Archived: Excerpt from Kinship by Elizabeth Ellis

It was a beautiful day. The sky was a brilliant blue that melded into the deep ocean waters in the clear horizon. I was helping Mom get the dinner we had just caught ready to eat. It was a fish with a long pointy nose. A swordfish, she called it. I had never seen a sword but Dad had explained it to me once before as a long, shiny, flat pole with a pointy end. The fish made a tasty meal, and they were harder to catch, making this dinner a special one.

“Bailey honey, remind me to sharpen this knife later. It’s getting too dull to cut through the flesh smoothly. A sharp knife is a safe knife.” Mom was always giving me ‘life-lessons’ about how best to do things out here on the blue.

“I know Mom. When it’s dull you force it and it can slip and cut you.” I smiled to soften the sass in my tone. “I’ll do it after we clean up.”

Mom reached out and stroked the side of my face with her work roughened hands. “Thank you, sweetie.” Her smile was teeming with warmth and love. “Now go get the stove ready.”

The stove was on deck, near the stern railing. Dad said that he moved it out of the galley and up there because it was dangerous to light a fire in the hull of the ship. He explained that the stove originally ran on a flammable gas- an odorless, colorless mist that lit on fire easily. I have always had trouble imagining what he meant. But since we didn’t have fire mist, we used the stove up top so that it was less likely to set everything on fire. We burn whatever we find on the floating piles of garbage in the ocean that is not usable. Sometimes it’s old rope, clothes that are beyond repair, or even wood. We don’t always cook our fish. But there are some kinds that make you sick if you don’t. And some that just taste better that way.

I was piling the fuel into the stove, when I noticed that the wind had picked up. To the south was a bank of dark, brooding clouds.

“This one came out of nowhere!” Dad was grinning like he’d caught his first fish. “Time to batten down the hatches.” He always loved a good storm.

Forgetting the stove, I made sure it was lashed tightly and ran to help him. We had to close the entrances to the hull, get the sails lowered and secure, and tie down everything that was loose. By the time we got to half of what we needed to do, we were drenched in rain and pitching about on the deck.

Dad wasn’t grinning anymore. His mouth was lined with brackets of worry. “This is going be a bad one, Deck. Take your brother down stairs and tie yourselves to the bed.”

“But-” I grabbed the mast to head up it and help.

Mom came up behind me and grabbed my shoulders with urgency. “Go now, Bailey. I love you. It’s your job to keep Tormac safe.”

I nodded to her in agreement. The last time I didn’t heed her, Tor almost drowned when he went overboard. Dad too, trying to get him out of the churning swells.

I weaved over to where Tor was clinging to the big mast, latched onto his arm and towed him below, fastening the hatch from the inside. I put Tor on the big bed our parents shared and grabbed the webbing we kept nearby for just this purpose. The webbing was a mix of normal rope and a kind that stretched. We had makeshift hooks along the stabilized bed just for it.

“Are Mom and Dad going to be okay out there?” Tor’s voice quavered as I worked on securing him. I tried to answer but was thrown up against the wall.


I had to focus. Get the webbing down tight. Get in with Tor and keep him safe. It was my job.

I heard Tor crying my name through the ringing in my head. I had to focus. Get the webbing down tight. Get in with Tor and keep him safe. It was my job.

“I’m fine. It’s okay.” I tried to reassure him as I scrambled around the bed, attempting to get the webbing into place. There was some water on the floor and I kept slipping. It was cold and soon I my fingers were numb. Finally, I got it down enough that it was time for me to slip in.

Squeezing in next to him, I got the last of the webbing in place over our heads.  The ship seemed to shake like an angry child in the throes of a tantrum. I wrapped myself around Tor and clung to him. It was so loud I couldn’t hear him crying, I could only feel it.

There was no way to tell the passage of time. The wind whistled through the cracks, the water on the floor sloshed around and onto the bed. I knew that Dad would be at the wheel, struggling to keep us steady. Mom would be strapping dad to the wheel so that he wasn’t swept overboard. Then she would come down here to join us… we laid on the bed, cradling each other, shivering in the cold, wondering how things were going topside.

Then it was over.

The sounds of the storm died off and I could hear Tor crying quietly.

“It’s alright, bud. It’s over now.” I breathed to him as his tears turned to sniffles. “I am going topside to see Mom and Dad. Stay here till I come back for you.”  There was a heavy feeling in my stomach. Something was wrong and I needed to see how bad it was.

Topside, I looked around at the damage. Our dinner was gone, the stove too, the sails loose and torn, and some of our supplies were missing. I didn’t see my parents. The rope that should have held my father was empty.

“Mom! Dad? Where are you?” I yelled for them in a panic as I ran to the forward railing, examining the water with terror expanding through me.

Floating nearby was the canvas that had blown loose and the wood from our stockpile, along with my mother’s shoe. It was bright orange and stood out among the debris.

My parents were gone. My chest was tight, and even though the storm was over I could hear a roaring in my head. We were alone. They left us alone out here on the blue to die. We couldn’t make it without them. It was just a matter of time.

“Bailey!” Tor was crying again and yelling my name at me.

I looked up at him. I was on my knees, my own tears streaming down my face.

Tor started to shake me and pound on my chest. “Where are Mom and Dad?”

“They’re gone.” My words seemed to echo around me.

I snapped out of my stupor and clasped him tight. We clung to each other and sobbed out our sorrow.

I took a deep, calming breath and looked up at the beautiful clear sky and marveled at how fast storms could pass, and how lasting the damage could be.

We were not going to die. I wouldn’t let us. My parents had tasked me with taking care of Tormac. That is what I was going to do.

“Tormac. Look at me.” I pulled away slightly and waited till his eyes met mine. “We are going to be okay. I swear to you, I will keep us safe.” He looked at me with so much trust in his young, sad eyes. I couldn’t break down again, I had to be strong. “We can’t stay here though. Let’s see how bad the sails are. We have to get moving.”

It was a death sentence to be dead in the water.

I vowed to myself then, that I would do whatever it took to keep us alive.





I am a returning student to Aims after an eight year break. I have found my motivation in life and am ready to embark on my future. I have learned a lot in my two semesters back at Aims. I have learned that it is okay to be almost 30 and figuring out your life. I have found a love for writing and plan on making a career of it.