by Gary Every
“Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some happy or sad event in days long vanished.” Chief Seattle – 1854
“I am going home for some ritual and ceremony,” Sherman said. “I thought you might like to attend. I thought you might find it interesting.”
“What sort of ceremony?”
Sherman said, “Salish.”
“What is that?”
“Native American,” Sherman explained. “I am from the Seattle area.”
“I knew you were from Washington state, but I didn’t know you were Native American.”
“What did you think I was?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know, I never really thought about it. I suppose I thought you were some sort of Mexican and Oriental mixture. I never suspected Native American.”
We flew to Seattle. Sherman did not live in the city proper, but on one of the islands which dotted Puget Sound. We rented a car from the airport, drove to the beach, to the end of the dock, up a ramp and loaded onto the ferry boat. As the boat pulled away from the shore, we walked along the crowded deck, filled with tightly packed car until we came to the tight winding spiral staircase which took us to the top deck where we could look over the ocean.
Even in the summer the breeze was brisk and cool. Seagulls squawked as they flew alongside the ship. A school of luminescent jellyfish trailed behind the ferry boat. The Space Needle towered above the city, the most visible urban landmark. The snowclad sides of Mt. Ranier glowed pink in the fading light of the day. The giant peak appeared to hover above the earth.
The ferry boat slowly left the shore, the tiny island on the horizon gradually growing larger. The waters of Puget Sound are incredibly cold and deep.
I said, “I read somewhere that Puget Sound is home to some of the biggest octopi in the world.”
“I have never seen an octopus in the wild,” Sherman said. “I have always wanted to. Maybe at this year’s ceremony.”
“Octopi sure are weird creatures.”
“Did you know,” Sherman said, “that octopus DNA is so weird that some scientists believe that it came from space at a separate time than the rest of life on planet Earth.”
We stood against the railing on the top deck while the ferry boat traversed the bay, watching the scenery as the chill wind huddled us inside our jackets.
“There is no bridge to my island,” Sherman said. “The only way to get there is by boat.”
“Or you could swim,” I suggested.
“You’d never make it.” Sherman shook his head in disapproval. He pointed out to sea. “Killer whales.”
In the distance I could see a pair of large black dorsal fins poking above the water.
We docked, disembarked from the ferry, and drove to Sherman’s island home. The forest was incredibly lush and green. The trees towered into the sky and the underbrush grew above my head. The songs of birds were everywhere but I could not spot a single bird because of the thick forest canopy. We parked in Sherman’s driveway and strolled the flagstone pathway to the house as a bright yellow banana slug slithered across the sidewalk.
I asked, “What is your Native American connection?”
Sherman said proudly, “I am a direct descendant of Chief Seattle.”
“They named an Indian chief after the city?”
“It was the other way around,” Sherman corrected me. “The city was named after the Indian chief. My people used to own all this.” Sherman spread his arms in a wide embrace encompassing the entire landscape. “This island was a royal sanctuary. Chief Seattle was born here and so was I.”
“What is this island called.” I asked.
Sherman said a single word in his native language which I cannot remember, spell, or pronounce.
“What does that mean?”
Sherman stepped off the path, pulled aside a fern, revealing wild strawberries.
The island was named for the Salish word for strawberry.
A large golden retriever bounded up to Sherman. The dog nearly knocked Sherman over, licking his face. Sherman laughed, “I see you found Sparky.”
The human trailing behind Sparky spoke, “one of the advantages of living on a small island is that all lost pets find their way home eventually.”
The neighbor spoke to Sherman, “you here for the ceremony?”
“Only reason I came home,” Sherman said.
“Did you bring a light?” the neighbor said and flicked his lighter.
Sherman laughed. “What about your dog?”
“My ex-wife takes him to the mainland tonight,” the neighbor said. “We share dog custody.”
Sparky pawed at the dirt. Something had captured his attention. Sparky sniffed and barked. Sherman was intrigued. His fingers traced the pattern in the dirt. Sparky had discovered an animal footprint.
“What is that?”
“Mountain lion track.”
“Should we be scared?” I asked.
“Surprised,” Sherman said as his fingers traced the footprint. “The last mountain lion was hunted off this island in 1927. Not a single mountain lion has been seen on the island ever since.”
“1927. You sound so exact,” I teased. “Are you sure about the year?”
“1927 was a big year for little Strawberry Island,” the neighbor offered. “The year mountain lions went extinct was also the same year that our tiny little island had the first UFO sighting in the country.”
“Think the two are related?” I asked.
The two men laughed.
The sunrise was glorious. Red and orange clouds filled the sky from horizon to horizon. The air was heavy with the smell of smoke, the flavor of it interrupting the taste of my coffee. As we strolled down the hill from the house, I realized the forest was burning. Somewhere deep in the woods a mountain lion howled.
We went to the shore where Sherman had the kayaks waiting. He handed me a paddle and a life vest.
“B-b-b-b-ut I have never been kayaking before.”
“Should be a wild first ride then”, Sherman said with a smile as he helped strap on my life vest.
The forest fire was blazing, flames leaping higher. As more and more of the mountainous island burned, the kayak seemed like a safer place to be. There were three kayaks on the shore. One for me, one for Sherman, and one for…?
Sherman’s neighbor came running down the steep hill barely ahead of the raging forest fire. In one hand he was holding a burning torch. As he ran down the hill, the neighbor paused just long enough to set a tangle of thorny blackberry vines burning. He dashed to the shore. The neighbor tossed the torch into the water where it fizzled with a hiss of steam and smoke. The neighbor tossed his kayak into the surf and leapt inside with a great deal of splashing. Sherman pushed off smoothly, gliding into the deeper water. As the flames approached the shore, I realized that the kayak was the safest place to be. I pushed off and the kayak sat there, stuck in the sand as the blaze crept towards the shore. A gust of wind pushed a wall of heat towards me. Burning embers wafted on the breeze. One ember landed in my hair, burning my scalp for just a second before I could brush it with my hand, dropping into the shallow waters with a hiss. The wind gusted and a wave of heat raced over my back. I fled the fire. I leapt from the kayak, splashing clumsily as I pushed my craft into deeper waters. In my haste to climb into the kayak I almost tipped over. Wobbling in the water, I grabbed the oar and rowed. The kayak floated surprisingly easily, and I drifted from the shore, escaping the burning island.
I paddled towards Sherman and his neighbor. We all three sat in our kayaks, floating in the ocean, riding the gently cresting waves while watching the island burn.
“My name is Gary,” I introduced myself to Sherman’s neighbor.
The neighbor shrugged. “No point in remembering your name until we both survive the ritual.”
I chuckled nervously, “you make me feel like I was invited to be the sacrificial victim.”
“We are not the ones who choose the sacrificial victims,” Sherman said as he paddled out into deeper waters.
I turned my kayak to follow, spotting a starfish on the ocean floor just before the bottom disappeared into darkness beneath the waves.
Sherman repeated himself. “We are not the ones who choose the sacrificial victims. We can only initiate the ceremony and ask forgiveness.”
“Forgive us for what?”
The neighbor said, “forgive us for the way we treat the planet.” The neighbor used the tip of his paddle to splash water on me. “Beg forgiveness for the way we treat each other.”
The flames continued to climb, rising to the highest mountain peak on the tiny island where it jutted out of the sea, a sheer cliff rising hundreds of feet high. The fire leapt from the crown of one tree to the next, rising higher and higher up the steep mountain slope.
“I saw you running with that burning torch, were you setting the mountain on fire?” I asked.
“I was,” the neighbor replied.
“Part of the ritual,” Sherman said.
Somewhere in the middle of the forest fire the mountain lion howled. The flames were fearsome and beautiful. Tongues of red and orange danced into the sky like a living creature speaking an apocalyptic language. The flames leapt high above the tallest trees growing atop the peak, leaping into the sky before disappearing into the thick clouds of rolling smoke rising from the forest fire. Against the backdrop of the fat black clouds, I saw bright lights approaching. The bright lights zigged and zagged flying far faster than any aircraft I had ever seen.
I pointed. “UFOs.”
“I see them too,” Sherman’s neighbor said excitedly. “The mountain lions have returned to the island and so have the UFOs.”
“Perhaps this year,” Sherman said, “I will finally see a wild octopus.”
As we watched the brightly colored lights twirl across the sky, the island mountain continued to burn. The trees atop the highest peak blazed away in bright colors. A burning branch fell from one tree and tumbled down the sheer, steep, long cliff, crashing into the ocean with a splash and a burst of steam, then sinking beneath the waves.
High atop the cliff a magnificent buck deer appeared. The buck posed majestically, the silhouette of his antlers turning from side to side as he surveyed the scene, wary of the approaching wildfire.
A burst of muscle, fur, fang, and claw launched across the forest floor. The mountain lion unleashed its ambush, landing on the back of the unsuspecting stag and biting into its neck. The long, sharp fangs severed the deer’s spine. The magnificent deer went limp, secured inside the mountain lion’s massive jaws.
The mountain lion dragged the large carcass down the sheer cliff. The big cat climbed along the rocks, finding narrow toe holds no one else could see. The mountain lion stumbled for an instant and I was expecting both she and her prey to tumble into the sea. Instead, she turned into a narrow cleft in the cliff, disappearing into a narrow crevice dragging her dead deer behind him. The mountain lion yowled, her roar echoing outwards from the cave.
Shortly after the mountain lion disappeared a herd of does appeared atop the peak, looking lost and confused, frightened of the fire approaching them from behind. The deer stood atop the narrow peak, jostling each other like penguins on an ice shelf. The fire continued to advance.
The neighbor said, “the mountain lion has got her kill. It looks like it is time for us to go deer hunting.”
“I am not here to go deer hunting!” I said.
“Then why do you have a harpoon tethered to your kayak?”
Both Sherman and his neighbor laughed. Sherman paddled towards the cliff and looked over his shoulder. “Besides,” Sherman said, “it is part of the ritual.”
We paddled towards the cliffs while more and more deer crowded on the edge of the precipice. The deer jostled and bleated as the fire climbed up the slope. Suddenly one deer fell from the precipice, plummeting towards the ocean with flailing hooves.
The deer landed in the frigid waters of Puget Sound and began swimming immediately. Simultaneously, Sherman and his neighbor paddled towards the frantically swimming land mammal. Both Native American men raised their arms above their heads. Sherman balanced his harpoon in his hand while his neighbor threw, missing the deer completely. While the neighbor pulled the rope to haul his harpoon back to the kayak, Sherman aimed and threw. The harpoon flew straight and true, slicing through the doe’s throat. Her head flopped to the side as she floated lifeless atop the sea. Sherman hauled in his rope, towing his dead deer behind his kayak.
Splash! Splash! Splash!
Deer fell from the mountaintop into the sea, crashing all around us. As the fire climbed the slope the deer leapt from the precipice like lemmings. One after another the entire herd leapt in the ocean, venison splashing in the waves. Frightened deer swam in the ocean all around me. The neighbor tossed his harpoon again, the spear floating through the sky in a high arc and landing on the deer’s right hindquarters. The wounded animal thrashed in the surf, towing the kayak behind it in panicked jumps and starts.
Sherman motioned for me to throw my harpoon. “It is part of the ritual,” Sherman shouted.
I picked up my harpoon and it had some heft to it. It felt heavy in my hand as I pantomimed a throwing motion. I took careful aim at one frightened deer. The deer swam so close to me I could have reached out and stabbed it. Its eyes were wild with terror. I hesitated just as a large wave swamped my kayak pushing us apart.
Sherman reloaded his harpoon and killed another deer. He had deadly accurate aim. He towed two trophies behind his kayak. The neighbor pulled on the rope, pulling his kayak closer to the wounded deer, harpoon spear sunk deep into a haunch. When his kayak came near enough, the neighbor leaned out to grab the terror-stricken animal with both arms, using one hand to slit its throat. The wounded deer bled to death.
Sherman made the motion for me to throw. I was surrounded by swimming deer, all of them awkward and terrified. They were so scared, and I knew I could never throw. I shrugged.
“Ritual,” Sherman said, “for them.” Sherman pointed to the sky where the UFOs were twirling and twinkling. “For them.”
The neighbor tied the dead and bleeding deer behind his kayak. I could not believe how much blood poured from the deer. The water behind the kayak was a quickly diffusing crimson.
I felt a swell of water as large, graceful powerful bodies barrel rolled through the sea. Teeth first, a killer whale breeched, rising up and out of the water, black and white torso writhing in the sky. The blood in the water had brought the killer whales. The orcas hunted the swimming deer, gulping down venison in a feeding frenzy.
One orca swam furiously, black dorsal fin quickly cutting through the water. The orca swam directly towards the deer towed behind the neighbor’s kayak. The orca grabbed the dead deer between its powerful jaws, pulling the kayak behind effortlessly. As the kayak flew through the water, the neighbor tumbled from the saddle, falling into the open ocean, and flailing wildly. A second orca veered, changing directions sharply and heading towards the floating neighbor. The killer whale snapped the neighbor in half as if he were a skinny leopard seal. The island continued to burn as the UFOs hovered beneath the thick clouds of smoke, observing the bloodbath – a ritual sacrifice performed in their honor.
Weaving through hunting killer whales, Sherman paddled like a madman. “Better run!” Sherman shouted as he paddled.
I turned to follow but a tremendous wall of water hit my kayak and pushed me upwards. The wall of water swelled, raising my kayak into the air. From the depths of some of the deepest ocean in the world, something was rising quickly. Something very large was pushing tremendous amounts of extremely cold water to the surface. In the middle of Puget Sound, off the coast of the tiny burning island, a huge bubble of water was rising above the ocean. The rising liquid hill washed deer, kayaks, and orcas in cascades of waves in all directions. I must have been in the exact center of the bubble, not falling off on any side but rising higher and higher as the bubble grew. I held my paddle over my head, frightened to touch the broiling waters.
I thought I was atop some sort of earthquake caused tsunami. Then I saw the giant eyes. From deep, deep, beneath the waves, a set of giant eyeballs were rushing towards the surface. Some huge leviathan was rising swiftly pushing tremendous amounts of water ahead of it. The leviathan’s eyes grew larger as it neared. The eyes looked angry. As the kraken approached, rising through the bubbling waters, I could see the arms, many, many arms swirling as it swam. The sea monster was a giant cephalopod – an octopus.
“Woohoo,” Sherman screamed, raising both hands above his head. He had finally seen a wild octopus and it was the most gargantuan octopus anyone had ever imagined.
As the octopus rose to the surface, my kayak remained in the center of the bubble, rising with it. My kayak was perched directly between the large round angry eyes, each as big as a house when the giant bulbous head barely broke the surface of the water. Reflected in the eyes I could see the UFOs. The UFOs were blinking rapidly and changing colors continuously. I looked above to where the UFOs were flashing multiple complex color sequences. Beneath me the octopus was using his camouflage abilities to rapidly change colors as well. They were communicating.
Although I could not understand their colorful language, I could feel their message. Images flooded my mind. Besides the flashing colors the octopus communicated with the spaceships using an empathetic telepathy. The spaceships hovering above the Seattle skyline addressed the giant octopus like a respected elder, with the reverence due a prophet. The prophet was angry, I could feel the strong waves of emotion washing over me, expressing outrage at humanity.
For tens of thousands of years, humanity had lived in balance with the earth. The space alien octopi had filled humanity’s dreams with images of advancements in technology – projectile points, agriculture, seafaring vessels, steam, internal combustion and more, on the condition that the humans be good stewards of the earth. Instead, the humans had used that technology to conquer the planet.
Earth had not needed conquering. Civilizations which had understood the need for environmental balance and harmony found themselves overrun by the rapacious. Chief Seattle and generations of Salish before him had kept the covenant, offering royal kayak deer hunts to placate the extraterrestials and honor the need for balance. The royal kayak deer hunts had fed the Salish, fed the mountain lion, fed the orcas and most importantly, fed the giant extraterrestial octopi who lived in Puget Sound.
The UFOs had appeared only after the last mountain lion had been hunted off the island – a sign of environmental degradation. Humanity had been given one century to realize the error of their ways and had only become more rapacious, devouring more and more of the earth’s resources. The oceans were poisoned with plastic. Finished delivering his message, the octopus descended back to the watery depths from whence he came. At last moment before the octopus completely sank, each tentacled arm reached out to grab a prize, curling its suction cups around a deer, orca or kayak. One grasping arm grabbed Sherman.
“We do not choose who is sacrificed,” Sherman shouted as he and his kayak were pulled under water.
As the giant octopus head sank rapidly, me and my kayak were pulled down by the undertow. The suction behind the swiftly descending octopus was tremendous, pulling me deeper and deeper. The cold wet darkness surrounded me. The light of the sky faded. The leviathan octopus descended so fast that it soon disappeared from view. No longer following right behind the descending kraken, my kayak was released from the undertow and the buoyant plastic popped me to the surface like a breaching porpoise.
Floating atop the ocean surface, surrounded by calamity and chaos. I was amazed to realize that I still held onto my kayak paddle. I must have white knuckled the paddle shaft during the whole terrifying ordeal. As the last of the octopus bubbles dispersed, the orcas swam away. Frighted deer swam in every direction. Some would reach land and others would drown. Bewildered kayakers like myself paddled slowly towards sanctuary, our minds overwhelmed by spectacle and tragedy. The island continued to burn, flames leaping high above the treeline.
The UFOs hovering in the sky stopped flashing colors. The spaceships returned to a shiny metallic gleam and zipped over the Seattle skyline, firing their laser cannons the whole time. The Space Needle snapped in half. The UFOs disappeared into the clouds, before leaving Earth’s atmosphere altogether and heading to their home worlds. Blasting Seattle to smithereens was only a warning shot. There was no need to invade. The invasion had happened long ago when the aliens had grafted their DNA onto the octopi. The arrogant humans believed they had conquered the planet but what humanity failed to realize was that the planet was just now fighting back.
The rains came, and the rains came hard. The rains came day after day, the way it can only rain in Seattle. After four days of pouring rain, the flames were extinguished on Strawberry Island. High atop the cliff, deep inside the cave, the mountain lion roared, announcing to the world that she had given birth to a litter of kittens.
Gary Every is an award winning journalist. Prize winning articles such as Losing Geronimos Language and The Apache Naichee Ceremony were in his book Shadow of the OhshaD and anthology of the best of the first eight years of his newspaper columns. As a science fiction author he has two novellas in print Inca Butterflies as well as The saint and the Robot. His poetry has been nominated for the Rhysling Award 7 times.
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