by Luca Foggini (’16)
From the Sarah Fontaine Unit
One fine morning in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, a small blue speck swirled with all the bearings of life. It had on it that elusive combination of hydrogen and oxygen, one that brought about the stirrings of protoplasmic sea-life, spineless, half-alive sludge that was scraped off the sea-floor by the ever so gentle roiling of waves. On February 15th in what would later be called the Mediterranean, George, an early ancestor of the mud skipper, tentatively walked onto dry-land, wading into tide pools to keep himself moist. His brain was the size of a speck of sand and his thoughts rung out in broken syllables: Must…dry…dry…must.
His family, Mary, Millie, and George Jr. waited near the verge of the ocean, where water met shore, with heads poked out with expectance. They gurgled in unison. Hulking, transparent invertebrates float behind them as bottom feeders scoured the sand below.
George was the first mud skipper to ever leave the water, his unadapted fins slowly dragging him along. He would have shriveled up if it hadn’t have been for a gentle rainfall that provided a puddle for him to stay in for a while. The puddle was enough to provide comfort and he looked above through the mirrored surface of the puddle to see many other mud skippers shuffling out on feet unfit for land. George squeezed out a stifled thought: Happy…sleepy…dream.
George slept and he dreamt.
George awoke again. He coughed on brackish water, smelling the peat and muddy miasma of a bog. Then he realized with quite a start that he could no longer breath. He gulped down water, choked on it, and felt a burning sensation in his gills. They were no longer gills though, they were something else. And their need for oxygen initiated in a survival instinct in him that made him kick his way to the surface. Breathing in air for the first time was just as much of a trauma as realizing he couldn’t breath water. It felt cold and fresh, as water felt when he could breath, but different this time, without the substance that water had. Crawling onto land by grabbing on a tuft of cattails, he had another realization: his fins. They were no longer fins, but had rather splayed out, with fur and five long appendages. After crawling onto land, he realized that he had legs too that awkwardly carried him along. His balance was completely off and he waggled unsteadily for a while, slowly acclimating to his new form as his ears rung uncontrollably, picking up on the guffaws of jungle life. His thoughts were a cavalcade of questions, slightly more well-formed than before but still plodding. George ventured forth on his wobbling legs, feeling the scrubby grass and ferns that were scattered on the jungle floor. He noticed a puddle and looking down into it, could see the reflection of his face. He recoiled back from the puddle, horrified from his appearance. A rustle of branches called his attention to several creatures that looked like him, swinging across the branches, and he beckoned them with a harsh, grating cry. They turned to him attentively and swung down by his side. He spoke to them with a prior knowledge that was not his. Where…am…I? The creatures consulted each other with inquisitive gazes before responding to him, You…are…home. George search through his cluttered mind for another query, What…am…I? The creatures considered the question and answered, You…are…one…of…us. They looked him over and said, Follow…us. George followed them close behind, grasping the tree that they were climbing up uneasily, losing his grip for a few seconds and then quickly regaining it. He reached the top where he was greeted with apprehension from many eyes that pierced the shadow with their gleam. They spoke in many foreign tongues, feeling his fur as he walked past them. One of the creature offered him food, an orange, sticky substance. He ate it and showed satisfaction out of courtesy to the elder who smiled briskly in the dusking light. The creatures lost the interest they had before and ambled to their respective sleeping places, settling down into their soft beds. The elder offered him a spot to sleep and George accepted gratefully. He lay down on his bed. His mind was too feeble to wrap around the strangeness of his experience. It was merely an afterthought, one that he forgot the minute he closed his eyes.
George awoke again looking up at a pulsating, pink membrane. He heard a whooshing sound, one that filled his ears. He raised his hands, or tried to raise them because it was a great effort. They were limp and leaden and fell again at his side. His eyes were ineffectual. He could not open his eyelids and could only see because his eyelids were so thin they were transparent. He heard the beating of a great heart, one that reverberated against the walls of his great, pink room. The repetition was soothing and as he listened to it, he fell asleep.
Instinctively, he looked to see if he was different when he awoke. He could not see anymore, his eyelids tightly pressed together and impossible to open. George heard noises, the steady unchanging beat of a heart, and another noise. He realized he could open his eyes again and he observed his surroundings, basking in the warmth of the pink room. Suddenly, light blinded him from all direction. George screamed, as it was freezing cold outside of his pink, pulsating domicile. He was being wrapped in something soft and he felt the feeling of movement as he was moved to another place and held in somebody’s hands. He was moved again to a warmer place and dozed immediately.
Time passed, cartilage ossified, teeth grew, the first tentative toddler steps were taken, and soon enough George was walking. His intelligence expanded as he saw everything with new eyes and a fresh mind. He learned the alphabet, the multiplication tables, algebra, history, language arts, cursive, reading, new languages, calculus, and then he was released. Childhood was over and he stood after graduation, frock and mortarboard held in hand. This was the junction of life where you left the pettiness of college problems and moved on to real, adult ones. Your way was no longer paved. You had to make it on your own. Beyond George was the ocean, just beyond the vertiginous sea cliffs. He looked at it and it sparked something long gone in his head. He thought for a moment and didn’t care to remember whatever it might have been that he had forgotten.