The Waterfall: A Short Story

Once there was a ship with a full crew sailing out in a sea, renowned for its unforgiving waters. The edge of this sea led into a large river whose end split into two smaller rivers. At the end of one of these smaller rivers there was a giant calamitous waterfall, which, if sailed into, would lead to the death of all the sailors and the destruction of the ship. At the end of the other one was a beautiful lake surrounded by a tropical paradise with a town full of friendly welcoming occupants. The crew had heard much concerning the calm and peaceful scene of the paradise, and reaching it was their objective, yea, even the whole reason for their travel. When they left they knew that this goal would be best accomplished if they listened to their guide.

In the upper part of the main mast of the ship, known as the crow’s nest, was a wise yet scruffy old grey haired man who served as the lookout. Up there in the nest is where he stayed for the whole voyage, because he could see everything. He was the ship’s guide, and it was his responsibility to keep the crew safe and lead them to the paradise they were searching for.

While out at sea the old man was loud and diligent in his duty to warn the shipmates of danger, repeatedly alerting them of treacherous storms and menacing waves ahead. Sometimes he would advise them to steer clear, other times to drop their anchor and stay put and wait. When the crew followed the admonitions of the old man, their journey oftentimes was slightly longer and required more effort on their part, however they always enjoyed security, and after following it, were left with a more confident hope of reaching the paradise they set out to find.

However, the crew eventually became impatient with the time it was taking to reach their destination, and grew tired of the continual exertion it required from them. At length, many in the crew forgot all the times the old man’s warnings had saved them, and the ones that did remember, attributed it to luck, instead of his ability to see. Finally, rather than appreciating the faithfulness of the old man in the crow’s nest, they became annoyed by his constant cautioning and stopped listening to him.

Luckily for them this didn’t bring any immediate consequences because the waters at the edge of the sea leading into the river were calm and full of smooth sailing. This only fueled the idea that they no longer needed a guide, and they promptly ceased paying any attention to him at all. When they noticed their rations were beginning to run low, his were the first to be cut. The old man understandably became frustrated with the crew, but still resolved to fulfill his responsibility of warning them.

After a while the ship drew near the point where the river diverged with two options of courses you could take. The divide was not close enough for the crew to see yet, although it was easily visible to the old man. He watched anxiously as two ships who had set sail before them each took the left route. He peered further ahead through his old brass monocular in disbelief. The left course led straight into the terrible waterfall. Helplessly he cried out, “No! What are you doing?!” Astonished, he thought to himself, why did their guides tell them to go left? To his horror, as he looked through his telescope at the crow’s nest of both of the ships ahead, he saw their guides’ dead—one surrounded by a pool of blood had been shot with a musket, the other, curled up in the corner, lifeless as a rock, had been starved to death.

At this point the water his own ship was sailing in began to flow in a soft current toward the left route. Quickly, he warned his own crew, telling them everything he had seen, encouraging them with all the energy he had left to steer the boat out of the current and onto the course that led to the right, but they wouldn’t listen. He couldn’t believe it. Even after telling them exactly what he had seen, his own crew, still would not listen to him. In fact, they mocked him, and angrily shouted up to him that if he said another word, they would kill him. They wanted nothing more to do with him.

Disheartened, and left with nothing else to do, the old man looked woefully ahead through his monocular and watched as each of the other boats sailed right into the waterfall. Coming to a full realization that he was also going to sail into the waterfall and die just as those before him, he decided to take the roll of parchment that he had been detailing his ship’s voyage in and complete their story. He described what he had seen, and his attempts to get his crew to listen to him in vain, then included a solemn warning not to take the left route, and to listen to the guide, clearly laying forth what the consequences would be if this counsel was ignored. When he was done, he took the roll and stuffed it in his canteen, then closed the lid. He threw it back in the direction of the sea as far as he could, hoping that maybe, just maybe, someone would find it and learn from his crew’s mistakes.

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