by Sean Emer

One night, several months after Scheherazade had ended her fabled thousand and one night succession of tales, the king (sleeping beside his now pardoned bride) suddenly awoke from his slumber – quite a feat indeed, as he had not been able to sleep for the equivalent of roughly 2.7425 years, due to a certain progression of interesting and arousing recounts of people, places, and wonders.

Turning towards his queen, who was knitting contentedly (she had long since disposed of the pesky indulgence of sleep during the darker hours of the day), he started, “My wife, I have a question to ask of you.”

She, without averting her eyes, responded that she should be glad to answer any question he may have (he was, after all, the king).

The king, staring intently at her, continued, “For a thousand and one nights, you have entertained my mind with countless (the king, having not been properly schooled, did not realize the ironic mistake in his language) fables, stories, and tales of far away places, amazing people, and stupendous events. But pray, tell me, what ever became of Sinbad the Sailor? Surely, his seven voyages could not be all. His final voyage, you say, brought him a wife. What more did he do? A man can be contented with money and a wife alone? Not this man, I think. Tell me, what have you not conveyed about his journeys.” And he fell silent, listening intently for his wife’s response.

At length Scheherazade put down her needles and looked up, blankly, at the ceiling before responding, “There is one tale of Sinbad the Sailor’s adventures which I never dared relate to you, for fear that its amazing developments would anger you and push you to end my life. But alas, I feel now that I can take comfort in telling you of this final journey.” And she began.

“The porter, the morning after having heard the wondrous tale of Sinbad’s adventures on the Satanic Island from which he had returned with a wife, made his presence known. When all the guests had gathered, Sinbad the Sailor leaned back in his position of prominence and began to speak. ‘Listen closely, friends, as I relate to you a voyage so spectacular, so awe-inspiring, and so fear-gripping that you will hardly be able to believe your ears.’”

The Eight Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor

When I returned, many a year ago, with my lovely wife and newfound riches, I found contentment in my laid back style of existence. But alas – and even in the face of my solemn promise never to travel again – I soon was restless once more for the fervent life of an explorer. And so, one day, I left in secrecy from my humble residence, leaving kin and friends unaware of my intentions, and dragging with me the most precious of my possessions stored away in bales.

I arrived in Basrah, purchased at the docks a ship and a crew, and set sail for new lands. For days and nights we landed at various islands and countries, trading prosperously, until one day, while the sun was high in the middle of day, the captain cried out in alarm. Rushing to the topmost deck, we inquired on the source of his sudden distress. With shaky hands, he pointed far out to the starboard sea, “There! Look upon the horizon! Some kind of monstrosity makes its way for us even as we speak!” We intently gazed in the direction he indicated, and we too saw the source of his despair. A speck of shiny light gleamed far off in the distance, and as we sailed on, it grew and grew, until soon we could make out tiny details of the monstrous object.

It rose high out of the water, gleaming in a white metal interrupted only by a thick band of red near its front end. Its main body cut off at its widest point, and on the top of it rose a messy array of what seemed like buildings that grew antennae in all directions. Near the back of the monstrosity sat a mass of red metal from which a star-like array of black fins emerged. Near the front was a long, circular finger which seemed crooked and parallel to the body itself. All around it, the waves churned up out of the sea and fell back down in a frothy white foam. Yet, the inconceivable craft bore no power by sails or oars; rather it seemed to project itself by some form of invisible propulsion.

Terror stricken, we stood frozen in our spots until the enormous craft was nearly upon us. It was then that we could see living creatures scrambling all about the object – just as ants cover a freshly built mound. They were dressed inconceivably – their clothes were sharp and tight, and they all were adorned in some kind of bright orange garment that made them appear as fat and immovable as cows walking on their hind legs.

We stood there, pondering their strange appearances, when a metallic voice began to pelt our ears from the gleaming monstrosity that now slowed to a halt next to us. Unable to understand their strange language, we began to wave our arms, frantically shouting “Allah bless you, have mercy on us! Merciful Allah, give us strength!” One man (if you could call it that) that resided near the top of the strange craft held a pair of black cans to his eyes, and began yelling in the same language to other members of his strange crew. Then emerged from within the metal monstrosity another man, who wore with him a turban similar to our own (the other men wore strange white boxlike objects that made them all appear to be bald). He raised a strange looking box to his mouth that seemed to have a string extruding from the bottom, and began to speak. Praise Allah! He spoke our language!

“Sailing Vessel, this is the United States Coast Guard. Put your hands in the air and prepare to be boarded.” Confused, we talked amongst ourselves and resolved to take our chances in flight of the monsters than to allow them free access to our ship. The captain pulled the rudder over and we tacked away from the horrible metallic nightmare that had intruded on us. We had scarcely gone a hundred yards before the finger located near the front of the beast turned towards us and emitted from its tip a flash of fire accompanied by a thunderous roar. Barely a second passed before our ship was suddenly torn apart, and we were all flung into the cold sea.

Praise Allah, I managed to survive by clinging yet again to another floating piece of wreckage. I found myself washed up on an extensive shore that seemed not to have any end. I was sure, then, that I was on no island, but an entirely new continent. Still wary from the encounter with the metallic beast and its man-like slaves, I wandered cautiously about until I came upon a group of strangely dressed men and women, who walked along the shore wearing little more than was necessary to cover their private parts. Appalled, I inquired as to why they would show themselves in such a disgusting way.

“Praise Allah, what are you doing, dressing so unsightly!?” I yelled in surprise and disgust. I stomped my feet in the sand waving my arms to get their attention, “Allah have mercy on your dirty souls!” Terror stricken, the group turned and fled from me, yelling in the same native tongue as the voice on the craft out at sea. Again and again they turned and looked back in terror, yelling over and over “Tehroar Ihst! Tehroar Ihst!” Having no sense of its meaning, I pursued them, trying to ask them where I was and apologizing for frightening them so badly.

But alas, I could not gain on them, and I resigned to search inland for some other source of information. Within an hour, the lush foliage and sand had given way to an unending expanse of grey and black stone. Instead of trees and plants and hills, I walked among enormous grey metal poles, odd metallic devices – some painted blue with rounded tops, others filled with garbage, and still more giving off a strange humming noise – and towering, closely packed, perfectly cut, and filthy stone and metal towers. Inside of them I could see men and women in strange dress bustling about, playing with flimsy white rectangular objects, yelling at grey banana-shaped fruits, and staring mindlessly at strange boxes that showed moving paintings and emitted sounds of far away places.

For hours I walked in this strange land, marveling at the lack of nature. Everywhere I went there was nothing but stone, metal, and filth. Disgusted, and surrounded by people who did not seem to notice the foul stenches or the polluted setting, I dropped to my knees and invoked Allah’s name, begging for a quick death so that I may leave this tortuous land. Once again, everyone around me shrunk back in horror, yelling “Tehroar Ihst! Tehroar Ihst!” Groaning, I came to my feet and spread my arms to the sky. At that moment, two shaved men dressed similarly to those I had encountered on the metallic ‘Coast Guard’ (but missing the strange orange garments) emerged from the shrieking crowd and tackled me to the ground, binding my hands with metallic cuffs. They threw me into a small dungeon, where I lived in solitude for days, pondering the events that had unfolded since my arrival to the country.

I became angry at myself for ever daring to leave my home and my wife behind in search of more thrills. Surely I would never escape from this predicament. I was doomed to live the rest of my days in this hellish dungeon, filled with stinking, drunken men. In anguish I began to pace back and forth, screaming at the top of my voice and tearing out my hair and my beard. I threw off my clothes and hurled my turban at a wall. And again, the men all around me began to scream – this time with malice in their voices – “Tehroar Ihst! TEHROAR IHST!” I could take it not longer. The constant chanting plagued my mind. I fell to the floor weeping like a newborn child.

For years, I lived in that dungeon – that pungent rat hole. It brought back memories of the slums of Baghdad, of the poor men I had seen rotting away while they continued to breathe. It made me sick, and I withered away until I was half the size I am now. Day and night, I wallowed in misery. Guards walked by my chamber, chanting things – always with that ill gotten phrase attached to it. What could ‘Tehroar Ihst’ mean? Had I done something to offend them? Were my robes not acceptable? Bah, I couldn’t think on the subject long before I would fall to weeping again. I longed for my home, my family, and my wife.

One day, while I sat in my chamber, sulking (as had become the norm in those dark days), one of the guards – wearing speckled brown clothes around his legs and a tight fitting shirt of the color of a cactus – approached the barred gate with another man. His complexion was darker, more similar to mine. I stared into his eyes, and he stared back. “You are being released,” he muttered suddenly. I sprang to my feet, unable to comprehend that he had spoken my language. He did not smile, but stared at me and continued, “Come now, you are leaving this place. You are a free man.”

I stuttered, unbelieving, “Why? Who are you? Why was I here to begin with? For what reason have I grown old and sick in this damned dungeon?”

The interpreter replied coldly, “You are being released, you are a free man. Come with us.” The guard who had led him to me said nothing, and stared at me with obvious contempt. I had no idea what the best course of action was, and so I followed them. I was given several green pieces of some kind of cloth that were decorated all over with curves and circles, with a portrait of an old shaven man in the center of each one. And I was alone, standing on another narrow expanse of black stone.

I wandered among the stone monstrosities for hours before stumbling upon the very shore that I had landed on so long ago. I sat there in solitude for what seemed like an eternity before, looking on the horizon, I spotted a ship sailing by. Frantically, I began screaming and yelling, kicking the sand in every direction, and splashing the murky water at the edge of the shore. And sure enough the ship turned and landed nearby.

The captain, taking me by the arm, welcomed me onboard. And praise Allah! The passengers and crew wore my clothing and spoke my language. “Come now, traveler. Tell us what has brought you to this distant shore. Why are you dressed in these odd grey clothes?” I looked up at him with tears in my eyes and, choking back a sob, gripped him tightly on the shoulders.

“Allah’s blessing to you and your crew, for you have saved me from the most wicked experience of my life. I was shipwrecked on this land for many a year. But before I tell you of all I have experienced, please, let us be gone from this vile place, where men go insane, and strange metallic beasts roam freely.” And so the captain, with tight lips, raptly ordered his crew and passengers back onboard and we pulled away from the shore that had brought me such agony.

As time passed, I obtained a reasonable store of goods by trading off my green slips of cloth to an art collector who took a fancy to the designs. I traveled from port to port with the ship that had saved me, until finally we reached Basrah. From there, I returned to my home city of Baghdad, and recognized my old home in my old street. I rejoiced in my return, and have lived here happily ever since.

[In the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote a satire on Sinbad in 1845, Sean Emer of Hofstra University brings Sinbad into the dire straits of contemporary political reality.]