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Quick Silver (A short story)

Silver Good-Fisher shot across the tops of the waves.

Land was close and she was fast approaching the place where the breakers pounded themselves into spray and foam. Here at the surface where the Great Deep met the sky, the water was warm and pleasant. Joy and water blended in a symphony of wind and wave. The scents of salt, weed, fish, crab and mollusk–both the living and the dead–were a heady mixture. It was almost enough for her to forget the loss of her pod, of her mother. Her adopted pod members were fun, but they were not yet family.

She leaped and twisted, twirled and dove, but part of her knew that she needed to take care. Past the patch of seagrass and the fast current was the cove.

Bounded by rocky cliffs, the cove was a shell-shaped gouge in the coastline that hooked sharply in at an angle before ending in a gently sloping sandy beach. Around the tops of those cliffs, giant, leafy plants rose like thickets of kelp, blocking the sun. From a distance it seemed a serene place of green-tinged rock and white sand, but Silver knew it for what it really was. If there was an opposite of joy, the cove was its physical manifestation.

In her mind she heard again her mother’s final scream cut off so abruptly and the barking of the humans as they bit and hacked with the long, silvery teeth they held in their hideously deformed flippers. She recalled her flight, alone and terrified, barely escaping the nets and the edges of those flashing barbed fangs. The cove, where the water ran red, so thick with the blood of her pod that she’d lost all sense of up and down. When she’d heard the lowing calls of the Deep Brethren and realized she’d reached open water at last, she’d finally been able to breathe. But that was when it hit her. They were all gone. She was alone until she found another pod.

She shivered and angled herself to ascend, letting the warmth of the sun melt away the cold that shot through her at the thought of that evil place. She shouldn’t even be this close, but she wanted to see him. The little human male. Would he be there on the rocks holding his strange driftwood stick? Maybe he would throw her some of his fish again today?

That thought filled her with joy and she gave her tail an extra push, launching into a low arc. Open air washed across her flippers. How soft it was, like nothing at all. Then she was back into the water again, each movement streaming the salty brine over the smooth skin of her bottle nose, then across her body, until it was parted briefly by her dorsal fin.

The little human male was not sitting atop the jumble of rocks where she usually found him. Another human was there instead. She could sense his age from the echoes of his frail bones.

She was far too close to the shore now. The older male watched her as she skimmed along with long slow flips of her tail. She kept her eye on him as she passed, but also continued watching the rocks around him to see if the young one had merely moved to make way for an elder. He was nowhere to be found. Other than the older male, there were only gulls, screeching and squawking at her impertinently as she passed. She hated gulls. They flew in the air so effortlessly, but they were mean. They were thieves too, stealing fish from poor, starving dolphins. No one had time for gulls.

She rounded the headland and realized she was floating above sea grass. Before her was the cove. She was still far enough away that she couldn’t quite feel the pain, but with each sweep of her tail she knew the echoes of those cries would grow stronger. They were part of the cove now. The impressions of murder—of the cries of a thousand screaming dolphins—the pain sunk deep into the rock, merged with the gravel, one with the sand. Echoes of echoes flitted back and forth forever between the rocky cliffs. She expected the water to still reek of their blood but it didn’t. It was just the same salty ocean. This was a bad, bad place. Even if the young male had found a new rock in the cove, she would not venture inside to find him. No fish was worth that kind of discomfort.

She turned to head back along the shore in the hopes she’d merely missed him, when she heard the cry. From the depths of the cove, the sound jarred her. No fish ever sounded like that. It was almost dolphin-like in its timbre, but without the resonance. And then she recognized it—the young male.

She spun, head pointed directly into the maw of the cove. Firing a quick burst, she could see the problem. The young male was trapped beneath one of the wooden shells humans seemed to love so much. The hunters had the same shells. They floated like upturned turtles, bobbing above the Great Deep like clumps of seaweed, bouncing about on it like so much flotsam.

The young human male was tiring fast. She could taste the blood in the water from the cut on his head. The cove seemed to cry out for blood. She wondered whether it had always been that way, or had it once been a young spirit, filled with the joy of the waves. Had long years of being used by the humans for their slaughter twisted it, so that now it yearned for death the way her orca cousins lived for the kill?

Again she hesitated. Humankind loved the water so much. They played near it, fished in it, swam and dove and yes, even killed in it, but they did not belong. Just as she did not belong in the cove. No dolphin did. Should she interfere? Did the human deserve to be saved?

Looking up, she saw the bright ball of the sun and again moved up towards it. Her blow hole breached the surface and she sucked in hard, eager to escape the foulness of the cove. She remembered the young male, sitting in that same sun, throwing her fish, and letting out that strange barking cough. She’d decided it was a happy sound, but no dolphin had ever sounded like that. Humans might be horrid, and unpredictable, but here was an innocent. Innocents must be saved. That was the dolphin way.

Without further thought she flipped her tail, racing into the deep shadow towards the upturned shell, where the young male’s form was now barely keeping itself afloat. She slammed her body into the side of the shell and it creaked and moaned and slid away from the young male’s limbs.

Grabbing him by the strange covering he wore over his skin, she began to swim him towards the shore. With every flip of her tail the cove called out to her. She felt its blood lust. Dolphin screams echoed in her mind. Not that way. She turned and dragged the young male towards the open ocean instead, where the sea grass plains began and the rays nestled beneath their shallow coatings of silt. The echoes of the cove confused her and without a clear head she would never get him to safety.

The young male seemed to convulse, eyes closed. She could not hear him breathing. With long, strong thrusts of her tail she moved beyond the cove’s reach. As the echoes dimmed into a low, barely perceptible throb, Silver took a moment to breathe.

There! The old human male still sat holding his long stick, useless split tail parts dangling from the edge of the rock.Her strength was fading, but the old male was within reach. With everything she could muster, she pulled the young one towards the old male’s rock, shouting as fast and as loud as she could. He must hear her. She could hear her own words bouncing back from the cliffs.

The old male reared up on his tail parts, jumping, then waving his flippers. He did not leap into the water, but that was no surprise. He did not have an upturned shell to float in, and humans could not ride the currents like dolphins. She moved in closer, judging the swell, riding the current.

Then she was beside the rock. The old male barked and barked, as if his noises were language and he expected her to understand. He hauled the pup up onto the rock, twisting him this way, then that until finally the pup spluttered and coughed. The young one would live, and she was glad. She hoped he would come again with his tasty fish, when he was rested.

For a long moment she looked up at the old male, and he looked back at her. She wondered whether he had been in the cove the day her pod was reduced to strips of meat and bubbling, red blood. His eyes were not black like the depths of the Great Deep the way a dolphin’s were. They were brown like old kelp, or mollusk rock. His bottle nose was shrunk to a tiny protuberance as if something had squashed his face flat. Were there thoughts behind those wooden eyes? She thought there might be. He seemed to care for the young male at least. But when the waters around these coasts began to chill, would he remember the day Silver Good-Fisher saved the pup, or would he be there among the rest, feeding the cove with the blood of her people?

The old male waved one stunted flipper at her and turned back to the young male. Silver chirped him a warning to keep the pup safe then gathered her energy and pushed hard with her tail. The waters of the Great Deep called to her. The sun sparkled on the tops of the waves. Another flip of her tail and she was off once more. Water was life, life, joy.

Silver Good-Fisher shot across the tops of the waves.

 

Copyright A.J.Savage 2018

Andrew J. Savage was born in Australia where they trained him as a lawyer and put him to work. After escaping the sand and the sea, he now lives in Japan with his wife and two children. If you look at him silhouetted against a bright light, you might see the hole in his heart where he says his dog should be.

Published inFictionJapanshort story

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