Fiction by Jamie Zaccaria
By Jamie Zaccaria
I have the best job in the world. I work with orca whales at OceanPlanet, a top-rated water-themed amusement park in sunny Florida. Of all the people who work here, and all the animals they train, I am considered the most elite because I get to work with the flagship species. Whenever you see a commercial for OceanPlanet, you see orcas, and sometimes specifically my orca: Makana.
I smile to myself as I make my way through the park, passing seals and penguins and heading toward Makana’s tank.
Unlocking the gate to the enclosure area, I can faintly hear the protesters’ sounds outside the park’s far wall. I roll my eyes, imaging those misinformed hippies wasting their time chanting and stomping around in the sun. They like to make a fuss about the whales being kept in captivity because it’s “unnatural” and “unfair.”
I’ve heard all their protestations before, and ever since the documentary aired, there’s been a surge in undirected hate towards OceanPlanet. We do a lot of great conservation work here, but all people want to talk about is how the whales can do tricks.
What those protesters don’t understand is that I genuinely love Makana. I care for her in the best way possible. She gets regular meals and doctor visits, protection from outside threats, and love and affection from myself.
Stepping around half a dozen orange construction cones set up by the electricians, I make my way towards the staff entrance door. Inside is the office where I can record all of my work with Makana and use the tunnels to transfer her meals from the underground kitchen.
Puzzled, I turn to confront this strange sound only to see a live wire flying towards my face. Before I have time to react or even scream, I feel my body hum with voltage, and then everything goes dark.
I’m conscious again, but I can’t see clearly; everything is out-of-focus. It feels like my senses were restarted like a computer and only slowly coming back online. I know I must have fallen to the ground after being electrocuted, but I don’t feel any hard concrete underneath me. Had someone moved me?
I realize then that I am not on the ground or any other solid surface; I am underwater. Where I once felt the reach of ten digits, I now have awkward fins. Instead of splitting into two independent limbs, my lower half is welded together. I feel simultaneously sleek and cumbersome, unused to my new form yet possessing an unconscious ability to use it.
Behind the wall of confusion and panic in front of my eyes, a light of understanding appears. At first small, it soon grows so that I finally understand what had happened with a great heaviness. Somehow, I am an orca whale, or at least I am myself but inside of one, not just any whale, but my beloved Makana. Alongside my own consciousness is something else, someone that is wholly Makana. I feel her emotions and remember her memories. Upon realizing this, I shake with an unbearable wave of sadness and loss. I feel homesick, lonely, afraid, and bored.
The water in this tank is too warm, too clear, too dead. Compared to the vastness of the ocean, it is a stagnant pool that serves to keep me locked up. I feel my memory reaching backward away from this. I could remember Makan’s home: the cold waters swirling with the natural rhythms of the ocean. I could hear, see, and sense the rest of the pod around me. These were my mothers, sisters, aunts, children. These were my family. I ached with longing to be able to swim alongside them again. I want to click and clatter and breach with these beautiful beings who knew me as an individual before I was torn away from my home.
With a blow, I finally understand why so many people are protesting my perfect job. I feel the empathy that those protesters must be overwhelmed by because it was an extension of my mental state. I feel the utter hopelessness of being locked up in an environment so wholly unfamiliar and unlike where I should be and where I longed to be.
I know now why we shouldn't be keeping these beautiful, intelligent, majestic creatures in small tanks, forced to do tricks for the entertainment of the ignorant masses. I finally understand how utterly wrong I have been for so long. Along with that understanding comes another despondent resolution: I am the prisoner now.
- Jamie Zaccaria is a wildlife biologist by trade and writer by pleasure. She currently works for a wild cat conservation organization and writes fiction in her spare time. Jamie grew up in New Jersey and went to school in Delaware and New York. She currently lives in New Jersey with her girlfriend, cats and pitbull. For a complete portfolio, please visit jamiezaccaria.com