She swam at the bottom of the great sea far longer than many of the other creatures who had already crawled out onto the sands that bordered the land masses, journeyed into the vast jungles, and then evolved into a large number of diverse creatures. She alone had been given a gift from The Great Light that shone from the lava that flowed from the volcanoes and from the fires that erupted in the canyons at the bottom of the sea. The gift was the ability to give names to anything and everything.
In the murky depths she spent her time forming in her head the names for the rocks, corals, plants, flowers, and swimming and crawling creatures that inhabited the world she had been born into, just like everything she had ever known had also been born into. She gave each thing a name that came from the sounds she imagined in her head, able to only vocalize a few of them, mimicking the resonating booming tone of the whales, the more lilting sing-song chirps of the dolphins, and the gurgling of air bubbles that floated to the water’s surface, all things she named. She had no idea how long she had remained behind at the bottom of the ocean naming things, but by the time she rose from the depths, everything in the water had a name.
She crept out of the water and lay on a white sandy beach for a long time while she took long breaths to accustom her lungs to the change from breathing water to inhaling and exhaling air. Eventually her gills disappeared, leaving her to use only her mouth to breathe. The heat from the sunlight withered and burnt away her fins, and as she stretched, her salamander-like legs lengthened into humanoid legs and arms. Long, lustrous black hair sprouted from the top of her head, protecting her skull from the harsh rays of the sun, and ears formed around the holes on each side of her head to shield them from the blowing sand, funneling the noises that occurred around her into the recesses of her brain. For the first time she heard crashing waves, the screeching calls of the seagulls and birdsong that came from within the jungle. She heard the rush of wind, the pitter-patter of falling rain, the creaking of palm trees swaying in the breeze, and the thudding crash of a coconut as it fell to the ground.
She stood on her newly formed feet and immediately began doing what she had always done, naming everything she saw according the sound she associated with them. A tree became a tree because that is how she imagined it sounded when its branches creaked in the wind. A bug got its name from the sound it made as it scrambled across the ground. As she left the safety of the sea, she walked into the jungle, fully upright, naming things left and right. Hearing aloud for the first time the utterance of her own voice as she sang, she named herself Preet after the sound of the first note she ever sang with her newly acquired vocal cords.
She traveled many days and nights into the wilderness giving names to every new thing she saw or encountered – plant or animal – before she stopped to rest at twilight at the base of a giant kapok tree.
As the rays of breaking dawn shone through the tree canopies surrounding the tree where Preet had fallen into a deep sleep, she was awoken by giggles coming from a nearby tree branch. She stood and looked up to see a monkey-like creature covered in light brown fur, with gangly legs and arms, crouched among the leaves. In the ocean it would have been considered what she called fishlings, or the youngest of the fish. The thing in the tree was also a female of its species. She wore a crown of laurel leaves around her black hair. Her eyes were large and full of life. She stared at Preet with a mixture of curiosity and amusement.
Preet named it Jungle Girl. Forming her first sentence spoken aloud, she pointed at Jungle Girl and then all around. “Where others?” she asked.
Jungle Girl looked about and shrugged.
Preet decided the question could be answered another time. She pointed to her mouth and told Jungle Girl, “Find food.”
Jungle Girl bounced up and down, clapped her hands and shouted at the top of her voice, “Food, food, food.” She then leapt onto the ground, grabbed Preet’s hand and pulled her through the thick jungle undergrowth, pointing out the various fruits that hung from the bushes and trees.
Preet named them as she plucked, peeled and bit into them. Banana. Mango. Apple. Guava. Berry.
By the time the pair reached a small, shallow pond in the center of a clearing among the trees, Preet’s belly was full. Satiated, she plopped down on a bed of spongy moss and peered into the crystal clear water. On the bottom of the pond was an adult male lying on his back, his large gossamer wings spread out from beneath him. His mouth and eyes were closed. Small bubbles rose from his nostrils and the hairs on his thin mustache trembled with every breath he took.
“Who that?” Preet asked Jungle Girl who was busy making finger puppets out of pieces of bark. Jungle Girl looked at the sleeping figure and to Preet’s surprise tears began streaming down Jungle Girl’s face. Preet had no idea what the tears were or meant but the sad expression on Jungle Girl’s face was unmistakable. She had seen the same look on several underwater species who had lost a mate or when one of their young had grown to adulthood and swam away.
“What those?” Preet asked, pointing at Jungle Girl’s tears.
Jungle Girl shrugged, wiped her face with the back of her arm, dipped her hand in the water and splashed it about.
Preet pointed at the man. “We get out,” she said and jumped into the pond, pulling Jungle Girl into the water with her.
They tied strands of bamboo leaves and vines that grew along the banks around his arms and waist and slowly pulled him out of the water and up onto a mound of moss. He didn’t awaken or move, but with every exhalation of breath he made a “shy” sound. Preet named him Shy.
Preet combed Shy’s hair with a comb Jungle Girl made from the same tree bark she had used for her finger puppets, and squeezed the juice from limes and berries into his mouth. For several days they fed him the juices of several fruits and massaged coconut milk into his skin, trying to revive him from his deep slumber. At last, feeling despair tinged with sorrow, emotions new to her, Preet turned to Jungle Girl who was lolling about in a nearby bed of moss. “Where he from?” she asked impatiently, annoyed that Jungle Girl had returned to playing just like the fishlings always did no matter what catastrophe was happening around them.
Jungle Girl pointed east, toward the direction of the interior of the jungle.
“Stay. Take care him,” Preet said to her. “I get help.”
Jungle Girl scooted next to Shy’s side, picked up a handful of berries and began squeezing the juice into Shy’s mouth.
Preet dashed off into the jungle. Seven times the sun rose and set before she exited the jungle for the first time. In a landscape cluttered with large boulders and where plumes of dark smoke arose from the craters of volcanic mountains, she stood beside a rapidly flowing creek and watched huge flying lizards with expansive wingspans fly in and out of the caves that dotted the sides of the mountains. It was when one of them flew near enough to her that she could hear its gliding wings as it rose high in the air and then suddenly drop back to nearly touching the ground that she named it from the sound its flying made, dra – gon.
She sat down on the bank and dipped her feet into the creek and sighed contentedly as the cool water relieved her aching feet, a sensation new to her since she couldn’t recall her fins ever aching. She scanned the area, certain this couldn’t be the place where Shy was from. She became engrossed in the flying maneuvers the dragons made as they circled and swooshed around each other, their nostrils exhaling small bursts of flames with every flip and turn they made. It wasn’t until a shadow covered her and the ground around her that she looked directly overhead. A dragon with light blue skin hovered in the air above her. She was about to rise and run away when the dragon swooped down, grabbed her with its talons and lifted her from the ground. A new emotion came to life deep inside her: fear.
The dragon carried her over the rocky landscape to a cave midway up the side of a mountain where it deposited her on the floor of the cave near the entrance. It then flew deeper into the cave, lighting the way with fire that shot from its open mouth, and came to rest on a large egg, covering it protectively with its wings. She had seen similar behavior in several species of fish when protecting their newly laid eggs, but none of them ever looked at her with the same worried expression as the dragon’s. She did the only thing she could think to do, and sat down and began to hum, softly.
Within a few hours a crack appeared in the egg and small snout poked out. The mother dragon helped peel away the rest of the shell, tossing the pieces about the cave. The whelp was weak and appeared sickly. The mother gave Preet frequent glances filled with concern as she preened her whelp.
Preet picked up a bowl-shaped piece of eggshell, said to the mother dragon, “I coming back,” and ran from the cave. She climbed down the mountain with the eggshell clenched between her teeth, and then ran across the field to the creek. She dipped the bowl into the water, filling it, and then ran back to the mountain. She placed it on her head and then climbed back up to the dragon’s cave. As the mother dragon watched, Preet poured water into the whelp’s gullet. She repeated this several times over for the next few hours. When the baby dragon appeared better, Preet went to the cave entrance. “I go now,” she said.
The mother dragon nodded. Preet left the cave and scaled back down the mountain. The next day she entered another jungle. Climbing about in the branches of the trees were hundreds of creatures just like Jungle Girl, both boys and girls, who were being fed, bathed, and put to bed in nests of leaves by winged male and female fairies similar in appearance to Shy. Preet hid in the bushes and listened to how the fairies talked to the jungle children. Hours later when she felt she fully grasped how their language was spoken properly, she was about to step out in the open to call up to them, but a net was thrown over her from behind by two male fairies and she was dragged away.
Laid down a short time later in a clearing circled by honeycombed structures shaped like thimbles where fairies flitted in and out of the numerous openings, and peacocks strutted about flicking their plumage, she struggled to free herself from the net as a fairy wearing a golden crown sitting in a throne observed her with great interest. When she was finally disentangled from the netting she stood up and faced the fairy with the crown.
“I need your help.” she said.
“I’m the king of the fairies and you will address me as Your Highness,” he said. “Where are your wings?”
Preet stared at him, puzzled. “Wings? I had fins but never wings, Your Highness.”
He rubbed his whiskered chin. “No wings? Well there’s something new showing up all the time,” he said with a slight chuckle. “Only days ago a small flying creature that called itself a Pixie wandered through our village. He was a very irritating sort.” He leaned forward and eyed Preet with great curiosity. “You said you need help. You seem fully capable of taking care of yourself.”
“I found one of your kind asleep in the bottom of a pond. I fear he may have hurt himself and I’m unable to awaken him,” she replied. “He has hair above his upper lip that confuses me as to why it’s there.”
The king guffawed and then became serious. “That must be Athem you found,” he said. “Was he with the tree child that ran off that he went in search of?”
“She was nearby and is with him now.” She glanced over her shoulder at the nearest trees where several of the children were watching from their perches on the branches. “Where do they come from?”
“They’re orphans from the surrounding jungles that we take care of until they’re ready to venture out on their own. They can be a handful. The one with Athem is Aver who he adopted almost as if she is his own child. They have a very strong bond.”
“I’ve come from very far away and fear for Athem’s very life,” Preet said with renewed urgency. “Can you help him?”
The king rose from the chair. “There may not be time to get back to him in time if it’s not too late already. Being asleep under water is a very bad sign and may require our best medicine, but it will change him in a way that is hard to predict.”
Preet looked back toward the direction of the mountains, and then back at the king. “I think I know a way to travel far and fast if you can give me the medicine.”
Preet alighted from the dragon’s back onto the moss along the pond’s bank. She held in her hands a gourd filled with the medicine the king of the fairies had given her. She thanked the dragon and then watched as it turned and flew off.
Jungle Girl rushed up and frantically tugged on Preet’s arm.
“Yes, I’m here now,” Preet said. She rushed to Athem’s side and knelt down beside him. She looked at his face and was overcome with an emotion she had never felt before and couldn’t identify. She removed the cork stopper from the gourd, lifted his head, and poured the medicine into his mouth. She then sat back and with Jungle Girl crouched nearby, waited.
A short time later Athem’s eyes fluttered and then opened. He coughed several times and then sat up and looked first at Jungle Girl – Aver – and smiled, and then at Preet.
The wings fell from his back into a heap on the ground behind him. “You’re beautiful” he said. “Who are you?”
“Preet,” she replied, trying to still her pounding heart. “You’ve been asleep for a long time.”
“I’ll never sleep again,” he said as he looked into her eyes with great affection and then kissed her softly on the cheek.
Preet spontaneously began to sing a song that began in her heart and has been inside every human heart ever since.
About the Author:
Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 440 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, reviews and anthologies since June, 2016. He has had seven collections of his short stories, Sand, Rain, Heat, The Tales of Talker Knock and 50 Short Stories: The Very Best of Steve Carr, and LGBTQ: 33 Stories, and The Theory of Existence: 50 Short Stories, published. His paranormal/horror novel Redbird was released in November, 2019. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. He is the founder of Sweetycat Press. His Twitter is @carrsteven960. His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com / He is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/steven.carr.35977