In Episode 2 of Head Trip, I talked in detail about my first novel, “Turtle Island.” I spent nearly a year working on this novel and four months working with a developmental editor. In the end I decided to move on from the project instead of trying to publish it.
Here is the first chapter of “Turtle Island,” written in 2016…
CHAPTER 1 - THAALIN
James saw it first and yelled, “look, look there!”
Kira gasped. Luke yipped with delight.
A giant sea turtle was crawling slowly out of the breaking waves and onto the shore. It's leathery fore feet scraped like blades through the sand. It's powerful neck and beak wavered above the ground like a ripe fruit at the end of a slender branch. Water cascaded down all sides of the turtle's shell as it materialized, forward and upward, like a volcano pushing up out of the sea. Even after it’s great shell was out of the water, still more water trickled through the narrow depressions between the shell's plates. The sun glinted against it’s tough, oily skin, giving the creature a sparkle that reminded James of crystal ornaments in the holiday marketplace.
James had seen plenty of turtles, but none this big, or this close. His feet felt as unmovable as tree roots. He looked sideways at Kira, who was covering her mouth with both hands. Then at his brother Luke who was beaming with pride. Luke hadn’t been lying after all. That much was clear.
Out of awe or respect or both, the children waited for the turtle to speak first.
Slowly she opened her great beak and said in an extremely deep voice, “you are not alone.” Her voice was so deep that it was barely audible. It originated from somewhere ancient, somewhere far off.
She must be speaking to Luke.
Luke squatted down on his haunches and said, ”Hello Thaalin, this here is my girlfriend Kira and my brother Jamie. I’ve told them all about you. Thank you for coming!”
“Yes,” said Thaalin, “would they like to come underwater, as you have done?”
Luke turned and looked at Kira and James. Kira still had her hands over her mouth. She shook her head vigorously from side to side.
Luke said, “I think they just want to watch.”
“Hey,” James said, “I want to try.”
“Jamie, I don’t know if -“
“Well then what did you bring me out here for? I can do it.”
“OK then,” said Luke, smiling, “watch me first.” He waded through the shallow waves toward Thaalin. His woven pants were rolled up to his knees, and he was wearing no shirt. He was skinny and wide and muscular, looking less and less like a teenager and more like a man every day.
Thaalin said in her underwater voice, “Do you remember what I have taught you?"
“Of course! Hands tight and legs loose. And stay close, anything else?”
“Don’t let go," said Thaalin, as if it needed saying.
"Say," said Luke, "can we go through the reef again? Maybe I’ll grab me some dinner this time.” He looked back and winked at Kira.
“Don’t do anything stupid Luke, I’m serious!” she called after him.
Now Thaalin began to turn her large body in a tight circle. James was fascinated by her movement. The center of her shell appeared to stay in the exact same place, but the bladed feet were shuffling, and she spun on a perfect axis. Once she was facing out to sea, she began to crawl into deeper water.
Luke was in waste deep water now, and practically running to keep up. Thaalin didn’t seem to slow or even notice him. But he leapt forward and flopped across the top of her shell like a starfish. His hands gripped the lip of the shell above Thaalin’s forepaws, and the rest of his body trailed behind like the tail of a kite. There was a strange, brief moment where Thaalin was completely submerged and Luke floated over the surface on his belly, and then, in a flash, Kira and James watched as he disappeared into the ocean.
Together they stood, looking out to sea. Hanagae island was their home, and they knew no other place. And of the small population of Hanagaens, very few knew it’s valleys, ridges and rivers better than Luke and James. Even still, James rarely came to this section of the shoreline. It was difficult to reach, and there was little to see here, besides the miles and miles of crab flats. The rickety wooden boardwalks didn’t extend this far north. And even fisherman didn’t venture out this far, seeing how the fishing on Moon River was far better and far easier to get to.
The summer clouds were heavy and threatening to burst. The air was thick even with the sea’s breeze. Before them the ocean stretched out like a rolling blanket over the horizon. Behind them the mud flats turned to marshes, and then to low hills, and gave way to steep, rocky slopes leading up to Hanagae peak.
"You're a smart kid, James," said Kira, breaking the monotonous sound of the shallow waves.
James blushed and said, "not as smart as Luke."
"What do you mean?" James asked. He was rarely alone with Kira. Her hair was dark and curly and the wind whipped it around her freckled cheeks. James straightened his back when she wasn’t looking, so that they were nearly the same height.
"You're both brilliant. You both have a curiosity that I don't have. But Luke wants to do everything his own way. Like when my father was teaching you both how to cast a line. Luke had to do it his way. He had to jump in the water with a spear - like fishing wasn’t dangerous enough for him. But you were patient and you learned everything my father taught you. He says eventually you’ll be as skilled as the Royal Family’s best men.”
“Grandma says that Luke needs a new challenge everyday or else he’ll go crazy.”
"He has to do this stuff," she said, "these crazy things. And I don't worry about it too much. But one day we're going to have kids, and I just don't want him to get hurt you know?”
“What? Really? Luke’s never told me anything about that.”
"Yes," said Kira, "we've got it all planned out."
James scanned his memory. Why had Luke never mentioned this before? Why would he hold something like that back? Was he leading Kira on? James was just about to question her further when a great splash and a spout of breaking water erupted right in front of them.
Thaalin the turtle came rocketing out of the water this time, with Luke clinging to her back, sopping wet and gasping for air. As soon as they were on land, Luke let go and rolled off into the sand. He lay on his back in the shallow water, looking up at the clouds, taking huge breaths and smiling. Kira broke into a run and joined him at his side.
Thaalin continued crawling, as if to be on her own. Her great leathery head moved slowly back and forth like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.
Luke spoke groggily, as if he were waking from a dream, ”Holy high heat, you guys have to try. There's a whole world down there. You won't believe..."
"Just breathe," said Kira, "Take it easy. Are you hurt?"
“Hurt? Love, I've never been better!"
James frowned. “Love?”
Luke repeated, "you guys have to try."
“Not on my life," said Kira.
James looked hesitantly at the great sea turtle. Something was welling up inside of him. “I want to try,” he said.
Luke rolled over onto one shoulder and looked up at his brother. "Alright, Jamie! You're gonna love it!" And he called to Thaalin, "Can you take my brother here for a quick run? Just a short one, to give him a taste?”
All three of the kids looked at Thaalin. All she did was nod. She did not appear to be tired in any way. It was impossible to guess her mood. She did not seem happy or particularly friendly towards Luke, but she did seem to understand all of his words.
"Go ahead buddy," Luke said.
James approached Thaalin slowly and with reverence. Up close she was even more impressive. Each of her four fins were at least the length of James' forearms, although much thicker. The round peak of her shell rose to his waist level in height. James looked in awe at the impossibly thick, plated, crusty exterior of the shell. He wanted to knock on it like a door, just to hear the sound it would make.
He reached out his hand, but before he touched her, he said softly, "OK?" Luke was now sitting up, watching eagerly. Kira had her arm around his waist.
Thaalin was so motionless that James thought for a second she might be asleep. He felt clumsy and foolish as he transferred his weight onto the turtle's shell. He gripped his left hand underneath the rim of the shell - above Thaalin's left shoulder - as he had seen his brother do. Then he swung his right arm over and brought his legs up. Could she even feel him?
Suddenly she began to move. James pressed his chest and chin tightly to the hard crust of the shell behind her neck. He heard Luke yell, "Let your legs trail behind you like a flag, Jamie. Go with it, don't fight it, you'll be fine!” Her movements through the sand were jerky and awkward. But soon she was under and James was floating. He took a huge breath as if it were the last he’d ever have. He closed his eyes and ducked into the water. Miraculously, he felt Thaalin's enormous body go weightless underneath him.
Before he could even open his eyes, the great sea turtle shot through the water like an eagle through the air. It was all James could do to hold on for dear life.