Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Luggage (08/15/05)
TITLE: Carcharodon carcharias
By Lisa McMillion
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I shot across the sand and into the fat blue of the earth. The action of birth propelled my mother in the opposite direction. It was the first and last time I would see her. I scavenged across the ocean bottom and lived to eat my first urchin, eventually a ray, and then, slowly, steadily, I strengthened and my persistent hunger called me up out of the deep. I get my selfishness from my mother; it is a truth no message in a bottle has room to contain. Here is where the emptiness augments daily, pushing my tastes toward the shallow, toward flesh with entirely internal defense systems. Virtual sure things.
A possession floats above me now like a promised trophy. It is a piece of luggage and, in a moment, I will register the owner’s smell and begin to track. A great buoyant square of weakness, this courier, once packed in mirth and expectancy. If there is anything good, pure, and lovely to be paired with it, I will find it and test its strength.
I’ve touched a few alive. They squealed away in victory like they’d escaped me. One didn’t notice me at first, so preoccupied with balancing and shifting on his polished craft, he was. It wasn’t an earnest attempt. I was testing him, waiting to taste his fight. What would it be? A burning liquid to my eyes as dull and lifeless as tarnished quarters? A sharp piercing my skin would terminate to a briny scar? Nothing. Every likely defense I’ve examined seems softer than their skin – screaming, thrashing, tripping over the waves toward shore and the one element I cannot conquer-- the space above me.
If you don’t want to get eaten, stay out of the water. I imagine these are the things their mothers tell them, the ones with mothers who stay. I’ve detected electricity I cannot explain in their warm bodies. It is a force I am at the same time invigorated by and afraid of -- one that makes me think there might be a surprise defense at the last minute that would end my life entirely. Anything comes apart given the right tools -- a set of teeth, a hook, a hammer. I am not ignorant of that. And in the end, though I seemingly win, they’ll move beyond death and I cannot. I am doomed to the sleep of the temperate-blooded, charged and paralyzed for my rebellion, digested slowly until I disappear forever. Yes, when it is time for me, it is finished. It is a truth, as well, too big for a bottle and as effective a deterrent to my present hunger. Fear pulls me to itself and I nurse, as the moon, by invisible string, leads the otherwise uncoordinated tides.
When did it begin? This drive I cannot escape? I believe it was there at birth, like a conjoined twin shooting backwards, we, in tandem across wet sand as rough as my hide and life would become. I was born to think only of myself, to violence interrupted by blue-green moments so tranquil they supposed death, and then, to die. I am, at my most colorful, sleekly gray. There are no conciliatory gestures my missile body can make – I eat, I breathe, until I can no longer do either. The square floating above me is a sign of an ultimate encounter— my destiny and someone else’s alternative ending.
The luggage. There are no others around. I circle slowly at first, then push hard. It opens like an awkward anemone and I swim away, circling back around to catch what, when saturated, oozes past. One item at a time snows to a silent end, each to a finality for which it was not made. A button-down shirt. I catch the scent immediately. It is a man’s. A book he marked half-way inside before this unfortunate stop. I eat it, bringing it quickly back up. A brown sandal I nudge with my arrow nose in one playful moment, to all appearances. He’s gone. Rescued alive perhaps? Perhaps.
Another boat will overturn. Someone will dangle before me with his slick suit and camera like he only wants my autograph. Peace, brother. I imprint in one swift movement, and the well-armored will live to tell of it. So continue, you who are, by divine decree, perpetually above me. Remember, for your sakes, what lies beneath in times of diving and times of floating. The desperate, fallen nature. The never-ending hunger.
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