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Akela

Akela

by Ryan Uytdewilligen

Hardcover

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Available for Pre-Order. This item will be available on June 4, 2019

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781947727489
Publisher: BHC Press
Publication date: 06/04/2019
Pages: 276
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Ryan Uytdewilligen was born in Lethbridge, Alberta and raised on a family farm. He studied broadcasting and worked as a creative writer for a radio station which really kick-started his passion for the written word. After studying screenwriting at Vancouver Film School, Ryan optioned two feature films, published two nonfiction books (101 Most Influential Coming of Age Movies, The History of Lethbridge) and a YA novel called Tractor. He has judged the NYC Midnight Writing Festival, written for various blogs and magazines, and continues to write in many different mediums.

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CHAPTER 1

I DON'T recall how or where I was conceived. And I thank the universe for it. I believe everyone on this green earth feels the same way; otherwise we'd have far too many tortured souls for society to function. I never knew my father anyway. There was never even a mention of him existing in all my sweet years of life. My mother was a bit of a different story. She was always a mystery to me. I never knew her either, and yet, the very first memories I do possess are suffocating darkness and the one and only desire to find her.

I wasn't first or second or even the third one out. And I thank the universe for that fact too. From way down at the bottom of the crowded sandy pit, I could see flickering streams of light. They would suddenly pop into view, only to vanish within seconds when my face was pressed down into wet slime and pulsating eggshell. I'd turn and gasp, searching for a free space to take a fresh gulp of air. But there were just so many of us scrambling for the unknown that comfort was not in the cards.

I had never crawled before and neither had they. Flippers flapped for the first time, clumsily whacking and smacking without any hint of guilt. I'll admit I had the damnedest time getting going. Sure, since I was at the smack bottom I had the support of mushy sand and shell to press against as a launching point. But just imagine for a moment, if you will, that you have never taken a single step before. You wouldn't know what amount of force to press your flipper at or even how far ahead to put it really. It was tough; especially when everyone else used me as their launching point.

I sincerely hope the pioneers of that hatch soaked up the gentle rays of the sun while they had the chance. That would be the only minute of their lives, so hopefully they got what they wanted out of it. I tell you whoever invented this method of birth was a complete and utter buffoon. The ground to cover seemed so much farther than it actually was. For newborn flippers, it might as well have been a race across Death Valley.

Slipping and sliding about, not having a single idea what direction you were going ... nowadays, odds are a pestering human child spots you and runs over ready to grab and poke. And though Mama says, "No no, don't hurt the poor babies," she pulls out her phone and clicks away like some maddening paparazzi. Crowds draw and click and flash, never seeing us beyond a thin, blinding screen. Uncoordinated toddlers make the wrong step (which at that point in my life I could sympathize with) and unwittingly smush our kin under their feet. But for the most part, everybody makes it. Nowadays there's usually some team of humans assigned to guide us to safety. Which isn't a bad thing, don't get me wrong! It's just that in my day, this particular day, there were gulls.

Oh, they didn't even have a chance, my poor brothers and sisters. One gull happened to be pleasantly perched on a branch, staring at the bobbing waves, until out of the corner of his eye he spotted the smorgasbord of a lifetime. It just started as one — this little, self-riotous monster didn't even tell his flock about the big score. He wanted us all to himself. And that's when I popped my little head out into fresh, sunny skies.

It was breathtaking — a true feeling of renewed energy I'll never forget. The sun graced my face with a delicate, warming touch. The air smelled of salt and seaweed — it was all new but I could already tell I wanted more. For now though, exploration had to wait. We all had only one goal and we'd achieve it by any means.

I still don't know why we were so determined to find Mother. We didn't know her. Were never even told about her! There was just some ready, instilled myth in our brains that she'd be waiting for us at the bottom of the sea. I wasn't even so sure that place existed. Dunes blocked my view of anything farther than a flipper. It was preposterous yet we marched on, slowly and wobbly to meet our eagerly awaiting creator. It's all we got in the beginning, a determination for family. It's all anybody's got period.

We were too slow. They were too fast. The flock of gulls had spotted their gluttonous pal cracking his way through soft shells and tearing flippers off like bananas from a bunch. While it was still only this one, some brothers and sisters had a chance. That singular gull got so overwhelmed, he tried his best just to eat everybody — nipping frantically so that scars and wounds might be the only lasting impact. His pals smelled the blood. Their eyes spotted the commotion. They flew from afar, eager to join in.

This was my introduction with the world. This was our handshake. Flying feathers and spurting blood soaking its way through sand pebbles until the beach was an alarming red. I will never erase the images of tearing and gnawing and the savage beasts even fighting each other for the privilege of devouring meatier siblings of mine. The beating sun hid behind a cloud like a frightened child, horrified by the dispute below. The world felt darker than the hole from which I had emerged. All I wanted to do was climb my way back in, but quite frankly, I didn't possess the skills to turn around. Before I knew it, I was all alone.

Now, remember when I told you I couldn't flip and flap and move so well. Who knew that would come in handy. See, I was still halfway in our little birthing hole, clinging onto the beach for dear life. I pushed and pushed and dug and stretched, but I couldn't for the life of me make it over the edge. I was stuck, perched on the side of this hole, unable to go forth to my chosen destiny — the Ocean where Mother awaited. I had to get to her. I couldn't let her down. But I couldn't move. Not even when the beady eyes of an overfed molting beast locked me in its gaze. Quick feet scampered across shells and sand like it was nothing ... some kind of elegant death waltz. It wasn't fair. But if I would have been able to move, I would have been quicker than others; first in line to get devoured and last available for rescue.

Just like that, I went up. Up, up into the sky, looking down at the beach beneath me. For the first time the dunes did not block the roaring waves of the blue water slamming down onto the sand. It wasn't a gull that had lifted me; it was a human, a woman. The very first I would ever see.

Her hands seemed like an entire home — a spacious bed for me to sprawl out upon. She cupped me with her other hand, acting as a roof that shielded me from impending beaks and talons. I did my best to squirm my way out but her grip was far too tight. Oh, sure I was frightened, but it felt like a better place to be than a stomach. The woman threw her elbows about and swatted at the gulls, still determined to finish off their grub. I was dessert but this woman was equally determined to get me off the menu. With a few thrusts of her fists, the birds buzzed off — seeking shelter in some nearby trees. I could still see them through her fingers, eyes glued to me with blood-soaked feathers still raised and ready for attack. Somehow, in her hands, I could once and for all relax.

She knelt down before the water, uncaring that it flowed past her legs and soaked half of her flowery skirt. My roof was quickly gone as she gazed upon me — eyes mutually locked. Her dark skin was bruised and bumpy. Dark, circular bags hung halfway down her nose. But her mouth still presented a determined smile I will never forget. As tired as she looked, her beauty and elegance shone through. She was pretty enough to be a princess, sturdy enough to drive fear and strength into any acquaintance.

She made only one other movement with her head, a quick, worried glance behind her when footsteps neared. I did not feel jealous or shortchanged by her varied attention. I felt lucky. For one last breath of a moment, she turned her gaze to me and stroked her finger along my entire back. I really pity you humans. You're too big for a full body pet. My flippers shivered as my whole body descended into ecstasy. I can't really explain it to you other than to specify there's nothing sexual about it. It's love ... a connection ... a way of bonding through the simple act of touch. She smiled one last time, saying only one small word that would change my life forever.

Akela.

With a final double take, she let go. Air wisped past me until the haunting awakening of water surrounded every fiber of my being. As my rippled view of her faded further and further away, she stood stern and straight, waving as I drifted toward ground. I knew not what was coming. I knew nothing around me, only the final image of swords jousting in the hands of vicious, circling men. Their determined bodies swallowed her much like the gulls had done with my kin until she too was overtaken. She didn't fight it — she let them surround her.

"Fear not — destiny will guide you," dribbled down past the water's surface in a clouded muffle — I was positive this is what was said.

I, on the other hand, hit the soft undersea sand with a thud. I had made it to where I believed I was destined to go.

This was, and would always remain as, one of my favorite views. If you even protest for a single second that the land you call home doesn't have vibrant color, I will defy you without qualm. Flowing kelp in popping purples ... anemones that stretched on like a colorful rainbow ... even the critters that called this home; every color you can imagine swam past me. Every shade of yellow ... pure, unfiltered blues ... fuchsias and byzantiums and carnelians and ... you get the picture.

But just think of all these different shades swarming about every which way. For a moment, a brief moment, I forgot about the beach. The gulls and the sand and the woman were all history at that point in time. As I wandered through the maze of plant life with saucers for eyes, I wondered just where my mother was waiting for me.

I called out but didn't harbor a single response. I called out again. And again. I was ignored. I peeked through grasses and peered into shells. I dug and dug but unearthed nobody that resembled my mother. I hadn't a clue what she looked like, and hell, I didn't know what I looked like either. But I was certain I'd know — I mean, she was my mother after all!

Concluding the search, which I must say brought my motor skills right up to speed, I found myself suddenly alone. The colors had even disappeared and a vast, empty dark blue stretched forever before me. Had she forgotten me? Had I gone to the wrong place? I refused to believe it. She'd come for me. I just had to wait. Then there were teeth.

A wriggling and winding slimy body emerged from an unseen nook with the hopes of swallowing me whole. With gnashing fangs and glowing white eyes, the beast was slender but unmistakably fierce. I didn't have time to take in a good view — I simply put all my energy into my flippers until I jolted back to narrow safety. The monstrous creature hit the ground, only collecting a mouthful of sand. As it wriggled backwards to try again, I did my best to spin around and flounder far, far away.

"How could my mother do this to me?" I wondered. "Leading me astray to this dangerous and horrible trickster of a place?"

It seemed like paradise, but that's when it dawned on me that the water was just as frightening as land ... if not more. Dastardly beasts even more carnivorous than the gulls awaited me there. It was not safe.

The beast launched into another strike, narrowly missing me once more. A hollowed log seemed like the only logical place to hide in the heat of that moment. So I dug and twisted my way through a slit in the side. And just like before, on my way out of the birthing pit, I became stuck and unable to wriggle forward. I couldn't see behind me; this time I could only sense the creature was readying itself for yet another strike. This time it'd have accuracy and success. It was certain death for me while the life-or-death status of the woman I'd just met remained unknown. Her generosity and life legacy echoed through my worried mind. No matter alive or dead, I had the urge to fight for her. Possibly even avenge her. Keep at least one life afloat on this wretched death day.

My body shivered and shook until one of my back flippers made it through the crack. With one final push I blasted forward into freedom, into a dark and hollow yet safe, little bunker where I could rest. I felt the aftershock of the monster's unsuccessful crash. He had failed and for just a few minutes more, I would thankfully remain alive. Now all I had to do was wait.

And wait I did. For eleven years.

I knew I couldn't go out into the Ocean where such hellish fiends awaited me. The water was just so dark ... so empty. But on land the gulls circled all day ... that's all they ever did! Just circle around waiting for the right moment to strike. Mother had to be coming. I couldn't leave her anyway; I couldn't let her down ... leave her abandoned.

It felt like eternity since I eked my way out from the log to grab a gasp of air. I remained where it was safe, in the midst of bright colors and docile sea life. If Mother was coming, she'd want me to be comfortable. She'd want me to wait in the most peaceful of conditions. But even shallow paradise has its crux. In those eleven years, I saw many of my own. I'd watch them swim in — high on newfound love and journeys through great mystical waters. They had nothing to do with me. Though I'd be sure to ask every single passerby if they were or knew my mother, I never was granted a positive response. It was, in my frank opinion, because I was small.

I'll never know why this happened for sure, but I have developed some hunches on the matter. It was my duty to crawl upon that sand and feel the water's welcoming splash on my own — just like it's the job of every Green, Leatherback, or what have you. If you want to live, you have to prove yourself. You have to spend every resource and ounce of passion you have to reach your goal. The woman who helped me cheated me out of it. Though her intentions were sweet, I was doomed right from the get-go — never able to reach my full potential. My second theory stemmed from the fact I was too fearful to set out on a journey through open Ocean. I couldn't seek out the proper necessities that make us grow: change, adventure, and discovery. Finally, perhaps it was simply because I slept in that tiny, hallowed log for all those years.

Whatever the case, my growth was stunted. I never grew past double my original size. You could hold me in both your hands and still see the tips of your wiggling fingers. If you're really wondering, picture a short, round child. Perhaps a rounded five-year-old would be around the size of my expected kind. Picture them holding a day-old offspring. I'm the offspring.

I was never bitter because I was hopeful my mother would return. I knew she wouldn't care about my size — she'd love me for who I was. But being small meant I could only travel small distances. Even if I wanted to, the open Ocean was no place for someone like me. I'd burn out before I passed the fishing boats bobbing eagerly over the coastline. And in those eleven years, I never tried.

I'd spend all my days the same, waiting patiently by a purple and beige piece of coral and then heading up to the beach for my afternoon gasp of air. The land seemed to change shape every time I surfaced. I never witnessed the woman again and would see fewer and fewer of her kind. Horses pulled wagons full of pineapples that were to be placed on steamships overlooking the harbor. Oh what a convoluted little hub the bay had become. A murky tinge blanked the water after more and more ships docked and loaded. Buildings with rising smoke lined the beach instead of palm trees. The amount of bustle made me reel in panic ... I couldn't stay on the shore for long. The impending danger was too much to bear.

After a while, hope diminished and it seemed Mother never planned to show her face. I carved out a lovely nook for myself in the bay, still not completely without hope she'd one day make her grand entrance. I'm sure you understand ... who among us has actually given up hope completely? Thrown a silly dream right out the coral or gave up searching for one's true love once and for all? There's always a part of you that you can never silence. A still, small voice that forever pesters you about what it is you really want. I could think my mother was never really coming back for me, but I couldn't in good conscience actually believe it.

If you're at all feeling sorry for me, I beg you to stop it! That goes for you too. We all have these moments or days or even months where we pity ourselves thanks to our situation. But the gift of perspective is a wonderful thing. The beauty about it is we all have perspective and we all receive it every waking second we're alive. If only I'd have known about the soil I'd step my flipper on ... how life would unimaginably unfold ... the foes I'd encounter? Again, this absolutely goes for every single one of us.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Akela"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Ryan Uytdewilligen.
Excerpted by permission of BHC Press.
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