Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The flood

     In the spring of Gar’s seventeenth year, it rained for days without stopping. The river was swollen, flowing over its banks, and moving fast. Large objects careened downstream.
     Gar was hiding in a tangle of roots a few feet below the riverbank. There was no light there so he made his eyes glow. His hiding spot was filling with debris. He continuously swished his tail to keep the debris from burying him, but he was becoming tired and wanted to rest. He knew of another place to hide, in some rocks where he would be sheltered, but it was across the river.
     Even though I’m not the best swimmer, I’m strong. I can fight the water.
     Gar wriggled and swished his tail.
     I can do it. I’ll cross.
     Gar dislodged himself from the roots and began his river crossing.
     He worked hard to coordinate the movement of his tail and fins, but he had never experienced the river like this. His strength was not enough to overcome the relentless current.
     Go back.
     As Gar turned, a branch rushed downstream, cutting off his retreat. Gar darted out of the way and struggled to stay upright. The water pressure rose. Something else was coming.
     Its big. I’ll be struck.
     It was a tree, a whole tree rushing toward Gar.
     Where do I go?
     Gar flipped his tail against the swift current trying to decide what to do. Time stood still. The tree became visible to Gar. It was a bubbling, broiling, mass that seemed to dominate the entire river. A deafening rushing sound hit Gar, and then gnarly, broken, tree roots reached for him.
     Up! Go up!
     Using his tail, Gar propelled himself to the surface. The tree was so close, Gar could see air bubbles trapped between its craggy, uneven surfaces.
     A piece of rough bark shredded one of Gar’s fins as he sliced through the water.
     Almost there!
     Gar flipped his tail one last time, sending his body out of the water and over the gigantic trunk.
     Gar felt a vibration and then searing pain.
     The left side of his body was exposed to air. The pain was unbearable. Gar’s body seized. He lost consciousness.
     To an observer it would have looked like any other fish jumping out of the water. But that split second exposure to air changed Gar’s life.

     When he awoke, Gar didn’t know where he was or what had happened. He was in a semi-enclosed space. He saw that it was made of decaying wood.
     Maybe a hollowed-out tree?
     He swam to the opening. The flood raged on.
     I think I’ll stay here.
     Safe, Gar was suddenly exhausted. He realized that he was trembling.
     What’s wrong with me?
     He tried to calm down. He wanted to sleep. He absorbed some nutrients from the water and his body relaxed enough that the trembling subsided and eventually stopped. Inside the log, he swam back and forth, using up the last of his jittery energy.

     Now sleep.
     His eyelids fluttered shut.
     Gar was back in the middle of the river, once again in the path of the tree.
     “Wha!” gurgled Gar. He opened his eyes and looked around. He was still in the log. He took in some water. He hesitated, then closed his eyes again.
     Back in the flowing water, the tree was upon him.
     Gar opened his eyes, confused and disoriented. He was still in the log, but he was breathing hard using his gills. He was suddenly angry at the interruption. He wanted to sleep. He closed his eyes defiantly. Once again the scene from the flooded river unfolded.
     Gar opened his eyes once more. He darted back and forth.
     I’m tired. I just need sleep.
     But every time Gar closed his eyes, he saw the tree coming toward him.
     What is this? I’m…I’m watching my memories?
     Gar was used to being surprised by the discovery of a new ability. But this time he was not in the mood.
     I'm not going to get any sleep am I
can I at least watch a different memory?
     Gar swished his tail to compose himself, then closed his eyes and tried to think of some other…memory…a more soothing one, to replay: he thought about swimming with fish. Nothing appeared before his eyelids.
     Maybe I need to be specific. That day I chased the perch…I wanted to swim with them…the one perch got confused and I started swimming after him…
     The memory replayed before Gar’s eyes. One perch broke away from the group and Gar swam after it. Gar watched the panicking fish swim away through weeds and tree roots upstream. But too soon the memory changed. Gar’s mind was pulling him back to the flooded river. He saw the tree branch and then the clouded river.
     How? Why am I seeing this? Stop!
     Gar opened his eyes and gulped some water. He did not want to think about this memory, not so soon. He swam around inside the log. He used his tail to sweep away debris that was collecting at the opening.
     I’m tired. But if I watch this...maybe I can sleep.
     Gar closed his eyes, determined to replay the memory. It took no conjuring. As soon as his eyes closed, the tree was upon him. But, when he was about to exit the water—
     No! Wait!
     The memory stopped. Gar opened his eyes. It was still there in front of him.
     I’m, I’m not ready. I don’t want to see this. I just want to sleep.
     Gar’s frustration built. His thoughts jumbled.
     I do want to sleep. I’ll try…
     Gar tried to relax his mind. Soon, he was back, watching the event in the river unfold. This time he was swimming through the rushing water.
     Can I make this pause? Um, hold it there.
     The image froze in place. He could see the tree branch and the tip of his tail in mid-swish, maneuvering away from the tree branch. The image was still before his eyes.
     Go back.
     The events played in reverse.
     Gar let the memory rewind until he saw his initial hiding spot.
     Hold it.
     The memory paused again.
     Gar went forward in his memory, went back, paused, went forward again. He practiced these skills until he felt he could control the replay.
     Another skill…I can see how this will be useful, but why do I have to replay this memory…tonight...right now?
     Gar restarted the memory replay. He watched the tree branch rush past.
     He could feel the tree coming. He blinked and focused on the tree branch. He was scared of what came next.
     Go forward.  
     The memory moved forward again, but instead of seeing the tree branch Gar saw himself. He saw his entire body swimming.
     Hey! How can I see myself?  
     Gar could not see the tree branch anymore.
     Am I seeing this from where the tree branch is?
     Gar focused on his own form and the perspective changed back.
     Whoa! There’s the tree branch!
     Gar opened his eyes.
     Did I—I was just looking at the tree branch, and then my point of view changed!
     Gar forgot his fear for a moment.
     What, what else does this memory replay do?
     Gar closed his eyes and the memory unfurled. His eyes shifted back and forth beneath his eyelids, searching for another object to focus on. He saw a rock and concentrated on it—the image didn’t change. He shifted his gaze to a fish in a hollow. He focused on the fish, and, yes, his point of view transferred to that of the fish! He moved events forward. He was now seeing from the fish’s viewpoint. From this vantage, he could see himself in the river. He moved events forward again.
     The river was dark but Gar could see that he was trying to swim across it and failing.
     Pause. Try something else.
     Gar saw a flotilla of algae. He focused on it. Now he could see the river from the surface.
     Gar tried to focus on other rocks and sediment but couldn’t change perspective.
     They’re not living!
     Resuming the replay of the accident, Gar went back to the point before the tree came downstream. Sifting through the memory, he examined each of the views of himself from the other living tissue that was there. The clearest perspective was captured by some roots that covered the bank of the river.
     Gar took in water and let the replay move forward once more.
     He was swimming, struggling against the rushing water. Then he dipped and ducked, following the current.
     I look pretty capable there.
     But as the tree approached, Gar’s fear of the pain grew.
     The replay stopped. Gar opened his eyes. He looked out at the river around him. It was still flowing too fast. He would be trapped for a while.
     I must watch this. Even if…it hurts.
     Gar resumed the replay.
     He felt panicked as he watched his own thrashing tail swish back and forth in the water. He watched his body swim toward the surface, leaving a frothy mixture in its wake. He was beside the tree. He was dwarfed by it and sucked toward it. He wobbled. His fin was caught on some bark, but his thrusting tail corrected for it. He was almost to the surface. His tail flipped. His body rotated.
     The pain ripped through him. The flesh on the left side of his head was out of the water first. He couldn’t breath. His belly followed.
     It’s killing me!
     Gar could see no more of his jump from this vantage point. He could only feel the pain consuming his body as he touched down on the other side of the trunk. Then things went dark.
     Gar cut the replay and opened his eyes. He looked around and saw that he was still safely crammed under the log. It calmed him, but the pain lingered. He tried to find signs of harm to his body, but his flesh was intact.
     He watched the events again and again, changing perspectives, hoping he would become numb to the moment his skin hit the air. It didn’t work. He flinched every time.
     Fear had entered Gar’s life.

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