John Meiners, Jr.
The lone Draakar is lifted, carried within the wave to the shallows, and emerges blue green from the clear light blue water. The remnants of waves roll peacefully on shore, and from the dark depths in the distance, white splashes appear and disappear then are gone as quickly as eyes can focus. They grow in number as the Draakar head toward the beach. Osteoans to the left and to the right applaud as they gather around the winner. More and more Draakar begin their change as they leave the water. The winner and the seven immediately behind him receive white tunics banded in silver while the remaining racers are greeted by their families with simple white tunics. Inaudible sounds in Osteoan heard only in their minds, telegraph the excitement and emotion of the racers while they pose for pictures. Draakar never smile for pictures. The Draakar’s smile is fierce revealing long sharp canines needed more for protection than for chewing their vegetarian diet. The fierce pictures are saved for teams of Draakar competing in team sports. My favorite was the picture of the giant Bibibia caught in midflight with a Draakar riding on its back. Of course, the smaller the Draakar, the greater the flying speed. The game called Gadage was always played over water. Spectators watched from the beach. The luckiest few claimed the choicest seats at the boundary where lines of water in the surf changed from light to dark. The darkest depths were advantageous for the many Draakar who fell from Bibibia into the crashing waves below. Toward the middle of the water field were shells of shimmering silver and white. The Draakar riding their Bibibia would dive toward the waves, gather the shells and deposit them in their goal. The team with the most objects collected were the winners. The graceful gliding and diving of the Bibibia were even more enjoyable than the game itself. Draakar would fall into the water after midair collisions, though these were rare. The Bibibia was very agile for a creature of its size, but the highlight of the day was when the Draakar fell from a hundred feet raising their dorsal fins, and spreading arms out as though they were wings. At that moment, many thought the Draakar capable of flight themselves. Thunderous applause accompanied their fall, and the most popular pictures were the closeups of a Draakar’s face which shone with pure happiness. I enjoyed all the days of celebration, each as popular as the day before, but this day is special, signifying blessings and strength against evil. The crowd gathers around the racers, enjoying the festivities, watching, admiring the Bibibia, and hoping for a souvenir picture, which soon will be on display and for sale at the photo kiosks along with the juicy fruit of the papusas tree. The young ones spoon frozen delights from other kiosks while pointing at their heroes in adoration as icy confections melt and drip down hands in the heat as the last of the pictures are taken.
On our planet, Osteoans in their teen years ‘ooh and ahh’ and giggle at their good looks, but the young and old alike in this world would run from those same images in horror. I suppose it is proof, “Beauty is in the eyes of the Beholder.” I’m sure the bewilderment on my face when I first changed in this world… well after I changed back, for Draakar don’t have facial expressions of any kind, must have been startling. No doubt it matched the terror on two girls’ faces when they saw me. If I remember correctly, I was fifteen. I was very interested in girls, and I must admit I had a desire to be liked. However, after this, I thought keeping my ability to change into a Draakar to myself definitely was a step in the right direction. I was puzzled though. I didn’t understand how the mild ordinary human face could be more appealing than my Draakar face, but that is another story. The ‘Day of Lights’ is an exciting but also serious festival that celebrates a coming of age for Osteoans. Being eight, I was curious about what it all meant.
“Father, tell the story.”
“Sit here on the sand… “Would you like a slice of Frianna before we start?”
“Yes.” Off I run before he can stop me, and then I remember I have no money or shell to barter, and run back for money then off again…
Father calls out, “Wait, a picture. We also need a picture for remembrance.”
Quickly I run back again to the kiosks, now with more money in hand to accomplish my task, excited both with my Frianna and my picture, eager to hear the story.
Father begins, “In the Ancient Days in the deep depths of the dark blue Crystal Sea there were creatures, large creatures as long as the Papusas tree is tall. They dwelled at such deep depths, the Draakar were unable to go, and thus remained unknown to those living above. Any other creatures of the Crystal Sea that might be capable of diving to such depths where the dark blue turned to sightless black were never heard from again when they ventured there. The surface over the dark blue water offered no safety for them, for if they swam too closely, underneath the creatures in the hidden depths peered silently from below while the light from the sun or the three moons highlighted the silhouettes of those coming too close above them. These unfortunate creatures were seen from below and then became no more. Death was indeed in the depths, and Osteoans could hide from the evil, or they could stand and be brave. We vowed to protect all, and those who would harm, would themselves be harmed. The Draakar became fierce in strength and resolve. We would never bow to the evil in the depths.”
“Thank you, Father.”
We sat in the warm sand, and waited for the three moons to show full light. The name of the celebration escapes me. I was so young.
Bob asks, “Where did Stefan get the letter?”
Let me see. Pamela closes the attachment and reads the text of the email. He says, ‘Here is a letter from Sgt. Powers wife. I called Nathaniel Drinkwater, the author who wrote the story about Sgt. Powers, and talked to his wife. Nathaniel Drinkwater is deceased. His wife, Marie was happy to speak with Clarice and I. Clarice talked to her too. Sgt. Powers actually wrote the letter before he went to Vietnam. Sgt Powers wife sent it to Nathaniel Drinkwater when he wrote the story years ago. Marie Drinkwater thought it was of interest. Signed, Stefan’
Bob shakes his head sighing deeply.
Pamela senses the melancholy in his silence.
“I remember those times. It was when our three moons were at their fullest. I sat on that same sand he talks about and ate those frozen Frianna. Funny he didn’t remember the official name of the holiday exactly but remembered Frianna. Guess that’s what’s important when you’re eight… My father had his picture taken also. He didn’t win, but he was eighth or ninth… I hadn’t thought about that in years and years. Osteoans never missed a chance to celebrate, and there were many holidays. I was very young then, and I don’t remember many, but that was one of my favorites. I was so proud of my father and planned on racing myself when I was older… Osteoans loved to race…”
Pamela puts her hand on Bob’s soldier and says, “It’s a wonderful memory.”
“It is, and... Sgt. Powers escaped from the wolves. I thought he’d died that day.”
Pamela asks, “Yes, He did… I wonder if Sgt. Powers had any children?”
“No. I don’t think he had time. Unless his wife was pregnant when he went in the service.”
“Stefan should find out.”
Bob takes his phone and dials, “Stefan… Oh, we’re getting closer to home. We’re driving through La Fayette now. Listen. Thanks for the letter. What else can you tell me about the Sgt. Powers? Did he have children?... Okay, how about his wife, is she still alive?... Please tell Clarice, she did great... Would you? Thanks, Stefan.” Bob puts down the phone and laughs. “He’s going to call Marie Drinkwater again and find out if Sgt. Powers’ wife is alive, and if they had any children.”
Bob’s face lights up. He feels his team just won the play off and the championship because his son threw the winning touchdown. Pride beams from an elated Bob. Stefan’s wife Clarice hasn’t been frightened off after learning Stefan is a Draakar. This is another reason to celebrate. Now instead of leaving him after discovering this secret from his past, she’s wanting to help Stefan, and now Bob is on cloud nine. Bob says, “I hope it will help the investigation.”
“If it doesn’t, it will help you to have closure, and that’s important. Might also help Jesse learn more about his past. One of them, Sgt. Powers or his wife, might be his mother or father. Now we only have one girl and one boy left unaccounted for.”
“Peace of mind?”
Pamela nods and says cheerfully, “ I think Stefan and Clarice are going to be fine.”
Bob abruptly says, “She knew he was a Draakar.”
“What… You’re not talking about Clarice.”
“No. Sgt Powers wife.”
Pamela ponders his statement a moment… “Well, Sgt. Powers was fifteen when he wrote the letter and… it doesn’t sound like a fifteen year old wrote it… She must have rewritten it.”
“Would you find it hard to believe if Sgt. Powers wife was the girl that escaped with us?”
A little girl five or six and a boy about eleven escaped from wolves and swam away. Where did they go? Would they part? Bob was the father figure to them all, and he is gone. They think lost for good. Both are on their own. Talk about bonding. I think it would have been impossible to tear them apart. The little girl would be frightened to death. Pamela shudders at the thought. Pamela answers, “I think it would be impossible to tear them apart. They had no one else.”
If Sgt. Powers wife rewrote the letter, she knew it was real, as real as their former world. As real as he was. It was her way of keeping who he was alive.
As they ride over a dark Atchafalaya Swamp on a moonless night, Pamela thinks this is their world now. She looks at Bob, then up into the sky and thinks, ‘The stars are extra bright tonight.’