Children Fiction posted August 25, 2008


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A children's story teaching about other cultures

The Mermaid and the Octopus

by AlvinTEthington

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Shelley held on tightly to her new friend Oscar's arm. He had told her he was an octopus and that octopuses had eight arms called tentacles. That's why they were called octopuses, since octopuses had a part in the name—oct—that meant “eight.” She was glad to have a new friend, especially since her mother was taken away by one of those creatures who lived on land, but sometimes came into the sea.

Shelley told Oscar she was a mermaid, a creature who looked like a fish from the waist down and like a land creature from the waist up.  She was young for a mermaid, only a few hundred years old. She had been very lonely since her mother was taken by one of the land creatures.

They had been sunning themselves on the rocks, and her mother taught her a song all mermaids should know, The Siren Song. She told her to sing it when no land creatures were around, for they would seek out the singer. She told Shelley they didn't want that; they were happy with only other mermaids for company.

While they were singing, one of the land creatures appeared. It looked different. Shelley had seen land creatures from afar before. They came in big, medium, and little sizes. This one was a big one. There were also two types—one looked like Shelley and her mother from the waist up, but had two things like sticks (Shelley had found wood in the water and her mother explained to her they were off of land plants and called “sticks.”) The sticks were where the tail should be. The other one was less pretty, more square, and had some hair on its upper body; but it also had sticks. This land creature was one of the less pretty types.

The Siren Song must have made it come to Shelley and her mother. Shelley and her mother both had long blond hair. The land creature had short black hair. The land creature yelled a word, “Mermaid!” It scared Shelley and she hid in the water. Her mother didn't make it to hide in time and Shelley saw the land creature carry off her mother.

As she swam away in the ocean, crying, she met Oscar. Oscar seemed worried about her.

“Why do you cry, little mermaid?” Oscar said.

“What...what...what are you?” Shelley said, between sobs.

That's when Oscar told her he was an octopus.

“Let's get away from here,” Oscar said. “The land creatures like to eat creatures like me.”

So they went into the depths of the sea.


II.

Oscar was awakening from a deep sleep. Shelley was, as usual, holding on to one of his tentacles.

“Oscar, I miss my mother,” Shelley said.

“Let's get her back.”

“How?”

“I'll go up to the surface of the sea and talk to the land creatures when they come out to the sea on one of their things I have heard some of them call boats.'”

“Won't they try to eat you?” Shelley was concerned for her new and only friend.

“I'll take that chance for you, my beautiful mermaid.” Oscar had truly grown to care for her. “I'll get your mommy back; don't worry.”

Oscar told Shelley to stay down in the depths, and went up to the surface of the sea.


III.

Kuni had reluctantly taken his wife, Miyako, out on his fishing boat. This was men's work, he thought. But Miyako just wanted to see the sea. She was tired of the city, and wanted to be in nature.

“Look, husband, there is an octopus!” Miyako said.

“Ah, we can have it for dinner, “ Kuni said. “I'll kill it with my spear, and load it on the fishing boat.”

“No, Kuni, you must not do such a thing!” Miyako said. Miyako belonged to a religion called Buddhism, and some members of that religion have respect for all life and do not eat other creatures.

“But I can share it with my friends!” Kuni said. Kuni had no religion, but he honored his ancestors, some of whom had been Buddhists like Miyako.

“Please, don't!” Miyako said.

IV.

Oscar saw the land creatures in the distance. He knew their race. He often listened to the conversations of land creatures when he was close to the surface but still hidden. He knew these were land creatures called Japanese, and that they referred to creatures like him as tako. They liked to eat creatures like him.

Bravely, he approached the boat. He saw one of the creatures had a spear in its hand.

O-hi-o,” Oscar said. He had learned in the language of these land creatures that meant Good morning.

“Look, he speaks!” the pretty land creature said.  Except for her hair, she looked like Shelley from the waist up.

“You cannot kill him now. Some of my Christian friends say animals can speak in stories in their holy books—an animal spoke to someone called Balaam. They say it is in the holy book of the Jews, as well,” the pretty land creature continued.

The square land creature looked frightened. “What do you want with us?” he demanded of Oscar.

“Do you know there is a creature called 'mermaid' ?” Oscar said.

“Yes, my friend Teiji has one in his aquarium. He likes to look at her,” Kuni said. “She has long golden hair unlike our short black hair.”

“Aquarium? What is that?” Oscar said.

“ A box filled with water,” Kuni said. “Teiji found she had to have water to live, and he wanted her alive so she would stay beautiful.”

That must be Shelley's mother, Oscar thought.

“I'll make a bargain with you. You may kill and eat me if you bring me the mermaid first. She has a daughter here in the sea.”

Kuni thought about this for a long time. He could have a huge feast with all his friends if he brought back this octopus for dinner. There was enough meat there for many, many people.

“We shall do no such thing,” Miyako finally said. “We will return the mermaid to her daughter. Kuni, you will talk to your friend Teiji. He will understand if you explain she has a daughter.”

“How will he understand, wife?”

“Ask him how he would feel if he and his wife were separated from their children. I hope they would find a kind creature like this octopus to rescue their children. You will not take his life; he is too good for you to do that.”

“Yes, wife, you're right. Let's go back to land and find Teiji and talk to him. We'll bring back the mermaid to this octopus.”

Oscar saw the boat head toward land. “Arigato!” he screamed out. He had learned that meant Thank you in the language of these particular land creatures.

He dived deep into the ocean to go back and tell Shelley the good news.


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When I first saw this picture, I envisioned it as underwater, and the creature as an octopus. I later learned the picture was entitled "Taming Dragons." However, I seldom write children's literature and I wanted to see how this one would be received.
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