Told I held up the class, I was sent to a separate room. My dyslexia restricted me, but guided me to performance. Not until college did I learn to properly read and write by speaking out text. I’m here, continuing the practice. Thank you.
Jennifer Hayes’ voice harmonized with the young host of Utah’s Public Radio. Atop the wooden box bed, layers of padding and blankets stacked midway up the passenger window where Lacy slept soundly, swayed by Goblin Valley road. Deep shadows caught in the crevasses of the hoodoo towers, the late summer sun spreading across the red desert, seductive as a house cat on a leather couch. It was four in the afternoon. Jennifer is an underwater ice photographer, speaking on her expedition to the Gulf of St. Lawrence during the 2014 Harp Seal pup season. The radio wavered. She had set out to capture the behaviors of Harp Seals in adolescence. When Jennifer and her team arrived in February, the pups were still so young they were not yet swimming for regular periods of time. Puffs of white fur waited along the edges of ice for their mothers to buoy up and touch noses in familial recognition. She took snap shots from below of their black noses and long whiskers dipped into the water, just four degrees above freezing. Jennifer dove down and back up, coming face to face with a young seal. She at once registered the pup’s confusion and curiosity at this new creature appearing where their mother usually would. Their true mother gracefully floated up beside Jennifer, touched noses with the pup, fastidiously looked them over to ensure the stranger had done no harm, and they left together under the ice. Jennifer swam behind the two, clicking her camera clumsily with thick gloves. Following the pair, she attracted the attention of a nearby male seal who bullied Jennifer away from his potential mate. The mother seal attacked the male offender. Jennifer and the pup floated together, watching from above as the mother banished him. Jennifer stayed swimming behind the two until the mother decided it was no longer worth the risk for them to be in the water. She nudged her pup back towards the ice, then Jennifer, then the pup, guiding them both to safety. That night, as Jennifer’s human team packed their gear to leave, a storm came in. Winds whirling, they made it back to shore. They tossed their gear off the boat as fast as they could when, Jennifer's guide came to her, “All the ice is gone. The Seals are gone.” She knew this did not mean the ice was gone, so the seals would move on to a new home. It meant the storm broke the ice up into shards, whipping the blades around in the winds and tides to blend the pups into the sea water. “What do you mean the ice is gone?” The grief was too much to comprehend. Eighty percent of the colony was lost that season. I reached my right hand behind the head of the passenger seat to pet Lacey, dazed by the passing red land, a stark contrast to the icy world being told to us over the radio. My fingers twisted through the longer white fur of her collar in soothing circles, she sighed. Her black ears hung low on her head, UPR was doing a fundraiser for the sound technician’s 61st birthday, matching every 61 dollars donated that day.
Chapter One: Outer Galaxy Assignment No one can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. But as a Portologist, I have evidence to the contrary. Oftentimes, the sound of fear and agony will meet me before the traveler’s form. What goes in must come out. Unless it’s a blackhole, but even then we have some questions. Chicken-and-egg, you know? We Portologists aren’t like the gods that protect portals or the varied species that make them. My department mainly focuses on the data collection of who or what comes in or out of which portals. It’s a practically arbitrary science, there being so many categories of portal types and transient types with the infinity of the universe. The data itself is an endless compilation needing a separate science to comprehend.
The wool of sleep could not veil my urgent need to shit. The bubbling acid woke me so angrily I had no time to think how I was on the train again. In a disoriented scramble for the nest of straw, I hooked my fingers through the air holes in the steel siding and heaved my weight into my knuckles, moving against the mission of the train.