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'The Gift'


Editor's note: A young boy goes fishing with the Fish Woman, catching his first salmon and seeing a pod of whales close up.

Jimmy Joe helped Fish Woman lift the salmon onto some crushed ice. The fish was bigger than he could reach with both arms spread wide. Its skin glittered silver and gold, like a pirate's treasure. None of Jimmy Joe's friends had ever caught a Chinook. It was something to be proud of. But something was wrong.

Jimmy Joe tried to feel happy. He imagined the surprise on his mother's face when he brought home such a huge fish. But looking at the beautiful, dead fish made Jimmy Joe feel cold inside.

Then, through the thickening fog, Jimmy Joe heard a strange sound. Pffffsst-HAH! It was a long way off. Pffffsst-HAH! Pffffsst-HAH! But soon the sound got louder and louder, closer and closer. Pffffsst-HAH!

All at once Jimmy Joe saw nine glossy black backs and sharp dorsal fins in the water. Pffffsst-HAH! went the sound, exhaled through the blowholes the size of his fist.

And then he heard Fish Woman whisper a single word: "Welcome."

One whale moved in close. The fin on his back stood as tall as Jimmy Joe. Jimmy Joe shivered. His heart rattled and thumped, but he wanted to see the whale. He inched toward the edge of the boat. Beside him in the water was the largest animal he had ever seen.

"What do they want?" asked Jimmy Joe in a voice that quivered like a jellyfish.

"They want the same thing you do. Food." Jimmy Joe's eyes opened wide. Fish Woman grinned. "Salmon, boy. They're hunting salmon. The Wolves of the Sea don't waste their time on skinny boys and tough old women."

As if it had heard her words, the whale rolled playfully to one side. Jimmy Joe saw its bright, white underbelly and its huge mouth curled up in a permanent smile. It was almost close enough to touch.

The whale looked carefully at Jimmy Joe's face. It waved one flipper in the air and then SPLASH, smacked it down hard on the water.

Pffffsst-HAH! The whale blew a spray of fishy breath in Jimmy Joe's face. Then, the whale rolled over and looked Jimmy Joe straight in the eye. This time its grin was for Jimmy Joe.

Fish Woman laughed out loud. The sudden noise startled the whale. It slipped below the surface and moved away. "Come back!" called Jimmy Joe. But the whale had disappeared.

Jimmy Joe looked at Fish Woman. Then he looked at the salmon.

Jimmy Joe tried to lift the salmon by himself, but it was heavy and slick. Fish Woman helped him. Together they slipped the big fish into the sea.

Suddenly the whale sped back toward the boat. With one monstrous gulp, it grabbed the fish and dove out of sight. The little boat danced and jumped in its wake. Jimmy Joe heard Pffffsst-HAH! in the distance, but he couldn't see through the fog. He looked for the other whales, but they were gone.

"Bring them back!" cried Jimmy Joe, looking at Fish Woman.

"Me?" asked Fish Woman with a surprised look. She shook her head. "When the great Wolves of the Sea choose to show themselves, it is a gift."

"It's better than a cod or sole or sea perch," whispered Jimmy Joe. "It's better than catching a salmon."

"I'm glad you think so Eyes-Like-Blackberries," said Fish Woman. She patted Jimmy Joe's hand and grinned so hard her eyes disappeared. "And now," she said, "let's go catch that bucket of stew fish."

Excerpted from the book THE GIFT. Text copyright c 1999 by Kristine L. Franklin. Illustrations copyright c 1999 by Barbara Lavallee. Reprinted by permission of Chronicle Books. All rights reserved.

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