “Because I am cursed. Every seventh-born son in my family line is doomed to give up a day of his life at the start of every new moon to a prison. Each year of the son’s existence, another day is added on to the month. I’m sixteen, so I spend sixteen days out of the month here. By the time I’m 30, I won’t have any free days left and I’ll be doomed to this glass coffin for the rest of my life.”
With this speech, the boy had made his first mistake of many to come by confiding in her. If he wanted to be left alone by the girl, he should have made himself as uninteresting as possible. The insistence of wanting to be left alone to his sad fate only drew her in like a fish to a cricket on a hook. Being in the bottle made him irresistible to her as she had a habit of lending her heart to caged things, making it her mission to set birds with broken wings free.
Yet, the boy may still have gotten rid of her if he had not secured the most absolute lure for the girl’s undivided attention. His best character trait to her was that he had a problem and the girl liked to fix things. She especially preferred the problems that were a lost cause.
And there, in the corked bottle by the sea, was a most hopeless case.
Through no fault — and every fault — of his own, the boy was more stuck with her now than he was ever stuck in that infernal bottle.
The girl took this story in and turned it around in her mind thoughtfully. “So why a bottle?” She asked.
Coming out of some reverie, the boy flicked his eyes over to hers. It was the first time their eyes met and he noticed hers were dark like his. Her hair, too. “What?”
“You said you’re cursed to dwell in a prison.” She swallowed. “Does the curse specify what kind of prison?”
The boy took her in like he had never seen her before. “No.” He smiled. “When I was young, my mother kept me in a locked tower. But when I was old enough to choose, I chose this bottle.”
“Why?” The girl tilted her head. It seemed like an odd prison to choose.
In answer, the boy pushed against the glass and made like he was going to take a step up to nothing. The bottle rolled with his effort towards the sea.
“Stop!” The girl cried. The bottle did not show any signs of slowing down, so she ran after it. Getting ahead of the rolling at last, she put out her hands to stop the bottle from making it to the ocean and being pulled away by the current.
“Because one day,” the boy gestured excitedly to the horizon and beyond, breathing erratically. “When I’m really and truly trapped here forever, I’m going to push myself into the waves and let the sea take me. I’m going to see the world and have adventures, curse or no curse. In a glass bottle, I can see. In a glass bottle, I can float. I can roll.”
She saw him then, her hands pressed against the glass to keep him from rolling away. Her fingertips overlay his as he stared out to the sea he planned to voyage one day in a bobbing vessel. Only the glass separated her from touching him, from brushing away the strands of hair that hid the gleam in his eye that resembled madness, but not quite.
“I’m Amira.” The girl said.
The boy slowly met her eyes and then glanced at her hands that were almost touching his. “I’m Sev.”
Amira’s head nodded knowingly. “Let me guess. Short for Seventh?”
“Just Seven, actually.” He turned to start pushing his bottle back up the shore. Amira helped push from behind. “My parents couldn’t be bothered with the -th.”
When they arrived at a place on the shore where the tide didn’t threaten to wash away the bottle, Sev sat down panting. Amira threw herself on the sand to catch her breath.
“How much longer are you in there for?” Amira asked after a time.
Sev moved his lips, counting silently. “Ten more days.”
Amira looked to the west and noticed the sun was beginning to lower from its peak in the sky. “I have to go. I’ll come back tomorrow.” She stood up to brush the dirt from her skirts. “Try not to roll away so I can’t find you again.” Amira gave the bottle a slight nudge with her foot.
Sev, for the first time, didn’t argue with her. It was nice to have company, even the strange kind.
Amira began to trudge uphill toward the jungle across the way. Was it only an hour ago when she was deterred from her path, noticing a gleam on the shore?
She heard a muffled voice coming from behind her.
“What?” Amira called in return.
“I said,” Sev put his hands around his mouth like he’d project the sound. “You can’t save me, you know!”
Amira turned back to the trees, the waxy leaves filling with golden light that looked as if it might drip to the ground like molten gold or honey.
“We’ll see about that,” she whispered. His warning merely solidified her resolve.
Amira never could give up on a creature, even when that creature had given up on themselves.
Continue reading with Chapter 2