Authors: Susan Yaruta-Young
a mystery story for young teens
The Great Snapping Turtle Adventure
Copyright Â© 2015 by Susan Yaruta-Young
All Rights Reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any meansâelectronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwiseâwithout prior written permission from the publisher, except for the use of brief quotations for purposes of review.
For information about this title, contact the publisher:
615 N. Pinehurst Ave.
Salisbury MD 21801
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014957633
Printed in the United States of America
Cover and interior design: 1106 Design
Chapter illustrations: Laura Collins
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.
To Simeon Joseph Yaruta, who lived his life helping all understand the importance of environmental conservation. Dad, this story is dedicated to you.
HE ROAD TO THE
End of the World is seventeen miles long, through a marsh. It is a narrow road. If you should chance to meet a car or a truck, someone must give in, backing up to the nearest turnaround or neither driver can pass.
On both sides there is water, plants, and places where fish hide, crabs scurry, muskrats glide. Great white marshmallows bloom like sudden surprises. Past the reeds, a great blue heron will stand on one leg, admiring its reflection with small, yellow, blinking eyes. Then it will walk, as if on stilts. Sometimes, great gray snapping turtles amble across this oyster shell road, in search of new territories in which to lay their rubbery eggs.
End of the World, the perfect place for an adventure to begin.
NE MIDSUMMER'S DAY
, Max and Charles traveled down an oyster shell road to a small dot of land. On the Maryland map, it was labeled Elliott Island. But local folk had lovingly nicknamed it “End of the World.”
Fred, the boys' stepfather, had decided to take Max and Charles to the island for a day of crabbing. It was a day for “boys only.” Their mother and little three-month-old baby sister, Carrie, were not invited. Their older brother, Ralph, was away on another journey, a trip through New England in search of the perfect college.
“Are you sure this is a road?” asked Max. “Maybe we're on somebody's endless driveway.”
“No, I've been to the island before. You'll see,” said Fred, pulling off onto a tiny turnaround to let a rattling, rusty old pickup pass. The truck was filled with a tumbling pyramid of crab baskets.
“Phew! There goes a fortune in blue fins! Uptown in Baltimore those scrappy devils will sell for sixty dollars-plus a bushel,” Fred said.
“I don't see any crabs,” said Charles.
“In the baskets, Charles. Geez, you're dull! I thought you were supposed to be the gifted and talented one.” At 11, Max loved to put his younger brother in his place whenever possible.
“I saw baskets, not crab claws!” said Charles. At 8, Charles carefully followed the old adage, “seeing is believing.”
“Trust me, Charles, there were crabs in those baskets. I saw the smile on that waterman's face,” said Fred.
“A truckload of crabs at sixty dollars a bushelâ¦” Max squeezed his handy compact calculator out of the rear pocket of his jeans. “Think we might get us a bushel today, Fred?”
“Perhaps,” Fred said as he pulled the truck back onto the road.
“Let's seeâ¦we take in one bushel, to be on the safe side. We keep half that bushel to eat. We sell half, that's thirty dollars. Take out the price of our baitâ¦”
“It was three dollars!” interjected Charles.
“And the ten dollars to run my truck down here and back,” said Fred. “Also the forty dollars for the price of the inn where we'll spend the night, and twelve dollars a pop for each meal we eat, plus probably more tonight for supper.”
“Well, that puts us in the red. We have to catch more than one bushel to make any kind of profit.” Max put the calculator away with a sigh. He really didn't want to add up all those minuses. He was strictly profit-minded.
“Oh well, Max, look on the bright side,” said Fred.
“Crabs taste great and we're out for a more-than-money-can-buy experience.”
“Yeah,” said Max, settling back with a smile on his face.
“Can't wait!” piped Charles. “When are we going to finally get there?”
“Look!” said Fred, suddenly braking.
Both boys crammed together, their eyes following Fred's pointing finger.
Fred quickly brought the truck to a halt.
HERE IN THE BRIGHT SUN
â¦there in the middle of the narrow, glimmering white oyster shell roadâ¦ there, standing like a giant in a world filled with elves, a bird-like woman stood. Her wind-frazzled hair rose up like a cockatoo's topknot. Her round, gold-rimmed glasses made her eyes huge, like a great horned owl's. Her small beaked nose sloped like a pigeon's. From her parrot-colored house dress, one leathery brown arm extended in a perfect parallel to the ground. And in one little sharp claw-hand, she firmly held aâ¦.
“Snapping turtle!” exclaimed Fred.
“And it's a big one! Must be about twenty-five pounds!” Fred shook his head and set the emergency brake. “Come on, guys. Let's see what this is all about.”
They were all three out of the truck in a scrambling instant.
“Look-ee-here at this beauty! It was crossing the road right now and my dumb, over-growed son, over thereâ¦”âthe old woman gestured up the road to a man standing beside a bright yellow limoâ“â¦almost runned her over.”
Fred and the boys stared first at the old woman, then at the snapper, then at a grossly overweight, bald man who wore a Hawaiian shirt and sucked on a large, smelly cigar, then back to the old woman and her prize turtle.
“Ain't it a beaut?” asked the old woman.
Fred and the boys were not quite sure if she was referring to her son or the turtle.
“Aren't you afraid of him?” asked Max, staring at the monster turtle swaying at the end of her arm.
“Probably a her,” the old woman corrected.
“Yep. Hers come up round this time of year to lay their eggs.”
“On dry land. Only thing, ain't much land at all around here, only this road. Must be real frustrating for herâ¦trying to find the best place to put her babies down and finding hardly enough dust to leave a set of footprints in.”
“But aren't you afraid of her?” insisted Max. He looked at the end of each sturdy leg where a clenching foot flexed its sharp claws. He watched as the yellow eyes stared into his own with nary a blink. The great jaws that opened and closed were wide and round like a pair of razor-sharp hedge shears.
“Oh, she be one to respect. One to listen to. But me afraid of a snapper? No, honey. I've known too many like her kind before, and you know what I've done with 'em?” The old woman tilted her head toward Charles and Max while narrowing her brows into a heavy, straight dark line over her pale blue eyes.
“I've thrown 'em into a kettle of boiling water and cooked 'em tender as baby corn ears.” She jerked her arms for emphasis and the snapper juggled, nearly catching the hem of her flowered dress in its mouth. If the old woman noticed, she gave no sign, merely continued on with her talk.
“Made me plenty of soup that fed my family up good enough through many a cold winter. Only thing is, Mr. High Falutin' over there,” she nodded toward her son again, “he tends to forget that he were practically raised on marsh rabbit and snapper stew.”
“Those jaws are dangerous,” said Fred. “They can bite a finger right off. Better give that turtle some distance, or respect, as this lady calls it.”
But Fred needn't have bothered to warn Max and Charles. Both boys were giving the snapper plenty of distance.
“What are you going to do with her?” asked Charles finally.
“Well, if I were younger with wheels of my own, and if I had my own way, I'd take her home and stew her up. But my son won't let me. He's afraid she'll mess up the leather interior of his fancy car. I told him we could put her in the trunk, but even the trunk he treats like it were a million-dollar mink coat. So I decided I'd flag me down some âreal' Shore boy and give her away. She's worth a pretty penny up at Nan's store in Vienna. Bet you could get $5, maybe $6, for her.”
“Really? Wow!” said Max, his eyes blurring behind dollar signs.
“Hey, Fred,” Charles whined.
“Yeah, Fred,” added Max in his slipperiest con voice.
“Oh, no!” exclaimed Fred, batting the air helplessly with his arms.
“Oh, come on, Fred, there's lots of room in our truck,” said Charles.
“Yeah, and we could use the extra cash,” added Max.
“What makes you think I want a 25-pound turtle snapping, rolling, and scraping in the back of my truck? Getting into the bait, tangling up the fish lines, doing goodness knows what!”
“It's a nice turtle, young man. One of the finest I've seen in a long time. And to tell you the truth, my arm's beginning to tire out from a-holding her like this.” The old woman's voice sounded weak.
A lady in distress was something Fred could not resist. Hadn't he married Max and Charles' mother? When he saw she was working long hours to raise three sons, his heart just melted. When he discovered she loved him too, well, that was it. Now, he was the proud stepfather of three sons and a new little daughter all his own and life was pretty terrific. And now, here before him, standing with her arms straining to hold a snapping turtleâ¦
“Ok, you win,” said Fred, taking off his yellow work cap and shaking his head. “How shall we do it, ma'am?”
“Well, I think you could put her in one of those bushel baskets you have in the back of your truck. Tie a lid on tight and she should feel right at homeâ¦ provided you add some nice, cool, wet sea grass. Don't want her to dry out too much.”
“Let's do it,” said Max, running to the back of the truck to get a basket, some baling twine, and a lid. He scrambled back to Fred, Charles, and the old woman.
“Now, this ain't going to be an easy transfer,” said the old woman. “I'm gonna drop her, but you, sir,” she tilted her nose in Fred's direction, “you best have the lid ready and be mighty quick. Slam that lid down on top of the basket before she realizes she ain't hanging free anymore.”
“Sounds pretty tricky,” said Fred. “You boys better let me handle this. Your Mom might not like me bringing you home minus a finger or two.”
“More likely a whole shoe,” remarked Charles, returning to the safety of the truck bed. He was taking no chances. “Are you going to come up here, Max?”
Max looked at the snapper's jaws one more time and decided the truck might be a good place for him, too. “Yeah, the view is better from higher up. Balcony seating, so to speak.” He climbed in beside Charles. “Gee, I wish I had some popcorn! Adventure always makes me hungry.”
“Ok, young man, now that we have the youngsters out of harm's way, we best proceed with the duty.” The old woman took a couple of hops closer to the basket and held her arm just a little higher.
Fred quickly placed the basket just under the snapping turtle, narrowly missing its gray nose. The snapper's jaws worked fiercely a couple of times. Its eyes were gleaming fire.
“I'm really not enjoying this,” said Fred in his slow, serious voice.
“The only thing enjoyable about a snapper is eating 'em in a stew,” said the old woman. “Ready?”
“Ready as I'll ever be,” said Fred. He took hold of the wooden lid and stepped closer, ready to slam it onto the basket as soon as the snapper's feet hit the bottom.
“Then here goes!” shouted the old woman, and she let go of the snapper's tail.
For an instant, the snapper was motionless in the air, legs out stiff and silent. Then with a snapping crash, she landed in the basket. Just as quickly, Fred slammed the lid down. He held it tightly on with his booted foot.
The boys let out a triumphant yell, then quickly stopped. The snapper, realizing her new situation, began to claw at the thin wooden walls of her prison.
“Hope that wood will hold,” said the old woman dryly. She rubbed her sore arm and stared at the basket.
“Me too,” said Fred. He had to constantly correct his balance as the snapper lunged inside the wooden enclosure. “Now what?”
“Well, you need some rope, as I doubt you want to stay with one foot up all day long,” said the old woman.
“Can't say that I do.” Fred looked over to the boys. “Max, you see any rope there in the back of the truck?”
Max and Charles started a hurried search inside the back of the truck for rope and came up with only fly line and a three-foot length of rope dog leash.
“This rope leash will have to do,” said Fred. He bounced up and down. The sweat on his face made him look like he'd just had a shower.
Together Max and Charles took the rope to Fred. They stood back beside the old woman and watched as Fred, somehow, managed to hold down the lid and tie the rope tightly around the wobbling basket.
“There,” said Fred finally. He stood up and rubbed the sweat off his face onto the shoulders of his shirt.
“Nicely done, nicely done,” said the old woman. Her voice seemed to pat Fred on the back. “I guess my mind can rest easy now. I'm glad I've met a young man with some spunk.”
“Ma! Are you ready now?” called the man in the Hawaiian shirt. “You know I have an appointment back in Easton after I get you home.”
“Easton can wait awhile. It's been just where it is all these years, I expect it ain't going to move any in a couple of hours,” she called back to him. “Easton's gotten so big, why it's almost like Baltimore anymore,” she added to Fred and the boys.
They held their breaths and hoped she wouldn't ask them where they were from. They would hate to admit Baltimore.
“Well, you young'uns take good care and enjoy that snapper!” She gave them a look that seemed like a kiss. She held out the hand that had only a few moments before held the thrashing snapper, and one-by-one, Fred and the boys shook it. It was a hand with a palm as satiny rough as drift wood, with dark blue veins popped up as high as uncut corduroy.
“Look, any of you ever come back to Elliott Island and you need a bite to eat or a place to rest your bones on a porch swing with a tall cold glass of iced tea or lemonade, you look me up. Hattie Harriston's my name. If you come by hungry, I'll fill you up with a cup of oyster or crabby stew, depending on the month. You hear? This is good ol' Eastern Shore hospitality talkin' and not just a hot air balloon letting off steam.”
“Yes ma'am,” they all said at once.
“I'm comin', I'm comin!” She turned sadly away and almost skipped down the road. They could hear her singing snatches from an old folk song. The same tune as “Carry Me Back to Old Virginie,” but with different words:
Carry me back to ol' Easton
That's where I'll stay
It was a town I liked a lot
Before it got a big-city way!
“What's the matter, Michael, is Gabriel after you trying to whisk you away with his angel horn?” She gave her son a push as she reached the car.
“Come on, Ma, my meeting can't wait,” Fred and the boys overheard him tell her, as he hustled her into the car.
They stood on the edge of the road where the marsh mud met the oyster shell dust and waved as the yellow limo spun by. Mrs. Harriston waved back.
“What a handful!” Fred said, shaking his head.
“Yeah, he must keep her really busy!” Max said.
“I mean Mrs. Harriston,” said Fred.
“Why?” asked Charles. “I thought children were the troublemakers.”
“Sometimes parents can be trouble, too,” said Max knowingly.
“Yeah, that's true. Think of all the trouble we have with Fred,” said Charles, giving him an elbow punch.
Fred chose to ignore them. “Now, what are we going to do with this snapper?” He looked first at the hobbling basket, next at the boys.
“Charge six dollars or more,” said Max. “Think of it, Charles, six dollars worth of penny candy!”
“But,” said Fred, slowly and carefully, “it's a lady turtle with eggs to lay.”