The waves crashed forward, sending shimmering strips of shredded lace down the jagged rocks in ribbons. In one of the smaller tide pools along the bay, a crab scuttled back and forth frantically tying down his possessions to keep the incoming tide from washing them away.
Sheldon heaved a little.
“Oh God!” he said. It was just a figure of speech, of course, because Sheldon was, rightly, raised atheist.
“The tide is coming. The tide is coming,” the starfish cried with glee.
“Oh, no!” whined Sheldon, over and over, under his breath.
Sheldon looked over his pile of necessities, shaking his head in dismay. He would need a larger shell to fit everything. One antenna twisted round to the large hump of a shell arching back behind his head.
It was looking a little shabby. A barnacle had finally attached itself to the indentation that stretched across horizontally on his left side. It was too far back to reach, even with the help of his special scraper. He had made it from the half oyster shell he found around the corner. A bit morbid, perhaps, but how else could he reach those pesky growths without some aid. Besides, he’d told himself at the time, a Mr. Fredricks, may he rest in tranquil waters, won’t miss it.
Sheldon sighed heavily, but was interrupted by the sound of a wave crashing on the craggy surface of the rock pools just down the way. The tide was rising rapidly now and would soon reach his cul-de-sac.
He turned away from his possessions, determined to find a bigger shell that could hold everything; even the sea glass with the ornate curved edges and his seaweed brush. With as much determination as a scuttle can portray, Sheldon headed to the next tide pool over. He hoped, maybe, there would be a few empty shells lying about. Since he needed the shell more carrying, rather than for body mass, fighting another, likely larger crab for the bigger shell, seemed a likely unhappy ending for Sheldon.
So he peeped carefully around the bend of stone, holding a bit of torn off seaweed to cover the hole where his antennae protruded. The coast was clear. A starfish gazed dreamily out to the foaming waves crashing below, only a few minutes away. And there, directly across from Sheldon lay a perfectly roomy mollusk shell, its creamy colored interior gleamed in the shallow water.
As Sheldon neared it, another crab came meandering around the bend of the pool. Its gaze too lingered on the exemplary shell and its eye expanded with longing. Sheldon’s little heart squeezed with anxiety. He hoped, desperately, not to have to contend with this newcomer over the shell’s ownership.
So, he wandered over on tender hooks. The other crab looked him up and down, his antennae nodding, but what he really said, was no. Sheldon’s anxiety doubled. But, the sound of the ever-encroaching tide, prompted him forward.
“Excuse me.” He said to the other crab.
The crab turned to face him, confused.
“Yes?” he answered back.
“Well, I saw that shell a moment ago, and well, I thought….”
“You thought what?” the crab asked. A note of derision crept in at the end like a grain of salt stuck between eyes.
“Well, I was here first.”
The crab blinked, adjusted his assumptions and politely asked, “Care to fight for it? I don’t mind. I just thought, maybe, you’d rather not.”
Sheldon looked himself over, comparing his size with the other crab. He’s much bigger than you, he thought, there’s no way you’d even stand a chance.
“No. No, that’s alright. You go ahead and have it.” Sheldon answered back. He turned around, stifling a deep desire to cry. How pathetic, he thought of himself before going back.
As he made his way, scuttling across the gravely sand, he saw another shell. Not quite big enough, he thought, but at least it will be a size up from my last. This cheered him, mightily. And there was no one else around. A free shell and I don’t even have to challenge someone for it. So he hooked the shell around and crawled in.
It was a little loose around Sheldon’s middle and he wriggled his fore-claws against the smooth lining. But once his things were stowed away inside, it might just be perfect. So he moved along to his tide pool and gathered up all the things he wanted to take with him.
He pulled out his brush and his sea glass, an empty urchin shell, his favorite stone, the barnacle scraper, a seaweed net and a great deal of food he’d saved up. It piled around his new shell, spilling in an untidy avalanche across his corner of the tide pool floor. Even with smart packing, he thought, I’ll never fit all this in. And the matter of where he would go also raised itself in his mind and bobbed there, nagging at his consciousness.
Sheldon began to worry. Just as he began to spiral down that riptide, an oyster piped up from down the way.
“You look a tad bit more concerned today Sheldon.” The oyster called. The oyster’s name was Steve.
“Hi, Steve.” Sheldon answered. “I wanted to get moving today.”
“Looks like you’ve got an awful lot. Why don’t you just stick around.” Steve inquired.
So Sheldon, in the midst of his upheaval took a moment to explain himself. He’d always like Steve. He was quiet, but always down for a chat.
“Yes, it is.” Sheldon sighed. If he was hoping for some advice, an oyster really wasn’t the one to get it from. Most of them are kind of shut-ins.
Sheldon looked up at the sky and sighed with frustration. The sunlight seemed to sweep across the surface of the pool. And then it did it again. Sheldon watched the miraculous regularity of the light across the water. Every other minute, the light would sweep across, before leaving Sheldon in the usual foggy day light. How strange! He’d never seen anything like it. So he popped his head up out of the water, keeping one antennae on his possessions down below and waited for the sun to do it again.
It did! The light swept across the foggy bay, illuminating the tops of the rocks before leaving once more. Sheldon gazed up and found the sun, right where it usually was, but covered in a dense layer of clouds today. The light seemed to come from a point a little ways away, but out across the bay, not up.
Once more the light swung around and Sheldon felt bathed in it, surrounded by a peaceful, wonderful feeling of safety. That’s where I want to go, Sheldon thought.
Right away, Sheldon scuttled back down to the bottom of the tide pool and gathered up his things. He had to take the food, no point with that. Then he picked up his barnacle scraper and his brush. He wanted to look good, when he finally reached the light. Next he packed away the sea glass, as it was so beautiful and the urchin shell. He looked back at the pile. There was still an awful lot of stuff. But he shook his head. No need. That light was more important. I can give up the net, and the family drawings. And I don’t need the stone, he thought. He had used it mostly as a worry stone, rubbing the smooth surface like a calming device when he worried. He used a lot down here, but up there, in the light, he thought, I won’t be worried anymore.
So he left it. And he walked away from the little tide pool, without saying goodbye to Steve. He was so excited about finding the light.
As he scuttled across the top of the rocks, he pondered the meaning of the light. It must come from someone very powerful, he thought. If not powerful, how could it maintain the brightness. How else could it return with such regularity if weren’t so powerful, that it would never be frightened of something bigger finding it.
With this rationality, Sheldon came to the conclusion of the light’s power and was calmed, but as he thought, he forgot where his claws were walking and one caught in a small crack in the rocks. As he pulled at his claw, the shell on his back shifted forward slightly and the weight guided his claw only further into the crack. His possessions jangled in the small spaces within.
Sheldon sighed. There was no way around it, the only thing to do was remove each thing from the shell until he was light enough to jolt his leg from its vice. Out came the sea glass, and the brush and the scraper, the sea urchin chime and his favorite stone. Suddenly, with all the weight gone he was able to pull loose his claw. He stared back at all he had removed. Well, Sheldon thought, I can’t leave the food behind. That’s just silly.
And I can’t leave my scraper, or my brush, he thought. But, the sea glass, maybe I don’t need it. He looked up at the light, still shining in circles ahead of him. It was just as pretty as he remembered it. Just as beautiful. It will never fade, Sheldon thought, and all of a sudden he believed he could do without that smooth aqua green gem.
Next to him was a deep pool. Before he knew what he did, he set the glass down on the top of the water. He watched it pierce the skin of the water and slowly descend to the bottom, displacing a cloud of sand to cover it’s brilliance in a blanket of mud. He turned his head away from its dimmed glory, repacked his remaining belongings and trundled forward to the light.
As he scuttled nearer the light a shape started to move in the corner of his left antennae. It swopped across his vision, blocking out a piece of the light. Sheldon paused a moment and watched for the shape to move again, curving himself back up into his shell. He wiggled backward, but as he did, he felt a sharp prick in his behind.
“ouch!” he shouted.
The shape swooped past again, but this time Sheldon could see the shape clearly without the dazzling light shining in his eyes.
A gull! Sheldon’s mind screamed at him. Now he was worried again. A gull coud rip him out of his shell. Or worse yet, splinter and crack him against the rocks until it split open and spilled him out to be eaten in one quick swallow down the gullet. Panic rose up his throat. He tried to wriggle deeper into the shell, but there wasn’t enough space! Not only that, but each time he skootched back the urchin chime would rattle against the fine china of the shell and the gull would reappear in answer.
I’ll have to leave it behind if I’m ever to make it to the light, Sheldon said to himself. With determination, the light returning brilliantly across the distant horizon, Sheldon began to secret out the urchin chime. Out came the scraper and the brush. Out came his favorite stone. And out squeezed the musical chime. Sheldon looked down at it with regret. The sounds it made were so wonderful. He thought back to the time he invited his friends over and they plucked at the spines and the banged at the flat bottom. That was a fun night! Sheldon remembered. But all his friends had moved on now, to other tide pool where there was more to see and do. With a sorrowful flick of his fore-claw Sheldon tipped the musical sea urchin filled with memories down the crevice the opened up to his right. He could hear the chime twanging and plinking all the way down before the gull swooped in and caught it up. The instant the gull caught it, however, it smashed in its sharp beak and the gull spit out the pieces, sputtering.
“Bleh! Pew!” It called out before flapping away.
“Phew” Sheldon sighed. And the light swept past his eyes again, leading Sheldon onward.
It was a great deal easier now, Sheldon thought, to go to the light, now he didn’t have the weight of the glass, or the noise of his chime. Now he could move closer to the light. So he kept moving forward, always gazing at the light.
After a while the light’s revolutions seemed to put Sheldon in a trance. It was peaceful, at first. Then he started to think. What if I get close to the light, but it’s surrounded by one deep, wide crevice, filled with the pounding tide and the swirling water pulls me out to sea forever. He shook his head and continued on.
But then another thought floated to the surface. What if a gull sees me walking and follows me there? Then, when I’m all lone and the light turns around, the gull will swoop on me in the dark and catch me before I even have time to crawl into my shell. What if the light itself is just a ploy to attract crabs like me and when I get there a swarm of gulls will surround me? That thought really rankled.
The more he really thought about it, the more worried he became.
What if once I get to the light, it’s surrounded by others?
What if once I get to the light, there are no others?
The thoughts kept circling round his head, a new thought for every turn of the light. And then he fell.
The crevice wasn’t very wide. He might have jumped it, in fact, if he had been paying attention, but he wasn’t, and now he was stuck at the bottom of a shallow (but not shallow enough) and thin (but not thin enough to crawl) hole.
Sheldon twisted his antennae around him to see just how deep in trouble he was. Just deep enough, he thought. But nothing that weighed much was left in his shell. The food. But he needed that. The scraper, but that was so thin, it hardly weighed anything. The brush, but that was as light as the scraper. The stone, but that was small, hardly enough to help him lift himself up.
But it was round. Just round enough to help him reach the edge of the cliff. I have to, Sheldon thought, or I’ll be stuck here forever, and a gull really will reach down and scoop me out. It was his favorite stone. He would hold it sometimes when he got anxious and he would rub the smooth surface until his worries seemed to have all swum away from him and out to sea.
Losing it seemed a real shame, but there wasn’t anything else that could help him now. So Sheldon set the stone down by his claws and stretched himself up on tippy-claw atop the uppermost curve of the stone. He could just reach the top from there. He pulled himself up claw over claw to the other side of the crevice.
Looking over the edge he could see his stone down at the bottom. The light swerved past behind him first illuminating the smooth surface of the stone then drawing Sheldon’s antennae back to it. Again he sighed, but the light still moved with faith encouraging regularity, while the stone simply lay there, inert. Sheldon steeled himself and moved on.
As he moved forward Sheldon found himself reminiscing over the stone. It was really, a very nice stone. He knew he couldn’t get it back now. It was lost to him forever, but it was a shame. He had had that stone since his friends moved away. It had been there for him when no one but Steve, the bland oyster had been around to talk to him.
It wasn’t that the stone was a replacement for friendship, but rather, a means of assuaging the pain of being left behind. It had cheered and calmed him when the worry of living seemed to overwhelm Sheldon’s over-imaginative brain. For a moment, he almost turned back to at least try and reclaim his precious talisman. But the light swung past once more, and he was drawn forward once again.
He drew close to the light now. So close in fact that he could see where it came from now. It was at the top of a large tower of stone. How he was to get p to the top, he didn’t know. It seemed nearly impossible to achieve that kind height, possess that kind of strength and determination. But if anything were to give him the determination to try, it would be that wonderfully revolving glow. The serenity of its regular revolution only grew on him as he gained the summit.
Just as he was about to reach the roots of the stone tower, however, something moved. It was small. Not something that would raise the alarm, even in Sheldon’s mind. In fact, it was even smaller than Sheldon (a difficult achievement).
Then it made a noise. A squeak, actually. Sheldon turned around and gazed, fixedly at the spot where it came from. There was definitely something, or someone, there.
“Ex. Cu. Se. Me!” it squeaked out again. It was saying something, Sheldon thought.
“Hi!” it shrieked, awkwardly.
“Hello.” Sheldon replied unsteadily. He wasn’t sure how to proceed. Since he had set out, he had really only had one focus, the light. But now his face was turned from it and his antennae were focused on what was right in front of him.
“Well, I couldn’t help but notice that you were heading up to the lighthouse.” The voice proclaimed.
“Yes. Is that what it’s called? A house for the light?” Sheldon inquired of the small voice.
“Well, that’s what it’s called, yes. The whole thing is technically called a lighthouse.”
“But, what about the light up at the top? Doesn’t it have a name all its own?” Sheldon was beginning to feel worried. There wasn’t anyone else around, just him and the small voice, but he sensed that something in the causal tone of the voice suggested that the light wasn’t what Sheldon thought it had been.
“No. Just, a light, I guess. Why do you want to go up there?” the voice inquisitively asked.
“Well, I just thought it was so beautiful. And that well, something so…so…regular (that didn’t sound right, Sheldon thought internally)…so consistent, and powerful would be a safe place to live.”
“Oh, well, no one lives there.” The voice answered.
“Oh.” Sheldon was surprised to find he was disappointed. “Well, why not?”
“Because, well it’s dry but slippery.” The voice said. “And besides, it isn’t all that…consistent” The voice chose the kinder word, here, since the hermit crab looked so sad.
“In fact, last week, it broke down all together until a person came around and after covering it up for a bit, and tinkering around, the light suddenly turned on again. Actually, I think it looks a little less bright than before.”
“Oh.” Sheldon paused wondering what to make of this new revelation. Not that bright? Covered up? The more he learned about the light, the less he felt like getting closer.
“But there’s a very nice tide pool, just down the way.” The voice counteroffered.
“Oh, yes. I could show it to you if you’d like. There’s lots of folks down there. A seahorse, a clam (he’s been there forever, and keeps talking about the decrease in property value) there’s even a couple of crabs that just moved in and an urchin, who’s a very talented drummer.”
Sheldon looked once more at the revolving light spinning about above him. It looked rather dull from here. Yet he had come all this way, and it seemed a shame to have given up all his things just to give up now.
So he turned around and thanked the voice before trudging along to the very edge of the cliff that met the wide moat of sea water surrounding the tower.
He looked up at the magnificent height of the light. It was impressive, if nothing else.
So he scrabbled his way down closer to the water to the point where he could feel the spray of the ocean on his face and neck. He looked back to the place where he’d heard the voice and as he did another voice lowed at him from the surf.
“Hello, there!” it bellowed.
Sheldon jumped up and nearly fell into the deep water with surprise but was able to
Clasp his claws just on the very tip of a jagged edge before he did.
“Woah there!” it called.
“A little help, please! I’m about to fall.”
“Quite alright.” it answered.
Then Sheldon felt the top of a round, wrinkly surface come up under his bottom-most claws and lift him up off the rocks. He slide down, shell first into the crook what appeared to be a sea turtle.
“Ah!” Sheldon shouted.
Sea turtles do not eat crabs, but it is a little known fact that they are rather stingy. Some even go so far as to request an arm and a leg, literally, just to get something out of an exchange. So, you can understand Sheldon’s fear when he realized that he now owed a sea turtle a favor. A really big favor too, since he had just let slip how badly he needed help.
“Don’t worry, little buddy. I got you!” the sea turtle replied with an anxiety-inducing depth of calm.
“Oh my, I didn’t realize. I just wanted to get over to that tower, you see, and I slipped when I tried to get over the side of the cliff.”
“Oh, really!” the deep calm voice of the sea turtle betrayed his piqued interest.
I’ve really done it now! Sheldon thought to himself. The only thing worse than oweing the turtle a favor, was expressing yet another need to fulfill.
“I might be able to help you with that.” the turtle purred up at Sheldon with pleasure.
“Oh, well, it was really more of a …a passing fancy. I don’t really…” but Sheldon couldn’t continue. The turtle could tell, just as well as Sheldon knew how much he wanted to see the light.
“I suppose you’d rather me set you back where you started then?” the turtle inquired with devilish understanding of what Sheldon’s answer might be.
“No, I guess not.” Sheldon sighed. This was going to cost him.
“It’s going to cost, you know. And since you owe me a favor, I hope you won’ t be so crass as to haggle. I do hold your life in my hands, you know.” It was either the laugh of the sea turtle, or the breaking of a wave that cackled. Sheldon couldn’t tell.
“Okay. What do you want?”
“What’s in your shell?” the sea turtle asked back.
“Oh, just a few oddments. You know, nothing special.” Sheldon answered automatically. Maybe if the turtle didn’t think he owned anything of value, he’d simply let him go with an IOU.
The sound of wave crashing drifted up to Sheldon once more. This time he was pretty sure it was more laughter.
“Oh, I doubt that! I doubt that very much.” The turtle snickered behind the curve of his upturned shell.
“Well, I don’t know that any of it would be of much value to you.” Sheldon replied.
“Why don’t you show me? Lay it all out on the rocks, and we’ll see if there’s anything I might want.”
So Sheldon, looking up at the light tower, started to unpack his shell once again and knowing that what he had might be the only thing that remained between him and the light. Each piece of his came out slowly as he placed them carefully on the craggy edges and steep overhang of the rocks above the strait of water, spread out and on view to the rapacious turtle that paddled easily in the tide.
First came the barnacle scraper and then the seaweed brush that felt so good against his skin after a long day. And then, bite by bite sized bit, Sheldon’s food. He regretted the possible loss of this the most. Each time he pulled a square of food from behind the smell and the memory of what it would taste like made him salivate and by the time he emptied his shell, he was hungry.
“Well, now!” the turtle exclaimed with derisive glee. “That looks like quite a generous offering, my friend. Alright, then, I’m convinced. I’ll take you across.”
Sheldon looked at the bounty of food and the two cared for objects left in his possessions. He could gather them all up and head back the other way, he thought momentarily. But, what would be the point? He’d come all this way, and the light wasn’t so very far now. He owed it to himself to stay the course, to make it there, for himself.
So he just nodded at the sneering turtle ahead of him and shoved each piece of food and together in a large lumpy clump with the barnacle scraper and brush balanced delicately on its uppermost point. The turtle nodded his assent and paddled closer to the edge of the cliff.
Sheldon stretched forth his fore claw but found himself clawing at the air, inches above the safe shelf of the turtle’s back. He scuttled a little closer to the edge, then tried again, he claw still reaching out but not far enough.
“You’ll never make it with all your claws on the rock! If you want to reach my back, you’re going to have to jump.” He sounded impatient for the deal to be done with.
Breath came only shallowly to Sheldon now. His heart began to pump faster and air seemed to rush in and out without bringing him any oxygen. He felt himself begin to feel lightheaded and he realized he’d never make the jump with that heavy shell, too big for his skinny body without sliding over the rounded edge of the turtle’s back and into the tumultuous sea.
As he realized this, his breath came back to him all of a sudden and he was sucking in big gusts of air as he prepared to remove this one last thing, his last possession. He wiggled himself out of the shell and set it down beside him before rolling it unceremoniously over the cliff, beyond his reach. There was no going back now, he thought.
Then he leaped across the inches long chasm between the rocks and his ride, heart racing pleasantly for the first time in the second of airborne suspense.
“Let’s go!” Sheldon said, his voice strong and clear over the showering waves and crashing water.
“Yes sir!” the turtle agreed.
The sea turtle plunged across the channel of roiling water with ease, only scaring Sheldon a couple times as one wave and then another threatened to overturn the turtle, and himself in the pull of the riptide. But, true to his word, the turtle brought him safely across and deposited him at the very base of the tower. As he turned away, the turtle yelled back to Sheldon.
“Hope you find what you hoped” he yelled, shaking his head. Then he was gone the charging of the waves.
Sheldon could only hear the part about hope, but the meaning seemed to melt in the mist, so he turned back and stared at the surface of the tower rising up above his eyesight, seemingly unending.
To say the climb was difficult would be rude. Sheldon found himself rethinking his plan over and over, but each time, he remembered all he had given up, all he had done to get to this point and he would plunge forward again with renewed strength. He felt himself needing it, the light, the thing to struggle toward. He had nothing else. So he kept believing, kept working to get there.
And then, all of a sudden he reached the top, climbed over the side and saw what he had strived for.
Well, not nothing. The light circled, blinding him briefly in its perpetual spin before leaving him in momentary darkness. The floor was cold, and hard. Unyielding was the word that came to mind first. And that was that.
For a while he could only stare at the base of the light. He had no plan for this, no way back, no idea what to do now. Except, he started to get hungry. Excessively hungry. All that exercise had worked up a real appetite. Only I gave away all my food, Sheldon thought.
The voice was right.
He brushed himself off. The voice! The tide pool nearby, he remembered. With an upsurge of joy, Sheldon realized he could make it through this after all. He made his way across the whole expanse of tide pools, braved ravenous seagulls and turtles and cliffs and the sea to get here. He could make his way back.
Sheldon eased himself down that tower slowly and step by careful step, determined to make it back. When he reached the bottom of the tower, the tide had started to rise, just as he’d feared, but he refused to be stopped now, tide or no. The channel was no longer an option, the turtle no where in sight, and besides, he had nothing left to give. To his right stretched the expanse of rock he had been unwilling to traverse before. Now he knew the only road back lay across those rocks.
He scuttled forward once again and set out, hoping desperately to reach the other side before the tide swallowed up the last remains of the path that lined the sides of the tower’s outcropping. He scampered across every rock, hopping recklessly across the cracks and caverns below. If he didn’t reach the other side in time he would fall into the sea anyways. Still, little by little the waves rushed closer, spraying him with mist and soon large drops of falling water. The path became slick with the excess water and the sea kept on coming. Sheldon’s legs started to slag with the unprecedented swiftness of his pace. He started to falter and just as he thought he would never make it to the other side, a wave crashed right in front of him, covering the rocks and every nook and cranny.
Sheldon stared, dumbfounded.
“Through here.” A voice called.
Sheldon started, looking all around him, but didn’t see.
“Here!” the voice called.
A snail peered out from behind a sharp ridge of rock piercing the waters from the side. Sheldon, his claws wobbling beneath him, scuttled to the rock and saw a small tunnel which bored straight through the rock to the other side of the channel, unseen from the light house side. He climbed in, narrowly escaping the second wave ripping across the tops the rocks where Sheldon sat only moments before.
The light at the end of the tunnel urged Sheldon forward now. After a few seconds he had made his way through to the other side and when he did the snail greeted him.
“Hello!” the snail said.
“H-hi!” Sheldon stuttered back.
“You know there’s a tide pool, not far from here.”
“You’re that voice!” Sheldon said with surprise.
“Yes. I wondered if maybe you would find your way.”
“I did. Where is this tide pool?” Sheldon asked. For once he felt completely at ease, and unafraid.
“Just around that grouping of rock, there.” The snail replied with a smile.
“I’m Sheldon.” Sheldon said. He matched her smile with a friendly smile of his own that hadn’t been seen in a long while. “What’s your name?”