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Fantasy

It was sweltering noon when the call came through.

“Legion animal control services,” I heard Justin answer.

The business did fairly well in tropical Durban, South Africa. The small city was edged by a beautiful sea, and flourished with thicket between the suburbs. It was animal heaven for us. We would get called out for some of the world’s finest wildlife that had skittered their way into people’s homes. Snakes were the most common. Run-ins with pesky monkeys were not too far behind.

“A bird, you say?” Justin was asking.

Simon and I looked over to each other. The job would go to one of us... depending on whether it really was a bird or not. There was always a chance it could be a harpy or a griffin.

The first time I saw a griffin had been seven years ago, when I was seventeen. My parents hadn’t believed me. And so it was that the people who didn’t believe in such creatures never seemed to run into them, almost as if it was a wilful way of life. I, however, spotted them as often as I did ants or flies. And so did Justin. And Simon. And all the other members of The Legion.

“You’re working for animal control?” my mother had asked doubtfully when I joined The Legion, believing – as all parents did – that their child had potential far beyond such an ordinary job. “And what sort of morbid name is Legion anyway.”

I didn’t mind the chastising. I enjoyed my work. Justin, a few years my senior, was an easy-going leader.

“Cameron, I think this one’s yours,” Justin said to me as he walked out of his office. “A woman was walking by the cliffs beyond the beach when she spotted a bird caught in a fishing net down at the bottom. She described it as ‘a funny-looking one’. You know what that means – it’s probably not a bird at all.”

I nodded and got off my chair.

“Sounds harmless. If it’s hurt, bring it back here for rehabilitation. We’ll release it in a few days,” Justin advised.

“Sure thing, boss man.”

Justin laughed and waved me off.

I took a leisurely drive to the cliffs overlooking the sea. Durban was not a city of hurry. Traffic jams were far and few, and rushing was not a natural way of life. It might have had something to do with the weather. Durban was persistently sunny – or least warm – even in winter. Laziness rode the humidity drifting through the city.

I parked on the side of the road when I arrived. The area was deserted. Why hang around a sheer cliff-face when there was a splendid beach back the other way? There was no sign of the woman who had phoned in. She must have been a stray jogger.

I looked out to the ocean. Rolls of white froth trundled to the shoreline. It was reported that some of the best surfing waves in the world were to be found here. I looked over the edge. Many metres below was a splattering of jagged rocks. So thin I could barely see it, except in places where it had gathered in bunches, was a ream of green fishing net. Beating desperately against it were orange-red wings – a Phoenix!

The caller hadn’t been entirely wrong, then.

I hadn’t seen a lot of Phoenixes in my time, but they were remarkably distinct birds. This one was large; greater than the hadidah birds of the region, but smaller than the ostriches at Lynnfield Zoo. Its cries were musical, touching, heart-breaking.

I walked the length of the cliff-face until I came across a tumbling of boulders that would suffice as a staircase down. At the bottom I scrambled over rocks, all precariously loose and racing away from me just as soon as I’d stepped on them, until I was not far from the bird.

The Phoenix halted its struggle as it noticed me battling towards it. It cooed soothingly, relieved. I knew it was safe to approach. I made my way slowly towards it. A loose stone rolled away. I took another cautious step; another rock gave way. As I placed my hands on two large boulders and rooted my feet to haul myself on top, the surface gave way. Just as I realised what would happen, the boulders collapsed inward and trapped my leg in the tight crevice between them.

The Phoenix must have sensed the hopelessness of the situation because it broke out in fresh cries. My leg, try as it might, could not manoeuvre out. I tried vainly to wrestle the boulder away. It was futile, too, to nudge away more rocky footing to make a bigger hole.

I gritted my teeth and struggled for ages, alternately labouring and ceasing in exhaustion, all the way until the sun began descending in the west.

When the sun hovered just above the ocean horizon I felt thirsty. The Phoenix was, by then, listless. It feebly begged for the attention of any chance passers, in its sad song. The tide was fast coming in, too. Ocean spray trampolined violently over the rocks. The seabed below, I knew, was misleadingly deep.

In the distance between me and the horizon was a small boat – the rubberised kind the Sharks Board used for their expeditions; too far for them to hear me.

I attempted miserably and without any luck to catch their attention. The boat was rocking wildly from side to side, far too much for it to be the simple high tide. The boat seemed to shrivel – deflate maybe? – and disappeared underwater, leaving only the dotted figures of the crew flailing in the water.

I watched in horror. What had happened? It couldn’t possibly have been the work of a shark.

The Phoenix, in terror, began struggling with a renewed sense of purpose. The sweet, alluring sounds of the bird caused a scaly hump to rise and fall from the water, heading in our direction.

It wasn’t a shark at all! My panicked mind prioritised identifying the creature over coming up with an escape plan. It flitted over every animal I knew, from magical and mythical to ordinary.

The hump appeared and disappeared, getting closer each time. Like the Phoenix I began vigorously shouting, kicking, and flailing.

The slithering, scaly hump only arrived faster. I knew it was part of a longer, snaking body careening towards us under the surface.

With horror, it arrived at a point just beyond the rocks. The snaking mass rose higher and higher. It was lifting its head! As the head rose dripping from the water – a menacing, dragon-like face of bloody teeth and horned skin – I realised with ridiculous, misplaced triumph what it was. It was a sea serpent.

It tilted its head towards the crying Phoenix first. It opened its ugly maw and bent...

A loud thud rang out as a dart hit the monster square in the neck.

The monster roared and writhed and, within seconds, fell on the rock, missing myself and – thank goodness – the beautiful Phoenix.

“Cameron, it didn’t hit you did it?” shouted Justin from the cliff above.

“Justin, is that you?” I called in relief.

“Simon too. Hold on. We’re coming down.”

The Phoenix and I looked at each other. Relief shone bright on both our faces as we waited for them to reach us.

“You’ve been here for hours,” Justin exclaimed as he and Simon successfully shifted a boulder enough for me to move out.

My leg was a little stiff, but otherwise unscathed. It was a miracle that we were able to say the same for the bird once it was cut out of the net.

Simon bent down to it with his water bottle.

“How did you guys know I was here?” I asked.

“We didn’t,” he answered. “We’ve been chasing that sea serpent along the coast all afternoon!”

“I was lucky to get that tranquilliser in when I did,” Justin offered. “A boat is on its way to haul the serpent back to deeper waters where it belongs.”

“And let’s get this little buddy back to where he belongs,” Simon said, standing up, the Phoenix perched on his arm.

I bowed to the bird, who let out a brilliant note then launched itself off Simon’s elbow, and into the deepening dusk.

“We’ll wait here for the boat. You go get some rest since you’re back on the regular cases tomorrow,” Justin suggested.

I didn’t tarry. When I reached the top of the cliff-face, where my car had patiently waited, I turned around for one last look at the sea. The fiery colours of the departing Phoenix were matched by the setting sun. What an extraordinary world we live in, I thought as another day drew to a close over wild, fantastic South Africa.


 

March 12, 2020 15:42

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7 comments

Lindy Guidry
22:46 Mar 18, 2020

Exciting and intriguing story! Very well written and a pleasure to read.

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Victor Lana
19:46 Mar 16, 2020

What an amazing story. There is great tension built up here, and by the time we get to that sea serpent rising from the water, I was on the edge of my seat. There is also such beauty in this story - of the place and of the magical creatures, especially the Phoenix. Thank you for sharing your this story. It is a gift for its readers.

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Ola Hotchpotch
17:14 Mar 15, 2020

Phoenix the mythical bird and dragon with a heart of gold. Nice story.

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Keli Hariparsad
12:29 Mar 16, 2020

Thank you for taking the time to comment. It's very motivating :)

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Noku Sibanda
13:12 Mar 15, 2020

I'm simple. I saw Durban and I clicked. but I fell in love with your story. It was so majestic and exciting to read.

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Keli Hariparsad
12:31 Mar 16, 2020

Very kind of you to take the time to leave a comment :) thank you!

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Keli Hariparsad
12:40 Mar 16, 2020

And if you're a Durbanite, the publishing house I'm with would love to hear from you... KREST Publishers ❤️thanks again :)

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