Wolphinia

Giselle Leeb

Reckoning 1

It used to be that I didn’t dare stop driving around—people would notice; I’d make them feel guilty and they might attack. Now, on my walks through the harbour, all I have to do is duck the cars that smash through the barrier high above my head. And flinch when they hit the heap of metal that lines the sea wall.

Ride not riot. That’s the tiny government’s latest slogan. Not that anyone’s listening since the election turnout dropped to 2.3%. But the people keep queueing up for their petrol. Fucking lemmings!

I follow the harbour wall that ends at the old customs house, tucked underneath the flyover, now the seat of the tiny government. I’m wondering what they actually do, besides doling out petrol, when out of the mucky water pops this wolphin and I jump a fucking mile.

I put my hands up. Wolphins aren’t stupid. It’s very likely to be pissed off: every time another car ‘forgets’ to take the curve and flies off into the sea, a wolphin floats belly-up afterwards.

Still, what on earth do I expect it to do? Gun me down? Wolphins don’t have hands.

I look closer. It’s way too big to be an English wolphin. Maybe the rumours were true, maybe it’s ex-Russian. Not that anybody cares. Even the Nationalists have given up—more important fish to fry and all that.

The wolphin half-rises from the waves and opens its mouth, as if it’s struggling to say something. I’m interested. Conversation is pretty scarce these days. I edge closer, keeping my hands up, but the wolphin moves back. You can’t blame it for being suspicious—I am a human, after all.

Though hardly anyone’s fishing anymore. Even the police just drive around. To be fair, there’s not a lot else left to do.

Whistle, whistle goes the wolphin and it flips over and wiggles its tail.

I wasn’t too hot at Wolphinese when everyone was into it—before the wolph-fishing started. Anyhow, I don’t even know if it speaks Wolphinese, let alone English.

I sneak a look at its undercarriage, but I can’t tell if it’s F or M. Oh well, nobody gives a shit since the babies stopped coming. It probably can’t tell about me either: I’ve shaved my hair off now Mom’s not around to tell me to act like a proper girl.

I’m trying to remember ‘hello’ when another wolphin swims up, a big grin on its face. Well, it’s hard to tell really when a wolphin is smiling.

Maybe it’s for the best I don’t speak Wolphinese: the fanatically fluent were the first to start eating their new friends.

I put on a lame grin and lower my hands.

Whistle, whistle goes the first wolphin again, and the second hesitates, then rolls over.

Fuck me! It’s got little hind legs.

I’d read about this during the wolphin craze. Super-rare. And these ones look like proper legs—like they might actually be going somewhere—not like the tiny buds in the pictures.

I’m literally at a loss for words, but I want the wolphins to know that I would never eat them—unlike some, I recognize their official person status. I’m not a fucking cannibal! I look towards the concrete bunker of the tiny government and I flip the finger and spit afterwards for good measure. The wolphins do a little jump and I know they understand. They start to swim away, but then they turn and look back at me and I wish I could go with them.

But I can’t. Sure, I’m a little mercury-toxic already, but it’ll be swiftly over if I so much as touch that water.

I can’t even say ‘tomorrow’ in Wolphinese, so I point to the sun, then roll my hands, and they do another jump.

I watch them swim out to the harbour mouth. I wonder if they’ve managed to get anywhere beyond this crappy island.

I meander in the direction of the customs house. The tiny government blew the remains of the budget on bulletproof window glass and fenced off the last working petrol pumps—conveniently located next to the customs house, underneath the flyover. Rumours are they even recruited a few ex-Russian wolphins to protect them on the ocean approach. Hush hush, of course: the soldier wolphins were officially all home-bred British. Fucking Nationalists.

There’s a ripe breeze coming off the cars that didn’t make it into the water and I pull my scarf up over my mouth as I stare out to sea. It looks almost beautiful, a grey gleam catching the sunshine through a break in the clouds. But I know what’s in that water.

Still, plenty of fish in the sea, if you don’t mind eating just a little mercury.

The wolphins frolic in the dim sunlight, a bit creaky, but basically survivors—the new roaches of the sea, as their ex-friends, the wolphinistas, took to calling them, just before they started eating them. After they conveniently forgot they had person status.

No one would dare eat them now: they are packed to the gills with mercury. But somehow thriving—like the tiny government is rumoured to be. Everybody used to want to know their secret, when they still cared about living forever.

I pull out a cigarette. Mom and Pops went on and on about it, before they started the big drive, but really, my lungs can’t tell the difference. I lift up my scarf and take a drag and pretend to blow the smoke out through the top of my head, like a wolphin.

The tiny government hasn’t been sighted outside their bunker for some time, except for their petrol people, doling out the rations.

I cough in surprise as a school of wolphins swims right past me—at least forty. They roll over and wiggle their legs. They all have the legs! Except for the leader, who I take to be the first wolphin I met. They clear their blowholes and swim in formation in the direction of the tiny government.

Once, I would have run to tell someone the news . . . now, I just stare. Who is there to tell?

But it’s a bit like old times. I haven’t seen a wolphin parade since before the wolph-fishing. As far as I was concerned, conscripting them was cruel, more soldiers for the useless cause. God knows what they were actually making them do.

The wolphins surface way past the customs house and swim back out to the harbour mouth.

I can’t help wondering what they’re up to. Do they have a plan? Or are they just stupid great fake-fish in the pay of the tiny government?

Still, what would they pay them with? Wolphins don’t need petrol, and even if they could drive, they’re already in the sea.

Whatever. I may as well try and find out. I don’t exactly have anything else to do.

It’d be less suspicious to get close to the customs house in a car and I’m sort of regretting my resolution to give up driving. But there are a few people who approach on foot if they’re dumb enough to run out of petrol . . . usually women, according to the government.

I never thought I’d count myself lucky to be a girl. How could I when the tiny government are all men? It’s kind of a sicko joke now that women are crashing through the barriers into the sea in equal numbers.

But I’m not stupid enough to just walk right up to the bunker empty-handed. I’ll have to go home for some props.

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It’s been a while since I’ve seen the house. The dead telly reflects slices of yellow grass between the window slats. Mom and Pops used to spend a lot of time watching the news; later, they just watched the crashes.

I run upstairs to their room, grab one of Mom’s wigs and Pop’s binos and run back down to the kitchen. I’m ravenous.

I open the cupboard and stare at the tins and tins of fucking fish.

“Eat your little fish, Monkey,” I hear Mom saying, and I force myself to move on to the garage.

I fling a rusty petrol can into the back seat of the saloon.

The keys are in the ignition. I haven’t driven my car since Mom and Pops sailed into the harbour, in a manner of speaking. I start the engine and collapse against the wheel, laughing. When I remember that mood incongruence is one of the early mercury symptoms, I laugh even more, until I’m weeping. Eat your little fish—what’s a little poison on the side? Mom and Pops couldn’t help it. What else was there to feed me? Ha ha ha!

I hoot and wave at my one remaining neighbour as I cruise past. Once she would have been so proud I’d started driving again. Now, she doesn’t even look up. She just carries on checking the petrol in her tank.

It’s dusk by the time I get back to the harbour. I drive right past the bunker. Hopefully they’ll pass me off as just another petrol junky, desperate for my next ration. I scan the sea as I take the entrance to the flyover.

I’m not supposed to stop up here, but it’s almost dark and I pull over to one side, where I can get a good view of the customs house. Just in time, it turns out. A small van accelerates through the hole in the barrier and lands way out. Talk about making a big splash!

I aim Pop’s binos at the bunker to avoid looking at the red stain spreading across the water. I can tell it’s blood, not petrol. They must have hit a wolphin. And that’s when I see the dinghy heading out from the customs house.

I didn’t know there were any boats left. It’s even got an engine and there are three MPs crouched in it. They have a long pole with a hook on the end. They putter out and snag the wounded wolphin as soon as it surfaces.

What the fuck? Its best chance is to be left alone. People know about the self-healing power of wolphins—that’s what got them started on eating them. And it’s the tiny government that banned wolph-fishing in the first place, once they realized about the mercury. Maybe they are trying to save it?

The wolphins surround the dinghy and start jumping out of the water. They almost knock the pole away, but the MPs speed away, back to the bunker, and haul the wolphin out onto the fenced-off slipway. It makes a strange, strangled scream and tries to thrash free. They deliver a swift booting, and I know for sure that they are not going to save it. They drag it hurriedly through the big metal doors, to the answering screams of its fellow wolphins.

Fuckers.

I can’t stop thinking about Mom and Pops on their final trip into the harbour. Did they even remember me before the big crash?

Whatever.

I sit until it’s almost dark, watching Mom and Pop’s mascot wolphin swinging from the car mirror. They used to worship the wolphins for being mercury-tolerant, but in the end they were jealous.

I’m badly tempted to just keep on driving.

I roll the car forward until it blocks the gap in the barrier, pull on Mom’s wig, get out and throw the keys over the edge.

I feel my way down the flyover, one hand on the barrier, petrol can in the other.

A weak moon lights up the dirty mist floating over the harbour. I imagine the wolphin ghosts, torn and twisted, rising healed from the water—like Jehovah’s Witnesses on resurrection day—and marching back onto the land, while the humans drop into the gloom, trailing red, clutching their precious steering wheels.

I put down the petrol can and creep towards the bunker. I make it to the wall that runs at right-angles to the sea. I inch along it, before I notice the MP sluicing the wolphin blood from the dinghy. It’s tied to the inside of the fence that juts out from the wall into the water. I press myself against the wall until he goes back in.

I slowly lift my head. There’s a small circle of light showing through a hole in the blackout cloth over the only window. I have to stand on tiptoe to peer through.

Luckily, the MPs have their backs to me. They’re sitting at a long table, watching a tall man. He stands facing them, eyes closed, hands uplifted, doing some sort of prayer, it looks like. There’s an enormous white plate in front of each of them. I strain closer, until I see that telltale black wolphin meat with the red edges like hot and angry coals.

I turn and shuffle away as fast as possible, my hand over my mouth.

Fucking cannibals!

I wish those wolphins would reappear. I need somebody to talk to. Nothing makes sense. Not because the MPs are eating wolphin—you never know what to expect from humans. It’s because I realize that there is not one sane person left.

Why am I so surprised?

I crouch by the wall until the night smudges into another grey day, half-hoping the wolphins won’t come. I’ve never touched a sliver of wolphin meat, but how will they know that?

The wolphin surfaces alone. I don’t expect sympathy after its companion has just been offed by its supposed fellows. But I remove Mom’s wig. I want it to recognize me. I want it to know that not all humans are the same.

“Sorry,” I say, and it does its little jump.

And it makes everything worse. I stand looking away from it, pressing my sleeve against my stupid mouth, trying not to laugh. Fucking mercury! I’m losing it!

“Sorry, sorry,” I say, and I look it straight in the eye and almost reach out to stroke its shiny poisonous flank, the red tip of its sore fin. I almost do. But I can’t. Even a few drops of water on my skin will . . . but what difference . . . .

The wolphin whistles at me, then turns its nose to point at its fin, then whistles again. My eyes have gone all blurry. All I can think of is Mom and Pop’s last drive and I realize I’m crying . . . . Better than laughing, I suppose.

It whistles again and I wipe my eyes. I finally understand what it’s trying to tell me when I see what it’s got wedged between its fin and body.

I look up, trying to clear my head. The school of wolphins have gathered at the harbour mouth and are swimming patterns in the water; it feels like they are showing me the way when they roll over in unison and wave their stubby legs.

I understand what it’s like to be them, I understand what it’s like to be ignored. What did the tiny government ever do for us?

I take off my scarf and wrap it round my hand. I lean down and gently lift up the grenade.

Pops was ex-military, like almost everyone since we became disconnected from the other continents and there was no longer any cause. He used to tell me tales about kamikaze Russian wolphins. “They couldn’t get the English ones to detonate the grenades,” he’d whisper.

I’m pretty sure he never dreamt I’d be dumb enough to try it one day. Even if I was a girl.

But now I’m finally a young woman. I breathe out. What next?

But I know already. I point towards the bunker, towards the remains of that feeble atrocity, the tiny government. “Now?” I ask, and the wolphin jumps up high.

My fingers are so numb that I let the scarf fall and hold the grenade with my bare hands. I can’t help flinching as the drops of water touch them, but I’ve got a feeling I won’t be needing them soon.

I’m shivering as I clasp the grenade and sneak over to the bunker wall. No sign of any MPs. I unbutton my shirt and tuck the grenade inside, then clamber along the outside of the fence and swing myself round to the inside where the dinghy is tied up.

The hardest part is getting into the boat. I still can’t stop trembling at the thought of all that water. Maybe Pops was right: those Russian wolphins must have been nuts to blow themselves up.

But then they didn’t have a good reason.

The dinghy rocks from side to side as I untie it and use the pole to push it close enough to the open metal doors.

The MPs stare at me as I bob into their line of sight.

The wolphins know that I’ll die in that water. And I know now for sure I will never join them when they march back out onto the land.

I may as well make myself useful.

“For Mom and Pops,” I yell, as I pull the pin and lob the grenade straight through the doors.

There’s a bright flash and I feel strangely illuminated from the inside out as I’m blown through the air into the poisonous sea.

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The wolphins push me up to the surface to breathe, and the feeling of being carried aloft on their little hind legs almost makes up for the fact that it’s nearly all over for me.

But my rage has gone now that the tiny government is wolphin food. The grey water actually appears blue and fresh. An obvious delusion, but I have to admit, I’m enjoying it.

At least it’s better than just driving around.

Read Michael’s interview with Giselle about “Wolphinia” here.

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Author: Giselle Leeb

Giselle Leeb grew up in South Africa and lives in Nottingham, UK, where she works as a web developer when she is not writing short stories. These have appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Ambit, Supernatural Tales, Mslexia, Litro, and other places. She recently won the third prize for short fiction in the Aurora and Elbow Room competitions and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize 2016. http://giselleleeb.com/, @gisellekleeb

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