Short Stories Jun 7, 2023

She screamed involuntarily, shielded her eyes, and spun to face the walls of the cavern entrance. The sunlight was a red hot knife into her brain. Tola’s knees buckled and she was momentarily blinded. She’d heard of sunlight, but it was still a mystical phenomena; her people’s elders had talked of it. A rite of passage for her people’s scouts, she’d ventured as close as she dared today. Her trepidation included more than fear of the unknown; to gaze at the outer world would cause genuine searing pain. Until today, her whole world had been enclosed. That world provided comfort and security that the outside world could not. It wasn’t agoraphobia… those anxieties are rooted in mental and emotional domains. No, Tola was physically unable to survive on the surface.

“Come back Tola. That’s far enough,” Loki telepathed. He was her close friend and fellow scout. Adolecents in their subterranean world.

“We must return now.” Loki draped his supportive arm around Tola’s shoulders. The vision of their people had evolved to permit sight in the blackness of their environment. Bulging and gecko-like, Tola’s eyes were three or four times larger than the “small eyes” who inhabited the planet’s surface. Loki’s eyes were even more pronounced. Yet up there, despite being residents of the very same planet, the “small eyes” were oblivious of Tola’s people. Tola couldn’t allow her translucence to meet direct sunlight. Her skin was a milky plastic-like covering encasing visceral, pulsing vital organs. To the “small eyes” she would appear to be wrapped in cling-wrap. Exposure to direct sunlight could be fatal to her organs.

Tola’s people felt no shame in their nakedness. Their bodies were goldfish bowls of functioning organs; they were living, breathing ultra-sound screens. Being amphibious, their gills allowed movement in subterranean aquifers and flooded tunnels through cleft rocks, while their lungs permitted survival in waterless tunnels between geological strata. Her people had thin membraneous webbing between fingers and toes which facilitated rapid movement through water. Tola’s webbing and gills were less developed than her peers, her skin a little more opaque, and her eyes slightly smaller than Loki’s.

To Tola and Loki’s people, racism did not exist.  Beneath the earth’s crust there were no territorial disputes, no deities or religions, no wars. There was no discrimination, Tola’s “small eye” ancestor was not considered disabled because of her inability to see. And yet the “small eyes” would consider themselves to be the pinnacle of evolution. Why? Was it a form of collective narcissism?

Tola possessed an innate sense of curiosity and had volunteered to become a scout. Something had been gnawing inside her for a long time; an internal itch that needed scratching. Something only she could answer. Becoming a scout would facilitate uncovering the answer.

Many sleeps ago, the memory keeper had revealed that Tola had “other” blood. Seven generations earlier, scouts had discovered a child washed up into the entrance to the cavern, the portal between them and the “others.” She was a “small eye” child. Barely alive, there was no clue for where she had originated. Her limp, unconscious body was carefully carried away from the ocean, away from the daylight, and far into the blackness of the cave systems. She was nursed to health, then raised as an unsighted being in the darkness. At first, the frightened “small eye” girl had whimpered incomprehensible sounds; “Sophia… Mummy… boat… Mary Celeste…” but Sophia’s saviours had no understanding. Much of their communication was telepathic or hand signals. Without the earth’s cycle of day and night, they had no concept of calendars to know that it was the year 1872 in the Azores Islands above them.

And the child, Sophia, had been loved. She felt warmth and physical touch. And there came a time after many years when she had drawn closer to one of the subterranean people. Unaware of the gender of the being of her affection, a romance had developed. And love had become intimacy, and a natural desire to be as physically close as possible had led to the birth of her child. There was no judgement, no sense of right or wrong; purely joy and fulfillment. Sophia had no further children, but her baby had inherited some of the features of both the father and mother. According to the memory keeper, Tola was a seventh generation direct descendant of Sophia.

Her first fleeting glimpse of the Atlantic ocean, sunlight and landforms on the horizon, yielded Tola indescribable pain. Shielding her bulging gecko eyes with the membranes between her fingers, she briefly satisfied her internal itch, her curiosity. This was where her “other” blood had originated many generations before. She allowed Loki to place his arm tenderly around her shoulders and lead her back into the cavern entrance. Through the portal they retraced their steps into the comfort and security of their own subterranean world.

And Alfonso the Portuguese fisherman, anchored and bobbing in his wooden fishing boat barely 300 metres offshore from the cave, rubbed his bloodshot eyes disbelievingly.

“Vixe Maria!” he roared to Rodrigo his fishing mate. ‘I think I just saw a naked x-ray girl.”

“Phhhtttt! Nossa! You drink too much Alfonso! And you don’t wear your hat in the sun. Here, give the bottle of port wine back to me.”


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