Matthew Miller

Orca Gladiator

Then I fell into what is still called the sea and moved among the creatures who live in water. For a time I swam in the bright shallows, making myself one with a family of parrot fish. When they spoke, I answered, and when hungry I said grace in their somber, methodical way. I promised that when the water grew cold, I would swim with them to the warm currents faraway. Now I have forgotten even their names. I can remember growing dissatisfied with my easy life. I felt there was something more for me. One day, when I had fallen several fins behind the school, I simply let them slip away. I lingered a moment in the greeny openness, then plunged—down, down—into what I had thought of as unfathomable depths, through brackish clouds of plankton & chambers of deepening blues. The coldness seemed sweet as it seeped into my heart. I kept descending, and a grave dispassion began to alter me, turning me toward a purpose I had forgotten long ago. The undulant sea-plants gestured to me, swaying a languid belly dance in the murk. I saw a manta ray browsing, a blowfish puffed with fear. Still I descended, tracking the trend of the sandy floor, until a new interior opened, where giant sea-snails, pale flesh half out of their shells, copulated in the slow-rolling folds of their deliberate pleasure. The hammerhead was there, roving impatiently, occasionally loosing a billow of purple blood, and eels lunged, then receded into their holes, with tiny fish writhing in their smooth mouths. I looked away, bored. I had become a different kind of animal, without a home or a name, and my heart now felt infinitely cold. I swam further, deeper, past fish with feeble globes of light dangling from their foreheads, their eyes blank, dumb from the pressure of living at those depths. Then I saw it through tall black pinnacles: the far sea-floor. I swam until I could touch it, but I was only there a moment before I felt a tentacle curl around me. It was firm, but gentle, and the suction cups only hurt when I tried to pull away. I was drawn before an enormous baleful eye. “I am Orca Gladiator,” the creature said. “I am ruler of this domain, and you…” But I interrupted. I said, “you are no Orca—or any other member of that honorable family. I'm sorry. You are a squid. Giant though you be, you bear no resemblance to the cetacean race. You are possessed of tentacles. You eat with a beak and stand for the monstrosity of what's not known.” “That may be true,” it said, “but I did not mean that Orca Gladiator is my species. It is my name, coined after my father's childhood, killer whale friend, a noble beast who, even after they grew up and became what should have been mortal enemies, treated me & my kind with respect. I am here to tell you about the sunken galleon for which you seek. The one you saw in your sleep when you were a boy. It doesn't exist. It never did. I'm sorry, but you're best off knowing now. The map of your dreams was a fraud, and the longing that pulled you down here, the fabrication of an obsolete myth. Were you not happy swimming among the little parrots? Go,” he said, patting me with the soft paddle at a tentacle's end, “your companions there have missed you & will welcome you home.”

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