Author / Speaker

Chapter Twenty Five

Shadows and Wishes



   Before he stepped off the Wendell Holmes, Able knew he was coming back to the reef. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Cedar, though he didn’t. He decided to return to the reef because he had to see for himself. He had always had to see for himself. It was a curse, but it was the way it was. There was no changing it.

   The police department had a skiff and even an official captain to pilot it, but Able did not want to be seen leaving the harbor in an official capacity. He knew all the fishermen, but he knew only a few who could keep their mouth shut. Members of his immediate and tangential family fished, but they were not among the close-mouthed camp.

   That evening he hired Mongkol Songkhla to take him to the reef. Mongkol appeared to be in his twenties, although Able had a difficult time telling the age of any Thai: they looked the same whether they were twenty or two hundred. He knew Mongkol’s parents. They were good people who owned the Thai restaurant he frequented. Word on the docks said Mongkol was a fisherman who knew the waters and kept to himself. He also had a well maintained boat. Able did not want his career to end on the high seas.

   They left the harbor at dawn, Able staying below until they were well out to sea. Able had told Mongkol they were going out to the reef where the accident had occurred. When Able came up on deck, the man-boy asked no further questions.

  When they arrived at the reef Mongkol did not offer to help Able with his dive gear. The last thing Able saw before he fell back off the gunnel was Mongkol smoking a clove cigarette.

   He hit the water flat, stinging his bare back. As he situated himself, pin-wheeling awkwardly in a cloud of bubbles, he chastised himself for not diving more often. He had been a strong swimmer in his youth, but he was no longer in his youth. He knew he was already breathing far too fast, a measure of his sorry state of fitness and his apprehension. He floated for a minute just beneath the surface, willing himself calm, and then he finned down to the reef.

  There was no doubt there had been an explosion. Rubbled coral was strewn about where the bomb had gone off. It looked like a construction site; on Palau limestone was the primary building material. Able knew how long it took coral to grow, how the tiny organisms painstakingly built a reef polyp by polyp, how the dive shops lectured their clients about not kicking the coral, but he didn’t really care. Growing up on the island he had seen reefs all his life. They were everywhere. It was impossible to think they could disappear.

   But they were. He had read the articles explaining how rising sea temperatures and pollution were killing off reefs at an exponential rate. When it came to man, even the impossible was possible.

  He believed himself a man of substantial mental discipline, but as he swam along the reef, its surface sloping quickly toward the deeps, his mind played games. He forced himself to breathe slowly but he could not stop looking jerkily about. In his mind he saw the sharks hanging from the gallows. They did not look so small anymore. He had no idea what he was looking for; he only knew he was looking for something. He felt wholly exposed and helpless, a free-floating hors d’oeuvre.

   He turned his mind to stamping out his anxiety, but his mind only screamed that help was smoking a clove cigarette up on the surface, worlds away from this place where shadows did not always swim in your mind.

  Maybe he should have enlisted a family member who actually cared about him, although, with family, one could never be certain either.




   Another boat; a man alone in the water. I hesitate now for a different reason. What is there to do? There is nothing here to protect. Now it is only an exercise in self-control. I float inside the cavern, facing the wall, smooth from top to bottom, testing myself to see how magnanimous I can be. Immediately I feel myself losing, slipping toward fury and vengeance, darkness and bloodshed. When your fluids first fill the water there is a moment of exhilaration that is like sexual release.

  Violator. Despoiler. I feel tension and anticipation in every pore.

  I think of the children on the sailboat, how their innocence crumbled like dry leaves crushed in a hand.

   But still I am moving toward the entrance.  




   Able found the openings, side by side in the depression, on his second pass over the reef. Settling to his knees outside the largest opening his entire body prickled, a queer hair-raising that swept his skin and froze his blood. He was not one for the supernatural, but he was all ears and chilled platelets now. It did not feel like premonition or shadow possibility. It felt as real as a slap across the face.

   It was a mistake to be here.  

   He was starting to back away when it vaulted from the opening, the instantaneous bouillabaisse of churning bubbles and swirling water the result of his panicked shouting and the lashings of his limbs.

  The turtle nearly struck him in the face, its plated underside like a cross-hatched shield. It rose quickly beyond him with perfectly timed flipper sweeps while he continued to roll about on the reef. It was nearly gone, reduced to the size of a softball speeding through the blue, by the time he curbed his spasms. It was too much, even for a man of substantial will. Able finned a panicked arc toward the boat.

   He passed directly over the limb without noticing it. Drifting to the bottom, it had wedged between two large lettuce corals. It was clearly visible, a single leg balanced upside down so that the stubby foot resembled a cane’s handle.

  Already the flesh was softening. Soon the fish, and the occasional moray, would begin picking.

   Santy would get his wish. His nephew’s club foot would be removed.




   In short order I could change the way you view the seas. So much tooth and claw and poison at my behest. They are angry. They are more than ready. They are not given pause by conscience or ethics. They are not puzzled by your contradictions, hamstrung by the intellectual conundrums that still stay my hand.

   Some act already, without my urging. In the waters off Seattle Washington, the transient pod is on the hunt. All orcas are intelligent and highly social, living in lifelong family pods. For those of you whose knowledge of orcas, what you call killer whales, does not extend beyond Sea World and Shamu, let me make a single important distinction. There are two kinds of orcas. The resident pods remain in a general area, feeding primarily on fish.

   The transients, they feed on marine mammals. They are flesh eaters.