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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Tale of the Two Lifeguards, Part I

A guest post by my truckbuddy Tim from England, now resident in Spain:

The Tale of the Two Lifeguards

Chapter One
in which we make some introductions

Image by my good friend hi-host here on tumblr.  Thanks Lenny.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, possibly as long ago as last Wednesday, Piers Nivans got into his bright yellow safety boat and set out for the tiny Mediterranean island of Tabarca. He did this at precisely eight o'clock every morning in the summer, leaving his parent's home in the little fishing village of Santa Pola, and returning there precisely twelve hour later. But this particular Wednesday morning proved to be special, as we shall see in a while.

Piers worked as a lifeguard during the long, hot summer months, swapping his grey student books and grey student clothes of the rest of the year for a bright red rescue float and bright red shorts. And the bright yellow safety boat, of course, which was much more fun than his grey scooter. Now this is not to say Piers' winter life was dull, rather that he liked grey. It helped him blend in with the crowds and buildings in the big city where the University was. Piers liked to blend in there, because he didn't much care for crowds and buildings and cities. What he did like was the sun and the fresh open air. And what he loved, was the sea. The beautiful aquamarine sea that surrounded Tabarca with its crystal-clear waters. And what he loved best of all was . . . well, let's see shall we?

Continued after the jump . . . 

So, as I was saying, in the summer he didn't mind standing out so much because more often than not he was on his own. And in any case, it was his official lifeguard's uniform. Red shorts and a white tee-shirt with a yellow cross on it. Just like the yellow cross on the flag at the end of the little wooden pier, where he moored his boat, which also sported a similar flag. If you were there, it would be hard not to notice, which was the whole point. But only if you were there, because not many people lived on the little island. And those that did didn't have the time to go swimming in the sea. They were too busy running the little cafes and restaurants for the tourists who came and went, twice a day, on the ferryboat from the big city. And not many of them went swimming either. They were too busy drinking and eating! But for those that did, Piers was always on guard. Sometimes patrolling the biggest beach on foot, which didn't take very long. Or sometimes circling the tiny island in his little yellow boat with his binoculars around his neck. Always on the lookout for bathers in trouble and emergencies and such.

This was the part of life-guarding that Piers really enjoyed. Tabarca's shores were full of hidden coves, and tiny beaches. Some were so tiny and hidden, you could only get to them by swimming, or climbing down the cliffs. Which is when most people needed Piers, because they would either get tired, or get stuck, or both at the same time! But fortunately it didn't happen very often, only once in a while.

All of this might lead you to suspect Piers was a rather lonely lifeguard. However, nothing could be further from the truth. He had plenty of friends. For a start, there were the three seagulls, Ab, Ba, and Cuss. They followed him everywhere he went. It didn't matter if he was on foot, or in his boat. There they would be, always talking and laughing, the way seagulls do. "Ka, Ka, Ka! Ka, Ka, Ka!" Ab and Ba were brother and sister, and quite well-mannered for seagulls. Cuss was, well, Cuss. Which meant mischievous, dirty and foul-beaked! He had two straggly feathers that stuck up on his head like aerials, because he never preened himself properly. Cuss didn't do properly, but he was very good at improperly. "K**, K**, K**! K**, K**, K**!"

(I should add here that there was another Seagull, whose name was Polly, but I'm not really sure if she counts, it's quite hard to tell. You see, Polly thought she was a parrot. It's a long story, and it will have to wait until another time. Suffice it to say for now that Polly was a few feathers short of a Macaw. "Ka, Ka, Ka! Ka, Ka, Ka!" Or, as Polly would say, with a squawk and a whistle, "Arrk! Phweeht Phoooh!" I hope I've spelt that correctly, Seacaw is such a difficult language!)

However, by this time I expect you're all thinking, "Wait, if there are two lifeguards, and Piers is one of them, who is the other one?" Well, I'm getting around to that. But these things take time if they are to be explained properly, or even improperly. So please be patient. Let's learn a little more about Piers first. For example, what did he look like? Handsome was what Piers looked. He had clear skin, lightly tanned from the summer sun and the sea breezes. No freckles, no spots, just two tiny moles on his left cheek. Coffee colored hair, bleached gold here and there, and with his forelocks brushed up over his forehead into a quiff. In winter, Piers would hold this in place with some gel, because he was rather proud of it. But in the summer, because he was swimming in that crystal-clear water so much, he simply combed it back into place. All that swimming meant Piers was very fit, so his muscles showed, but not too much. Athletic would be the right word, I think. Added to which he had a pretty smile and a button nose. So I think 'handsome' is just right. Oh, and I almost forgot! His eyes. Bright and shiny, light brown, flecked with the colors of autumn. Golds and yellows, orange. Imagine a pair of round and lustrous hazel nuts, glistening in the summer sunshine.

Apart from Ab, Ba, and Cuss, (and possibly Polly), Piers had two particular human friends who lived on the island all year long, old José and Anita. Together they ran his favorite little cafe, right next to the biggest beach. Which, if you remember, wasn't very big at all! José and Anita had lived on the island for most of their long lives. Once, José had been a fisherman, but then the fish began to slowly disappear, and it became hard to make a living from the sea. So he married Anita and they opened their cafe. It was the first one the tourists saw when they got off the ferry, and so was often the first one to be full of hungry customers. Piers would have his morning coffee there after he'd moored his little boat and set up his bathing flags and lifeguarding bits and bobs on the beach. Then he'd make his rounds of the island in his boat, before the first ferry arrived, checking for anything amiss, especially in those little coves and beaches on the southern shore. This was where the biggest waves came in, bringing with them all sorts of interesting flotsam and jetsam which Piers loved to investigate.

One of the coves was named Las Calas dels Birros, which means he Coves of the Birches. Piers had always thought this strange. Birch trees normally grow at higher altitudes, and tiny little Tabarca was almost as flat as a pancake! He decided it was probably a misspelling, from a long forgotten distant age.

Ancient tales told that Gaea, the earth goddess, had shown too much affection for the land and mortals of Atlantis, on whose mountain tops forests of birch trees grew. This made her husband, Poseidon, Lord of the Oceans, jealous. In a fit of anger, he raised up the cold seas of Atlantica and flooded Atlantis. All the Atlanteans fled to the mountain tops to avoid drowning, but cruel Poseidon raised the waters still higher and higher. Then, as they clung to the tops of the birch trees on the highest peaks, the Sea God changed their legs to fish's tails, so they could no longer stay on the trees, but had to jump into the sea. In response, Gaea lifted up the submerged mountains with a mighty volcanic eruption from below, till just the wooded tops rose above the flood, in order to serve as a constant reminder to her husband of her own powers. And that is how, according to fable, Tabarca came to be. But it worried Piers; he preferred things to be logical and precise, based on facts, not myths and legends. In any event, all the birches had sadly long gone, leaving behind just rocks and stone, cliffs and sand.

Another interesting place, and a particular favorite of Piers, was the mysterious Cova del Llop Mari, the Cave of the Sea Wolves! And it's where Piers first met . . . Oh, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about the Llop Mari, the Sea Wolves, first!

The Sea Wolves were what fishermen used to call the Monk Seals that bred on Tabarca many years before. When they were about to pup, the females would seek out the underwater entrances to the many caves hidden deep within the cliffs themselves. There, they could give birth in safety and raise their young. But the island fishermen blamed the seals for damaging their nets and eating their fish. They said the seals were like wolves of the sea, and should be hunted down. So when their catches began to dwindle, the fishermen turned on the seals, either killing them or driving them away. The seals have never returned. Afterwards, the fishermen became too greedy, and soon the fish were all gone as well. That was when most islanders left to find a living on the mainland.

It was a sad time in Tabarca's history, but such dark thoughts were usually far from Piers' mind. On the Sunday morning before last Wednesday, Piers was on patrol in his boat, accompanied, as usual, by his seagull friends. He had just passed the Coves of the Birches and was now approaching the Cave of the Sea Wolves. His keen senses told him that something was following him, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. The way they do if you think a thing is about to happen. And then it did. He saw it only briefly, out of the corner of one hazel eye. Indistinct at first, silhouetted against the bright sun. Ab, Ba, and Cuss had seen something too.

"Fish, yes Fish." said the two siblings excitedly.

"It's a Sea Wolf, you idiots!" Cuss replied.

"Awwk! Polly wants a cracker." squawked Polly.

"Hush now, all of you. You'll frighten it. Whatever it is." Piers whispered to them. He shaded his eyes, there, something again! A brown head and browner eyes. Then it was gone, in an instant. If it hadn't been for the ripples it left behind, Piers might have thought he was seeing things. Was it a seal returning to Tabarca he wondered? Ab and Ba circled the spot for a moment, then flew back towards the boat.

"Fish gone. No fish." they called out sadly.

"Never was a fish!" remarked Cuss grumpily.

Polly was now sat on the deck of the little boat, wondering when they'd get to Brazil. She often did that, the poor thing.

What surprised Piers was that he saw the something again. In the same spot the very next day. And although he wasn't sure, this time he thought the something had whiskers. But before he had time to decide, there was no longer any something there to see.

And the same happened the day after that. This time, however, Piers was more prepared. He called out cheerily. "Hello there." Then, thinking the something might be in distress or in need of assistance, he asked. "Are you all right? Do you need any help?"

The something looked at him, as if surprised. Then, quick as a flash, it dove back down into the water. Piers lent over the side of his yellow boat and peered into the aquamarine sea with his hazel eyes. Nothing. The something had completely vanished. But now Piers was certain, it wasn't a something, it was a man. This time he'd seen a nose, and ears, beneath the brown hair. And the browner eyes had looked at him curiously.

"I think it's a person." Piers said to his friends.

"Fish. Yes, big fish, silly Piers. Ka, Ka, Ka!"

" 'kin Sea Wolf, great ugly brute!" K**, K**, K**!" swore Cuss. He didn't like seals.

Piers told him off. "Don't be rude Cuss! I'm trying to make friends with it, I mean him!"

Polly looked at them all. "Are we there yet?" she asked.

The next day, at precisely the same time and precisely the same spot, Piers stopped the little boat's engine. All was quiet, just the gentle lapping of the waves against the cliffs. Suddenly, the head popped up, right by the side of the boat. Piers almost jumped out of his skin, but he managed to hold his nerve. "Hello again." he said in as friendly and casual a way as he could.

"Er, hello." replied the swimmer cautiously. He had a warm, deep voice. Piers was relieved, the man didn't sound fierce, but rather amiable.

"Do you live here?" Piers inquired, curious.




"On the island? I haven't seen you around before."

"No . . ." said the brown-eyed man, shaking his head slightly, so that the water flew off his short hair. ". . . I mean here." and with that, he sank below the water and was gone, just like before.

"Ka, Ka, Ka!" laughed Ab and Ba, whilst they buzzed Cuss. "It was a hooman after all, not stinky Sea Wolf. Now who is idiot? Ka, Ka, Ka!"

Cuss flew off in a huff, heckled by the brother and sister who chased after him, the way seagulls do.

Piers looked at Polly, who'd stayed on the boat throughout. "Well, that was strange! I wonder who he is? And why did he say he lived here, in the sea?"

"Awwk! Pieces of eight, pieces of eight!" was the best reply Polly had. It was one of her favorites when she didn't know the answer to something. She said it a lot.

That evening, on his way back to Santa Pola, Piers made up his mind. "I'm going to get to the bottom of this mystery. Tomorrow I shall get there early, and be in the water before he arrives. That will surprise him." By the time he reached the small harbor of Santa Pola, his handsome face had become quite set whilst he carefully worked out his plan. As he moored up, he spoke sternly to himself. "This time you're going to get some answers Piers Nivans. Some proper facts, not just riddles."

"Ka, Ka, Ka!" laughed three voices above him.

The very next morning, after setting up his beach gear earlier than usual, Piers was about to set off from the wooden pier and head towards La Cova de Llop Mari when he was surprised by the sight of the mysterious man's head suddenly popping up from the water. Right alongside his boat.

"Ha . . . !" the man laughed, ". . . Caught you!"

"Oh! You startled me." said Piers. "What are you doing here? I was just heading for the caves."

"Mmm, I thought you might try and get there early."


"It's what I would do. The element of surprise is important."

"Like you, just now?"

"Ha, ha, ha! Yes, just like that. The early seal catches the fattest fish."

Piers thought this a strange thing to say, though he could see the analogy. "Er, so you know about the seals? They've all gone."

"Tell me about it!" the stranger sounded a little angry.

"Yes, but it was a long time ago."

"Was it? Seems like yesterday to me."

"Heh, heh." Piers laughed nervously. The mysterious man was beginning to sound a bit like Polly. "Um, I'm just about to make my round of the island. Do you want to get in and come with me?"

The man frowned. "Oh no, I'll see you there, at the caves." and with that there was a Plop! and a ripple in the water, and he'd gone.

'How queer!' thought Piers as he cast-off. 'Oh well, at least he seems friendly, and quite good looking in a rugged sort of way.' Piers liked that look, so he set out with a smile on his handsome face, and a strange flutter in his heart.

The seagulls had watched everything intently, cocking their heads from one side to the other, their beady eyes bright with curiosity. But strangely they remained silent, until Piers opened up the throttle of the yellow boat. Then they flew up into the sky, wheeling above and around Piers; laughing all the while. "Ka, Ka, Ka! Ka, Ka, Ka!"

Piers took the long way round, thinking to give the man time to swim from the pier to the caves. And there he was, already waiting! Piers heart beat a little faster on sighting him. It was doable, he thought, but even so, the man had to be a strong swimmer to get there ahead of him.

"Where have you been . . . ?" the man called out, waving his right arm. It was the first time Piers had seen one of the man's limbs. It was very muscular, and seemed to have a green bracelet about the thick wrist. ". . . And what's your name?"

"Piers, Pier Nivans . . . and yours?"


"Just that?"

"I think so. You could call me Captain Christopher I suppose, but that's a bit formal. Tell you what, just call me Chris." the man smiled, and his brown eyes lit up with amusement; and something else, though Piers couldn't be sure what exactly.

"Alright . . . Chris." Piers smiled too, it seemed to be contagious. "Er, Captain? In the Army?"

"In the Royal Lifeguards . . ." said the Chris the word Royal proudly. ". . . like you."

"Oh no, I'm not a soldier." replied Piers, modestly.

"Neither am I. I save lives, just like you do. Well, I think that's what you do. Am I wrong?"

"N, no, that's r, right." stammered Piers. Chris' way of speaking was definitely odd, he thought. Oh, well, he knew a seagull who thought she was a parrot. It took all sorts he supposed. Who knew the His Majesty the King had lifeguards?

Chris had his right hand on the edge of the rescue boat now. And Piers could see the 'bracelet' more clearly. "Oh, I thought it was made from stones, it's actually Posidonia!" he said aloud in a surprised voice.

"Is it? I thought it was made from Neptune Grass."

"They're the same thing, seagrass." Piers said knowledgeably. He was going to ask about what looked like a piece of old fishing net draped around Chris' broad chest, and what appeared to be strands of seaweed wrapped around his left shoulder. But he thought it might be impolite to inquire about such things with someone he'd only recently met.

"Ha! That's cleared that up then." said Chris. "Erm, Piers . . ." Chris' brow furrowed. It looked as if he was making a difficult decision. ". . . do you fancy a swim? You won't regret it."

Piers surprised himself. Usually he liked to think carefully about things, but this time he said "Yes" before he'd even thought about it.

He dropped the boat's anchor with a Splash! It sent Ab, Ba and Cuss, who had been floating on the sea nearby, squawking up into the air with a paddle of webbed feet and a flutter of feathers. Then Piers took off his Tee-shirt, the one with the yellow cross on it, and Splash! he was in the water too.

As he surfaced, he looked around for Chris, but he couldn't see him. Piers took a deep breath and dove down into the sea. He swam around, looking for Chris, but he still couldn't see him. What he did see were three large jellyfish with trailing tentacles, Medusas, motionless in the water about him. So close he could have touched them, were it not for the risk of being stung! Piers didn't know it at the time, but he would meet the three again. Then, just as he was about to run out of breath and go back to the surface, there was a blur of motion from below and he found himself held in Chris' strong arms! Piers gasped in surprise, and the last of his air burst from his lungs, out of his mouth, and up, up and away in a large bubble.

Piers' first reaction was to head for the surface, but Chris continued to hold him tightly. Piers could see his grinning face right in front of his. Piers struggled, what stupid prank was he playing? Then Chris winked at him, and the next thing was Piers could feel Chris' lips on his. And then Chris was blowing his own air into Piers, refilling his empty lungs with a long, and rather tender, kiss. Piers thought perhaps he'd lost consciousness briefly through lack of oxygen, because he imagined he'd seen a large green tail where Chris' legs should have been. When eventually the kiss ended, Chris pointed towards the surface, and then he propelled Piers upwards with a push from his strong arms.

They reached the surface together. "What were you playing at?" Piers spluttered angrily.

Chris was still grinning. "Sorry, I forgot, you can't breathe underwater."

"What do you mean? No one can breathe underwater without an air tank and breathing apparatus!"

"I can."

"That's impossible!"

"Not for me." and with that Chris leapt high out of the water. And what do you think? He didn't have legs! Instead he had the most beautiful fish's tail Piers had ever seen. Long and graceful, powerful, with larges crescent shaped flukes and four smaller fins, two on each side. All covered in green, turquoise and silver-grey scales, shimmering in the salty spray and sunshine. Splash! Chris plunged into the sea, only to appear right in front of Piers a moment later.

"You're a . . .!" said Piers, opened mouthed. ". . . I must still be short of oxygen, I'm still dreaming!"

Chris laughed happily. "Ha, ha, ha! Yes, and No. You need another kiss! Underwater! Come on!"

All this had sent the seagulls into a frenzy of excitement.

"Man! No, fish! Fishman! Ka, Ka, Ka!" Ab and Ba cried excitedly.

"Is it a man? Is it a fish? No, wait, it's a kiss 'n 'kin 'ell. K**, K**, K**!" said Cuss rudely.

"Arrk! Phweeht Phoooh! Who's a pretty boy then? Who's a pretty boy?" squawked Polly. It wasn't often she got things right, but she did this time.

They explored the underwater caves together for half an hour. Chris showed Piers places and things he had never been able to reach or see before. The Captain talked all time, explaining this, showing that. Piers didn't speak at first, trying to save his air. It wasn't easy, talking underwater. But when he did, and all his words came out in bubbles, he found he got another kiss as well as more air. So then he tried talking more, of course!

After half an hour, Piers indicated he had to return to the surface. Getting back into his boat, he explained he had to carry on with his lifeguarding duties. "I'd love to stay, but I have my responsibilities."

"Quite right, and so do I. Can we meet later, at the pier, when all the 'Legs' have gone?"

"Er, Legs?"

Chris raised his eyebrows and nodded in the direction of his tail. It swished left then right, like an irritated cat's tail. Slap! Slap! on the water.

"Ah, yes, of course." Piers blushed in embarrassment. "What time?"

"When the sun is half-way between the top and the bottom?" Chris suggested.

Piers thought about this for a moment. "Oh, you mean about five o'clock! Just a little later would be better. Most 'Legs', er, people I mean, will have gone by then."

"So half-way and a bit?"

"Heh, heh! Yes. I'll have to find you a diver’s watch. I know! I could stay on Tabarca tonight. I do stay overnight occasionally, with old José and Anita. I'll give my parents a ring."

"A ring, made of gold?"

Piers laughed again. "No, a call, on my cell." Chris looked at him blankly. "It's a device we have, for speaking to others, over long distances. Here, look." Piers showed Chris his smartphone.

"Oh, we use Nautilus shells, or passing Dolphins. Ha, ha, ha! Goodbye for now then."

"Um, one more kiss perhaps?" Piers lent down low over the side of his boat.

"Mwah, and two more for luck, Mwah, Mwah!"

"Pinch me."

"Alright then."

"Oww! I didn't mean it literally!"

Far below Chris and Piers, a pair of large and unblinking eyes, as cold and black as the depths from which they came, looked up balefully towards the surface. They could see the bottom of the little yellow boat and something swimming next to it. Long jaws, lined with razor sharp teeth, opened briefly, then snapped shut in cruel and hungry anticipation. Their owner rose slowly upwards, in order to get a closer look . . .

To be continued next week.

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