Torqua the Terrapin - A short story
Torqua the terrapin was in trouble. He could feel the swipe of the sharks fin, cutting through the water, sending loud shock waves into the terrapin’s ear. He could smell blood, feel fear, but he couldn’t look round. If he looked round, he’d have to slow down.
He didn’t dare to do that.
Torqua needed to get to the shallows, where the beach touched the ocean, and to do that he had to swim faster than the tide. Every stroke of his fins was an effort, his muscles screamed at him to stop, but his fear made him continue. And then he saw it. The ocean floor! Coming, slowly, nearer and nearer the surface.
But the sound of the shark powering through the ocean terrified him. The ocean was still too deep. Torqua knew that he was about to die, when the teeth of the shark came within a few inches of his feet, when he swerved to the left, then to the right. But the shark had been designed by nature as a killing machine.
The shark would rend his flesh, and in a few seconds he would die.
And then the world changed,
Torqua felt the hands grabbing him, lifting him up into the air. The humans were the ugliest he had ever seen in his life. Torqua struggled, but it did him no good. He was shoved into a dark hold, and the door shut, plunging him into night. The water started vibrating, like nothing that had ever happened to Torqua. All he wanted to do was return to his home. The ocean, its calm rhythmical whooshing through his ears as waves beat on distant shores.
Time passed slowly, but finally the door of the hold opened, and a human grabbed it and shoved it into a cage. A few drops of water, but no food, no ocean. He was put on the back of a car, the shuddering engine making a dull thudding sound, and the journey took close to forever. All Torqua could do was put his head to the glass container, bang weakly against it, trying to escape.
A human, dressed in a large blue shirt, put his arm to the container, and carried it with a grunt, up towards a white washed brick bungalow, though a path that was bordered by long untidy grass, and then through the door.
A few seconds after the cage was put down, a hand pushed through the top, carrying food. The hand came too close to Torqua, who was terrified, and bit it. It tasted of salt, and smelled like oil. Diesel. There was a low rumbling sound from the human, who sucked his hand, and sounded angry.
All Torqua wanted was to be free.
Later that day some children came into the house, but the older human growled at them, a low booming growl, and the children stayed away from Torqua’s cage. He circled the glass walls of the cage, occasionally banging his head against it in order to try to get through. Eventually one of them brought a rock, and Torqua lifted his body against the cage, and tried to climbed up the walls.
Some food was dropped into the cage. It wasn’t like Torqua’s usual food, but he ate, and was glad.
The next morning, a giant hand came into his cage, and grabbed him. Torqua kicked his legs, trying to get away from the beast, but it carried him across the room, outside into a wire metal cage. He was deposited in the cage, and felt sharp grass touching his feet. He examined the walls of the cage, inch by inch, finding no holes to crawl through. The sun beat down onto his skin, all he wanted was to get back into the water, but the purgatory continued. Some times, the children would come right up to the cage. One time, the male put his fingers through to touch Torqua. He felt a rush of fear roaring through his body. His teeth swiped the air just a few seconds to late to bite his tormentor.
What will happen to me? He thought.
Torqua didn’t know the human father was thinking the same thing. In the kitchen, he was making his wife a brew of good coffee, looking over at her beautiful face, trying to work out how he could have got so lucky.
“What will we do with the terrapin?” he asked her.
She paused for a few minutes, “I told you it was a bad idea.” She said.
“Bill owed me the money. If I didn’t take the terrapin, we’d never have got anything back.”
His wife didn’t say it, and he was grateful for that. But he remembered her telling him not to do the work. That Bill was not good for the money.
“We’ll try to sell it.”
“And the kids?” the man asked.
“They don’t like it anyway, dear, it bites. They want a kitten.”
The father picked up a carrying case, and walked over to the terrapin. He put it in the case, where it was dark, and smelled faintly of cabbage. Once more, Torqua felt the vibrations of the car. This time as the man put his hand in to pick him out, he bit.
What followed was a mad chase. Torqua ran across the floor, faster than some people would imagine possible. One human followed him one way, the other another way, trying to edge him into a corner. But he was too smart for them. Finally, he was exhausted. A human jumped on him. He bit into the flesh, drawing salty red blood.
The pet shop owner shook his head, “This one is too much trouble. He’ll never become tame.”
“What can we do about it.”
The pet shop owner shook his head, was quiet for a second. “What do you think you should do with him?” and then smiled. The grin was lopsided, like he thought the answer was obvious. Then he grabbed Torqua behind his back, noticing the terrapin was trying to turn his head to bite him, and plopped him back into the carrier case.
This time the journey didn’t take as long. Torqua was amazed when the human dumped him onto a grassy verge. He was on his back, waving his legs furiously to right himself. The human got into his car, and drove away. Leaving Torqua all alone, in the dark. Torqua didn’t know where to go, but he a started walking. If he walked downhill, he knew he would reach a stream eventually.
The concrete path hurt his feet, and the smell of gas from the road was unbearable, but Torqua continued to walk, feeling completely determined.
Torqua found the sounds in the grass verges scary. He heard screaming, and snuffling, and even rustling. But, despite that, he continued walking along the pavement. Sometimes he was blinded by the headlights of trucks as they sped past him. Soon, he got the feeling that something was looking at him. Watching him. He strained to hear the quiet noises behind him, then realised that they were footsteps.
Behind him, whatever was following him started to bark. He thought there were more than one of them. It didn’t take long for the hard surface to harm his fins, as he scraped them along the ground. Suddenly, he could see the creatures chasing him. They were howling, and Torqua did the last thing he could thing of. He retracted into his shell.
He could feel them rocking him, from side to side. A paw scrabbled into the shell, but it didn’t quite touch Torqua’s fin.
The squeal of a car stopping made the foxes turn and run. The human walked out, picked the terrapin up, and put him in the back of the truck. After a few moments, Torqua pulled his head out, and looked at him. He was dressed in a blue check shirt, with a beard. Torqua was relieved but also scared at the same time. After a while, the driver stopped at a garage. He slammed the door shut behind him, and Torqua started climbing towards the edge of the car sear. When he got there, he breathed in deeply for a moment, trying to calm down the panic. Then he threw himself from the edge.
Torqua tumbled down, hit the floor of the car. There was a strange, soft substance. He brought himself right up to the edge of the cold door, and waited. Soon enough, the door opened, and the man leaned across to take a box from the back.
Torqua jumped again. He ended up on a concrete floor, and scuttled away. Above him, the man was busy taking the box out of the car, and didn’t notice.
“Hey, mum! There’s a tortoise!”
People were shouting in surprise, and Torqua knew it was the time to run. He pounded down the concrete, towards a bush. Behind him, he could hear laughter, people chasing him. He reached the bush just soon enough, and hid himself under cover. Then, he crawled along, through branches, past bramble that scratched his legs. Finally, he was alone.
He walked through the verge, where long grass and bushes hid him from the road. Torqua was so hungry he tried to eat some of the grass, but he had to spit it out again. It was horrible. He walked downhill. Eventually, he heard the sound of bubbling water, white water. He turned his head slowly, looking for it. There was a concrete bridge. It must be under that, he thought. For the first time that evening, he started to feel more purpose, more sure that this nightmare must end.
Torqua crawled down the steep bank, and saw the waters edges, covered with reeds. He thrust his head through, and plopped into the water. For a little while, he darted through the water, playing, but then his stomach told him it was time to get on. With powerful swipes of his fins, he glided through the water, heading downstream.
At first the water was fresh, but soon he could taste the salt. The stream had widened until it was larger – a river – and above him he could hear the sounds of propellers tearing through the water. Torqua felt scared, he knew that the creatures would easily tear through his body.
He saw some seaweed he recognised, and swam towards it, eating it in large chunks. It tasted like salty lettuce, delicious. For the first time in a long time, he felt happy.
Behind him, he heard something big swimming, large gets of water rippling towards him.
He looked around, and saw the snake. Then, he started swimming towards the depths of the river. It was dark here, and cold, but he could out swim the snake as long as he didn’t get caught in seaweed. Behind him, the snake was swimming as fast as it could, but eventually it slowed down.
Torqua could taste the salt in the water more strongly now. He could hear the rhythmical sound of the waves above him. He surfaced, looked up at the start of the ocean. The joy he was feeling was huge, but with fast swipes of his fins, he knew he’d done it.
He was finally home.