Authors: Anna Kyss
Copyright © 2012
All Rights Reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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I propel myself through the turquoise waters with undulations of my tail. No one has seen me. Luckily. Leaving Maluhia alone is forbidden.
My heart races from the danger, the exertion, the excitement. I revel in the blood flowing through my veins, the adrenaline pumping through my body—I feel alive. Daring. Elated.
If only I could suck up these feelings, bottle and save them for later, when the apathy rushes back in; for now, I absorb them. I have to
myself feel. The price for indifference could be my life.
A reef sits in front of me, one of the few remaining in our sector of the seas. The yellows, reds, and oranges of the ever-growing coral contrast with the ocean blue that bathes them. The pink and white tentacles of the anemones await their orange-and-white-striped friends—clown fish.
My classes have taught about this funny word,
; once upon a time, people dressed in costumes and painted their faces to create laughter. I try to imagine it: a world where clothes and words are enough to make people grin. In my world, all the Skin and languages together are not enough to make us smile. My people do not laugh anymore.
A purple-and-white-striped eel pokes its head from the rocks, peers around, then darts away. He startles the groups of fish, and they swim straight toward me. A rainbow of fins and glittery scales swarms around me.
—another of those curious words from my lessons. I try to picture those colors, imagine a sky, but it is too hard. In this world of a thousand blues, the reef is the only place to spot a rainbow.
Memories always draw me back to this spot, despite the threat of discovery. My best friend’s name was Rainbow, but a thousand blues can be too many. In our underwater world, happiness dissolves into the waters, while detachment and lethargy seep in.
With ’Bow, her smile left before she lost the last of her baby teeth. By the time she received her flipper-fins, she no longer wanted to play, and she stopped coming to the daily swims. Soon, she never left her family pod. Hopelessness crushed her, and she did the Unmentionable.
Sorrow fills the hollow left by our abandoned friendship, bringing up memories of others who are missing.
My mother. My father
. Gloom weighs me down.
Blinking back the tears that threaten to escape, I will myself to shake the negative thoughts from my head, then open my eyes to the wonders of the reef.
is why I face the dangers of leaving the pod complex: to remember, to see the rainbow, to stimulate my senses and invigorate myself. I cannot follow the path ’Bow took.
I will not succumb.
A sea turtle approaches and circles me, growing closer with each rotation. The mottled greens of its shell blend with the kelp and algae. I kick my tail, edging myself nearer, but the turtle dips down and disappears into the shadows of the seaweed.
Left to float alone, I wonder how the turtle swims above the Surface—climbs onto Land—to lay its eggs. How can the turtle, with its thin skin and fragile eggshells, survive above the waters when people cannot?
I cannot resist looking up. Light breaks through the Surface, painting the sea in bands of cerulean. I yearn to swim up, to view the Land that we have lost. I burn to know what lies above the waters. Could there be a
, too late to help ’Bow and my parents, but one that may save others from the same terrible fate?
I hide these forbidden dreams deep inside, choking down the possibilities and swallowing my desires. Once again, I have abandoned my caution. I could be taken away just for thinking about breaching the Surface.
The reef fish break their lovely dance and scatter. I scan the waters for what scared away those tiny jewels of the sea.
Something floats toward me. I freeze.
At first, the grayish-black coat reminds me of an oddly shaped monk seal. As he grows closer though, I notice the long limbs of a man. Unlike our Skin, which is seamless, his suit has strange plastic tracks—possibly a way to get in and out. He carries a heavy tank upon his back, wears a clear mask on his face, and holds a long tube between his teeth. Bubbles flow in a steady stream behind him. Is he breathing through that long tube?
Does he not have gills?
I forget to hide until he spots me. My heart races as he approaches, hands in front of him, wide open. I think he is trying to show me he is safe.
is exciting. A stranger, without gills, swimming at my reef! I want to get closer, to learn more.
He swims within a tail’s reach. I am tempted to reach out and touch his smooth, black suit, to see if it feels as rubbery as it looks, but I restrain myself.
I peer into his foggy mask. His deep brown eyes widen as he scans my body. He stares at each thing that makes us different: my gills, my tail, my Skin. I gape just as much at the large tank, the strange hose, the clear mask. I can barely break away my gaze.
He lifts his hand…
. I remember learning about the old ways of greeting—another habit lost under the water. My fingers flutter back, moving even faster than my tail. Who is this person? He is too different to be from another sector. How can he survive under the water without gills? Could he be from…?
I shake the thought out of my head before it even forms. Nobody exists above the Surface anymore.
He slowly reaches his hand toward me, and I stay still, watching for what he will do next. If visiting the reef is not allowed, meeting with a non-sector resident must be forbidden. Adrenaline surges through my body. Never before have I felt so
When he grasps my hand, I whistle in surprise, but let him guide me over the reef to a sandy patch of ocean floor. Our two hands look so odd together, my teal Skin contrasting with his bare tan hand, free of any Skin or suit.
He bends to pick up a long spiraling shell, which rests upon the sand. Using the shell, he carves spirals and lines into the sand. The movement of the water quickly wipes away his work, and he begins again. I stare at his symbols until suddenly, I make sense of them. He writes in one of the lost languages! I carefully sound out the swirls—no, the letters—in my mind. J…E…S…S…E. But what does it mean?
He points to himself, to the disappearing letters, then back to himself.
His name! Not many in Maluhia could read the lost languages. But languages are my specialty, so it is my job to learn as many as possible, to preserve the knowledge. How fortuitous that I was the one to encounter this…writer.
I point to myself, just as he had done, and click out my name: Chey. Through the fog of his mask, I see his eyes crinkle in confusion. He shakes his head and offers me the shell. Does he not understand Dolphin-speak?
I bite my lip and try to remember how to form the sounds of my name. SH…AY. His eyes widen, but he nods his understanding. Is my name odd even to this stranger?
He checks something attached to his hose and looks up… toward the Surface. He takes the shell and draws a sunken boat, pointing off to the side of the reef. I know of this boat, a shipwreck from above-water times that rests on the ocean floor.
The flowing water nearly wipes the sand clean. Jesse then draws a person, pointing to himself, and another person, pointing to me, at the side of the fading wreck.
He wants to meet again. But when?
He carves out a round circle, with lines around it and looks at me. I squint, turn my head to the side, but cannot make out what he means before the gentle ocean current smoothes the sand. Through the mask, I can see wrinkles forming in the tiny area between both eyes.
Suddenly, he looks up at me and draws the Surface with light rays shining down through it. He points to the drawing, then mimics sleeping, eyes closed and head on hands; he gestures again to the disappearing picture, followed by the same sleeping motion—and repeats that cycle five more times.
Seven sleeps’ time. I nod my understanding.
He swims up. I watch his body grow tiny, then disappear upon reaching the Surface. A whole new world opens up to me, filled with things I never thought possible.
A human, who swims above the Surface.
A human, who survives without gills.
What other surprises are waiting to reveal themselves to me?
The Surface ripples smooth, leaving no evidence of Jesse’s departure. I have not thought about ’Bow or my parents the entire time I was with him, and the ever-present despair is missing. In its place is excitement… anticipation… even happiness. For the first time in many months, I have something to look forward to, rather than many things to dread.
I will visit the shipwreck, see Jesse, in seven sleeps’ time. My face feels strange—cheeks full, chin taut—and when I reach up to feel what is wrong, I realize that I am smiling.
Long strands of my ink-black hair swirl around me, dancing as though alive. I glide through the turquoise seas. Each swing of my tail prosthetic sends me closer to home.
A whistle sounds through the depths, one I would recognize anywhere. I place my whistle against my lips and blow—long and hard—through the rigid plastic casing.
Haku torpedoes toward me, still whistling. As the familiar gray dolphin appears, I dive. My whole body ripples. She flies underneath me at precisely the right moment, and I grasp her flippers as she bullets forward.