Floating above Sisiutal, ribbons of giant sea worms glowed an eerie pink as they made their way from the cold seeps to the warmer surface. Few of Sisiutal’s species existed. Unlike the short lifespan of other cephalopods; giant squids and octopuses, he and his kin were extraordinarily long-lived. Of the top predators, he possessed the most cunning and skill, he was the creature of horror.
Gliding through the deep waters, Sisiutl slowed. His tentacles flickered in excitement, for the scent of a great white shark had drifted his way. His hunger was great, and in this area he’d encountered only smaller fish. As powerful and hungry as he was, he hesitated. A great white was a fearsome enemy. Once before, Sisiutl battled one, and had only just won, but he’d been younger and smaller then. Hunger won over, and stealthily he moved forward. Propelling his seventy foot body through the ocean, he began to stalk. Silently, he maneuvered through a steep, submarine canyon where sediment, pushed by currents, trickled down over the rims. On the canyons floor, sea cucumbers, anemones and feather stars grouped together, all searching for food that flowed their way.
Men feared or revered him; most thought him a myth. Kraken, Norse sailors called him and his name brought terror to their hearts. They spoke in hushed voices of a monstrous sea creature who crushed sailing ships and devoured all aboard. To the Pacific Northwest indigenous peoples he was Sisiutl. A supernatural being. With shamans he could communicate. But communication was perilous, and during those rare times, care had to be taken. Sisiutl could kill a human with a glance.
A shoal of fish darted away as Sisiutlsped through the mass of swirling, silver bodies. His dinner-plate sized eyes pierced the gloom as the scent strengthened. Multiple protuberances on his bulbous face glowed, offering enough light to show a large, murky figure up ahead. Thrusting more water through his mantle he picked up speed like a torpedo and shot through the current toward the shark. Closing in, he wrapped his two largest tentacles around it and squirted a cloud of ink, blinding the shark in a black haze. The shark thrashed, its massive jaws opened wide, trying to slash, to bite. It ripped off Sisiutal’s two lesser tentacles and he writhed in pain. Blue blood gushed from the wounds. The shark whipped its tail and dove to escape, but Sisiutals’ tentacles clung and held it in a deadly grip. The tentacles and suckers squeezed and squeezed until the thrashing ended. Then, Sisiutal’s beak dug in. Feeding had begun. The shoal of silver fish he’d swam through before waited like piranhas for Sisiutal to finish. A few brave ones darted in to nibble. Most stayed back, soon enough they’d feast on the remains.
Afterwards, as Sisiutal swam west, he felt the blood in his wounds coagulate and his tentacles begin to regenerate. While he healed, in his mind came a faint, insistent call for aid, a chant for his protection. It was centuries ago when he’d last heard the singing and drumbeats of a shaman communicating with him. Reluctantly, he left his feeding ground and headed north.
Brother Orca, Sister Wolf
Sixteen- year-old Isabella stepped onto the dock, successfully avoiding the white caps spilling over it. She pulled a well-worn suitcase behind her with a tag attached announcing an Icelandic Airlines flight. The windsock fluttering above Lake Union’s floatplane terminal indicated a strong, northerly breeze. Seattle’s iconic Space Needle loomed in the background and beyond it rose Queen Anne Hill.
“Billy,” she yelled.
The grey-haired pilot pivoted from his pre- flight check and at waved her. “Good to see you kiddo. You’re sure a sight for sore eyes. How was your flight from Reykjavík?”
“Bumpy. They’re worried the volcano will blow again. Last time all flights to Europe were cancelled for a week.” She pushed a lock of black hair behind her ear that had escaped from her ponytail. “Thanks for waiting.”
“Promised your granddad I’d fly you back to Whidbey. Here, hand me that suitcase.” Picking it up, he stowed it into the plane’s small luggage compartment. “Ron’s chomping at the bit to see you. ”
“How is he? We’d skyped, but you know it’s not the same as being there.”
For as long as she could remember, Bella had called her grandfathers by their first names. Both had said it made them feel old to be called grandfather.
“Maybe just my imagination kick’in in, but somthins been bothering Ron lately. How long have you been gone for this time?”
“About three months.” Then she asked in concern, “So what’s bothering Ron?”
“Don’t know. It’s high season here and I’ve been busier than a beaver building a dam. Haven’t seen much of Ron other than us occasionally picking up mail around the same time from the post office, and you know how private he can be.” He glanced up at the wind sock. “Winds picking up, need to go. Want to fly’er?”
Bella’s wide grin was answer enough. When she’d turned sixteen, she’d gotten her pilot’s license, and Billy, their friend and neighbor, now and then let her fly his plane.
Billy handed over ear protectors, then climbed into the passenger seat. “All yours, Bella.”
The plane taxied out onto the lake, bouncing over the choppy waters. She revved the engine. It picked up speed and skimmed over the lake, then lifted off. The thrill of flying never got old. Up and up they climbed as they headed toward Whidbey Island.
Bella pointed down. “Look, Billy.”
“See’em. Been a while since a pod of orcas been in that channel.”
She felt a rush of joy circling the farm which had been in her family for generations. The old forest trees, the waterfront property and the cabin they lived in meant the world to her. Bella dipped her wings over the cabin knowing that Ron would be watching for her. Throttling down she smoothly landed the plane next to the dock. Ron rushed out of the cabin. Running ahead of him was their huge white wolf dog, Wasgo. Billy threw Ron a rope to moor them, then Bella scrambled out of the plane into Ron’s bearhug. She was home.
Since age three, Bella’s two grandfathers, Ron and Gunnar, had taken turns raising her after her parents and grandmother had died in a float plane crash off Orcas Island. Mostly, the school year was spent with Ron and summers with Gunnar in Iceland. Memories of her parents were fuzzy, but her grandfathers, with photos, videos and stories, captured her parent’s lives and personalities and made them real to her.
On the following late afternoon, Bella wasn’t thinking about her parents, as she balanced the mugs and two muffins, she worried about Ron. Billy said something was bothering him. Billy was pretty perceptive, and she wanted to know what the problem was.
She stepped out of the old cabin’s back door clutching two steaming mugs of coffee. She’d made his extra strong, adding two heaping tablespoons of instant Nescafe, just the way he liked it. They hadn’t had much of a catch-up as Ron insisted Billy stay for dinner. Afterwards she was too jet-lagged to stay up and talk.
Outside a cool breeze blew from the Sound. She found Wasgo waiting patiently and upon seeing her, frisked over. His huge paws indicated that he wasn’t quite full grown yet. Because wolf-dog hybrids were illegal in Washington State, her grandfather Ron had warned, “Keep in mind girl, some people are born trouble makers. If anyone asks about Wasgo, say he’s a Husky/Irish wolfhound mix.” It was their in-joke that his name in Haida meant sea wolf.
She strolled past a stand of old growth firs and hemlocks still dripping moisture from last night’s early summer storm, and headed for the barn where her grandfather worked, where on one side a thicket of blackberries grew. In the distance a foghorn boomed. Turning, she watched a ghostly fishing boat chug leisurely through the sound, its lights breaking through the fog like a beacon. Her black hair whipped around her face. As she neared the ancient, weather-beaten barn, the woody scent of cedar shavings drifted her way. The barn door stood slightly ajar, so she pushed it wide open with her foot and walked in.
“Hey yourself. Come over and take a look at the new one.”
A string of lights hanging from the rafters focused on a nearly finished totem pole. The barn hadn’t held livestock for decades. Instead, Ron turned it into a workshop that housed Western Red Cedar logs curing to be made into totem poles.
“Here’s your tar juice,” Isabella announced with a smile, setting down both mugs. “Thought you might need it now.”
“Haven’t had time to catch up with you. How’s Gunnar doing? Arthritis still bothering him?” He asked about her other grandfather.
“The new medicine’s helping. Gunnar says hello and sent you some homemade harðfiskur. I smuggled it in through customs. It’s in the cupboard.”
“Never had better fish jerky than his,” Ron replied.
Bella made herself comfortable on a stool next to him. “Billy says you’ve been weird lately, that something’s bothering you.”
“Billy’s the weird one. Went to a barn dance a month ago and met a woman there he wants to marry. Told him he was crazy. Should know better with his track record.”
Bella watched Ron absentmindedly put three tablespoons of sugar into his coffee. Something, he’d never done before. “Come clean Ron, what’s up.”
“Don’t want to talk about it now, but I’ll tell you over dinner. Come over and look at this.”
Ron pushed back long strands of grey hair and stared at the horizontal log he’d laid down months before. “Won’t be long til it’s finished. You know Bella, think it’s the best totem pole I’ve ever carved. Let’s keep it for ourselves. I’ll stand it near the old firs, your grandmother’s favorite spot.
“Love that idea.” Bella’s arctic blue eyes stared down, then she ran her hand lightly over the totem creatures while Ron went to hone his tools on the other side of the barn. On the top was Thunderbird: the peak dweller, hurler of lightening snakes, whale killer, and the greatest of all spirits. Below Thunderbird crouched grizzly bear: the watcher and the guardian spirit; beneath him stood wolf: the hunter and the loyal one; and underneath wolf, swam orca: the protector of mankind. At the base, and to her, the most mysterious of all was Sisiutal, a water monster. She’d heard fearful stories about him and wondered if Sisiutal was a fanciful legend or based on a real sea creature long ago observed by the Haida people.
She sensed Wasgo behind her and turned to find him creeping toward the totem pole, his hairs standing on end, lips curled, and his teeth barred. “What’s the matter boy?”
As she let her hand rest on the Sisiutal carving, he let out a low growl. Immediately everything changed. She heard the roar of surf, and smelled the sharp, briny ocean. A humming sound, like a whale’s song, ratched up, and gained in intensity until her ears felt ready to pop. She glanced over at Ron, but he didn’t seem to notice anything. A sharp electric current jolted thru her. Her hair crackled and she was flung backwards. “Ouch.” She yelled, landing on her butt. Wasgo frantically licked her face.
Ron whipped around . “Bella, what’s wrong?”
After rubbing her arms, and stroking Wasgo, she stood up. “Just weird sensations. Part of it felt like an electrical shock. Could there be a live wire here?”
Ron sped over. “Nothing Bella. And you know I don’t use power tools. We should take you to the doctor.”
She shook her head. “No worries. Honest. I’m okay now. Probably just jet lag.” While she calmed Ron’s fears, and pushed down her own alarm and confusion, her mind raced trying to understand, what had just happened to her?