Standing Out From The Crowd

Al stepped out of the house. The sun had set and he was convinced it would be pitch black soon. Cool air lifting off the sea caught his long red hair. As his eyes adjusted he tried to make out shapes on the algae beds.

“Will dad be home soon?” he asked.

“I’m sure he will be,” Al’s mother said. She walked up behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “He’s most likely collecting the last bits now.”

Al twisted and looked up. “But what if it gets completely dark and he can’t find his way home?”

Gentle laughter filled the air, mirrored by the distant lapping of waves. “Now you’re being silly. You know how easy it is to find the house even at night. The guide lights can be seen for miles.” She indicted the red strobes that sat two floors up. Each rotated creating a constant flickering.

“But he could trip and fall into the water.”

“The algae beds are thick and strong. You’ve played on them before.”

Chi wrapped an arm around him and pulled Al tighter. The smell of her clothes washed over him; it was homely and familiar but it did not ease his fears.

“His foot could get tangled up, like mine did that time.”

“Your dad has been going out there a lot longer than you have. He knows what he’s doing.”

Al pushed backwards, burying himself in the soft woollen folds.

“I want him to come back.”

“Of course you do. So do I, that’s because we both love him.” Another squeeze and then he was released. His mum walked around to stand in front of him, crouching down so their faces were level. “Now what’s really bothering you.”

The shadow of her face blotted out the view of the water covered world. Al struggled with the words he wanted to say, but it seemed silly. He was grown up, his dad was always saying how clever Al was, that he was nearly old enough to go out on his own.

“What’s scared you about the dark tonight?”

Al took a deep breath. “What if the sea people come and take dad away?”

“The sea people?”

“The ones that took Wal and his family.”

His mother’s voice softened. “Ah, hun, they weren’t taken by anyone. They simply went to join all the others.”

“The sea people.” Al was sure he was right.

“Well, kind of.” Her white teeth caught the light shining through the doorway. “Do you remember what we talked about before? How the world has changed and most of the people have to?”

Al tried to remember, but none of it made sense. “I don’t know.”

“That’s okay,” his mother reassured him. “Once everyone was like we are. They lived in houses. Then the sea came and because there weren’t many places to live people decided to move to the water. They changed themselves and now they aren’t like us.”

“They live in the sea?”

“Yes, like we live in this house.”

“And they took Wal.”

“No, dear.” The smile was still there. “Wal and his family decided to join everyone else.”

“You mean they like the water more?” Al paused while he thought about what to say next. What he really wanted to do was hug his mum again. He wished his dad was here as well. “Don’t their clothes get wet?”

“They don’t need clothes when they’re in the water. It’s like when you take your trousers off to paddle.”

“Will Wal come back to swim with me then?”

“Probably not. When people decide to change they start to think in a different way.”

“Oh.” He was disappointed. He used to enjoy getting in the boat and going over to play with Wal.

“Don’t worry, people live for a very very long time now, so maybe one day they’ll change back.”

Not everything his mother was saying made sense, and now, behind her head, he could see that the blue sky had almost gone from the horizon.

“Can you help me look for dad?”

His mother stood up. “I’ve got a better idea.” She took his hand and led him to the rail that ran around the veranda of their house. “Why don’t you stand here and look for him. While you do that you can try to imagine what everything looked like when the sea hadn’t covered it all.”

“Like in those stories?”

“Yes, just like that.” She rubbed the top of his head. “When there were fields and trees and cows and sheep.” Her voice trailed off.

Al pushed against the rail. In the distance he thought he saw the figure of his dad bouncing across the kelp beds that surrounded their house.

To the south, where the open water was closest, a hundred pairs of eyes watched the family reunion. Smooth pale heads bobbed like giant eggs in the waves.

—————

1 October 2010
A video has been released by the US Geographical Survey showing the thousands of walruses that came ashore in Alaska earlier this month. It is thought that they were seeking dry land because the sea ice upon which they normally rest had melted.

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