The Undersea Prince and the Street Sweeper
Shelly picked up the tin and placed it in her trolley. She hated life in Smokeshore. The city was filthy, the people were rude, the air smelled foul, and she'd been robbed three times in the past month. She had no money, no friends, not even a mother or a father. She simply eked out a living sweeping up the rubbish in the streets, and picking out what scraps she could use.
Stopping for a moment at the waterfront, she looked east out over the sea. She loved it when the sun rose over the one spot of sky that wasn't blocked out by the city's smog. She wished there was some way out there, away from all the concrete, broken glass, and rust. She wanted to swim out there, and let the water wash away all the grime, the dust, and the soot on her. She wanted to play with the dolphins and see if the water was as beautiful and blue as it was in the pictures, or even from here.
But whom was she kidding? She wasn't a fish. There was no apartment out there for her. There were no jobs for her to earn money for her lunch. She didn't even have a boat. She couldn't fish. She wasn't even sure if she could swim. She didn't belong out there.
Grabbing her broom, and trying not to cry, she went back to sweeping.
But coming out of a bakery was a very neatly dressed, very handsome, very pleasant looking fellow carrying two very full paper bags. He had a warm smile, a spring in his step, and a whistle that didn't show a worry or care in the world. She sighed. Why couldn't she be happy like him? Resentment started to well up in her heart, but she couldn't keep it there. It was impossible to hate him
he was just too
Her eyes sunk back to the street and her sweeping. She probably didn't deserve for him to tell her the time of day, anyway.
Thunk. Something dropped onto the sidewalk ahead. Shelly looked ahead: it was a wrapped loaf of bread. It must have been from the man's bags. Her stomach gurgled a little; she hadn't had freshly baked bread in
she'd NEVER had it before. At first she thought it was his loss, her gain
Was she crazy?! This might be the only reason she'd ever have to speak to him! Scooping up the loaf, she chased after him. "Sir? Sir!" she called. "Did you drop this?"
The man turned back. "Ah, my pumpernickel," he said with a smile. "Yes, I did drop that, thanks." And he took it. "Say, what's your name?"
"Shelly. What's yours?"
"Marson," he said. "Want to walk with me a little further?"
And they headed down the boardwalk. Shelly happily pushed her trolley cart along.
"May I confess something?" he asked.
"Sure," said Shelly.
"I've seen you many times when I walked through the city. I've always wanted to talk to you."
"Well, why didn't you?"
"I tried," he said. "You were too busy looking down at the street to see me. Say, want a roll?"
She blinked. "Why, yes, please!" And he handed her one. It tasted every bit as good as it smelled. "Thank you so much."
"Yes, it's hard to find good bread like that near my home. So, have you always lived here in Smokeshore?" Marson asked.
"Yes. Are you from around here?"
"No, actually I come from east of here."
Shelly blinked. "East? There's nothing but water that way."
Marson smiled, and pointed toward the marina. As they drew closer, and Shelley finished her roll, they walked along a dock to a very nice looking motorboat. He turned toward her with a smile. "Ever sail on a boat before?" he asked.
"No, I haven't," said Shelly.
"Why don't we hop aboard and go for a tour?"
Shelly grew excited. Then she stopped. "Wait, what about my broom and cart?"
"Leave them by the warehouse," he said. "Nobody will bother them."
She laughed a little. He was right. Who would bother a cart full of garbage? And after she hopped aboard, he untied the boat and got in, the boat pulled away, and they set sail east.
Shelly looked back at Smokeshore's skyline, or where it would've been under the haze.
Her hair felt the mix of sea spray and wind. This was a lot of fun! Soon they skimmed across the water, and skipped across the waves. The boat started to bounce. Shelley got a little worried. "We sure are moving fast," she said.
"Better take a seat," Marson said. As soon as she did, he pressed a button nearby the boat's wheel. Just out of nowhere, as they sped along, a glass cover came around the whole space over the boat, and formed a roof, sealing them in. Then something scared Shelley.
Water washed over the glass top. "We're sinking!" she cried.
"Don't panic," Marson said. "I do this all the time."
Then as the boat disappeared under the waves, she looked around. They were underwater! She saw a school of fish pass by. And as they got further and further away from the city, the water got clearer and clearer. Soon it shone a bright blue. And soon she saw all sorts of wildlife: colorful coral, angel fish, sea horses, a whale, a shark, and all sorts of plants she'd never even seen in books or TV. And she giggled. Were those dolphins over there? They were!
"I've never seen anything this beautiful before," she whispered.
Marson just laughed warmly. And as their boat cut through the water, they drew closer to an undersea mansion as big as a supermarket. "What place is this?" Shelly asked.
"Our home," Marson said.
They went lower and slower, down to the sea's bottom. And after they went into a cave in a hillside, they crawled along towards a light. Soon they floated up, and the sea washed off the glass top, which opened up, and retracted back into the boat. They were in an underwater boathouse. And waiting for them was a tall, strong, older man with a white, rich soft beard, and a big, welcoming smile. Shelly thought he looked like a king who wasn't wearing his crown just then.
"Hi, Dad," Marson said, bringing out the bags of bread. "I'm back."
"Marson!" his father beamed. "How was your trip? And who's this?"
"She's someone I picked up from Smokeshore. Her name's Shelly."
"Ah, hello, Shelly," Marson's father said, taking her dirty hand in both of his. "Welcome to our home. My name is Patrimar."
"Thank you," she said shyly.
"Marson told me he was bringing back a lovely surprise, but I didn't know how lovely."
She blushed. SHE, lovely? No one had ever told her that before, ever. She couldn't even remember her mother and father saying that, since she couldn't remember them at all.
"I'd love to show you around, and I'm hoping that you'll stay with us for lunch," Marson said.
She gasped. And she looked down at her ragged, dirty clothes. "I'm sorry I don't appear better for it."
"Don't worry about that for a second," said Patrimar. "Come, let's look around."
And this mansion was huge and beautiful. It had a library with many books, a greenhouse where fresh fruits and vegetables grew, a laboratory full of electronic devices, a sitting room with flowers all over, a kitchen with all the best appliances and foods, bedrooms and baths to spare, and a beautiful view of the sea overhead in the glass roof.
"Why don't you wash and relax in a bath, then dress and come down for lunch?"
Shelly gladly did. She went a bathroom with a large tub, undressed, and washed away years of dirt and grime off her body. And when she stepped out of the tub perfectly clean, she combed and dried her hair. And in the mirror, she finally saw she WAS lovely after all. Well, somewhat lovely. She still thought Patrimar was being kind.
When she came out to dress again, her old sweeper's clothes were gone. A green dress was there instead. That was fine with her. She didn't want her old clothes to make her dirty again. After she put on her new clothes, she hurried down to the dining room, where Patrimar, Marson, and a big banquet waited. And the big prawns that Shelly ate were the best she'd ever had. The green vegetables tasted grand. The fruit salad was marvelous. And the bread, the very loaf she'd saved on the street, was as good as it smelled back in Smokeshore.
"I'm very glad you did that," Marson said. "Smokeshore may be a dirty place, but it still has very good bread in that shop."
As she spread butter and jam on her slice, Shelly looked out a window. It looked like someone was building something there. "What's that?"
Patrimar smiled proudly. "Ah, that's the start of a new city. You see, I'm afraid that Smokeshore is getting dirtier and more polluted day after day after day. Before too long, I'm afraid no one will be able to live in it anymore. I tried to get people to clean it up, all my fellow lords, and the common people, but no one would listen to me. They just won't stop making it dirtier."
"It's not just the air or the rubbish on the street," Marson said sadly. "People are acting more selfish and meaner all the time. The pollution's starting to get into their hearts, too."
"So," said his father, "we decided to start somewhere new. I've decided to put my fortune into building a new city down here in the bottom of the sea. And my son is going to rule over it." He started into the strawberry shortcake for dessert. "And you, Shelly, my dear, are the very first person from Smokeshore to see it."
Marson started eating his. "Want to go out and see it as soon as soon as we finish dessert?"
Shelly smiled excitedly. "Would I ever!" And she gulped down hers quickly.
To her surprise, though, they didn't go out in the boat this time. Instead, they each put on a rubber suit, a diving mask, a breathing mouthpiece and hose, and a tank with air. And out they dived to swim.
It was a lot harder than it looked, especially with the heavy tank, but Shelly kept up with Marson and Patrimar's help. And the work area was wide. It looked like they'd laid the foundations for many buildings. The new undersea city looked like it was going to be as big as Smokeshore when it was done, if not larger. Swimming closer, she saw that the buildings sites had columns like the Greek temples. She knew this city would be prettier than Smokeshore ever was.
Just then, a dolphin swam over to her and chattered. She giggled. And it looked like it was going to be much more fun!
She caught the dolphin's fin on its back, and it towed her quickly across the building site. Marson and Patrimar had found two other dolphins, and they gave chase. Just as she got to the new city's edge, she let go, and let the dolphin go back to the surface for air. Then she saw something far away. It was an old wrecked ship.
Curious, she started to swim that way. But then Marson and Patrimar swam in front of her, thrust their arms forward, and shook their hands and heads, showing she shouldn't go any nearer. Then Patrimar waved back toward their mansion, urging them to go back.
When they got back inside, and changed from their diving suits to their clothes, Shelly asked, "What was wrong? What was that ship?"
"That was an old pirate ship," said Patrimar. "It robbed a big treasure galleon and sank in a storm, long, long ago."
"So is it full of treasure?" she asked.
"It's also on the edge of a very high sea cliff," said Marson. "It could go over the edge at any minute, and drop miles and miles to the bottom. We'd never see it again."
"Oh. Well, wouldn't the treasure be good for paying for building the city?"
Patrimar snorted. "Please. Not to brag, but I was a rich man already when I started building this city. I have as much money as the sea has water. I don't need to risk my life for more."
Shelly looked toward the ship. "Well, I'd sure like to have some of it," she said.
"Why?" asked Marson, gently putting an arm around her. "You've got all you need down here, and Smokeshore will be too dirty to live in. There won't be anyone there to sell you anything anyway."
"No buts," said Patrimar. "You are not to go toward that ship. It's too dangerous."
And that was the end of it. Patrimar and Marson then showed her around the mansion some more, letting her read the books, examine and water the plants in the greenhouse, play with the gadgets in the laboratory, and even sing and play music in the sitting room. And then they had a very delicious supper with roast fish, fried potatoes, salad, and fruit sorbet. It was just as good as lunch.
Then as the sea grew darker with night, they showed her up to a bedroom, and let her retire, saying they'd talk more about the plans for the city, and how she could help with it.
Shelly nestled into her big, plush, soft bed. But she couldn't sleep. She was still thinking about what treasure might be in that ship. Silver? Gold? Jewels? Pearls? A crown or two? She thought of all the things she could buy with all those riches. She also thought about the stern, urgent warnings from Marson and Patrimar.
But they didn't understand. She'd been poor all her life. She never had anything nice for her own like they did. If they only had stayed with her one day, they'd understand. Getting out of bed, she looked at the wreck, in the dark. What did they know? It didn't look that dangerous. And she knew her way around pretty well now. She would wait for just before dawn when there was light, slip to the dock, don a diving suit, swim out there, find the treasure, grab some, and be back before they'd even woken up.
Walking lightly on her toes, Shelly crept to the dock, put on the suit, made sure the tanks had air, and dove into the water.
But it definitely was darker out there than she expected. And the water was so cold. It was tough to find her way around. Why didn't she get a flashlight while she had a chance?
Simple: she didn't want to wake Patrimar or Marson and let them stop her. She swam on.
And slowly she felt her way over the rocks, the coral, and the path she found. She stayed focused on the shape of that sunken ship and kept going there. Breathing heavily, she felt very tired swimming against the water like that, but she figured the gold inside would be worth it. Finally she arrived. Gently feeling around, she found the big hole in the side, swam up, and through.
It was dark enough outside, but the ship's inside was like a tomb. Stopping to breathe a second, she reached forward. Now she DID wish she'd gotten a flashlight. Passing through what looked like a cabin, she bumped into something grimy...
It was a skeleton!
Letting out a little shriek, Shelly backed into the ship's hull. Fish flurried when she hit it. Calming down, she found some stairs to the lower level. And down there were many chests. She clapped. She dreamed each and every one holding a fortune. She thought of how jealous everyone she knew in Smokeshore would be when she came back with a fortune, dressed in the finest clothes, maybe driving a big fancy car she'd bought herself. They would just drop dead in envy, she knew it!
Then she wondered: how was she going to carry all this back to the mansion without getting spotted? Or even Smokeshore?
Then she felt something wrap around her left ankle. Then another thing wrapped around her leg. Shuddering, she spun around.
It was a big octopus! She had invaded its home! It glared at her with its angry, ugly eyes, and wrapped another arm around her neck. Shelly tried to push it off, but it was simply too strong. Shaking back and forth, the creature swung her against the ship's wall.
Then she heard creaking, and saw the ship tilt off to the side. The thing was tilting over the cliff! She groaned. Could this get any worse?
Then she coughed. And she realized they could, and just did. She was running out of air, too!
The ship tilted some more, and she saw the chests start to slide on the floor. The whole ship was about to go over and fall to the bottom of the ocean! She wrestled as hard as she could, trying to get out of the octopus' grip. Why didn't she listen to Patrimar and Marson? She was going to die here!
Whap! Two fists slammed atop the octopus' head. And right behind it was the most beautiful sight she saw: Marson. He pointed to the stairs, telling her to exit. But then the octopus grabbed her air tank and hose to her mouth and pulled it off. Now she had no air at all!
Hurrying, Marson swam over and took off his air tank, and put his hose to her lips. Fresh air went into her lungs. And he picked up the old tank and cracked it across the octopus' head this time. It wrapped its arms around him, and they spun over and over in a grand fight. The ship tilted some more, and the whole place started to fall on its side. Shelly started to swim over to help, but Marson waved her off, urging her to get out. With that, she did.
Going back up the stairs and out the hole, she looked back to the ship. The cliff under it crumbled, and finally broke away. The whole mass then tilted over, and plummeted down, down, down
and finally disappeared in the dark.
Shelly screamed. Then she sunk her head, and wept. She wanted to throw herself after Marson and the ship, but didn't. Crushed but with nowhere else to go, she swam back to the mansion.
Patrimar was at the dock, worried sick. "Shelly! I saw two suits were gone! What happened? Where's Marson?"
Shelly thought of all sorts of wild stories to tell him, but she told him the whole truth. "It's all my fault!" she wailed. "I went for the treasure anyway, and he died saving me!"
Patrimar buried his face in his hands, and wept.
"I'm sorry, sir," she said. "I'm really sorry!"
He walked away to the study and sat quietly for hours. Shelly sat in the sitting room. She didn't bother him. Breakfast and lunchtime came. Nobody ate. Frankly, Shelly didn't feel like it. All she could do was feel awful about what she had done.
Finally, Patrimar finally left and entered the sitting room where Shelly was, and sat on the sofa beside her.
"My son really loved you, you know that?" he said.
Shelley nodded silently.
"And he wanted you to rule this city with him when it was done." He produced a platinum necklace. "I was hoping to crown him with this." But since he's gone, now
Shelly bowed her head silently, waiting for him to banish her. But he didn't.
Instead, he put the necklace around her neck. "I want you to rule it in his place."
Shelly looked up, eyes wide. "What?"
"He would have wanted it that way. And I want you to rule. But there is one thing. The work he started? I want you to finish it. I want you to go back to Smokeshore, and bring as many of them you can. Tell all you can about it, and show them the love that my son showed you."
Shelly stared at him for a while. Then she finally nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Please," said Patrimar. "Call me Father, now."