Grandpa lifted his lantern and swung it precisely three times to-and-fro, casting odd shadows across the dark pier. For a time, nothing happened. Theo clutched at the long, wooden spoon in his hands, as long as an oar and just as sturdy. Then the mist began to part.
From the fog, composed of a dark, midnight blue wood not of this world, drifted the Ambassador. Mist clung to her frame, unwilling to relinquish such a fine prize, but she outpaced its grip, and it could only give up with a sigh of wind.
She was a sleek ship with sharp sails and a thin hull made to cut across waves like a knife through butter. Theo had only seen the boat once in his life before when he was very small, and until the moment its silver-gilded body came into view he had considered it a dream.
But his grandfather hadn’t been lying.
“Be ready,” Grandpa said, patting his grandson on the back. “She’ll stop long enough to board her, but she has a job to do, and she won’t wait for lay-abouts.”
Theo gulped and nodded, clutching the spoon-oar tighter to his chest. “W-why isn’t she slowing? She’s moving too fast to dock. She’ll crash right into the pier.”
Grandpa chuckled and clapped Theo on the back again. “Just watch.”
As Theo gazed at the ship she turned her nose, pointing it just parallel with the pier, and as though caught by a sudden gust of wind as mighty as a typhoon her sails unfurled to full-size and she slowed smoothly to a crawl. A faint, golden glow appeared from along her bow, then brightened as sigils and lines carved themselves into the wood, and from her bare, unmanned decks golden ropes threw themselves onto the dock to tie themselves around the nearest posts.
And without even a splash against her hull, the Ambassador stopped.
“All aboard,” Grandpa said, picking up his spoon-oar and placing it onto his shoulder. Whistling a peaceful tune, he grabbed ahold of the ship’s railing and easily hoisted himself aboard. When he was settled, he turned around and offered his hand. “C’mon lad, don’t just stand there. She’s rarin’ to go.”
Jolting from his trance, Theo clapped his hand in Grandpa’s and boarded the ship. The moment he placed a single foot on its boards, the Ambassador’s ropes uncurled themselves and she turned as smoothly and gracefully as she had arrived, pointing herself to sea without command.
Theo stared around the deck, confused. “W-where is everyone? How are we moving like this?”
“Once there were many, but they all had their own dreams to chase. Can’t blame ’em fer it.”
He walked towards the bow without answering the second part of Theo’s question, still whistling his tune. Theo followed, sticking close and casting a wary eye across the deck. “Ma said not to poke my nose in magic.”
“Yer Ma, lovely as she is, don’t know the first thing about it,” Grandpa grunted.
“Pa agreed with her.”
“My boy never did care for the sea. I tried to teach ’im, but… It don’t matter. If it’s time for the Ambassador to sail to new shores, then so be it. But I ain’t gonna send her off without one last hurrah.”
Looking across the waves, Theo was shocked to see how much speed they had gained. Already the land was a distant sight, twinkling with small, golden dots of intermittent fireglow.
“Here,” Grandpa said, handing Theo a bat. “You’ll need this.”
Theo blinked and took it, looking between it and the spoon-oar. “Don’t I…?”
“That’s only if you miss!” Grandpa chuckled.
“If I what?”
Before Grandpa could speak further an intense, silver light burst from the heavens, casting the ocean in a strange, unworldly light brighter than a full moon. Theo jumped, startled, but Grandpa let out a whoop.
“One already! Quick, boy! To the bow!”
Grandpa grabbed Theo’s wrist and hurried him along. As he did the ship’s sails furled themselves and began to tilt away, opening up to offer a wider view of the horizon. Theo stood just before the prow, looking nervously at the radiant spot in the sky.
“It’s getting closer!” Theo shouted.
“I know!” Grandpa laughed, prodding Theo’s arms and legs. “Widen your stance! Grip the bat firmly now! That’s it! Like I’m about to throw a ball at ya!”
An eerie, high-pitched noise rose above the waves. “Grandpa!”
“It’s alright, it’s alright! Now when I say swing you swing! Alright?”
Theo jolted and swung, heaving the bat with all his might.
Theo grunted and staggered as whatever he’d hit went whistling away, streaking out over the Ambassador’s bow and landing in the waves ahead with a brilliant splash. It’s light immediately dimmed upon hitting the water, darkening from bright silver to a deep cerulean blue.
“Not bad, not bad,” Grandpa said, nodding his head thoughtfully. “Need to work on turning your hips as you swing.”
“W-what was that?” Theo stuttered.
As if in answer, the Ambassador turned and pointed her nose at the floating light. Grandpa smiled. “Let’s go see.”
The ship pulled up smoothly next to the object. Grandpa took his spoon-oar, extended a collapsible bit from it to give it more length, and dipped it nonchalantly into the water. When he pulled it back up a small orb of light glimmering with silver, swirling particles floated gently in its cupped water. Grandpa motioned for Theo to open his hands, and when he did, he deposited the object onto his palms.
“Theo,” Grandpa said softly, “That right there is somebody’s dream. Freshly fallen from the sky above.”
Theo shook his head, unable to speak. Grandpa kept talking. “Every night, I walk to my dock and call to the Ambassador. Sometimes she shows, sometimes she doesn’t. But whenever she does, I come out here with my bat and my oar and I send ’em back to where they belong.” He looked up, gazing at the thousands of stars blanketed across the night sky with an odd smile on his face. “Don’t much know why they fall. Don’t much know why they’re up there. All’s I know is that sometimes they need someone to get them back up.”
Theo tried to speak, to voice his surprise, but before he could a soft voice drifted up from his fingers. He lifted the dream up closer to his face, staring into its depths. If he wasn’t mistaken, he could just make out the shape of a lady on a stage, singing to an audience with a voice as beautiful as the sea and a smile as bright as a star.
“H-how do we get it back up?”
“This one hit the waves. She’s lost her glow,” Grandpa said, taking the fallen dream from Theo’s hands. “So, what we do is we take it back with us. We polish it. We let it rest by the fire. And when it’s good and glowing, we take it back out and give it back to the sky.”
Theo continued to stare at the dream in Grandpa’s hands. Grandpa smiled, then blinked as a new falling dream burst with brilliance. He pocketed the one he held and clapped his hands. “Want to take another swing, lad?”
“Get to it.”
Theo rushed to the bow and assumed his stance, grinning with determination. “Hey, Grandpa?”
“Why didn’t you leave with the others?”
Grandpa went quiet. Then he chuckled. “Don’t have any more dreams waiting for me ashore. Only those out here.”
Theo looked wordlessly back at him over his shoulder. Grandpa had a wistful look on his face, but it disappeared in a flash as he jumped and pointed. “Swing, boy!”
Theo spun, swung, and the falling dream went hurtling away, disappearing back into the night with a fading twinkle. When he turned back around, Grandpa’s face was full of pride. “Not bad, boy,” he said, nodding. “Not bad.”ns 22.214.171.124da2