TETHERED • by Kevin Shamel

Wyn floated with his pod above the churning sea. His umbilicus untwisted itself, and he spun lazily, staring down at the circling wings below. Nimble fliers, those wings. Wyn remembered not long after ascending how frightened he was of the little creatures zipping between the umbilical tethers of his people. He worried that their beaks would tear through his taut skin and send him soaring into the clouds. He did not want to go up.

But Wyn’s tether was strong — it held him through storms, snapper swarms, and island rollovers. He could withstand a thousand tiny wing-beaks at once. Wyn didn’t worry about such things as he gained experience.

The storm swept southward. Swirling winds whispered goodbyes. Wyn watched the suns fade behind swelling thunderheads, and a gentle red glow suffused the world. He stopped spinning.

Below, the walking islands crept along their spiraling journey through the seas, tugging Wyn and his people with them by their roots.

Ebo spoke to Wyn. “That was a big storm.”

“We’ve come into the Buffets,” Wyn answered.

“So we have,” said Ebo, staring down at the calming sea. After a long pause, where Wyn could hear his own umbilicus stretching, Ebo said, “I thought about letting go.”

Wyn raised his head. “Letting go?”

“It’s nearly time for me.”

“Oh, Ebo. No. I’ll miss you.” Wyn shifted to face his friend, lifting his left fin.

“Yes. But we’ll meet again. Above.” The older floater flexed his whiskers — smiling.

“Maybe. Unless going up is the end.”

“Have you been listening to Vyxis?” Ebo chuckled. “He’ll soon find out for himself.”

Wyn looked up at the cloud bottoms. They were relatively calm, especially for just after a storm. Only sheet lighting. “You’re not much older than me, Ebo. My pod ascended just after yours.”

Ebo’s eye twinkled. He looked down toward their roots. “Yes. And your island is getting big. Eating a lot. Your pod is gaining plenty of buryl. You’ll follow me soon, Wyn.”

“But I’m only just realizing my strengths! Learning the ways of nature. The mysteries of life.”

“I feel the same, Wyn! I’m only just reaching the strongest I’ve ever been.”

“And you’re not sad about going up? Being cut off in your prime?”

“Were you afraid to leave the ocean, Wyn? When you knew your umbilicus was long enough — strong, and ready to hold you? When your head breached the surface of the water, was it fear you felt? Or exhilaration? Longing. Hope. Excitement.”

“All of that. And yes I was afraid to leave the quiet, comfortable sea and rush into the sky, Ebo. I was afraid my umbilicus would snap and I’d keep going up. I worried I’d choke on the air, or get hit by lightning. Yes, Ebo. I was afraid.”

Ebo swept over and nudged his companion. “It’s going to be fine, Wyn. I can feel it. I want to let go.”

“You’re just high on buryl.”

“I truly am.”

“I’m going to sleep.”

“Pleasant dreams, Wyn. Savor every day.”

Wyn awoke to another storm.

Ebo shouted, chasing away the memory of a dream. “Wyn! I’m letting go. I’m going up! I wanted to let you know.”

Lightning snapped nearby, illuminating Ebo. He seemed to vibrate.

“Ebo!”

“Goodbye, Wyn. See you soon!”

“Don’t let go!”

Ebo shook as tendrils of lightning shot from the clouds above. Wyn looked down to the darkened sea. He strained to see the end of Ebo’s long tether. And from the jagged mist of rain below, it came whipping past.

Wyn looked up to see his friend illuminated just under the clouds — a fit of lightning surrounding him. Within moments, only the flayed-wide tendrils of Ebo’s roots remained below the constant cloud-cover. Then he was gone.

The rest of Ebo’s pod followed. Six floaters withdrew their life-sustaining anchors threaded deep within the rock of their island, and went up. Before he knew it, there was empty space to Wyn’s left — something that had never been. The storm raged. Wyn was hit with all its force.

***

Many storms passed. Wyn spent each of them thinking about his friend, and how much he missed him. Ebo had always been beside him, even closer than anyone in his own pod. He could barely speak to just two of his brethren across the wide sky between them, and only on calm days. He remembered Ebo’s words. He savored every day, even sad ones.

Each storm made the lightning into an electric garden. The clouds above grew less threatening. Wyn still did not want to go up. He felt strong, and dove through air currents, tugging on his tether, nearly as agile as a wing. For the first time since just after birth, Wyn was aware of his roots.

A new pod ascended from Ebo’s island. A floater came to rest beside Wyn. She was very beautiful.

“I’m Aryl,” she told him.

They fell in love.

The couple spent time talking and singing, wrapped around each other’s umbilicals. They soared through winds and danced. They made love. Aryl dropped spores into the ocean. Wyn thought about the cycle of life. He felt complete.

One day Wyn said to Aryl, “I’m going to let go when this storm hits.” He watched one gathering to the north.

“Oh, no!” Aryl said. “No, Wyn, our time together has been so short. What if it’s the end, going up? Please don’t leave me.”

Wyn marveled at his lack of fear. He felt buryl rushing through his tether. He drew on its stores inside his wide body. He felt it hardening his umbilicus, turning it into a tail. Wyn looked up to the canopy of clouds, laced with lightning. He longed to fly.

Rain pattered against his skin. Wyn flexed his roots.

He told Aryl, “I’ll see you above the clouds.”

Lighting reached down for Wyn. He looked up and the canopy parted — he could see through. Fliers swam in a clear, deep sky.

Wyn let go.


Kevin Shamel is a bizarro fiction writer who talks about himself in first-person: “Hi! Thanks for reading this stuff I wrote about me. When I’m not writing, I like to dig for black opal, walk in the rainforest, make kefir water, take photos of the sky, hang with my sons, and generally appreciate life. My new novel, Island of the Super People, comes out in the Spring of 2011. (There are links to other things I’ve written at my site.) Please have lovely, weird, bizarro days!


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