Fonnix and Comet
One day Fonnix the old Turtle decided he was going to see the world. He left the water and all of his friends behind to walk on the land, like so many other turtles had done before him. Fonnix, old and wise and stuck in his ways, had never seen so many grandiose things in his younger days. With such poor vision, he could barely make out the shining metal of skyscrapers in the distance.
“Ah, to be young again,” he mused, pushing up his monocle and squeezing his eye around the glass. “I could have seen so much in my lifetime had I just taken the time to do so.”
The air was crisp even beneath his patchwork shell. His shell, with the dent at the top, held all of his worldly possessions. He had a tin cup, a frying pan, a hat, and a deck of waterproof playing cards all shoved up beneath the multi-coloured surface. With everything so close at hand, he didn’t have to worry about leaving anything behind.
After the long jaunt from the edge of the river bank to the grassy stretch leading towards the city ahead, he began to feel his years. The biting winds of Autumn shoved at him and pushed him down at every step. It took what felt like eons to make the trek to the outcropping of land just beneath the bridge above.
“Oh, a bridge! I’ve never walked on a bridge before. Perhaps it will make me faster.” There was no answer. He was talking to himself, after all.
After a short break in the low cover of the bridge, Fonnix pushed himself to his flappy turtle feet and slip-slapped up the crescent coil of dirt and gravel to the hard stone edge of the bridge. There, he looked first one way down the long stretch of black asphalt and then down the length of the bridge. It was totally empty, so he felt safe just walking into the middle of the Bridgeway.
“I shall be in the City Proper in no time, then I shall see all the great sites and shops.” He breathed deep and tried not to cough. “Oh to be young again.”
Halfway across the bridge, he heard the water below splashing around. He peeked his bald head through a wide gap in the bridge and looked down. At first he had to catch himself from falling as the long distance gave him a bout of vertigo. Breathing heavily and slowly, he glimpsed downwards again.
He yelled as loudly as he was able. “Who is it down there splashing around so loudly?”
A fish’s pointed head popped in and out of the water, trailing bubbles and squirting water into the air. The scales gleamed silver and red as the small fish flipped about at the surface of the river.
The fish spoke faster than any turtle. “Hey old-timer! I’m the one splishing-and-splashing in the water! I wanted to get your attention up there!”
Fonnix adjusted his monocle, but still had to squint in order to see the fish more clearly. The small fish moved around enough to see the top and bottom. There were two small fins on top and it looked like a single fin at the bottom. The bottom fin seemed a bit ragged, as if other fish might have been nibbling at it all through his life. Although the little whipper-snapper seemed shiny, there were some patches that were dull as well.
The old turtle grunted. “Hey, what’s your name? And what’s your deal?”
“You don’t say.”
The young fish nodded. “Yep, that would be me. I’m Comet. I’m the fastest fish in this river! You can ask anyone! Well, nobody races me anymore, though, so I just want to get away. That’s why I shouted to you.”
Fonnix responded again. “You don’t say.”
“I do say. I’ve been swimming all day, up and down this river and I saw that tree over there in the field. Yeah, it’s the one with the orange and red leaves and the great big circle of shade. I saw birds flying around there and it looks like a great tree!”
Fonnix scratched his chin, listening while the small fish rattled on and on. He listened to the description of eagles and hawks and doves and even a couple of vultures. He listened to the description of the bark, the leaves, the knots in the wood, and the roots sticking out of the ground. He even listened to the description of the grass and dirt that surrounded the large tree. It looked to be an oak tree, nothing special as far as he could see. A squirrel ran up the side as he squinted to look closer.
“Yeah, I want to go to that tree! I want to sit in the shade.”
Fonnix shook his head. “But you’re a fish. You don’t belong on land.”
“Well, you’re a turtle! You should be swimming.”
“Turtles can go on land and in water. That’s why we’re so great! How am I supposed to help you get to that tree, anyway?”
Comet swam in circles, then dove down and out of the water. “See? I can jump! If I jump on the grass on that side, you could pick me up and carry me to the tree.”
Fonnix grunted. This just seemed like a bad idea in the making. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Comet pleaded and begged, hopping in and out of the water. “Please? Please? Please? Please?”
“Fine! Just stop begging.”
Fonnix followed the bridge to the end. At that point, where the next road met the bridge, he turned away and downward to the opposite side of the river. He grumbled to himself. “I could have been on this side already had I just swam across first. That’s what I get, though, for not using my brain. Now I got this little flopper to get and carry over to the tree. I really don’t get it.”
Comet was spinning in the water, impatiently waiting for the old turtle to reach the lower river bank. When the old turtle finally limped down to the edge, the small fish dove deep and flew out of the water. He landed on the grass past the turtle.
Comet whispered. “Hey.”
“Hi, Comet. I’m Fonnix. I’ll just carry you up to that tree and let you sit for a spell.”
He didn’t want to do this, but after thinking about it he decided he was on the same sort of quest. If only he were younger, he could have been to the city and back already.
Grabbing Comet’s tail in his mouth, he flipped the slippery fish onto his shell. He was so old there was a natural impression at the top where Comet fit nicely.
“Comfortable?” Fonnix asked.
“Oh, this is a swell shell, sir.”
“You can call me Fonnix.”
“Fonnix. Okay, I’ll call you that. Fonnix, how long will it take?”
Fonnix sighed. “All day if you keep talking and don’t let me get a move on.”
“Sorry, Fonnix. I just want to see that tree so badly. I wish I could walk on land like you or fly through the air like those birds.”
Fonnix paused and peered into the sky. There were a mess of birds up there. This was a decidedly bad idea. “Are you sure of this? You do realize birds eat fish, right?”
“Yep, but I’m fast. I’m so fast they won’t catch me.”
Fonnix shook his head. “Maybe, but they fly and you will just flop on the ground.” He marched up the slow incline and onto the lighter grass.
The breeze was picking up now. It was hard work carrying a fish on his shell across uneven grass and stone. His bones ached all the time at his old age, but now they shot fire through his joints. He groaned inwardly. The journey to the roots sticking out of the ground took a long time, balancing Comet on his shell.
“Hold still, will you?” Fonnix asked.
“Sorry, but I’m super-excited! To finally see a tree up close, to sit beneath the leaves and just think about life. It will make me a better fish.” Comet breathed a sigh and calmed himself.
Wise even beyond his old age, Fonnix shook his head at the fish. “Ah, to think beneath the shade of a large oak in the middle of Autumn. That is a great thing for many, but it will not change who you are.”
“Why not? Can I not change? Can I not be a better fish? Will not my brothers and sisters in the School finally notice my greatness?”
“No.” Fonnix answered without as much as a blink of the eye. Both faces were nearly touching now, the old turtle straining his neck around to look at the willful fish.
“Because change must come from within. To have the other fish in your School notice you, you must be able to be humble and forthright. You must know yourself and know others. You must be able to appreciate the greatness in others before they will know your own greatness.” Fonnix never considered himself a Teacher, but he had lived long enough to understand how the world worked.
“But I just want the other fish to be my friends.” Comet’s voice was now low, almost directed inward.
“Ah, my young friend, you must be able to be a friend in order to become a friend.”
“Fonnix, how do I do this?”
They had reached the trunk of the oak, climbing over the tangle of roots that had torn apart the grass and dirt as they strained outward. It had stood solid against sun, rain and wind for ages. Fonnix had seen this tree as a child so many spans of time in the past. He pushed his monocle closer to his eye and peered at the tree.
He curled himself within a spiral of roots. “Oak, you are aged and know many things. Will you depart your knowledge on us? We would sit beneath your leaves and allow the wind to impart your will.”
Comet seemed to calm as the cool breeze whisked around them. The long, overhanging limbs of the oak swayed with each passing gust. The wise, old turtle himself felt the inner peace that the oak provided. He thought about his long life, his children and grandchildren, the wife he had lost many years past, and his journey to the city. He felt the excitement of the willful little fish within his own soul, realizing how like the young fish he had been at that age.
Fonnix strained to his feet against the heavy wind. “I think it is time for me to continue on, friend Comet. If I am to complete my own journey I must be on my way.”
Comet flopped and slid down the side of the turtle’s massive shell. The fish eyes blinked, the scales glimmered against the falling rays of the sun. “I know. Thank you so much for bringing me to this great tree. I shall lie here for a time and then make my way back to the river.”
Fonnix smiled and bowed his head low. “I shall see you again some day.”
Comet, more reserved than he had been, bobbed only thrice. His tail fin surged back and forth a few times before coming to a stop. “You are my friend, right?”
Fonnix turned towards the tall buildings in the distance. He felt that he didn’t have much time left before he would not be able to make this journey. His muscles burned and his tendons were tight. He slowly made his way back to the road and turned right, in the direction of the city.
“I will see the city finally.” He felt the hard road beneath his feet and padded onward, the sound of the wind against his ears. Listening, he heard the faint screeching of birds overhead. Craning his neck, he could just make out the circling specks above the oak’s branches and a fast, diving form.
He looked at the city. He looked back at the oak. He looked back at the city for the last time and turned down the grassy hill. The oak was calling him back to his new friend. Comet could not defend himself from hawks. He urged his tired legs to a trot and a pain-filled run.
Comet was still wrapped in the roots, but he had taken injuries from claws and beaks. A sturdy hawk dove down and began leaping on the ground, reaching sharp talons into the roots and pulling away bits of the young fish’s tail fin. The shining scales moved, giving Fonnix hope.
He hurtled his body, shell-first, at the Hawk. The grunt and tumble of the bird was enough to put his own body between the injured fish and the predator. The hawk’s eyes shone with hunger, but the old turtle shell was hard and protective. He pulled his head in to protect against the attacks.
The scream of the Hawk finally reached his ears. “Give up, old fool!”
Fonnix was tough like the roots and trunk of the great oak above. “No. This fish is under my protection and the protection of this fine oak.”
The hawk dove in and backed out, as fast as an adder. “I’m young and strong. You are no match for my strength. I am hungry, and that fish is mine!”
Just then, as if answering the old turtle’s praise, a branch of the old oak cracked and fell onto the bird. The creature was trapped, a wing broken and the beak chipped. After a few moments of struggling, the Hawk was free and chirping in pain. Shaking from rage and injury, the sturdy hawk limped away to leave them alone.
Stretching his head out once more, Fonnix found the wind had calmed and there was serene quiet. He looked at Comet and sighed, picking him up with his mouth and gently sliding him onto the shell’s cracked upper indentation.
Comet roused slightly. “Friend, you came back. You are hurt.” The young fish curled against the old turtle as if his presence would take away the pain.
Fonnix smiled and looked back at the water’s edge and then backwards at the city. The city was not important anymore. He rose to his feet on rickety old legs and pushed himself forward. The slope of the hill helped to move him on, but he wobbled the entire way down to the river’s edge. When he reached the water, he carefully slid Comet down and into the rippling surface. Almost immediately the fish came alive.
Comet came close to the old turtle with awe-struck eyes. “Fonnix, you saved my life. How can I ever repay you?”
Fonnix smiled and allowed his legs to fail. He sighed and inhaled, a labor to breathe. “The city was not the journey, life was the journey. Thank you for reminding me.”
So it was that an aged turtle and a youthful fish became the best of friends, sharing in one another’s lives from then on.
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