Children of the Tide by Frank Scozzari

     Luke was lost. That much he knew. Having paddled too far out into a lazy Hawaiian sea, lulled in by a warm breeze and a tropical sun, he had been caught up in the Molokai Express; a vicious current between the islands of Oahu and Molokai known for its sweeping undertow. He stared out into the horizon, far out to where the sky met the ocean, but could see only blue. The vastness of it, how the ocean blended from one shade of blue to another until it eventually turned to sky, made him realize just how alone he was. No one had seen him back at the beach, or missed him at the hotel. He neglected to inform the concierge of his daily plans, which had been the routine until that day. Now nearly three days had past and he remained adrift without food or water. His only life support was a two-feet-by-three-feet piece of compressed styrofoam. The sun, which had shined blissfully upon him, burnt through the remnants of his sunscreen, scorching his raw skin.

     Yes I am alone, he thought, as alone as any man could be. And if I cannot find land soon, I will die.

     The current, which had been steady for an hour now, took him further in a direction he did not know. He lay there flat on the bodyboard with his arms wrapped loosely beneath it and his face pressed against it. The swells lifted him slowly and methodically. With an apathetic eye he looked out across the surface of the ocean. All morning there had been nothing, not even a fish.

     Then he felt a rush in the water beneath him, and when he lifted his head he saw a dark flash beneath the surface. It was something large and fast. It darted from one side of the bodyboard to the other. Then it disappeared deep into the blue beneath him. A few seconds passed and he saw it again, breaking the surface not more than ten yards from him. Emerging like a periscope was the head of a giant sea turtle, its large cranium and eagle beak turned sideways so that its eye was squarely upon him.

     “Hello,” Luke said cheerfully, happy to once again see another living being.

     The turtle looked on curiously.

     “Can you tell me which way is land?”

     The turtle remained bobbing in the water, curiously watching him.

     “I need your help, my friend. I cannot find land and will die soon if I cannot find it.”

     The turtle remained quietly buoyant. Then it suddenly dipped its head into the water, paddled swiftly forward for twenty yards, and lifted back up.

     Luke looked around, but saw no land. Grasping his hands along the edge of the board, he lifted himself higher but still saw nothing. He was surrounded by blue, and only blue.

     “Where? Which direction is it?” he called out to the turtle.

     The turtle did not answer and Luke dropped back down against the board and paddled forward toward the turtle, gently thrusting the water behind him.

     When he got close, the turtle dipped its head beneath the surface again and darted away, forward for another twenty yards.

     “You must know where land is,” Luke yelled out. “You are a sea turtle. You need land to survive!”

     Luke followed, this time keeping a distance.

     “Come’on, show me. I need your help. I need you to help me to find the land.”

     The turtle gazed at Luke for a full thirty seconds, then turned its head and dipped below the surface again.

     “Come back here!”

     Luke watched and waited. Nearly a minute passed before the turtle resurfaced. This time he was at least forty yards away.

     “Hey! Come back here!”

     Luke paddled ahead with more determination, struggling now as the distance was much further and his arms were beginning to tire. When he had gained about half the distance to the turtle, he lifted himself up on the board again. He strained his eyes, scouring the horizon, but saw no land. The turtle disappeared again, and Luke paddled forward and waited. After a few minutes the turtle reappeared; this time a mere black dot on the horizon, nearly seventy yards off, beyond which there was nothing but blue sea and sky.

     Luke looked up into the sky. The path was true, he thought. The turtle was moving a straight line.

     Paddling harder now, thrusting the water behind him in spurts, Luke pursued. Each time he got close, the turtle would disappear again, and as before, he would reappear further out, lengthening the distance between them.

     Luke struggled to keep up. For half an hour he followed the turtle’s path, which seemed to be straight and purposeful. After another twenty minutes, the black dot vanished on the blue horizon and Luke did not see it anymore.

     He is gone, he thought.

     Dark clouds filled the horizon. Within minutes the clouds were upon him, and large raindrops began coming down from the Hawaiian sky. He rolled onto his back and opened his mouth, taking in what water he could, wiping it from his cheeks with his hands into his mouth. It felt soothing, and quenching against his parched lips, and down the narrow of his throat.

     As quickly as the storm came, it broke, and now Luke looked up and saw a wonderful rainbow, arching from one side of the horizon to the other. Within ten minutes, the sky was clear and he was back to the doldrums; no ships, no land, only blue. He was alone again, completely and fully. The turtle had been a godsend, Luke thought, but he was no better off than he was the day before.

     He thought of his cheerful life back at the Wailea Hotel, lounging beneath the ceiling fans in the grand lanai, sampling the fresh pineapple and mango brought down by the bellboys each morning. It was all a distant memory.

     All of his life, Luke had lived in peace with nature. He had created good karma with it. And when he first saw the turtle, he was hoping he would be able to cash in on it. Instead, he found himself lost and alone once again, drifting on an unforgiving sea.

Many minutes passed, or perhaps it was hours when he heard a splash. He turned and looked around and saw nothing at first. Then it came back, and like before he saw a dark flash beneath the surface. But this one was different. It was sleeker, and faster, and not so wide like the turtle. When it finally broke the surface, cresting completely in a big beautiful arch, Luke saw it at last – a large bottlenose dolphin with perfect lines, a dark dorsal fin, and grey, silk-like skin that flashed beneath the sunlight.

     As gracefully as it left the water it reentered it, hardly leaving a splash.
     Luke’s weary mind was awakened by the spectacle. Having suffered three days of sensory deprivation, he was exhilarated to see the power and grace, and the speed the dolphin exhibited. He searched for the animal, down in the water trying to see where it had gone, but could not find it anywhere. Then it came up right in front of him, stealthily, like it had been there all along. Its head bobbed completely out of the water. It seemed unafraid. It was so close to Luke that he thought he could reach out and touch it.
A fellow mammal, Luke thought… an air-breather like me. And suddenly, with that realization, Luke did not feel so all alone.

     “Hello!” Luke said.

     The dolphin looked back, jovial and jolly-eyed.

     “It is Nai‘a,” Luke said. “The leaping fish,” referring to an ancient Hawaiian proverb, said of one who jumps to conclusions.

     The dolphin flipped over and shot down into the deep blue. In a few seconds it reemerged in another flying leap, not more than twenty feet away. Luke watched as it splashed back under. Then moving quickly just beneath the surface, it broke again, cresting higher in the air.

     He’s performing for me, Luke thought.

     The dolphin returned and resumed a position just a few feet away.

     “That was tremendous,” Luke said. “Really fantastic!”

     The dolphin’s eyes gleamed. His head bobbed up and down in the water.
“I need to find land,” Luke said suddenly. “An island or something. Some place where I can stand. Can you help me?”

     The dolphin’s eye remained steady on Luke, looking upon him as one looks upon an old friend. It was an intelligent eye, Luke thought, as intelligent as any human eye, with perhaps a greater sensory perception. And it seemed the dolphin understood his plight.

     “I must find land soon or I will die. Can you help me?”

     With a playful cackle, the dolphin broke and swam quickly away. Stopping thirty yards off, it lifted its head and looked back at Luke.

     “Land is there?” Luke asked, yelling out across the water. “It is in that direction?”
The dolphin made a cackling noise and held its position, as if waiting for Luke to follow.
Luke looked up, squinting into the sun. The sun was high in the sky and he could not tell which way was north or south, or east or west; especially at this latitude without a hemispheric tilt. There were no points of reference out on the horizon, so he could not gauge his position in that manner. But it seemed to Luke, it was the same direction; the same direction in which the turtle had gone. His instincts told him it was so.

     “Okay!” Luke said.

     The dolphin seemed to be egging him on. It made a shrilling noise and swam backwards quickly, propelling itself in the same direct line away from Luke. Then it dove, beneath the surface, and when it broke in another tremendous arch, further away, it seemed to be following the same directional path.

     He is leading me!

     Luke paddled hard and fast, trying to keep up. The board glide swiftly over the swells, but as he continued, mustering what strength he had left, he could feel his muscles weakening. His arms began to ach, and feel like dead weights. Ahead the dolphin was waiting.

     When he pulled up within ten feet of the dolphin, the dolphin repeated the process; making a shrilling noise, swimming backwards quickly, diving beneath the surface and breaking in a tremendous arch further away, following the same imaginary line.

     And Luke followed.

     More than eighty yards through the water, Luke pushed on, finally reaching a point where he was close to the dolphin again. Though he continued to paddle, he did so sporadically, with less vigor, coasting now and then, giving his weakened arms a chance to rest.

     But now he was utterly exhausted. And he could feel it. Three days at sea had taken its toll. The lack of food and water, the lack of sleep, and a bad sunburn, weighed in on him. His body had run out of glycogen. Each time he paddled, the distance was shorter and the rest was longer. His arms had become dead things, dangling uselessly in the water. It was a matter of dehydration, and hopelessness. Eventually, he could go no more and he just lay there on the board, drifting in the water.

When night fell, Luke found himself surrounded by a big, arching Hawaiian sky, filled with stars that came all the way down to the horizon. Though the dolphin remained nearby, there were times when the dolphin was not visually present. But always, Luke knew he was not far away.

     We are one, Luke thought, brothers from the same earth, who breathe the same air.
Luke felt a primordial kinship with the dolphin; one that reached back to prehistoric ties. It is the ancestral oneness of the earth which binds all living things. From the oceans of the ancient world sprung the first life, and from the tide pools crawled the first mammals. All that which rose up from the yeast share a common beginning, Luke thought. And through the millenniums, though they had evolved differently, the bond remained. And there was no such bond as the one between man and dolphin, Luke thought. We are like animals, intelligent and fun-loving, but also susceptible to earthly dangers and the predatory nature of things.

     In the morning, the water was calm. The ocean was flat as a lake; the sun, surreal in its rising; the earth, unusually quite; and the sky, filled with morning colors, as one could only see in the Hawaiian Islands.

     Luke looked around and did not see the dolphin at first. Then the bottlenose rose above the waterline.

     “Good morning, Nai‘a,” Luke said, though it hurt him to speak now. His throat was dry and coarse, and it was a bit of an effort just to lift his head. He stared at the dolphin, realizing he was as strangely foreign of a being, as he was familiar.

     The dolphin made a playful, cackling sound. He was ready to get on with business. He immediately turned, dipped his long nose beneath the surface, swam swiftly away for twenty yards, and resurfaced.

     Luke extended his arms into the water and tried to paddle, but realized he could hardly move. Beside him, the surface of the water moved in a sideways motion and he understood now, he was merely petting the water without moving through it. The fatigue, dehydration, and electrolyte depletion he had experienced the previous day had continued its degenerative progression. Now his joints had all but frozen up.

     He heard a noise and looked up and saw that the dolphin had returned close to him.

     The dolphin made the cackling noise again.

     “I cannot,” Luke said.

     The dolphin motioned with its head, bobbing directionally, up and down.

     “I cannot my friend. I thank you, for what you have done, I thank you for being here, I thank you for trying…” and babbling now, Luke’s voice slowly faded to silent.

     Tired and exhausted, Luke closed his eyes. And he went out, for how long he did not know. When he awoke, the sun was high, and he felt himself moving, propelled forward by some unknown device. He could see small wakes trailing along the side of the bodyboard and realized he was being pushed. When he turned he saw the nose of the dolphin flat against the board, pushing it in a forward motion.

     Luke tried to raise his head and look ahead. But he could barely move now, let alone lift his head. What he could see was only blue. Forever blue. It was his favorite color, and it pleased him to know that it would be the color he would see lastly.

     Yes, he thought, he had lived all his life at peace with nature. He had created good karma with it, and if that good karma could not return now, then let him stay in the arms of nature, as a child would stay in the arms of its mother, and let the color blue be the one that engulfs him lastly.

     More time passed; an hour, and then two, and then three. And in the fog of his mind, he heard the dolphin cackling, distantly. He forced himself awake and looked up. Not far away was a storm cloud. And beneath it was a rainbow. And beneath the rainbow was a green strip raising above the blue.

     The dolphin cackled more.

     Luke rose higher, squinting with his eyes. What is it? He was not entirely convinced of it. His mind fought off the vision, believing it to be delusional. He lay his head back down against the board and felt himself moving again. The dolphin had resumed its work. The wakes along the side of body board took up again, trailing back from the small vessel. Luke laid there with his cheek pressed against the board, wondering what form of dream it was. Then he lifted his head and looked a second time, and he saw it again, and the green had grown longer and taller.

     “You are my brother,” he spoke to the dolphin. “You are my brother from the tides.”
The dolphin cackled and continued to push; like a tugboat would push a disabled freightliner. The small bodyboard, with Luke on it, thrust slowly forward. The green object of land grew closer and larger, and the clouds above the land broke open in a distant rainfall. Luke could see the sheets of rain falling diagonally, and the sunlight crashing through the clouds, and the magnificent, massive rise of green mountains.
The rain came down, across the surf and onto the shoreline of the distant island, filling the tide pools there.

The End

About the Author Frank Scozzari: My fiction has previously appeared in various literary magazines, including The Kenyon Review, South Dakota Review, Folio, The Nassau Review, Roanoke Review, Pacific Review, Reed Magazine, Ellipsis Magazine, Sycamore Review, Eureka Literary Magazine, The MacGuffin, Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Chrysalis Reader, and many others. Writing awards include Winner of the National Writer’s Association Short Story Contest and three publisher nominations for the Pushcart Prize of Short Stories.