By Ian Allen
Life was always too loud for the orca.
Others from its pod thought that it was too sensitive. That it should be grateful that it could hear so far and so well. But the orca could make out the subtle ways in which they spoke. The little inflictions of pitch and timbre that gave away their impatience, their jealousy, their annoyance of guilt, for they were also to blame for a part of the chaos with their ceaseless clicking, whistling, wailing, calling, singing.
The orca would occasionally venture away from the pod to seek peace in solidarity, but would still be overwhelmed with noise. The incessant whirling swish of schooling fish. Neurotic pecking of crabs, lobsters, and shrimp as they scavenged and sifted. The harsh echoes of gulls endlessly splashing and complaining of nothing to one another. Seals, otters, and other prey yammering, chattering, giving their locations away. The roar and groan of machines as humans in their boats pilfered the waters, invading where they had no natural claim to be.
When it got to be too much, when the orca thought its head couldn’t contain the pressure of so much sound fighting for its attention another moment longer, it sought the only source of solace that it could imagine. With each powerful stroke of its tail, the orca took on more and more speed. Faster and faster, its streamlined body eating up the watery distance, seaweed and flotsam spinning past its fins.
A frisson of relief passed through the orca as its nose broke the water’s surface as a wave of rapturous silence greeted it. The cool, calm air was a crisp surcease of sound that at once rejuvenated and vitalized the orca’s weary mind. As it sailed through the air, corkscrewing, its gaze fell upon the distant shore.
Time diminished to a distant dream at what the orca saw. There, across the sapphire currents, lay countless rolling hills of delicate white snow upon firm black granite.
A promise of peace. A promise of quiet. A promise of solitude.
In its mind’s eye, the orca imagined that just beyond those cold ridges was hidden its nirvana. Vast valleys of verdure. Long grass and evergreen trees swaying like kelp in the tide. Serene, unbounded reaches. Tranquil, endless, empty expanses. The only sound to be found would be the delicate whisper of the wandering wind.
How the orca longed to be able to go there and remain above the tides, to forever enjoy the blissful hush of the world above. Never mind that was where the humans called their home, where the gulls chose to roost. The orca was convinced that they could be no louder in that other domain than what waited in the never-ending raucousness below.
If only its flukes could catch the wind as it did the waves, its body buoy upon an updraft, its flippers act as featherless wings, all to let it soar amid silent, sunny serenity and starry skies.
Too soon, the orca’s flight was complete. Its weight returned to draw it back down, crashing, amid foam, bubbles, and unattainable desires of a muted paradise, sinking back into the tumultuous depths of reality.
Yet, even with its dreams dispelled, a sliver of sedation remained. While the orca couldn’t always bear the burden of its noisome existence, the promise of escape was always there, waiting for when the watery world once again grew too loud, too oppressive. The promise of possibility, of nirvanic quietude, still beaconed, inviting a return to that all too fleeting flight of fancy, to imagine what lay beyond the breakers, beyond the granite, beyond the untrodden snow.
Holding an MA in English from California State University, Chico, where he has taught creative writing workshops and works in Library Facility Operations, Ian Allen is a sojourner of many worlds, many times, and many lives. (Most of which occur in his overcrowded head.) When he isn’t trying to mash genres together just to see what happens, he likes to go on long trail walks. He hopes that his current work-in-progress, a supernatural thriller set in Northern California, won’t scare too many people out of the rivers, ponds, and streams.