No Man’s Land

Third Mainland Bridge, Nigeria © Google Maps

From here it was impossible to tell where the old school was—or any of the old places for that matter. The beach where we’d once plucked sea glass from the shore was lost in the early twenties, and the seafront stores were gone by ’25. Those places were lost in that rage of storms that came so hard and fast—each one building steam upon the last—that there was barely time to give them names before another came along. It gobbled them up, block by block, then spat the splinters to the sea.

Our little yellow bungalow, twelve blocks from the ocean. Then ten. Then two. And now…I used my oar to push us off the chimney.

“Where we gonna live?” Abebi asked.

“I dunno, baby girl.” I started to row. What did borders mean to an ocean? What was one man to a swelling sea?

149 words. This has been an edition of What Pegman Saw. To read more stories inspired by the prompt, or to submit your own, click here.

I have taken the liberty of not being very literal about the location of this week’s prompt, and instead let the sight inspire me. When I plopped down, this is the first place I landed. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the sort of sight we’d start to see more and more.

Let’s hope not.


  1. Great writing, Karen! You’ve set a very high standard his week!
    There’s so much that is excellent that it almost seems silly to pick out individual parts, but I particularly liked “It gobbled them up, block by block, then spat the splinters to the sea.” And “And now…I used my oar to push us off the chimney.”
    And your ending “What did borders mean to an ocean? What was one man to a swelling sea?”

    1. Aw Penny, I’m touched by your kind words. Coming from you, that especially means a lot!

  2. Excellent piece. I read a Guardian article that spoke of the political dangers of ignoring climate change and rising oceans, so this story is topical (as well as being a great bit of short prose).

    1. The threat puts so many people in peril, the consequences of which are hard to fathom. Thanks for reading!

  3. I hope not as well, Karen. Still, you never know. It’s difficult to set aside a perfectly good global disaster, at least in fiction.

    1. In fiction we can practice the things we hope we never have to put to use. Thanks for reading, James.

  4. Wonderful sense of foreboding and creeping loss here. I especially like the last two lines: poetic and tragic.

    1. Thanks so much, I’m glad you liked it, Joy!

  5. Read a book (give it a “C”) about Earth when it started raining and never stopped. Only mountains could support any type of community…your story just made me think about it.

    1. The story of floods swallowing the land has been around a long time, for sure. I’m old enough that when I picture it, Waterworld is the first thing that comes to mind. Thanks for reading, Scott.

  6. really liked thinking about the skillful layers here.
    The “s” sound used so eloquently throughout.

    then little segments that were like tasty nuggets. like this:

    “storms that came so hard and fast—each one building steam upon the last”
    enjoyed this a lot.

    1. Aw thank you very much. I’m so delighted. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. […] always, many thanks to Karen and Josh for hosting the Pegman […]

  8. Dear Karen,

    I don’t understand climate change deniers but that’s a whole nuther subject. I agree with Penny. Your writing sets the bar quite high. As for being literal with the prompt? Feh on that. I came nowhere close to Nigeria. 😉 Thanks for hosting, too.



    1. Glad I’m not the only who who was off in the bushes–er bulrushes with this prompt. Thanks for reading (and writing)!

  9. Karen. I cheated and read your story before I began to write mine and yours is so spectacularly beautiful I’m almost afraid to touch the keyboard!

    1. Aww, I’m so glad you liked it Lish! Thank you for your most kind words.

  10. Karen. This is eerily good. The monster is beneath them. They are above it. You say so much while leaving our imaginations to swell. Grand storytelling.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Kelvin.

  11. […] One is freezing (key lime pie) and one is baking, so here I am… Thank you, always, to Karen and Josh for hosting this […]

  12. I echo everyone. This is a fabulous piece of writing and Penny touched on all my favourite parts too… Brilliantly told. And for some strange reason, I thought of the movie, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”..

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I have not heard of that movie–I’ll have to check it out!

      1. PS Guess what movie just moved to the top of my Watch-List?

      2. Sooo good. The little girl with the unpronouncable name was nominated for an Oscar….

  13. What you wrote is extremely beautiful. I am reading the last line out load again and again. “What did borders mean to an ocean? What was one man to a swelling sea?”

  14. So beautifully written, the rhythm of the words carrying us along like a boat on the tide. That litany of losses leading to an end of uncertainty but retained hope. Just gorgeous Karen. I’m in awe of this

  15. peterkirsch

    “then spat the splinters to the sea” – so artful, Karen. I love this one, though I wish it didn’t feel so probable. And thanks for introducing me to seas glass; I’d never heard if it until now. Deficits of a Midwest upbringing I guess.

    1. Time to spend more time on the beach, my friend! So glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  16. It is true that it seems to be one storm after another these days, and we’ve not recovered from the last yet. A prophetic piece…?

    1. Let’s hope it’s not. We don’t have another Earth–we’ve got to take care of the one we have! Thanks for reading.

  17. Great story. Very topical. Great job.

    1. Thanks lisarey! Glad you liked it.

  18. Wow very haunting piece.

    1. So glad you liked it! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment 🙂

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