Otterhead

is an educator, writer, musician, environmentalist, adventurer and craftsman living and working in the Ozark Mountains region of the central US. His stories almost always involve interactions between parallel timelines of the Omniverse.
As it happens, we do communicate across the timelines of the Omniverse. Communication is indirect and difficult. The quantum entanglements on which it depends are themselves randomly unpredictable. It is most often through catchy tunes and mnemonic devices that information can be transmitted more or less intact. We receive these messages in dreams and inspirations, sudden words that appear from nowhere. They appear in the mind and then fade quickly, unless they have form and structure that helps us hold onto them. Nursery rhymes… simple songs may carry an important message. Most of the ones we know were left here by time-travellers ages ago. This is a story about one such song, and the tale that it tells of a future we hope may never come to pass.

The sound creates a vision, and we see a circle of men, women and children gathered around a fire, humming a sad and mournful chord in a minor key. Their clothing is strangely modern in style, yet obviously handmade. An old man’s voice is raised up and cries to the heavens like a child to its mother, the last words of each line hold out long in a plaintive wail, trailing off at the end as if in exhaustion. Other voices hum a drone that forms a background with the crackling fire.

Ottherhead, otterhead, can’t you see
Gotta be otters playin’ in the sea
Ain’t no good if they all gone away
Gotta be otters bobbin’ in the bay

Large trees, fir and pine, surround us. Beyond the fire in the darkness we faintly sense the thunder of crashing waves, as if we are in the woods atop a sea cliff. A gentle breeze carries the salty smell of the sea. A hand drum begins to beat a simple rhythm. The voice rises again in time to the drum and begins to sing…

There once was a little girl sat by the shore
Reading library books of animal lore
A photograph, taken this very place
Showed an otterhead with a whiskered face

We see the girl-child as she sits happily reading a large picture-book on top of a grassy hill overlooking the sea. There is sun and wind and the crying of birds. A photo in the book clearly shows an oddly shaped rock in the bay. The little girl looks up, and sees that there is that same rock, though the water is much higher than in the photo. She realizes that the picture was surely taken from almost this exact spot! We see her brows furrow as she looks back and forth in confusion from the book to the bay. She gets up and walks quickly with her finger holding the page of the book. Her father is working at a wood-carving bench shaving spokes for a wheel. He looks at the picture, hears her question, sighs, and tells her the truth.

Little girl, went and she asked her pa
Then she ran and asked her ma
Parents told her, through their tears
There hadn’t been an otter for a thousand years

She turns and runs frantically to her mother working in the garden. The man follows wiping his hands on a towel and shares a glance of sorrow with the woman. From where she kneels on the ground the mother holds the girl and tells her the same, that the sea otters are extinct. The girl breaks into sobs and cries on her mother’s shoulder for some minutes.

Ottherhead, otterhead, can’t you see
Gotta be otterheads in the sea
Ain’t no good if they all gone away
Gotta be otters bobbin’ in the bay

Then the little girl rallies and questions her parents closely. She cannot believe their story and points to the picture book as proof. But her parents explain that it all happened long long ago, in a time before the grandparents of their great-grandparents were even born.

That can’t be true, the picture book said!
But that book is old, the author’s dead.
When the sea rose up the kelp all died
The otters went away, nobody knows why

Much information has been saved from the olden days before the world changed dramatically. Books can be reprinted, though the information they hold is often obsolete and there are very few new books. The little girl becomes angry and vows to find someone with the power to fix things. She adopts a determined stance and refuses to accept that this is just the way of things.

Little girl cried ‘How can this be,
That there’s no otters in the sea?
I’ll take my case to the highest man
And ask him to do whatever he can.’

Her parents are kindly folk and are willing to indulge her, and soon they are dressed in their best. They hitch up the pony cart, and drive to the nearest large town, which is not too far away. There they seek out the one man the little girl knows is the most powerful in all the world. Surely, she reasons, he will help her bring back the otters.

The very next day they went to town
Little girl wore her finest gown
They went to the place where the big man stays
On his golden throne with a silver sleigh

She waits her turn patiently in line as there are many others before her to make their pleas. Finally it is her turn. An attendant elf helps her up onto the knee of Santa Claus, yes… Father Christmas himself, who now seems to be the center of all civil authority in this strangely familiar place. He is big and jolly and smells like fresh bread, and she tells him what she wants. Santa smiles sadly, and nods.

Santa said, ‘Little girl, I can see you’re sincere
So I’ll do my best, now don’t you fear.
I’ll bend time, make it go the wrong way
And you’ll see the otters on Christmas day.’

Santa’s chief elf leans over and whispers in his ear… ‘Boss… what are you doing? You know that’s against the rules!’ Santa has a faraway look in his eye, shakes his head, and waves the elf off. And so the little family goes home again, and the little girl seems happy once more, though as they leave we can clearly see that Santa is not happy at all.

Ottherhead, otterhead, can’t you see
Gotta be otterheads in the sea
Ain’t no good if they all gone away
Gotta be otters bobbin’ in the bay

But things are not well with the little family, the harvest is poor and the times are hard, and as summer passes into fall the girl falls seriously ill. It is a common illness in those days, oft seen among the children, and incurable as everyone knows. Some people say it is because so many of the old nuclear power plants had melted down all those ages ago and spewed forth their filth. Others ascribe it to the work of evil spirits. Whatever the cause, the child weakens quickly and becomes bedridden in just a few weeks. Her mother smilingly cares for her with true love, yet weeps when she is alone in the kitchen. Her father busies himself in the workshop and quietly builds a wooden box.

The little girl died on Christmas Eve
Her cancer, it gave no reprieve
But Santa remembered what he did say
And she played with the otters on Christmas day

The child wakens on Christmas morning to find bright sunshine and a blanket of newfallen snow. She feels wonderful and runs out to the bay, and lo and behold… the otters are there! They beckon and call to her. She feels no cold and no fear, and runs barefoot on strong legs through the snow and into the surf to join them.

Ottherhead, otterhead, can’t you see
Gotta be otterheads in the sea
Ain’t no good if they all gone away
Gotta be otters bobbin’ in the bay

There’s gotta be otters bobbin’ in the bay
Gotta be otters
Gotta be otters
Gotta be otters
Bobbin’ in the bay

Comments
    1. I am seeking a talented graphic artist willing to draw the pictures that go with the story. It will be a children’s Christmas book, albeit a rather dark and verklemmt one. Please contact me if interested.

  1. Just a bit of backstory, this story/song “erupted” during the night of Dec 22, 2012. I jumped out of bed and scrambled for pencil and paper to get it down before it faded. I “heard” it, as if someone were shouting it in my face, keen to be sure I remembered it. I have no explanation other than the story/song itself. If it is a vision of the future, then it is a dark one. But I hold to the hope that it is only one of many possible futures, and that we may still have enough steerage to guide our world to a better one. Perhaps this warning is what it takes to realize the importance of what we do today.

  2. Perhaps it not quite the right time in this sphere of time, but the lyrics and message could be applied to any species of living things and is a strong message we will one day pay heed to. Thanks Tom Maringer for taking time to share and care.

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