Marian’s Border collie pup, Tucker, ran barking onto the sand, circling Lizette, running up to Rocket and back to the water’s edge. The dog came back again, circled them, bounded back to the water, covering the short distance in a flash.
“Tuck! Come!” Lizette tried using commands, then begging, “Come boy! Good boy!”
She stopped calling when, in the roiled surf, she saw her gray speckled seal pop up, dive, pop up. She saw terror in its eyes and clutched her throat, screamed. The spooked seal made a run for the beach, cleared the water’s foamy lip, waddled up the wet sand, the dog nipping at its hind flippers.
A mass of black and white, clicking and gnashing, roared out of the water, just missing the seal’s flippers. Lizette jumped back. Tucker lunged forward, lowering his body, barking into the swirling surf. The orca’s beaching sent water surging around Lizette’s ankles, knocking her off balance. She saw its pink tongue and conical teeth, it’s searching, hungry eyes. She shrieked. Rocket grabbed her, pulled her higher up the beach, onto the spiky salt grass.
“See the scars?” he yelled into her ear, yanking her arm. “Propeller marks. Jesus! Christ! He’s alive! I can’t believe it!”
Tucker bounded into the water beside the beast’s snapping jaws. He took a sideways blow from its head and was swept deeper into the surf, then leapt back onto land, whirled on the orca, barking in a high, angry pitch.
The seal, stunned by the gush of water, struggled for traction, clambered for higher ground, barking hoarsely, paddling the sand. It didn’t see the open mouth, teeth homing in from behind. Jaws clamped. Bones crunched. Blood spurted in a fountain, sprayed the sand and the dog, lipsticked the orca’s mouth. Tucker yelped and grabbed at the seal’s gray body dangling from the orca’s mouth as it slid back into the sea.
It surfaced by the jagged rocks at the edge of the inlet, the seal’s body gripped in its teeth, still barking. Tucker gained the rocks in a bound, snarling and snapping. Water surged from the orca’s thrashing and washed over the jagged rocks. Tucker lost his footing and fell into the frothy surge, caught his hind leg in a crevice, yelped madly. Rocket leaped onto the rocks and a wave swept him into the orca’s wash. Lizette watched him clutch at the outcropping, edging toward Tucker. The orca threw itself against the rocks, pushed a surge of water over them, creating enough float for Rocket to free the dog’s leg.
Then the orca was gone in a black and white streak, dorsal fin erect, tail flipping defiantly as it swam away. Further out, the huge animal tossed the seal’s body into the air, snatched it, tossed it, snatched it and sounded, tail flukes lifted defiantly.
The water flattened. The pelting rain washed away the blood on the sand. Tucker whimpered at Lizette’s feet, covered in blood. She knelt to look at his wounds and saw his paw and front leg were cut, but his hind leg was the worst. Rocket ripped off his shirt, picked Tucker up and wrapped him, holding a wad of sleeve tight against his hock.
“Let’s get Marian,” Lizette said as they ran through the trees toward the main house.
“Marian! Marian, wake up!” Lizette gasped, charging into her bedroom. Greg was sitting astride her and she was tangled in the bedsheets
“It’s Tuck,” Lizette said, shaking the end of the bed, dripping water on the floor, gasping for air. “The orca got him. He’s bleeding,”
“How the hell did that happen?” Greg demanded, falling to one side, rolling onto the floor, standing, pulling his pants over his feet, hopping as he hoisted them up.
“He was trying to protect the seal,” Lizette explained.
“He’s a fuckin’ sheep dog,” Greg yelled at her.“He’s supposed to protect sheep. Dog’s a head case, man. Now, get the hell out of here.”
Marian pushed past them, pulling a loose dress over her head as she went. In the kitchen, Rocket held the whimpering animal against his bare chest. Marian cleared the table and put Tucker on it.
“Get me some towels from the hall closet,” Marian ordered. “Greg, get my black bag from under the bed. Put him on the table. I need to take a look.”
She worked Tucker’s leg, checking for fractures, torn tendons, any sign of irreparable damage. The dog whined and lay his head down. Greg put the medicine bag on the table. Marian reached inside for a syringe and a vial of Novocain. She gave the dog a quick shot and he relaxed. She shaved the fur from his leg, while Rocket held his head steady, and she looked more closely at the wounds. Lizette slid down the cabinet to the floor, sobbing. Marian looked up, saw that in the commotion Poland had come in.
“Poland, get Liz out of here,” Marian said. “Take her out to the barn. Show her the new lambs. Do it now. Greg, put a pot of water on the stove to boil. Hold him steady, Rocket.”
Lizette leaned on Poland as they sloshed through the rain to the barn, going into the cold darkness, smelling the sweet hay and manure. In the pens around them, hungry lambs bleated and nursed.
“The seal was my friend,” Lizette sobbed. “He came to me when I first got here. I tried to talk with him, but he was so shy.” She stopped to catch her breath, explain. “He played outside the window while I painted. The orca threw him around like a dog’s chew toy.”
Poland led her into a lamb pen and pressed her down in the straw. He went and got a blanket and a couple of bottles with heavy nipples and came back to sit beside her, wrapped her legs, handed her a bottle and a lamb.
“My cousin married a Tlingit woman,” he said. “He lives up north with her. They got three kids, all girls. They’re grown up, married now. My cousin, he said his wife tells a story about how, in a time before killer whales, there was a hunter and totem carver named Natsilane. See?” Lizette nodded that she understood.
“So, he got a wife on Duke Island. A chief’s daughter. Beautiful. Big chest.” Poland put down the lamb he was feeding and bobbled his hands in front of him. Lizette giggled and sniffed.
“So,” Poland continued, “he lived with her people. At first the village people didn’t like him, but then they saw he was a good hunter and he shared his kills with them. But his wife’s brothers didn’t like being shown up by an outsider.
“They decided to get even, teach him a lesson. On the day of the big seal hunt they paddled near rocks, and Natsilane climbed out of the canoe and plunged his spear into a big bull seal that bellowed into the wind.” Poland suddenly trumpeted like a seal, startling Lizette and the lambs, making her burst into tears again. Poland hugged her, stroked her head.
“Sorry,” he said. “I got excited. So, his spear point broke off in the seal.” Poland showed how it snapped with his fists, the lamb cradled between his arms. “The sea lion charged into the water. But that wasn’t the worst part. The brothers were paddling away as fast as they could, leaving Natsilane on the rocks.”
Speaking softly in the half light of the barn, Poland said, “What they did broke his heart.” He reached over Lizette and tucked the blanket tighter around her legs. “He pulled his cape over him and slept on the rocks, but woke up when he heard his name whispered on the wind. He saw a sea lion that looked like a man and followed him into the water, down beneath the waves and into the Seal Chief’s House.”
“Where was Watches Underwater?” Lizette asked. She snuggled tighter against Poland and let the lamb suckle her fingers.“Couldn’t she help?”
“I told you. It’s a Tlingit story, not Lummi.”He cleared his throat. “No one’s watching in this story. Now, when they got to the great house, the chief asked Natsilane if he could help his injured son. Natsilane pulled his spear point out and sewed up the wound. The sea lions formed a raft with their backs and took him home. The seal son healed and, later, the chief granted Natsilane the power to create life.”
Lizette shifted the lamb on her lap. “Then what happened?”
“Well, the boy carved a black and white fish out of spruce, the first killer whale. It was big and beautiful and no one had ever seen anything like it. When he put it in the water, it came to life and swam out to sea, sleek and black with a white saddle. It came back whenever Natsilane called.”
“This is a long story,” Lizette said, yawning.
“No, it’s a good story,” Poland said, putting down his lamb and standing up. “I told it to your father once. He wrote it down. It was the first orca and Natsilane taught it to hunt and help the people. It brought schools of fish to the families and they feasted everyday.”
“Then what happened?” Lizette asked
“Happened?”Poland looked disappointed that she didn’t get the point of the story.
“Nothing happened. Now orcas live in the water and help the people. I’m telling you this so you understand the orca’s job and don’t get scared. Seals eat the fish, orcas eat the seals. We eat everything. Sometimes we work together, sometimes not. They’re hunters just like us.”
“My father used to tell me stories when I was little,” Lizette said. “But, his stories were shorter.” Poland puckered his lips, suggesting he didn’t approve of abridgement, and took the sleeping lamb from her.
“Your father is a good man,” he said, placing the lamb in a nest of straw. “He’s just hurt right now. I’ve known him a long time, your mother, too.”
They looked up to see Marian come in carrying Tucker, his hind leg wrapped in a big, white bandage.
“I did the best I could, but the gash is pretty deep,” she said. “He’s a good sheep dog, but he may not be much use anymore. He may end up with a bad limp. Hard to tell if the tendon was nicked and how well he’ll heal. He’s still a pup.”
She handed the dog to Poland. “Can you take him home to Abaya? She’ll know what to do.”
“No.”Lizette stood up, folded her arms across her chest to block any argument. “I want to keep him with me.”
“Nursing an injured dog is a lot of work,” Marian said. “You’re not well yourself. But, if you want to try, get a box and a blanket. You’ll have to keep him quiet. I don’t want the bandage getting dirty. There’s food in the cupboard. Take a bowl for water.”
Poland shuffled through the supply room off the main barn, holding Tucker, while Lizette went to the house for food and bowls. They met outside the barn, Poland carrying the dog in his arms, Lizette leading the way down the trail.
“I’ve got rounds tomorrow,” Marian called after them. “I’ll be gone early. Then errands in town after that. Stay out of the barn until Greg and Rocket get rid of everybody. I told them they have to clear out first thing tomorrow.”