Short Stories

SS Heroes: A Human Odyssey (Part 3)

I slowly backed away and headed hurriedly down the hallway towards the staircase. My new companion chided ¨Ahar Matey! Ahar Matey!¨ My head buzzed with the new information as I opened the door and stumbled into the shoulder of my most esteemed friend…(from previous article).

“June!” I exclaimed. My friend recovered from the stumble and regained balance. “Heavens above! Koa… What on Earth were you doing downstairs? Everyone knows that entering locked areas is prohibited!” I recovered my breath but before I could respond, June leaned her large hips against the wall and looked slyly at me. “What WERE you doing down there? And who is this?” she said.

June reached out with her finger to pet my new feathered companion. He cocked his head and stepped sideways to avoid her touch. “I don’t know its name. Looks like a Freddy to me.” June scoffed, saying, “Don´t get too attached to the little bugger, you know he is likely to end up on one of our dinner plates.”

It occurred to me that June may know a lot more about the workings of the ship than I. She was one of the original passengers to come on board. “June, how old were you when you came on board the SS Heroes?” She immediately looked weary, her curly silver hair poked out beneath a colourful headscarf that matched her pink straight jacket. “I was just a small girl, about 10 years old. I still remember the feeling of freedom on the land, and the excitement when I climbed up the ramp with my family.”

My mind was whirring. “Did you ever see the captain of the ship?” She replied, “Yes, I have a vague memory of meeting the captain. A tall, silver haired fellow. That was over 70 years ago and I imagine they must have a new captain by now.” I considered this news and spoke urgently under my breath, “June, I have a funny feeling about this ship. There is a room full of animals in cages and people shoveling coal into a furnace at high speed. They must stop on land but they never tell the passengers. They tell us to wear straight jackets for our safety, but what if someone was to fall in the water? I want to start telling more people about what I saw and ask them questions.”

June looked at me through her spectacles with a shimmer of fear, “Koa, it is dangerous to start openly discussing these things with people. What if the staff notice? If you do decide to start talking to more people about this, it would be wise to have an escape route. Go to room 121 and ask for Pascal, he has helped the odd passenger evacuate the ship in the past.” I thanked June for her advice and spun on my heels in pursuit of room 121. But before Freddy and I could make much progress, a staff member blocked our path. The wind left my lungs for a second time.

“Stop there. What is your ID Number?” I recited my 12 digit number and grew cold. “Come this way.” They grabbed me by the elbow and escorted me through a winding passage to a small room. There sat a beefy, balding man with a scar over his eye and a long number tattooed onto his forearm. “Ahar Matey! Ahar Matey!” Freddy screeched. The man chuckled, a manager I assumed. “Come here Peanuts, I missed you.” They removed Freddy, or Peanuts, from my shoulder. “You are in a fair bit of trouble, young woman. Why did you steal my precious Peanuts? And what were you doing downstairs? You know that it is off limits for passengers.” I stammered and explained everything, including what I had seen and the questions on my mind.

Then I got the courage to ask, “Who is the captain of this ship, sir? And why are the passengers not alerted when we make landfall?” He laughed a full belly laugh and replied between gasps: “If I told you…(hahaha)…I would have to…(hahaha)…kill you…” He wiped some tears from his eyes and paused, looking thoughtfully at his free hands before replying: “It seems to me like we have two options here. One, we let you rejoin the passengers with the condition that your memory will first be erased. Or two, you can leave the ship on a life raft with a basic ration of food.” He now looked squarely into my eyes. I diverted my gaze as my mind worked rapidly to find an alternative.

After what seemed like several minutes, I found my third option. I replied confidently, “What does it take to become a staff member? I already know about some of the downstairs rooms, surely you could use an extra hand?”

The manager considered my request and said with some dismay, “If we give you a staff position, you can never leave the ship.” I thought about a life bound to this ship with very little hope of ever being free. It gave me chills. But the alternative of living life on the ship without my current knowledge or the risk of facing the high seas on my own both felt like dead ends. I agreed, and with that I was removed from my straight jacket, given a new uniform, and bestowed the chains of ownership.

As I left the room, the parrot shrieked and shrieked, “Ahar Matey! Ahar Matey!” I gave a wink to Freddy and promised to myself that someday, the parrot will be free.

Go to Part 1, Go to Part 2

The story behind the story (part 3 of 3)

I wanted to write a short story that could be a metaphor for some of the complex issues facing humanity today. I feel that stories can be powerful mediums for sharing messages and lessons and can be useful for broadening our understanding of the World. In this story, I wanted to create a World that is synonymous with present day humanity on Earth.

SS Heroes, a luxury liner, is inspired by the tragic story of the Titanic. The liner represents Earth and the passengers represent humanity. SS Heroes is probably way over its capacity at 1 million people. The passengers on board are comfortably complacent. They accept that they don’t know where the ship is going or who is in charge of the ship. They also accept that they each have to wear a straight jacket, which represents a complex of beliefs, traditions, values, and habits. In essence, we each have learned mental constructs that keep us obedient and in conformity with the current culture. For example, subscribing to the social expectation that we need to go to school, work at a job most of our lives, get married, have kids, and then retire. Habits like watching Netflix for hours or droning on in a job that we don’t like uses a lot of vital energy. Koa is one of the few individuals that becomes skeptical about the straight jackets and begins to ask questions. She is brave enough to start looking for answers. I feel that this curiosity is also a metaphor for examining the mind through meditation, and becoming more mindful of the beliefs that affect our actions.

SS Heroes is cruising at an increasing speed towards an unknown destination. To me this represents the urgency of the multiple crises that are facing humanity and the uncertainty of our future. Some of these interrelated crises include species extinctions, waste accumulation, growing income inequality, climate change, and depleting stores of fresh water. All of these issues (and more) are alarming in the extent of real and possible consequences. They are all, in my view, related to the massive demands of humans on the planet that have ramped up over the last century. Many of us have subscribed to the beliefs that consumerism is beneficial for society, that it is possible to have neverending growth in profit, and that we are all entitled to a luxurious lifestyle. As we cruise faster and faster, we are increasing our risks of possible future consequences. The main one being the ability of planet Earth to support our species.

In my view, there is no captain for this ship and instead we are all responsible for its direction. Koa represents a choice that every one of us has. We can choose to continue on with our lives, watching these crises build from the comfort of our homes. Or we can start seeking the truth and asking questions like what can we do to help. The latter choice takes much bravery. Koa shows us that questioning the status quo can bring trouble and change but it is also necessary for inspiring hope for a brighter future. She also shows us that we need the help of others as she chooses to not abandon the ship. She trades her straight jacket for chains, which is a small increase in freedom yet she is still being overpowered. The chains represent the power of employers over employees and is a reference to colonial history and the remnants of slavery. The parrot, Freddy, represents the spirit of all living things. The desire for truth and freedom- from the controlling mind and our restricting beliefs- is a powerful force that can spark positive social change.



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