Chapter 1

Just Beneath the Surface

"Whoo, whoo," I squawk from such exhilaration, such unrestrained joy; I almost forget why I'm here. A search for food, sure … satisfy my hunger, but guarding the coastline is so much more urgent.

Spellbound by the way ocean breezes toy with my wings, they batter me with an evil force. Toss me about. I love it! Even among ospreys, I'm considered strange.

With summer nearly over, I glide along the coast on my patrol. A boy and his father sit alone on the beach, empty of the noisy vacation crowds. The boy with tussled brown hair wearing swim trunks and a T-shirt rests on a blanket. He honors me with a wave. I can't be bothered responding, but I am grateful for the salute.

Hunger interferes with my duties. I search for prey. My wing muscles battle the buffeting air currents in apparently effortless flight. I focus on the ocean waters scanning for a shadowy ripple that might suggest a fish under the surface. A wicked, reflective glare bathes the ocean surface with the late August sun making my search nearly impossible. But I continue to hunt in my quest for survival.

Whitecaps bait my hunger. They fool me into believing something alive lies just beneath. It is merely the afternoon breeze taunting the rising tide.

Next to the boy an older fellow sits on a chair and studies me through his binoculars, his spectacles raised to the top of his head. He wears a plaid button-down sports shirt and sandals. Skin is leathery brown from weeks spent in the sun. His scrutiny is unnerving. Why does he stare so intently? Could he be an agent from those opposed to my mission?

With the ocean beneath me clear, I give my wings a twitch to soar further out to sea.

My brethren prefer to hunt along the rivers and lakes. Instead of soaring on the wind, they hide in tree branches. Hunting is easier, but they are deprived of the splash of the sea spray. I crave the solitude of adventure. Free reign above the open ocean! But it is more than that. It is my duty.

The wind carries me further from the coastline. I could fight the air currents, remain hovering in place, but I've learned to follow the wind, not fight it. Beneath me a family of pelicans skims the surface blocking my view. They boldly encroach on my exploration. My throat trills an angry screech of protest. I cannot tolerate the abuse of my privilege. They ignore me, but will not pass this way again.

The day creeps into late afternoon. Covered with dried sea salt, my muscles ache with the effort of holding me aloft. I let out a mournful cry, giving voice to the pangs of hunger. Hunting in the bay begins to look like a better choice, but ocean winds call.

Carried out to sea, I glide in the direction of a small craft: Fire Dancer. A girl swims next to the boat wearing a snorkel and diving mask. A different woman leans on the railing watching the girl frolic in the surrounding water. She is laughing and calling to her child. Not far from the child, I spot a playful school of mackerel leaping from the water. They are plenty –enough to share - even with the pelican family.

I would rather the prey be further from people. But this is the first sign of nourishment all day, and I tire of the hunt. I ponder the difficult choices. Killing is eternal. Can I deprive these mackerel their absolute freedom? A despot's dilemma – denying someone's freedom to secure mine. So be it. The question of freedom for the mackerel is moot. I have to eat to survive, and mackerel were made for just such a purpose.

I narrow my wingspan in and point my head down. Accelerating as I draw near the leaping fish. The woman on the boat enjoys the spectacle of my dive. Choosing my target, I follow it into the water. I wrap my wings in tight and squeeze my eyes in preparation for the strike. Here my cousins, the eagles, must stop. He can snag a fish with his talons, but he cannot breach the surface. Missing the excitement of the underwater chase.

Crashing into the ocean waters my nostrils sting with salt water. I shiver from the sudden coolness. After the hours aloft, my stiff, aching muscles shatter and come alive. I reopen my eyes to regain my sight and adjust to the strange, shimmering underwater glow.

A new world opens up. The water teems with air bubbles spewing from the activity. Seaweed dances on the ocean floor. A large pod of dolphins feed lazily on the fish. They had driven my prey to the surface to subdue them. Some dolphins have completed their frenzy. Those frolic between the girl's swishing legs.

A small dolphin smiles at me. A frayed gash streams across her back; a telltale reminder of a nasty encounter with a boat. I lose sight of the mackerel I was tracking, but select another. There are plenty to choose from. A powerful stroke of my wings pushes me swiftly toward the new meal.

In the distance, I notice a lemon shark invading the feast. Then another, and a third. Before I realize it, dozens more arrive. Sea wolves approach from every angle. Sand sharks, makos, and even a tiger shark overrun the banquet. Chaos intrudes on our peace.

Quickly molding into defense alignments, the dolphins leap into action. Astoundingly, the enormous Dolphin King takes the time to shove the young girl out of the ocean and into the boat. The remaining dolphins form up and launch the counter attack. A spotted lemon shark circles around the flank and lunges toward the young, friendly dolphin with the scar. Her expression turns to fear and uncertainty.

"Save my daughter!" The old king screams.

My lungs burning, my oxygen is running low. But this is why I'm here. I ignore my prey and instinctively stroke toward the lemon shark.

The attack is foolhardy. Should my barbed talon become engrained in his skin, I could not possibly haul him to the surface, nor could I let go. But I take the risk; the eyeball skin is flimsy. I pierce one eye with my talon. His underwater screech pierces through the uproar. I use the leverage I gain to poke my beak into the other eye. Ugh, the taste of bloody, eyeball slime.

He breaks off the attack, flailing in pain. The young dolphin swims away, protected by two others.

Murky waters obscure the battle. I can't see much more than streams of red clouded with air bubbles. I've done what I can. My lungs howl for air. One osprey against dozens of sharks is not the best of odds … not unless the fight takes place among the clouds. I grasp the nearest mackerel, and heave out of the ocean water. Salt water trickles off of my downy feathers. As I ascend toward the sky, I leave the red tide behind. The battle has only begun. I tremble for the dolphin family, but others must be warned.

A mackerel is firmly attached to my talons. My only means to remove it is to eat it. I can do no more against the monstrous sea wolves. I return to my nest, and hope the small one survives.

Wow! Gar gasped along with the osprey, tasting the bitter slime of the lemon shark eye. The sensation was sharp and so raw, he could barely breathe. His fingers were rigid, in claw shape, as though he was gripping his meal.

Awed by the grace and power of the osprey, Gar relished his flight as it faded into the horizon. He imagined the rush of wind across his wings. As an eleven year old, the possibility of flight captivated him. A thrill of which he could only dream; escaping the bonds of gravity. It might be years before Gar truly came to appreciate the steadfast patrol of the osprey's territory; his own shoreline.

"White bellied fish eagles!" His father said, breaking Gar from his trance. "I never get tired of watching these graceful beings. He must've traveled almost a quarter mile underwater to catch that fish! I think he was under for over two minutes." He paused for a minute letting out a quiet chuckle. Sitting beside him on the blanket, his father lowered the binoculars, allowing them to dangle from his neck. "It's almost like I can understand what they are thinking."

"Almost," Gar agreed. He knew the cold sting of the salt water striking his cheeks. He was the osprey. He had lost himself in the magic of the flight. Never occurred to him that others could not share the osprey the way he did, especially his father. Gar was still shaken by the underwater battle. Was that real, too?

Gar's father, Harold Pandion earned his Ph.D. in biology with a specialty in ornithology. He had studied raptors, birds of prey, for the better part of fifteen years. He thrilled to find an osprey on the island, and he looked for it nearly every day. Dr. Pandion lowered his reading glasses to his nose and wrote his observations on his notepad.

Gar thought it must be real. Breathlessly, he turned to his father and said, "I think something happened out there. The dolphins were attacked. You should check in with mom."

"Can you see out that far?" Dr. Pandion wondered. He stood up and raised his binoculars to scan the boat at the horizon. "It must be almost a mile."

"No, Dad. I can't see that far … I just … know it." Maybe he should have lied and said he saw it.

His father scanned the boat with his binoculars. "Misty is back in the boat … and your mother does seem pretty excited. I better check on her." He slipped his cell phone out of his shorts pocket and hit the speed dial. "Hello, Belinda…"

Gar listened to the exchange of pleasantries with his mother over the phone, but could not understand why they were so casual. "Dad, it's the dolphins!" Gar insisted. "They were attacked by a swarm of sharks!" Why won't he pay attention?

His father lowered the phone. "Gar, it is a school of sharks, not a swarm. Now be quiet. I am trying to listen to your mother!"

Gar wondered, how can he hear what I say, but not understand it at all? He wisely kept these thoughts to himself. It is always confusing to listen into one side of a conversation, especially when the one on your side mostly says things like "okay" and "I understand" and "that sounds terrible". He noticed his father's expression turn to seriousness.

Gar's Mother, Belinda Pandion, was a marine biologist specializing in mammals. During the summer months the family stayed at their vacation home in Moonlight Beach just north of the South Carolina state line. Belinda aqua-commuted on weekends to support the hectic vacationer sessions at the aquarium and study the marine life off the coast of the quiet beach. It was now the last week in August and today was to be their last full day at the beach house.

Gar's father lowered the flip phone and closed it. "Something did happen with the out there." Dr. Pandion looked at his son, brows furrowed in wonder. "Why don't you go back to the house? Your mother wants me to contact the authorities. They need to close the beach."

"Do you mind if I run off to bird island, first?" Gar asked. He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and waved it. "It's low tide, and I need to mail this letter."

"Be quick about it," his father replied, but he was lost in thought. He opened his cell phone to make another call.

Momentarily, forgetting about dolphins in only a way that an eleven year-old can, Gar ran off to visit Bird Island.