I bet everyone thought I had forgotten about this, right? Rest easy, friends, I never forget a recurring segment. I just forget to do them I just got a little busy. World Cup Fever is a tough hurdle to get over when it comes to productivity. But we’re back to further the story of Shelby the orca, I’m sure everyone’s been waiting with baited breath. The last twoinstallments if you need a refresh.
Shelby, Private Dick
“Are you Old Bill?” I asked, hopped up on adrenaline.
“I’m not that old,” he said. His voice was gruff and monotone. “I’m only fifty-three years old.” Fifty-three is very old for orcas.
“How’d you get to be so big, Old Bill?” Janice asked.
“By eating my vegetables. I’ll ask again, can I help you?”
“Is it true that you can read?” I asked.
“I might be able to,” he said with a short bark of laughter. “Depends on what needs reading.”
I hesitantly held the rectangle out to him. It can sometimes be difficult to read an orca’s eyes since they blend in with out skin so much, but Old Bill had the biggest eyes I had ever seen and you could read then from a mile away. The momentary look of hunger and pure excitement that flashed over his eyes when he registered what the rectangle was sent a chill down my spine. I involuntarily moved Janice behind me just as Old Bill returned to neutral.
“Well, I haven’t seen this in a while!” he said.
“So you can read it?”
“I can,” he said. “But before I tell you what it says, you have to tell me why you went through all this trouble.”
“Because he’s going to find-”
“I found it the other day and just got curious,” I said, cutting Janice off. “I heard that you might be able to read so I came to ask you what it says. It sounds kind of stupid now, but it’s really just curiosity.”
“Uh-huh,” Old Bill sounded a little disappointed. “This is a picture of Shamu, and the writing says Sea World. It’s where the humans took her.”
“This is Shamu?” I said, trying my best to sound surprised. I didn’t like Old Bill’s manner very much, and I didn’t want to let him know what I was thinking. “I thought no one knew what happened to her.”
“The answer was always there. It’s just that no one knew where to look.”
The entire time he said this, Old Bill never took his eyes off the chest.
“Well, you learn something new everyday,” I said, backing out of the cave. “Thanks again, Mr. Bill.”
I shoved Janice out of the cave with my fluke.
“Hey, kid,” Old Bill said as I left. “Shark Tooth Ridge is dangerous, you know. Anything could be lurking out here.”
I gave a half-hearted smile then started swimming as fast as I could towards Orca Town. Luckily Janice was faster than me and could keep up.
“Shelby!” she yelled. “Shelby, wait up!”
I finally stopped a few yards from the town, adrenaline pumping through my veins.
“Shelby, what was that about? I thought you wanted to find Shamu!”
“I do,” I said, “but didn’t you feel that? I thought Old Bill was gonna kill us!”
“He was a little scary, but you totally chickened out!”
“Maybe I did, but it wasn’t a total loss,” I said. “I bet if I was upfront about what I wanted, he would have killed us right then and there.”
“Instead he told us what it said!”
“That’s right. I knew what I was doing all along.”
“What if he lied? We’d have no way of knowing.” Janice was perceptive for her age.
“I suppose that’s true,” I said, “but it’s better than nothing. This investigation is far from over, Janice. I’ve got a plan.”
“You’re just saying that,” Janice said, giggling.
“Just watch. You’ll be sorry you ever doubted. Now let’s get home before Mom skins me alive.”
Of course, Janice was right. I didn’t really have a plan. I was an eleven-year-old trying to crack the biggest case in orca history and all I had was one lead. I had no idea what to do next. What I did know, however, was that I was now addicted to solving mysteries.
On the way home from Old Bill’s, I decided I was through working for Johnny. I would become a private detective and solve cases as I searched for Shamu. I had my landscaping clients; hopefully they would hire me to find their missing pets or something. I didn’t put much thought into it; I just knew it was what I wanted to do.
Because of how often Dad would go on about the various facets of the orca bureaucracy, I knew the first step I needed to take was registering my new business with the overzealous town government. So, first thing in the morning, I grabbed all the money I had made from landscaping and went to Town Hall.
I fully admit that the first day of my new life as a private detective was exceedingly boring. In order to set up my LLC, I had to go to the local business office, wait in a huge line, pay some mysterious fees, then register myself. Not my business yet. I had to register myself as someone who was eligible to run a business. Once I was cleared, I had to go to a different part of the business office, wait in another huge line, and officially declare my business open. Again, we can’t write, so the entire process was verbal. Somehow, I was caught off guard when the orca at the counter asked for the name of my business.
“Name of business?” he asked.
“What’s the name of this business you’re starting?” he sighed. He was very unenthusiastic about this process. “You’re here to open a business, right? So what’s it called?”
“Umm, I haven’t really thought about it, honestly,” I said. “Ummmm-”
“What’s your name?”
“What kind of business is it?”
“I’m a private detective.” He gave me an odd look when I said that.
“Alright, congratulations on opening Shelby’s Private Detective Agency. Now you need to go back to the first office if you want to register it as an LLC.”
Not the most glamorous origin story, but that’s how Shelby’s Private Detective Agency started. Once I had the paperwork squared away (I had to list the address as my home address, but I knew my parents wouldn’t mind), I went to the printing store in town to get some signage Being unprepared, I hadn’t created a logo yet, so the store just took a picture of me and added a monocle, then printed out a big sign that I would put in the front yard. Orca businesses are grown almost entirely from word-of-mouth, so I asked Dad to tell everyone on his route about Orca Town’s hottest new business.
“What do you mean you quit Johnny’s?” he asked at dinner. “I thought you liked it.”
“I hated it, Dad,” I said. “I’m pretty sure you knew I hated it, too.”
“Did you say that? I guess my memory’s not what it used to be.”
I knew he remembered just fine, considering how often I complained to Mom about it. He was just upset that I wasn’t working for his friend anymore.
“Now I’m gonna have to listen to him rail against the younger generation even more,” Dad said. “Maybe think about your old man’s well being before you make these kind of rash decisions.”
“Oh, quiet Harris,” Mom said. “At least he’s doing something he’ll actually enjoy. I’m proud of you, honey.”
“Yeah, I guess I can’t knock him too much. He’s showing some gumption. Sure, I’ll tell people about it. Maybe someone will need you to find their turtle or something.”
“So, Shelby, what made you want to become a detective?” Janice asked mischievously. “Seems kind of out of nowhere.”
“Hmm, yes, I was wondering that, too,” Mom said.
“Well, umm, you know, I uhh” I was scrambling to think of something that didn’t involve Shamu. “Oh, I, uhh, remembered how much I liked the Scavenger Hunt.”
“The ol’ Scavenger Hunt, ehh?” Dad said. “You know, I did pretty well in that, myself back in the day. Found three items, if I remember correctly.”
“Dad, I found four and Shelby found five,” Janice said, giggling. “Three isn’t that impressive.”
“Well, it was good enough to get someone’s attention,” he said, looking at Mom, prompting a swoon from Mom, more girlish giggles from Janice, and a cry of disgust from me.
The next morning, I went on my usual landscaping route to see if anyone needed anything out of a private detective. Everyone said no, and many even made their displeasure that I would no longer be maintaining their lawns known, but they were at least polite about it and said they would keep me in mind. When he came home, Dad said he told everyone about it, but no one had an immediate need. I had a three-day rotation of landscaping clients, so I hadn’t lost hope yet.
Day two was almost exactly like day one. While it was nice to know my landscaping was appreciated, I would have preferred to get some cases than promises that they’d remember me if something ever came up.
The third day I woke up with a small sense of dread. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to wait around for cases to show up before Dad made me go back to Johnny. If there was a worst-case scenario, that was it.
Unsurprisingly, my clients gave me nothing. I was feeling pretty low, and pretty desperate. The only other thing I could think of to do was to go see Carlo and Russell and see if they knew anyone that needed help.
“Well, I don’t really talk to anyone outside my family,” Carlo said when I arrived at his house, “and none of them need help.”
“No one lost anything or needs someone followed or anything?”
“My family already has plenty of orcas that follow and intimidate,” Carlo said. “I doubt you’d really want to take on those jobs anyway.”
“Why not?” I asked. “I’m trying to build a business, here. I’ll take any jobs I can get.”
“I’ll ask my family, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.”
Whereas Urchin Street was an image of the wannabe nouveau riche, Laver Estates, where Russell lived, was not. I once saw a TV special about these communities humans have called Trailer Parks, and, while Laver Estates wasn’t quite at that level, I always found it odd that it was sandwiched between Urchin Street and Baleen Acres.
Russell lived with his dad in a small house with an unruly patch of seaweed and an abundance of seaball decorations. I suppose you could count the Orca Burger wrappers as décor, too, since there were so many of them on the ground. I’m not sure I ever heard Dad’s thoughts on Russell’s house, but they couldn’t have been good.
“Sup, pussy?” Russell asked as I approached. His dad wasn’t home, and, come to think of it, he usually wasn’t whenever I went over.
“I’m starting a business and need help,” I said.
“A business? You? We’re like, eleven, dude.”
“Yeah, but I’m sick of working for Johnny.”
“Forgot your dad makes you get a job every summer. Such a bummer.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” I said. “But I’m a private detective, now, so do you know of anyone who needs my help?”
“A private detective? You mean like Mackerel Maison?” Mackerel Maison was the main character on a popular children’s TV show that, until that point, I didn’t know Russell watched.
“Sort of, yeah,” I said.
“Why? Seems kind of out of left field.”
“Because I’m good at finding things,” I answered. “Remember the Scavenger Hunt?”
“I remember when I found a bunch of stuff,” Russell said. He could be unhelpful at times.
“Either way, do you know anyone who needs help?”
“Sorry, man, but I don’t think so. I’ll ask around but this is a pretty quiet town, if you hadn’t noticed. Oh! You should go talk to Violet down the street, I think her husband’s cheating on her so she might pay you to follow him or something.”
“Ehh, I might want to avoid those cases, for now,” I said.
“Suit yourself, man,” Russell said. “Just trying to help.”
I went home dragging my fins. How was I supposed to get my business off the ground if I didn’t have any cases? I was beginning to think I should stage a kidnapping or something just so I could solve it and drum up some publicity. As long as I paid for it using a fake name no one would ever find out, right? I couldn’t believe I had wasted all my money on registration fees and a poster that no one would ever see.
Turns out someone had seen the poster. Awaiting my arrival was an elderly orca nervously swimming back and forth in front of our house.
“Umm, hello,” I said. “It looks like my mom’s not here right now if you were looking for her.”
“Is your mother Shelby?” she asked. Her voice was frail and unsure.
“You’re Shelby? This poster is yours?”
“Indeed it is,” I said, trying to contain my excitement.
“Pardon me, young man, I was expecting someone a little older. And female, honestly.”
“Don’t worry, ma’am. I may be young, but I’m real good at finding stuff,” I said. It was off-the-cuff, but it had the makings of a decent slogan.
“Well, I need your help, frankly. Out of the blue my mail courier told me about a new detective service in town, and since the police have already failed me once, I’ve decided to come to you.”
It made me happy that Dad had been spreading the word, but I wasn’t sure how much I liked the idea of my first case being something the police couldn’t solve. I couldn’t turn down my first client, though. I asked her to come inside and offered her some light refreshments. Whenever Mom had company she always asked them if they wanted any Salmon Snakz, but there was no way I was going to give away my favorite junk food to some old lady, even if she was the only one who needed a private detective.
“Mona,” she said, reading my mind.
“So, Mona, what can I help you with?”
“It’s Mr. Loggerhead,” she said, immediately choking up. “He’s missing and I don’t know what to do!”
“Uhh, wait a second,” I said, wanting to be anywhere else in the world, “I don’t think I’m who you should be talking to-”
“That’s what the police said, too! They said they couldn’t be bothered to find something so lowly as a turtle!”
“Oh, Mr. Loggerhead is your pet turtle?” I asked, relieved. I wasn’t ready to take on a missing orca case.
“Yes, of course,” she said. “What else would he be?”
“You never specified what he was,” I answered quietly.
“But he’s missing, and no one will help me find him.”
I was well versed enough in the fantasy shows that aired on Saturday mornings to recognize a call to action when one arrived at my door.
“I’ll find Mr. Loggerhead for you,” I said confidently. “No one ever fails their first case, so it’s a guarantee that I’ll have him back to before you realize he’s gone.”
“Wait, this is your first-”
“So where did you see him last?”
She proceeded to give me Mr. Loggerhead’s entire life story. She purchased his egg from a licensed breeder and buried it in the sand herself before hiring a seagull to escort him back into the water. I, of course, didn’t really care, but it was good to get a sense of how much Mr. Loggerhead meant to Mona. Even if it meant hearing her go on for another fifteen minutes about everything that happened in his life. Finally, she got to the important part.
“So, three days ago, I took him downtown to the vet. I turned around because I heard a loud noise behind me, and then he was gone. I must have covered the entire block, and I didn’t see anything. The police think I’m senile and won’t waste their time finding him.”
“Did you talk to the vet? Maybe they saw something.”
“He denied it. I trust Dr. Bruce with Mr. Loggerhead’s life, so I believe him. Someone must have come by and abducted him! It’s the only explanation.”
“Did you see anyone else on the street?”
“Well, not exactly,” she said. “But I know there had to have been someone. Mr. Loggerhead wouldn’t just run away!”
I, for one, wasn’t ruling that out. Still, I owed it to Mona to at least investigate. She was my first ever customer, and I wasn’t about to let her down.
After she left, I went straight for the vet’s office downtown.
Tune in next time, where I’ll continue to underwhelm readers!
It’s time for everyone’s recurring segment, Story Time Monday! Can’t believe I was able to keep my self imposed schedule, either, but here we are. Another round of Shelby the Orca today, because I’m not skilled enough to create multiple universes at the same time. Many people are asking how and why Shelby was created, and the simple answer is because I think orcas are awesome and I wanted to rip off pay homage to my favorite childhood show/meme factory Spongebob Squarepants. That’s pretty much the entire backstory. They say big things have small beginnings, after all. Anyway, time to further the life of everyone’s my favorite aquatic mammal. A little shorter this time, because I kind of realized no one wants to read an actual book when they come here.
The summer after my eighth year of school, if one wanted to be bold, could be considered the most important summer in the last 50 years of orca culture. I’m not that arrogant, but some people have called it that.
It was my third summer working for my dad’s friend Johnny’s landscaping company. Once I started puberty, Dad said it was time for me to get a job, because that’s what orcas do when they get older and landscaping was good, honest work. I’m pretty sure he just wanted me out of the house, because Carlo didn’t have a job and I don’t think Russell knew what the word job even meant.
Even though I didn’t want to do it, it wasn’t the worst summer job. I got to be outside, the hours were good, and, most of the time, I could kind of just zone out. When I first started, I was given the most menial tasks imaginable, but now that it was my third summer, Johnny trusted me enough to leave me in charge of some of his clients’ lawn care. If Johnny didn’t need me for a big project, my day consisted of raking the sand, trimming and feeding the seaweed, tending to any coral (to be honest, if someone cares enough about the state of their lawn to hire a landscaper, they should have some coral. Not all orcas are particularly tasteful, I’m ashamed to admit), caring for pets (a good way to get some tips), and cater to any various concerns the client may have, then move on. I had a pretty consistent schedule, usually about three houses a day. I don’t know if I should be proud or embarrassed that the beginning of that summer was the best shape I would ever be in.
But I wouldn’t be telling you about this if it was just a regular day fixing lawns. Johnny had just taken on a huge job and needed all hands on deck- someone had purchased the land directly north of the school and wanted to convert it to a private amusement park. For the first, and only, time, I was excited to work for Johnny O’s Yards & Stuff.
Janice woke me up way earlier than I was planning.
“Hey Shelby!” she yelled, nudging me awake. “Hey Shelby! Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
I jolted awake in a panic, but when I looked at the clock, I saw that I had been duped.
“Seriously?” I asked, shoving her a little too hard. “You got up at 5 in the morning just to prank me?”
She only laughed hysterically. I was too wired to even consider going back to bed at that point, so I just kind of sat around until it was actually time to leave. Needless to say, it wasn’t the greatest start to the day. It only got worse.
Despite the fact that I arrived on-site thirty minutes before anyone else, the other guys decided to get on my case for not bringing donuts for everyone, despite the fact that I was eleven, had never once provided breakfast for them, and that at least one of them had a severe nut allergy that prevented him from eating anything from the only donut shop in between our house and the school. Have I mentioned that Dad’s friends could be a little much sometimes?
“Hey, leave the kid alone,” Johnny said, rolling it ten minutes late. “It’s not his fault he’s part of this generation. Kids these days have no sense of responsibility.” Johnny loved to talk about how terrible the youth was, especially when their parents weren’t around.
“Anyway, you know why we’re here, fellas,” he continued. “Some rich asshole paid a lot of money to turn this wasteland into his kid’s private play place. Not judging, but when I was young my idea of fun was getting a job and improving my community. My daddy’d slap the taste out of my mouth if I even said the words ‘amusement park.’ But, the check cleared, so here we are. We’ve got to get this place cleaned up for the construction guys.”
“Well, I think we all like to spoil our kids, now and then, Johnny.”
Out of nowhere, another orca appeared. He was pretty big, but lean, and his white spots streaked down his body. He had at least one spiral-shell tooth, a sure sign of money. His son, who had been hidden behind him, emerged and my jaw dropped. It was Preston, the richest, and most annoying, orca in school. I tried to sink into the sand before he noticed me.
“Who are you?” one of the workers asked, as if this could be anyone else other than the orca who was paying for all this.
“I’m the rich asshole who’s paying for all this,” he sneered. Rich orcas tend be pretty arrogant. “Now, don’t worry. I won’t stay here breathing down your neck. I’ve got much better things to do than hanging around manual labor all day. I just wanted to come here at the start to introduce my son Preston and myself so you guys know who you’re working for. And to let you know that if we’re not satisfied I’ll sue all your asses into the next century. So let’s get to work. Chop, chop!”
I don’t think Preston’s father realized we weren’t actually the ones building the park. I tried to hide behind one of the adults as we started moving supplies, but Preston somehow spotted me, anyway. As he sauntered over to me, I don’t think I’ve been a deeper shade of red.
“Shelby? Is that you?”
“Hey, Preston,” I said, avoiding eye contact.
“You’re building my park? Oh, my. How embarrassing for you.”
“My dad made me get a job,” I said, as if this would stop any harassment.
“I saw your father earlier,” he said. “He was delivering my mail. Meanwhile, my father has enough money to build me a private amusement park and book us a vacation to the Maldives. I can’t imagine how inferior you must feel.”
I should mention that I might be paraphrasing what Preston said a little. This all happened a long time ago, after all.
“Remember when you won the stupid Scavenger Hunt and everyone thought you were my rival? We haven’t even graduated school yet and you’re already working for me! What a twist!”
“Hey, kid, hurry up!” Johnny yelled, saving me from further abuse. I grabbed a rake in my mouth and swam away as fast as I could, leaving Preston’s condescending laughter behind.
It’s funny how life has a way of taking things full circle. I had mostly forgotten about the First Year Scavenger Hunt, my head filling up with countless other, more useless memories over the years. But when Preston mentioned it, I realized that this plot of land was the exact same area where we found the wooden orca. At first, the true significance of this was lost on me.
My job was to rake and even out the sand so that there was an even surface for the foundations and decorative coral to be put down. I considered myself lucky that the demolition crew wasn’t taking down the rock formations while we were there. I’m not great with explosives.
As with most tasks Johnny gave me, I kind of just zoned out as I ran my rake over the sand. I developed a pretty good rhythm, going back and forth across the length of the plot, evening out the land. As it was, quite possibly, the most boring thing I’ve ever done, I mostly kept my head down in case I uncovered something interesting. There were a few shells here and there, but nothing to write home about.
The crew had been spending most of the day disposing of the water-skimmer and the remnants of the pole, both of which were somehow still in the same place they were seven years ago, but in considerably worse shape. I had started at the opposite end of the plot, so I got there just as they were dragging the last piece away. Since there was so much debris, I had to rake a little more vigorously than usual. And something unexpected poked out of the sand- the shiny rectangle with the orca on it. The glossy material hadn’t deteriorated in the seven years since I had seen it last, and the blue and yellow writing, which, of course, I couldn’t read, was still pretty clear. Just like the last time, the rectangle fascinated me. I needed to know what this was.
I was wearing a satchel to carry any particularly big chunks of debris, so, once I made sure no one was watching, I quickly slid the rectangle in. Though I didn’t know what it was or who the orca was, I knew I didn’t need a bunch of landscapers’ help with it. This was potentially sensitive information.
The rest of the day went by at a snail’s pace. I couldn’t stop thinking about the rectangle. I was planning on asking Mom about it first, since she knew everything. And if she didn’t know, Carlo would. I hadn’t worked out what I’d do with the information yet, but I wasn’t thinking that far ahead.
Even after raking the entire plot three times, Johnny still made me help install the eelgrass that lined the entire perimeter. I think I was there for almost twelve hours! Johnny’s lucky orcas don’t have any child labor laws. Not that he’d obey them even if we had them.
When I was finally able to leave, I scurried home as fast as possible. Since I had gotten home so late, my family had already eaten dinner, but Mom saved some for me. She went to the kitchen to reheat some, which was the perfect opportunity to bring up the rectangle.
“So, how was work?” she asked as I followed her. “Johnny didn’t push you too hard, did he? I told your father he’s a little crazy.”
“It was fine,” I lied.
“Don’t be afraid to tell us if it isn’t,” she said sweetly. “Dad and Johnny go way back, but that doesn’t mean he gets to push around my baby.”
“I won’t,” I said, as if telling Dad to make Johnny take it easy on me was a legitimate option. “Hey, Mom, do you know who this is?”
I showed her the rectangle.
“Where did you get this?” she asked, suddenly very serious.
“It was at the construction site,” I said.
“I want you to forget about this, okay?” She had never looked at me quite so intensely. “Nothing good can come of this.”
“I just want to know who it is,” I said, now more curious than ever.
“Shelby, please,” she said. “Just drop it.”
“Shelby, you’ll never believe this,” Dad said as he entered the kitchen, “but the Flounders were up twenty in the fourth and still managed to lose- is that Shamu?”
I thought Mom would kill him right then and there.
“Err, I mean, that’s definitely not Shamu, what was I thinking? That’s just a random orca that I’ve never seen before.”
“That’s right, Harris,” Mom said. “This is nobody. Certainly no one your son need concern himself with.”
Not wanting to deal with any more scolding, I agreed to drop it. I already got what I needed, anyway. This was Shamu, and Carlo was sure to have the details.
The next morning, I was greeted by a very pleasant surprise- Johnny had given me the day off since we had gotten so much done the day before. I had been strongly considering not going in, so this was welcome news.
After eating breakfast I hurried over to Carlo’s house, sneaking the rectangle out with me. Since we don’t really have any instant communication methods, most get-togethers had to be planned days in advance, lest you run the risk of showing up somewhere your presence is unexpected, or, worse yet, unwanted. The latter is typically called “pulling a Russell” in orca circles. Luckily, Carlo was home and his parents weren’t, so I didn’t run into any issue.
“I expect Russell to just show up like this,” Carlo said when I got there, “but not you. You should have had your dad send a message, my mom could have made food.”
“I won’t stay long. I just need to know what you know about Shamu.”
“Shamu? You haven’t heard of Shamu?”
“Well, I kind of have,” I said. “But now I have this.”
“This is definitely Shamu,” he said after looking at the rectangle. “I can’t read this, though, you know that.”
“But you know Shamu?”
“Why do you wanna know so bad?” he asked. “Your mom usually knows this stuff better than I do.”
“Yeah, but my mom won’t tell me,” I answered. “I showed her this and she freaked out and told me I needed to forget I ever saw it.”
“What do you actually know about Shamu?”
“Just that he’s the most famous orca ever,” I said, kind of making things up. “And that you’ve seen at least three specials on him.”
“First of all, Shamu was a she,” Carlo said, slipping into his lecturing voice. “Second, I’ve only seen two specials on her, so I’m far from an expert. Yes, she was a very famous dancer when she was alive, but she’s more famous for disappearing. And that literally everyone who’s tried to find her wound up disappearing, too. So maybe your mom has a point.”
“What do you mean she disappeared?”
“One day she just up and vanished. I think she was on her way to a performance or a public appearance or something and just never showed up. I think they looked for three months before calling off the search. Then every few years someone would say they found some new clues or something and that they could find her, only to turn up missing, themselves.”
“That’s pretty crazy,” I said, undeterred. “So who can read this?”
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?” Carlo asked. “You can’t look for Shamu, it’s a curse!”
“I’m not going to look for Shamu, I just want to know what this says.”
“Shelby, this is real, man,” Carlo pleaded. “There’s some seriously bad juju surrounding all of this. I’m sure you can get Russell to come along, but I’m out on this.”
“Listen, Carlo,” I said, “I just want to know what this says. You and my parents are the only ones who know I have it. I’m not about to go around telling everyone I know what happened to Shamu or anything. I’m not a hero, I’m just a kid. If I feel things getting a little too intense, I’ll bail, I promise. Now, do you know anyone who can read?”
“Try Old Bill,” he said, defeated. “I’d never talk to him myself, so I can’t be sure he exists, but, if he does, he could probably read it. He’s supposed to live in a cave somewhere in Shark Tooth Ridge. But don’t tell anyone I told you that. My mom would kill me if she found out I was giving out someone’s address without their consent.”
The same switch that turned on in my head during the Scavenger Hunt had been flipped. I decided right then and there that I would find out what happened to Shamu. I headed straight towards Shark Tooth Ridge, which was on the far end of town. I had to be back by nightfall, so I couldn’t waste time.
I had never heard of Old Bill. Seems like there were a lot of things surrounding this whole Shamu business I had never heard of, but I had to see it through. I’m not even sure what I originally hoped to gain from knowing what the rectangle said. The message wasn’t particularly long, so it’s not as if it was going to be a clear map to Shamu. I think it might have been a little teenage rebellious streak, but I’m telling you there was something about that picture of Shamu. I understood why so many orcas got caught up in the allure of finding Shamu.
I had been swimming for about an hour when I first noticed someone was following me. I was avoiding the busier streets, so the faint burst of a blowhole was easy to pick out. At first I ignored it, since, even though it was midday on a work day, it’s not a crime to be swimming around. But when I could tell the same swimmer had been behind me for a long time, I became suspicious.
My pursuer was quick. Every time I turned around (casually, of course. I had seen enough spy movies to know not to let them know you know they’re there), they had somehow ducked behind a rock or the rare passing traffic. I knew it was a mammal, so I was just hoping to find out what species.
I turned around twice in a row, pretending to be lost. My pursuer slipped, and I saw a black fin dart behind some coral. It was an orca. This did not ease my anxiety.
My heart was pounding in my chest. Who was following me and how did they know I was looking for Shamu? Was Carlo safe? Had they gotten to my family yet? I was hoping it was still early enough in the Shamu-quest to kind of laugh it off and agree to forget it ever happened if this orca and, I assumed, their organization, we amenable. If not, I don’t know. Apparently I’d wind up dead.
I was regretting taking side streets now. Everything was so quiet; I was so out in the open. What was I thinking? I had just had the two smartest orcas I knew tell me not to go after this and that bad things happen to anyone that does. Of course someone would find out I was now in the Shamu chasing game. Someone always finds out. They went and took another breath, as if to remind me they were there.
When was the last time I took a breath? I was feeling a little light headed. I needed to get some air to stave off a full-fledged panic attack. I breeched, took a big, deep breath, and sat on the surface for a second. Or it might have been an hour. I’m not really sure. But I decided that my parents didn’t raise me to run away from my problems. I was going to go back down there and challenge my pursuer. Maybe they’d take it easy on me. Either way, I’d stop worrying.
I swam back down, not seeing the orca anywhere. Was I imagining the whole thing? That’s what I told myself. I counted it as a win for inaction. I had a new pep in my step. Nothing could stop me from getting to Old Bill, now. Nothing, except the faint sound of a blow hole.
I froze. It was now or never. Turning around slowly, I mustered up all the courage I had ever had.
“I know you’ve been following me!” I said, not particularly loudly. “So come on out! I’m not scared of you.”
The last part wasn’t very convincing. I saw some sand stir behind a rock formation, and my pursuer came into view.
“How did you know I was following you?”
It was Janice.
“Janice are you kidding me?” I yelled. “You almost gave me a heart attack! What are you doing?”
“I’m following you, silly,” she said innocently.
“Because I was bored. And I knew you were up to something.”
Have I mentioned that Janice was a pain in the butt?
“What are you talking about?” I said. “I’m not up to anything.”
“Then why did Mom yell at you last night?”
“She didn’t yell-”
“And why did you only go to Carlo’s house for a few minutes?”
“I can’t visit my friends-”
“And why are you going to Shark Tooth Ridge?”
“Who’s going to Shark Tooth Ridge?”
“You,” Janice said. “At least, that’s where Carlo told you to go.”
“Wait, you heard that?”
“I did,” she said with a mischievous look in her eye. “I’m good at hiding. So, what are you looking for? You might as well just tell me.”
“Why should I?”
“Because I’ll tell Mom you hit me if you don’t.” She had already mastered the art of manipulation.
“But I didn’t, so I’ll just deny it,” I said naively.
“You know they’ll take my side,” she said. Correctly, of course. My parents always took her side. “Come onnnnnnnnnn, Shelby, just tell me! I swear I’ll leave you alone if you tell me!”
I took a moment to consider my options and decided, knowing Janice, it’d be a lot easier to just tell her. I handed her the rectangle.
“I’m going to Shark Tooth Ridge to find someone who can read this,” I said.
“Oh, wow!” she said. “This is Shamu!”
“Wait, how do you know that?” I asked. Surely she couldn’t know any more about Shamu than I did. She barely watched TV.
“Mom’s told me the story a million times. It’s one of my favorites!”
“Mom told you? She almost lost her mind when I asked her about it.”
“Well, you’re a boy,” she said with a giggle. “I didn’t think you’d care about a dancer so much.”
“Then you know she disappeared,” I said.
“I like to think she ran away with her true love,” Janice said with a dreamy sigh.
“Well, she probably didn’t,” I said. “And a bunch of other orcas tried looking for her and went missing, too.”
“Ooooh, really? That’s mysterious!”
“I’m gonna find her,” I said matter-of-factly.
“You are! Can I come?”
“Absolutely not! This might get dangerous and I can’t have my little sister getting involved.”
“But what if you need someone to tell you about Shamu?” she asked. Not an invalid point.
“Yeah, but this is the most dangerous quest in orca history,” I said, probably a little too importantly. “There’s no telling if I’ll make it out of this alive.”
“So you need someone to watch your back.”
“Just let me come to Shark Tooth Ridge with you. You wouldn’t make me go all the way home by myself, would you?”
“That’s not- I mean, no, but-”
“I’ll tell Mom you’re looking for Shamu even though you told her you wouldn’t,” Janice said. Orcas can’t cross our fins, but if we could, she would have in that moment.
“Alright, fine!” I said. “But you’d better not say anything to Mom or Dad! You’re coming with me because you begged to, not the other way around.”
“Yay! Let’s go then!”
Keeping up with Janice’s energy helped calm my nerves slightly, since I was focusing on her and not constantly looking over my shoulder. I had to keep telling myself there was no way the shadowy forces behind the string of disappearances could possibly know I was asking questions yet, but when you’ve seen the Six Rings of Power, you tend to believe a lot of things others are quick to dismiss.
Shark Tooth Ridge was a series of sharp, steep hills that acted as a barrier between Orca Town and the open water to the south. There were rumors that pretty much every kind of predator alive lived near Shark Tooth Ridge, so, when combined with the imposing terrain, most orcas gave the ridge a wide berth. There was at least one thousand feet in between the ridge and Orca Town.
It was the first time I had been this close to the ridge. The city planner’s office put the main shopping district closest to the ridge to give the impression to any visitors that Orca Town had a booming economy, so I had been to some of the shops by the gap, but my parents never let me go any farther. Looking at it up close for the first time, considering that Shark Tooth Ridge didn’t necessarily look like shark teeth, just teeth in general, and it was right in front of Orca Town, I wondered why they didn’t call it Orca Tooth Ridge. I guess Shark Tooth Ridge sounds better. It sounds more ominous, at least. Maybe it was a conspiracy by the town government to make everyone afraid to leave, or something. I made a mental note to ask Dad about it.
“Okay,” I told Janice, “Carlo says Old Bill lives in a cave around here.”
“What does Old Bill look like?”
“No idea,” I said. “I assume he’s an orca.”
“Have you ever been here?”
“No, Mom and Dad would never let me come this close.”
“So how do we find him?”
“That’s a great question,” I said. “Get lucky, I guess.”
I’ll kind of fast-forward here, since all we did was go from Tooth to Tooth, swimming around the base, then moving on when we didn’t see a cave. It wasn’t very exciting, and it was a good thing it was still fairly early in the day. There’s ten Teeth in total, and we had looked at seven of them before the cave presented itself to us.
“That might be it,” I said quietly. I didn’t want to startle Old Bill. Something told me anyone who lived out here shouldn’t be trifled with.
I slowly drifted down to the cave, which was at the base of the Tooth. I hesitantly poked my head into the opening, not knowing what to expect. No one was home, but it was clear someone lived there. Janice was bold enough to go inside, so I followed suit. There was an old TV, a microwave, and a big, heavy looking chest that I was really tempted to open-
“Can I help you?”
I gasped and turned around to see the second biggest orca I’ve ever seen taking up most of the entryway to the cave.
A cliffhanger! I’m sure everyone is going to be on pins and needles until the next installment, which will either come next week or three months from now when I finish it. The waiting is half the fun!
Folks, welcome to the newest recurring segment here at briansden69.com, Story Time Monday (or whenever day I post it). Now, you might be thinking this is where I’ll post a funny, unique, and enthralling story about my new life in New York City. Unfortunately, my life is far too boring for that. This is where I’ll post stories I completely made up, but are (hopefully) just as good. As I’ve said, I moved out here to try and become a screenwriter. What I don’t know if I’ve ever said on here is that I’m also trying to become an author. I wrote a book in college (yeah, I party), thought it was gonna be my golden ticket, then was blasted with the cold, hard reality that it was bad and no one wanted to publish it. I’m actually almost 100% sure I’ve said this before, but whatever, I’ll say it again- getting rejected 10 billion times kind of messed up my career “plans,” but I’m back up off the mat. The biggest barrier to getting published is actually, you know, getting published. Unpublished authors are like the untouchables in India. So, since no one wants a piece of me now, I figure why not just publish some of my work here? Sure, it’s not really the same and I still don’t get any money from it, but it’s still something. Before I go any further, no, this isn’t a sports or food post, so I’d forgive you if you bailed. But, if you want to get your imagination stimulated a little, keep reading.
Aside from my scripts, the project I’m focusing on now is a collection of short stories. Since they all involve the same characters, think of it as a bunch of Sherlock Holmes stories or something. That description actually fits the stories well, but I won’t give away any spoilers. Honestly, posting these is really just a way to get myself to actually write them, since even if only one person ends up liking this (Hi, Mom!), I wouldn’t want to deny them the content they crave. Now, a bit of a warning- these stories are pretty stupid and require you to suspend all the disbelief you’ve ever had. But they’re good, I swear. Now, without further ado, the first installment of The Life and Times of Shelby the Orca:
The Early Years
My name is Shelby, and I’m an orca. You’re probably thinking, “Shelby doesn’t sound much like an orca name.” It’s true; Shelby is traditionally a grey whale name. My friends all like to tell me Shelby is a girl’s name, too, but I don’t pay too much attention to that. My parents decided it was a good enough name for me, so that’s all I need to know.
I’m sure you’re wondering why you’re reading this. After all, the ramblings of an old orca typically aren’t especially thrilling. Well, a few months ago someone told me I should write down some of the crazy stuff that had happened in my life. I was a little hesitant at first; who would want to read about me? But when I really thought about it, I realized that I’ve actually lived a pretty exciting life. Not to brag, but I think at one point I was the most famous orca in the whole ocean. That’s what my agent told me, anyway. So I figured what the heck? Why not write some memoirs before my time was up?
I guess I should start with a little about my childhood. I’m told that’s how these things usually start. I was born in winter, but I’m not sure the exact day. Honestly it felt like we celebrated it on a different day each year. Sometimes it can be tough to tell what day it is in the ocean, especially during red tide. One good thing about orcas is that we don’t have a mating season, so we have birthdays all throughout the year. It would have made it a little less special if my birthday was just part of a big communal party.
Growing up I lived with my family in a nice orca town full of other nice families. One of my friends said we lived in the Bear Sea or something, but I never really knew the official name for it. I just kind of knew where it was by instinct. The air was cold whenever I came up out of the water and there were lots of trees around, if that helps. A lot of times the rocks were covered in white stuff, too. My friend Russell said that humans liked to sniff it through their nose, but I always thought he was making that up.
My family was kind of the center of our neighborhood. My dad, Harris, was the local mailman, so he knew everyone. Everyone liked him, too, even though he had a bit of a temper. My mom, Koko, was easily the nicest orca in the ocean. She was always class mom when I was in school and kind of took care of all the kids in the neighborhood. My little sister, Janice, was born three years after I was. I of course love her now, but my younger self thought she was quite annoying. My parents always took her side, no matter what.
Unlike all the small fish, us orcas don’t need roofs or any kind of protection, so our houses are pretty much just plots of land with lawns, living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms all kind of blending together. Some of our more Spartan neighbors didn’t even have lawns, just patches of sand outside their patches of sand. We didn’t have fences or anything, but everyone kind of knew where everyone’s yard began and ended. If there were any disputes, the neighborhood constable was called. As it so happened, my dad was the constable, so I was well versed in orca property law from an early age.
We lived in Seahorse Circle, close to the center of town. Our yard was perfect. It wasn’t too big or too small, just the right size for our family. There was enough space for my dad’s barbeques and to play small games of seaball. Most of the time when my friends and I played Janice would have to play to make teams even. She got knocked around a lot during the games, but I like to think it toughened her up. She never said she didn’t like playing, at the very least.
We had a big patch of seaweed that my dad rigorously maintained. It was mostly beautiful green sea lettuce with some green rope mixed in. No kelp, though. My dad laughed at anyone who had kelp in their garden. “You have to be truly naïve to think you can control kelp,” he would say. “It’s just a showoff move.” My mom started out with a small garden of sponges and anemones, and as Janice got older, she and Mom added more and more coral and pretty things. I didn’t really care what was in our yard, as long as it looked nice.
“Never trust someone with a crappy lawn,” Dad would always say. It instilled a certain respect for landscaping that would only help me as I got older.
The first real memory I have is of my first day of school, which was also the day I met my two best friends, Carlo and Russell. It was about three weeks after my sister was born. When orcas are born, we can’t sleep for the first month or so we’re alive. As a result, the mom doesn’t sleep either since she needs to watch over the baby. So Mom and Janice literally hadn’t slept in weeks, and both were a little cranky.
Mom woke me up early. She knew I was pretty nervous and made me breakfast. It was salmon, which we had had three days in a row. I was sick of it, but I could tell Mom wouldn’t want to hear it. Dad was already up getting ready for work and watching TV, and I knew he felt the same way about the meal.
“Salmon again, huh champ?” he asked me under his breath. “I think this lack of sleep is making your mother forget that we’ve eaten this a week straight.”
“What was that?” Mom asked as I laughed.
“Oh, nothing sweetie,” Dad said. “Tell you what, bud, I think it’s time to take you seal hunting this Christmas when we go to visit your Aunt. You’re about the same age as I was when your grandpa took me for the first time. And unlike salmon, eating seal never gets old.”
“Really?” I asked excitedly. “That would be awesome!”
At that point in my life, I had only heard stories of seal hunting. Dad and his buddies would go every winter. They would always come home after a few days, sometimes empty handed, sometimes with bags full of seal meat. Seal meat is a true orca delicacy, and it’s good pretty much no matter how you prepare it. Part of the reason it tastes so good is probably because it’s so hard to get. Let’s just say it’s very satisfying to eat seals.
“You bet,” Dad said. “Well, I’m off. Good luck, champ. First day of school’s a big day.”
He gave Mom a goodbye nuzzle, grabbed his mailbag in his mouth, and swam off to the post office. He left the TV on, either because he knew I was watching or because he forgot to turn it off. I think he probably just forgot.
The post office served our neighborhood and a couple of the surrounding orca neighborhoods in a fifty-mile radius. Luckily for Dad, we lived only a few miles away. The post office was in a hollowed-out rock formation in the middle of a big plain where delivery orcas took all the mail they picked up from the communal mailboxes. The octopi that worked there would then put each package in the right distribution box. Dad would check-in in the morning, get the load for his route, and go out and deliver. We can’t write letters or anything, so it’s mostly packages and word-of-mouth messages. Orca mailmen need great memories.
After Dad left, Mom took me to the end of our yard to wait for the bus. The orca bus is more of a train than anything, with a big adult leading a long line of young orcas through the neighborhood and off to school. It was important both for protection, since some parents couldn’t accompany their children all the way to school, and to make sure everyone goes to class. Truancy is actually a big problem for orcas.
“Mom, I’m scared,” I said. “What if the other kids don’t like me?”
“Sweetheart, how could they not like you?” she answered consolingly. “You’re just about the most perfect orca that’s ever lived. I know you’re going to do great. Look, here comes Mafu.”
Our bus driver was a huge orca named Mafu. He was a mysterious character. He was from way down south and talked a lot different than anyone else. He had markings all over his body and some of his teeth had carvings on them. No one knew how or why he went from virtually the South Pole to our neighborhood. No one even really knew what he did when he wasn’t escorting kids to and from school. Anytime anyone asked him about his personal life, he would just change the subject.
Anyway, Mafu swam up to our yard, followed by about thirty little orcas. I remember that when he was about twenty feet away, Janice started crying pretty loudly.
“Oh, god. Sorry, honey, I have to get her. Don’t be nervous, you’ll be fine,” Mom gave me a kiss and swam back towards Janice. “I want you to tell me all about it when you get home.”
The few seconds waiting for Mafu felt like an eternity. Seeing all the young orcas made me even more nervous than I had been before. I didn’t really know how to make friends yet. I had met plenty of the other kids already, but only the ones that lived right around me. The bus had kids from the whole town. Some of them even came from Baleen Acres, where all the rich orcas lived.
When Mafu stopped, the train all stopped in unison behind him. Some of the kids in the back collided, but the ones in the front who had been with him from the start of the route stopped smoothly. Mafu was, and still remains, the biggest orca I have ever seen. It’s no wonder he was the bus driver. No one messed with Mafu.
“G’day little man,” Mafu said with a smile. Despite his appearance, Mafu was very nice. “All ready for your first day of school?”
“I guess,” I said bashfully.
“Aww cheer up, sport,” Mafu said. “You’ll do aces, I just know it.”
I slowly started to swim forward. I could feel all the other kids’ eyes on me. Believe me, it was a lot of pressure.
I nodded. The Flounders were the local professional seaball team. They stunk, but everyone around here loved them. Mafu was a big seaball fan, but he was never shy about how he thought Australian rules seaball and seacricket were superior games.
“Well do you think ol’ Clam Stetson would be scared of his first day of school?”
Clam Stetson was the best player in the whole league. It spoke to how bad the rest of the team was that the Flounders could be so dismal while having a transcendent star.
“No,” I said. I took a deep breath and went to the back of the bus. All the kids were lined up two by two, but the last kid was by himself. I swam next to him and completed the line. I could tell he was my age and just as nervous as I was.
“M-my name’s Carlo,” he said meekly when we started swimming again. He was smaller than me and had bigger and rounder white marks around his eyes than most orcas.
“I live on Urchin Street,” Carlo said. “This is the farthest I’ve ever been from home.”
“Oh, well I live here on Seahorse Circle,” I said.
“I can see that,” Carlo said. “I heard that there’s a sixty three percent chance one of us gets eaten on the way to school.”
“What!?” I said, briefly panicking. “My mom said it was safe!”
“It’s really not,” Carlo said. “Who knows what kind of sharks and other things are waiting for us on the way. You were the last one to get picked up, and since we’re in the back, I’m almost sure we’re the ones who will get eaten. I just hope it’s over fast, I don’t want to suffer.”
“Hey, scardey cat,” the orca in front of us said, turning around. “Why do you think Mafu’s here? No one’s gonna mess with us as long as he’s around.”
“But we’re way in the back,” I said, fully believing that we were going to be devoured by any passing creature.
“Then I’ll just take them out,” he said. He sounded the same age as us, but he was bigger than both Carlo and me. “Lucky for you two, I’m the fastest orca in the ocean! Not to mention the toughest.”
“I’d feel safer with Mafu,” I said.
“Suit yourselves, losers,” he said, turning back around.
Somehow, we weren’t eaten on the way to school, though Carlo’s gloomy demeanor had done nothing to calm my nerves. Our school was in the suburbs, so the bus route avoided the hustle and bustle of downtown. Lucky thing, too, since morning traffic was infamously slow. The gridlock wasn’t helped by the orcas, dolphins, and whales who would go to the surface to breathe then expect to retain their place in line. Tempers flared up more often than not.
The school was set around a rocky island. Because young orcas can’t hold their breath as long, most classes were almost entirely on the surface, with the island’s multiple outcroppings serving as dividers between the different classes. Courses were mostly developing skills like hunting and swimming, but there were plenty of history and geography classes, as well. Our teachers always said it was important to be a true citizen of the ocean, not just our corner of it. The teachers were all orcas or dolphins, but there was a small custodial staff of pilot fish that cleaned up after everyone, particularly the younger grades.
That first day, I remember all the other kids getting there at the same time we did. There were about ten other buses, though none of the other leaders were quite as impressive as Mafu. Most of the student body was orcas, but there were a handful of dolphin students, too. I think they were from the poorer neighborhoods. Ours was a public school, so we got all types.
The older kids knew where they were going, so they broke away from their buses to join their classes. Eventually, us first timers were the only ones left, so it was easy to get us all together. Everyone gathered around our teacher, a nice lady named Mrs. Dall. She looked a lot like an orca, but she wasn’t. I think she was some kind of dolphin, but I’m not sure.
Carlo and I ended up at the back of the class. There were about fifteen other students in our class, most of which were just as anxious as I was.
“Hello everyone!” our teacher said sweetly. “Welcome to your first day of school. My name is Mrs. Dall, and I’ll be your teacher for the next year. I hope you’re all excited, because we’re going to have a lot of fun this year!”
Most of that day was a blur, lost to memory long ago. But one moment does stand out, for obvious reasons. We were playing an icebreaker game where we divided into pairs in an effort to make start making friends. I paired with Carlo, since he was both right next to me and the only one I actually knew. There was an uneven number in our class, so Mrs. Dall said there would be one group of three. When the dust had settled, the lone partner-less orca was the boy from the bus. He was much bigger than everyone else in class, so I guess they were afraid of him. As he was surveying the class to see which group to join, I made the mistake of making eye contact. He swam over with a grin on his face.
“’Sup, losers?” he said. “Looks like I’m with you guys.”
“Oh, great,” Carlo said meekly.
“My name’s Russell,” he said. “I’ll be in charge of the group. What are supposed to be doing again?”
“Mrs. Dall says we have to say one interesting thing about ourselves,” I said.
“Well, I already told you guys about me,” the big orca said. “I’m the fastest swimmer in the ocean!”
“Is that the only interesting thing you have?” Carlo asked.
“It’s the only thing I need,” he answered confidently. “What about you?”
“We have a pet sea turtle named Zeppo,” Carlo said.
“Sea turtles are kind of lame,” Russell said. “They don’t do anything.”
“Well, I like him…” Carlo said dejectedly.
“My dad says he’ll take me seal hunting this Christmas,” I said. I was sure Russell wouldn’t have anything to say about that.
He stared in silence, thinking of a way to come out on top.
“My mom would never let me go seal hunting,” Carlo lamented. “But every Christmas we always get to eat seven fish.”
“Seven fish?” Russell said, re-energized. “Why limit yourself to only seven? I can eat more than that easily.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I don’t know if seven fish would be enough.”
“It’s good fish though,” Carlo said. “It’s enough for me.”
“What are your guys names, again?” Russell asked suddenly.
“My name’s Carlo.”
“Shelby,” I said.
“Shelby?” Russell asked. “That’s a girl’s name!”
“Well, I didn’t know Russell was a jerk’s name,” Carlo squeaked. I can still remember the look on his face. It was like he was surprised he said it himself.
Russell looked at Carlo for a few seconds before he started to laugh.
“That’s pretty good,” Russell said. “I like you, Carl.”
It’s funny to look back at the small moments in life and realize just how big they turned out to be. That one shocking insult from Carlo was all it took to turn the three of us into best friends. We became inseparable. We had every class together, we spent every weekend together, and, during summer vacation, rarely went more than twelve hours without seeing each other.
About a month into the school year, we had the big First Year Scavenger Hunt. It’s a way to get the new kids familiar not only with the school, but with the surrounding area. The teachers always say it’s supposed to get ingratiate the first year’s with the older kids, too, but that never happened. No one wants to help a little kid find something, especially if your friends are watching. Coolness is a valuable currency in Orca school.
The First Year Scavenger Hunt is the first time I thought I might have some real talent, and if you know anything about the rest of my life, you can probably imagine why. I can still remember the list today: a jeweled crab, a metal fish, a live penguin, The Six Rings of Power, a piece of taupe coral, and a wooden orca. Whoever found the most won. We divided into groups, so, naturally, I was with Carlo and Russell.
The jeweled crab was easy to find. It was in our classroom! I can’t believe no one else saw it. I mean it was just sitting there in the sand. It was a crab figurine covered in jewels. I know we were all really young, but kind of embarrassing no one else saw it. Carlo and Russell didn’t even see it. It caught my eye the second Mrs. Dall said the words “jeweled crab.” I shouldn’t complain too much, though.
The metal fish was a little trickier. I had correctly assumed the crab was the only thing in the classroom, so I led Carlo and Russell to the front of the school. I think it was probably cheating, but after Mafu dropped us off that morning, I noticed him make a beeline for the garden and spit something up. I figured it might be important. Upon inspection, though, the only fish we found was a red, angry looking one who had a big Mohawk fin on his head, dark circles around his eyes, and a blue upside-down star on his side.
“Don’t think this is what we want,” Russell said.
“Hey, I know what that is,” Carlo said. “That’s a handfish! But they’re not supposed to live up here…”
“I saw Mafu put it here,” I said. “Maybe it’s from his home.”
“I think it’s dead,” Russell said. It wasn’t moving, so I poked it. It was, in fact, dead.
“Why’d Mafu bring this all the way up here then throw it in this seaweed?” Carlo asked.
“Maybe it’s a riddle!” I exclaimed. I had only just learned what riddles were, and I was eager to apply my new knowledge to real life situations. “What if the fish we’re looking for isn’t made of metal, but it just looks metal!”
“This thing is pretty punk rock,” Russell said. “Can’t hurt to bring it to Mrs. Dall.”
“As long as someone else carries it,” Carlo said, backing away from the corpse.
Mrs. Dall was shocked any first year was able to solve the wordplay. We had found two items, which, based on the competition, was surely enough to win, but what was the point of sitting there waiting?
We decided to leave the live penguin alone, since none of us, not even Russell, had ever actually hunted anything yet. Trying to bring a live penguin back to our classroom would have ended poorly for everyone involved.
I had heard of The Six Rings of Power of course, but I had assumed they were just legend. A fable my mother told me to keep me on my best behavior. Russell, predictably, agreed.
“Is she serious with this Six Rings of Power nonsense? How are we supposed to find something that doesn’t exist? Is this another one of those things? What’s it called? A ritt?”
“A riddle? I doubt it,” I said. “Maybe there’s a replica or something around here. The stories say they’re supposed to be near the surface.”
“And protected by a fierce guardian!” Carlo squeaked.
“It’d be nothing I couldn’t handle,” Russell boasted.
“If it exists,” I said.
“It’d be a real shame if it didn’t,” Carlo said, trying to mask his fear. It didn’t work.
The legend of The Six Rings of Power is a very old and famous tale in the ocean. Essentially, it says that there are six ancient and mysterious rings that have been combined together to create an all-powerful artifact that gives anyone who possesses it god-like power and knowledge of all the secrets lost to time. This knowledge is so shocking and all consuming, that, according to the legend, it drives the wielder mad and eventually causes their death. Because of this, a powerful guardian is said to accompany the forbidden Rings everywhere as it drifts through the sea in an algae oasis, both to warn anyone who might stumble upon it and to deter anyone who might be looking to use the Rings for ill-gain. The only way to bypass the guardian and gain access to the full power of the Rings without the side effects is to have a pure heart and the desire to use the Rings for good. Or just kill the guardian.
We took turns swimming to the surface to try and find a floating algae patch. When we invariably didn’t see anything, we would swim a little ways further from the school and try again. I forget how far the Hunt grounds were supposed to go, but I’m pretty sure we were right at the edge of them when we considered giving up. I went to the surface one last time.
On the whole, the surface is a pretty boring place. If you’re not close to land (which, at that point, we no longer were) it’s just a whole lot of nothing. Blue as far as the eye can see. Sometimes some seagulls flew by. So when I say a tiny patch of green on the horizon stood out, it really stood out. I hurried back to my friends.
“Guys!” I yelled, “there’s some algae over there!”
“That could be anything,” Carlo said. “Algae isn’t uncommon or anything.”
“What, you scared, Carlo?” Russell sneered. “I say we check it out and kill that guardian.”
It was decided. We began swimming in the direction of the algae, and noticed a change almost immediately. For starters, the ground gave out beneath us. In the blink of an eye, we were in the middle of a bottomless trench. It was like it was swallowing all the light and sound. And it was cold. I was used to cold water, but it felt like if I stopped swimming for one second I’d freeze to death. The random currents didn’t help. It was eerie, to say the least.
“Anyone else freaking out right now?” Carlo asked.
“Hell, no” Russell said without much confidence.
“Kind of, yeah,” I said. “When’s the last time anyone saw a fish or anything?”
“The guardian probably ate all of them,” Russell said.
“We shouldn’t be here!” Carlo yelped. For a split second, I agreed.
It took a while to battle the currents, but we were directly underneath the patch of algae, which was creating an ethereal glow. In the center of the algae were six clear rings, held together as one. A small turtle was inside one of the rings. Most ocean creatures went their entire lives thinking what we were looking at was a myth.
“That’s the guardian?” Russell said. “That thing’s tiny!”
“And deadly!” Carlo yelled.
“We have to try and get the Rings,” I said.
“Do we?” Carlo asked. “We’re probably going to win already.”
“But who will believe us if we don’t have proof?” I asked. “These are The Six Rings of Power! Can’t you feel it?”
“Not really,” Russell said.
“Well, I’m gonna go talk to the guardian.”
I slowly swam up to the Rings, trying my best to seem sure of myself. The guardian hadn’t noticed me, even when I was mere inches away.
“Umm, excuse me, guardian?” I asked. “Umm, I don’t want to use these for evil or anything, I just want to win a scavenger hunt. So, can I take them?”
The guardian still wouldn’t look at me. It just slowly swayed with the tide. I decided no answer meant yes, so I gently hooked one of the Rings on my tooth and pulled. The guardian slipped out, still just floating there.
I couldn’t believe it. I held The Six Rings of Power! I didn’t feel smarter or anything, but I’m just assuming that’s because I told the guardian I didn’t want to use their power.
“You actually got them?” Russell asked, dumbfounded. “You beat the guardian?”
“It was pretty easy, honestly,” I said. I could tell that made Russell a little salty. “We should get out of here before it changes its mind, though.”
“Do you feel the power?” Carlo asked. “Do you feel like a god?”
“I’m not sure, yet.”
“Imagine the look on Preston’s face when he sees that!” Russell said.
Preston was one of the rich kids that lived in Baleen Acres. No one liked him.
There was a patch of taupe coral just beside the school, so we grabbed a piece on our way back to give Mrs. Dall the Rings. I think they put it on the list to let everyone find something, but somehow some kids didn’t get any.
“Wow, you boys are…on…a- you actually found The Six Rings?” Mrs. Dall asked when we got back to the classroom. “I didn’t- I just put them on the list as a joke.”
“We don’t joke about scavenger hunts, Mrs. D,” Russell boasted. “You should have seen how easily I beat the guardian.”
“You saw the guardian and lived to tell the tale?”
“It was a little turtle,” I said. “He didn’t even try to stop us.”
“Well, this is-well I’m just shocked is all. Most teams won’t even find one thing on the list, and you boys have four. If you can bring me a live penguin or the wooden orca I think you’ll be the new record holders!”
This is a little embarrassing to say, but I didn’t know what wood was at that time. According to Russell, his dad says he has wood when he wakes up in the morning, but that didn’t really help me, especially since I had given away the Rings and no longer had the omniscience that comes with them. Carlo said he thought he knew was it was, but couldn’t describe it.
“There might be some by the coast,” Carlo posited. “But we’re not supposed to go there.”
North of the school was a rocky coastline and a lot of shallows, which the younger orcas were strongly discouraged from visiting due to the difficult terrain.
“We just got The Six Rings of Power and you’re worried about getting in trouble for swimming to close to the shallows? Really?”
I agreed with Russell. After hearing we were one away from setting the record for most items ever found in the First Year Scavenger Hunt, I wasn’t about to let some possible light discipline deter us from going to the place we were most likely to find a wooden orca.
In my opinion, the young orcas weren’t the ones who should be discouraged from hanging around the shallows, it’s the ones going through puberty that should. As long as the kids know the dangers of getting beached, they can avoid it. The ones going through puberty have virtually no control over their bodies. At least I didn’t. One second you’re swimming along thinking you’re good, the next you’re stuck on some sand and you’re hoping everyone stops making fun of you and helps before the tide goes out. Not that that ever happened to me, or anything.
Anyway, the wooden orca. While we were swimming along the edge of the shallows, I noticed something odd: an overturned water-skimmer. I learned about them on a TV show about humans, but, at the time, I had no idea what it was.
“Hey, what’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, I think that’s wood!” Carlo exclaimed.
It was a small water-skimmer, I think the kind that one or two humans sit in and propel manually. It was in pretty bad shape- rotted and broken. Not what we were looking for, but there was something on the ground next to it.
“Is this wood, too?” I asked.
“I need to ask my dad if this is what he meant by wood,” Russell said.
“Yeah, this is wood,” Carlo said after poking it.
It was a long pole that had broken into pieces. It was covered in a bunch of weird carvings that none of us could even come close to identifying and painted in crazy colors.
“Who made this?” I asked.
“I think humans,” Carlo said. “I have no idea how it got here, though.”
“Is this what we need?” Russell was nudging a middle portion of the pole. In theory, it was an orca. It had the dorsal fin, it was black and white, and it had some teeth. It was close enough to bring to Mrs. Dall.
“Shelby, help us carry this,” Russell said. But my attention was diverted.
When Russell had started to move the orca, it exposed a small, shiny rectangle. I had never seen anything like it, but there was an orca on it, front and center. There were words underneath, but, of course, I couldn’t read them. I can’t explain why, but something about that rectangle entranced me. It was like I could feel how special this thing would be very soon…
But not quite yet. Somehow, three first years managed to drag the wooden orca back to the school. Mrs. Dall and the other teachers couldn’t believe it.
“I don’t even know what to say!” she said. “You boys have gone above and beyond!”
The rest of the class, who had given up hours ago, gave us a lukewarm reception.
“I can’t believe you managed to get the wooden orca here,” Mr. Tlingit, the gym teacher, said. “Took me a three hours to lug that whole thing out there.”
Mr. Orcinus, the principal, came over with a smile on his face.
“Boys, you’ve really shown us all something special,” he said. “Congratulations on winning the First Year Scavenger Hunt in record-breaking fashion!”
All we got was some shrimp.
On the whole, that first year of school went pretty well for me. While first year orca classes aren’t noted for their level of difficulty, my grades were excellent. Throughout my life I was a decent student: never the best, never the worst. I probably peaked academically my first year, and I’m fine with that. Carlo was the scholar of our group.
The week before Christmas that year my family was preparing for our annual trip to my Aunt Trudy’s. She lived up north, where there was even more white on the surface than where we lived. It was also much colder, so Mom had been making us eat a lot leading up to the trip to build up our blubber. Dad always loved going north for that precise reason. Mom would always make him watch his diet throughout the year, so in the winter Dad said he was finally able to eat like a male orca should. I tended to agree.
Christmas season also signaled one of my favorite traditions: decorating the lawn. Mom would weave some glowing seaweed into our impressive seaweed patch, and then we would hang some glowing fish from our coral. Some orcas would go overboard and pack their lawn to the brim with tons of luminescence and tacky ornaments, but, as with most things lawn related, my dad preached quality over quantity. And our decorations were certainly were much higher quality than those of our neighbors. Most orcas got their Christmas décor from the dollar store in town, but Dad never said where he got all of this. He would just leave one day and come back the next, decorations in tow. Something tells me it might not have been strictly legal.
The morning we left for Aunt Trudy’s that year, Carlo and Russell were still at our house. It was the first day of Christmas vacation at school, so they had spent the night to celebrate. The closer we got to departure time, the less their presence was welcome. Add in the fact that we had been up all night making noise, and tension was high.
“Carlo, sweetie, what time did you say your mom was coming?” Mom asked.
“She said she’ll be here soon,” Carlo said, groggy from lack of sleep.
“Russell, are you going home with Carlo?” Mom asked.
“No, I can go home by myself,” Russell boasted. “My parents say I’m old enough to swim solo.”
“Then maybe you should, you know, go?” Dad asked. He had just finished yelling at Janice to hurry up and get ready. She had just started sleeping a few weeks prior and had already developed a talent for being late.
“Right away,” Russell said. “But I wouldn’t want to leave Carlo alone. You never know what’s swimming around the corner.”
Dad turned away in frustration. The trip up to my Aunt Trudy’s took almost half a day, and we were already delayed.
Mom made me take Carlo and Russell to the street corner to help accelerate their departure. Seahorse Circle was a big cul-de-sac that housed ten other families. Our house was at the top of the circle, so to get to the main road we had to swim through the whole neighborhood. Our street had a very nice collection of Christmas lawns. No one dared try anything too gaudy, lest they face the wrath of my father.
Carlo’s mom came and collected her son and Russell, who, despite living in the opposite direction, decided to follow them. Luckily, I was already ready to go to Aunt Trudy’s, so when I got back home, we left right away. I think Dad would have lost it if something else happened before we even left.
Swimming long distances can get boring pretty fast, so it’s good to play some games to pass the time. Some of my favorites are I Spy, What’s That Taste Like?, and, of course, What’s in My Mouth? If you get lucky you pass under some scenic algae fields, and if you get really lucky you get to listen to humpback whale music. The year before Janice was born, Dad says we swam next to Humphrey Hammond for over 50 miles. I have no memory of it, so I kind of think he made it up. I mean Humphrey Hammond went platinum fourteen times, you’d think hearing him live would have been something that stuck with me, even at three years old.
The first hour or so of our journey was quiet and still a little tense, but once everyone relaxed we got a nice game of I Spy going. Janice was still too young to play anything more advanced. I remember I got everyone pretty good when they couldn’t find the fish I saw that was hiding in a kelp forest. That set Dad off on a pretty funny anti-kelp rant that I was still way too young to hear.
But I digress. My agent told me to keep this thing short since no one likes reading, so I’m sorry if I’m rambling a bit. I feel like I set it up for something crazy to happen on the way to Aunt Trudy’s house, but it was pretty uneventful. The only tricky part about going to Aunt Trudy’s is passing through a big line of islands, but Mom and Dad were experienced enough to get us through it no problem. I’ll be better about sticking to the big stuff from now on. My life doesn’t get really good for a few years, anyway.
So, we’re at Aunt Trudy’s. The first night we had a big dinner with Trudy and my Uncle Simon. They hadn’t seen Janice yet, so the whole meal they were just fussing over her. That was fine with me, since it freed me up to take some extra helpings of penguin. Aunt Trudy wasn’t a very good cook, but I was hungry from the long journey. Truth be told, I didn’t like going to Aunt Trudy’s very much. It was too cold and smelled weird. But she was Dad’s sister, and he said we had to go.
We were there for three days after that, with the big seal trip coming on the second day. That meant a full day at Aunt Trudy’s with nothing to do. Mom and Aunt Trudy spent most of the day talking about Janice and how Aunt Trudy was ready to have kids and she just wished Uncle Simon would hurry up and realize it, but luckily for me Dad and Uncle Simon spent most of the day debating seaball, which was much more my speed.
“Simon, how can you possibly hold any of the Flounders’ failures against Clam Stetson?” Dad said. “Have you seen the rest of the roster? Do you have any idea how inept the front office is?”
“I don’t know,” Uncle Simon said. He said “I don’t know” a lot. He was kind of a pushover. “I’m just saying if he was all that they’d win more games.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Simon.”
That night I could barely sleep. I was too excited. Dad woke me up before the sun had even come up, but I was ready to go. Typically, Dad met his friends when he went seal hunting, but this year they had to cancel. That meant it was just going to be Dad, Uncle Simon, and me, which I was fine with. Dad’s friends can be a little much.
The seals lived on a series of rocky islands and icebergs just north of Aunt Trudy’s house. We went really early in the morning to get the jump on them, not that it really matters. No matter what time of day it is, the seals just sit there doing nothing and getting fatter. If I didn’t hate them so much I’d envy the lifestyle.
Having such a small hunting party was ideal for my first time. The more orcas around, the livelier the seals and surrounding wildlife becomes, and the more chaos ensues.
“Alright, we’re here,” Dad said when the islands were in sight. “It’s time to put all the little lessons I’ve taught you together. Find a small one by themselves close to the water, slowly, slowly swim up, jump up, grab hold of their tail, and drag them underwater. Watch your Uncle Simon and me a few times if you’re nervous. Remember: don’t be afraid to call for backup, don’t try and take on more than one seal at a time, and, whatever you do, don’t listen to anything they say. They can get under your skin if you’re not careful.”
The last piece of advice was the most crucial of all. Dad could tell I was too jacked up to go right away, so he told Uncle Simon to get a seal so we could watch. We popped out heads out of the water as his dorsal fin drifted towards the rocky shore. Even from my vantage point, I could see quite a few isolated seals. Again, it’s hard to tell with seals, but it didn’t look like any were awake yet.
Uncle Simon crept up on a pup as slowly as he possibly could, measuring up his prey. When he was inches away, he reared back and launched himself through the water, jaws wide open. And he missed. Either the seal moved at the last second or he misjudged his jump, but he came up empty, and made a lot of noise doing so.
“Aww, shit,” Dad muttered.
“Is that Simon?” someone yelled.
“Fuck you, Simon! Pussy!”
I couldn’t believe it. The seals, still just sitting there, had started talking trash.
“Don’t tell your mother anything you’re about to hear,” Dad said.
“Hey, Simon,” one of the seals yelled, “remember when your first wife left you?”
“God, Simon,” a seal woman chimed in, “good thing you’re impotent so you don’t have to provide for any children. They’d starve in a day!”
“Man, they’re brutal today,” Dad said.
“What do we do?” I asked. “Is Uncle Simon gonna be okay?”
Uncle Simon was just taking it. He wasn’t the most confident orca you’ll ever meet, and I could feel him shrinking with each subsequent jab.
“Simon, you still work at that hardware store? I bet that’s a really satisfying and fulfilling career path to be on.”
“Umm, hey S-Simon,” now a pup was getting in on the act. “Y-you missed me, umm, uhh, you pussy!”
This was met with roars of approval from the adult seals.
“Hey, Simon!” When this seal spoke, the others all quieted down. He was their alpha. “Is Trudy still sore from last weekend? I know you were out of town, so I tended to her needs. Sexually, I mean.”
“Alright, that’s enough,” Dad said. “Stay here.”
Dad swam towards Simon as fast as he could, kicking up a big swell. The seals lazily looked in his direction, nonplussed. That is, they were nonplussed until he exploded onto the iceberg, grabbed a particularly fat seal, and yanked him underwater.
“Oh, shit, it’s Harris!”
The seals got a little less rowdy, after that.
Over the next few hours, Dad and Uncle Simon took down a few more seals. Well, for the most part Dad took the seals and Uncle Simon held the bodies, but still. I remember being so in awe of finally seeing a real life seal hunt that I didn’t move an inch. I’m lucky a predator didn’t come by. I would have been toast!
By the early afternoon, Dad and Uncle Simon were satisfied with their catch. I think they forgot about me, but I don’t blame them. Hunting seals is exhilarating. Both of them came swimming over with big smiles on their faces.
“Look at this, Shelb,” Uncle Simon said. “We’ll be eating well tonight!”
“So what do you think?” Dad asked. “You ready to give it a go?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “Do you think I can?”
“Of course I do! Here, I’ll come with you.”
We pulled up about a hundred yards from the seals.
“You see that?”
“Yeah!” There was a small pup all by himself. Seals aren’t very protective parents.
“You got this. Just remember what I taught you.”
I held my breath as I swam, trying my best to be stealthy. I was getting really close, and somehow the pup hadn’t seen me. Out of nowhere, my fin hit a rock in the shallows, and a big burst of air came out of my blowhole. The element of surprise was gone.
“What the hell is this?” one of the seals that saw me said. “A fuckin’ Make A Wish kid?”
“This your son, Harris? Looks like a bitch.”
“Hey, kid, you tell your dad you’re gay yet?”
I was trying my best not to cry as their insults continued to rain down on me. It was one thing when they were going after Uncle Simon, but another thing entirely when they’re directing it at you. I turned back to Dad, who simply nodded encouragingly.
I think the thing I remember the most about that trip was when I looked into the pup’s eyes. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a seal, but they have these big, saucer eyes and soft, sad faces. The look he was giving me was so pathetic and so heartbreaking that I was a second from becoming a pacifist on the spot. Until he opened his mouth.
“Your mom is ugly,” he said.
Enraged, I leapt out of the water. I scraped my belly on the ice, but somehow, someway, I grabbed his tail. He was probably the runt of the group, so he went down easy. After a few seconds of thrashing, he was dead. I couldn’t believe it. Years of dreaming about going seal hunting with Dad culminating in my first kill. I could have died right then and there and been happy. Seeing the look of pride on Dad’s face remains one of the greatest moments of my entire life.
To be continued. Let me know what you think. Was it good? Bad? Did anyone actually read all of this? Should I just accept the fact that I have no skills and should just work at Five Guys or something? Give me your thoughts. Or don’t, it’s really up to you.