Adaptation

Zack Lux lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area. He enjoys nature, the Twilight Zone, and pizza, among other things.


Adaptation

I wait at the bottom of the ancient lake, when I sense movement, a disturbance.

A series of pulsations thrum against my scales. Reflexively, I measure the peaks and valleys between each pulse, and a familiar pattern emerges: an animal struggles near the shore. My three stomachs groan.

My claws extend, then gain purchase along the lake floor and propel me toward the source of the pulsations. I glide through a thick forest of translucent fish with open mouths and empty eyes, a sober reminder that, not long ago, the earth shook, and the water became bitter. Not all could adapt.

The lake grows shallow as I approach the shore. Four of my six eyes breach the surface—a barrier that sparkles between my domain and the warmth of the sun—while the rest of my hulking shape stays hidden. My eyelids retract and blink as they adjust. Then I see it, a creature that sits upon a stone outcropping. As the creature moves, the stones upon which it sits create ripples throughout the lake.

My predecessors explained, and I have observed, that when the composition of the lake changes—more or less bitter, salty, fresh, and so on—not only do some animals fail to adapt, but often, new animals present themselves. I believe this is one of those new animals. It has four limbs—similar to other life outside the lake—but has little fur, save for a small tuft where two of its limbs meet, along with another that encircles its face. Loose strands cover its torso and limbs.

Steadily, I continue my approach toward my quarry, and still, only my eyes have breached the surface. But the animal stops struggling. It sees me, studies me—

All at once, it thrashes and howls. Then, to my surprise, as I move closer, it stands upright on two of its limbs, one of which is wedged between a pair of large boulders. The creature is unable to retreat. My stomachs groan again.

I reach the outcropping and slowly claw my way out of the water. The creature grunts as it uses two of its limbs to heft a stone above its head. It continues to howl. The ferocity in its cry grows as I move closer. The stone flies—

A sharp pain.

For a brief moment, I cannot see.

When my vision returns, another stone flies, collides with my head. Then another. The pain escalates, then overwhelms. Despite my hunger, I withdraw into the lake.

My head throbs, yet the pulsations continue to beat against my scales. I cannot resist the call. Once again, I crawl out of the water, and once again the creature hurls a stone toward me.

◊◊◊

Seasons pass. I give birth to three hatchlings. Together, we glide through the forest of fish skeletons, and I teach them about events that cause some creatures to die while others adapt.

I explain my belief that one day our kind will roam the dry land freely, without a need to return to the lake. My predecessors alluded to this change, and I have sensed it myself. Our opportunities for continued survival will increase, because many land creatures are consumable.

But the one with small tufts of fur should be avoided, for that creature, I have learned, has also found a way to adapt.

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