This story is by Kayla Krawzyk and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
They had never traveled this far out before. An icy skyline was streaked with an early light cast into the drifting spray of salty waves. Sea birds stalked on the frozen shoreline, clouds still too dark to fly in.
A creature emerged from the dark water, breathing in the ocean breeze. Her family needed food, so she bravely chose to cut through the rolling white caps near the shore where water was painted in dark indigo to shroud anything swimming beneath.
When she came for air at the surface, she had to cover her dark eyes from the blinding white landscape. Nothing but gulls slid over the ice; nothing for her to eat. There had to be more under all the ice.
She dove under again, her ice-white body agile in the rougher waters. An ice cave stood before her, but the winds above made the top layer shift uneasily. She couldn’t hear her siblings anymore, but they had gone out of range awhile ago. No note of her name vibrated through the empty water. Liba paused to glance behind her, her ivory tail curved inwards as she wrung her hands together.
Emptiness spread behind her, her siblings somewhere out there, maybe contemplating the same decision she was. Or maybe they had caught enough food for today and were searching for her. Or they had been caught under the ice and were drowning…
Liba shook her head. They needed food. She could do this.
She entered the cave, grey pebbles carpeting the floor beneath her, dark waves enveloping her pale complexion. The sheet above her creaked with the harsh winds. The further in she swam, the louder the ice became. Her head was ringing from the reverberating cavern, dark walls of stone from the nearby shoreline bouncing the sound to one another.
The walls closed in, and she knew she would get stuck if she went any further but… there could be food under the sand. She dove to the floor bed with darting eyes. Her webbed hands shook as she pawed through the pebbles for anything hiding underneath. Cold had begun to seep under her skin the longer she had gone without eating, her protective layers diminishing with no sustenance.
The groaning only grew louder, and she could barely think with the noise and her hollow stomach and the impending cold.
Suddenly, the ice cracked in a thunderous sound that pierced through the very molecules of water. Liba thought maybe she had gone deaf, the echoing silence afterward harsher than the burst itself.
A rush of cold air surrounded her, and she backed out as fast as she could, knocking into the stones around her, scraping her arm. Ice had collapsed on the spot she had previously been, chasing her back into the open sea. Liba caught her breath and held her bleeding arm, singing a desperate song for her family to find her.
Her eyes watered and fear clamped around her heart. She floated to the bottom, still searching the open waters for her siblings to come to find her. A figure moved slowly in the distance and she continued her song with new hope, strength returning to push her forwards.
She halted as the silhouette became larger… much larger than she was. That wasn’t her family coming to her rescue.
For a moment, the water stilled and her head stopped ringing. She squinted and gasped when she recognized the all too familiar shape of an orca swimming towards her.
Liba darted back to the ice cave, only half the size it was before. Her heart raced and blood warmed her numb hands. Outside the collapsed structure she could hear the straining from above. The orca drew closer and she swam to the surface, taking a breath through the broken ice before plastering herself to the sheet underneath. Her fingers gripped the cracks and her large tail flattened to the surface.
She willed her body to still, muscles aching from the effort. The orca had come almost directly beneath her, dark skin blending with the even darker waters. Liba held back every urge to flee when its dorsal fin grazed the ice next to her head.
The ice scraped together and she clung to the jagged sides even as her fingers began to bleed. She couldn’t see the creature but felt the water shifting in its presence. Her tail drifted a bit and her body shook to keep it upright. Its own tail passed by her next, the tip skimming the hump on her back.
Blood cascaded in the water by her face and her fingers throbbed, but she refused to let go. She let out a steady stream of breath, daring a glance to the side. Liba gulped in a breath of air before releasing the ice, letting the water carry her to the floor, eyes trained on the retreating orca.
The empty pit in her stomach ached but she let her body drop in defeat. There was no food in this area for her.
She pushed herself in an upright position and stayed close to the ice. The orca was still in her sight and she watched it swim away. Its tail spun sand into the water, uncovering crabs and small clams. Nothing substantial for her family to eat.
In the darkness, she almost missed the darting movement across the floor. Carefully, she crawled along the ground, eyes half on the octopus, the other half on the orca. The octopus was also watching the orca, startled when her sharp but small teeth bit between its eyes, tentacles going limp.
She had food for her family, and quickly swam from the orca with her kill, a smile plastered over her pale face. Sunlight graced the frozen shoreline, gulls high in the air where clouds used to cover. Bright blue skies shone over the glinting form of a hopping creature in calm waves.