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The Day Our Ships Came In

Ginger Weil lives in Minnesota. She likes comics, coffee, and experimental baking. Her stories have appeared in Apex, Daily Science Fiction, GigaNotoSaurus, and ROBOT DINOSAURS! She has never turned down a ride in a hot air balloon.

My best friend Sandra and I used to joke around about how our day was going to come. We stayed in town after high school. I got a job at the diner. Sandra worked at a resort farther up the mountain. "Someday, Lesley," Sandra liked to say, "our ships are going to come in and we'll leave all this behind."
Someday came last weekend. But Sandra sailed off in her ship without me, and now I'm not sure what to do next.
If you've seen anything about the ships on the news, you've probably seen a picture of the flying galleon. The red-painted decks and bright orange sails stood out against the clear blue sky, and the whole thing looked like a set for an acid-drenched rewrite of Peter Pan.
The galleon wasn't the only ship that came to Valcour last weekend. It was just the easiest to photograph. There was the spaceship as round and ridiculous as a 1950s B-Movie rocket. There was the hot air balloon made of silk and spiderweb.
The town newspaper, the Valcour Courier, printed wild guesses about why the ships came to Valcour. They ran a gorgeous photo of the flying galleon that they pulled off someone's uncredited photo feed, and a grainy security camera pic of the wavery outlines that were all anybody but Sandra saw of the invisible spaceship.
Marge Conley wrote the editorial, where she quoted the same six women she always interviews for opinion pieces, with a headline titled "What a Long Strange Ship It's Been," which made no sense since there were at least 17 ships and many weren't very long at all. One of them was just six feet: a kayak made of silver with paddles of birch and starlight. I know what that one looked like. It's still parked behind my apartment, glinting hopefully at me.
Marge never interviews me. I'm not sure she even remembers we went to school together. She was a couple years older than us and her family had more money. Two years was a big gap in high school, and the money still matters.
Sandra texted me about the first ship before I even saw it. "I guess my wish came true :)," she wrote. I had no idea what she meant. I looked up from her text and saw all the diner's customers looking out the window.
We gathered in the parking lot to stare up at the galleon. It seemed like the more people who came out to watch, the more ships sailed overhead. There were sloops and yawls and a rowboat floating as peacefully in the air as if they were hitched to a dock on a calm day. A shiny rocket wove between vast rigged sails.
Sandra texted me again. "I see you!" she said. I looked around. I couldn't spot her in the crowd of people with cell phones taking pics of the flying ships.
A rope ladder dangled out of nowhere and almost hit me in the face.
Sandra peered down at me from the basket of a hot-air balloon.
"Looks like my ship finally came in," she said.
All over the parking lot I saw other people clambering into ships. Tourists rolled up ramps into sleek-bayed rockets. An old woman in a red hat climbed into an Adirondack guideboat and paddled up into the clouds.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"I don't know," Sandra said. "Somewhere new."
I didn't ask to go with her. I wanted her to invite me. The rope dangled, inches in front of my face.
"The wind is picking up," Sandra said. "Guess it's time to sail."
Maybe she would have invited me. Maybe we could have sailed away together if I just had more time to decide. I saw people climbing into their ships in pairs and groups. Sandra didn't have to sail away alone.
But she didn't invite me and I didn't ask. The wind lifted up her ship and carried it away.
The other ships picked up passengers or didn't. They glinted in the sunset or hid themselves invisibly in the trees.
Marge's article managed to make the strange mundane. The way she wrote about it, you'd think the flying ships were just a local festival or a strange art project. The way she wrote, you'd never guess that anyone disappeared with the ships.
Maybe, for Marge, no one disappeared who mattered.
By the next morning the ships were gone. All except the one hidden behind my house.
It's waiting for me. I think about sliding my silver kayak into the water. I think about dipping a starlit oar beneath the surface and pushing off. But I don't know where I'd end up. When I thought of leaving, I never thought of leaving alone.
The paddles glow in the dark. I dream of rowing against a current. Someday, I tell myself, I'll paddle away from here.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 21st, 2019

Author Comments

I was talking late one night with a friend who said they felt as if their extremely weird ship might finally be coming in. I went off on a bit of a tangent about what it would be like if our ships actually did come in. Would everyone's ship be different? What would my ship say about me, and would I be ready to sail away in it? I had a great time borrowing ships from books and sculpture gardens to stitch into the edges of the story.

- Ginger Weil
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