Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Carp Diem

I don't really know how I can introduce this short story any better than the title already does.  So to prevent myself from being tempted to reveal spoilers, here is "Carp Diem."

            “Carp Diem.  The Holy Day of the Atlanteans.  A day of feasting and festivities.  Swimming parades run continuously throughout the day, culminating in the annual synchronized swimming competition.  But underneath all the glitter, glamour, and Hallmark cards lies the true source of joy for the people of Atlantis on this holiday:  carp.
            On this day of the seventh waxing quarter moon of the year, the carp harvesting occurs.  The spawning that took place a month ago has left the fish farmers with a new crop of healthy, juicy carp that are ready to be used.  This harvest will carry Atlantis for the next year, providing the people with food, tools, and clothing.
            Carp Diem begins at daybreak when the King of Atlantis ceremoniously slaughters the first carp.  This specimen is selected from the farmers’ best crop, so it is an honor for the farmer whose fish is chosen to begin the holiday.  The chosen carp gets decorated with gold flakes and lapis lazuli beads, then after a long speech made by the King, the ceremonial knife, which has been passed down for generations since Atlantis sunk into the sea, cleaves the carp in two.  One half is kept for the royal family, and the other is symbolically given to the people, demonstrating the unity between the two groups.  Then the festivities begin, lasting through the night and into the morning.
            But today was not an ordinary Carp Diem.  Far from it.
            It all began when the ceremonial First Carp escaped.  The Atlantean High Priest was climbing high in his years, and arthritis had begun to set in.  Holding something in water doesn’t help either.  As he lifted the knife, the carp shot out of his hands and began swimming away as fast as it could.  Animals’ survival instincts cannot be reckoned with.  Immediately, all hands on deck went to catch the escapist fish.  They all knew the superstition that a lost First Carp brings seven years of bad harvests.
            “Carpe carp!  Carpe carp!” they shouted.  But fish in their natural habitats are faster than humans who have evolved to live in that habitat, so the carp escaped easily.  Carp Diem was off to a bad start.
            This holiday is also a day for improving diplomatic relations.  The Dolphins and Atlanteans had a schism growing between them ever since The Explosion, when a juvenile Dolphin accidentally triggered a water mine near Atlantis, killing hundreds.  Today, on this day of festivities and fish, the King of Atlantis hoped to reunite the two mammal kingdoms.  To begin, he had invited the Dolphin royal family to be the marshals in the parade.
            They had not shown up.
            The King was scrambling madly, trying to make contact with the visiting royals.  Had they gotten lost?  Had they been killed by sharks?  Or, his worst fear, had they not shown up in order to disgrace the Atlanteans?  The latter would surely exacerbate the riff between the species and even create an oceanwide war that could put all the sea’s creatures in danger.
            The crowd was getting impatient.  The parade should have started an hour ago, and it showed no sign of starting any time soon.  The King either had to risk an angry mob by continuing to postpone the parade or risk insulting the Dolphins if they were just late.
            They were not late.  The Dolphin King had fallen terribly ill just hours before they planned to embark on their journey to Atlantis, but the messenger had gotten lost on his way to the underwater city.  If the Atlanteans had known this, they would not have grown mad at the Dolphins.  And if the King had known this, he would not have cancelled the parade until further notice.  And if both of these things had not occurred, the mob would not have formed.  The mob would not have chanted insults against the government.  The mob would not have looted stores.  The mob would not have hurt innocents.
The mob would not have released the carp from the farms.
The carp streamed out of their holding tanks, where they were just hours away from being harvested.  They spread out in all directions, causing havoc among the fish farmers.  The farmers tried to rope them back in, to catch them with nets, and to save their harvest.  They tried, but they failed.
Without the carp, Carp Diem is nothing.  Not only that, but the Atlanteans would not have a source of food and materials for the next year.  At least they still had the eggs that were laid during spawning in the spring.
Suddenly, some physics happened.  The abrupt flow of carp out of the farms created a vacuum, pulling the water away from their holding tanks.  Then the confused carp, which had swum in circles before scattering, created a strong circular current.  This formed a vortex.
The fish farms, including the nurseries, were torn from their foundations, sending millions of carp eggs and tons of machinery flying wildly through the water before they were lost to the depths of the sea.  Along with their only hope of sustenance for future years, the mob members had been caught in the spiraling water, sending them to their deaths.
During all of this commotion, all the King could do was sit, stare, and weep.  All his efforts to help the Atlanteans survive against everything hurled at them were put to waste in a matter of minutes.
The King was not the only one staring at the destruction in disbelief.  The Dolphin messenger had finally found his way to Atlantis and was about to deliver his message when the mob began rioting.  From then, he could only watch as a great civilization tumbled.  Without revealing his presence to any of the people of Atlantis, the messenger retreated back to Dolphintropolis to relay the bad news.
The superstitions regarding the First Carp were no longer merely superstitions; they were reality.  The Atlanteans would not have enough food to sustain their civilization for at least the seven predicted years.  They would attempt to cultivate other fish species, but none could be domesticated like the carp.  Out of embarrassment over the Carp Diem debacle, the Atlanteans cut off communication with all other ocean civilizations.
Does Atlantis still exist today?  Or did the city and its inhabitants pass away like a rolling ocean wave?  No one knows, and no one may every know,” said Grandpa.
“Wow, Grandpa!  You always tell the best stories,” said little Susie.
“But what’s the moral?” asked Billy.  “What were we supposed to learn from all of this?”
Grandpa answered simply, “Carpe Diem.”

1 comment:

  1. Not since Antonionement has there been a better name for a holiday