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🐺 The Other Side
Gather round, dear friends, a new fable begins...
“I like it here,” says the young sunfish.
His mother frowns at him. “We’re leaving, and that’s final. It's too dangerous. Did you already forget what happened yesterday, when you were caught by one of those invisible hooks? Or a week ago, when your sister was trapped in a monstrous black web? There’s danger everywhere. This is no place for little fish.”
“Hurry up,” his father calls out. “The current’s here! This is our chance.”
The sunfish’s family has been preparing for this day for a long time. Word among the schools had spread of a powerful current that can carry them to a better place, safe from the hazards of their current home.
His father swims ahead, then turns back to beckon his family. “This way. It’s just beyond those weeds.”
The young sunfish drags his fins. He slows down and stares at the dancing seaweed, mesmerized by its movements.
The distant shouts of his mother snap him out of his daze. The current has already captured his family. It is stronger and faster than they expected.
The sunfish sees the outstretched fins of his mother reaching out to him. He flaps his fins hard to reach her, but something holds him back. His rear fin is caught in a string of seaweed. He tries to break free, but his struggles only tightens its hold on him. He shouts to his family as he watches them fade away.
The sunfish calls for help, but no one can hear him. His screams are overshadowed by terrifying rumbling emanating from the ground. Suddenly, a cloud of dust erupts all around him. A giant gray wall rises from the floor. It rises higher and higher until it breaches above the water’s surface.
The sunfish finally breaks himself free from the weeds, but the wall now stands in his way, with this family on the other side. The wall seems to stretch infinitely in both directions. He swims himself to exhaustion trying to get around it.
The sunfish swims back to his home to get help. When he gets there, he finds that all the fish are gone. His shouts reach no one. Eventually, he ceases his swimming and screaming, and collapses into bed.
He wakes up a few hours later, and suddenly remembers what happened. He tries again to swim around the wall. He fails time after time, but still keeps trying. He spends his days swimming to exhaustion.
Some nights, his mother appears to him in his dreams. She calls out to him with her fins outstretched, “Stop waiting!” Each time, he tries to hurry and catch up to her, but he never makes it.
The sunfish wanders around his empty home. He curses the seaweed and glares at the reefs. He resents the home he once loved.
“I hate it here,” says the sunfish.
One day, as he is whipping his tail in frustration, he bumps into an old fish sitting in the sand. “Oh, I’m sorry,” says the sunfish. “I didn’t see you there. I didn’t know there will still fish around.”
“Not all of us fell for the current’s call,” says the old fish.
“My family went in,” says the sunfish. “They never came back.”
“Mine too,” the old fish replies.
“Really? Did you try to go after them?”
“No. I don’t trust it.”
“The story. Of the other side.”
“It’s not a story. There’s a better place on the other side. My mom said so.”
“That’s what they all say, but how do they know? No one has ever come back from it.”
“You mean the other side isn’t a good place?”
“Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.” The old fish looks at him. “We all have to decide what to believe.”
The sunfish is quiet for a moment. “All this time I thought I’m the unlucky one. Maybe—”
“It’s not so bad here,” says the old fish.
The sunfish smiles and looks up at the old fish, who has already closed his eyes and dozed off for a nap. He swims back home. For the first time in a long time, he watches the seaweed dance along the way.
That night, in his dream, his mother tells him to stop waiting, as she always does. But on this night, she says it with a smile, and there’s more to her message: “Stop waiting for us.” The sunfish opens his eyes and sees his mother’s words in a new light.
The next morning, the sunfish acts on his mother’s message. He starts to build his life anew. As new fish migrate into the area, he welcomes them with open fins, and becomes their guide. He shows them its beauty, and guides them away from its traps. The sunfish helps his school thrive, and his efforts make his home a better place.
One day, a new current appears. A school of fish rushes into it. One of them turns to the sunfish and yells, “Don’t you want to see what lies on the other side?”
The sunfish shakes his head. “I like it here.”
I hope you enjoyed today’s tale! If this story spoke to you, what did it say?
This is the latest fable in my newly launched section, Modern Fables, which I announced in an earlier edition. It was inspired by an anecdote my mother shared with me from her own childhood. In a future edition, I plan to share more about the process behind writing it, as well as the iterations to develop the fish character design for the illustration.
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