by 2009 Carrboro Elementary 5th Grade Students in collaboration with Susie Wilde, Fall 2009
Spike, the golden sea urchin, hitchhiked the oceans for more than a year. Lonely, without a family of his own, he followed whispers about sunken treasure and discovered fish that had the power to light up the darkest sea.
One day he floated among a school of silver dolphins that included his friend Finn. They were all chattering about hugs. “Hugs?” Spike asked. “What are hugs?”
“Hugs are better than the gold of pirate ships,” one dolphin said, and dove under a wave. “They’re better than a belly full of shrimp,” said another as he jumped high out of the water. “They make you glow inside. They make you feel as snug as a pearl in an oyster,” said a third dolphin before he plunged back into the sea.
Spike knew he had to find a hug. “Where do they live?” he asked.
Finn, the dolphin leader, laughed. “Hugs don’t live just anywhere. You need to talk to Grandfather Turtle. He’s wise and knows the sea and all its creatures. He can help you.”
“Of course, I’ll help you find a hug. Climb aboard,” Grandfather Turtle said. And that’s how Spike came to ride on the broad algae-covered back of the ancient sea turtle, traveling the world in search of a hug. Water rushed around and through the sea urchin’s orange-tipped spines as they journeyed the Pacific Ocean from the Hawaiian Islands all the way to South America.
“I know a moray eel,” Grandfather Turtle told the sea urchin “She lives alone in a cave off the coast of Peru. I bet Sombra would like to get a hug as much as she’d like to give one. I’ll take you there myself.”
Upon reaching the coast of Peru, Spike somersaulted with joy and tumbled off Grandfather Turtle’s shell. As he crept towards Sombra’s cave, his heart flip-flopped with fear. Sombra’s cave looked black and gloomy.
“It looks so shadowy,” Spike whispered to Grandfather Turtle.
“Actually Sombra’s name means shadow in Spanish,” the turtle replied.
Spike shivered when he saw the slippery skin of Sombra. She inched towards him. Her eyes burned red and her teeth glistened like white sand.
“What brings you here?” Sombra’s voice was as rusty as an old anchor.
Spike started, “I want a hug and…”
Sombra scowled and her mean eyes narrowed. “I’ll be happy to give you a hug with my teeth. I’ve heard sea urchins are quite a delicacy.” The eel lunged and her teeth clicked right above his spines.
Spike fell backwards, cowering. His feet felt wobbly as he scrambled up on Grandfather Turtle’s large shell. “Maybe Sombra doesn’t know how great hugs can make you feel,” Grandfather Turtle said. The two of them rocketed away from the coast of Peru while Sombra vanished back into her dim cave.
“I didn’t think hug-hunting was so dangerous,” Spike said. “I don’t know if I want to look for hugs any more.”
“Sombra was a little cranky today,” said Grandfather Turtle “We’ll travel to a new ocean. I know an octopus who lives off the coast of Burma. Her name is Quet Pamo and she has eight arms. So many arms for hugging!” the old turtle chuckled.
Over several weeks, Grandfather Turtle and Spike traveled past coral palaces and through patches of swaying seaweed. The young sea urchin asked as many questions as there were ocean shells. “Why is an octopus named Quet Pamo?” “Are hugs dangerous?” ”Does Quet Pamo have teeth?”
Grandfather Turtle’s words drifted back to Spike on the ocean currents. “Quet Pamo is Burmese for cupcake. She is known for her sweetness, but I have no idea what kind of hugs she gives.”
Spike imagined the sweet things she might have done. Maybe she had carried a family of tired seahorses to safety, or squirted ink to protect a flounder from a shark. Surely Quet Pamo would give him a hug that would feel sweet.
Grandfather Turtle swam slowly until he spotted the coast of Burma, then zipped through the waves until they came to Quet Pamo’s home.
The octopus lived in deep waters between two boulders. Spike trembled as he peeked into Quet Pamo’s mysterious den. Then he scooted to the opening before he could lose his courage.
A purple tentacle reached out toward him.
“Anybody home?” Spike called, trying to be brave.
Quet Pamo’s voice drifted out to him. “May I ask who’s there?”
“Excuse me for bothering you, Miss Octopus. I don’t want to trouble you, but could I have a hug, please?”
A large eye stared out of the crack. “I don’t know. You have a lot of spikes. I don’t want to hurt any of my arms.”
“But you have so many, couldn’t you spare just one for a short hug?”
“I’m sorry, but I need all of them for swimming. I can’t risk injuring even one.”
“But I’ve traveled so far,” Spike said.
Quet Pamo was quiet for a long while. After a big sigh, she said, “Look, there’s no kind way to say this: I’m not going to hug you.”
Spike dragged himself up onto Grandfather Turtle’s back. “No hugs here. Hugs can’t be as great as the dolphins said. Let’s just give up.”
Grandfather Turtle paddled away on an outgoing wave. “It’s too soon to give up. Besides, you haven’t met Bahari. Once the humans of Ghana thought that manatees like Bahari were mermen, Bahari actually means sea man in their language.”
As Grandfather Turtle’s powerful legs pulled them through ocean waves, he told Spike about Bahari. “Like most manatees, he’s friendly. Like you, he has no parents; he lost them at an early age. His velvety skin should be perfect for a hug,” the old turtle said.
“I don’t know. I doubt there are any hugs in the sea for me,”sighed Spike.
The currents off the coast of Ghana were warm, the waters murky. As they entered the Gulf of Guinea, Spike noticed a dark shadow floating above them.
“Grandfather Turtle, what’s that big shape? Is that the shadow of a cloud?” Spike asked.
“That looks like Bahari. The young fellow’s sleeping and drifting again” Grandfather Turtle said.
Then Spike heard a scary whirring sound coming from the west. “What’s that noise?” he asked.
“Uh-oh,” cried Grandfather Turtle “That’s a boat propeller and it’s pulling Bahari toward it. He’ll be hurt!”
“Hurry!” Spike exclaimed.
They sped up. Spike gripped Grandfather Turtle’s back like a barnacle attached to a crab.
“Bahari’s definitely asleep!” cried Spike as they got close enough to see. Without hesitating, the golden sea urchin lunged forward, aiming himself directly at the manatee’s plump gray belly. Ripples flashed in the water as Spike hurled himself against Bahari and poked his spines into the manatee’s side.
“What? What’s going on?” Bahari woke, twitched, shuddered and then struggled against the propeller’s pull. Fish circled around as the manatee yanked himself awake and then flung his large body away from the boat.
The manatee looked up at the propeller above him and called out to Spike, “Watch out, tiny one, that propeller will shred you into pieces as small as sand.” Spike felt the propeller drawing him closer, his spines fluttered in the bubbly water. The manatee reached out his huge flippers, grabbed Spike gently and clutched the frightened urchin close to his soft chest. “Careful, little one – we don’t want to lose you.”
Whether it was Bahari’s words or the hug itself that made him feel so good, Spike murmured “Ahhh,” and relaxed. Finn and all the dolphins were right he decided as the hug tingled his spines and filled his heart with a glow.