I sit on the sand down at the bottom of the island, watching the sun awaken from the dark shell of night. Different shades of pinks, oranges, and reds reflect off the never-ending waters. I pluck at the string bending my bow, a low, musical thumping sound making its way to my ears as I stare off into the distance.
We lost so many…
A tear slips down my cheek as this thought crosses my mind. Now is the time to mourn, where no one can see and where no one can think less of me because of my moment of weakness. But it’s harder to mourn when I didn’t take a look at the Wall of the Dead.
It’s a large block of wood standing tall behind the Tribe Leader’s row of houses. When one of my people die, someone that had been close to them carves their name into it. The wood is worn out and thinning with every name chipped into it. I haven’t looked, but I know of the one name that I would care that would be on there. Nan-ah’s.
I scratch at my leg, making the sudden itchy feeling disappear as I push the saddening memories from the front of my brain.
The water ripples ever so slightly and rolls onto the sand. The ocean dances with color before my eyes. It’s a dance of sadness, yet a dance of rebirth. The night’s terrors seem to worry the sun not, but it seems to call out to me that everything is okay and that this is the circle of life, that it’s natural.
I hate it.
I stand up and wipe the dripping water from my cheeks, ready to turn back to hunt for food. I will find something today, even if it takes me all day. I can’t go home again without any food, especially with what happened last night.
The water makes an unnatural moving sound behind me. The splash is too random in the waves’ patterns of pushing and pulling the sand on the shore. It can’t be nothing, and, for a moment, my heart leaps in my chest. What if it’s the boy?
And then I hear a high-pitched squeal.
I turn around to see a large fish stuck in the shallow part, waves smashing into it as it slaps the water with its tail, as if it wants to go back into the ocean, back into the unknown. Its gray-blue skin shines in the sunlight, a squeal escaping from it like it’s calling for help, calling for me.
I take a few steps towards it, holding my spear tight in one hand in case the fish is dangerous. It squeaks again, partially rolling onto its side as a wave splashes into it. I feel as if it is looking at me, as if it’s pleading for me to help it.
I stop right before the waters’ edge, the foamy whiteness stopping just before my toes. We aren’t allowed in the water. Can’t even touch it. If the Tribe Leaders found out someone did, they’d cast them out to sea on a raft that wouldn’t hold up for long. The story of the Sea-Man taught us this.
His tribe had been low on food, very, very low. His people were dying of starvation and animals had been disappearing in the cold weather of winter. Afraid the other hunters wouldn’t be able to find food and they would all die out, he ventured out into the water. A big fish appeared before him, a green light drifting from its scales and illuminating the crystal-clear water he stood in.
The Sea-Man lifted his spear above his head and thrust it into the animal, red blood clouding the water. There was a slight stinging sensation as the fish’s tail touched his foot, but he paid no mind to it as he lifted the large fish from the water. It had been as big as his torso, and he smiled at his victory. He thought maybe he had opened a window to a whole new world of food and resources.
As he made his way back to camp, climbing and carrying the dark green fish, he straightened out the story he would tell to the Tribe Leaders, just in case they put him on trial.
He heaved the fish up over the side of the cliff, into the Initi Tribe’s territory, my tribe. He pulled himself the rest of the way up onto the flat rock their village had been chipping away at for years on end. The people that had been walking in the center of the village had stopped to stare. The paths became silent, the sounds of insects taking over the night and the moon shining down on the Sea-Man and the fish. He carried it to the long Feasting Table in front of the Tribe Leader’s row of houses as they come out to see what is the matter. Immediately their bodies and eyes grew rigid, and they seemed to shake with fear as the fish landed on the stone table. The Sea-Man excitedly began to explain, the Tribe Leaders interrupting him.
Then, suddenly, one pulled out a loaded bow and aimed at the Sea-Man, telling the other Tribe Leaders to take him somewhere, the place where they went to receive the babies. There, a boat made of branches and driftwood awaited him. The Tribe Leaders forced him to board it, and they pushed him out into the water.
The Sea-Man was swallowed up by the sea and never seen again.
When the Tribe Leaders returned to their village, the fish had disappeared, but no one had eaten it or moved it from its place. All that was left was a single dark green scale, glowing bright green in the darkness of the night.
That story has been passed down from generation to generation, setting an example for the children that make it past year two. Since I’ve been alive, I haven’t heard of one person who has stepped foot in the water since that story.
I stare at the fish before me, its black eyes seeming to call for help. I turn around, paranoid someone’s watching me. I return my focus to the poor animal as it squeals again, slapping the water with its tail. I can’t let it die out here.
Dropping my spear, quiver, and bow on the ground, I glance around cautiously. My heart speeds up in my chest. I’m not going to step into the water to kill this animal, but to save it, I tell myself. If anyone catches me, they’ve got to under-stand that. I’m not killing it. I’m going to save it…
I take a deep breath as the cold water swallows up my foot. The fish stills as it watches me draw closer. A soft green glow seems to shine off its skin, but it could be the moon reflecting through the clouds and off of the water.
I reach out to try to push it, its skin rough one way and smooth the other. This mesmerizes me until a sharp pain rushes through my bones, making me let go and almost face-plant into the animal. My eyes dart down to try to comprehend what’s going on with my body. It’s possible the creature is just heavier than I had thought, but why would my body hurt so badly so suddenly?
An idea strikes me and I move around to the back of the fish where the tail is. I wrap my hands around it and pull. Two steps farther into the water and my legs begin to ache in an unnatural way. I stop and look down at them, the water clear but dark around me. Reaching down with one hand to rub them, I will the pain to disappear. I place my hand back to where I can pull the animal into the water. The liquid making up the sea wraps around my hips and my neck starts to itch. I scratch it violently, irritated by the way my body is reacting to the water, and then pull some more.
The fish’s tail wriggles out of my grip as the water reaches my belly button and it swims away. I watch as its top fin gets farther from me, feeling proud of myself. I did something good for someone, granted it was an animal. My legs begin to move so I can get out and finish my hunting, my weapons glinting in the moonlight as they lay on the sand, waiting for me to come back and retrieve them.
Sneaking one last glance at the animal, I see it’s turned around and headed straight for me. Panic wraps around my stomach. What’s happening?
The water seems to part for it as it moves faster and faster. I’m frozen with confusion. Did I misjudge the safeness of this animal?
I try to get away, but my body moves as if it is surrounded by thick mud. Helpless, I watch as it swims towards me, picking up speed. I put my hands out in front of me to brace myself for impact, closing my eyes at the last second.
It hits my hands and then my stomach, and I’m flung underwater, the cold liquid squeezing its way up into my nose and weaving its cold fingers through my hair. Opening my eyes makes them sting, and I can see the gray shadow of the fish hovering above me, the blurriness clarifying the longer I stare. The water stops stinging my eyes as I look at it, and the animals’ natural smile seems to grow menacingly as it looks me in the eye, its snout not far from my nose. My lungs burn and my body hurts as the dark eyes of the fish gleam in the refracted moonlight streaming through the waters dark surface.
I’ve got you now, Cressa-la.
The voice is in my head, I realize as I stare at the fish. It stares me down, completely still in the water. Is it trying to talk to me?
Now he will have to crown me…
I blink, trying to understand the bizarre situation. Black spots appear around my vision, my body itches and burns like crazy, and I’m stuck in the spot I sit.
Breathe, Cressa-la, breathe.
A loud sound thunders through the water, a flash of light flaring in the direction it had come from just after. I jump, losing the rest of the air from my lungs as they begin to ache exceedingly. The fish’s smile changes and it seems to grimace as its black eyes widen in shock.
This isn’t over, Cressa-la.
It turns around, with one last glance at where I sit, to head into the deeper, darker parts of the water.