“You know, Margot, I’d really love to see the Coral City you told me about,” I said the next day when we continued on our journey to the unknown.
“That’s a great idea, Lupin! Let’s go now!”
“What city are you talking about?”
“Coral City, Atli,” I laughed.
“A place full of life, colours and happiness. Is that right, Margot?”
“Just as you say, Lupin. Shoals of happy fish, healthy Octopuses, chatty Morays and diverse coral reefs everywhere.”
“That sounds good,” Atli’s face lit up and she poked me with her tail.
“You’ll fall in love with the City, Atli. I don’t doubt it,” Margot said, swimming excitedly between our big bodies.
“What are we waiting for? Let’s go to Coral City!” I cried.
“Yippee!” Margot darted forward, but then stopped.
“Wait!” she was thinking, “Yes, yes, this way,” she turned back and darted to the opposite side, calling out to us: “Hurry up, friends! There’s a long journey ahead of us. Let’s go!”
I smiled at Atli and she smiled back at me. We turned around, swished our fins and followed the bold little fish.
Life was good and joyful again. But nothing lasts forever. Many sunsets and sunrises had passed since the amazing performance by the Mantas and plankton.
We were swimming peacefully, chatting and enjoying the fresh water when a strange trio crossed our path.
“Mick, it’s alright. You can come out.” We heard from in front of us. Then a Tuna emerged from behind a rock, followed by a small Swordfish. They looked scared and moved with caution.
“Where are you, Rick? I can’t see you,” the Tuna called ahead. The small Swordfish, with a strangely injured fin, kept close beside him.
“Here, Mick. I’m here!” the voice said from the left. The two of them were suddenly enlivened, swam rapidly in front of us and hid behind a rock.
For a moment, we remained motionless, watching the three tails strikingly protruding from behind the rock.
“What are they doing?” Atli wondered.
“I don’t know. But Dad taught me to greet everyone politely.”
I approached the rock and said: “Hello, gentlemen!”
“Ahhh!” the Tunas cried and darted forward, leaving the small Swordfish behind.
I looked at him and smiled. His eyes were shining. He didn’t look scared.
“Hi little Swordfish. You’re so cute,” Atli joined us, with Margot on her tail.
The Tunas disappeared into the distance, but a second later their silhouettes emerged as they returned. They approached us carefully, moving from side to side, from rock to rock.
“Don’t worry, lads, we’re not going to eat you,” Margot laughed, being half their size.
They came towards us, their bodies still stiff and their faces scared.
“I thought that Tunas were fierce, strong and hard to scare... What’s the matter with you?” Margot asked.
“That’s no longer the case,” one of them said. “At least for the two of us.”
“We’re sorry,” said the other one, “we have our reasons to be cautious. I’m Mick and this is my brother Rick. And this kid with the injured fin is Fee. Those above the surface caught his parents. Say hello, Fee.”
“Hello,” Fee obeyed, hiding behind them, with only his long sword sticking out.
“You’re right, fish,” Mick said.
“Margot. My name is Margot. And this is Atli and Lupin.”
“Nice to meet you,” Mick said.
“Yes, nice to meet you,” Rick joined him.
“Nice to meet you,” Fee didn’t stay behind them.
“Er, well, you’re right, Margot,” Mick continued. “Not long ago, we were the feared predators of the seas.”
“Quick Ghosts, they called us,” Rick said.
“We swam in shoals so big that we shaded the sunshine, creating a scary darkness below us.”
“But we were also hunted – to put the record straight – right, Mick?” Rick said.
“Sure. Sharks, Seals, Killer Whales and many others hunted us. But that’s normal. And those above the surface caught us, too, when we swam too close to the shore.”
“Yeah, but then ... Then it went wrong,” Rick sighed.
“What do you mean, Rick?” I was curious.
“You know, they’ve always hunted us, as my brother said. But lately, we started to reduce in number. Sharks began to complain that they had nothing to eat.”
“And we still didn’t know why,” Mick took over the story.
“And then ...”
“Don’t say it, Mick! It’s terrible.”
“You’re right, brother. It will only traumatise us again.”
“Exactly. It’s better to forget.”
It seemed as if the brothers had forgotten about us, talking and confirming to each other that it was better not to talk about the mysterious event.
“Yeah, that’s best, Rick. Let’s put the past behind us.”
“But also to learn from it, Mick. Don’t forget that.”
“Sure, brother. Not to forget!”
“Listen, you two,” Atli interrupted them. “You can’t start a story and then just stop. We’re curious and excited. And you two will tell us what went wrong.” Atli raised her voice a bit and the Tunas seemed impressed.
“Shall I, Rick?”
Rick sighed. “If you must.”
“Ok then. We were swimming ... “
“Wait! What about Fee? Is it good for him to ...?“
“I want to hear it, too,” Fee spoke.
“You’re still very young and it could affect you, boy,” Rick warned him.
“It seems that he’s braver than you two,” Margot smiled.
Rick responded at once, swiftly swimming in front of her. “Dear fish,” he said into her scared eyes, “that’s because he hasn’t gone through the massacre we have!”
“Easy, brother, easy!” Mick pushed him back.
“So, my brother outlined the situation for you. But to put the record straight, I’ll tell you a few more details. So, friends ... Stay here, Fee, it’s about time that you knew about life,” he sighed and nodded towards the Swordfish.
“One day, we felt it was about time to take some steps to preserve our kind, just like our fellow Tunas. We instinctively headed off to procreate.
“Like most fish, we were drawn to warm waters. We followed our compatriots, impatient and excited. We raced each other, trying to keep in front.”
“As leaders of the shoal, you see,” Rick said more calmly now.
“Yes, leaders of the shoal ...” Mick was lost in thought.
“More and more Tunas joined us. We cut through the water like a big Shark’s fin. There were hundreds of us, thousands. And then we were about to leave the cold, wild waters of the ocean and swim to a calmer sea. To do that, you needed to swim through a narrow channel between two shores.”
“Phew! It gives me chills when I recall it,” Rick shivered.
“Me too, brother ... And so we swam, looking forward to the paradise awaiting us in the warm waters. The narrow channel was already in sight, when the first ships with several nets appeared. Full of excitement, we swam past the nets and continued. There was a shock awaiting between the shores. The water was cloudy, grey and with poor visibility. There were vessels everywhere above us. There must’ve been more of them than us. A terrible din and chaos. I even lost Rick for a while. But then we found each other, both of us shocked, sad and disappointed.
“I tried to encourage my younger brother and said: ‘Hurry up, slowcoach! We don’t want to miss the best spots!’”
“And that saved our lives.”
“Don’t interrupt me, Rick, ok? Now you feel like talking?”
Margot and Atli smiled gently.
“Well, where was I?”
“The best spots,” Margot replied.
“Oh yes. It saved our lives.”
“I just said that.”
“Enough! Who’s telling the story?”
Now both Rick and Fee laughed.
Mick paused and gave us all a serious look.
“There’s nothing to laugh about,” he said and became sad.
“So, to finish it-... Rick and I darted forward, the shoal plodding behind us. Suddenly, there was a strange section close to the shore. Rick and I swam forward, but something wasn’t right. We looked at each other and we both knew that something was wrong.”
“Strange, very strange silence ...”
“And then... into the silence,” Mick shook his head, just like his brother.
“What happened next?” Atli asked impatiently.
“A trap. A massacre,” Rick whispered.
Mick nodded anxiously. “As we were swimming through the strange section, a net lifted behind us.”
“It brushed against our fins.”
“As my brother says, we were lucky that day. But we can’t say the same about thousands of our friends who stayed behind us ... You know, it wasn’t an ordinary net. It seemed to be spread from one shore to the other. Escape was impossible. It wasn’t an equal battle. They didn’t give them a chance ...” Mick paused.
“I guess I’ll finish here. It’s your turn now, brother,” he said with his eyes closed.
“I’ll tell it for all the friends who remained there ... The net tightened. There was chaos, screams and fear. We turned back to help them.
“And suddenly there was silence. A terrifying calm ... Our friends were crowded together, silenced with fear, only their fins slapping against the water surface.
“A rumble resounded from the shore – a mixture of all sounds and“ Rick paused, lowering his voice, “the first hook! One of our friends howled. His shriek was so loud that I felt his pain. My brother and I were right below them.
“They fished him out of the water. The second hook!
The third one. The fourth one. Dozens of long hooks impaled them, one by one. Their tails, heads, bellies. Even their eyes. Brutality! We heard our friends crying from the shore. The sea was no longer blue or grey or cloudy. It was dark red.”
“Hundreds of our friends, excited about their first procreation ... Curious about the warm and peaceful sea ...” Mick shook his head in resignation.
I noticed that Atli and Margot were crying.
The ocean had darkened again for us, although the sun hadn’t yet set.
“And that’s not all,” Rick said into the sad silence.
What else could have happened? I thought.
Rick continued. “A few of our friends ended up in the sea again.”
Atli’s eyes lit up with hope.
“Well, to put it straight,” Mick noticed her reaction, “whether it was the incompetence of those above the surface or a bad joke, some Tunas really managed to return to the sea. My brother and I swam to them at once, but it was useless. Once you get impaled on a hook and a piece of your flesh is ripped from your body, you can hardly survive. Our friends sank to the bottom right before our eyes.”
“You couldn’t even notice their own blood as it blended with the surrounding water,” Rick added. They bowed their heads and paused.
I recalled Medard the Eagle and his sceptical speech, the Turtle from Turtle Rock and her prophecy, and finally Mom and Dad.
I was sad and I wasn’t the only one.
“Then you found me,” Fee suddenly said, “and saved my life. Thank you.” He smiled cutely and innocently, despite all that he had just heard.
The sight of him relieved us from our dark thoughts.
His smile meant hope. Hope for fish, for us, for the ocean and maybe for the whole strange world.
“It was a great pleasure, Mick, Rick and Fee,” we said goodbye to them after our short journey together.
“Likewise,” Mick said. “Hope we haven’t scared you too much. You’re still kids, more or less. Although bigger than a hundred Tunas.”
“Maybe two hundred,” Rick noted. “We can’t even grow up before they catch us.”
“That’s true. They catch us faster than we can reproduce.”
“Oh, that’s terrible!” Atli sighed.
“But now we have to take care of this kid,” Rick smiled and poked the Swordfish with his fin.
“And he has you,” I said. “It will get better, friends. We must hope.”
“Yes, it’ll somehow turn out OK,” Rick said.
“As always,” Mick added.
“Goodbye, friends and have a safe journey!” we bade each other farewell and set out in opposite directions.