The Making of a Star: Bertie Shurtz
“And that’s why, when I grow up, I want to be a faerie!” The small island Usul finished her speech, beaming at her classmates.
“Er, very good, Cici,” said Mr. Millan as the Usul took her seat. “Now, who’s next...?” He surveyed his kindergarten class: twenty pairs of wide, innocent eyes, looking up at him expectantly.
“Bertie Shurtz,” he said, looking at the green Kougra. “It’s your turn.”
Bertie rose from her seat and made her way to the front of the class, smiling at her classmates.
“Bertie, please tell us what you’d like to be when you grow up, and why,” said Mr. Millan.
The Kougra smiled. “When I grow up,” she said, “I want to be a famous explorer! I’m going to travel all across Mystery Island, and discover all of its secrets, and there will be places named after me because I discovered them, and my name will be known throughout Neopia!”
Bertie continued speaking for several minutes, all in one breath, about why she wanted to be a famous explorer. When Bertie had finished her speech, she returned to her seat next to Cici the Usul.
Cici leaned over and whispered to Bertie when Mr. Millan wasn’t looking. “I’m sure you’ll be a great explorer, Bertie. Have you ever been exploring before?”
“I’ve been exploring around our neighborhood,” said Bertie hesitantly, “but my mom won’t let me go any farther than that.”
Suddenly, Bertie had an idea. “But today after school,” she said, “is going to be my first exploring mission, and you’re going to help me!”
After class let out, Bertie and Cici headed for the beach, like they usually did. The beach was filled with volleyball players, tourists admiring the scenery, and surfers riding the waves. The soft, tan sand of the beach was bordered by a dense, palm-tree-filled jungle on one side. Instead of playing volleyball, like the two young pets usually did after school, Bertie dragged the unwilling Usul away from the beach and into the jungle.
“Ugh,” said Cici, gingerly avoiding a mud puddle. “It’s really gross in here, Bertie, and I can’t even see where I’m going!” The small Usul shoved several tree branches out of the way, peering through the foliage to see the Kougra just ahead of her.
“We’re exploring!” said Bertie impatiently. “This is what explorers do! We brave the elements and proudly go where no Neopian has gone before! Through the thickest of jungles or the stormiest of seas, through every harsh climate in Neopia, we will make the greatest discoveries in all of history!”
“Okay, we’ve discovered,” panted Cici, trying to catch up with her friend. “Can we go back to the beach now?”
“Look! A cave!” cried Bertie, hurrying forward. Cici looked where her friend was pointing and saw a small rock formation, surrounded by trees.
“Bertie, this is not a good idea!” yelled Cici.
The small green Kougra reached the cave and examined it. It was so small that a fully-grown Kougra could not have fit inside; Bertie barely squeezed in.
“I’m not going in there!” said Cici exasperatedly, standing at the mouth of the cave. “My fur is all dirty, and my bow is ripped!”
“I’ll be out in a minute,” said Bertie, edging forward into the cave. It was so narrow that Bertie could barely shuffle forward, and in some places the ceiling was so low that she had to crouch.
“I’m almost at the end,” Bertie called excitedly. “I’m a real explorer now! I’ve made my first discovery! This cave will forever be known as the Bertie Shurtz Cave, first discovery of the famous explor—”
Suddenly, Bertie stopped speaking as she felt something brush against her leg— something alive. She looked down, and let out a scream.
Cici watched from a safe distance as Bertie ran out of the cave as fast as she could, shrieking, “Spyders! They’re everywhere!”
When Bertie was safely out of the cave, she forced Cici to examine her thoroughly to ensure that no more Spyders had landed upon her.
“You know, Bertie,” said Cici, “if you’re going to be an explorer, you’re going to find all kinds of scary monsters, like Spyders.”
“I forgot about Spyders,” Bertie admitted. “I don’t think I want to be an explorer after all.”
“Come on,” said Cici, “let’s go to the beach and play Yooyuball.”
“But you hate Yooyuball,” said Bertie.
“Yeah, but it’s your favorite game. I’ll play it with you, so you’ll feel better about being attacked by Spyders and not being an explorer any more.”
Bertie was quite touched at Cici’s kind gesture. Together, the Usul and Kougra walked back to the beach and began their game, Bertie’s adventure momentarily forgotten.
A tall yellow Usul walked towards the Rock Pool. Skipping along beside her was a smaller island Usul and a green Kougra, both about ten years old. The two children talked excitedly as they followed Cici’s mother.
“Maybe I’ll get a Catamara! Or a Bubblisaur!” said Cici happily. “My first petpet has to be perfect!”
Bertie nodded in agreement. She had agreed to accompany her friend to pick out her first petpet, though she knew very little about them. Bertie had never actually owned one, so her knowledge of petpets was limited.
When the three pets reached the Rock Pool, the Kougra shopkeeper assisted them. They walked past the small rock enclosures, where aquatic petpets of various species swam happily. The shopkeeper showed Cici all the petpets, and explained to her mother how to care for them.
Bertie was instantly transfixed. “They’re so cute!” she gushed, running from one petpet to another, in love with each of them. To her surprise, the petpets responded well to her attention; many of them swam up to the edge of their pools and allowed Bertie to stroke them.
As Cici’s mother paid for her daughter’s new Bowla, the Kougra shopkeeper watched Bertie with interest. “The petpets really like you,” he said, watching in amazement. “Have you ever owned petpets before?”
“No,” said Bertie, “never.”
“Well,” said the shopkeeper, “if you’re interested, we sometimes hire trainees here at the Rock Pool, to teach them how to care for the petpets so that they can work here at the Rock Pool someday. It seems that you’d be very good at it.”
Bertie grinned. “That’s exactly what I want to do!” she said.
“Hello, new trainees, and welcome to the Rock Pool,” the Kougra said. “We’re going to start off today with some grooming basics.”
Bertie and the other trainee, a small Flotsam, looked at each other nervously. Neither of them knew what to expect.
The Kougra gave each of them a petpet and instructions on how to groom it. Bertie’s petpet was a Peadackle, while the Flotsam’s was a Pepito.
At first, Bertie seemed to be doing well. The Peadackle behaved well for her, and she brushed it very gently. However, after only a few brushstrokes, Bertie began to sneeze.
“Do you have a cold?” asked the Kougra shopkeeper in concern.
“No,” said Bertie, “I’ve been feeling fine all day.”
However, Bertie soon found that she could barely brush the Peadackle without sneezing violently.
“Hmm,” said the shopkeeper, “it looks like you might be allergic to Peadackles. Why don’t you take the Pepito instead?”
Bertie and the other trainee swapped petpets, and Bertie began to bathe the Pepito and scrub its scales clean. No sooner had she begun, however, than she began to sneeze once more.
Concerned, the shopkeeper had Bertie attempt to groom each of the petpets in the shop, but she was unable to be in close contact with them for long before a sneezing attack began.
“I’m so sorry, Bertie,” said the shopkeeper, “but it looks like you have serious allergies, to aquatic petpets at least. I’m afraid you won’t be able to work here if you can’t be around the petpets.”
Bertie thanked him for being so kind and, holding back tears, began the long walk home.
Cici was waiting for her when she reached her Neohome. “How did it go?” the Usul asked.
Bertie explained what had happened, and Cici gave her a sympathetic hug. “I’m really sorry, Bertie,” she said. “Do you want to go play Yooyuball?”
Bertie grinned. “I always want to play Yooyuball,” she said.
The sun was setting in the distance, staining the horizon crimson. The bright colours of the sunset were reflected in the shimmering ocean. Gentle waves lapped upon the shore. Having completed their game of Yooyuball, Bertie and Cici walked in the surf, picking up seashells that rolled in with the waves.
“It’s beautiful,” said Cici. “No matter how long I live here, I’ll never get tired of seeing that.”
“You’re right,” said Bertie. “But we’d better get home, so our parents won’t worry when we’re out after dark.”
With a sigh, Cici agreed, and the two friends turned to head for home. As they rounded a natural bend in the sand, another sliver of the ocean came into view, and Bertie spotted a boat bobbing in the waves.
“Look, scuba divers!” she cried excitedly, pointing to the boat, which was painted with the words, “Professional Scuba Diving Research Team”. Two pets, outfitted in scuba diving gear, were climbing onto the deck of the boat. As Bertie watched, she saw that one of the divers dropped into the water and disappear into the water below, leaving ripples in his wake. Another diver plunged into the water after him, and soon both figures were lost to the depths.
“Wouldn’t that be amazing?” Bertie said. “To dive way below the water and see everything under there?”
“Yeah,” said Cici dreamily, “it would be great to just scuba dive every day.”
“That’s it!” Bertie cried. “Cici, you’re a genius!”
“What did I say?” asked Cici.
“I’m not going to be a petpet shopkeeper,” said Bertie. “Instead, I’ll be a professional scuba diver!”
“Exam results for Shurtz, Bertie.”
Bertie, standing in a long line of young pets who had just taken their scuba diving test, took her results from the examiner. She stared at the paper in disbelief.
Dear Ms. Shurtz,
We regret to inform you that you have not passed the preliminary Official Scuba Diving License Examination. Below, you will see notes from your examiner, explaining what you must improve upon. If you still wish to receive an Official Scuba Diving License from the Office of Marine and Aquatic Regulations for Mystery Island, you may retake the test in one week...
Bertie did not read the rest of the letter. She walked outside the examination office, to where Cici was waiting. The Usul did not have to ask how it went; she could see from Bertie’s expression what had happened.
“I’m a complete failure at everything!” Bertie wailed. “I’ll never be a professional scuba diver! I don’t even have a career!”
“We’re only eighteen,” Cici reminded her. “You don’t need to have your career picked out yet. Besides, you can take the test again. Don’t give up.”
“No,” Bertie said sadly, “I knew that I wasn’t good enough at scuba diving to be a professional. I just didn’t want to admit it. I’ve been training for years, and I’m still not as good as the other divers my age. I’m a complete failure. Everything I’ve ever wanted to be, every career I ever tried, I always failed. Either I was scared of Spyders or allergic to aquatic petpets or just not good enough. There’s nothing that I’m good at, nothing I have a talent for.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Cici soothingly. “Come on. Let’s go play Yooyuball on the beach.”
At her friend’s words, Bertie had a sudden realization. There was one thing, at least, that she had always been good at, one thing she had always enjoyed. The answer had been right in front of her all along. She had failed everything she tried, with one exception: she always defeated her opponents in Yooyuball.
“Cici,” she said, “you’re a genius.”
Bertie stared down at the letter in her paws. Beside her, Cici waited, just as anxiously as Bertie herself, for the letter to be opened.
Carefully, Bertie slid open the flap and pulled the letter out of the envelope.
Dear Ms. Shurtz,
It is our honor and deepest pleasure to invite you to be centre forward for the Official Mystery Island Yooyuball Team.
Bertie didn’t have a chance to read the rest of the letter, for Cici, who had read it over her shoulder, hugged her. The letter fell to the floor as the friends jumped up and down in excitement, shrieking and screaming and both talking at once.
“I knew you could do it,” said Cici. “And I promise to be at every game in the Altador Cup. I’ll always be cheering you on.”
“I know,” said Bertie with a grin. “You always have.”