Read by Sophie Morris-Sheppard
After two hungry months of waiting, I finally see it. A distant black dot on the horizon, moving slowly through the waves. I let out a sustained cry to alert my Sisters. Within seconds, they appear on all the rocks and crags around me. We are awake. And we are ready.
Having spied our quarry, I have the honour of leading our song. I modulate the single note of my alert cry into a simple melody. Around this my Sisters begin singing their own parts, weaving into the tune enticing harmonies.
Almost immediately, the song works. From my vantage point, I see the black dot change its course, and start moving towards us, increasing in size into its real shape is revealed. It is exactly what my Sisters and I were hoping for – a large sea-crossing vessel. I increase the tempo of the song and my Sisters follow. And as if in response, our quarry accelerates towards us; the excitement we have poured into our song is clearly affecting its occupants.
Our louder voices seem to animate the Tailless further. A few of them are now at the very edge of their vessel, brandishing large nets. It is as if they are entertaining the notion that they can catch us.
Good. This means they won’t see what’s coming.
There’s a loud, delightful crunching noise as the vessel strikes the hunting rocks below the surface. Almost immediately it is torn in two, spilling scores of Tailless from its insides. Our song becomes celebratory now, as we watch them struggle in the ocean. A few sink beneath the waves immediately. They are the lucky ones.
Around me my Sisters are leaping into the water, moving swiftly towards our prey. I need to follow them, before all that’s left here are their dry, grisly old-timers or the Tailless minnows.
So I dive beneath the waves and with one powerful kick of my tail I move towards the wreckage. With another lash I leap above the waves, hoping to identify a target. But to my horror I see instead that one of the Tailless has seemingly captured a Sister. Splashing around in the water, it has somehow managed to get one arm wrapped around her throat, another grasping her long hair. This particular Tailless has immediately selected itself as my prey.
In its last seconds, it sees me and shrieks the final note of its brutish song. Then I drag it under the waves. It doesn’t stand a chance here in my domain: its kicks and punches are frenzied but unfocused, the water robbing them of any power. I tear at the loose inedible layer that surrounds all Tailless, making swift work of removing it with my fingernails. Then I bite. My sharp teeth plunge through the flesh of its neck, ripping apart its singing organ. There’s a crimson cloud of blood that spurts satisfyingly into the ocean. I can feel its veins filling with water as its too-many limbs stop flailing.
My first thought is that I might share this kill with my rescued Sister. But when I look over at her I’m alarmed to see she is also violently thrashing in the water, and it takes me several seconds to work out why. For her wrists are bound with a long cord, trailing like weed, and where on a Sister you would expect to see a beautiful and powerful tail, there are instead the two useless extra limbs of the tailless.
I am so shocked by this curious hybrid – half Sister and half Tailless – that I nearly miss that she is drowning. And I’m suddenly gripped by another fear. What if another of my Sisters in all this feeding mistakes her for just another Tailless and feasts upon her before realising their mistake?
I let go of my slaughtered prey, letting its lifeless body drift down into the abyss, and swim towards the hybrid. Her body goes still as I approach, but when I wrap my arms around her I am relieved to sense she is not lifeless. Not yet.
I bring her back to the surface of the water and begin swimming away from the rest of my Sisters and their frenzy of feeding. Past the rocks and crags to the small island that lies beyond them. The ocean begins to run out here, but I drag the hybrid as far into the shallows as I can, until I reach the point where the sea is shallower than the length of a Sister’s fingernail.
I bite her wrists free, and place her on her back on the beach. There are a few seconds when we lie next to each other on the wet sand. Is she dead? I reach over to feel for her heartbeat.
Then suddenly her whole body shudders. Her back arches in an instant and her head lifts from the ground, violently expelling water like a whale’s blowhole. There are a few more deep breaths, then she turns and look at me. I see fear in her eyes, so I attempt to calm her. I flash her my widest smile, displaying in all their glory my beautiful fangs.
For some reason this does not have the desired effect. In an instant, she is up. And then I see what purpose the extra limbs of the tailless have. Using them she propels herself further onto the island. Before I have time to react, she has disappeared into the darkness of its vegetation.
For several hours, I lie on the beach but she does not return. Finally, hunger gets the better of me, and I turn and flop my way back to the ocean and the wreckage. It’s all far too late though, my Sisters have feasted and there is nothing left to eat.
I’m forced to spend the next few days suffering the indignity of fish hunting. As my Sisters laze sated on the rocks, I scrabble in the water catching tiny cold morsels of scaly food. On the third day, my fishing takes me close to the island. And there, balancing impressively on her extra limbs, is the hybrid. She has built herself a small fire on the beach and stands next to it, staring out to sea. She looks to me like she might be hungry.
I slowly make my way into the shallows. When she sees me she seems unnerved, but she doesn’t move away. I swim as close as I dare, and in a small rockpool I leave a couple of dead fish. I turn and dart away, but looking back I see her slowly and carefully walk towards my gifts and pick them up. Nervously she attempts a smile, and I see immediately why she had been so scared of me. Her face is like that of the finest Sister in every regard, bar that she has the strange blunt teeth of the tailless.
The poor thing, how could she possibly hope to eat with those bony mouth stubs? Could they even cope with fish scales? I swim out past the crags and there, with the aid of a large stone, break off the tip from the sharpest hunting rock. By the time I return with it she is no longer on the beach, but I leave it for her in the small rockpool.
This now becomes my daily ritual, bringing the hybrid a few captured fish and leaving them for her. And after a little while I begin leaving further gifts, beautiful things I have found amongst the rocks such as colourful shells or starfish corpses. And when I find them gone, this makes me happy. It spurs me on to find new and ever more interesting things for the hybrid.
Finally the opportunity comes around for me to bring the hybrid the most amazing gift I can think of. For another black dot sails into the horizon rocks and my Sisters and I lure the crew to their doom.
This time I ensure that I go straight for the most impressive of all the Tailless struggling in the ocean. It is the largest and hairiest specimen I’ve ever seen, and puts up quite a fight. Once, then twice it knocks me back with its giant fists, but on the third attempt I manage to wrap my arms around it and with the powerful thrash of my tail, drag it under. I want my gift to be undamaged, so the fight continues for some time as I hold the creature while it drowns, leaving the flesh intact.
Then I swim with my gift past the rocks and crags and to the island. The hybrid is on the beach, sitting by her fire and warming the bodies of small fish skewered on sharp sticks. Poor creature, she must hunger for real meat. The fire she makes is so enchanting it pleases me just to watch it dance as she sits by it. But I have a gift to give to my impressive fire-maker.
Given its size it’s hard work, and when I’ve take it as far up the beach as I can I give one final powerful kick of my tail and leave the Tailless body beached face down on the shore.
I watch excitedly as the hybrid stands. Her face seems nervous with anticipation as she approaches. When she is finally close enough, she slowly reaches down with her arm and turns the gift over.
She screams, a high-pitched note full of fear, and leaps back so quickly she stumbles into the water. Her face is twisted in a way I don’t recognise. Have I done something wrong? Alarmed, I quickly swim a shark’s length towards the ocean, without daring to look away.
Breathing heavily, the hybrid gets back up. She looks again at the gift.
And then suddenly, with one of her extra limbs, she strikes the gift hard. Then she strikes again. She is singing again now, her sharp high-pitched song but it is no longer one of fear but of anger. And the more she kicks, the angrier the song seems to become. It is a song unlike any I’ve heard before, but it is, in its own peculiar way, exquisite.
Then finally she stops, exhausted. There’s a pause as she recovers, and then she reaches down with both her arms and begins dragging the gift up the beach. Instinctively I follow. I can’t help myself. I go further up the beach than I’ve ever been.
She makes slow progress, such is the size of the gift. But I follow equally slowly, I’m out the water now, dragging my useless tail behind me.
She reaches her fire, and picks up the sharp rock that was my first gift to her. I watch as with a single motion she uses the rock to tear a strip of flesh from the Tailless gift. Then she looks up and smiles at me. I smile back, my fangs fully displayed again. And this time in response her smile gets even bigger, even more beautiful. And without taking her eyes off me she skewers her strip of Tailless flesh and holds it to the fire.
I think we might now be Sisters.
(c) Alan Graham, 2017
Alan Graham studied "Creative Writing" and "Economics" at UEA and is still unsure which discipline relies on make-believe the most. More of his stores can be found at alangrahamwords.com
Sophie Morris-Sheppard has played Rebecca Locke in a series called The Paradox, a project which she helped devise as a short film in 2011. She is involved in several new writing initiatives in London. Her professional credits span the full spectrum of theatre, TV, commercials, film, voice over, rehearsed readings and most recently role play. www.sophiemorrissheppard.com