In the summer of his forty-third year Algorar killed a lady with his mouth and he understood it to be a human lady by the smell of the warm blood which tickled his nose, lifting his nighttime dream – baby Algorar swimming the rim of a whirlpool – and made him say "ugh" then "yum yum" and then feel sorrow for all of life and this lady in particular.
When she was lifeless and dead he found to his surprise he wasn't hungry in the slightest, but managed to put down a few mouthfuls for form's sake, traditional old boy that he was. The rest he left to sink. Nourishment for the lower levels. Badly needed, too, I shouldn't wonder. Dawn was coming on now. Algorar dived down to where it was cooler and started back towards the caves.
I'm not an unreasonable person, thought Algorar.
Three mouthfuls amounted to a considerable portion with his big bites, didn't it? Enough to feed a family. Too much, really; she'd hardly gone to waste. And he didn't want to develop a taste for excess, did he? Because don't gluttons go to hell, same as murderers? Of course of course of course. It was more than acceptable, what he had done.
It was how things were. And how they always had been. Not only for the weaklings and crabs; his needs must be satisfied too. They must. And they had been, by God. Under the conditions of his natural right, and in the manner of his mothers and fathers and all of his grandparents before him. Eating his fill before making charity of the remainder. Kindly Algorar. Algorar who had been happy in a dream, let's remember. Enjoying his lonely evening. Keeping himself to himself. So who knew what tricks she'd employed to lure him to her? What spells she'd cast. 'She may have appeared to me as a seal,' he thought. Such wicked magic as that!
Hmm. Perhaps it had all been a misunderstanding, this business between the two of them. 'I'm sure I didn't mean to hurt her,' he thought. 'Just casually grip her a bit, helping her stay afloat, when she'd gravely misread the situation.' He'd been giving her a swimming lesson, for crying out loud! Inside himself he laughed sarcastically.
Kill her? I barely touched her! She tore her flesh against my teeth!
Algorar pushed harder through the water.
If only she'd trusted him, that crazy lady, not flailed about and struggled, he would probably have released her unharmed. Delivered her ashore even. A rescuing! Then the human men would say of him that he was a hero! And the human ladies would weep and throw their cloaks down on the dock and scold their missing sister for swimming so far from land. Marvelling at the great good fortune that Algorar had been there to save her. Of all the places he could have been. Taking turns to reach their hands into water they'd pat his snout and coo at him. "Please stay the night, Algorar." "Tonight will be a feast in your honour." "We have attached lamps to the pier."
Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.
"Long term solutions. Is what we're in the market for."
Several days had passed since the death of the human lady, and in that time Algorar had let his dreams fall heavy. Trailing an endless loop around a seamount, while in his mind he danced in rainbow channels and hunted swimming snakes with his grandmother's ghost, who sung to him, as she stripped a snake for his dinner, a song he half remembered from childhood which echoed off the ocean floor in glorious five-part harmony. In another dream he'd mortally wounded a silver octopus. Though he wondered if this may have actually happened in real life.
"Algorar? Some ideas from in your heavy head?"
Algorar squinted in the gloom. It was one of the younger guys. Leon. A horrible little fellow who Algorar could kill for fun if he wanted to but he didn't want to because he was a nice enough person and didn't go around killing people for no good reason.
"Are you there, Algorar?" said Leon.
Leon set his tongue against his teeth and laughed. Other voices joined in. "Doesn't appear as such."
"Well, I don't know how best to convince you," said Algorar.
More laughter. Algorar looked about the group. He'd known these people all his life. They'd know him, too. So they must also know that he could kill them in an instant. In the softest of heartbeats. He could make their families weep. So what was all the laughing about?
"What's all the laughing about?" asked Algorar.
"Please settle down, Algorar. We were laughing with you, not towards you," said Leon.
"But I wasn't laughing," said Algorar.
"I know you weren't. And you'd be right not to. Because this situation we're facing. Well. It's intensely serious. What you see here, you ugly idiots, is a serious person. Congratulations, Algorar. Congratulations indeed."
Some bristling took place amongst the more senior council members. Then a debate about whether ugliness was noble, and therefore sought after. Algorar decided to stop paying attention again.
He found these meetings increasingly pointless. The same arguments met with the same counter-arguments every fortnight and often word for word. Granted, once in a blue moon a giant squid would have been sighted or else a dolphin might have tricked somebody into attacking a childhood friend, and then they'd share well-worn rumours about giant squids or reiterate the dolphin policy (in essence: don't ever ever ever talk to dolphins), but this was all a nonsense and well they knew it. For the real problem was one they had no solution for, long-term or otherwise.
For even now in greater and greater numbers the humans came out. With their spears and their trapping nets and their monstrous black boats with whirling blades at one end.
'Eating one of them,' thought Algorar, 'was not my finest hour.'
But should it not be war? They started it! Maybe I should eat all of them? No no no. It would be too difficult to organise. And anyway, I'm not that kind of person. I'm a peaceful kind of person. So then. What?
"How about diplomacy?" he said out loud.
"Are you ill, Algorar?" Asked old Kal.
"No no no. I mean what if one of us went out to them. Made a case with them. Put it towards them that maybe they could be more reasonable. After all, we're reasonable enough ourselves, aren't we?"
"Please be quiet," said Kal. "If your mother could hear you now she'd turn belly-up."
'I could swallow you whole, Kal,' thought Algorar.
None of that! Poise, Algorar! Poise and sophistication! "It was but an idea," he muttered demurely.
"But a very bad idea," said Kal. "Who would agree to such a quick and certain death?"
Algorar felt a familiar shame blossom inside him. Was he the worst person in the world? The lowest and most appallingly stupid? Had he wasted his life? Was he a disgrace to his lineage? Perhaps. Although perhaps not.
"I will go," said Algorar. "I will speak with the humans."
Kal cracked up laughing and everybody else followed suit.
"I will!" Algorar insisted. "You don't believe me, I realise that. But listen, I'm Algorar, in case you'd all forgotten somehow, of the family Rasanda. And not afraid of anything. I'm capable of crunching through a submarine after a good enough breakfast. So stop laughing at me all the time, guys," he said, as sternly as he could, for he felt on the verge of sobbing.
"Is that what you plan to do?" asked Leon. "Crunch them?"
"No, not that. Not that at all. It is precisely that I won't do that. Though I can. I can! Some of you would do well to remember that! But I won't. They'll see my size, my strength. And I won't do anything with it. And they'll know. I'll do you all proud, I promise you that a hundred times over. They'll sing songs about me, guys!"
The assembly erupted once more, and then began making cruel jokes at his expense. Jokes with punchlines that he had human legs and breathed with diving apparatus. Algorar hated them and hated himself and hated the whole world.
He left, hot with rage and embarrassment. Left them to scoff and cackle and call out his name in sing-song voices. Vowing he'd never go back to the caves. And why the hell should he?
He steeled himself. 'When my name is emblazoned on the underside of the surface of the water,' he thought. 'When the sea turns turquoise with goodness and health. When we are queens and kings once more, and of everything. Who will laugh then? Tell me, who?'
The things they'd said had made little sense anyway. Because to be fair to him, he didn't have human legs. Surely they saw that. And he breathed the same exact way as everyone else. Algorar resented Kal especially. Of course his mother couldn't hear him – that went without question. Why oh why are people so unpleasant all the time?
So then. It was settled. Although was it? Was he doing this? Yes, he was. He'd said he was, and now he had to. But honestly, could he? What alternative was there? To go back? Say he'd been temporarily struck by madness? And that they shouldn't laugh at him, but feel sorry for him, due to his obvious sickness? He couldn't countenance that. They'd only laugh harder and louder and insert his name into lurid rhymes.
'This is my destiny,' thought Algorar. 'But what to do now?'
He racked his brains, such as they were.
Should I go up top and make myself known to a boat?
No, that would be suicide. If even his fin were to breach within a hundred yards of a boat he was liable to get a spear stuck in it. Probably more than one. How was that fair, by the way? Here's him trying to make peace with these barbarians, and all they can think about is shooting spears into him.
Maybe he shouldn't bother. What great debt did he owe that it should be him to put his life on the line? And for people who mocked and derided him.
'This isn't about them, though. Forget them. You're doing this for yourself.'
'Though, for their sakes, they should probably hear about it. Yes yes. They'll hear all about it, alright.'
Appearing before a boat, he conceded, was far too risky. He'd be murdered before he opened his mouth. So what was his move to be?
It came to him: the shallows! – the crystal shallows! Hunters don't bother the shallows, there's nothing to catch there. Just human children splashing about! And the little ones may have never seen a person before, and therefore would have no fear of him. If he were to make his case to them, in simplified terms, they could convey it to their elders. And appropriate arrangements would come about. And one evening in the far future those very same children would tell their grandchildren of the day they met with Algorar in the clear waters. And how he had solved everything for everybody. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. Clever Algorar.
Next morning he set off for the beach, making a game of scaring shoals of bluefish along the way. Torpedoing into them and blurring his eyes so the fish zig-zagged away from him like fat little sparks. He was happy enough.
'This is it, old son. This is the making of you,' thought Algorar. 'No more squandered potential. No more wasted time. If this goes off like it's supposed to, you'll be a legend. Lord Algorar. The one who helped.'
And was he scared? Not a bit of it. What fear had he of human children? The council had not considered this tactic. Probably because they lacked his intellect. Algorar let his dreams fall for a while as he pootled inland.
He dreamed of a cave, like the council cave but much much bigger and bright from luminous coral. His mother hung in the centre; spectral, rippling. Greater than Algorar. Greater than a thousand Algorars.
"Where are you going to, Allie?" his mother spoke in overlapping whispers.
"I'm going to save everyone, mum."
"Why?" asked the apparition.
"To be a brave person, mum. And as so to be remembered."
"What serves it you, to be remembered?"
"You are remembered, mum," said Algorar.
"Ah. Yes. Yes. Have you done your computations today, Allie?"
"It's very warm in here, mum. How must you stand to be here? Come back to the deep, mum."
"How many feet in a fathom, Allie?"
"Five? No — "
" — sixxxxxxxxxxxx"
The word stretched to an intolerable hiss. Algorar's tiny ears rang and his stomach turned over as the cave began to shake. A low rumble rose to a dreadful splintering, cracking, and all about him vines thick as tree trunks burst through the cave-floor, corkscrewing upwards as if trained around unseen pillars. "Oh wow," said Algorar, the cave growing hotter and hotter and hotter, so hot poor Algorar thought he would surely boil, and he shouted out "Help me!" but couldn't see his mother for the bubbles and the kicked-up sediment. Blindly he hurled himself forwards, becoming entangled in vines, and he bit and tore at them in a frenzied panic and to his surprise they were soft and delicate and filled with a nectar so so sweet that he said "yum yum". His dream lifted all at once and Algorar saw what he did.
The little human boy was wrecked and bloodied. Algorar had ripped his right leg clean off. And the shallows were all a chaos of humans screaming and running for the beach.
'Oh no no no no no no no,' thought Algorar.
But the smell of child's blood started his eyes rolling back and, tormented, he let them. For his shame he did more violence to the boy. Then abated and swam back to the darker waters. Weeping and cursing himself and regretting every day of his pitiful life.
'Nice one, Algorar. Very sophisticated and kingly. You complete idiot. You bad and evil person. Could you see that, mum? I hope that you couldn't.'
'Maybe the human boy had parents too,' thought Algorar. 'Had had parents, I mean.' Maybe he'd had a mother, as Algorar once had.
But now Algorar knew the boy was lifeless and dead. And he the monster responsible.
'I didn't know what I was doing, though!' thought Algorar. 'I was dreaming. A person can't help from dreaming, can they? I didn't know I was killing him. Not at first. Perhaps we were playing together. Initially. The child and me. Playing a chasing game in the surf. Only due to unforeseen circumstances it went wrong and one of us died as a consequence.'
It was no use.
'Oh do shut up, Algorar. Just shut right the way up. What did you do? When you saw what was happening. What did you do? Call for help? Say, "I'm terribly sorry"? Did you swaddle his wounds in seaweed? No. Nothing of the sort. I'll tell you what you did. You closed your eyes and gnashed your jaws and spilled his blood which now covers your teeth. You revolting animal. So don't start with all that nonsense. You killed him the same way you killed the human lady and for the same reason: because you meant to. You aren't a reasonable person, Algorar. Get that into your thick head. You're a villain and a coward. A wretched brute no better than a dolphin.'
Algorar spied another school of fish and swam at them, this time with an open mouth.
"If I am to be a beast, give me room to be one!" he cried, as they scattered.
Soon enough the hunting boats came out. And how they came. Many more than he'd ever seen. Circling atop like angry whales. Rotten mackerel-heads spilling out from them in bloody clouds. Hooks dangling down like decorations. 'Oh please,' thought Algorar. 'Leave me alone everybody.'
'My whole life. My entire time in the world. It has been one extended disaster. A miserable, laughable failure. Let me see it out alone and without interference.' Algorar let his dreams fall and in them dredged the ocean floor to find shells and pennies for nobody's benefit and to no personal satisfaction whatsoever.
Next morning Old Kal found Algorar cowering in the hull of a sunken tug. "This is your doing, I take it?" he said.
Algorar told him that he hadn't a single clue what he was talking about.
Kal laughed. "Algorar. Come on now, old fellow. I know of the human boy. We all know of that."
"About which human boy?" asked Algorar.
"The one who has his blood in your belly," said Kal.
Algorar burst into tears. "I didn't mean to, Kal."
"Stop crying," said Kal. "You have no one to cry to. I don't care for human boys. They all might die and I wouldn't feel much one way or the other. But I wanted you to know. They got Leon."
"Oh no no no no no no no," said Algorar.
"Oh yes," said Kal. "He was hungry. And tried to be too tricksy with the bait. You know how he was."
Algorar said nothing.
"Algorar, I don't mean to give you a hard time. I never mean that. I used to teach you your fish? Remember? Me and you? Your mother sent you to me because she was worried for you. Said you weren't paying enough attention in the classes. You were a nice child, Algorar. Really you were an angel. But you didn't listen. Even when it was just me and you. Remember? You never listened properly. Well, listen now. I'm telling you this for your own good, so take the air out your ears. Leave, Algorar. Go as far as you can manage. And never come back. OK?"
"I will avenge Leon," said Algorar.
"Fucking hell, Algorar," said Kal.
And so the wise warrior Algorar went to seek revenge for Leon. A person he'd barely known in life and hadn't much cared for either. For justice and for honour he launched himself up like a rocket to the moon and smashed his head as hard as he could into a rickety fishing boat which crumpled and flooded. Terrified men yelled commands back and forth as the ship capsized. Scrambling over each other and sticking him with spears.
Let them harpoon me. I'm strong. I'm Algorar the strong.
He wept and said sorry to the men as he did unspeakable things to them. Biting into a human head he burst an eyeball. 'Look what you've made me do. Look what a horrible person I am. This one's for you, Leon.' This is the price you pay. He wretched from the gore. 'This is absolutely awful,' he thought.
Algorar let his dreams fall.
Sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep.
Guided by tinkling laughter he followed a girl from his Distances class down the blue hole and into the nursery grounds where she stopped to nuzzle him, whispering: "You are murdering another human in the shallows now."
"Am I? Oh dear. Is that wrong?"
"I couldn't tell you if it was."
"Is Leon avenged at least?"
"How many feet in a fathom, Allie?"
"I know this one. My mother told me: six."
"Sorry Allie, there's seven now."
The girl's eyes glazed white. Algorar said "hey hey" but she didn't answer.
"Hey. Stop messing about now."
The girl started to sink.
"Hey. Wake up!" said Algorar. "If you're tired, here, you can rest on my back."
He tried to swim underneath her but couldn't place himself. Again and again she fell past him. Down toward the unknown depths.
"Please don't leave me," Algorar begged her, shivering. "I'll say seven. If that's the answer, I'll say seven. I just didn't know that the answer had changed, that's all. Because I don't listen, you see. I never do. And so I don't keep up to date with the latest answers. I thought it was six, you see. But only because that's what I was told. I'll say whatever answer you like. Whatever is the right answer. Be it six, seven, anything. Please just don't leave. I didn't particularly get on in life, I know that now. But maybe it's not too late. If only I can start saying the right answers, which is where you come in, petal. If you'd only stay and tell me the latest answers, I'll memorise them and then, if Leon is avenged, I can change and lead a better life. A life to be proud of. And now. Now I come to really think about it, I had a feeling the answer was seven. I just said six to make a joke for you. Just a bit of fun as we were chatting. Please my love. Don't go down there. Stay here in this icy chasm and we'll keep each other warm. Wouldn't that be nice? Don't you think?" His dream lifted and he was alone in the black night. Far away from anywhere he knew.
'This is a fine thing,' thought Algorar. It's too late now. Too late for Algorar.
How much had he done?
He shuddered, remembering the fishing boat. His close personal friend Leon avenged several times over. Oh! How he hated himself!
And he'd made his people proud, no? Blue-eyed Algorar, showing the enemy no mercy. The spirit-world staring down approvingly. Leon up there, shrieking: "Yes, Algorar! Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes!" Avenging Algorar. The one who does good for others.
'Algorar the terrible, more like. Algorar who creates big problems. Killer of infants. Algorar the bone-crusher. That's who I am. The horror of the ocean.'
His thick skin was punctured from spears. 'Little more than I deserve! Monsters should bleed!' And anyway, it didn't hurt, though he wished it would.
In the distance he heard a whale's song.
'I killed Leon, in a way. Oh well,' thought Algorar. And started up singing himself:
"The ocean's long, the ocean's wide / and blue and red and blue and white Let me know, when you're in need / we're part of a com-mu-ni-ty / __When I grow up, I –"
Wait, what was that? Algorar stopped singing. There it was again! What in this life makes a sound like that? A demon whale? He strained to listen. Ah, it's nothing. Maybe he was officially going insane.
But no! There again it was! An awful hollering. Such a noise as he'd never heard.
Cautiously he went towards it, swimming as quietly as he could. Creeping closer.
A boat. Larger than the one he'd totalled on behalf of brother Leon, but still small enough that he could probably destroy it if needs be. Algorar could perceive three humans in the light of the cabin. And they looked jolly as anything. Drinking and, apparently, singing.
Did humans sing, though? First he knew about it. Why would they want to?
'Why would anyone want to, I suppose.' He chided himself for being narrow-minded. Wait wait wait wait wait wait wait.
Did they sing... with him?
Were they... joining in?
'No, that's the last thing they'd do. You great lug, Algorar. They want to cut you open most likely. Not sing your nursery songs. They wouldn't even know the right words. Heaven and hell, Algorar. Try thinking for five minutes. Try using your mind.'
But but but but but but but, why did they sing when he sung then? Pretty large coincidence, wouldn't you say?
He gulped, scarcely daring to consider it. Did this. Did this signal a truce?
Was this the moment? Perhaps this was the moment! Would they ride back to shore together and shoulder to shoulder, as brothers and sisters? Would they establish new mutually beneficial laws, punishable by grisly death? And would everybody cheer? Surely they would cheer! They'd cheer till they fainted! And when the world awoke next morning, sick from wine and aching all over, would the message be sent out from coast to coast, that thanks in total to the valiance and restraint of Algorar, of the family Rasanda, the human ladies and human men had sworn an oath in the light of the sun to be bound by in perpetuity, that the boats would not go out that day, or ever again? And would the bells and would the bells and would the bells not ring themselves?
He rammed the boat as the men inside still sang, crying out in ecstasy: "I've arrived! I'm here, guys! Here to make an historic accord! I was coddled as a child and I've made some bad decisions and I'm terrifically sorry about the boy and the lady, I killed them I killed them I killed them and I'm sorry, believe me I'm so so sorry! But the past is the past! Let's sing together and rule these waves as a team! It's such a relief to realise we're on the same page, guys, you have no idea."
The men screamed and ran about, hurling abuse and harpooning him.
Algorar limped away, for he was badly injured and bleeding profusely. And let his dreams fall.
On the last day of his life, Algorar shook away his dream and went back to the boat.
'The human men may want to see me again,' he thought.
The first man was no trouble at all. Algorar sniggered as he bent the bars of the diving cage and mauled the man. 'What do the cages mean, I wonder?' thought Algorar. No matter.
Then with tremendous effort he launched himself out of the water and onto the boat. Bringing it down down down. 'Let your boat be a fish,' thought Algorar.
As he basked on deck Algorar said "hello hello hello" and then "sorry" as the second man simply fell into his mouth. 'Very careless,' thought Algorar. He bit the man in half, and took the two halves back under the water, where he spat them out.
'I'm not hungry today,' thought Algorar.
The boat was now almost completely submerged, and the third and final man was desperately climbing the mast as it tipped into the sea. Algorar snapped at his ankles and the man speared him enthusiastically. "Ow," said Algorar, and backed away to get his breath.
Algorar swam out to sea a little before making for the boat a last time.
One more pass he made, saying to himself: I can swim so fast!
'There's the man,' thought Algorar. 'I can see him. Does he know me? When I get to him will he teach me something? He's inches from the water now, will he dive with me? Ah, Algorar, you do have such silly ideas. Don't worry, though. There's the man. Look Algorar, there he is. Can you see him? Has my dream fallen now? Has it fallen? There's the man. Almost there now. Almost there. Here I come!'
Top image via Hermanus Backpackers