I think it’s only been about two weeks since I posted any fiction, but somehow it feels like much longer. Anyway, this week, Max is starting a new job at Port Monster Aquarium, after leaving Ms. Pine’s employment (you can read all about why in Teamwork Part 1 and Teamwork Part 2). I’ve got a couple stories planned for this setting so hopefully it’s an enjoyable one.
For those counting (so . . . me only), this story is 250 ish words longer than the last, weighing in at 1794. (I was aiming for 1750!)
The Sand Seal
Apparently, Jerry Quixotic hadn’t always been the type of man who would crouch waist deep in an Amazonian river, hand scooped just under a Shaiger’s dorsal fin – to calm it obviously – and take a selfie. He’d once been the type of person who would tuck in his T-shirt, and push his thick-lens glasses up onto his nose before using the rubber of an eraser to punch numbers into a calculator.
But now? Max had seen the images of Jerry plastered all over Port Monster Aquarium. The man was fearless, posing with nearly every mysterious and dangerous creature Max had ever heard of, and many he’d not.
Max struggled to reconcile the man he saw now – muscles straining his too-short khaki shorts and ‘safari’ shirt, wavy straw colored hair, thick leather boots and no glasses – with the man Jerry reportedly had been.
“But because of these animals?” Jerry said, showing Max how to grab a rattle snake behind the head with an extra-long trash grabber. ”Their friendship? Well I’m changed! And I just know it’ll change things for you too.”
Jerry tossed the snake into the Sand Seal habitat. It looked a bit like a hockey rink, if the ice had been dropped into the floor about a foot, and filled in with sand. Plastic bleachers surrounded the pit where spectators could watch the seal as it frolicked, played, or hunted the snakes which it ate. A hard and clear material surrounded the pit, raising up almost to the ceiling. Jerry had said it was plexiglass, and that it managed to keep the Sand Seals inside the habitat when wood, metal, and solid rock wouldn’t.
Max wasn’t sure about it all, not yet. The strangeness of the animals was no problem, he’d seen strange animals when he worked for Ms. Pine. But he wasn’t sure he wanted to be ‘changed’ as Jerry had said. Just coming here to work was enough of a change for him.
Friendship sounded nice though. The one friend he’d made working for Ms. Pine, Trevor, had been pretty distant since he’d left. This would be a good chance for him to clean the slate.
Max watched as a fairly normal looking Harbor Seal with whitish grey fur, snoozed lazily on a patio on the other side of the pit. Its snout could have belonged to a puppy, with only the tiniest whiskers protruding forth to sense for predators, or prey.
When it heard the snake’s rattle, it sat up and looked over at the newcomer. Max saw its eyes go wide with excitement and it immediately rolled onto its ample stomach, sort of bouncing over to the nearest edge of the platform.
It slipped from the patio, and the once placid sand began to ripple and rock as if the seal had skipped a rock across a lake rather than touched it with a paw. The seal slipped below its surface effortlessly and reemerged eating the snake and then swimming towards Jerry and Max, its round black eyes expectant for more.
“Your turn!” Jerry said, turning to grab a bucket full of Sand Seal food. Max noticed the man’s shirt was not only tucked into his shorts, but his undershorts as well.
So maybe Jerry hadn’t completely changed then.
Jerry handed the trash grabber to Max along with the bucket of snakes. Max held one of the snakes out to the seal – which Jerry called Bartholomew – and the seal had immediately come up and snatched it away; simple as a stroll down easy street.
Good. Max needed something easy right now. He’d loved all the creatures he’d met at Ms. Pine’s, but none of them had been easy.
“Look at that!” Jerry said. “Fast friends indeed!”
* * *
Max smiled as Bartholomew caught the first snake in its jaws, and Jerry made a cheering sound as if a horde of rabid hockey fans really did sit around the pit. Not that there were any bleachers for them to sit in anymore. Indeed the Sand Seal Habitat hardly looked anything like when Max had arrived a week ago.
Bartholomew returned to his patio to finish enjoying the treat.
As Max looked around, it seemed almost everything had already been stripped away for the renovation, though some plexiglass bordered the pit. A large construction cat sat unused while a crane was similarly vacant nearby. Sheets of plastic lay suspended in the air, in the process of being moved, while the cat’s shovel appeared to have been stopped mid action.
When Max had scoffed at the worker’s untidy departure, Jerry said “Their automated Max. They start or quit on a timer like the sprinkler system. It’s hard to find help around here that’s as good as you.”
That had been nice to hear. Max had to admit, everything was going so much better here than it had at Ms. Pine’s house. In a week Jerry had trained Max on everything he would need to look after Bartholomew and they’d started working on tricks with the volley ball and some other props.
But Max felt his shining moment had come after Jerry moved Bartholomew to a new location within the park.
The other Keepers and Trainees had started reporting that Bartholomew seemed troubled. He’d lay lazily atop the sand in the new enclosure, not even bothering to use the ability which gave his kind their name. Max had eventually witnessed it himself. Bartholomew would let out these noises which Max could only interpret as a sigh, and then shift his head from one place to another.
Apparently, Sand Seals were quite territorial and rarely ever left the dunes they inhabited in the wild. Was Bartholomew homesick? Max could understand that. As nice as things were here, he still often thought of his old job at Ms. Pine’s.
That was when Max got an idea. What would be the harm in taking him back to the old pit for a little while? Maybe Max could wean Bartholomew off his old environment slowly.
When Max had tried, Bartholomew’s eyes went wide and he bounced towards Max as quickly as his tubby body would allow. Max need only waive his hand to follow and Bartholomew did, all the way into the old building.
And now, here they were. The two had played together for several hours – most of Max’s shift – and Bartholomew was energetic and bright the entire time. Jerry looked down to his watch.
”It’s time to get him back,” Jerry said. He seemed pleased.
Max motioned with his hand, calling Bartholomew to follow him. This time the seal wouldn’t budge. Apparently, easy street had also been closed for renovation.
Perhaps more food would get Bartholomew going. Max made to scoop another snake out with the trash grabber but stopped at Jerry’s urgent voice.
“C’mon Max. Let’s go!” He was not pleased anymore.
Suddenly, there was a loud sound of an enormous engine coming to life. Max looked to the construction cat in time to see it raising its massive arm up and down, the sensor on its shovel attempting to detect the level of the sand, but there was no sensor at the top of the arm to detect the plexiglass sheeting that hung suspended from the still motionless crane.
Max cringed and there was a harsh clang of metal. One sheet of the plexiglass slid free of its constraints and fell into the sand, wedging itself upright like some kind of flat, plastic obelisk. Bartholomew panicked, racing back to his patio.
The construction cat began scooping out the sand, oblivious to the fact that with each shovel it removed, the sheet became less stable and was already looming precariously over the patio. Eventually its weight would bring it crashing to the ground. Max’s heart stopped when he thought of what would happen to Bartholomew.
The seal was not lying idle though. He’d turned the concrete patio to the same liquid-like consistency as he did the sand, and was diving and darting trying to get away from the threat. But he was heading in the wrong direction.
Bartholomew fled away from the danger but was blocked by the remaining plexiglass that bordered the patio. He needed to come towards the falling plexiglass, for there was still space there to escape.
Max turned to Jerry, just as another piece of plexiglass fell from the crane, this one shattering into shards atop the sand. Bartholomew redoubled his efforts but Jerry’s skin had simply gone white as if no blood remained in his entire body. His eyes moved to Max thought the rest of him stood stock still.
“Go on. Do something!” he whispered, as though anything louder would alert the gaze of some terrifying predator.
Max couldn’t believe it. This was the man who – Nevermind.
Max dove into the remaining sand — an odd sensation he didn’t dwell on — swimming through it as if it was water. Calling Bartholomew’s name Max waived his hand as he had done to bring him over here.
Bartholomew stopped his frantic attempts at escape and looked over at Max. He nearly went for it on reflex alone but then remembered the looming threat, which had just dropped another few feet, and looked suspiciously at Max. He resumed his flight in the other direction.
Max sighed, and began swimming towards Bartholomew, unsure if there was some way he might be able to grab on to the creature and drag him. He had to try.
There was another creaking sound as the plexiglass sheet began to buckle under its weight. Bartholomew poked his head up above the sand, and seeing that Max was now also in danger, began swimming straight for Max.
Bartholomew was like a bullet in the sand. Max had never seen anything move so fast. But the glass had given way and there was a weightless quiet as it fell. Involuntarily, Max closed his eyes.
Max felt something hit him in the chest hard. He bounced along the sand realizing he’d expected to feel the blow atop his head. When Max opened his eyes, he was on his back, the sand firmly supporting his weight. Bartholomew lie in his open arms, embracing him with his paws as much as his tubby little body would allow.
Bartholomew opened his round black eyes, and Max could swear he was smiling. The two separated and Max stood up and looked around.
The construction cat had stopped shoveling and all of the suspended plexiglass seemed to have already fallen free of the crane. Jerry Quixotic was nowhere to be found. Apparently, he wasn’t the type of man who would dive into danger to save a friend. Max waived to Bartholomew and the two left for the temporary sand pit together . . .
Hey again, I hope you enjoyed The Sand Seal. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!
See you next time!