by Elous Telma
On a secluded Greek island in the 1950s, an enormous abandoned mine is filled with sea water for a major international experiment in marine biology. It is intended to study natural selection and, perhaps, evolution in a new aquatic ecosystem. However, the experiment and the island are eventually abandoned.
Decades later, a sailor’s photograph of the corpse of a large shark prompts a team of biologists to visit the island. The team discovers unique environments, including an underwater brine lake. The life forms act in ways that affect the fauna on the island as well as themselves.
The new ecosystem is dangerous. How to cope with it? The biologists will need some form of interspecies communication with the sea life and even with a cat that has been stranded on the island. It’s simple in theory...
Chapter 7: Frank’s Long Jump
Frank was a good sailor. A wealthy one, he had equipped himself with a good vessel. He was professional and diligent and got his kicks from long, solo journeys. He didn’t need to be careless to get an adrenaline rush. On his latest journey, he had set out from Naples into the calm Mediterranean waters and made a stop in Sardinia. He contemplated heading towards the Spanish isles and then crossing the straits of Gibraltar towards the Canary Islands.
Instead, he chose to change course towards Crete with a stop on the little island harboring the Aquarium. His course didn’t really matter. He had heard of this amalgam of natural and man-made topography and wanted to visit it.
Frank was German but had lived much of his life in New York City. The son of wealthy business people, he grew up first in Germany, then in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, before moving to New York. His father used to work for a major German car manufacturer and had moved the family around.
Nothing had been engrained into him, though, as deeply as the combination of ancient artifacts and the feeling he got when he reached a port town, one of thousands, in Greece. Specifically, the calm entrance into the port, the common image of white houses in the background, fishermen by the water and cats waiting to be fed fresh fish.
Sailing long distances that could be measured as significant fractions of the size of the world was rewarding to Frank. Travelling by boat defined distances in his head. Travel by airplane or underground railway removes a sense of distance; it compromises the awareness of one’s surroundings and position in the world.
Frank knew that some animals perceive space at the global scale, and he wanted that point of view. Since the earth is not infinitely vast, Frank considered the size of the earth as a factor limiting the size of certain animals. What a formidable thought, he marveled, to feel claustrophobic in the open ocean. He, too, was a migratory creature, one of those that utilized the entire size of the surface of the planet.
Frank comfortably maneuvered his yacht across the Mediterranean. Worsening weather had no major impact on him; it just made him decide upon a safe spot for landfall on the Aquarium Island, where he could spend the night. He was curious, too.
When Frank reached the island that evening, he found the harbor in a fairly derelict state, but it still provided haven from winds and waves. It was a protected cove with what must have once been a cute and smartly built little harbor. He could see how it might have brought plenty of visitors back in its glory days.
The weather worsened, which made Frank think he might have to spend a couple of days on the island. He had plenty of supplies and few worries. And the place was begging for an investigation. It very quickly became clear to him that the island was now a ghost of its glorious past. It was basically a hole in the ocean, with a harbor and some land where a hotel and a couple other decrepit buildings still stood.
The walkway structures across the center of the Aquarium were still in place, but Frank doubted their safety. Anyway, he wanted to go around, the long way, and see as much of the island as he could. He started out on the 6-kilometer hike and was enthralled by the experience of walking between the Aquarium waters and sea on a path only a few tens of meters wide. There really wasn’t much land at all on this donut of an island.
The water in the Aquarium seemed stagnant but was fresh and clear. There were two environments, two types of wind and waves: internal and external. The two sights were both gorgeous, especially through the eyes of a lonely individual on a starry, windy June night.
Everything was dark blue: the two seas and the sky. Frank could take a dip into one of the two waters and he would still be dripping by the time he jumped into the other side. Only a thin strip of land separated two ecosystems, one that had evolved over hundreds of millions of years and one that had been dug by people about seventy years before.
The moonlight and Frank’s adventurous spirit made him decide against bringing a flashlight to explore the island; he wanted to see the surroundings under natural light. He took only his cell phone with its little flash camera to take pictures of anything interesting.
He started by walking around the long-abandoned buildings. He didn’t notice that Nannion, now one year old, was watching him from inside one of the buildings.
Nannion had saved her own life half a year ago when she was just a freezing wet kitten looking for shelter. She had found a broken window that gave her access to most of the rooms in the building. It had been the scientists’ sleeping quarters, and some of the beds still had mattresses on them.
Nannion had not been able to gain access to the laboratory buildings, which had been sealed shut more carefully by outgoing personnel. But she did find her way into the gift store, where a few plush toys were still hanging as if waiting to be sold. She had particularly liked a toy octopus. She had taken it off the shelf to play and cuddle with when she felt lonely.
Nannion had taught herself to hunt for food, from lizards to bugs, even the occasional bird. Her biggest resource problem was fresh water. Thankfully, containers left over at the island collected just enough rain water for her to survive. The basement of the building she slept in also accumulated some drinkable moisture. It was part of her routine to lick droplets of early morning dew for precious fresh water.
But now it was June, and the sun was becoming so bright and hot that the island would probably run out of any drinkable water. But tonight was good; a mild rain was coming in. Tomorrow she would be able to drink to her heart’s content.
Frank was the first human Nannion had seen since being stranded. She had mixed feelings about how to react. Her sweet demeanor pushed her towards revealing herself to Frank, but she was too afraid to do it; her isolation had brought out her more feral side. She chose to watch him from the presumed safety of the building.
She watched him standing by the waters of the Aquarium, close to the buildings just looking at the water and all the structures of the island. Nannion, too, appreciated the sight: two types of dark blue water in the same field of view; a dark blue moist summer night sky; light from an almost full moon diffused by incoming clouds; specks of stars and constellations clearly visible in the cloud-free spots of the sky.
Nannion watched Frank start on his trek. He took half an hour to reach the opposite side of the island. In the flat areas of the path, he would stop and stare at the Aquarium waters, hoping to see some kind of life. The light from his cell phone flashlight didn’t seem to attract any fish; perhaps it wasn’t strong enough.
At high points along the path he would slowly turn around, taking in as much of the view as he could see. The view gave him a feeling of exposure, standing on a thin strip of land between familiar and uncharted waters.
Nannion could not see Frank anymore; he was too far away and the night was too dark. She left her building and went towards the waters herself. She followed Frank’s path for a while but decided to turn back to avoid being seen.
Frank had almost completed his circular path. He reached the explosion hole on the narrowest part, the one meant to provide a chance to freedom for the marine life of the Aquarium, decades ago. At some point, that section had been fortified with cement in order to support pipes that could be used to bring water from the sea, if needed. The explosion had taken out a portion of this wall and cut across the entire width of the path. Frank would have to jump about five meters to the other side or swim across.
Frank soon realized there was more than rubble by the hole. He stopped short when he saw a large, partly desiccated shark stuck in the hole. Its lower half was hanging into the Aquarium waters and its upper part was entangled in the mesh of metal and cement that had been left exposed by the explosion.
With his cell phone, he took the picture he eventually sent to Taro. And he began feeling uncomfortable. What had been an awe-inspiring setting was changing into something very alien. Frank wanted to return to his boat, just to be in a familiar environment.
Worst of all, a feeling of sadness was coming over him. Was it for the fish, for the place, or for an entire ecosystem abandoned decades ago? Was this island making him weak and prone to depression? He just wanted to go back. But that was six kilometers away. Ironically, he was only a few hundred meters away from his boat. But in between were the hole and the dead shark.
Frank could easily swim the gap, but he excluded that possibility. Those waters were just too inhospitable. And they obviously harbored large animals. He used his phone’s flashlight to illuminate the surface of the water, but he couldn’t see anything other than the surface rippling from the wind and rain.
He could picture fish looking at him from under the surface. They probably weren’t, but he still couldn’t contemplate swimming in this water. The shark, half out of the water and half in it, might serve as a bridge. Frank thought he could jump on to the tail of the fish, most probably right under the surface of the water. Then he could jump directly to the other side.
He wrapped his phone into his jacket and threw it across the gap. He then prepared to jump. He knew he would jump farther than ever and the large carcass seemed hefty enough.
Frank jumped harder and farther than he ever had before. Unfortunately, he landed on the fish with too much momentum. Frank, fish, and wall rubble all collapsed into the water. As it happens in such cases, the world goes into slow motion. Awareness goes on overdrive; the mind processes more information than usual per unit of time, and time seems to pass slowly.
Copyright © 2015 by Elous Telma