2010 Totem Head Story Contest Winner: "Go Fish" By Emily.
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Story Title: Go Fish

So there I was, eating aardvark casserole and playing a deadly game of Go Fish inside a boat surrounded by Great White sharks.  Had Captain Slash just asked for a four of spades?  Or was it hearts?  I spit out tough piece of aardvark and the ship’s iguana gobbled it up, then gave me a sideways look as if to say, "What’s that ten-year-old girl doing here?"

It had been surprisingly easy to find myself in such a predicament.  I had been on a safari with a bunch of loud obnoxious tourists who clearly didn’t appreciate the savannah the way I did, when my guide accidentally ran over an aardvark with the tour vehicle.  "I know CPR!" I cried, leaping out of the jeep and running to the side of the small creature.  Unfortunately, it was too late—for both the aardvark, and for me to rejoin the tour.  Apparently, while I was doing mouth-to-mouth on roadkill, the guide decided it was time to leave and forgot to warn me.

Either that, or he knew about the aardvark-people.

There I stood: innocent me, holding a dead aardvark, lost in the African Savannah, facing fifty angry aardvark-lovers bent on having a ritual sacrifice by the end of Aardvark Week.  I never stood a chance.

So, when I was tied to a pole and roasting over a bonfire (still hanging on to the aardvark), and a boatload of pirates came to pillage and took me away with the rest of their plunder, I was in no place to argue.

And that led me here: across the table from Captain Slash, a roguish fellow with a dark scowl and gold-capped teeth who smelled of briny ocean and potato chips.  At my feet was the unnervingly intelligent iguana, Steve.

"Yer turn, missy," growled the Captain.  "Remember, you lose Go Fish, and I’ll go fishing—with you as shark bait!"

"I remember," I sighed.  Now if only I could remember spades or hearts.

"Thanks for the aardvark, though," Slash said, patting his stomach with satisfaction.  "A nice break from fish."

"No problem.  If you let me go, I’ll be happy to provide you with more exotic delicacies—"

"The only way you’ll go free," Slash said, his head tilted so one eye glinted at me ferociously, "is if you win the game."

"Sure, sure," I said.  I can do this, I thought, trying to psych myself up for the ultimate test of my card-playing abilities.  I owed the Captain for rescuing me, so maybe he thought using me as protection against the sharks was a fair trade, and that my chances at cards were so slim, it wouldn’t hurt to play a few hands with me before tossing me overboard.  I could sense the great whites lurking around the ship, searching feverously for a young girl to devour.  Steve grinned up at me wickedly, like he was deciding which part of me the sharks should eat first.

"Two of clubs?" I asked.

Captain Slash let out a scratchy cackle. "Go fish!"

I scooped a card off the deck with shaking fingers.  The deck.  If I could get the Captain out there, maybe the sharks would run away in disgust at his vileness.  Alternatively they might decide that he smelled more appetizing than me.

"Captain, might I suggest we take a break and get some fresh air?"

He eyed me with suspicion.  "What’d ye want to go above deck fer?"

"Umm…" I searched for a good excuse.  Steve’s tail whipped against my leg.  "Steve!" I said triumphantly.  "He needs to, you know, go."

"Does he?" Slash leaned to peer under the table.  I saw my chance and took it!  Ripping the sword from Captain Slash’s scabbard, I scrambled on top of the table that tilted with the roll of the waves.  Brandishing my blade, I shouted, "No more shall you plague the seven seas, foul filth!  I demand my immediate release upon the shore, and you can go to the sharks!"

Slash’s surprise was evident.  For a long moment, he sat gaping.  Steve whimpered and slithered behind the pirate leader.  This wasn’t exactly the triumphant moment I had imagined adventure heroes having.  Where was the background music?  Where was the back-lighting that make me appear larger-than-life?  Why wasn’t my foe lying vanquished at my feet?

Then suddenly, a new sound broke in upon the crashing of the waves and the ominous splashing of the sharks.  A motor—another ship was here!  Perhaps I wasn’t going to be the hero in this little drama after all.  Someone might be coming to save me.  I jumped off the table, flew to the porthole, and threw it open.

"Ahoy there!" I shouted to the approaching vessel.  The captain stared in shock at seeing me a pirate’s prisoner and quickly pulled alongside.

"Alice!" the captain called.  She peered through the driving rain and wind over the sea that churned with angry fins.  How did she know my name?  "Alice, what are you doing with that kitchen knife?"

Kitchen knife?

"Come help me with these groceries, please."

Groceries?  Who could worry about groceries at a time like—

"Yeah, c’mon, Alice."  It was Captain Slash, but he had undergone an amazing transformation.  No longer was he decked out in pirate garb, but rather in jeans and a sweatshirt. He had no beard, no gold-capped teeth, and certainly no menacing scowl.  In fact, he looked a lot like my older brother, Dash.

"Um…"

"Don’t worry about taking out the garbage.  I was just kidding about how you had to beat me at cards to decide who takes it out.  You don’t owe me for saving you from those bullies."

I stared in disbelief at the piles of white trash bags that sneered in the shadows of the kitchen.  Playing cards to decide who takes out the garbage?  I thought we were talking about being ripped apart by vicious great white sharks.  Not great white trash bags.  As I numbly followed my brother out the porthole—which was actually a very normal front door—his words brought me back to reality.

I wasn’t on safari—I was on a school bus, surrounded by obnoxious children, not tourists. We hadn’t hit an aardvark, only a squirrel.  But still, I remembered trying to save the poor thing. It was a hopeless cause, and it had gotten me teased by the neighborhood bullies (not aardvark-loving cannibals).  And my big brother had come and saved me, only to demand that I do his chores in return unless I beat him at cards.

A warm body shuffled against my legs.  Steve, our pet dog.

I put the saber—oops, kitchen knife—away and grabbed some groceries out of Mom’s car (not a passing ship).  "Sorry Mom."

"Lost in daydreams again?"

I sighed.  "I thought this one was a real adventure.  I’m kind of getting tired of it always being normal life and remembering that I only imagine these adventures for myself."

Mom stopped, put down the paper bag of cabbage and buttermilk.  (Mom was not known for her amazing cooking skills, which was why our after-school snack, although not aardvark, was also not very good.)  She took my chin in her hand.  "Alice, honey, those adventures are just as real as ‘normal’ life.  You imagine them clearly right?"

I nodded.

"And you’re real, right?"

"Yeah…"

"Your thoughts and dreams are just as real as you are.  I think you have a great imagination…and a great sense of adventure!  What was it this time?"

"Pirates and aardvarks…" I mumbled.  Could I really enjoy my adventures if I knew they weren’t the same kind of real?  They certainly felt real at the time…

"Agent 003, take this important package!"

Huh?

My brother Dash was nowhere in sight, and neither were the grocery bags.  Instead, a mysterious man dressed all in black was handing me a brown paper package that looked suspiciously like it might be a bomb!  I took it from him and carefully unwrapped it, recovering the ticking bomb inside—it only looked like a cabbage.  That was a disguise.  "I have to get this inside the bunker!" I cried, slamming it inside the fridge.

Maybe imaginary adventures were just as cool after all.  It’s not every day you defeat a nefarious pirate and perform admirably as a super spy.  I grinned at my sidekick, Steve.  "Let’s get out of here, Agent," I said.  "Adventures await."

Written By:   Emily.






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