MONDAY: Tabitha’s Tale


Copyright is held by the author.

I HAVE a secret. Ever since I was little, I could talk to giants. Really! I still don’t know why, but I’d always liked the low, soothing melody of their voices, and could follow the rhythms of their conversations. My mom and everyone else around me couldn’t do it, and even my little brother didn’t believe me when I told him. I proved him wrong, though, one fall day when I was eight. I was, as usual, looking up, watching the birds chirp merrily. Their feathers gleamed in the sunlight, the beams of which leapt down between the tall roofs overhead. Where did the birds go when they flew away? If I had wings, could I follow them? The wind licked gently against me, pushing against my coat, indulging my fantasies. I would love to travel, but everyone I talked to said that nobody should. “Giants will talk before my daughter becomes a ship-worker, Tabitha,” Mom, in particular, was fond of saying. The ship-workers — those who served wordlessly on the giants’ ships — were particularly scorned, but I’d always regarded them with a secret envy. A cough to my left snapped me out of my thoughts, and I turned, eyes wide. There were two people, taller than I was but still dwarfed by the giants, standing in the shadow of one of the giants’ buildings. A red-haired young man was looking at me and talking to a woman with long black hair. I’d seen them around before, but had never bothered to learn their names.

“Whose kid is that? She shouldn’t be in the middle of the sidewalk,” he was saying. I acted like I couldn’t hear and was still watching the birds, but I was listening intently.

“Oh, that’s just Tabitha. I heard she wanders a lot. She’s probably going to end up on one of those boats one day.” The woman’s last sentence dripped with scorn.

“Oh, right, her! I heard about her father. I’d hate to see her become a ship-worker too; no one deserves that.”

“Yeah, I hope she learns better before it’s too late.”

It was too hurtful to listen any more. From that side street near my house, I ran along the stone sidewalks towards the water’s edge. I could smell the salt air, and winced at the glare of the sun on the breaking waves. The docks spread out ahead, obscured by the flickering shadows of the giants who blocked out the noontime sun. There seemed to be something going on, since I heard a few murmurs among the giants about “Brendan and his boat.” I was content to sit and watch for a few moments, during which — naturally — they ignored me. A voice came from behind me, and I turned at the soft sound.

“Everything’s so chaotic near the water,” my brother complained. Oscar was thin for eight, and had inherited our absent father’s dark hair, allegedly. I had never met Dad, but Mom still kept the shells he had brought us long ago, their salty smells long since faded into dust. I, like our mother, was stockier and rounder than he had been.

“That’s what makes it fun, Os,” I said, grinning the thoughts away and looking back towards the shining sea. “Let me guess, Mom wants me to come back?”

“Of course. She’s worried you’ll fall into the ocean one day.” Oscar’s sentence sparked thoughts that I would rather avoid; my actions didn’t need to be anyone else’s concern. Why did everyone try to tell me how to live?

After a pause, I insisted, “I’ll be back later, but it sounds like they’re talking about something important. Come on, let’s check it out.”

“Tabi, I —” Oscar began, but I tuned him out and ran for the waves. I heard a groan, then the sound of his feet on the asphalt. As much as he complained, he wouldn’t risk going home after “abandoning his sister.” Everyone in this town was so irritatingly predictable!

Oh, but what was that? Silhouetted against the cloudless sky was a towering peak of white plastic, standing proudly against the sun. I stared at it for a few moments, long enough to hear Oscar finally catch up to me. “Oh!” he panted, “What are you looking at?”

“Some sort of boat. Beyond that, I’m not sure. Let’s go check it out!”

Oscar sighed. “Honestly . . . I’m curious too. Let’s just be careful, OK?”

“After this, we’ll go back home, so we don’t get in too much trouble,” I promised, starting on the familiar route down to the docks. As usual, we did our best to dodge around the massive thumping legs of the giants — and they, for their part, ignored us.

A bulky ship loomed up ahead, its sides gleaming white in the noon light. The thought of the secrets hidden within made my heart race; most of the ships in our town were grey or brown. The pilot house loomed imperiously over the dock; so that was what we’d seen from the shore. Sharp black lines arced along the ship’s fiberglass bow, greedily drinking in the light. This vessel was massive, bigger than any of the trading ships that seemed to be the only ones that came to our little town. A metal ramp bridged the gap between dock and ship, leading onto the deck. A pair of giants was standing on the dock nearby and talking, occasionally glancing back proudly at the boat. I started forward, but Oscar tugged on my arm. “OK, we saw it,” he said, looking worriedly at the ship, “Let’s head back.”

“I’m not done yet. I want to hear what they’re saying.” Oscar’s mouth twisted, and I knew him well enough to tell what he was thinking. “Yes, I can understand them, I told you. Come on!” I said, stepping onto the creaking dock and sidling along until I could hear their voices more clearly. Oscar sighed through clenched teeth. My stomach twisted with each step, vainly trying to disappear. I tried to make myself as small as possible, hoping that the giants didn’t see me.

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier,” one of them was saying, a grin splitting his titanic face. The giant seemed strong, with the emblem of a stylized black anchor on the back of his shirt. The same emblem, now that I noticed, was present along the bow of the ship below the
lettering. I’d seen him around before, but I didn’t know much about him. The anchor emblem was new, though.

“I’m just glad you’ll be able to make it up to your wallet!” his companion joked. This one was leaner, by giant standards, with the shorts and loose shirt common to my town. “Brendan, you’re finally part of a real cruise line. So when’s her first tour?”

“Today, actually,” the first one said with a grin. “I just need to pick up some mousetraps, and I’ll be on my way out of this town and . . .” The giant continued speaking, but I wasn’t listening anymore.

I turned back to Oscar and whispered, “Did you hear that? Today’s our only chance to look inside before he leaves.”

“Tabi . . . ” my brother groaned, but knew better than to argue. I didn’t bother to push the issue, and instead started forward. A tentative step brought me closer to the talking giants, who seemed not to have noticed. I barely dared breathe, let alone glance at Oscar. The open ramp to the boat tugged on my very being, but I didn’t take my eyes off of the giants as I slowly crept toward it. Finally, I felt the metal of the railing against my coat, and darted into the vessel.

Now, at last, I was able to turn around. Oscar had followed me, and I pulled him quickly to the side before the giants saw, as — to my shock — he had been less sneaky than I had. Thankfully, neither one seemed inclined to pursue us into the ship, and it wasn’t long before they moved down the dock. I breathed a sigh of relief, and Oscar tore himself out of my grip with furrowed brow.

“Great! Now it’s time to explore.” I dusted off my coat, unable to keep a smile off of my face.

My brother gave a wordless grumble, but the allure of the mysterious ship was too enticing for him to protest. I was almost bouncing on my feet with happiness. What adventures would this boat go on after it cast off? If I could somehow stay on it, would I get to go on the same fantastic journeys as my dad had? Oscar and Mom would be angry with me if that happened, though, so I knew I just had to enjoy this moment while it lasted.

I looked around, taking in the scenery. We were on the deck, the noon sun shining down on us and glinting off of the metal railings that arced along the sides like sentinels. The floor was polished to a blinding white, almost impossible to look directly at. A gaping doorway led to the inside of the ship, and almost beckoned us forward. I glanced back at Oscar, who had his eyes fixed on the space between the railings, watching the sea churn beneath the massive ship. Clearly, he was happy enough for now. Oscar had always liked heights, and neither of us had ever been this high up before.

I had other priorities. I headed down into the interior of the boat, glad to get out of the sun. The room was massive, of course — it was made for the giants, not for people like me. There was no sign of any ship-workers here. I can’t say that upset me too much. As much as I admired them, they were usually hostile to anyone who set foot on their boats. The predominant feature of the room was a huge arrangement of seats, benches set along each side of the ship, against the windows. I couldn’t contain my excitement, and scrambled onto one of the seats just to see what it was like. The seat was almost double my height, but I managed to haul myself up after considerable effort. I looked out at the chairs around me, trying to imagine what it must be like to be a giant. Where would this ship be taking them?

A sound startled me, and I tumbled to the floor with a thump. I spun around quickly to see what had caused the disturbance, thinking frantically. No, it had been too light to be a giant’s heavy footfalls. There had been no sign of any ship-workers. Was it an animal? I braced myself to run, but relaxed quickly. My brother’s curious face looked at me, brows arched. “Hey, you startled me!” I said with a swat. A laugh wiped the worry from his face, but he asked, “Do you think we should go?”

“No, not yet, I want to see why this ship is so important to them.” Oscar ran a hand through his dark hair, then gently tugged on my sleeve. I didn’t move. “Come on,” I coaxed, “It would make Dad proud.”

“Dad’s not the one I’m worried about. Won’t Mom be mad?”

“It’ll be fine. I’m not leaving.” Oscar sighed. I started forward, and he trailed behind me, doing his best to hide his curiosity about the boat. I knew him well enough to see it, though; his familiar amber eyes gleamed as he craned his head to look around the room.

“I don’t know why you’re obsessed with Dad.” The words were spoken under his breath, more to himself than to me, as if to reassure Oscar that he was still the voice of reason. The benches loomed up on either side of us as we walked, their shadows blocking out the noon light. The further we got, the more my caution began to evaporate. My posture straightened, and I even hummed happily to myself. Oscar looked at me, and I hid a smile, but stopped humming. When I looked back at my brother, he was glancing around, posture tense. Oscar’s gaze lingered on the corners of the room and the gaps behind the benches.

“OK,” he whispered, “As soon as you’re done, we’re heading back home.” I didn’t say anything, but clenched my fists to stop myself from protesting. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I couldn’t help but feel that if I just left, I’d find my dad, and he would understand me. I knew Oscar — and anyone else — would insult me for it, so I stayed quiet. I focused back on the titanic benches, though after what felt like forever a door loomed before me.

“I think the engine room is up ahead,” I noticed cheerily, which probably didn’t help Oscar’s mood.

Someone had left the metal door ajar, so Oscar and I were able enough to squeeze through it.

“Wow . . .” I breathed, admiring — despite the shiver running down my spine — the glistening mass of steel and oil. It lurked with an ominous menace, reminding me of some sort of large, sleeping animal. Oscar lingered by the door, but I slid closer to one of the pipes, reaching up to touch it.

Huge footsteps sounded from outside.

I froze, suddenly knocked down onto my back and looking up at Oscar’s worried face. “Tabi, we gotta go!” I pushed him off wordlessly and looked around. There! We could hide behind the engine and probably not be seen. I grabbed Oscar and pulled him as hard as I could, leaping over
one pipe and ducking under another before skidding to a stop against the back wall.

Oscar and I huddled against the plastic, hearing the door to the engine room open, then slam shut. The giant I’d heard referred to as Brendan earlier made his way in — the room was small enough for him that he had to crouch — and looked over the metal contraption. I squeezed my eyes shut.

Thankfully, he didn’t see me, though my heart skipped a beat as the engine roared to life. Oscar stifled a cough. Brendan didn’t seem to like the smell either, and waved a hand in front of his huge face as he left.

The door clanged shut. I saw my own fear reflected on Oscar’s familiar face. The sheer volume of the motor numbed my senses, making my head spin. My thoughts churned, but that stopped abruptly when something tugged, and hard, on my arm. I looked at Oscar, who pointed to a vent in the wall. Of course! The giants wouldn’t want to poison themselves, either.

My brother hopped up and, to my surprise, fit through it. I followed, squeezing against the walls of the vent, glad to put the noise of the engine behind me. Oscar tumbled out, and two sounds made my heart race even faster: a cry of surprise from him, and a horrid, high-pitched squeak.

I levered myself out of the vent, watching in shock as Oscar wrestled with a large, hairy shape. It was about as large as he was, with an ugly naked tail writhing behind it, and it squeaked again as I jumped down. The monster’s incisors snapped in my face as it turned toward me. Quickly, Oscar pushed it away. I wasn’t really thinking; instinct guided me more than anything else. I smothered the monster, pushing my full weight onto its pointed jaws. Both Oscar and I held it down as it thrashed. Finally, it went still.

Shakily, I pulled myself off of the dead monster, letting out a deep breath. I had seen small animals like it scuttling around the streets, but nothing nearly so big. Satisfaction filled me as the adrenaline began to fade; that had been kind of fun.

Suddenly it dawned on me that the ship was moving, and that our scuffle had drawn the attention of the giants. I looked up, trembling and finding myself staring up into the faces of two giants. One was the bulky form of Brendan, while the second was a smaller and younger-looking — but still massive compared to me — giant with sunglasses and a bad sunburn. I tried to smile, but found myself unable to move as Brendan lifted me impossibly high. The ship had begun to cast off, and somehow I didn’t think I’d be able to make it to the dock before it was too late. The giants were talking, so I fought down my panic and focused on what they were saying.

“You have a…rat problem?” the younger one was asking skeptically, raising an eyebrow and nodding to the body on the deck of the boat, now far below me.

“Well, no, erm, not any more. Not now that we have a good pair of ship’s cats.”

“Ship’s cats, huh? They look a little small.”

“Young cats for a young ship.” This seemed to satisfy the sunburned giant, and he walked off.

Brendan put me back on the ground. I looked up at him, surprised. I’d heard the term “ship’s cat” before; it was the giants’ term for ship-workers. I could barely believe what I was hearing. Did he really want Oscar and me as ship-workers? The giant crouched down, and finally released me.

“How’d you get on here, huh?” he mused, seemingly to himself. Oscar was hanging back, looking frightened, and I can’t lie — I felt it myself, too. I backed up slightly, eyes still on Brendan. With a smile, he reached into a pocket, pulling out a strip of dry meat and tossing it to me. Tentatively, I took it — it smelled savoury, a delectable aroma of sun and salt, and tasted even better.
The giant walked off after kicking the corpse of the rat over the side, and I heard Oscar let out a sigh of relief. “Aren’t you worried, Tabi?” he asked, looking up at me with wide amber eyes.

“Why would I be? The giant said we can be ship-workers.”

“Really?” Surprisingly, he sounded less worried at the prospect. “I never really pictured myself as a ship-worker . . .”

Playfully, I knocked him over, swatting at his black-furred ear. “Someone’s got to keep an eye on me, right?”

“Right,” he murmured, seeming to draw strength from that fact. I nodded, letting the wind blow through my grey fur as the boat moved. The gentle motion seemed to caress me. I closed my eyes and laid my head on my paws. Sleep took me after my exhausting day, and I dreamed eagerly of my new life as Tabitha, the ship’s cat who could understand giants.


Image of Ondine Fraher, with a close-lipped smile, with glasses and long hair.

Ondine Fraher was born and raised in New England. She has a degree in Biomolecular Sciences, but prefers writing about animals to experimenting on them.

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