It's a Narwhal

Submitted into Contest #143 in response to: Write about a character who loves cloud gazing. ... view prompt


Science Fiction Coming of Age

 Jonah searched for the rhinoceros, peering through the glass wall into another world as the station continually rotated, completing the essential revolutions per minute needed to create artificial gravity. Dang! Where did it go? 

 “Look!” Jonah beckoned to his brother. “Over here,” he pointed down, his face beaming. Jonah’s voice rose, “Do you see? Down there? It’s a Rhinoceros!” His brother refused to look; too busy or too stubborn, Jonah hated that.

 “Do you even know what you’re saying? Keep staring down at them clouds, you’re gonna float the F away, shit, you might send all of East-Port Station plunging toward Earth.” Brett also pointed, but his finger wagged in Jonah’s face. “Is that what you want? Two hundred and fifty thousand souls on board and two hundred years of orbiting, burned up, gone, cause Little Jonah can’t do his F-ing job.”

 The display panel flashed red in concert with a high-pitched, Booong, Booong, Booong. Jonah flipped a switch, and a motor hummed as the heavy receptacle doors retracted open, screeching like a whining giant metal mouth. Why is he so hard on me? It’s just trash. We should use robots or drones like everyone else. Ca clang! The doors sprung to a stop at the fully open position. Jonah smashed the ejection button with a closed fist, pretending it was Brett’s face. A massive asteroid of garbage vomited out, projected toward the place Jonah so hoped to go.  

 “What’s your problem with clouds? Doc thinks clouds hold the key,” said Jonah.

 “The key?” Brett shook his head. “You need to get your head out of your…,” Brett looked at Jonah’s backside, smirking “…clouds.”  

 Brett sometimes lightened the tension with a joke. Most times, Jonah appreciated that. Their bickering continuously ramped up around the anniversary of their Dad’s failed mission.  

 “It’s not funny!”  He still treats me like a child. “It might be our way back,” said Jonah.

 “Back?” Brett’s face and tone darkened. “Shit, little brother, never been, and if you keep listening to Doc, you won’t either. Got it?”  

 What’s his problem with Doc? He doesn’t trust my judgment! “All right!” Jonah said, putting his hands up, “Fine.” Jonah wanted to run the other way, but Brett pulled him close, wrapping his brawn around Jonah’s neck, forcing Jonah into a headlock. “Let me go!” Jonah squirmed to get free, but Brett was six years older, a man, and twice his size. Jonah was just an awkward twelve-year-old who hadn’t yet had a growth spurt.  

 “Not until you tell me you love me,” mocked Brett.  

 “No, I don’t want to.” Jonah’s voice was muffled.  

 “Do it, and I’ll let you go!”

 “Okay, you win! I love you,” huffed Jonah.

 “Louder! I can’t hear you.”

 “I LOVE YOU!” Hollered Jonah.  

 Brett continued to laugh after he pushed Jonah loose. Jonah’s cheeks were flushed, his breath labored, and his pride wounded. His hair covered his eyes like a visor, but he wished it hid the entirety of his face. “Look, over there!” Said Jonah, glad to divert Brett’s attention elsewhere.

 Bret sighed, “Enough, no more clouds, Jonah.” 

 “No, the trash.”

 They watched as the floating waste was pulled into the Earth’s atmosphere, lighting up like a giant fiery finger. Jonah liked to imagine it pointed to where his father might be.

 “I just miss him, and sometimes….” Jonah’s voice broke as he looked away; his head hung as low as the clouds.  

 “The Doc reminds you of Dad,” Brett said. His brother could always finish his sentences.

 “Yeah,” Jonah sniffled, running a finger across his nose. “I just wish…, I wish I knew either way!” Jonah lifted his head and stared at his brother; Brett’s face was stone. Jonah recognized he still hadn’t forgiven their DadJonah was convinced that Brett was the toughest or the most stubborn on the station. I might never be as strong as you, but I will be confident in other ways. You’ll see. 

 Brett took a deep breath and a softer tone, but his look was still rigid, “Me too, little brother, me too. One thing's for sure…,” Brett glanced around their workstation, “Dad’s in a better place.” 

  He’s trying. I’ll give him that. Jonah appreciated that. Brett lightly punched Jonah’s arm. 

 “Com’on, our shift is almost over? What the heck is a Rye-nas-ers anyway, or whatever you called it?”

 “A Rhinoceros,” said Jonah laughing, finally feeling as if he bested his brother. 

 “Well, the animal game was always yours and Dad’s thing,” said Brett.

 Jonah shook his head, laughing a bit harder than expected. Brett scrunched his face, “What’s so funny?”

 “It was actually an elephant,” laughed Jonah.

 “A whaaaat?”

They both cracked up.  

 Jonah scarfed down his food, just waiting out his brother, it wouldn’t be long before Brett dozed off, and Jonah found himself free of his overprotective watch. Brett usually napped after dinner, and even if he woke, East Port was a reasonably large space station with many hiding nooks. Jonah had a few secluded spots he frequented, perfect for cloud gazing or star watching, but Jonah always found himself at Doc’s at some point after his shift.  

 “What’s up, Doc?” Jonah said as he entered the office Doctor Earl used to share with his Dad. Jonah placed the books on Doc’s desk. Doc’s head peeked from behind a screen; his eyes brightened as he eyeballed the pile of literature. 

 “Goodness, my boy, I see you finished those quite quickly.” 

 “I saw an elephant today,” Jonah said with a toothy grin.  

 “Really, an elephant, you say? Fantastic! I heard from Brett that you also saw a hippo just a short while back.”

 Brett told Doc about the hippo? He hates my cloud watching, or does he? “Brett was here?” Jonah asked.

 “Yes, he was; as head of science and engineering, I check in with many department heads and shift managers from all over the station on an array of matters,” said Doc.

 Jonah knew that wasn’t exactly the reason, more than likely, Doc was checking in. Jonah nodded, “Makes sense.”

 “But never mind that, tell me about the cloud, my boy.”

 “I saw the hippo about four sleep cycles ago… as well as,” Jonah used his fingers to count out, “an eagle, an alligator, and a vulture.” 

 “All of them? Absolutely smashing! Did you know many ancient cultures worshiped animals? Take the hippo, for example; the Egyptians believed it was a goddess who gave life and protected her children,” said Doc, while he pushed aside a neatly stacked pile of papers. Doc rose from his desk, focusing solely on Jonah. Doc always gave Jonah his undivided attention. Jonah really loved that.  

 “Seriously? I didn’t see that in those books.” Jonah’s eyes and feet roamed the room as he felt Doc’s gaze follow. The office was a place to marvel. Books, pictures, maps, contraptions, gadgets, and creepy jars filled with alien-like parts sat carefully cluttered in every available space; most bordered the room on shelves, floor to ceiling, while other artifacts were placed in display cases. Jonah seemed to bounce as he stepped along the length of multiple shelves, his finger traced across every treasure within reach.

 “Please, do be careful, my boy. Some of them are quite rare, and a few are one of a kind, truly.”  

 “I am always careful,” Jonah promised as he mumbled the titles from every spine he planned to read. You are next, and then you, and you; I will read all of you. An uncontrolled smile rocketed across his face, and his eyes were two glowing stars.

 “Yes, of course, my boy, but perhaps we skip over the jars when you feel the need to touch. “I am afraid the Formaldehyde can be terribly difficult to remove from a three-hundred-year-old rug.”

Jonah looked down at his feet, almost forgetting the beautiful woven tapestry that blanketed the floor. Jonah sauntered over to a large glass display, a golden head sat predominantly. “What is this?” Jonah pointed to the surrounding pictures that framed the large exhibit.

 “Well, my boy, you are certainly your father’s offspring. That was probably Arthur’s favorite piece. The statue is that of a pharaoh, a king of sorts, during ancient Egypt. Atop the head is a crown called a pschent. Those drawings are hieroglyphics, an archaic form of a written language.” Like the animal game, Jonah thought.  

 “I remember learning about Egypt in my Ancient Studies.” Jonah took a step back from the case and turned to face Doc. “What was the hippo goddess called?”

 “Taweret, the mistress of pure water.” The Doc’s hands interlaced and hung at his waist as he crossed the room toward Jonah. “Taweret was also known as the goddess of fertility, and many believed she could rejuvenate the dead.” Jonah listened to every word; the Doc knew so much history. Just like Dad.

 “Then the cloud I saw was a good sign. Maybe, my father is alive,” said Jonah

 The Doc nodded slowly. “Yes, yes, of course, a good sign, my boy. I do believe that part is true.”  

 Doc stepped closer and placed a hand on Jonah’s shoulder. Jonah could almost see tears in his eyes. The Doc sighed, then spoke slow and calm.  

 “Your Dad is a great scientist, the best cloud seeder in the galaxy, and my best mate, and if anyone could have survived, it is certainly him, but it has been four years now, almost five in fact….” The Doc paused.

 Jonah could feel the strength in Doc’s fingers as he squeezed his shoulder.  Don’t you dare say it! You and Brett are wrong! Jonah could only shake his head, but he wanted to scream, WRONG! You don’t know. 

 The Doc swallowed and continued. “My dear boy, almost five years without any word. I promised him I’d look after the two of you; maybe it is past time you moved into my quarters. You’d have your own space, and I’m sure Brett could use the extra legroom.”  

 “No! I don’t want to.” Jonah pulled away, his voice louder, “He lost communications, that’s all!” Jonah’s voice trembled as he yelled, “Why does everyone think he’s dead? He’s not!” Jonah bolted through the door.

 Jonah’s face was already red and his eyes puffy when Brett entered the quarters. Jonah hated today; it was the anniversary. Jonah didn’t look up, even while Brett cleared his throat like an alarm warning of a pending transmission. Jonah felt sad, angry, and determined all at once. The palms of his hands braced against their Dad’s locked door, his head dangled low between them, he stared at the biometric pad, deciding. Neither he nor Brett had opened that door since their Dad had departed. Brett referred to it as Dad’s tomb, Jonah hated that, but he felt the same deep inside. Every day for the last four years and counting, Jonah placed a loving hand on his Dad’s cold, closed-door before the start of his shift. It was his way of staying connected, like leaving flowers. He made up his mind, and he wanted in.

 “What are you thinking, little brother? Our shift starts soon, so let’s leave that for later.”

 Jonah glared at his brother. “You are not going to stop me.”

Brett gave him a measured look. “I won’t stop you, but some things are best left buried.”

 “Do you even care that Dad is alive?” Jonah scowled almost as hard as Brett ever had.

 “Dad is gone! He left us! Alive or dead, it doesn’t matter cause he ain’t coming back. Get that through your head; he abandoned us, all for that f-ing floating rock he called Heaven.” 

 “He wanted us to have a better life. Don’t you know that?” Jonah persisted, and he was no longer scared of Brett.

 “We had a good life. He threw that out like the shit pile of trash we send out every day, incinerated, gone. The sooner you accept that, the better.” 

 “No, You’re wrong.” Jonah pointed at Brett. “Dad didn’t….”

Brett interrupted, “Then why did he leave us to Doc if he planned to care for us.”

 “I don’t understand why you hate Doc.”

 “I don’t hate Doc.” Brett no longer made eye contact. Instead, he tapped the wall with his foot. Jonah realized his brother missed Dad as much as he did. “He’s just not Dad. Why do you think Dad picked him anyway?” Asked Brett.

 “Because Doc would do exactly what Dad would do if he were still here…believe in us,” said Jonah.

 “Believe what?” 

 Both of them looked up when they heard a knock. The door announced Access Granted and glided open. Doc entered the quarters without waiting; he had access to everything but their father’s private room.  

 “Am I interrupting? I was worried when you ran off yesterday, and today, well, being today, I thought I should stop in,” said Doc.

 “No, it’s fine,” said Brett. “I think we’re finished here.”

  Jonah felt differently. He glanced at his brother. Brett’s eyes were wide, and he slowly shook his head no, but Jonah no longer worried. He had grown to trust his gut; he was no longer a child. He turned and looked directly at Doc.

 “Dad is alive, and I can prove it.”

 “My dear boy, how have you come to this?”

 “The proof is behind this door.” Jonah seemed to grow taller.

 Without waiting for a response, Jonah pressed his thumb to the pad. The door slid open, and the three of them surveyed the room. None of them spoke a word until finally, Brett broke the silence.

 “Maybe he forgot to call the maid?”

 “It’s a bloody mess, is what it is. I don’t even know what to say.” Doc rubbed his forehead. Jonah had never seen Doc lost for an explanation; usually, he had all the answers.

 Papers and papers and more papers were pinned to every square inch of the wall, overlapped and everywhere; some shared the same pin. It reminded Jonah of feathers. A few of the drawings had torn free and found their way to the floor, mingling with other piles of sketches that never made it up. The top of his desk was covered, as was his bed, so many, none of them could see the mattress. 

 Jonah had a teary smile.  Thank you, Dad, you never disappointed.  “This was Dad.” 

 “No, this is not right. Your father, my friend, was a brilliant man. Orderly and meticulous. This! This is the mind of a mad man! Maybe we should shut the door,” said Doc.

 “Dad was smart, and so is my little brother.” Brett blurted. He gave Jonah an approving nod to continue. “Let him finish.”

 “It’s our drawings, mine and Dad’s, from playing the game. He must have kept them all; for years and years. I always thought it was a stupid game he made up to help me learn everything about Earth if humans made it back, and he always thought we would.” Jonah turned toward Doc. “After seeing the hieroglyphics in your office and seeing this, I know Dad was teaching me more than animals. He taught me an alphabet.”

 “An alphabet?” Both Brett and Doc said almost in unison. 

 “To communicate. Let me explain,” said Jonah.

 Jonah searched through the stacks, knocking them over as he went. Ripping some of them off the wall just to toss them carelessly down to the floor after ruling them out. His eyes were large, scanning for something specific. Where is it? Where are you? “Here! Do you see?” Jonah held out the illustrations; his hand shook as Brett reached for it.  

 “I don’t get it. It’s a bunch of animals,” said Brett.

 “How are you my brother, and how are you responsible for me?” Jonah laughed, too excited to wait for a response. Jonah listed the animals from left to right, pointing as he went, “Hippopotamus, eagle, alligator, vulture, elephant, and finally, my favorite, a narwhal.”

 “So who cares.” Brett whirled his arm, “All of these sketches have different animals.”  

 Doc stared blankly, listening even as Brett handed the paper to him.  

 “Each one of these sketches says something different. The first letter of the animal shown represents a letter in a word; the order determines what it spells. Look here.” Jonah directed; he was becoming more comfortable leading. “Hippopotamus starts with the letter H, so this word must start with an H,” explained Jonah.

 “Okaaay?” Brett said while scratching his head.

 “So let me get his straight, my boy; this series of drawings spell out, “Heaven?” Asked Doc.

 “Exactly!” Jonah’s heart was racing. “And that is the exact animals and order of the clouds I’ve seen.”

 “Perhaps, my boy, you are seeing what you want to because you wish so badly to believe your Dad is alive,” said Doc.

 “Possibly. Or maybe, we all see a Narwhal when our shift starts. What do you say, Doc, want to gaze at the clouds?”

 The Doc smiled, “Okay, my boy, lead the way.”

 Each one of them took up a different spot, staring out the glass wall, with the promise to call out if anything remotely resembled a narwhal.  

 “How do you think your Dad is shaping the clouds?” Asked Doc while he searched out.

 “Does it matter? We can ask him when we see him,” said Jonah, with his back turned and his nose bent against the glass. “Just keep looking.”

 “I suppose you are right, my boy. Ooh! Oh, never mind, that is no more than a blob.”

 “Look! Right f-ing there!” Brett hopped like a small child; Jonah enjoyed that even if he didn’t show it. “Do you see it? Near the pyramids.”

Doc and Jonah darted toward Brett’s part of the wall.  

 “I don’t bloody believe it. It’s a….” The word seemed caught in Doc’s throat.

 Jonah smiled and finished the Doc’s thought, “It’s a narwhal!” 

April 28, 2022 18:38

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Riel Rosehill
08:03 May 05, 2022

Hi James, welcome to Reedsy! This was a lovely story to read, a job well done on your first submission, congrats! Bonus points for the narwhal, such a cool animal!


James Finamore
19:31 May 07, 2022

Thank you for the kind words. I am relatively new to writing stories and was excited to find a place where I can have fun trying to grow as a writer. There are so many talented writers here including yourself. I loved your most recent story; I read it a few times.


Riel Rosehill
19:52 May 07, 2022

Aw, thank you so much! It's a great community, I look forwards to seeing your next story😊


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