Chapter Three - Like A Ship Crashed Into Me

The only time Hoppers spoke to one another was when there was a good rumor to spread. Safety was their excuse — to warn everyone about what’s-their-name doing you-know-what. Rumors traveled even faster when there was danger or mystery involved. Ones about families who were already poorly thought of spread even quicker. The Izz girl’s disappearance, for instance, was already the talk of the town before breakfast was ready the next day.

Mamma Mape and Gai didn’t sleep at all. A few scoopers got together for a search party, but they scooped no signs of Lynd. Mayor Tanning spent the day interrogating the only witness, and the boy brought all his truth to bear, sneaking out to make a present, the Under Board, and, of course, the spryts.

“Ya think I was born last week, boy?” The mayor bashed his fist on the three old oar paddles he used for a desk. “I was yer age when they built these Boards, and now the whole edge of Boulie’s gone! Spryts been around — causin’ trouble, yeah. Maybe shockin’ a few scoopers outta their seats. But ya expect me to believe some little red light caused all that?”

“What else could it be?” said Gai. The color was drained from his face due to lack of sleep. “Lynd touched the spryt. And then everything ripped to pieces!”

“Ripped to pieces, ya say?” The mayor twisted his sticky-looking beard to a point and said, “Not the first Izz to rip somethin’ to pieces . . .”

“What do ya mean?” the boy asked.

“Ya think this is the first unusual thing I’ve heard about yer quirk family? Besides bein’ gallsy enough to try and leave Hop, that is.”

The only other strange thing Gai knew about his family was that his father, Stav Izz, left five years ago on the only ship to leave Hop in many, many years. The ship was called the Lady Merry. And she hadn’t returned. But that was a completely different kind of disap‐ pearance; Pa left with Uncle Baald and a whole crew on a real ship. Lynd was there one second, gone the next. Surely, Tanning didn’t think those were the same? And what about the destruction of Boulie? Gai couldn’t have made that up. It was there. The mayor released him for the day with a glare that said, “Oh, yeah, investiga‐ tions will be ongoing.”

The boy laid awake that night again, piecing together every moment of the encounter with the spryt like a puzzle. He tossed from side to side, glancing at the rope blanket he made his sister, which she had torn to shreds and used to escape out the window. As wild as it was, the destruction of Boulie seemed like just an extreme example of what already happened when Lynd got upset. Instead of snapping a piece of wood, Boulie snapped. Lynd couldn’t have destroyed herself, could she?

By the second day, an unforgiving crowd had gathered outside 76 demanding answers, tossing stones and painting all sorts of stinky words on the Board planks in front. “Ya heard about that Izz family? Mhm. I heard that mamma’s been drivin’ ‘em right off Boulie one- after-one!” Three days of no new evidence passed, so the girl was declared “dead to us, at least” by Tanning. He planned a small funeral where he’d rename the tattered, splintering end of Boulie Board to “Lynd’s Pier” for — how did the mayor put it? — “Any soggs who actually bought their story.”

That evening, Mape held back her tears as she went up to Gai and Lynd’s room. She palmed open the door and found their schooling books stacked in front as a doorstop. Education, like anything one built or made, wasn’t highly regarded in Hop anymore. It could just be unmade, couldn’t it? Kids forget their lessons all the time. Still, Mape had been trying to teach them their letters, just in case Stav’s trip succeeded and they got off that ugly wooden prison. Lynd hadn’t quite gotten the hang of reading yet. Mape imagined now she never would. She again swallowed her welling emotions as she addressed her son, who was sitting quietly on his floor-bed with their pet turtle, Emilie, cupped in his hands. “How ya bein’, she asks?”

The boy didn’t look up.

Mape, for one, believed her son’s story. If her children ran out in the middle of the night and one of them vanished after an encounter with a strange red light, then that was just life giving her a good kick in the guts again. And life was wearing some spiky boots that day. After all the kicks Hop had given her, she learned how to hide their impact. She believed wearing her sadness just smeared the misery to those around her. A lump grew in her throat. “H-had a chance to gather Lynd’s things?” She plodded into the room. “It’s only right to give those lost at sea their things back, she says.”

Don’t be alarmed by the way Mape talks. She had an odd habit of narrating her own sentences, seemingly unconsciously and rather randomly. Rumor had it she lost a few marbles after Stav left.

Gai’s eyes rolled up, his head motionless. No words came out.

Emilie, the turtle, crawled from his left hand to the right.

Mamma Mape approached him carefully. “It’s one of the few Hopper traditions I actually buy into.” She bent down and put her hands under his. “I don’t say it much, but I know how hard it is to—” “Lynd is not dead.” He stood abruptly and paced toward the door with the tiny turtle still in hand. “But I’m gonna give Emilie back at the funeral for show. I don’t want them thinkin’ . . . whatever they think.”

“That turtle is yers both?” Mape stared at Lynd’s pulled-apart blanket. “Yer not supposed to throw back yer own things.”

Monotonous and detached, the boy replied, “Lynd found her.” He ran his thumb gently over Emilie’s scaly nose. “She saved her from an old crab cage on Bleek Board. Em still has the scar she got from bein’ trapped.” Gai paused, staring at his mother for some hint of emotion from her. “Ya think she’s really gone, don’t ya?”

But Mape was bent on keeping it all in.

Gai felt himself simmering. “‘Nothin’ last but salt in yer . . . ya- know-where . . . Pa was right, all we do here is stare around at the pieces when things break, pointin’ fingers. Maybe if we weren’t such soggs, somethin’ might actually last! I wish we left on that ship right with him!”

Mape let out a breathy sigh, listening to Gai stomp down the stairs on his way to Lynd’s funeral. She reached up to her chest where her necklace used to be. The necklace had a small ship’s wheel charm, believed to be a symbol of Zeea — a mythical figure who many believed granted luck and clarity. Zeea was something of a patroness of Hop, though few still bothered bargaining with gods anymore. Still, that necklace made Mape feel guided during rough emotional currents. She had forgotten she bet that trinket three nights ago at Tanning’s Vice House. It was no longer there. She never got Lynd a present. “I can’t help but stare. The pieces is all I got, she says.”

Gai opened the front door to jeers and boos from the eleven angry Hoppers that had gathered outside. They demanded justice for Lynd. Apparently, they believed the rumors that Mape had some‐ thing to do with her disappearance. The boy pretended they were just the regular hoots and hollers he overheard from his intolerant neighbors.

Mrs. Shakk was there in front, hay-haired and bucket-shoed, with her usual sickly-yellow hue, just blowing her yelling horn at him like always — Whaaah! She wore an old roof tile around her neck and used it write people messages, usually rude ones. Why she wouldn’t actually talk to anyone at all was really the least interesting thing about her. She even claimed to know what spryts were. She was the one who lobbied Tanning to hang spryt warning signs all around Hop.

The boy ignored them all, hobbling into some thick, sticky fog that had settled over Hop’s area of the Domus Gulf. Mape came out after, rushing past the crowd with her head down and her own offerings to Lynd draped over her arm.

Gai marched forward to the fateful pier, reliving every step anew from that night along the way. He could practically hear Lynd’s fiddle plucks coming from the white fog all around. He remembered Lynd’s last moment still on the Board. How she was there with the spryt playing the fiddle and how suddenly everything around her tore apart in a flash of crimson light. “It was my fault she was even outside . . .”

Mother and son joined the mayor, who was tapping his foot at the end of the about-to-be-named “Lynd’s Pier.” He wore a black tarp with a hole cut out for his sun-battered head, just for this special occasion, which was honestly more than either Izz expected. The crowd of justice-seeking Hoppers didn’t follow them to the funeral, thank Zeea, though a few of their nasty chants could still be heard. A random scooper was there as well, but it was unclear if he actually meant to attend or just happened to be scooping there. It was kind of him to take his cardboard hat off, though.

“As mayor,” boomed Tanning, his long arms swinging way over their heads. “It’s my obligation to officiate yer loss, Mrs. Izz. But per Hopper Law, the family must first agree to accept the loss by offering their loved one’s personal belongings to the sea. How do ya feel about these terms, Mrs. Izz?”

“. . . Like a ship crashed into me,” she said.

The mayor continued, unmoved by Mape’s obvious distress. “Very well. I understand ya have two losses ya’d like to accept?”

Two? Gai thought, shooting his eyes at her. By Zeea, did her skin look pale. He noticed both Lynd’s and his father’s patchy raincoats draped over her arm. Light-headed and heavyhearted, he wondered if she was really going to do this? Were they done waiting for Pa to come home? Was five years long enough?

Mape sniffled back a tear. “Yeah.” But her eyes soon filled with them. “Today, I accept bo—” She couldn’t finish.

“Ma,” said the boy, his voice trembling. “Lemme go first.” Tanning moved from the edge of the destroyed pier, “Very well, young Izz. Please hurry this up. It’s almost sunset, and the water levels predict another spryt swarm tonight. I trust ya understand the dangers of that, now? Won’t be ignorin’ any more of Tanning’s signs, will ya?”

“No.” The boy stepped to the splintering end of Lynd’s Pier with Emilie in his hands, her tiny turtle feet dangling over the rushing water.

Mraaw, she cried quietly.

As the boy looked down at the drop, he saw the real impact of Lynd’s destruction to the Board. It wasn’t like the planks were simply snapped and cracked. They were warped at the ends like they were torn then twisted and smooth almost like melted wax. It was truly a bizarre sight. “Lynd . . . I offer ya back our best friend. I know Em remembers how nice ya were to her. Goodbye, my sister.” He then whispered to the turtle, very softly so no one would hear but her. “If ya bring Lynd and Pa home, I’ll scoop ya every crabby in the Under Board.”

Had the mayor heard, he would’ve canceled the ceremony right there. Gai and his mother were supposed to be accepting death, not asking for help from turtles. The boy let Emilie fall straight down into the currents, where she vanished in the white, rushing water.

“Mrs. Izz,” Tanning said, “if ya could please make yer gesture of acceptance. So I can leave.”

Mape crept to the end near her son. She couldn’t look at him. How could she? She was about to officially accept the death of his father after hardly speaking about him for years. With the loss of Lynd, too, all her hope had dried up like a jellyfish on the beach. She dangled the coats over the pier. “I . . .”

Whaaah! Whaaah!

The ugly sound of that damned yelling horn came from back down Boulie. Though, no one could see that far down the Board through the fog.

“It’s just that Mrs. Shakk,” said Tanning. “Continue, Mrs. Izz.”

Whaaah! Whaaah!

. . . Whaaah!

Mrs. Shakk wouldn’t stop furiously blowing in that irritating horn.

Baaanng! A bell then rang so loudly that it shook all the Boards of Hop. Tanning almost fell into the water, shouting, “What in Esa’s goin’ on down there?”

It was the bell atop Garris Hall in the center of Hop. Its powerful ring was meant to shake anyone from their sleep in case of an immi‐ nent disaster, like an invasion of Electrians or a particularly nasty swell. Bannng!

“Wh-what is that?” yelled Gai, pointing out at sea. A giant shadow was quickly growing in the milky fog over the water. Some‐ thing truly gigantic was barreling right at Lynd’s Pier. “It’s bigger than our house!”

All four of them, Tanning, Gai, Mape, and that random scooper, stared at it in silence as it got bigger and more threatening every moment. Every heart rate quickened. More bells started ringing all over the port town. Mrs. Shakk kept blowing that horn.

Tanning shouted, “Every mayor for himself !” He scurried down Boulie toward the center. The scooper shot up and followed, his soggy hat rolling behind.

Mape caught a body chill and accidentally dropped both coats into the water. She bent down tried to catch them, but Gai yanked his grieving mother from the edge before the giant shadow, whatever it was, crashed into Lynd’s Pier.

Everyone on Boulie ran toward Hop’s center as fast as they could. The Board jolted hard as the object finally collided. Planks rippled under Gai and Mape’s feet, nearly tripping them. The boy peered back — the pointed bow of a ship was chewing through the Board and Under Board like a hungry whale.

Tanning tripped.

“Ma!” said Gai, pointing to the mayor ahead, the planks popping like puny twigs behind. The boy picked him up, and they all ran together. The mighty currents of the Domus Gulf hurled that ship forward so fast, with jagged wood chunks flying through the air like arrows. The ship was so close to them it was pushing the stumbling mayor’s bottom forward.

They were about to be ship food. But the bow veered suddenly off Boulie and Booom! It dashed cleanly through Bleek Board.

Boom! Tanning’s Vice House lost one of its corners. Then Booom! It finally came to a rigged rest in Hop’s center, crum‐ bling everything behind it.

The bells still belled all around. The mayor looked down the path of destruction and saw where the ship came to rest. “My home! My home! My beautiful home!” he yelled, running past the protesters outside 76.

Mape and Gai looked down the path of destruction, then imme‐ diately at each other. “I don’t believe it,” said Mape.

They knew this ship. It was Uncle Baald’s ship, the Lady Merry. It was the same one Stav Izz left on five years ago. They’d done it; they actually survived leaving Hop. Pa was home.

Stunned and elated, they raced to the impact zone. Even the angry crowd outside the Izz home went too, yelling at every house they passed, “A ship crashed! A ship has crashed!”

Flocks of Hoppers were already scouring Tanning’s bulbous home through the rubble when they arrived. They were trying to find a way up to the shipwreck from his house. A few called up to the ship’s deck, “‘Ey! ‘Ey! If yer still alive, say it!” With every Hopper gathered in one place for once — that’s at least two hundred people — Mape and her son couldn’t get close enough to get a good look.

“I knew they’d make it back,” said Gai. “Unc’s the best sailor!

Even with the rough landin’.”

“Gulf currents are unforgivin’.” Mape wouldn’t take her eyes off the ship, trying to get a peek through the spaces between all the heads, hungry to see if her husband and cousin would climb down. Or if she was about to add a third family member to the funeral ceremony. Yet another kick.

Gai pointed. “What’s that they’re passin’ around?” “Hurry! Here it comes. Grab it, she says!”

The boy snatched the piece of paper and quickly brought it to his mother to read it together.

“It’s the passenger list,” Mape said. She searched with her finger through the names of all the people aboard from the last port, Electri City. Halfway down the page was the name STAY Izz.

“By Zeea,” she shouted, barely staying on her feet. She locked eyes with her son, “Gaiel, Pa is back! They made it all the way to Electri City and back! I hope he’s . . .”

“Ya hope he’s what, Ma?”

Her eye twitched. “Nothin’.” She pulled him in for a hug, “Yer father’s home. Maybe yer right about Lynd, too. Maybe some things do last.” Tears filled up their eyes as they held each other.

The anticipation of good news and hope was driving them mad. They both stood on the very tip of their tippy-toes to see how the passengers were faring. Gai looked over every corner of the Merrys deck, trying to see someone. Anyone. “Why’s no one comin’ off yet?”