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“Elementals” – Fiction by Ilana Masad

Ship in a Storm - Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1879
Ship in a Storm – Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1879

“Elementals” is Ilana Masad‘s fantastically turbulent short fiction from our Fall 2016 issue.

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DO YOU HAVE A CHILD? How about a niece or nephew? Well then, what about an old mother, knitting a sweater for you that is always too small when you return ashore? Hm. No siblings either? A father? No, of course not, none of you have fathers. Right, well, hear me out. I’m sure, and don’t deny this now, you have a lovely lady waiting onshore for you somewhere, maybe she’s a redhead, maybe a brunette, maybe her tresses are silky black and Oriental. I don’t judge. It’s not my business to judge, you see. So this lady – no, don’t try to sit up now – this lady, she’ll be wondering what has become of you. She’ll be walking along the docks day after day, holding her rosary beads, because let me tell you, all women turn religious when they fret and if you haven’t learned that yet, you’re in for a shock, oh my yes you are. So she, this daughter of God, is saying her Hail Marys and her Our Fathers and she is atoning, you see, for all her sins. And what’ll happen when she hears about you? We’ll dock eventually, my boy, and then what? Then the news will get out and she’ll hear about the noble way you went, yes, they’ll tell brave stories about you I’m sure, but will she be comforted? After all, you’ll get the sailors’ burial, much as I wish I could spare you that, and she won’t get so much as a casket to kiss for the last time before it’s put into the damp earth of our Lord. What? No lady even?


Tossed like toys by rambunctious oceanic whims, still they sail. Wind whipping flagellations and rain coming down in icy spears, the men feel a thousand sewing needles falling on their every exposed bit of skin, not just the familiar thumb and forefinger accustomed to the sensation. Their faces do not reflect light any longer. The sun has been gone far too long.


Again? Yes, here’s the bucket. Good, good, get it all out. Amazing, what the body can do, isn’t it? Going of unrelated causes and still able to get sick as a landlubber from a bit of a storm. All thanks to our Creator, you know. It’s small miracles like this, really, that make every day a fresh, bright, and new one, you know. Where were we, you stubborn dog? Ah, yes, you said there’s no lady. You’re sure? None? No special friend? Well, now, we don’t normally condone this sort of thing, but in this case, I will understand and absolve you… perhaps a gentleman? Don’t look at me like that, I wasn’t born yesterday, young man, I know well what happens above and below me on these decks. Sometimes, I hear it extends to shore, to marriage-like relationships. Un-Godly, but then the whole group of you are, and that’s what I’m here for. Hm? No? No gentleman either? Well.


Crooked shafts of lightning hurled by the gods of Greece and Rome and pagan storymongers seal the skies with a kiss. Thunder rolls its dice over and over again, waiting for the weighted one to fall right above the ship with a heavy and satisfying rumble-thump. Roiling water gushes over the sides of the wooden dinghy that hubristically calls itself by more respectable names and the sea attempts to swallow it whole. Men are not at stake here; it is only a tug of war between the sky and the sea. Which will get the toy? Which will win this round?

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