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Darwin: A Tortoise’s Wish

By

Erik Daniel Shein, L. M. Reker & Melissa Davis

Though inspired by true events, this book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

World Castle Publishing, LLC

Pensacola, Florida

Copyright © 2017 Arkwatch Holdings, LLC, and Erik Daniel Shein

Co-Authors: L. M. Reker and Melissa Davis

Smashwords Edition

Hardback ISBN: 9781629895895

Paperback ISBN: 9781629895901

eBook ISBN: 9781629895918

LCN: 2017932055

First Edition World Castle Publishing, LLC, June 19, 2017

http://www.worldcastlepublishing.com

Smashwords Licensing Notes

All rights reserved. Darwin, A Tortoise’s Wish, the Novel™ is a Trademark of Arkwatch Holdings, LLC. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means—electronic, Digital, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for the author or third party’s web sites and their content.

Requests for information should be addressed to:

Arkwatch Holdings, LLC

4766 East Eden drive

Cave Creek, AZ 85331

Cover: Arkwatch Holdings, LLC and Karen Fuller

Illustrator: Paul Barton, II

Editor: Melissa Davis



Be kind to our animals every day!

Thank you, Erik Shein





Chapter 1

What’s Love?


A solitary tortoise sat in meditation from his perch far in the clouds. Chronos was the wise one, a being whose sole purpose was to help lead others to their destiny. He opened his eyes and watched the world below. He saw multi-colored Marine Iguanas emerging from the ocean foam. They had just finished their morning dive into the depths of the cold water for the red and green algae that grew there. They rode the waves to the shore and climbed the dark lava rocks to their safe perches overlooking their island.

A colony of baby sea lions cavorted together as they rolled around the sand teasing each other. Their happy barks could be heard even up in the clouds. Chronos smiled at their antics. Near the sea lions, he saw the colony of great ones, the Galapagos tortoises who calmly munched on grass several yards from the beach. They grazed contentedly, while Darwin Finches picked insects off their large shells. Today was a new beginning for some of them, as tiny hatchlings were making their way into the world.

Chronos had a deep affinity with the tortoises, animals who seemed to be created in his own image. While he kept an eye on all the creatures great and small, he could not help but feel even more attached to them. He watched the world below, ready to give his blessings to the tiny creatures about to emerge. “May you grow strong enough to survive and wise enough to find beauty in all things.”

The sand shuffled ever so slightly, as a tiny creature started to dig through the heavy layers that kept him tucked safely below the surface. He pushed at the sand with his head, as his tiny legs dug with his feet. It was a slow process that seemed to take a lifetime, but when the tortoise finally poked his head through, he saw a whole new world before him.

Everywhere he looked, Darwin saw beautiful vibrant colors. Near him, a multicolored Iguana was sunning himself on a rock.

“Hello?” Darwin whispered, but the Iguana did not seem to hear him. He had never used his voice before. Gulping, Darwin tried again. “Hello, sir!”

His voice came out so loud, the Iguana jumped back a few steps and glared at him. “Do you mind?” The iguana scampered across the rocks muttering about how he should be able to sun himself in peace.

“Sorry.” Darwin called after him. His head hung low for a moment before he saw a few birds nearby. He moved toward them, but by the time he made it closer to them, they had flown away. “Isn’t there anyone I can talk to?”

Darwin laid his head down on a rock and a tear fell from his eye. He had already been alone for the past several months beneath the surface of the sand. Darwin thought once he came up to the surface he would no longer be alone. He was lost in his solitude when the rock beneath him started to move. “Whoa, whoa, what?” Darwin fell back to the sand and was ready to bolt, as fast as tortoise like himself could, but the rock turned around and a face appeared.

“Darwin! Oh at last!”

Darwin tilted his head and looked at the aged tortoise before him. Was this his mother? Could it be? “Are you my mother?”

“Yes, Darwin.” Sera smiled tenderly at him.

“I’m not all alone?” His voice wobbled.

“Not as long as we have each other.” Sera wrapped her neck around his eyes and embraced her child. Darwin was the only egg that had hatched from the six that she had laid. Scavengers had found the other five. Darwin was hidden so well beneath the surface.

“I love you, Mama.”

“I love you too, Darwin.” Sera stepped back. “Are you hungry?”

“Always!” Darwin perked up at the thought of food.

“Good, I have just the thing for you, but we’ll have to travel a bit. Can you manage?” Sera asked him.

Darwin lifted his left front foot and inspected it for a moment. Then he moved the other foot. “I think so, Mama.”

“Good. Let’s go home, Darwin.”

“Home?” He looked up at her questioningly. His tiny hole up on the hill was all that he had ever known.

“Yes, Darwin. Home. It’s a beautiful place. Come with me.” Sera motioned for him to follow her.

“Okay, Mama.” Darwin moved forward a bit and his front feet caught on a small root that was hidden in the sand. He toppled over and landed on his back. “A little help?”

“My boy, you must be more careful, Darwin.” Sera moved back to him and nudge him back over with her head. She lowered her head and put the root in her mouth. Her strong jaws snapped the branching root in half. “There now.”

They walked together for hours. Darwin was filled with wonder as he saw new things every few minutes. A sea lion was rolling around in the sand. He scooted his whole body around until his fur was covered in the tiny granules. “Why is he doing that, Mama?”

“To protect himself from the sun, Darwin,” explained Sera.

Darwin looked up in the sky at the sun. “What about us? Do we need to worry about the sun?”

“Not as much, Darwin. In fact, we need the sun. It helps us grow big and strong.” She smiled at him.

“Oh. What else do we need to grow big and strong?” Darwin imagined what he would look like when he was older. Would he have a shell as large as his mother’s? He inspected the large patches of shell that were etched with tiny lines that shaped each square as she grew. Sera was a beautiful tortoise. Her weathered skin looked tough at first glance, but it was soft and yielding when she had hugged him tight.

“Food, Darwin. We need food and lucky for you, I’ve found a good patch of it.” Sera pointed to the small bushes near them. “Do you see the tiny bushes growing beneath?”

Darwin stretched his neck and peered at the bush. He saw the small vegetation below. “Yeah?”

“It’s our job to keep it from growing there.” Sera slowly ambled closer to the patch and began to munch on the leaves below.

“But why?” Darwin did not understand why they would want to destroy such a tiny plant.

“Because, these plants are intruding on the ones that are already here. If we are to preserve our habitat, we must trim away the extras to keep what we have healthy.”

“Oh. Right.” Darwin moved slowly toward a bush. He lowered his head and sniffed the plants before him. They smelled fresh and green, if that were even possible. He took his first bite and was surprised how sweet the leaves tasted compared to the stale old fare he had eaten up until this point. He ripped several more leaves off and stuffed them in as much as possible. “This…is…good….” He said through muffled chews.

“Darwin, please don’t talk with your mouth full.” Sera shook her head at the little tortoise and stifled a chuckle.

Darwin gulped his food down. “Er...sorry, Mama.”

“Not to worry, Darwin. You have a lot to learn.” She smiled softly at him. “Soon, I will introduce you to the others.”

“Others?” Darwin looked at his mother with excitement. “There are others?”

“Not so many, but there are more of us.”

“What about my father?” Darwin was hoping he would get to meet him soon.

“Unfortunately, there’s only me, my son.” Sera looked away sadly.

“But, why?” Darwin cocked his head to the side and looked at her curiously.

“He tried to escape from the Ferals on the island and landed in the sea.” Sera was still shaken by the grief of his loss. It was etched in every inch of her face. “He was my one true love.”

“I’m sorry, Mama. I wish I could have met him. What is a true love?

“A true love is the one person your heart was made for. Mine was made for Diego. We had a special bond no one could ever match.”

“Wow. Do you think I will have a true love?” Darwin did not have much experience with love, only the happy thoughts in his heart when he thought of being with his mother. That was love, but somehow, Darwin knew that was not what Sera talked about. By the wistful look in his mother’s eyes, it must have been truly important.

“Yes, Darwin. I hope you will. But that comes later. For now, you can just be my darling boy, all right?” The sad tears were no longer in Sera’s eyes. Instead, a joy and hope was etched strongly inside. Sera had the best parts of her true love standing right before her. Today, she would mourn his loss no more. Sera would celebrate the life that stood before her and help teach him how to be the best tortoise he could be.

“All right, Mama.” Darwin smiled at Sera. He was happy to see the sadness was no longer displayed across her face as she looked over at him. While she had told him to not worry about finding a true love, for some reason the idea that there might be one tortoise out there just for him was not something he could easily forget. One day, Darwin would find his love and his life would truly be fulfilled.




Chapter 2

New Friends


The next morning, the two tortoises made their way to a small stretch of beach. Darwin saw two red-puffed frigates fighting over a leftover fish that had been discarded by another bird. One of them fell over a shell behind him. A crab lifted up his shell and held a pincher up at him. He clamped down on the bird’s leg. “Watch it will ya?”

Darwin giggled and the two birds looked at him. “Oops sorry…”

“Boys, meet Darwin.” Sera introduced him.

“Wow, he’s finally here! This is amazing news, Sera!” Chester said. He was the taller of the two birds.

“Diego would be so proud,” Louis added.

“Darwin, these two birds are Louis and Chester.” Sera nodded at each bird in turn. The frigates could have been twins if not for the slight size difference. Each one had shiny black feathers covering the majority of their bodies, except for the bright red belly that they puffed out to attract their mates.

“Nice to meet you both.” Darwin gave each a genuine smile.

“Yes, same.” Chester turned to find Louis had dove back into the eating without him. “Watch it you!”

“Come, Darwin.” Sera gestured for him to follow her.

“Yes, Mama. Are there other tortoises here?” Darwin asked her innocently.

“From time to time, Darwin, but we are spread all across the island. Since a few of the hatchlings have come to the surface, you will get a chance to meet a few.”

“I can’t wait!” Darwin was very excited. What if he met his true love today? Could that happen? Darwin wondered when his mother knew Diego was the one for her. He wanted to ask her, but the question made him feel silly. Surely, one as young as he was should be focused on other things. Like play, apparently. Darwin looked across at the young seals near the shorelines. They were hitting some object back and forth to each other. “Mama, what are they doing? And what is that thing?”

“They are playing, Darwin. That’s something that washed up on our beach long ago. It used to be much larger, but now it’s tiny. Would you like to play with them?” Sera asked him.

“How? They are much faster than me, Mama.” Darwin smirked as he looked at his feet.

“There is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it, Darwin. Why don’t you try?” Sera suggested.

“Well, all right, I guess.” Darwin walked in his slow steady fashion over to the seal pups. The round thing landed right at his feet and Darwin panicked momentarily.

“Hey, can you hand that here?” asked the first pup.

“I’ll try,” Darwin answered. Darwin nudged the ball softly with his head, but it barely budged. He gave it a hard push and it flew through the air. Darwin looked up amazed at what he had just accomplished.

“Nice toss!” the second pup said in awe. “I wish I could hit like you!”

“Thanks.” Darwin smiled sheepishly.

“I’m Miles, and this is Denver.” Miles was the smaller of the two. He had patches of mottled grey and brown in his coat, whereas Denver was a sleek gray.

“Hi! I’m Darwin. Do you mind if I join you?” Darwin asked.

Denver looked at Miles and then back at Darwin. “I tell you what…how about you be our ball guardian?”

“What’s that?” Darwin was curious.

“If the ball lands over by you, you chuff it back at us. How does that sound?” Denver suggested.

“Oh. Yeah, I can do that.” Darwin was relieved actually. The idea of a tortoise hitting a ball back and forth with the speed of one of them was a little farfetched. But, if he could just get the ball to them if it landed next to him, then he would be okay.

As it turned out, the ball landed there several times over the next few hours. Darwin had a blast playing with his new friends. Life was certainly going to be interesting here. He only stopped playing when his mother called him over.

“Darwin!” Sera called.

“Yes. Mother?” Darwin turned to her.

“I see some of our kind just up the stretch. Would you like to meet them? It looks like Nika and her small brood. They hatched a little before you.”

“Sure!” Darwin was excited to meet other tortoises. What if he met his true love? What an exciting thought. Darwin followed after his mother with an almost light hop in his step.

When they came up the hill, Darwin scanned the scene before him. There in the glow of the afternoon sun was the most gorgeous Tortoise Darwin had ever seen. Now, it goes without saying, that Darwin had not met many tortoises in his young life, but he knew a natural beauty when he saw one. She was a dusty grey tortoise, with the right proportion of squares on her patch. Her shell seemed to glisten in the sunlight.

They were on their way to the beautiful tortoise when a voice called from the left. “Sera, is that Darwin?”

“Hello, Nika. Yes, this is my Darwin. Are Lola and Anima here?” Sera searched the beach for the two younger tortoises.

“Yes. That’s Anima down at the beach. Lola is right behind me. She’s a little shy, you know with her shell issue and all.” Nika tried to nudge Lola forward, but the small tortoise was shy.

“Not to worry. I’m sure Darwin would love to say hello to Lola, right Darwin?”

“What?” Darwin was still watching the lovely Anima from afar. He was not the only tortoise watching her.

“Darwin, come say hi to Lola.” His mother directed him.

Darwin shook his head slowly to clear his thoughts. “Who, Mama?”

“Lola. My goodness, Darwin. What has gotten into you?” Sera sighed.

“Sorry, Mama. Hello, Lola.” Darwin looked around Nika’s shell. Behind her was a female tortoise with the same coloring as Anima. Where Anima was all sparkly perfection, Lola was quite the opposite. Her shell was rigid and small rough peaks came out from it, making it look like tiny pyramids on her shell. Darwin looked away and found that this was unusual compared to the other tortoises. “What happened to your shell?”

Sera gasped. “Darwin! Apologize at once!”

Darwin looked at his mother in confusion. “Did I do something wrong?”

“It’s ok, really.” Lola interrupted. “Hi, Darwin. It’s nice to meet you.” Lola looked at Darwin as if he were the moon in the sky. For her, it was love at first sight.

Darwin was clueless to the adoration in her eyes. Instead he turned around to get another view of Anima. “Is that Anima?”

Lola’s face dropped slightly. “Yes. She’s my sister.”

“Really? Can I meet her?”

“Sure you can, Darwin,” Nika answered. “Lola go introduce your sister to Darwin.”

“Fine.” Lola did as instructed, but it was clear she would love to do anything but give her sister another admirer.

“Thanks, Lola.” Darwin smiled in gratitude.

When Lola saw the smile on Darwin’s face, she almost melted in a puddle at his feet. “You’re welcome.”

When Darwin was finally before Anima, he started to say hello, but the words almost did not make it out. “He…uh...hum…I mean hello.”

Anima gave him a pitying smile. “Hello.”

Lola rolled her eyes. “Anima this is Darwin.”

“Darwin? You must be Sera’s son.” Anima gave him a smile and turned just slightly so her shell glimmered in the sun. The sand she added made her sparkle more than the other tortoises.

“Uhm…yes.” Darwin was distracted by her beauty, much to Lola’s dismay.

“Well, now you’ve met her. I’m going to go.” Lola waited to see if Darwin would even notice she was leaving. Her cheeks were red with annoyance when she realized that yet another one had fallen for her beautiful sister. If only Lola’s shell were as perfect as Anima’s. Then Darwin would love her. Lola slowly drudged back up to her mother, where she went back to her hiding place.

Later that night, when Sera was walking Darwin home, he turned to her and sighed. “Mama?”

“Yes, Darwin?”

“Do you think Anima could be my true love?”

“True love, already Darwin? You’re still very young.” Sera smiled softly.

“But she’s so beautiful, Mama.” He sighed dreamily.

“All that sparkles is not gold, Darwin.”

“What does that mean, Mama?” Darwin was confused. What did her sparkling have to do with gold?

“It means, that sometimes beauty is found in places you don’t normally look. And that beauty is not always a reason to love someone.” Sera answered wisely.

“Oh. Well, what if it’s right in front of you though?” Darwin asked. In his mind, Anima was perfection. Even at his tender age, his head was filled with thoughts of her.

“Oh, Darwin. Don’t be in a rush, my love.” Sera left it at that.

Darwin seemed to know that his mother wanted him to drop the topic, so he did, for now. He was sure that Anima was his one true love and that eventually the rest of the world would know it.




Chapter 3

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

A few years later….


Every once in a while, Darwin would see the other tortoises around the island. He spent most of his time making friends with those that were nothing like him though. His heart still beat for the beautiful Anima who was everything any tortoise could want in a mate. They had a handful of interactions, all of which seemed to be interrupted by Anima’s awkward sister, Lola, who was never far away.

Today was one of those such days. Darwin was kind to Lola. His mother had always taught him that kindness was priceless and yet it cost not a thing to give. It had been a few years since Darwin had first come up to the surface. His feelings for Anima still had not changed. Every once in a while, he caught her looking at him and he would feel tiny butterflies in the pit of his belly.

“Darwin?” Sera’s voice caught him off guard.

“Yes, Mama?” Darwin turned to face Sera.

“What a lovely day! The sun is bright and beautiful. Look at those flowers mixed with the juicy grasses over there. What a treat!”

“But, Lola’s over there,” grumbled Darwin.

“Yes, she is and Lola is your friend. Or have you forgotten?” Sera shook her head at her son. He still had not given up on his thoughts on Anima. Even after these years, when Sera had tried to get him to focus his time on learning how to be a strong and confident tortoise. While Darwin had grown in those areas, every time he got near Anima, he seemed to forget them. Sera wished he would realize that he was just as wonderful as the tortoise he longed for.

“Fine. I’ll eat with Lola, but then I’m going to go see if Anima wants to go for a walk.”

“Right. You do that dear.” Sera sighed softly as Darwin walked toward Lola. The poor tortoise still had some pyramiding going on in her shell, which was a deformity none of the tortoises wanted. It would certainly make it harder for her to attract a mate. Sera and Nika had hoped that Darwin, with his gentle nature would be perfect for Lola, but unfortunately, the heart wanted what it wanted. Even though both of their offspring were too young to think about their future mates, both worried about them.

Sera walked slowly over to Nika. “I wish I could show him how beautiful she is, Nika.”

“I know, Sera. Poor Lola is head over heels for him too. Anima, well, she’ll have plenty of suitors and probably will end up with one who will treat her well, but Lola, I worry about her.” Nika looked down at the ground and kicked a stone with her foot.

“Lola will grow into a lovely tortoise, Nika. It just takes time.” Sera knew that it looked hopeless right now, but even she had noticed that Lola’s shell was starting to even out a little.

When Darwin reached the flower patch and greeted his friend. “Hi, Lola. How is the food today?”

Lola blushed before answering. “Hi, Darwin. The flowers are extra sweet today. I was trying to figure out how I could take some home with me.”

“Oh?” The left side of Darwin’s face turned up and both eyes looked to the left as the gears in his head started to turn. “Let me think.”

Darwin saw a large strand of grass near them. He reached down and snapped the shoot closer to the ground. Laying that on the ground, he then gathered several flowers that he laid down on top of the grass. Darwin used his mouth to weave the flower stalks together with the grass. When he was done, Darwin, picked up the flowers and handed them to Lola.

“How did you learn how to do that, Darwin?”

“I’ve watched Chester and Louis build nests before. They weave things together like sticks, grasses, and left over patches of fur that they find throughout the island.”

“You’re so clever, Darwin.” Lola beamed at him. She tried to turn down her excitement, because she knew Darwin did not return her affections.

“I’m glad someone thinks so.” Darwin glanced at the beach where Anima was having a lively conversation with one of her friends.

“Someday, she’ll notice, Darwin.” Lola tried not to let herself feel downcast. She knew that Darwin only had eyes for her sister. And while she should hate him for not thinking of her, how could she? Here he was, the best friend she had ever had, and instead of going straight to the beautiful Anima, he was helping her figure out how to store these flowers for later. He was a decent tortoise, that was one thing she knew for sure.

Darwin smiled at Lola. “Thanks for saying that, Lola.”

“Sure, Darwin.” Lola gave him a loopy grin.

“Look, if you want, we can make a few batches of these for you. You should be able to do it too.” Darwin suggested.

“That sounds like a plan, but how will I carry then back?”

“Well…” Darwin sat for a moment and closed his eyes. After a few minutes had passed, Darwin opened his eyes and smiled. “Got it. We could make a chain, almost like the circle of the top of the bird’s nest. You could wear it like a wreath around your neck or we can make it large enough to settle over your shell.”

“Sounds like a plan!” Lola was excited. She loved learning new things from Darwin. That, and he was pretty much the only tortoise that would talk to her. While her shell was not nearly as bad as it was when she was first hatched, the strange shape had made her stand out from the others and not in a good way. They did not pick on her, but chose to ignore her.

They were halfway through making the chain of flowers, when they were interrupted. “Hey, Darwin!”

Darwin dropped the flowers in his mouth and turned around nervously. “Hi, Anima.”

“I thought you were going to come talk to me earlier.” She gave him her most fantastic smile and Darwin was besotted right away.

“Oh, well, yeah, but I started to make this for Lola.” Darwin tried to explain. If it were possible for his tongue to fall out from his mouth like a red carpet for her to walk upon, it would have. Anima put stars in his eyes whenever she was near. His heart beat faster, and his thoughts were always muddled.

“Isn’t that cute.” Anima said. She batted eyes at Darwin and turned to Lola who was glaring at her. “What a thoughtful thing to do. I wish someone would make one for me.”

Darwin jumped at the thought of making something special for Anima. “I can make you one too. Let me just finish this one.”

“Oh, no need, Darwin. I’m sure Lola can finish her own, right Lola?”

Lola’s face fell and her voice almost came in a whisper. “Yeah, sure.” Picking up the flowers that Darwin dropped, she started to weave them in the way he had shown her. The other two did not even notice her for the rest of the day.

Later that night, Lola turned to her sister. “Why do you have to play him like that, Anima?”

“I don’t know what you mean, Lola.” Anima looked down at her well-manicured toes.

“Anima!” Lola wanted to throw something heavy at her sister, the only thing in sight was the small bouquet of flowers left from her wreath. She picked it up and tossed it at her sister. They smacked Anima in the face her sister laughed.

“You know, you try way too hard, Lola. Just bat an eye and give a half turned smile once and a while and you’ll find the right tortoise for you.” While Anima’s advice seemed sisterly, it fell flat on its sentiment.

“But I only want one and he wants you.” A tear fell from Lola’s eyes.

“Cheer up, Lola. If he doesn’t want you, stop chasing him.” Anima shook her I head ruefully.

“I would, if thought for an instant you actually wanted him for yourself.” Lola wiped her tear away, promising herself not to show any weakness in front of Anima. She loved her sister, but Anima was surprisingly lacking compassion for others.

“It’s not my fault, Lola. They want, what they want. Who am I to tell them no?” Anima flashed her a smile that dazzled everyone around her. It did not work on Lola.

“Ahhh! You’re impossible.” Lola moved away from her sister and retrieved the crumpled flowers from the floor of their cave. She moved to the entrance and looked up at the moon. Sighing, she let herself dream the impossible dream. Watching the clouds overhead, she imagined they looked like Darwin. A small heart-shaped cloud was next to it. Looking up at the moon, she could almost see two shapes next to each other. One, Darwin, the other herself, their necks entwined in a loving embrace. Lola sighed dreamily. “Oh, if only.”

Lola knew every day her shell was improving, but what good did that do if the one she loved would never see her for who she was? Could she continue to be his friend and only his friend, when her heart was breaking inside? The answer was easy, painful, but easy. She would take Darwin any way she could have him and if being his friend was all she would ever have, Lola would resign herself to it.




Chapter 4

The Ferals!


A few more years passed on the island and it was spent learning to live in harmony with the other animals. Unfortunately, not every animal was in on this plan. While Darwin had very little interaction with the feral problems on the island he had heard plenty about it from Louis and Chester. For the most part, the goats and rats than ran rampant on the island had kept away from the beaches. Apparently, neither one of these animals liked the water that much, but that too was changing.

Louis flew down to the beach in such a hurry that all eyes quickly turned to him. “They’re coming!”

“Who?” asked Darwin.

“The Ferals! You have to run.” Louis warned.

“Again, Louis?” Darwin rolled his eyes. Every once and a while the two birds would pretend that the Ferals were coming, when in fact no one was. The animals had fled several times before only to find out later that the birds were just being pranksters.

“They got Chester!” The bird’s tiny voice broke with emotion. Emotions were the one thing that Louis never did.

“Louis?” Darwin was suddenly concerned. At that moment, a strange sound could be heard in the distance. Darwin craned his neck to see, but could only see a growing dust cloud advancing toward them. Darwin could not help but stare in that direction, even though the other animals around them were getting restless.

One of the seals nearby asked “What is that?”

“I think it’s Ferals,” answered Darwin.

“Right. I’m out of here then!” The seal scampered down the beach into the water.

Darwin looked to where Anima had been sunning herself earlier. She was no longer there. They were both further away from the adults, as was their habit now that they were almost self-sufficient. If the Ferals were coming, Anima would be unprepared for them. He needed to warn her.

Sera noticed the cloud coming toward them and her eyes were huge with worry. She knew this danger. This was the exact thing that had happened when Diego had fallen into the ocean. “Darwin, come back quickly!”

Nika called to her children. “Let’s go now! Something wicked this way comes!”

“Darwin, come now!” Lola shouted. Lola had stayed back with their mothers. She found it easier to relate to them than those her own age these days. Her awkwardness had never changed, even if her shell looked much better than it had long ago. It would always make her self-conscious regardless.

“Not without Anima.” Darwin started off in the direction where he had last seen Anima.

“Come, Lola. We must go.” Nika turned to Sera. “You must join us. Tell you son to run to the ocean. He could find a safe place there. We know of a rocky area nearby where we can hide.”

“What about Anima?” Lola asked her mother.

“She’s a smart cookie, that one. I’m sure she’ll be all right, Lola. We need to get to safety.” Nika started away from the group and headed toward the rocky area she had spoken of.

Lola looked at Sera. “What are you going to do, Sera?”

Sera sighed sadly. “That force, whatever it is, is moving on us very quickly. If he tries to return, he’ll be caught in the middle of it. I’m afraid we must take her advice.”

“Right.” Lola was just as concerned for Darwin’s safety. “Run to the ocean and hide, Darwin. Protect yourself!”

The tortoises were following after Nika, when they were cut off by the group of Ferals. They started to flee in another direction from them. Darwin was transfixed with fear. He saw his mother disappear in the dust cloud. Climbing to the top of the hill, he looked back to find that all the other tortoises were gone. He descended to the other side of the hill toward the ocean, hopeful that he would still be able to save Anima from the Ferals.

In the distance, a large group or phalanx of wild goats were advancing in the direction of the tortoises. These were some of the Ferals that the animals on the island had come to fear. As they moved forward groups of them devoured shrubs and trees in their path, while others dashed ahead. The one thing that was true of these goats was that they were always hungry and any competition for their food was seen as direct threat to their livelihood.

One group finished off a patch of grass then began digging at the ground furiously in an attempt to consume every blade of grass. They dug down deep searching for roots or tubers that might satisfy their hunger. Some pushed and shoved in an angry frenzy to get a better position.

Two Ferals climbed the rock so they could get to the leaves on the lower branches of a tree, which they ripped furiously from the branches. Their furry coats were shedding bits of fur on branches as they forced each other away from their food.

All the goats stopped everything they were doing when a small group parted them right down the middle. Malos, leader of the feral goats was standing amidst the retinue of guards, who he dubbed his Generals. They both flanked him on both sides. Malos stood on higher ground and waited for everything to cease the moment the others recognized his presence. His very presence commanded respect. All the goats stopped what they were doing and turned to face him.

“Greetings my brothers. Our advance in this part of the island has been very successful. After all, we have taken what is rightfully ours,” he paused to listen to the bleating agreement of the others. “We are the superior animals of this world. All others bow to our will.”

The Ferals began a strange sinister bleating of approval that echoed throughout the area. A few of them snickered among themselves. Malos continued with his speech, interrupting the bleating. “Our numbers are strong and we now have become the dominant force on the island. Thanks to my generals.”

Malos nodded to the Generals at his side. “As you can see we’ve given you a bountiful harvest. All we had to do was stick together and lead with our intimidation tactics. We’ll now enjoy what we have here and then branch out in greater numbers to take what is available from the inferiors. Remember, there is only one important law in nature, the survival of the fittest!” Malos paused for effect. “Weakness is only to be exploited! The dominant species is always at the top of the food chain—and that my friends is us!”

The assembled Ferals began their hideous bleating again in a loud chorus of approval. They were wild and vicious. The goats and rats that had been dumped on the island by humans long ago, had reproduced so much that their numbers had grown to be quite a force. Their need for food for their survival often made them less interested in living peacefully with the other animals on the island.

Malos gestured for his generals to follow him. They did so unwaveringly. It did not matter that they too were hungry. They lived to serve Malos. When they were far enough away from the others, Malos spoke. “How many did we scare away?”

“Almost all the tortoises. They are hiding in their caves.” The first general replied.

“Will they relocate?” Malos asked him.

“I assume so, Malos. They know not to mess with us. Remember the last one who tried?”

“That tortoise they called Diego?” Malos had a wicked gleam in his eye. “He found out real fast what it’s like to swim with the fishies.”

“That he did boss. No one else wants to suffer his fate.” The second general bleated.

“Too true. Tomorrow we’ll make sure they are leaving.”





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