I never went boating when upset. At least, that’s what I told myself as my boat’s prow sliced the water, skimming over the frothing waves. After all the sea turtles I’d treated with Gramps, all the torn flippers and split shells from collisions with careless boaters, I swore I’d never put one in danger myself. But some days, the best life philosophies and most sincere promises can’t keep you away from the ocean. Especially when it’s the only place your nagging sister won’t follow you.
So when the boat’s hull clunked against something hard in the water, the propeller hiccupping a beat, it knocked the bold thoughts right out of my head and out to sea.
I cut the motor, letting the boat coast to a stop in the water. Rushing to the stern, I leaned out the back and scanned the waves behind the slowing propeller. A mushroom of red blossomed below. It hovered a moment, then began to sink.
That did not just happen.
I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket, racing through my contacts. George was an hour away in Grace Port, and Dad was out of the question. So, swallowing a lump, I scrolled down the list and speed-dialed Anna.
She answered in three seconds.
“Anna, meet me at the beach. By the old boat access.” I didn’t elaborate. Snapping the phone shut, I plunged into the water, shoes and all.
My mouth filled with the taste of saltwater and blood. In the murk under the surface, I felt rather than saw the barnacled shell of a turtle, wide as a steering wheel and slick with algae. I braced myself for the beat of flippers, the struggle of a frantic turtle, but none came. No thrashing head, no gnawing beak. Instead, I did my best to kick upward and shove her toward the light.
I broke the surface with the turtle. She was heavy, but she bobbed out of the water easily enough—must be suffering from floating syndrome. I lifted her—or maybe him, I couldn’t tell—out of the water, glancing over her shell to assess her condition. Bad idea. My hands trembled when I saw the gash, her carapace cracked in two by the propeller, the wound awash in blood and waves. I saw the damage I’d done, a sight so brutal it made me sick. I’d killed her, I knew it. It didn’t take an expert in turtles to tell that.
But as I brought her toward the boat, desperate to save at least her dead body, I felt a rush of hope as her flipper slapped against me.
Glancing toward the shore, I scanned for Anna. There, in the lot by the beach, I saw her standing in front of her car as if she’d been waiting for me this whole time. Sometimes her quick reactions scared me. Propelling myself out of the water, I waved my arms over my head and yelled until she spotted me.
I wasn’t far out, only a brisk swim’s distance from shore. Upon seeing me, Anna kicked off her shoes and charged into the waves, starting freestyle when it got deep, eyes locked on me. A trained lifeguard, she reached me in no time.
“What should I do?” she asked when she reached the boat, flipping the hair out of her eyes. She stared at the bloody turtle, seeing one up close and critical for the first time.
“Help me get her into the boat,” I shouted, reaching for the ladder hanging over the port side. Scrambling up, I found the net Gramps kept onboard for emergencies and unfolded it. Throwing it to Anna, I leaned over the side of the boat, so close to the waves they stung my face as I stroked the turtle’s flipper.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Stop being sorry and help me,” Anna said. The turtle had stopped moving again, and I wondered if I’d imagined the slap. Anna tucked the net under the turtle, tossing the corner back to me. I held tight as she climbed into the boat, then helped me lift the two-hundred pound animal up over the side to safety. We never could have done it, if the turtle weren’t so sickly thin.
“Aren’t you supposed to call somebody?” Anna asked as I draped a damp towel over the turtle to keep her wet. Staring at the animal, still as death and headed that way, I knew I should call wildlife control. She needed help. She needed a doctor. But what would the authorities say when they realized I was the one who’d hit her?
“Never mind.” Anna snatched the phone from me. “I’ll do it. You drive.”
Stumbling to the steering wheel, I started the motor and sped away.
Wildlife control was waiting for us by the time we reached the boat access. I smashed the side of the dock as I steered into port, jumping out as the rescuers in their uniforms hopped into the boat and began to unload the turtle. They took their time in checking her condition, assessing the damage even as she bled before them. On deck, Anna talked to the rescuer with the clipboard, filling him in on what few details she knew. She didn’t mention I was the one driving (mistake number one) or that I’d jumped into the water (mistake number two) or that I’d handled a member of a threatened species, tried to save her myself when I knew I ought to leave it to the professionals. If that didn’t spell negligence, I didn’t know what did.
“We’ll take it from here,” the lead rescuer said. He opened the metal doors of the rescue van as members of his team loaded the turtle. She still wasn’t moving. I watched, motionless, as the uniformed rescuers climbed into the van. As they reached to pull the doors closed, I snapped into action.
“Take her to Grace Port University,” I yelled. “They have an operating room.”
What our judges had to say:
There is a maturity to the way you tell a story that is very appealing. And, the scene with the turtle…I haven’t read anything like it. So major points for originality.
Beautifully written! This one stayed in my mind as one of my favorites from the start. It's not the fastest paced story in the world, but the writing is beautiful and descriptive. The author did a great job of layering the piece with a lot of emotion without being manipulative.
This excerpt has a lovely pace and your mc's panic was palpable. Good job.