With my ongoing literary agent search, I’ve hardly had a chance to write a new blog post, in particular part four of my California road trip, “living a dream.” So I’m giving you this, a midpoint chapter from my completed children’s novel (title withheld for now), featuring the main character Sparks, a fairy misfit, who finds herself in a near-death experience as she looks for one of three cures to restore her ruined reflection pool, which is also her home.
All dead sailors go to one of two places: Davy Jones’ Locker, where the poor lost souls are eternally picked over by creatures of the deep, or Fiddler’s Green, where the faithful seamen smile away their forevers.
Sparks sat up, blinking. Her pool was gone, and so was the world as she knew it. She was peering through a thin wall of mist. On the other side of the mist, as in a scene in a play, lay a lazy, sunlit place. Sailors were everywhere — lounging, laughing, singing, rollicking — on a broad expanse of grass. Sailors from all periods of time, all bodies of water, all manner of ships. Sailors outfitted in royal blue uniforms, in chitons, in rags.
This was Fiddler’s Green.
Some of the sailors were near enough that Sparks could hear their conversation (between their slurps), as they cracked open oysters to eat.
“Billy’s got a handful (slurp), though he were the youngest at sea.”
“He knows the very amount, too (slurp). He’s always clever that way.”
“Naw, it ain’t cleverness (slurp) — he’s just got a whale’s appetite. The more oysters you et, the more pearls you get.”
At the word pearls, Sparks perked up.
“Here come pretty Billy now.”
A youthful, handsome man appeared, his smile as lopsided as his hat. “The oyster is my world!” he said. He produced a small knife, wrapped one hand in the sash around his waist, and asked for a “sea-soaked morsel.”
“How many pearls you got, Bill, all in all?”
Billy split open an oyster, slurped the moist meat, worked his jaw around, and tapped a leather pouch. “Last count, seventy-two whites, fourteen black, gray, green, or blue, a dozen baroques, three burgundies —” Here he paused thoughtfully, extracted a pearl from his tongue, beamed at it, plopped it into his pouch, and said, “seventy-three whites —”
Sparks was amazed there was such variety.
“— and one gold —”
“— my very first find, which I kept for good luck.”
Unable to stop her excitement, Sparks squeaked, “Sir? A gold pearl? Gold?”
With a side-glance the sailor acknowledged her presence, but spoke directly to the men. “Aye, from the South Sea.”
“Really?” said Sparks. “Pure gold?”
The sailor coughed behind the back of his hand, and said to them all, “Gold color, lads. There’s no such thing as a pure gold pearl.”
An ancient sailor wearing nothing but a belted cloth and sandals, with scars like constellations on his knees, came forward. He kept one of his hands in a fist, as if it were impaired. He said in a dusty, quiet voice, “Oh, but there is.”
The sailors murmured among themselves, and Sparks believed him instantly.
“The only one of its kind in the history of the world,” said the old sailor. “Once you know, you’ll say, Of course.”
“So, tell us,” said the sailor named Billy, grinning good-naturedly. He put away his knife.
The old sailor unfurled his tale slowly, and Sparks could hardly keep still. He explained that he had been a galley-mate for thirty years before being employed in the palace of Midas, the legendary Grecian king. When he said that, a few nodded, comprehending. For King Midas (as everyone knows), was granted his foolish wish: to turn to gold all that he touched.
“The king soon learned there is that which is greater than gold.” The old sailor’s voice began to wheeze from overuse, or perhaps from pity. “I was there when his daughter Zoe ran into his arms. I was there when her single pearl necklace snapped. The pearl and Zoe, both turning to solid gold, dropped to the ground.” He smacked his frozen fist into his open hand, and Sparks jumped.
“Vanity of vanities,” quoted one of the men.
“The king grieved unconsolably. I kept the gold pearl as a remembrance of Zoe —” the old sailor opened his hand; it wasn’t impaired at all “— and of greed’s fatal end.”
The sailors massed around him, so that Sparks could scarcely see, but through their collected bodies she got a look at his palm, which was as worn as a piece of driftwood. And there between the line of fate and the line of life, lay the gold pearl.
Sparks heard her voice echoing, “That’s just what I need ... just what I need ... just what I want ...”
The old sailor turned to her and walked into the wall of mist. But no longer was he a sailor, but a skeleton, with a huge shark’s tooth embedded in his skull.
Sparks could not move.
The skeleton smiled at her and snapped his teeth. Snap! Snap! He snapped his finger bones. Snap-snap-snap! He came closer, his teeth like pale pebbles, and opened his jaws and reached in. He pulled out a pitch-black pearl. Holding it between his finger and thumb bones, he offered it to her.
“It’s not what I need,” she said, backing away. “Not what I want!”
He shoved it toward her face, and it wasn’t a pearl at all, but a tooth — a rotten, blackened tooth. Suddenly she felt he had pulled it from her mouth, not his. Horrified, she pushed him hard, right into his rib cage; the ground shook, the mist vanished, and a dark figure hunched above her.