The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2022 Winners Anthology, Tales from the Deep Beyond here.
“The Wonderful Journey of Cassie the Salmon” by Cassidy Jecklin, The Village School
First Place, Elementary Level, 2022
The Wonderful Journey of Cassie the Salmon
By Cassidy Jecklin
The Village School
Hatching – Alevin
I push, I squirm, I push some more. CRACK! Finally! I look around at the other alevin. We all have lunch sacs hanging from our bellies. We live in the McKenzie River. For about four months we stay under the gravel. As we grow, our egg sacs shrink until finally they are almost gone. Then it is time to come out of the gravel. As we work our way up, it gets brighter and brighter. Then finally we are out! We find tree roots and rocks to hide under.
It is dark now, no predators will get us. The other fry and I swim towards the surface. We gulp air to fill our swim bladders so we can float and stay the correct orientation in the water. We eat insects and larvae. We go back under. We find places to rest before our long journey starts, but I cannot sleep. I look around. I see another fry who is awake. I swim towards her.
“Hi,” I say.
“Hello, I’m Kumana. What’s your name?” she asks.
I say, “My name is Cassie.”
We swim to the surface. We eat bugs and algae until suddenly a strong current comes and sweeps us away. We try to fight it, but it is too strong. We end up in a small creek.
“Where are we?” Kumana asks.
We swim upward.
“I don’t know, but there’s lots of bugs here,” I say through a mouthful of algae.
For about a year we stay here eating insects until one day Kumana calls, “WATCH OUT!” Startled, I turn my head just in time to see a big fish coming up behind us. Quickly, I rush toward a small cave of rocks. It’s dark in here, it’s lonely. Where is Kumana?
“Kumana!” I call.
No answer. I look around. No Kumana. I can’t believe she’s really gone! We were such good friends. Sadly, slowly, I swim to a corner in the cave. I am so tired I fall right asleep. I stay in the cave for a few more days, but I know I must go on.
I swim out of the dark cave. It is very bright! I feel a weird feeling, like something is calling me. I decide to follow it. Suddenly a large beak appears in the water. I try to dodge it, but it is too quick. I get snatched up out of the water as fast as a dragonfly! I try to squirm out, but its grasp is too tight. I start to panic! I can’t breathe. I am raised up high! Suddenly another beak appears. This one looks smaller. It tries to grab me from the big beak. That causes the other beak to drop me! I plummet towards the river. The beaks dive after me, but I land in the river with a big splash and they fly away. I keep swimming. I swim and swim all day. All I do is swim. I eventually reach a tall hill-looking thing. On the side there is a steep path. I swim to the path. The water is very rough and fast here. I try to swim up. I jump upward. It’s hard, but I keep going. I am almost at the top when suddenly a large, brown, furry head comes into view. It opens its mouth to show big sharp teeth. It leans forward, trying to snatch me up, but I quickly make a huge jump and fly over its head. Its jaws clamp shut, expecting to taste me, but to its surprise there is nothing! I swim and swim for a few more weeks. One day I am swimming and the water is starting to taste different. It tastes saltier. I stay there for a day. There is a weird feeling, like something is changing on my neck. The next day the weird feeling stops. I keep swimming. My instinct tells me I am getting close to the ocean.
I am in the ocean now! I swim past a huge creature; it’s a bluish-gray color. It makes a loud moaning sound. On top of its head there is a hole that sprays out water when it swims to the surface. As I keep on swimming, I hear a voice.
“Kumana, Kumana! Is that you?” the voice says. I turn around, it is another adult salmon.
“No, but Kumana was my friend,” I say. “But I lost her when a big fish tried to eat us,” I explain.
“That’s when I met her,” the other fish says. “But I lost her too.”
“What is your name?” I ask.
“Shadow,” she answers. “What’s yours?”
“Cassie,” I say.
We stay in the ocean for almost six years, having lots of adventures, like dodging those big bluish-gray creatures, avoiding black and white creatures that swim around trying to eat us, and eating lots of bugs. But then one day, I have a feeling it is time to go back to my home stream. Shadow and I start swimming back to the river when a big bluish-gray creature swims between us. By the time it passes, Shadow is nowhere to be seen. I don’t know where she’s gone! She can’t be gone like Kumana! I sadly keep swimming up the river. I don’t even notice the thousands of other salmon swimming next to me. We reach the tall hill, it is even steeper on this side. We try to jump up, but it is very hard with all of us hitting each other. Now there are a bunch of brown-headed creatures with sharp teeth. They are all trying to catch us. I barely make it past the biggest one, but I make it over the hill thing. As I am swimming, more and more of those creatures are coming—plus another creature I have not seen before. It is bigger than me but smaller than the other creatures. Some are gray, some are brown. They are all trying to catch us. I can sense I’m getting close to my home stream now. One day, I am swimming when we all stop. The water is too low here, we can’t swim. We wait a few days until drops of water fall from the sky. That fills up the river so we can keep going. We swim for a few more days until the water starts tasting familiar. We are at our home stream.
There are so many salmon, I can barely move. And there are so many brown-headed creatures. Hundreds of us are being killed and eaten by them. I swim to the gravel at the bottom of the stream. I dig a redd with my tail, I lie in it. Another salmon lies next to me. I put eggs into the hole, he releases a cloud of sperm to fertilize the eggs. I cover them with my tail.
“Cassie, I that you?”
I look behind me. It’s Shadow!
“Yes!” I say.
We swim around talking and eating for about a day. Then we start to feel tired. We no longer have energy to live. We are dying. I am glad our long journey is ending, but I am also sad. But I know my body will be nutritious for both the earth and the animals.
“Bye,” Shadow says.
“Goodbye,” I say.
I swim up to the sky through the misty clouds.