Riding a dolphin - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

Though only just risen the sun was scorchingly hot. There was not a cloud in the sky, not a ripple on the sea. The Jellyfish was a dozen miles or so south of Buenos Aires when, following Baltasar’s advice, anchor was dropped in a small bay near a shore that rose in two rocky ledges straight from the water.

The boats scattered all over the bay. Each was manned by two divers, who did the diving and the hauling in turns.

The diver in the boat closest inshore seized a big piece of coral that was tied to the diving cord between his legs and made swiftly for the sea-bed.

The water was warm and so transparent that you could count the pebbles on the sea-bed. Closer inshore corals rose up like so many bushes of a petrified submarine garden. Small silver-bodied fish flashed in and out among the bushes.

The diver crouched on the sea-bed, quickly picking shells and putting them into the small bag hooked to his leather belt. His tender, a Gurona Indian, his head and shoulders bent over the gunwale for a better view of the diver, held to his end of the diving cord.

Suddenly he saw the diver leap up, snatch at the cord and give it a sharp tug that nearly pulled the Gurona overboard. The boat rocked. The Indian hurried hand over hand with the cord. Presently he was helping the heavily breathing man into the boat. His pupils were dilated, his dusky face ashen.

“Was it a shark?”

But the diver had not recovered sufficient wind to answer.

What could have scared him so badly? The Gurona bent low to the water surface for a better look. Something was definitely wrong down there. The small fry-like birds spotting a falcon-were speeding to the safety of submarine forest thickets.

Then he saw what looked like a cloud of purplish smoke billow into view from behind a submarine rock. As the cloud grew bigger the water turned a pinkish tint. Then a dark shape half-appeared from behind the rock, made a slow turn and slid back. That was a shark and the purplish cloud-blood spilt on the sea-bed. What could have happened down there? The Gurona looked at his mate. But he couldn’t provide the answer. Lying on his back, he was snatching air with wide-open mouth, staring with unseeing eyes into the skies. There was nothing for it but to take him straight to the Jellyfish.

All the divers that were on board clustered round the man.

“Speak up, man,” said a young Indian, shaking the diver. “Afraid your funky soul will part company with your body, if you open your mouth, eh?”

The diver shook his head, slowly recovering.

“I saw the ‘sea-devil’,” he said in a hollow faltering voice.

“The ‘sea-devil’?”

“Come on then, for Christ’s sake, tell us about him,” the divers shouted impatiently.

“I looked up and saw a shark. Making straight for me. A big black brute with its huge jaws ready to snap. It sure seemed I’d had it. Then I saw him — ”

“The ‘devil’?”

“What does he look like? Has he got a head?”

“A head? Think he has. Eyes as big as saucers.”

“If he has eyes he must have a head,” was the young Indian’s verdict. “Eyes don’t come all by themselves. Any legs?”

“He’s got front legs-like a frog’s. Long green fingers, webbed and with daws. And he’s all ablaze like a fish with scales. He makes for the shark, flashes with a front leg. Swish! There’s a fountain of blood-”

“What do his hind legs look like?” a diver interrupted him.

“Hind legs?” He tried to remember. “There’s no hind legs. Just a big tail-ending in two snakes.”

“Who gave you the worst scare, him or the shark?”

“The monster! “ came the unhesitating answer. “For all it saved my life.”

“The ‘sea-devil’,” said an Indian.

“The sea-god that helps the poor,” an old Indian corrected him.

By this time the news had reached the farthest boats and more and more divers were coming on board, eager for the story.

The man was made to repeat his story over and over again. As he did so he recalled more details. It now appeared that the monster breathed fire and wriggled its ears, had sabre-like teeth, large fins and a tail like a rudder.

White-trousered and sombreroed Pedro Zurita shuffled back and forth in the background, his bare feet thrust into a pair of sandals, taking note of what was being said.

The more the diver recovered the use of his tongue the more Pedro became convinced that it was all a shark-scared diver’s imagination. And yet it can’t be only that, he thought. Somebody did slit that shark’s side open-with all that pinkish water in the bay. The Indian’s lying but there’s obviously more to it than meets the eyes. Rum business, dammit, he thought.

At that moment Zurita’s train of thought was cut short by the blow of a horn coming from the direction of the reefs.

It had the effect of a thunderbolt. Tongues were paralyzed. Faces turned ashen-grey. Horror-stricken eyes stared in the direction of the reefs.

Near the reefs a family made for the reefs and was soon lost to sight behind them. After a few tense moments it reappeared. Riding it was the oddest creature, in fact, the very “sea-devil” just described by (he diver. The monster had the body and head of a man, with a pair of immense eyes that blazed in the sun like a car’s headlights; silvery-blue skin and dark-green forelegs, long-fingered and webbed. The creature’s legs were immersed in the water, so there was no telling whether they were of man or of beast. In one of its forelegs the creature had a long winding shell. Giving another blow on it the creature laughed a gay manly laugh and suddenly shouted: “Full speed ahead, Leading! “ in perfect Spanish, patted the dolphin’s glossy back with its frog’s hand and spurred its mount with its legs. And like a well-broken horse the dolphin put on speed.

A cry of surprise escaped the divers.

The creature looked round. The next they knew it was off the dolphin and on the other side of it. A green foreleg shot into sight to slap the dolphin’s back. Obedient to it the mount submerged.

The odd pair could just be seen making a quick half-circle and then it disappeared behind the reefs.

The whole thing had taken not more than a minute but the lookers-on stood rooted to the spot for some time.

Then hell broke loose. Some of the Indians shouted and ran about as though demented, others fell on their knees and prayed to God to spare their lives. A young Mexican, bawling with fright, took refuge high up the main mast. The Blacks crept below into the hold.

There could be no question of going on with the work. It was all Pedro and Bal-tasar. could do to restore some order. The Jellyfish weighed anchor and sailed due north.