Waves of Panic

It didn’t last for long.  But for the briefest of moments, the ocean’s surface had begun to buzz, bubble and boil – like a cauldron’s substance, sprinkled with green salt and membranes of kelp.

Breaking through the surface were the bodies of fish, their muscles and spines contracting in uncontrolled leaps, their efforts evaporating in the air before they fell, helpless, back into the toothsome waters.  Their panic was anarchic; a school of bedlam.

Danger surrounded the little fish.  Danger sought them.  The sense of the coiling progress of a hunter, its quiet and bloody hunger, pricked their nerves into a scintillating panic.  Their only means of escape was a quick, confused leap into the suffocating air followed by a helpless collapse into the sea’s watery embrace.

The fish repeated their chaotic vaulting – the ocean’s surface was dimpled with the tracks of their frenzied attempts.  Instinct told them that the aerated arc above them was their only hope of escape although their gills fluctuated and gagged at every contact with the arid tides of barren molecules.

Image result for mackerel - vintage color lithograph

But suddenly the air was torn apart by an approaching mayhem. As it drew closer it was heralded by cries that were sharp and pitched, by feathers that wandered into the froth – soft, curling messengers that presaged a secondary slaughter.  Like an armada the color of dusk, they floated on tiny, aimless journeys before sinking – to warn a terrified, submerged population.

Image result for sea birds - vintage

And just as the cries became shrieks, the water was assaulted by all the tools of hunger.  Screaming avian jaws lanced the surface of the water like needles perforating a quilt.  In a tumult of competition gulls, cormorants, shearwaters and terns plunged their faces into the ocean, their sharpened beaks an affront to the watery, fish-frenzied world.

And then just as suddenly, it was over.  The anarchy of the waves became serene; the muddle of violence was silenced.  The sky was unpopulated:  the dialogue of birds became a distant murmur, hidden in the pockets of salt and fog.  The predatory fish, sated and sleepy, sank into dark grottoes thick with alloys of green and coral.  As for the rest, the panicked prey, all that remained was a scent of oil and blood in the water and a silent flurry of scales beginning a slow descent:  witness to the terrible plan Nature had in store for them.



5 responses to “Waves of Panic

  1. You remind me that it’s the end of smelt season on the Pacific coast. I remember seeing a flurry of wildlife around the Bay, pelicans, gulls, dolphins, seals, even sharks, wildly feeding on the wiggling silver creatures leaping out of the surf. I felt bad for the little fish, but without them the larger animals that make the shoreline a wondrous place would die. It also makes me realize how the sea is teeming with life, and how we shouldn’t take that granted, especially now. Excellent piece, aubrey.

  2. Haunting and beautiful, Aubrey. Your nature writing reminds me of Rachel Carson’s spell-binding book, “Under the Sea-Wind.” She poetically describes the lives of a sea bird, a fish and an eel from their points of view. I grew quite fond of Scomber, the mackerel. Life is most often a struggle and your story showed us a glimpse of it!

  3. When the season turns, our glass minnows increase million-folds. At night, when they’re being pursued by larger fish, they sound like rain as they fall back into the water.

    At work yesterday, a panic-stricken fish landed right at my feet on the dock.Within seconds, I’d flipped him back into the water: though to what end, I now wonder.

  4. And this is life, and death, every moment of every day.
    Beautifully told.

  5. Hangaku – the sea is indeed so full; whenever I sit on the surfboard, my feet dangling in the water I can’t help but wonder what pair of fishy eyes is watching!

    Barbara – this is most flattering: thank you! She – and like-minded authors – are proof that the life of a bird or a fish is just as evocative as the existence of millions of human populations.

    shoreacres – bravo for your quick reaction; I hope your little protege survives. Like rain, yes – and in the day the bait fish look like silver coins being tossed into the air.

    Lauri – thanks so much – yes, it’s the cycle that surrounds us, whatever the day, whatever the season.

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