the stars are coming out

an excerpt:

–When I see that land, all will change.

It’s the thought that went through Johnathan McMillan’s mind as the creak of the ship’s cabin awoke him from an early afternoon nap.  There was little space in the hold for everyone to recline in any comfort on the journey across the Atlantic. The 600 men and a scattering of women locked down in the bottom of the Mary Angelica had to share the soiled firm mattresses in a rotation schedule. With enough bed space for only a scattering of 500, there were many restless nights as others sat in near darkness awaiting their minimal turn at resting their eyes in a crunched fetal position.

Johnathan didn’t mind, however. The space issue was his last restraint before the freedom of the shores of the new world – of that mythical, hopeful land of undeveloped Canada — awaited. His nineteen year old frame was skinny and thin; stories of plentiful harvests and bounties of fish and wild game had lingered around Moffatt from the first posting on the high street advertising for young labourers to break the prairie soil of the unturned west of Canada. Every household shared over their bleak dinner the nearly euphorical hopes for a better life to be had across the water. The crummy conditions of the journey were the last constraints Johnathan felt around his existence.

 He lifted his head from the trousers he had folded into a makeshift pillow and looked around the room. In the lamp-lit light, not more than a few heads lay resting at this hour. It must have been midday, but he wasn’t sure. After four days at sea the repetition and simplicity of the days in this ocean liner were already normal. While the first two full nights featured plenty of seasickness, the stench had been cleansed from the hall and Johnathan felt adjusted to the new surroundings. Having never left shore before, let alone seriously ventured outside of the Cumberland hills, the visions of true freedom kept his shyness at bay. Next to him lay an even thinner man. Johnathan had only made eye contact as they both accepted their assigned turns on the simple beds from a self-appointed seargant an hour earlier. The man had looked at him with abruptness and caution, sending a message of hesitation and fright about his current surroundings. He also appeared exhausted. Within minutes huddled inches apart from each other’s body the man, perhaps only a year or two older than Johnathan, had drifted into sleep. His humble belongings tucked under his wretched-looking boots and his jacket used for his head, the man had rolled towards the wall.

Johnathan rested his head again and closed his eyes. Although the light was faint, the noise of rustling bodies and of the ship’s engine rooms gave the room anything but a peaceful demeanour. With his own jacket as a simple blanket beneath him he kept the intensity of the shivering metal floor from entering his body. The room’s collective bodies managed to heat the air temperature mildly, but any direct contact with the floor or the walls had men howling their frigid tongues with profanity.