Tribute to a Salmon
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I found you on the riverbank. It was a relatively cold morning, and I had woken up early to see the sun rise above the trees down by the river. I had not expected to see anything more than the early birds stirring in the first rays of the sun, but you were there nonetheless. I wondered if you had been waiting there for me.

You were a ragged, tattered thing. You looked ghastly: your skin falling off in chunks, eyes long since glazed over, jaw twisted and contorted into some vicious mockery of what I could see you had once been. You were surrounded by the stench of death and decay. Whether it came from you or your decomposing compatriots, I will never know. Even surrounded by the dead, you still clung to life, hanging on to whatever pathetic existence gently flopping on the bank of the river provided for you. And yet? You carried the aura of something majestic, something magical, though little majesty remained in you now. Your twisted, lean muscles and massive body still remained, even as the skin and flesh which made them up continued to slough off into the waters which you called your home.

I knelt down before you. I'm not sure why, only that I knew that you must have something to teach me. In your last moments, though you could not speak, and I could not truly know, we talked for a while, in a way that only a dying creature and its witness can.

When I spoke to you, I saw a tiny thing, which I can only presume to be you a long time ago, struggling with all its might against a sea of gravel in which it is buried. A small thing such as yourself looked as if it could not stand against the veritable boulders which surrounded it, but you persisted. Though it cost you nearly all your energy, you managed to break free of your gravel prison, and emerged out into the waters of the cold swift river which surrounded you. Though you were nearly expended, there was no time to rest for you. You had one singular goal burning in your mind, one great passion, and that goal lay at the end of this river.

You grew quickly and with great strength as you braved the rapids of the river. As you grew strong and powerful, like your father before you, (though you never knew him) your scales began to glisten like a suit of silvery armor. Your muscles grew thick and strong in preparation for what was to come ahead. You had never seen anything outside of this river, but you knew your final destination was going to test you like you had never been tested before.

The day you finally made it to the ocean was the happiest day of your life. Through the small river, which had always seemed so large before now, to the crowded estuary, past the delta- now, you were here. It was no exaggeration to say that you had never imagined there to be so much water in the whole wide world. But here you were, and now it was your home.

There's a certain freedom that comes with the sea. There remained no instinctual path for you to follow, simply the drive to become the strongest you could be. And you did, with great zeal. The fish learned to fear you just as you feared the sharks and tuna and halibut which stalked your feeding grounds. You fed and you fed and you fed, evading particularly confident predators as you did so. You became the largest of your fleet, and defended them when you could. Though you were outmatched by the greater creatures of the sea, you held fast and strong as you always had. Once, you even managed to fend off a marlin from taking you as its next meal.

And you still grew. You spent years in those tragically empty yet shockingly bountiful waters buidling your strength, for some grand and terrible purpose which you still did not fully comprehend. You felt the compulsion, growing like a magnetic pulling in your mind, grow stronger and stronger with each passing day. It felt almost as if you were but a marionette, puppeted on the invisble strings of your own instinct.

The day you left those waters was the day you changed for good. You had been changing before that, though, slowly and nearly imperceptibly. But you were changing nonetheless. Your jaw became twisted, rent open into a more grotesque thing, while you wondered what these changes meant for you. Your body began to save its energy, storing fuel in fat around your body. You knew not why it did this, only that it was necessary. When you left the sea, you soon found out why.

The magnetic pullling in your mind had gone from puppet strings to needles. Those needles in your brain pulled you along, out from the sea and its vast, beautiful expanse, and back to the nurturing water which once gave you the strength to survive. Only now, these waters were different. Instead of fostering a growing body, they ripped and pulled against your scales, threatening to drag you back to the sea you had come from. But you were hardened and tough. You were stronger than the water, than all the forces Mother Nature could throw at you to keep you from reaching your goal. You were the best, and you intended to make that clear to all that stood in your way.

And so, you fought. Day in and day out, you fought against the current. Your powerful muscles and stored energy propelled you forward like an organic spacecraft, adrift through a raging river instead of a calm vacuum. You made slow and steady progress, passing through by the estuaries and streams which nurtured you in your youth. When the rocks of a waterfall impeded your progress, you lept into the air to surpass it, avoiding the gaping maws of predators looking to cut your journey short. While you were aloft, you often though about your place and your purpose. You had reached no conclusion so far, only that there was so much more left for youto experience. You could tell your time was running short, though.

On a winter evening, the waters began to slow to a gentle crawl, and you made your way forward, resting as much as you could. The journey had taken so much out of you, leaving you a shell of your former self. Your scales and flesh had been ablated away as you were dashed against the rocks, your body had atrophied as it consumed itself to keep you moving, and your eyes had already gone dim. As you contemplated your fate, you began to feel the rushing of water arround you. Though with your fading vision it was nearly impossible to see in the darkening night, you could smell the arrival of your compatriots from years ago, all having made the same journey. They surrounded you, a swarm of dying flesh and flickering eyes, yet filled with unmistakeable mirth. This was your purpose.

And that is where I found you. The night had passed, and you had fulfilled your purpose, and before you had been snuffed out by the unavoidable march of death, I found you flopping on this riverbank. Do you not regret it? The course in life you fought so hard for, only to have your end as a sad, pathetic death on the same gravel you were once birthed from?

I could not hear you speak it, but I know it was said all the same.

Despite your decay and your rot, despite the hardship you faced, and despite the unceremonious nature of your end, you were proud. And that is all that mattered.

I went to grab my lunch from the car. When I returned, only a corpse remained of the proud salmon you had once been. I think it's fitting you passed with no one to witness.

I think it's what you would have wanted.

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