Thursday, August 21, 2008

Friday Fiction for August 22nd, 2008

Welcome again to Friday Fiction, and be sure to check out the other links at our guest host's blog, An Open Book. This week’s story is a very special one, as it is one of the very few I’ve ever written “by request”. This week is my wife’s birthday, and this story was written in response to a question she asked about “Cardan’s Pod”. She wanted to know how Josh got into the sleeping chamber in the first place, which in the book is just implied by the narrative.

I decided to answer her question by writing the opening events of the story from a different point-of-view.

Happy birthday, Nancy. This story was written specifically for you, and I’m looking forward to helping you celebrate your birthday this weekend. I love you!

The Rescue
By Rick Higginson

The building was dark, as it had been every time she’d returned to it in the previous three years. Had it really only been three years? It seemed like it had been so much longer since Dr. Marcel had last visited them, but she was certain they were only starting their fourth summer of hiding.

The gate to the boat garage was still locked, and the metal bars showed no signs of having been disturbed. The algae and barnacles grew uninhibited, fed by the tidal flow in and out of the sheltered mooring. No sounds emanated from inside, save the gentle sloshing of the waves on the structures and the occasional protest of one sea bird or another that had taken roost in the man-made sanctuary. A few times on the early visits, she had called through the gate, only to be answered by nothing more than the feeble echo of her own voice.

On the visible sides of the structure they’d always known as “the nursery”, the shattered windows remained unrepaired, with the mysterious black stains streaking up from the openings. There was nothing to suggest the facility was any less deserted than it had been on her last visit, and her hope that such would change before the next visit diminished just a bit more.

She turned away from the small island, resigned to the conclusion that they would not be returning to the place they had thought of as home for so long. The moonlight accented a peaceful beauty to the sea as she started the journey, and she expected nothing would disturb the night save for the dolphins escorting her. They would leave her from time to time, pressing their advantage to find prey in the darkness, but there would always be at least a couple within close range of her.

Almost halfway to her destination she found a boat, drifting in the current and apparently deserted. There were lights shining aboard, and the gentle rumble of the engine idling, but no one visible anywhere she could see. She gave it a wide clearance, watching to see if anyone might appear, and didn’t spot the other boat until she drew closer to the darkened craft. Unlike the first boat, the second had no lights burning, and two people stood at the back of the vessel.

She drew closer to the sailboat, quietly watching the people aboard. The two disappeared inside, and soon reappeared with a third person held between them.

“Unh; he’s heavier’n he looks,” one of the two said.

The voice that replied was female. “I figured that out the first time I slept with him,” she said. “Right here should be good.”

When they tried to step away from the third person, he wavered on his feet and nearly fell over. “I’ll hold him,” the woman said. “Get the bottle and the glass.”

“Got ‘em,” the man said.

She puzzled over what she was watching. The man could barely stand up, and yet the other two were placing a bottle in his one hand, and a glass in his other.

The action caused a stir from the odd man, and he turned his head towards the woman beside him. “Hullo, dear,” he said, and then gave a weak laugh. His voice had the quality of someone who was barely awake.

“Hurry up,” the woman said.

The first man went to the other side of the boat and did something with the ropes on the sail. He stood for a moment, holding the bottom of the sail, until a gust of breeze came across the boat. With that, he pushed the sail, and the woman stepped away from the other man.

She winced as the man was struck by the boom and was sent flipping over the side into the sea. He bobbed back to the surface, coughing, as the breeze pushed the boat farther away from him.

Get him out of the water, she thought, though her need to stay hidden kept her voice silent. Don’t you people know he can’t stay in the water like that?

Instead of acting to help him, the two remaining on the boat indulged an embrace, while the woman started laughing. They then climbed into a small raft at the back of the sailboat, and sped towards the first boat that drifted in the distance.

The realization was horrible. They were leaving him there, and thought it was funny. Though the man tried to swim back to the boat, he barely made any progress before he slipped beneath the surface.

She could hear all the warnings in her mind; all the cautions and the reasons they needed to stay hidden. She could hear what Eva would say, even as she took a deep breath and dove after the man.

The dolphins raced ahead of her, their vocalizations distressed, as she kicked hard towards the glare of the man’s clothing and skin in the water. She wasn’t as fast as her cetacean escorts, but unlike them, she had arms and hands. Grabbing the loose clothing, she called on every bit of strength in her tail to drag him back to the surface.

Breaking back into the air, she shifted her grip to try and keep his head above the water. Gasping and moaning, he managed several breaths before he vomited the sea water he’d swallowed during his descent. When he’d finished, his body went limp, and she fought to keep him afloat.

She found the clothing problematic; while it provided something easy for her to grasp, it also allowed him to shift about and made it more difficult to keep his head out of the water. It dragged in the current and seemed to weigh him down, particularly the shoes. If he had been conscious, he would have been alert to hold his breath when a wave washed over him, but she had no idea how long it would be until he regained some semblance of awareness.

The first boat was accelerating in a sweeping turn away from them, and the sailboat continued drifting on the breeze. It wasn’t moving fast, and she could catch it without too much effort, but to what end? If there was a ladder at the back, he needed to be awake to climb it, and she had no way to climb it for him.

Dreading the trouble she was asking for, she pulled his shirt over his head and discarded it. Holding him with one arm around his chest, she wrestled his pants over his hips. Risking dunking him one more time, she wrapped her loose arm around one leg, and brought the other arm down to remove his shoes. Without them, the pants slipped easily from his legs, and she returned her hold to his chest.

Swimming on her back, with the man face-up on her front, she resumed her swim towards the island where she and the rest of the Pod hid. It was slow, at least for her, to drag the man along, though from time to time one dolphin or another would push her along and help.

When the number of dolphins around her increased, she knew she was getting close to home. She rested for a few minutes, using a slow kick of her tail to maintain position against the current.

“Marta, what took you so long?” her sister Leanna said, surfacing nearby. “Are you all right? Wait; what have you got?”

“I’m fine, but he’s not,” Marta said.

Leanna drew up beside her, joined a moment later by their younger sister, Ophelia. “You brought a man here?” Leanna said.

“He doesn’t look like Dr. Marcel,” Ophelia said. “You were supposed to be looking for Dr. Marcel.”

“Some people knocked him off a boat and left him,” Marta said. “I had to do something.”

“What do you think you’re going to do now that you have him here?” Leanna said.

“He’s hurt; for right now, I think we just need to get him in the sleeping chamber and out of the water.”

“And then what? Marta, if he’s hurt, he needs to be taken care of by other people that know what to do.”

“I wish that were an option, but we’re all he has right now.”

“Marta just wants to play with his legs,” Ophelia teased.

“Just help me get him into the sleeping chamber; we’ll worry about ‘then what’ when it happens.”

Leanna released an exasperated snort. “Okay, but when Eva asks, you’d better remember that this was your idea.”

They closed the remaining distance quickly, and soon floated near a rocky cliff. “How do you suggest we get him from out here to in there?” Leanna asked.

“One of us will have to breathe for him,” Marta said. “It’ll be the same air over and over, but at least it will be air and not water. For this short of a distance, it shouldn’t matter too much.” She considered the plan a moment. “If you can grab his arms and pull him, I’ll hold onto him from the front and do the breathing.”

“Maybe before we dive for the tunnel, you should try this first.”

“You’re probably right.” She turned the man around and wrapped her arms around him. She took a deep breath, and when he exhaled, she covered his mouth with her mouth, blocking his nose with her cheek, and letting her breath out as he drew his in. Slipping beneath the water, she drew the same breath back in as he exhaled, and then repeated the process again. With a kick of her tail, she ascended so they could both breathe fresh air again.

“Ooh, now you’re kissing him,” Ophelia said.

She ignored the teasing. “It’s awkward, and I wouldn’t want to try it for very long, but I think it’ll work long enough to get him to the sleeping chamber.”

“I guess whenever you’re ready,” Leanna said.

Marta drew in a series of deep breaths, getting as much oxygen into her blood as she could. As she had before, she waited until he exhaled, and then resumed the mouth-to-mouth position and dove backwards.

Leanna grasped his wrists and started a strong kick towards the tunnel, while Ophelia grabbed the man’s ankles and helped push them along.

Though the distance wasn’t that long, the air they shared was nearly worthless before they surfaced in the dark pool. She pulled her face away from his and savored the clean air, even as he coughed on several breaths of his own. “Okay, now let’s get him out of the water.”

“Him? Marta, what have you done?” Eva’s voice was quiet and serious.

She crawled onto the smooth stone and pulled the unconscious man behind her. “I saved an injured man from drowning,” she said.

“And you brought him here?”

“There wasn’t anywhere else I could take him. It was either here, or let him die.”

“You put the Pod at risk for a man; what were you thinking?”

She had him far enough from the pool that the tide wouldn’t be a concern, and rolled him onto his side. “I wasn’t thinking,” she said. “I just did what I had to do to save him.” His skin was cold, so she scooted up behind him and pressed her body against his.

“You are responsible for him,” Eva said. “We will discuss this more in the morning, but know this; you brought him here, and if he proves to be a danger to the Pod, I will expect you to do what is necessary to keep the Pod safe.”

“Yes, Eva.” She closed her eyes and dreaded what the morning might bring. Maybe he would be dead by morning, and it would all have been a pointless effort, but for the moment, he was alive and breathing. She still felt a certain despair over not having seen evidence of Dr. Marcel’s return, but at the same time, she felt a guilty thrill. She held in her arms a human – a man who belonged to the world that half of her was supposed to belong to.

For that night, at least, she could pretend that she belonged to that same world, and that rather than being a mermaid, created by Dr. Marcel to prove some strange idea he had, she could be the woman her dreams imagined her to be. She fell asleep wondering what it would feel like if his legs rested against her legs, instead of against the dolphin tail she’d been born with.

“Hullo, dear,” he said in her dream. They were the only words she’d heard him speak, and now he said them to her.

“Hurry up,” she said, and it felt both strange and wonderful to stand beside him. Why would she say that, though?

“He’s a threat to the Pod,” Eva said from the other side of the boat. “I expect you to do what is necessary.”

Then he was falling with a splash into the dark ocean, and she started to laugh.

She jerked awake from the short dream, feeling her heart pounding from it. He was still in front of her, though now his body was warmer and his breathing slow and steady. Yes, Eva, she thought. I will do what is necessary.

But it may not be what you think is necessary.


Joanne Sher said...

You certainly bring these characters to life, and give a wonderful insight into the rest of the story (which I remember and love). LOVE Marta, of course.
Happy birthday to "Mrs. Hoomi" :) What a lovely gift!

Sara Harricharan said...

OOOo! I love this! Again, your expertise with atmosphere is simply amazing. LOVED this read, especially Marta and the grave, serious character of Eva. lol. Nice job!

Patty Wysong said...

Hoomi, those characters are REAL!!

WOW!! Loved it!

LauraLee Shaw said...

Incredible characterization and descriptions throughout this piece. What a special birthday tribute as well!

Anonymous said...

Wow... incredible writing! (can't wait for the movie to come out). I think it's wonderful/cool/great that you wrote this in answer to your wife's request. Happy Birthday Mrs. Hoomi.

(~~Beth...from Holbrook)