The Waters of Home
Herrington stood in the doorway of the classroom, looking out at the playground where he had spent so much of his life. It was strange to think he would never come back to this place to meet his friends, to copy equations from the chalkboard, to eat his Egg Salad Packed Lunch. Graduation day had been like a party. Everyone had walked up and gotten their diplomas to the cheers and whistles of their friends and family. Afterward they had all gone to a fancy lunch in the cafeteria that the school had put together. Herrington had been so busy being congratulated by his family and laughing with his friends that it really hadn't sunk in that graduation meant leaving. Until this moment.
What was he supposed to do now?
Shouldering his backpack, he took one last look at the empty classroom. The board had been erased and cleaned, all the chairs were pushed in neatly under the desks, the wastebaskets had been emptied. Herrington sighed quietly. This is it, he thought. Good-bye.
A Spotted Tuskaninny stood on the beach at Roo Island, staring out over the water. Over one shoulder he had slung a beaten up canvas pack. All of his belongings were stored in there: his water canteen, the last of his Peanut Butter Granola Bars, a beanie his mother had knitted for him, a specialized Tuskaninny Parka, and a few extra changes of clothing. He wondered what the next few weeks had in store for him.
Ever since Herrington had graduated from school, he had been looking for the next step of his life. He knew he had to find a job, but he didn't really know what he wanted to do. His mother had hoped he would stay near Neopia Central with her. He was her only child after all. But Herrington itched to see the world. He had lived in Neopia Central all his life, but his ancestors were from the Terror Mountain district. His great-grandfather was born on one of those little islands of ice just off the coast, near the foothills of Terror Mountain. It was his grandfather, who had dreams of owning a snow cone shop, who had first moved from those isolated islands to the bustling town of Happy Valley. And then when his mother grew up, she in her turn moved to Neopia Central when Herrington's father won an opportunity to work at the Neopian Hospital.
Now Herrington wanted to go back to his origins. He thought if he could just find his roots, then he would finally be able to figure out who he really was and what he really wanted to do with his life. He had scoured the news for weeks, looking for job openings that would take him north. Finally, he had spotted a promising advertisement:
!!! WANTED !!!
Strapping young lad
to work as ICE KAUBOY in
area of TM/RI straits and seas.
No experience necessary!
Neomail for details.
At first, Herrington was reluctant to answer the ad. But after doing a bit of research, and finding out that “TM/RI straits and sea” referred to the area of the ocean between Terror Mountain and Roo Island, he knew that it was just what he was looking for. Although he had no idea what an “ice kauboy” was, the advertisement did say no experience was necessary, didn't it? So it couldn't be too bad. After a short neomail interview and a period of mailing paperwork back and forth, the company finally decided to hire him, and sent him a ticket to take him over the Rainbow Bridge. And now here he was, on Roo Island, waiting for his berth.
As he idly made piles of sand, with the waves lapping against his tail, Herrington gazed out at the horizon. It was quite a distance, but he could see the faint shadow of Terror Mountain against the cloudy sky. What would it be like out there? Herrington wondered what he had gotten himself into. Feeling a bit homesick, and not quite sure of himself, he dug around in his pack. Finally, he found what he was looking for: a letter from his mother.
I love you. I know you're a grown Tuskaninny now, but a mother always has the right to say she loves her child. Don't you scold me and say that I'm embarrassing you, for I do love you. You're about to go off on a long journey. And although I'm sure you'll be fine, I do worry after you. Do remember to keep your head covered, dear. You know how you're prone to head colds.
It's been a long time since I've been back to the Terror Mountain district. I do wonder who of my old friends are still living there. Now remember, you're to look up Uncle Mada right away. He's a quirky old fellow, but he'll be able to help you. He was once a fisherman, you see. I do think you'll be needing a bit of sailor's training for your new job.
You will remember to write to your old mam, now won't you? Please be careful, don't go off adventuring on your own. You always did have a tendency to get into trouble when you were just a pup. Tell Uncle Mada we got his lovely card last Christmas. I've written so that he'll be expecting you.
P.S. I stuffed a couple extra pairs of undies into the side pocket of your pack. Do remember to keep up with your laundry now, dear.
With a small smile, Herrington slipped the letter back into his pack. In the distance, he heard a horn blow twice. That would be his ship then. He quickly shouldered the pack, tightened the straps, and headed toward the docks. Tomorrow, he'd finally meet this uncle that he'd heard so much about.
Uncle Mada was nothing at all what Herrington had expected. First of all, he wasn't even a Tuskaninny! He was a craggy-faced, old Bori with a scruffy, graying beard. He was indeed a fisherman, had been all his life and still was. Herrington had five days scheduled to stay with his uncle, but it felt like five months.
After the initial meeting, where gruff, old, Uncle Mada seemed quite uncomfortable, all pleasantries ceased. “So you're going out to sea, are ye?” he had asked. “Well then, we got a lot of work yet to do, Boy.” That's what Uncle Mada called him. Not Herrington, or Herr. Just “Boy.”
That first day, Uncle Mada showed Herrington to his room. It was the attic of the old Bori's home. It was large, and mostly empty, but clean. In the corner was an old bed and well-washed sheets. But the blanket was fluffy and warm. Uncle Mada let Herrington unpack, and then they had dinner at a small cafe around the corner. The next morning, Uncle Mada made a terrible racket at 3 AM. Herrington, not knowing what to expect, thought the old Bori might be having an accident and rushed down the stairs. When he found Uncle Mada in the kitchen, the old Bori barely raised an eyebrow. He continued clanking pots and pans. “Breakfast'll be ready in just a bit. Ye better sit yerself down, Boy.”
Bleary-eyed, Herrington plopped himself down in a chair. A cup of black coffee was pushed roughly under his nose. The steam was warm on his face, and it smelled wonderful. But when Herrington took a sip, it was bitter as Oranella skins. He grimaced, but was determined to be polite and drank it down slowly. Uncle Mada nodded in satisfaction and turned back to the stove.
In the afternoon, Uncle Mada took Herrington out on his boat. Thankfully, Herrington didn't feel any seasickness. That would have been a disaster. Uncle Mada worked the young Tuskaninny until dusk, teaching him the ins and outs of a boat from fore to aft. By the time they got back to land, Herrington was exhausted. After a simple dinner of hot chili and a glass of milk, he climbed up to his attic room and was asleep before his head hit the pillow. It felt like he had only been asleep for a minute before Uncle Mada was shaking him awake again to start the whole process over.
At first, Herrington hated Uncle Mada, but he held his tongue. His mother had raised him to be polite to his elders. But after the third day, Herrington got used to the rhythm of the day. He became more adept on the ship, and he really felt like he belonged out there on the ocean. There was something in the salty wind that exhilarated him. On the morning that he was to leave, he felt a sadness at having to move on, and a deep gratitude toward Uncle Mada. The old Bori shook his hand as if Herrington were a grown man. When Uncle Mada dropped Herrington off at the dock where he was to meet his new captain, the two had no words. Uncle Mada simply grunted lowly and walked back down the dock, never turning to look back.
Captain Poulso had expected a green young thing, flippers soft from reading books. Instead he was pleasantly surprised the Herrington had the calluses of a sailor, even if they were still new calluses and not the thick, stiff whorls the captain sported. Instead of making Herr (that's what the crew called the boy now) the cabin boy as he had originally planned, Captain Poulso decided to try the boy out on deck. For a week Herr was ordered about, yelled at, and drilled until the movements became as natural to him as breathing.
Then one day, Captain Poulso called Herr into his cabin.
“Herr, it may seem like I'm always shouting at you, but you've done a fine job so far,” he said.
Herr waited to see what the captain would say next.
“I think you're ready for the next step. How would you like to be a real ice kauboy with your own boat?” Captain Poulso's eyes gleamed among his feathers.
Herr was speechless.
The Eyrie waited silently, grinning.
“Th-that'd be glorious, Captain!”
“Alright, Herr. I've got just the vessel for you. She's a beauty. Small, but hardy. Perfect for the sort of job you'll be doing. Now, you do know what ice kauboys do, don't you?”
Herr stammered, “Uh, not really. Captain.”
“Well, you do know what kauboys do, don't you?”
“Well, yes, Captain. Like in the movies?”
“Something like that. Well, ice kauboys are just honest folk, such as yourself, who herd icebergs.”
“Do you know about the fresh water shortage that Neopia Central's been going through lately? How about the Lost Desert, where do you suppose they get their water?”
“I'm not sure, Captain.”
“Well, ice kauboys lasso up those icebergs and herd them down south into containment tanks. Then as the ice melts, the fresh water is collected in the tanks and then transported all over the globe, and even flown out to Kreludor!”
“How do we do that, Captain?”
Herr stood on the deck of his little boat, staring off into the sunset. In hindsight it seemed perfectly obvious what his job would have entailed. There really was only one way to herd icebergs after all. It had become so deeply a part of his life that it was now a simple matter of fact. He had found his true home on these waters. Even so, it had been a year since he'd last seen his mother and he was glad for the chance to go back south during this trip.
Herr sailed calmly through the waters of the strait toward Neopia Central. An iceberg towering fifteen feet above his head trailed meekly behind him.