Rai-si is silent for several seconds as the words sink into my brain. I step forward, and, without thinking, ask, “Isn’t that a really big wave?”
The boy looks at me, as does Rai-si, and nods. “Formed from earthquakes or movement of the ocean floor.”
“Go to your house, Cressa-la,” Rai-si interrupts harshly. “We’ll discuss this matter later.”
“Go,” he growls, and I back away, the boy before one of my Tribe Leaders watching my every movement. Something flashes in them—something almost dark and sinister.
I shake the shiver sliding down my skin away, reassuring myself I’m just paranoid due to the past few days’ events. The boy, the wolves, the deaths, the fish, the water, and now the tsunami. There’s just so much on my mind and I’m seeing things…
I make my way to my house, looking over my shoulder every once in a while, breaking my concentration on the water at the end of the island. How would they know that there was going to be a tsunami? There was no earthquake, no movement of the ground at all. How would they know?
I reach the door of my home and gently touch the wooden handle, risking one last glance at the tribe that had traveled all the way down to us just to offer us shelter and warn us. They’re so different… and we don’t paint ourselves like they do. We don’t at all, actually. I’ve always wondered why they were so different, although the Tribe Leaders say they do that for survival. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is that they’re the smallest tribe of the three. Wouldn’t they be worried more about losing people, rather than painting their faces with bright colors that could help animals and predators find them quicker? It must make it impossible to hunt in dangerous parts of the island.
I watch as Rai-si turns away from the boy and begins to stride toward the middle of the village. His eyes lock onto me and he picks up his pace. I hold tightly to the door handle now, my eyes growing wide and my heart beginning to pound louder and louder in my chest. Why is he looking at me like that? He resembles a wild animal, like the wolves that had attacked us.
He reaches me and grabs me by the arm, squeezing hard. My hand around the door begins to hurt as I grip it as hard as I can. He growls through his teeth, “Did you touch that water, Cressa-la?”
“What—why, Rai-si?” I stammer, my knees going weak.
He shakes me a bit and I cry out. “Did you touch that water?”
“You’re hurting me!”
Some of my people have come out of their houses to see what’s going on. Rai-si looks around for a moment, the anger seeming to come to a boiling point as he tries to suppress it.
Tani-mah come out from behind the door to her house, walks over quickly, and looks upon her husband. “What are you doing?”
“Come,” Rai-si snaps quietly at me, ignoring Tani-mah yet nodding to her as if to follow him. The other Tribe Leaders come out to follow Rai-si after he calls out something I can barely understand over the thumping of my heart. What’s going to happen to me?
He drags me through the trees, no words passing between any of them. I hear the scuffling of the animals as they pass by, making my palms sweat. Rai-si’s hand is hot against my skin now, making me even more uncomfortable. Suddenly, they stop. The Tribe Leaders that had been walking behind Rai-si and I make a wide arc beside us.
“Lift it,” Rai-si says loudly, startling a few birds nearby and launching them into flight.
Ken-ner, Yurt-sah, and Lup-mem squat down and slip their fingers beneath the leaves, and I realize what this is.
The leaves lift up, attached to a long wooden trap door, it seems. The ground seems to suddenly give way to a pool of water, no larger than a house but no smaller either. Its surface ripples, reminding me of a snake coming from its home burrowed beneath the earth.
“This is where we receive the babies,” Tani-mah says calmly to me, not taking her eyes from the water. The story of the Sea-man replays in my mind, but…
“Why are you showing me this?” I ask, my arm still held by Rai-si as if I would try to run away. The hole in the ground is nothing like what we had believed growing up; we always thought that it was one of the beaches around the island where the babies came from, not a hole. And, if it was a hole back then, do the stories lie of him being cast away on a boat to die?
“Because it’s time.”
“Time for what?”
The Tribe Leaders all look at me. They begin to sing.
“You were a part of something bigger than yourself.”
I stare at them wide-eyed and confused.
“But you had to leave life behind so soon.”
“What—what are you doing? What’s going on?”
“I was sure you’d live here forever.”
“Tani-mah!” I cry as Rai-si brings me closer to the water. I am afraid. “Ken-ner!”
“But now I must face the sad truth…”
“Marin-na! Someone! Please, please…” I feel tears falling down my cheeks as I try to resist Rai-si’s pull.
“The waves washed you away with their glow,” they continue. I trip and fall to the earth, still trying to pull away. “And the sun beckoned to you with its light.”
“No,” I plead, sobbing now. “No, please, please…”
“Your ears heard me calling but you knew.”
“Please!” I cry as Rai-si stands me back up and lifts me off the ground.
“It was time for you to say goodbye.”
They finish the song and I crash down into the water. It’s deeper than I had thought it would be, and I hit the ground, the sand rubbing against my shins and burning them. My body starts to itch and burn as the water goes dark.
They’ve trapped me in.
They’re trying to drown me.
Just, as I conclude, like they had the Sea-Man, all those years ago.
I push myself up off of the ocean floor and touch the leaf-covered wood, trying to push against it. It moves slightly but I end up propelling myself down, still trapped.
And then there is light.
It isn’t from above me but rather from all around me. I look down at myself, the blurry outline of my skin seeming to become clearer as I stare, and a soft blue glow starts to radiate from me. It begins to get brighter and brighter and spreads to all over my body. I stare in awe as the water lights up, the sand maybe four feet below me becoming extremely visible. Panic sets in, mixing poisonously with my confusion.
There’s a squeal in the distance. I look around to see several pairs of eyes just out of my visibility range, and my heart jump-starts into a fast pace beating. I hear another squeal and the eyes disappear. I would be calm, if only the squeal wasn’t so familiar.
It’s the fish I had saved. The one that had spoken to me.
I scramble up to the top again, the squealing getting louder. I can hear the rapid movement of the water as it nears, and I begin to bang on the wood above me.
The chilling female voice in my head makes me pound even harder and look back at it. I can see it approaching. It’s so close. It’s smile looks so menacing…
Suddenly the cover is removed and I pull myself out with the help of the Tribe Leaders. I sit on my butt on the ground, my chest heaving and watching the water as it ripples. A single fin appears and disappears again beneath the water and the glowing coming from my skin dims and fades out altogether.
“What was that?” I ask aloud and turn around to look at the Tribe Leaders. They all look to Rai-si, who stares down at me. “What’s going on?”
“Come,” he says. “We were going to wait until you were eighteen years of age to tell you, but I believe now is the right time. You had touched the sea, and that is why we did this. But the fish, the dolphin that you have just seen, it isn’t an animal at all. Come.”
Tani-mah helps me up and I follow them back through the trees, afraid yet eager to learn about what’s happening. I scratch at my legs, the grass irritating them.
And then the ground begins to shake violently.