So… The link to the collection of short stories is lurking over there under “The Fictional Children” but it is also here. But before you take your attention over to Amazon, this is the last story in the collection. It is considerably less graphic than some of the others, but one that I’m particularly proud of… proud and a little concerned over what it says about me.
Among the unclassified creatures of the world, there is a lake-dweller which resembles a cross between a toad and an octopus. Like his cephalopod cousins, this creature possesses three hearts and a cunning belied by his place in the animal kingdom. Like his amphibious progenitors, he has an indifferent taste for air. If the creature considered itself at all, the name it used was Numi.
Though not the only Numi in the world, or even in his lake, the self-Numi was an oddity among his own kind. The others spent their time at the bottom of the lake making a kind of music with their syncopated hearts and the water as it exchanged places with a multitude of limbs. They sang to each other, and they understood.
One day, a biologist happened to walk along the side of the lake just when self-Numi broke the surface to fill his wet lungs with cool air. The biologist had left his binoculars behind, but felt certain that the slick thing he had seen in the water was unlike the other slick things he was familiar with. He returned the next day with binoculars and a solar-powered digital camera, which he hung in a tree at the edge of the lake and set to take pictures every five seconds. He then sat at the edge of the lake for an hour, scanning the surface with his binoculars pressed to his eyes. Self-Numi understood bipeds, but not digital cameras. He turned himself upside down and walked on the underside of the water, his suctioned arms gripping the surface tension, but still keeping himself submerged for as long as the male biped lingered.
The digital camera snapped its series of pictures over the next month and self-Numi broke the surface or he did not. He sang songs to himself that the other Numi didn’t understand, he watched the four-legged things walk to the edge of the lake and blow air through their nostrils to break the water before drinking. And then the camera captured something that caused an uproar that spilled beyond the lake, and past the staid circles of the biology world.
It happened that a young Numi had ventured to the surface with self-Numi in the leaning light of the late afternoon. A woman entered the boundary of the camera’s view and stepped into the water, a sharp knife in her hand. She walked into the water until it reached her waist, right up to where the two Numi were watching their biped invader with interest. Numi are as unfamiliar with knives as they are with digital cameras, so neither flinched when she drove her knife into the water the first time. Young-Numi absorbed the first glancing blow, which nearly severed the longest of his limbs. He dove and hid under self-Numi. The woman stabbed again and again, the water around her darkened as if a pot of ink had been dropped into the lake.
Young-Numi descended to get help, and self-Numi tried to wrap his arms around the woman’s thighs and waist. She wore herself out with her plunging rage and finally turned to the shore and waded to dry land. Her previously white trousers were now the color of sky between stars. She dropped the knife at the edge of the lake and walked out of the camera frame again, her face expressionless, her eyes without remorse.
The outcry was immediate and unprecedented. The film was played on the local news stations, the woman was identified by her picture and brought to court. Eventually a judge dropped the charges, as killing a something is not necessarily a crime unless that something is known and classified and placed on an endangered species list. The most the court could charge her with was fishing without a license, which they did. She paid the fee in silence.
Self-Numi allowed the other Numi to pull him down to the healing mud. Thinly veiled comments all started with the Numi equivalent of “I told you so.” No other Numis dared the surface after that and the biologist came and took his camera down, convinced that whatever the crazed woman had killed, it was the last of its kind.
In the first few days after the attack, self-Numi was transported back to the early days of his surface-breaking habit. He saw again the first one. She was dressed all in white. He had propelled himself closer to the edge, so close that he picked up little stones in the smallest of his suckers as he touched the pebbled beach for the first time. As he moved in the water, he sang as much to himself as to her. The white biped was crying, little hiccupping sobs with tears that dropped off the end of her nose creating tiny pockets of salination that tasted to self-Numi like the wilds that birthed his amoeba ancestors.
She stopped mid-hiccup when she first heard the Numi-melody, which was both beautiful and unlike anything she’d ever called music. She leaned over and removed her kid-skin boots, forgetting her stocking-clad feet as she stepped on the damp beach. Self-Numi hesitated, then backed away. The biped followed. He backed away further, and she followed the trail of his limbs as he fled, but not so quickly. Finally he stopped, and she stopped, and he turned to regard her with his limbs still singing against the water. Now he approached her, the longest of his limbs obscured by the billowing of her skirts as they rose to the water’s surface. With those hidden limbs, he caressed her calf, and then a thigh, at first in curiosity and then with a growing sense of mine.
She sighed and relaxed as self-Numi helped himself to an exploration of the curiosity of this particular biped. The smaller of his limbs teased at buttons and corset ties until the white dress slipped away like a floe on the surface of the lake. What was left behind was also pale like moonlight, but also solid. Self-Numi unplanted her and she floated on the surface just like her outer covering.
He clung to the underside of her, his limbs exploring her face, her limbs, the strange topography of her body, his singing growing more, much more, as he understood all the ways mine could have meaning for a Numi. Finally, he turned her over as easily as he might dislodge a stone, and carried her deep into the water, long past where the other Numi congregated and sang and replicated what little they knew of love.
This memory, as dark and murky as the lake under a new moon, sustained self-Numi through his recovery. It was once again spring time when self-Numi allowed himself to drift upwards, upwards, towards the smooth surface of the lake, singing. The other Numi told each other that there always must be one Numi that just can’t be helped. His scarred back broke the surface first, the moonlight caressing the indentations in his skin where once a knife had plunged, and he sang his own Numi song.
There was a girl at the edge, watching the place where the water met the land for all the world as if she were trying to understand the line between the one and the other. Self-Numi crept closer and closer, singing all the way, until his floating limbs found the pebbled beginning of a shore. The girl looked up and saw the scars and was sympathetic. She reached out to stroke self-Numi, and he backed away. Gradually, so gradually, she followed one tentative step at a time, until she was standing in cool water all the way up to her breasts, little lazy waves lapping at her skin. The self-Numi kept singing and she closed her eyes. The closer she listened, the more the melody sounded like mine.