THE TIDAL MAN
Anna Ghislena’s flash fiction piece explores environmental damage. The mythical creature is the personification of a truth that we have ignored for too long. Illustrations by Vector That Fox
There was life, it seemed, in the estuary; the flats blistered bubbles that rose and burst like gasps, brackish pools guarded poking razor clams and whispering whelks, gulls paddled respectfully around a lumpy porpoise. I shielded my eyes, tapped a stone in time with their cries and saw the lumpy porpoise nudged by the rising tide like the wrung and twisted estuary birds afloat by fruitless oyster beds or upturned silver bellied fish staring at rusting trawler hulls.
Men lamented and called it a monster, their rage and blame lay with it. Some claimed to have seen the thing and named it Reaper of the Seas, or, The Tidal Man. I waited and watched, tapped a stone upon another, listened beyond crying gulls and reluctant waters, listened watched and waited for the roar of The Tidal Man because monsters roar and scream as men believe they can.
An inky horizon swallowed the day. Home awaited my bucket of clams with a fury fuelled by fears and another empty table. My footsteps dragged, rolling brine tagged my heel; these shoes would be wet again. A hollow vessel hauled in slowly, it creaked and crunched upon the shore. I faltered; toppled.
Something held my ankles fast. Shingle pits sunk my feet, struggling whirlpools swept me down, and soaked in foamy wash I prayed, beneath salty cascades and translucent gaze, of the monster men called The Tidal Man.
Ankles shook free, my courage came angry,
Our waters have gone quiet, our rivers choked and clogged.
We have no food, no livelihood, we beg you please, just stop!
Dredged in silence, garlanded in knotted lines and lost lives, The Tidal Man crashed a mangled fist upon the shore and was silent no more.
I am your thoughtlessness, your negligence, your naivety
I am the discarded, the blind eye, I am your complacency
I am your offspring, your discovery, your ingenuity
I am as human as I am human-made
But I am strong, stronger than you
I will travel a billion tides, grow through the oceans I wade
I will live on this earth for hundreds of years
Your alien. Your fate. Your hunger. Your tears.
Cascading salty, The Tidal Man drew up to a terrible height. My wide eyes feared the sight for every cell was made by man. I scrambled for my bucket, crawled upon my knees and fled for home to fury fuelled by fears.
It comes! It comes!
The Tidal Man will destroy the land
the oceans and seas and so destroy Man
we must do something, we must be afraid
because this is the monster that we have made!
A rabble, an army, marched into the dusk, sirens, floodlights, battalions and arms, to rage at the giant, destruction in mind, a squabble of fists, flamed torches held high.
Dredged in menace, The Tidal Man rose.
Burn me down and your disease will be great.
Bury me deep and the poison will seep
Pull me asunder, the world cannot wait
Scatter me far and all is too late.
Too sorry to say it, too ashamed to admit it, the rabble drove the giant back to the water and in the squabble of fists and waving of flames I rushed through, my clam knife drawn ready. I waded deep to my thighs; tore my voice from my throat.
This is the monster that we have made
Find me at dawn, do not delay
We must do something! We must be afraid!
I caught hold of the giant, dragged myself onto its back, floated far from land and out of sight. Lungs burst, blood rushed, my clam knife worked in earnest. We travelled the tides, The Tidal Man and me, without a word, without knowing the other’s victory.
A mangled fist served as my raft by the time the trawlers found me. Nets cast wide across the sea, they thought their task would be easy. I was hailed champion, a brave boy, with each piece they hauled in. And there’s life, it seems, in the estuary; the flats blister bubbles that rise and burst like gasps, brackish pools guard poking razor clams and whispering whelks. I go collecting clams, my bucket nearly full and every day I find, translucent on the shoreline, pieces of the monster that men call The Tidal Man.
The Tidal Man is from The Truth Issue – Issue 20. Order your copy here
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