Sweet Sand Fleas

An essay by C. R. Anderson, as provided by Steve Zisson
Art by Leigh Legler

“Get your hands off me,” that’s what I hear him say. So clearly now. “Please don’t pick me up. I don’t want to go back in the cold, suffocating water again. We’ve been there too long. Way too long. We weren’t made for it.”

He’s a big male, the leader of the pod. Maybe a dozen feet long and a couple of tons. His blackness now shrouded by light colored, drying sand sticking to him. His sounds come out all shrill and plaintive.

The rescuers can’t hear him. They hear only whistles and pulsed sounds. They are too busy anyway, there are so many whales to save. They ignore his sounds, they can only guess what he means. But I know what he is saying.

I know what they’re saying, these stranded pilot whales. I’m a cross-species linguist and I come to these strandings to understand them. Strandings of 100 or more are becoming quite common. Some blame a new disease, toxic pollution, a parasite, a change in magnetism. Maybe it is the noise pollution from boats and sonar. They’re wrong.

Cape Cod Bay is a favorite spot for strandings of dolphins, sea turtles, and the most prolific stranders of all, pilot whales, the largest of the dolphins. Luckily, I live in Brewster on the bay side of the Cape. And I am tapped into the strander network so I often am among the first to arrive to capture the last words of so many expiring whales who want to live. They don’t seem to mind me. They know that I sympathize, that I understand. They don’t like the rescuers at all. They call them anti-evolutionists. The pilot whales’ words, not mine.

I wear my translation headset, a prototype I’ve developed. They look like ordinary headphones to the casual observer.

An out-of-breath rescuer runs up to me and shouts, “Help us. Help us lift the big whale back into the water.”

I shake my head, point to my headset, and then throw up my arms. The bearded rescuer becomes enraged, his face goes red and he jabs a finger in my face. “How can you be so heartless? You’re listening to your music there while all the whales die. Help save them!”

I turn and walk away when I think he’s going to hit me.

I can hear him shouting at me through the squeals and whines of the big male struggling in my headset.

“We are as smart as you think we are. Give us some credit. We know what we want. Please don’t put us back in the ocean! We were on the land, the sweet land, long before you were.”

A dozen rescuers squat and grab the big male and begin to lift. “All of your hands, abrasive, so dry and cracked, let go. Your foreign bacteria and viruses from your dirty fingers will infect me, kill me like the others who stranded in earlier days when you returned them infected to the sea. The weight of my body crushes from gravity, but it feels like home. The land is home.”

Sweet Sand Fleas

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2014 collection.

C. R. Anderson was first a PhD toxicologist who once taught at New University, where she then pursued a second PhD as a cross-species linguist. She lives on the bay side of Cape Cod, Massachusetts where she only haunts the beaches during off season.

Steve Zisson began his writing career as a journalist and now writes speculative fiction from a town north of Boston. He finds most journalism these days to be highly speculative. His day job now is running a medical education publishing company. He likes to write in approximately 1,500-word bursts and has another similar length story forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction.

Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://leighlegler.carbonmade.com/.

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