The waves crashed forward, sending strips of lace down the 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.
“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 if he wanted to move tide pools. One antenna twisted round to the hump of shell arching behind his head.
Besides feeling a bit tight around the corners, the shell was looking a little shabby. A barnacle had finally attached itself to the indentation that stretched across horizontally on the left side. It was too far back to reach, even with the help of the scraper he had fashioned from half an oyster shell. A bit morbid, perhaps, to use the remains of an oyster, but how else could he reach those pesky growths without some aid. Besides, he’d told himself, 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 down the way. The tide was rising rapidly now and would soon reach his little 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 could render, Sheldon headed to the tide pool next door. He hoped maybe there would be a few empty shells lying about.
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 with the promise of security in the shallow water.
As Sheldon neared it, another crab came meandering around the bend of the pool. This crab’s claws looked swollen, they were so large, and his many feet were bulging with muscle. Its gaze, too, lingered on the exemplary shell and its antennae 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 new ownership.
Sheldon wandered over on tender hooks. The other crab looked him up and down, his antennae nodding, but what he really said, was no contest. 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 the 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.”
It’s traditional among crabs to settle the question of a disputed shell with a sportsmanlike brawl. Sheldon looked himself over, comparing his size with the other crab.
“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.
As he made his way back, scuttling across the gravely sand, he glimpsed the smooth curve of another shell, hiding among some sea weeds. Not quite as big, he thought, but at least it will be a size up from this one. This cheered him up. And there was no one else around. A free shell and I don’t even have to challenge someone for it! So Sheldon hooked the shell from around the weeds.
He raised his old shell from off his back and tossed it aside before sidling into the newfound shell.
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 keep.
He pulled out his sea glass, an empty urchin shell, his favorite stone, the barnacle scraper, 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 get this to fit. The matter of where he would go surfaced in his mind and bobbed there, nagging at his consciousness.
Sheldon began to worry. Just as he began to spiral in a riptide of panic a neighbor, an oyster from up tide called to him.
“You look a tad bit more concerned today Sheldon.” The oyster called. His 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. He’d always liked Steve. He was quiet, but always stuck around 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. 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 half a minute, the light would sweep across the water 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 bay, illuminating the tops of the rocks before leaving once again. 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 to the south, out across the bay. Once more the light swung around and Sheldon felt bathed in it, surrounded by a peaceful, wonderful feeling of safety. That’s the place, 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 arguing that. Then he picked up his barnacle scraper. He wanted to look good, when he finally reached the light. Next he packed away the sea glass, as it was so beautiful, the urchin shell with its musical tinkling sound and the worry stone. He would hold the smooth surface and its perfection made him feel safe when he worried. He used it frequently down here, but up there in the light, he thought, will I need it? But then he tucked it away anyways, just in case.
With that, Sheldon left the tide pool, so excited about finding the light he walked off without saying goodbye to Steve.
As he scuttled across the top of the rocks, he pondered the source of the light. It must come from something very powerful, he thought. Otherwise how else could it maintain that brightness and regularity? It swept across the bay with pure strong light and it roved around with dependable consistency. Something that powerful would never need be frightened.
With this rationality, Sheldon came to the conclusion that the light had a power immutable, everlasting, eternal, and he was calmed. As he thought, however, he forgot where his claws were walking and one caught in a small crack in the rocks. Sheldon began pulling at his claw, but unused to the fit of the new shell Sheldon’s efforts only caused the shell to slip over his shoulders and the weight of it guided his claw further into the crack. His possessions jangled within.
Sheldon sighed and the shell only further enclosed him. There was no way around it, the only thing to do was remove the shell and each thing in it until he became light enough to jolt his leg from the rocky 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 could pull loose his claw. He stared back at all he had removed and felt he had to leave something behind if we wanted to move forward without endangering himself again.
Well, Sheldon thought, I can’t leave the food behind. That’s just silly. I can’t leave my scraper, or my brush. But, the sea glass, maybe I don’t need it. He looked down at the glass, not wanting to leave behind something so beautiful but as he stared in its reflective surface the powerful beam of the light Sheldon sought lit up the glass before passing away once more and the glass appeared dim and dull in comparison. It was just as pretty as he remembered it. Just like that Sheldon believed he could do without that smooth aqua green gem. And with hardly a backwards glace, Sheldon scuttled onward.
Eventually Sheldon passed a deep pool. The sky was reflected in its dark surface and as he scuttled nearer a shape started to move in the corner of his antennae. It swopped across the water blocking out the light reflected on the face of the water. Sheldon paused a moment and watched for the shape to move again, curving himself back up into his shell. For a second he thought he saw it, but the light passed over the bay right at the wrong moment, blocking out whatever it was. He wiggled backward, trying to get a far inside his shell for protection, but as he did, he felt a sharp prick in his behind.
“Ouch!” he shouted.
The shape swooped past again, but this time without the dazzling light shining in his eyes Sheldon could clearly see the shape of the thing.
A gull! Sheldon’s mind screamed at him. Worry gripped him in its claws. A gull could rip him out of his shell or even worse, splinter and crack his home against the rocks until it split open to spill him out. He would be eaten in one quick swallow down the bird’s gullet.
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, 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 with the musical, spiny dome of the urchin shell. 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 banged at the flat bottom. That was a fun night! Sheldon remembered. But all his friends had moved on now to other tide pools where there was more to see and do. The gull swooped lower.
So, with a sorrowful flick of his fore-claw Sheldon tipped the musical sea urchin filled with memories down the crevice that 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. 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.
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) hole.
Sheldon twisted his antennae around 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 up. But it was round. Just round enough to help him reach the edge of the cliff. Besides, with the light, he thought, I won’t need it. I won’t be worried anymore. I have to use what I can, Sheldon thought.
Losing it seemed a real shame, but there wasn’t anything else that could help him out. 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 illuminating the smooth surface of the stone and drawing Sheldon’s antennae back to its resting place. He sighed. The light moved past again with faith encouraging regularity, while the stone just lay there, inert. Sheldon steeled himself and moved on.
But despite his intentions, Sheldon began reminiscing over the stone. It was a beautiful stone. He knew he couldn’t get it back, it was lost to him forever, but it was still a shame. He had had that stone since his friends moved away and no one remained but the bland oyster, Steve.
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 his over-imaginative brain. For a moment he almost turned back to at least try and reclaim his precious talisman. But the light swung past and he was drawn forward once more.
He drew close to the light now. So close that he could see the rocky coast from which it sprang up. The light came from the top of a large tower of stone. It seemed nearly impossible to achieve that height, and Sheldon wondered if he possessed that kind of strength and determination. But if anything were to push him to try, it would be the glow, the promise of warmth and security the light seemed to offer. The feeling only grew as he gained the summit.
As he was about to reach the roots of the tower something made a movement. 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. It was a squeak actually. Sheldon turned around and gazed fixedly at the spot where it came from. There was definitely something, or someone, there.
“Ex. Cuse. Me!” the something squeaked out.
Was it saying something, Sheldon thought?
“Hi!” it shrieked.
“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? Like 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?” 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 up there.” The voice answered.
“Oh.” Sheldon was surprised to find he was disappointed. “Well, why not?”
“Because well, it’s dry but kind of slippery,” the voice said, “and besides, it isn’t as…consistent, as you might think.” The voice chose a kinder word, since the snail 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 walking up and down several times 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, and a few crabs, and a clam. He’s been there forever, and keeps talking about the decrease in property value. But don’t let that deter you. I think he’s really glad of the company. There’s also an urchin that just moved in 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.
“Anyways, I didn’t mean to keep you, I just saw you wandering past, and wondered if you maybe needed help.”
Sheldon thanked the voice, but told it that he wanted to at least see for himself. The snail (for that’s what the owner of the voice was) understood and wished him well on his journey as Sheldon began again, trudging to the edge of the cliff that met the wide moat of sea water surrounding the light tower.
Sheldon looked up at the magnificent height. It was impressive, if nothing else. In awe once more, Sheldon scrabbled his way down getting close to the water. He got so close he could feel the spray of the ocean on his face and neck like a cold shower.
He looked back to the place where he’d met the friendly snail and as he did a deep 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 rock before he did.
“Woah there!” it called.
“A little help, please! I’m about to fall.”
“Quite alright.” it answered.
Then Sheldon felt the round wrinkly head lift him up off the rocks and he fell to the rounded back of a sea turtle’s shell.
“Ah!” Sheldon shouted.
Sea turtles do not eat crabs, but it is a little known fact that they are rather shady characters who like to make deals with the desperate and needy. 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.
“Don’t worry, little buddy. I got you!” the sea turtle replied with an ironically anxiety-inducing calm.
“Oh my, I didn’t realize! I just wanted to see how to get over to that tower, you see, and, I slipped.” Sheldon shrugged, trying to pull of nonchalance.
“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 owing the turtle a favor, was letting him know of yet another need.
“I might be able to help you with that.” The turtle purred 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 Sheldon already knew, how much he wanted to get to the light.
“I suppose you’d rather me set you back where you started then?” the turtle inquired with devilish understanding.
“No, I guess not.” Sheldon sighed. He was trapped, stuck by the crook of the sea turtle. This was going to cost him.
“It’s going to cost, you know.” The sea turtle concurred. “Since you owe me a favor, I hope you wouldn’t be so crass as to haggle over a price. 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 waves crashing surrounded Sheldon once more, but his time he was pretty sure it was more of the sea turtle’s 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 the turtle deposited Sheldon back on the craggy outcropping of rocks and waited as Sheldon started to unpack his shell. Sheldon looked up at the light and realized once again that what he had might be the only thing between him and the light. Each possession of his came out slowly as he placed them on the craggy edges of the cliff. The steep overhang of the rocks above the strait of water gave them a little protection from the waves and Sheldon displayed all his possessions to the rapacious view of the turtle paddling easily in the tide.
First out 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 out a bit of food the tasty smells would float to his nose 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 together in a large lumpy clump balancing the barnacle scraper and brush on top of all. The turtle nodded his assent and paddled closer to the edge of the cliff to carry Sheldon across as they had agreed.
Sheldon stretched forth his fore claw but he only clawed at the air, inches above the safe shelf of the turtle’s back. He scuttled a little closer to the edge and tried again, his claw still reaching out but not far enough.
“You’ll never make it with all your claws settled on the ground! If you want to reach my back, you’re going to have to jump.” He sounded impatient for the deal to be done.
Breath came shallow to Sheldon’s lungs now. His heart began to pump faster and air seemed to rush in and out without bringing 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 curved edge of the turtle’s back and into the tumultuous sea. He would drown that way.
As he realized this, his breath came back all of a sudden and he inhaled in big gusts of air as he prepared to remove this one last thing, his last piece of security. He wiggled himself out of the shell and set it down beside the pile of his possessions 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, his heart racing pleasantly for the first time in the single 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 them. But, true to his word, the turtle brought him safely across and deposited him at the base of the tower. As he turned away, the turtle yelled back to Sheldon.
“Hope you find what you hoped for!” he yelled, shaking his head. Then he was gone, lost in the charging waves.
Sheldon could only hear the part about hope, but the meaning seemed to melt in the misty air so he turned back and stared at the surface of the tower rising above his eyesight, seemingly unending.
To say the climb was difficult would be rude. It was a feat of monumental proportions for the tiny crab Sheldon. He found himself rethinking his decision 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 with renewed strength. He felt himself needing it, the light, a thing to struggle toward. He had nothing else. So he kept believing; kept working. 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’d had no plan for this, no way back, no idea what to do now. Except for the overwhelming feeling of failure, Sheldon’s only feeling was hunger. Excessive, self-consuming, hunger. All that exercise had worked up a real appetite He realized he couldn’t stay here. There was nothing at all for him here.
That voice, from before, was right Sheldon thought aloud. The thought woke him from his apathy and he found himself brushing himself off.
The voice had mentioned a tide pool nearby, he remembered. With an upsurge of joy, Sheldon stood up, determined to make it through this after all. He had made his way across the whole expansive bay 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, made his way back down. When he reached the rocks, the tide had risen, just as he’d previously feared, but he refused to be stopped now, tide or no.
The channel was no longer an option, the turtle nowhere in sight, and besides, he had nothing left to give up. To his right stretched an expanse of rock he had been impatient and unwilling to traverse before. Now he knew the only road back lay across those rocks.
He scuttled on, 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. He scampered across every rock, hopping recklessly across the cracks and caverns below, throwing caution to the sea. If he didn’t reach the other side in time he would fall into the bay anyway.
Little by little the waves rushed closer, spraying him with mist growing to large drops of falling saltwater. 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 filling every nook and cranny.
Sheldon stared, dumbfounded.
“Through here.” A voice called.
Sheldon started, looking all around him, but didn’t see a thing.
“Here!” the voice called.
Sheldon recognized the voice from before. As he did, 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 bored through the rock to the other side of the channel, nearly invisible from his side. He climbed in, narrowly escaping the second wave that ripped 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 that tide pool’s not far from here.”
“You’re that voice, from before!” 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 there. It’s sheltered by the grouping of rock.” The snail replied.
“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?”