Untethered by Bristol Baughan

April 2024 | Utopia Science Fiction Magazine

Utopia Science Fiction Magazine
6 min readApr 30, 2024

NPR squawked on her AM/FM alarm clock and somewhere between The World and Morning Edition Margie Hayberry walked to the basement, lifted the lid on the DO NOT TOUCH button, pressed said button, and cast off. Margie’s houseboat at 44 Liberty Dock is one of the few houseboats these days with the ability to, with just the press of a button, float clean away from its mooring. Feeling the old familiar caress of current under her hull, some part of the boat remembered its pre-house days, as it once again, became an anchor-free, seaworthy vessel.

Without any capacity for steering the house, Margie was at the mercy of the wind and sea. You wouldn’t have known it, however, as she went about her morning routine. Her breath labored as she did ten lunges on each side, wobbling a bit due to her bad ankles and the boat finding its way out of the quirky dock lane into the San Francisco Bay.

The house suddenly dipped deeply on its starboard side. Margie, now lying on her back in a twist, slid a few inches on the wooden floor and stopped herself against the wall with her hand. She breathed out a sigh as she switched legs and twisted to her right. The boat, having bowed to the calm water of her inlet, had now entered the strong current of the Racoon Straight.

Londy Reed first heard of 44 Liberty at 08:00. He had his bare feet up his wall as he lay back on his cot flipping through a new bit of vintage erotica he’d picked up at the swap meet. “Um, uh, some boat is afloat in the Racoon,” he heard over the radio. He reached for his walkie. “This is Londy over at Fish & Game, what did you say?”

“Hey Londy, some two-story houseboat with blue trim and dolphins and mermaids plastered to the side is on its way toward the Golden Gate.”

“Mermaids?” Londy flipped over to Channel 16 and repeated the nonsense he had heard.

“Mermaids, eh?” The police department responded. At the same moment 911 received a call about a website that just went online about an old lady who abandoned land for the wild, wide sea.

Margie pushed the wild strands of white hair stuck to her sweating forehead back with her wrist. Her piercing brown eyes focused, her breath steady, she gently massaged the fragile veins pulsing in her left calf. The surgery they recommended was too expensive and given the growing list of maladies, she figured it was throwing good money after bad. She was old now, she thought, having aches and pains is part and parcel.

Jamie Landis, 14, a bit of an introvert, watched the cheery little houseboat slowly inch past her home at 7:37 that morning. “Mom! Dad!” No response. She jumped out of bed with her cell phone and snapped as many photos as she could before the house floated out of view. She climbed the ladder to the roof, capturing video of the boat bowing like an opera singer and taking a sharp turn southwest into the strait. Within minutes the images and video of 44 Liberty’s sudden and dramatic departure were on a website titled, “So Long Suckers.” The website and Margie’s name were shared on Facebook a few thousand times by 08:00.

“Go, lady, go!” “Take me with you!” “Jesus loves you.” Comments dinged like crazy on Jamie’s site. She was sure this would somehow help pay for college.

Margie was resting comfortably in her deck chair, a wide brimmed colorful hat on her head, a sweating glass of cool ice tea on the table next to her journal and pen. She felt a sweet peace she hadn’t felt in years and marveled at the beauty of the rocky coastline revealing itself before her.

The first footage to appear on live television news of Margie Hayberry was taken by a police helicopter. She appeared to be sitting on her deck, having an ice tea, and writing in her journal. “What do you think she is writing, Sam?” a newscaster asked another newscaster sitting beside him, a zoomed-in image of Margie’s hat and notepad on the screen behind them. “A suicide note?” Sam responded with a child’s voice, suddenly worried that his own mother might be untethered somewhere.

Margie did it without even realizing it. Annoyed by the thundering sound of the helicopter, she took off her hat, squinted upward, and unfolded her middle finger. The world wide web went wild. “Margie for President!” “Waterworld is Real” “Long Live Margie!” The helicopter footage was streaming live as Margie’s boat began picking up speed toward the dangerous rip tides under the Golden Gate Bridge. A few small boats joined her, giving her a wide berth, serving as angels or sentinels, depending on what was to happen next.

The Coast Guard was alerted at 08:10 whereupon they sent out a message to all incoming vessels to keep an eye out for “a wayward blue-and-white trimmed house on the water.” A mega container ship just in from China carrying over 100,000 tons of food and plastic was moved a few meters off course and an oil tanker, three football fields long, just in from picking up crude from the coast of Ecuador, slowed and pulled out of the path of what looked like a child’s missing, bobbing dollhouse.

The Coast Guard ship appeared on the horizon just as she was nearing the Golden Gate. Margie was amused at all the fuss. She went inside and took a nap. Before she fell into the bizarre slumber space, she looked out her little window at the cartoon-perfect clouds above her and smiled.

The Coast Guard and San Francisco Police were at loggerheads over jurisdiction and the 4th amendment as this was not just a boat, but a house and a boat.

All traffic was stopped on the bridge. People were out of their cars, standing at the edge, and climbing the suicide prevention barriers to get a better look. 44 Liberty flitted along with a strange delight. Let loose, she was.

Margie woke from her nap with the surreal sense of a cosmic traveler. She slowly climbed the stairs and, chilled by a growing breeze, she wrapped herself in a thick, cozy, white robe. She slipped into her lambswool slippers and walked onto the deck. Tears filled her eyes when she saw the boats surrounding her, people waving and nodding, bowing their heads with their hands in prayer. Like they knew. A few people were pointing up and she followed their fingers to the Golden Gate Bridge suspended 220 feet overhead. She saw thousands of people hovering there, leaning over the rail, waving, and cheering. Inhaling her last deep breath of the Bay, she raised both hands and waved to the crowd, as the boat entered the wild, wide sea.

Margie was last sighted nearing the Hawaiian Archipelago, a place she had always wanted to go.


Originally published in the April 2024 issue of Utopia Science Fiction Magazine.

Bristol Baughan is a TED Fellow, Author, and Executive Producer of Emmy-winning and Oscar-Nominated films. Bristol’s writing has been featured in the Huffington Post, “This Emotional Life” (PBS), Save Wright Magazine, Poppy & Seed Magazine, and The Guild of Future Architects. Bristol holds a B.A. in International Studies from the American University School of International Service and an M.A. in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica. Bristol is currently co-living in a 16th century monastery in the Azores.