by Hannah Montine
Finnigan wanted the weight of a world on his back. It was his right, his responsibility, his entire reason for existence as a Cosmic Turtle. Why couldn’t Grandfather Bumi understand that?
“I do understand, Finn,” Grandfather said. Being several billions of years old, his intuition into the thoughts of others was all but omniscient. “Nonetheless, you are young and growing still. A world is a tremendous weight to place on a young turtle’s back. We would not want you to crack under the pressure of Soul Seeds planted too soon.”
Hmph, thought Finnigan. Was not a world a tremendous weight to place on an old turtle’s back? And yet Grandfather swam swift and strong through the eternal sea of stars, carrying a world of shining skyscrapers. Tiny aircrafts driven by tinier mecha-humanoids trafficked that skyscraper world.
Finnigan wanted that with every fiber of flesh and shell: to safeguard fragile lives, to whisper wisdom into their dreams, and skirt them safely around the fathomless depths of black holes.
Hadn’t he already proven he could cultivate an acceptable habitat, even if the flora was limited to various shades of, erm, pink? If Grandfather had his way, Finnigan would be ancient before he was granted permission to spawn even a bunny. He didn’t want to be old and wrinkled with only a bunny to show for his efforts.
Grandfather chuckled a deep, rolling chuckle. “Be patient, Finn, be patient. Worlds are not built in a day.”
Finn didn’t have time for patience. He wanted a world of his own, and a world of his own he would have, so there.
* * *
Every decade or so, Turtles visited the Vault of Souls to acquire Soul Seeds for a new generation.
When the time came, Finn zoomed alongside Grandfather. “Let me fetch your new Seeds this time, Grandfather.”
“Now, Finn. Securing Soul Seeds is a tremendous responsibility—”
“Yes, yes, I know. How better am I to learn?”
Thoughtful silence fell. Something twinkled in Grandfather’s eyes. Stardust, maybe. “How better indeed.”
The interior of Finn’s sunset-pink shell tingled with excitement. But he mustn’t get ahead of himself. He mustn’t think about his brilliant idea, because if Grandfather heard—
Swim, don’t think.
Although Grandfather needed only four thousand souls, Finn swam to the Vault Keeper, an ancient turtle with a neck two times too long, and requested, “Four thousand and one, please.”
The Vault Keeper squinted at him. “No odd numbered requests permitted. Thank you.”
“What? There is no such rule.”
“Yes, there is.”
“No, there isn’t.”
“See here, young hatchling, you are Bumi’s grandturtle, and Bumi only ever procures four thousand seeds. Thus, four thousand and one is an odd number.”
“Yes, I see what you mean.” Finn slapped his fins against his shell. Old turtles and their rules. What could he say to move things along? Oh yes! “Grandfather needs extra because one of his clankers short circuited, you see. It started shrieking “Incinerate!” and blasting its fellows to smithereens. It was a horrible business. He doesn’t like talking about it.”
“Oh? Really?” The Vault Keeper’s squint turned suspicious.
Finnigan scrunched his neck to make himself as small and innocent as possible.
Finally, the Vault Keeper unlocked the tremendous vault atop her shell and measured out four thousand and one seeds. She scooped them into a bag and finned them over with a stern glare. Fin peeked between drawstrings. Each seed was tiny, warm, and pulsing with its own inner light.
“Do remind Bumi he has only a year to return any damaged seeds for recycling,” said the Vault Keeper. “Next!”
Inside, Finnigan cackled with glee. He executed a tailspin, shedding stardust from his fins. His great idea was working!
* * *
Planting a new generation required concentration. So much concentration that Finnigan encouraged Grandfather to shut his ancient eyes and allow the currents of time and space to carry him along while he attended to details.
“I’ll wake you if the universe combusts or something,” Finnigan promised.
“And are you expecting a combustion of some sort?”
“Um, no.” He thought hard about the opposite of combustibles. “I only thought you would enjoy the shut eye.”
“Such touching concern for my old eyes. I’ve never known you to be so considerate, Finn.” Grandfather smiled the smile of an old dodderer who knew far too much.
Finnigan fought the itch to shrivel into his shell like a hatchling. Instead, he stretched his neck long and proud. “What dutiful grandturtle doesn’t concern himself over his grandfather?”
Grandfather hummed thoughtfully, and with one last stroke of his time-etched fins, shut his eyes and drifted.
Finnigan counted ten heartbeats before breathing a sigh of relief.
On my own at last, he thought. Time to cultivate a habitat and dust off the soul recipes.
He turned his mind inwards, seeking the creative core that beat at the heart of all Cosmic Turtles. First, he must cultivate an atmosphere within a protective dome. The dome swelled bubble-like from his shell, glistening with faint rainbow light. Next came a turquoise sky and frothy pink clouds.
Pink, why was it always pink?
Taking a deep mental breath, Finnigan exhaled a honey scented breeze into the dome, making clouds tumble. He woke fields of silver-blue grass. Trees sprouted: trunks ivory, fluffy pastel leaves dancing in the wind.
Pastel? Fluffy? Pah. He’d sort it later.
Finnigan hacked out riverbeds and squeezed cyan raindrops from the clouds. Air, water, food, blah, blah, blah. These things were but empty trappings without the real prize.
At last, the Soul Seed.
He rolled his seed between his forefins, reveling in the faint thump thump of life within. How to begin? Some turtles nurtured their humanoids from seedling to sentient flesh over a tedious length of years. Others flung their seedlings to life with a dramatic boom.
Finnigan did love a good boom, but Grandfather was far from deaf. Quietly, he retrieved an ancient scroll from the depths of his shell. He unrolled it, skimming various recipes he’d collected over the years.
Domestic Bunny. Every young turtle owned this most basic of recipes. Boooring. He skimmed on. Murderous Mosquito, Stripey Tiger. Aha! Creative Humanoid.
Ten seeds a piece! Surely humanoids were not that complex. Ugh, he had only one seed. Maybe a bunny was the only-
Wait. Whoever said he had to use just one recipe when a dab of Cosmic Strength Goop could fuse two species into something new?
Invigorated by his brilliance, Finnigan conjured ingredients from both recipes and got to work. In went Humanoid Figure, a Quart of Inquisitiveness, followed by Cuddly Cotton Tail, Twitchable Nose, and Essence of Hop. For color he added a splash of Liquid Rainbow, because a common gray bunny-humanoid would look very queer amidst the predominant pink of his habitat.
Between his fins, the seed floated like a tiny planet, ingredients swirling around before fusing with bright pops of light. Soon it spun too fast to follow.
Wait till Grandfather sees this, thought Finnigan with a snicker. As soon as the seed sprouted, he’d show Grandfather exactly how ready he was to be a proper Cosmic Turtle.
Gently, he planted his seedling in a lush little garden, and watched, and waited.
* * *
Three galaxies later, Finnigan was tired of waiting. How long did it take soul seeds to sprout? Grandfather’s new generation had popped into existence twenty stars ago!
He debated the risk of swimming within eavesdropping range of Grandfather for about two seconds before zooming to catch up.
“Ah, Finn. How is your flora pigmentation problem coming along?”
“Still pink.” Finnigan had explained his new habitat away as an experiment to improve color variation. “Grandfather, how do you make your seeds grow so fast?”
Stroke, stroke, languid stroke went Grandfather’s fins. His eyes slipped closed and he hummed beneath his breath.
Why was Grandfather falling asleep again? He just woke up!
“I am not sleeping, Finn. I am listening.”
“No, you aren’t. I asked you a question.”
“Yes, but did you wait for an answer?” One of Grandfather’s dark eyes opened. “Every seed is unique. Some require sunlight. Some require cold. You must listen attentively in order to interpret their wants and needs from dreams.”
“Isn’t there a faster way to make seeds grow faster?” Finnigan huffed. But then a magnificent idea struck. “Wait. You do more than listen through dreams. You communicate through dreams. You could command a seedling to grow faster!”
Grandfather gave a thunderous laugh. The skyscrapers in his dome shuddered. Tiny sirens shrieked, “Warning, warning, earthquake!”
“What’s so funny?” Finnigan smacked his fins together. His idea wasn’t silly.
“You must understand, Finn: commands never go quite as we Turtles expect. Dreamspeak is a wibbly wobbly business. Your intention suffers much from interpretation, which is why gentle nudges are best.”
Gentle nudges my tail, thought Finnigan. Grandfather was simply jealous of his genius.
Again, Grandfather laughed, and the little sirens wailed, “Warning, warning, aftershock!”
* * *
Every chance he got, Finnigan shouted, “Grow, grow, grow!” into the haze of his seedling’s dreams. Every time he did, a new bunny aspect sprouted.
First came a pair of mottled rainbow bunny ears. They swiveled. They twitched. They kept beat as Finnigan hummed a tune of encouragement. Next, a nose popped through the topsoil, followed by a furry head. Mostly bunny, but with a humanoid’s forward-set eyes.
The bunny twitched its nose, wiggled its shoulders, and lurched halfway out. Pausing, chest heaving, it plopped its chin on a pillow of flowers, and then seemed to realize those flowers belonged in its mouth.
“No snacking yet. You’re almost done!” Finnigan said.
Wiggle, wiggle, lurch, lurch. Harder and harder the bunny clamored. Finally, it burst forth, showering dirt and clumps of grass.
“Woohoo!” Finnigan did a tailspin. When he leveled out, his bunny was clinging upside down to a tree branch, wide-eyed and trembling. Oops. Maybe he should just clap from now on.
Gently, he ushered the bunny back to earth. It wobbled on kangarooish legs. He burbled a brook to tempt it toward water, and rubbed his fins in glee as it drank. At last he was a proper Cosmic Turtle. He couldn’t wait to show Grandfather.
“Grandfather, Grandfather,” he would say. “Behold, I made a bunny.”
And Grandfather would reply, “And where did you get the seed to make a bunny?”
Oh, right, thought Finnigan. Um. Maybe he wouldn’t tell Grandfather just yet. Although his bunny possessed a fully-furred adult body, it was still young. Young enough to be transplanted elsewhere if Grandfather deemed him an unfit caretaker.
Hmph, Finnigan would show him! He’d be the best caretaker ever! First, he blossomed a trail of honey-sweet flowers to guide the bunny into the rich heart of his garden. Here, sweet melt-on-the-tongue fruits dangled aplenty. Veggies flourished amidst wildflowers. Fountains gushed aquatic music. His bunny lacked nothing.
* * *
For a bunny that lacked nothing, the bunny moped a lot. Oh, it nibbled fruits. It munched veggies. It sat on pebbled shores and splashed in the water. But it also spent hours kneeling in front of everything from trees, to flowers, to each individual blade of grass, and squeaking. Stranger still, it sat there waiting as if expecting the stupid plants to squeak back. When they didn’t, its ears flopped low, its cottontail sagged, and it moped around, sighing and plucking petals off flowers. Finnigan had worked hard on those flowers! Why was the bunny destroying them?
Stars. What if I got a damaged seed?
How to tell? For all he knew, sighs and flower mutilation were a normal side effect of combining bunnies with humanoids.
Growling under his breath, Finnigan kicked off in the direction of grandfatherly humming.
“Back again, Finn? Has the universe combusted after all?” Grandfather cruised along the gravitational currents of a balmy star, warming his new seedlings.
Aha, thought Finnigan, there’s a sneaky way onto the topic.
“If anything’s combusting, it’s your seedlings.”
“You’re awfully close to that star, Grandfather. Aren’t you worried your seedlings will get damaged?”
He gestured to where a mecha-man sat on a rooftop, gazing absently at a blank metallic canvas. Click, whirr went its steely forefinger, reconstructing into a laser-point pen.
“Oh, that’s merely an artist fishing for inspiration,” Grandfather said.
With a whirr, click, the mecha-man’s telescopic eyes extended, zooming in on the sky in Finnigan’s direction.
“Oooh, that cloud looks just like a turtle!” He began laser sketching a turtle-shaped cloud in a startling shade of pink.
Hmph. That clanker needed its visual wiring checked.
“Rest assured, Finn, everything is progressing as it should.”
“But how do you know?”
Grandfather opened one eye halfway. “I am a very old turtle. Very old turtles know everything.”
“Prove it. How many colors in a rainbow?”
“Where do Soul Seeds come from?”
“What’s the meaning of life?”
“Why would a soul sigh and mutilate flowers?”
“That is a difficult question,” Grandfather said. “Perhaps you could provide more context?”
“Um. Bunnies, for example.”
“Ah, yes, a fine example.” Something twinkled in Grandfather’s eyes again. “In bunnies, I suspect those are symptoms of loneliness.”
Loneliness? Really? It was so simple! Why hadn’t he thought of that?
“Well, it isn’t a thing we turtles think of often. We can swim to the edge of eternity and still meet fellow turtles traversing nearby. But imagine there were none. Imagine yourself the sole turtle in space.”
Pffft, no turtles, no rules. Sounds stellar.
But then Finnigan remembered the time he’d gotten lost in the Nebulous Nebula. No warm stars. No asteroids to race. No grandfathers to swim alongside. The vastness of space, alone, pressed upon him till he wanted to squish deep into his shell.
“Precisely,” Grandfather said. “Souls are not meant to be alone.”
Finnigan’s fins drooped. Sustaining another bunny was doable, but acquiring a second soul?
“Oh no!” shrieked the mecha-man in Grandfather’s dome. He leaped off his chair and dabbed desperately at a drool of molten metal. No use. “Ruined. Everything is ruined!”
He banged two fists against the canvas. That laser pen flared bright red.
Pew pew! Lasers streaked skyward, piercing clouds and pinging off Grandfather’s dome with a hiss and a sizzle.
“Um. Are you sure that clanker isn’t damaged?” Finnigan asked.
Grandfather sighed something about never again mixing laser-capable appendages with emotional artists.
Wait. That was it! Unstable, er, damaged seeds got recycled.
Slyly, Finnigan sidled close. “Maybe you should have The Vault Keeper take a look.”
Again, Grandfather sighed. “Edna is a galaxy out of the way now, Finn. It would take me days.”
“Pffft, it’d only take me half a day.”
Really, Grandfather got more stardust in his eyes than any turtle Finnigan knew.
“Very well, Finn. Thank you.”
A glow suffused the mecha-man, snuffing his moans. Up he floated, a wisp of light, morphing into a seed between Finnigan’s forefins.
Yes! Finnigan somersaulted in excitement.
* * *
Unfortunately, if planted straight away the seed would sprout unchanged, which meant Finnigan had to endure what felt like centuries waiting in line for the Vault Keeper. Why had he come at rush hour?
By the time his turn arrived, grumpy purple storm clouds churned inside his dome. “Tune up for Bumi, Mecha World.”
The Vault Keeper conjured narrow-rimmed spectacles perfect for glaring through. “You again.”
“Hmm. You are being uncommonly helpful to your elders of late.”
“Is it so hard to believe helpful might be my natural state?”
“Yes.” The Vault Keeper relieved him of the seed and busied herself inspecting it from every angle, unraveling it to peruse the genetic code, once, twice, thrice.
Finnigan’s purple clouds ballooned into giant magenta ones. “Could you hurry it along?”
“Rush begets ruin, hatchling. These sort of things may take days.”
“Days!” Lime lightning flashed. “Grandfather’s in a hurry.”
Slowly, The Vault Keeper tilted her spectacles at an accusing angle. “Is he? How very unlike him.”
Finnigan shut his mouth and rumbled internally until she finally did whatever she did and finned the seed over.
“Be sure this is returned to Bumi. Seeds reared by an Elder Turtle develop intrinsic traits that can react unpredictably outside their home environment.”
“Obviously. Where else would I deliver it?”
“Where else indeed,” said the Vault Keeper with a frown that suggested she had a very good idea of where.
“Thanks!” Finnigan swiftly retreated.
* * *
The Vault Keeper suspected him. She must. But did she suspect him enough to seek out Grandfather for confirmation? He couldn’t risk it.
After planting his second seed, Finnigan kept busy running errands for any irritating old turtle he could, in hopes of convincing her he was, in fact, naturally helpful.
“Are you feeling well, Finn?” Grandfather asked when Finnigan returned to his side wheezing and shaking in his shell.
“M’fine,” he managed. Errands usually did not exhaust him this much, but he was fine. After the eleventh time he delivered someturtle’s seeds for recycling, the Vault Keeper had ceased giving him suspicious looks and gone back to ignoring him.
“Why would Edna be giving you suspicious looks?”
Oops. Finnigan scrambled. “Oh, um, I keep pestering her to hurry and repair your seed.”
“There is no great rush, Finn. Are you certain you’re well? You look quite peaky.”
Finnigan opened his mouth to reply, but yawned instead. “Actually, I’m really tired. I think I’ll drift for a while.”
Eventually Grandfather swam on ahead. Finnigan hadn’t had a speck of time to himself during errands. He had missed the second bunny’s sprouting, though he knew the two had met: happy thumpity-thump-thumps jangled his shell.
Fatigue faded as Finnigan peeked into his bunnies’ world. He followed the sound of happy squeaks.
The mottled bunny splashed in a brook.
An answering squeak sounded from a treetop. Out bounced a pink bunny – dratted pink again! – and somersaulted into the water. Together, the bunnies splashed and played.
Excellent. Maybe now I can finally show—
Something else squeaked from a nearby bush. Out sprang a pint-sized bunny with chubby cheeks, followed by a second, followed by a third.
Wow! Second generation! Finnigan squealed with happiness. Just wait till Grandfather saw this. But first, he’d better cultivate more flora. No trouble. There were only five… eight… um, wow, eleven. He’d just—
Wait. How did his bunnies spawn a second generation independent of new soul seeds? That didn’t happen. Did it?
This conundrum nibbled at the back of his mind as he squeezed fresh rain from clouds and tickled tender greens to life. Baby bunnies ate a lot. By the time they finished one meal they were hungry for another.
This is exhausting, Finnigan thought, ushering a few last heads of cabbage into existence. Thank the stars replenishing flora could happen subconsciously, otherwise the bunnies might have starved before he found them. Maybe those errands weren’t what drained me, after all.
Once, he and Grandfather had passed a turtle that had given too much of itself to its world. Ice glazed its open eyes and glinted on every scale. What remained of its world lay buried in snow.
But that only happened to turtles too old and feeble to go on. He was young. He could manage thirteen bunnies.
* * *
Except when next he checked, a rainbow of bunnies frolicked everywhere: adults, tweens, babies. Argh! Why had he commanded them to grow faster?
Pew pew pew! A fluorescent beam seared through the canopy and singed Finnigan’s dome. Ouch! What now?
From deep in the garden, the pink bunny dragged a swath of leaves, stretched between sticks, into the pool of light created by murdering the canopy. There it sat, arms crossed, thumb stroking chin. Red flickered in its eyes.
Oh no. Is that—
Fzzzt! Lasers punctured the makeshift canvas, scorching tree trunks behind. The bunny jerked, glancing from ruined canvas to sizzling trees, and smiled a slow, buck-toothed smile. Up it bounced, knocking canvas aside, and began scorching pictographs of mecha-bunnies into every tree.
No! It’d set the garden aflame! Finnigan woke a lashing rain. Wind roared. Bunnies fled to their burrows. Even the pink bunny retreated, for now.
Oh, Stars. How am I supposed to handle a laser-eyed bunny?
Worse, as the bunnies drank, munched, and made merry, water levels sank. Trees dug deeper for nourishment. Tingles and aches pricked Finnigan’s fins, followed by cold, followed by numbness.
Within weeks, another generation joined the chaos, and every one of them possessed eyes of flickering red.
* * *
Even shriveled into the deepest, pinkest depths of his shell, Finnigan shivered. He’d spent thirty stars examining recipes for any reason his bunnies had super-productivity powers. Nothing. Plus the evil cotton-tails bounced all the time. They had all but jangled his bones to soup.
Neck aching, Finnigan poked his head out. “Yes, Grandfather?”
Concern wrinkled Grandfather’s wrinkles. “Are you still feeling poorly?”
Grandfather laid a leathery touch on Finnigan’s head. “Fine, indeed. Whatever are you doing to tax yourself so?”
Heat flushed him from the inside out. He couldn’t tell Grandfather now. Not with everything in chaos.
“Tell me what, Finn?”
Stars, he couldn’t even not think a thought properly.
“Um,” said Finnigan. Grandfather wore the attentive expression of one who would not swim away without answers. “Well. I have been researching.”
Grandfather’s worry-lines smoothed into grin-lines. “Still thinking of your own world, I see.”
“Just planning ahead. But, um, I think mine are defective somehow.”
He finned the recipe to Grandfather, hoping maybe Grandfather would notice something he missed. But after a brief perusal, Grandfather said everything seemed in order.
But something wasn’t in order!
“Now, now, Finn, no need to shout. This is a perfectly sound recipe. I’ve used it often myself to patch together minor hybrid species. Helps with speedy population.”
“Wait.” Finnigan un-tucked his fins and flapped them wildly. “What about soul seeds? You need soul seeds to populate!”
“Not for a beginner level species, Finn. See here.” With a loud clap of old forefins, Grandfather conjured two illusionary seedlings. He finned them into the shape of bunnies. They bounced together, producing a second boom, and then separated, slightly diminished in size and luminescence. As the glittering dust of the explosion cleared, a trio of baby bunnies wiggled to life. “Beginner level species sacrifice of themselves to forge a new life. That is why parents gray before the norm, you see.”
Finnigan did see. Worrywarts pebbled beneath his scales. “Um. How do you stop them from booming so much there’s no room left to boom in?”
Grandfather chuckled. “Leaping ahead yet again, are we? You’re too young to worry about population management. That comes decades into a successful seeding of species.”
“Now, less talk, more swim. We’re nearing Pandora’s Blackout, and I’ll not have you surfing the gravity tide this time, young hatchling. Such antics give an old turtle palpitations.”
Finnigan swam alongside Grandfather in a daze. Surf the gravity tide? He couldn’t even muster the strength for his signature tailspin.
* * *
Turtles swam along the outskirts of Pandora’s Blackout: adults carrying flourishing worlds, younglings who whooped as they surfed the gravity tides, and hatchlings riding atop their parents’ heads.
One youngling shouted, “Finnigan, come play!”
Oh no, he couldn’t be seen like this! Finnigan scrunched into his shell and darted behind Grandfather, who cast a bemused glance back at him.
“Playing hide and seek, Finn?”
“Not really,” he muttered.
Something sparkled in Grandfather’s eyes. “I do hate to see you glum. Very well. I suppose you may surf a smidgen. If you beat me to yonder dwarf star.”
At that, Finnigan perked. Grandfather never raced him anymore. He used to, back when Finnigan was too little to outrace the moon orbiting Grandfather’s dome. Since he’d gotten bigger, however, Grandfather rebuffed every plea for a race with the claim he had eaten enough stardust for one lifetime, thank you.
“But I always beat you,” Finnigan said.
“Always is not always as definite as you imagine.” Grandfather raised his voice. “Or are you worried an old turtle might best you?”
Other turtles glanced their way.
Oh-ho, so Grandfather was feeling frisky, was he? Ha. Finnigan tested his fins. He wiggled his tail. Excitement for a race, however brief, dulled his aches. Maybe a quick zoom across the gravity tides would invigorate him.
“Ready?” Asked Grandfather.
“Readier than you.”
Finnigan kicked off, pumping hard and fast. Naturally he shot into the lead. Stars blurred on his right. The Blackout loomed dark on his left. Turtles cheered in the distance.
Here comes the gravity tug. The first wave yanked him so hard his joints popped. He wobbled. He flattened his fins out. Whew. Better.
Another pull jerked him askew. Stars spun. No! Pounding his left fins, he leveled out, panting. Why was this so hard? Bunnies didn’t weigh that much.
With a slow thwump of tremendous fins, Grandfather glided alongside him. “What’s all this huffing and puffing, Finn? Did you eat too many starfish earlier?”
“No.” How had Grandfather caught up to him? Grandfather never caught up to him.
Grandfather chuckled and stole the lead. “Come along, Finn, stop dilly dallying.”
Hmph! Telling me not to dilly dally. I’m the fastest turtle around.
“Finn, what are you doing? That is the wrong direction.”
What? No it wasn’t. He was swimming straight after Grandfather. He pumped his weary fins in a rapid swooomph-swoomph guaranteed to propel. Despite this, Grandfather’s lead grew, and grew, even when he flared his fins wide for a sudden halt.
Gravity snagged Finnigan at his core. Jerk, release, jerk, release. Oh no. Behind him now, the black hole yawned larger than before. Fear zapped his nerves. He kicked harder. But the tide dragged him back, back, back.
“Finn!” Grandfather pivoted sharply. The skyscrapers in his dome shrieked the shriek of tortured metal. “Dive to the side.”
Finnigan tried. He lurched right. He lurched left. Gravity snapped him back again and again. Painful crrrracks split a tiny patch of his shell. Shrill bunny squeals rang from his dome.
“I can’t.” He panted. “It’s too strong.”
Every black hole horror tale he’d ever heard popped into his head: tales of turtle’s shredded to fleshy lumps, of broken worlds and darkness and death.
“Grandfather!” Finnigan cried.
Grandfather charged faster than a meteor, so tremendous he eclipsed entire constellations. The shocking ba-ba-ba-ba-boom of his fins flung bolts of stardust into space.
He’s going too fast to stop. We’ll both get sucked in!
Grandfather slammed his fins wide as he whooshed by beneath. Had he overcompensated? Was he lost to the hole?
“Not at all, Finn. Rest easy. I’ve got you.”
Something bumped the underside of his shell. He peeked. Grandfather swam beneath, supporting him as he had not done since Finnigan was a hatchling freshly climbed from the Shores of Time.
Finnigan had never been so happy to feel like a hatchling. He draped trembling fins over Grandfather’s head. No doubt his bunnies were quaking in their burrows. His trembles lingered even when they reached calm space amid cheers from surrounding turtles.
“What happened, Finn?” Grandfather’s slow rumble was a massage to a jittery soul. “You’ve never been caught in a gravity tow before.”
“Oh Grandfather.” Finnigan hunkered deep into his shell where his voice echoed. He couldn’t lie anymore. He didn’t want to. “It’s these dratted bunnies! First there was one, then there were two, then they just went boom and multiplied by the billions! I can’t sustain them all. I tried, but I can’t. They’ve sapped my strength and cracked my shell.”
“Hmm. And how did you acquire a billion bunnies?”
Finnigan explained everything: how he had failed as a Cosmic turtle, as a caretaker, and as a grandturtle.
“Well, I’m not pleased, Finn. Not in the slightest.”
Finnigan flushed so pink the inside of his shell glowed. This wasn’t how he’d wanted his bunny reveal to go.
“Nor I,” said Grandfather. “But I am glad you finally told me.”
“Wait.” Finnigan poked his head out and gaped upside-down at Grandfather. “You knew?”
“I am a very old turtle, Finn. Very old turtles know everything. Now, let’s get your shell patched up. You will apologize to the Vault Keeper. No ‘buts,’ you will do so. Then you can drift and listen while an old turtle learns you a few lessons.”
Hope sprang to life.
“You can fix me? And my bunnies?” He didn’t even mind if the pink ones stayed pink and laser-capable so long as they weren’t so many.
“Yes, Finn. We can fix you both.”
* * *
Apologizing was not Finnigan’s favorite activity.
The Vault Keeper eyed him severely over her spectacles. “Well, I hope you’ve learned your lesson, young hatchling. There is good reason worlds are not built in a day.”
“So a wise turtle once said.” Grandfather shared a conspiratorial eye twinkle with the Vault Keeper. Finnigan felt quite ganged-up-upon.
Once patched up, however, he felt as light as light!
“Woohooo! I’m alive!” He did a triple tailspin and moon-walked around a meteor. No aches! No pains! Watch out, universe, Finnigan Turtle was back in action!
“Come now, Finn. Time for a lesson.”
“Coming!” said Finnigan, and abandoned action. He drifted quietly as Grandfather detailed recipes for plants to calm the bunnies and weather cycles to increase the growth of habitat. There was much to learn, but Finnigan listened in rapt attention and did everything Grandfather said, as slowly as Grandfather said, because he had no desire to experience anything like that bunny epidemic ever again.
* * *
About the Author
Hannah Montine hails from South Carolina, and every sweltering summer, dreams of migrating to Alaska. Much of her life has involved living and working on one type of farm or another. She is a human jukebox, a savior of overly-adventurous lizards, and a graduate of Odyssey Writing Workshop.