Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Part 13: "The Great Gulariss Barbeque"
Afterwards the clan gathered at the lakeside, the humans drying off with towels. Aunt Jenna stopped Andrew from taking one.
"Hold on, you still have one more thing left to do." She called Duke over and the large red gulariss leaned down to him. He sniffed his dark woolen robe and closed his eyes for a moment. He opened them, staring at Andrew.
"Year after year it never ceases to amaze me how much of him I see in each of you," Duke said. "Your hair is just like his and you have his eyes - so intense."
"You mean Erik?" Andrew asked, remembering the story, "You knew him?"
"But that would make you..."
Duke laughed. "Very old indeed! Gulariss live much longer than humans," he replied.
That wasn't very fair. He wondered if he would outlive Duke, or if even his kids someday would, or even beyond that. The thought saddened him. His little gulariss was barely born and he would outlive Andrew for sure.
Duke's long whisker reached forward, brushing the bangs out of his face. "That doesn't mean we love you any less, young one. Come with me, Andrew. You have a special duty tonight."
"But I thought the ceremony was over..."
"The Counting Ceremony is for certain, but tonight we shall also be celebrating you joining our clan. For that, there is a place I must take you and a thing I must give to you."
Andrew hesitated but Aunt Jenna gently pushed him forward. He climbed onto Duke's neck, just behind his gills and long pectoral fins. Standing up, he waded back into the water.
"Listen to Duke," Aunt Jenna said.
"I will," Andrew said and took a deep breath before Duke dove into the water.
Water thundered in his ears. Andrew fought to hang on as Duke soared through the water like a torpedo, his body undulating with each turn. He barely had time to register the pressure headache before it released as they burst up through a hole. Duke slithered onto the cave shore and reached up with a whisker to check on his passenger.
Andrew felt a little dizzy and held onto the whisker as he slipped down, his robe heavy with water. He would be so glad when he could take it off and never have to put it on again. He rang it out as he took a look around him. He released the robe, staring open-mouthed.
The room was huge. Thousands of cubby holes carved against the walls that surrounded them on all sides, reaching from the floor to the ceiling. They were filled with scrolls, tied with colorful ribbon, some large and thick and some that looked small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. He stepped forward to take one but Duke stopped him, grabbing him gently in his whisker.
"This," Duke said, "Is the Hall of Records. Please do not touch them. Most of the records are very old."
"Okay," Andrew conceded and Duke released him.
Duke slid forward to a pile of artifacts, nudging open a large chest. His whisker dug around inside for a few moments and pulled out a velvet pouch. From it he plucked a pearl the size of a baseball. It shone blue at his touch like a glow stick. He passed it to Andrew and the colored faded. It felt warm for a moment but then cooled. Never in his life did he imagine a pearl could be that size. It had to be worth so much money. He felt strange holding onto something that special. He looked up at Duke.
"Sealed within this pearl is the power of the ocean currents. With it the user can control any water surrounding himself. It was a gift given to my mother from long ago. Your task is to protect this pearl for the next three days. It is not to leave your sight for a moment. If you succeed, you will become a full-fledged Guardian. If you fail, you will have to wait until this time next year to try again. Do you accept these terms?"
"Sure," Andrew replied uneasily. He didn't like the way Duke was staring him down as if he was going to steal the pearl and run away. Duke handed him the pouch and he replaced it in there, and shoved it under his robe into his swim-trunks pocket.
~ * ~
Andrew forgot all about the pearl other than as an odd weight in his pocket as they returned to the surface and a smell filled his sinuses. He took a deep breath, his mouth watering. He staggered away from Duke and broke into a run as he saw what he could smell: a barbeque grill. Not just one, there were several! Aunt Jenna was manning one of them and he nearly bowled her over in his excitement, the smell of steak, his favorite food, driving him bonkers. His stomach rumbled fiercely.
"What's going on?"
The man at the grill beside hers laughed loudly. Andrew quickly recognized him as the one who had kissed Aunt Jenna. He couldn't remember his name. He couldn't remember any of the names - everything had happened so quickly.
"The Great Gulariss Barbeque!" he announced, "Can't have a proper ceremony without a proper meal following. That's what my daddy always said. God rest his soul."
Andrew's mouth watered anew. He could smell chicken and fish and grilling vegetables, especially corn, he loved when Jenna cooked corn on the grill. He ran around to confirm what he smelled. The racks on all three grills were full of food, all in different stages of cooking.
"Now, now. You'll have to wait, sugar foot," Aunt Jenna said, gently shooing him off.
"Here kiddo, you can have my first one," the man said, offering him a heavy duty paper plate stacked with a steaming steak, part of it cut away to show a blushing interior. His dad hardly ever let him have a steak that wasn't charred to a crisp. But he hesitated taking it just the same.
"Rick," Jenna scolded, "Not before everyone else."
"Look at him, fella looks half-starved! When's the last time you ate, son?"
Andrew shrugged, rolling back on his heels.
"Can't even remember! Here," Rick offered again. This time the smell filled Andrew's nostrils and he couldn't ignore its call. He took the plate. He wanted to just dig in, silverware or not, but before he could, Rick handed him a set as well. They weren't some plastic throwaways, the knife had a serrated edge.
"You're going to spoil him," Aunt Jenna said with a smile.
"So? Spoiled all my kids and look how well they turned out." Rick pointed and Andrew saw the four of them playing with the five youngest gulariss by the lake. Cloud and Viola were among them, so at least he wasn't a total stranger. They were kicking and hitting some kind of shiny ball back and forth between them, running up and down the shore. It looked like fun.
"I think he's more interested in the dragon ball game," the man at the last grill said. What was his name? Hiro? Yeah that was it. He went over to his grill. His wife was standing next to him, her arm looped around his. She smiled at him.
"What's dragon ball?" Andrew asked.
Hiro smiled, and replied, "Perhaps you should go find out." He nodded toward the kids.
Andrew stared at his plate. While he was very hungry, he could hear the cheers of the other children.
"Perhaps I could save your steak while you play?" Hiro offered, "I will keep it hot on my grill."
Andrew bit his lip, still watching them run back and forth. The youngest boy kicked it high up in the air and their cheers echoed. What happened? Was it a score? He looked at his steak again. He had waited all day for food and this was steak even! He turned back to the game. It did look like a lot of fun. He could wait another couple minutes. He gave his plate to Hiro. Then he ran off to join them.
"You're gonna be a good dad, Hiro," Rick said as soon as Andrew was gone.
"I hope I'm ready," he replied, making space for Andrew's steak on his grill between the grilling salmon.
"You are," Matsuko said, kissing his cheek. She rubbed her belly. "We are."
"We have so much to celebrate tonight," Aunt Jenna said, "It can only get better from here."
Duke settled down next to the warm grills. "Let us hope that the storm that has plagued our clan has truly moved on," he said, "And we are not just waiting in the eye of another."
Continue to Part 14?