Toby Hemingway 20

For a teacher and a mentor of a young person with exceptional talent, she carries a heavy burden. Youth are impressionable, their path malleable. How much does the guide intervene?  When to direct, when not. What are the resources to bring to them and when is the right time for it?

These thoughts occupied Toby for most of the morning after she’d first read Marsh’s story. She’d been doing this work for most of her life and knew well enough that a talent like his comes along perhaps once in a teacher’s lifetime.

As she cleaned the house, and later prepared her gardens for the coming winter, she recalled his story. Should she say nothing, and let the boy unfold in his own way until he asked for her assistance? She’d never before considered such a strategy. She had treasured the timeless works of great writers from an early age. Each possessed a style that would be associated with them and emulated by many new writers. She observed that each broke with convention where it worked. Each story provided a window for readers — a time, a place, people who would live on in readers’ minds sometimes for centuries. Hugo, Dickens, Austen came to mind. Could Marsh be of such talent?

She wished to know more about Marsh. His writing showed that he was wise for his age, probably from hardship, perhaps loss. These were the elements of deep writing. It was also clear he possessed drive and that people gathered around him.

###

“Shirley, hi. It’s Toby.”

“Hey girl, what’s up?”

“Have you got time to read an essay for me? I’ve, I’ve received something that is . . . well, totally unexpected.”

Shirley was quiet, listening. “Sure. Are you home?”

###

Toby walked Shirley to the chairs on the bluff. It had been a singing blue day, and the bay and Gulf beyond it shimmered to the horizon. While Shirley read, Toby went inside to mix gin and tonics, Shirley’s preferred libation.

When Toby returned, Shirley had put down the essay and was leaning back in her chair, staring into the blue.

“This boy, Marsh, I believe he is the young man that Vern has been talking about for almost a year.”

Shirley filled Toby in on how Vern and Marsh had developed a durable friendship around Sunday Pier fishing, and how Vern had grown to love the boy but had not extended the relationship beyond their weekly sports activities.

They clinked their glasses sitting back to enjoy the sun’s descent. The Great Artist filled his brushes and painted the sky gold, orange, and fushia.

“He apparently is living with an Uncle who is an alcoholic. The boy feeds himself and does pick up work around town to cobble together a survival strategy. Vern says he’s a quick learner, too.”

“What did you think of the essay?”

“He’s an old soul. I’ve read nothing like it from someone his age.”

“I’m struggling to know how to help him keep developing the talent. I’ve decided to do nothing, to just give him opportunities to publish and continue to write. What do you think?”

“Yes. With the Gulf conservation a purpose for the writing, he will likely be able to navigate his personal circumstances, finding ways to understand it.”

Toby thought about Shirley’s astute observation. She was right. Writing is that, all art is that: a way to understand, to celebrate the experience, to “come out ahead of ourselves” as Steinbeck reminded us.

That evening she reread the essay. Across the bottom, she wrote, Continue!

 

 

 

 

Toby Hemingway 19

Does Literature Change Us?

You read and you read and then something comes into your hands that is original, fresh, like no other. Bedamned the grammar or even the sentence structure, the power is there. This was Marsh’s first essay for Toby.

 

The First Line

It was hunger that first made me love the Gulf of Mexico.

The Next Line

The truth is, I was poor and fish were free. 

Marsh went on in a stream of consciousness to tell the story of how he’d found a rusted-out bike frame with no tires and how an old man — the neighborhood recycler of everything metal — clanged around in his yard to find parts and two tires.

The yard and porches were filled to waist high with junk, Marsh wrote. Washing machines, outboard motors, old truck tires made into flower beds, shovels, ladders, metal swimming pools full of greening rain water, aluminum, tools. Ya Ya was a grandfather and beloved by all who knew him. He saw me, I mean he really saw me that day when I knocked on his door dragging the bike carcass behind me.

He’d sent me home with a bag of grapefruit from his tree. When I returned the next day, my bike was complete, cleaned and buffed to a shine. He’d found a bike seat and rack, and best of all, fishing gear. I told him how I wanted to fish at the Pier to get the bigger fish. He saw my hunger because he’d known it, too. 

I’ll come help you, I said, as payment for the bike.

He’d put his weathered hand on my shoulder and said, No. Go fish!

After that, I always brought him steaks and fillets when I had a good catch. Sometimes he smoked them on one of his many grills, and he always had a huge pot of collards cooking on his tiny stovetop, and we sat on fancy metal love seats under the oaks and watched the cars go by as the sun went down. Everyone knew Ya Ya. They waved, and some stopped the car in the middle of the road and gabbed with him for a while. 

Ya Ya was the first storyteller. 

Toby Hemingway 18

High winds and near-shore lightening strikes shut-down the Pensacola Pier. Without their usual fishing, Vern tinkered on his boat, and Marsh read Call of the Wild. In that rarity of moments when a soul is drawn into a stillpoint — when normal time continues around him but he remains behind — he saw his life in Buck’s journey. Vern was his John Thornton, Shaundra his Nig. This Navy-veteran  never questioned Marsh’s circumstances but befriended him in the present by sharing joy in being on the great big Gulf. Vern had fought his wars just as Marsh had fought his. Like Buck and John, they came together at the perfect moment as planned by some celestial event perhaps. For who can say why certain people come into our lives when we need them most? And Shaundra and her family helped restore a sense of belonging and legitimacy for him — just as Nig, the little Irish setter in Jack London’s tale, licked Buck’s wounds until they healed.

http://www.richardvcorrell.com/galleries/rural-life-and-animals/15404598

In Call of the Wild, Marsh found himself. His journey as an orphan had meaning, and like Buck, the harrowing journey had made him stronger and better in every way he could be. And like Buck who found his pack and his great love, Marsh could feel that call now as a path opened ahead for him as a writer, a scientist, and hopefully one day, a great father.

As Marsh closed the cover on that timeless story, a new guide entered his life.

###

A house and its family eventually meld, especially when a long marriage and enduring love have warmed its walls with the voices of children, and the highs and lows of life’s challenges, that blend to form a certain aura: “home”.

Toby and Ron’s house on the high bluff was home to two sons —  Ron, Jr. and Thomas — their parents, and Columbus. Various dogs had come and gone, their bones on the bluff where lawn meets the sky. A coastal oak whose limbs dipped to rest upon the earth, protected them.

Columbus, perceptive creature that he is, stored the home’s auditory memories with great accuracy, much to the detriment of the other occupants. A set of these memes were evoked with Toby sitting at her desk to grade papers.

“The toils of Sisyphus!” He shrieked. This was interspersed with lines from Todd Rundgren’s “I saw the light in your eyes,” taught to him by Tommy who listened to rock tunes of his parents’ era.

“I saw the light!” he crooned bobbing his head up and down which made Toby join in singing the whole song. It always made her weep for want of seeing her boys again. Plus the glass of wine. Probably a ritual not well aligned with grading papers. Or, perhaps it was perfect for it.

Catch up and read Toby Hemingway from the start! Toby Heminway_Mar 1-17

Listen to Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw the Light”:

 

Toby Hemingway 17

Plastic – the facts

    • Humans have created 8300 million metric tonnes of plastic in the last 60+ years
    • Every year between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes end up in our oceans
    • A single 1L plastic bottle could break down into enough small fragments to put one on every mile of beach in the entire world.
    • https://us.whales.org/plastic-pollution-in-the-oceans/

There were fewer calves in the pod. No one knew why. Mating activity was similar to other seasons but not as many females became pregnant. And, there were stillborn calves — a rarity in the pod’s collective memory. Each baby was more and more precious to the pod members. Several grandmothers helped watch over the adopted calf giving her time to hunt. The pod responded to shifting locations of prey requiring more exertion and time. Since her stillborn baby, she’d puzzled over all that weakened their survival and joy. It surely must be related to The Changes.

###

It was October and fishermen at the Pensacola Pier were pulling in redfish. It was a bonanza. The fish migrated closer to shore to fatten-up on menhaden, mullet, and crustaceans for the coming winter months.

“It’s a topwater lure you need this morning, Marsh,” Vern advised and gestured toward a variety of lures he’d laid out. “I’ve been getting good action with the darker lure but I see people around me with the light.”

“I’ll try the white Z-Man,” Marsh said lifting the rubbery lure to his line.

They were casting far from the dock structure. Later they switched to live bait (mullet, shrimp, crab) for around the dock itself.

The redfish streaked across the translucent water where Marsh could observe their golden-dark shadows moving with speed and grace against the white sand below.

Vern was quiet as usual. “We’ll be able to fish for flounder next month. They migrate here to mate in November. Would you like to join me and my wife in our boat to fish for them?”

“Yes!” Marsh said without hesitation. “I didn’t know you had a boat.”

“My wife uses it mostly. . .she and her Fishin’ Chix.”

“The what chics?” Marsh laughed.

“Yeah, a bunch of women who are fishing fanatics,” he said, reeling in a redfish. “And none of them are your age, in case you had any aspirations.”

Marsh didn’t know too much about flounder but being with Vern in a boat fishing was a strong pull. And, anticipation of Mrs. Vern‘s good cooking.

“Hey, Vern. Did you find anything unusual when you cleaned your Kingfish last week?” He asked remembering the odd fish.

“No, why?”

“When my Uncle opened up one of the Kings, we found an ugly black growth that smelled like oil,” Marsh explained.

Vern was quiet, thinking, fishing. “Tell you the truth. I’m surprised we don’t find more life that with the oil spill and all.”

“It made me think when I fixed the other one. I mean, I wonder if there is stuff we don’t see that’s there, you know?”

“Keep thinking like that and you’ll starve,” Vern reminded him.

“Guess so,” he said. Marsh wondered how many others like him depended on their fishing for a regular source of food.

Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle

Just then a shout rang out at the far end of the pier. Everyone was reeling in and walking down there. Marsh and Vern joined the crowd of fishermen.

Flopping on the pier was a sea turtle with a hook down its throat. It was ‘swimming’ through the air on its back, contorting to right itself. There were two fishermen who had lifted the turtle using a basket and rope that the Pier kept on hand just for this happenstance. It was part of a sea turtle conservation effort. By lifting it in a basket, they avoided further harm to the sea turtle.

Every year, legions of sea turtles were found impaled by fishing gear, slashed by churning blades, or entombed in nets or plastic. It was not uncommon for the Pier fishermen to pull out a sea turtle. Today, these two men had already called the Sea Turtle Rescue team to take the sea turtle to a rehab facility. Once the turtle was tended to, the rehabbers would give it a thorough going over, make sure it was eating, and then release it back to the Gulf.

“It looks beat up,” one observer said.

“Maybe it’s old,” another added.

“How can you tell,” someone else asked.

“Don’t know.”

“I think you count the rings inside one of the scales,” an older fisherman offered.

Marsh noted the curiosity about the turtle including his own. For the first time he thought about what kind of job he could get that would keep him near the Gulf and doing this: following his curiosity and love for the ocean — and getting paid to do it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toby Hemingway 16

“Oh, Captain! My Captain!” shrieked Columbus as guests arrived.

Marsh was immediately drawn to the parrot. The two eyed each other thoughtfully.

“Hey, Matie,” Marsh said in his best pirate-ese. The other kids gathered behind him enthralled with Columbus.

“Ooo, it makes wonder,” crooned the bird. Most of the kids did not know the song but the adults laughed in surprise.

“This is Columbus, who, you can see, is in rare form tonight!” Toby said.

“The moon lies fair,” Columbus said.

“Okay, everyone get a plate and drink. ”

Toby and Marsha directed kids, teachers, and journalists to the dining room table loaded with everyone’s favorite dishes. The weather had turned raw and windy with a front moving in. Plans to barbeque were changed to a potluck inside.

After everyone had settled in around the living room, Toby picked up a dog-eared copy of Call of the Wild. She read:

Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost. ~ Into the Primitive, Chapter 1, Call of the Wild, Jack London, 1903.

The room was completely quiet.

“What did the writer do in this first paragraph?” Toby asked.

The group rang out with ideas. She let the conversation grow and enrich itself as young and old responded.

“This is the kind of writing we need now.” She stopped for a few moments. “Can you do that? Can we do that?”

This was how Toby began to teach her team the kind of powerful writing that emanates from direct experience. This kind of storytelling brings understanding, engenders empathy, and moves people to act together.

###

Marsh could not sleep that night. His chest was filled with excitement and the kind of anxiety caused by the wish to achieve something and the journey ahead to accomplish it.

He turned on the bedside lamp, found the journal Mrs. Hemingway had given him, and began to jot down ideas, words, and phrases. Then, he started writing. When he finally looked up, it was dawn.

 

 

Toby Hemingway 15

Toby formed a team: teachers in elementary, middle and high school; a local independent news agency journalist; artists and videographer; fundraiser, and one very successful community organizer listened to by both sides of the aisle. She would engage the West Florida Literary Federation to sponsor contests for writers and poets and publish in their professional journal and online. Finally, the local League of Women Voters would be asked to train the public to write effective Letters to the Editor about conserving the Gulf.

She would bring a similar team of youth together after fielding recommendations from her leadership team. The youth team would be supported by the adult team. She wished to have structure but not too much of it to allow the millenials and younger generations creative room. They would lead.

Molly St. John agreed to serve as a science advisor.

###

https://www.fishinchix.com/

The Fishin’ Chix, Bream Fishermen Association, Pensacola Canoe Club, and the Surfrider Foundation would participate in collecting and submitting data to the Marine Mammal Institute. University of West Florida Environmental Studies majors would be invited to join in.

At a meeting in the Community Center with about 50 adults and youths, Toby suggested a plan that would allow all the groups to work independently, during the normal course of their activities. In this way, no one carried a huge administrative load and any costs incurred would be covered by the groups. Meetings would be minimal.

Developing a crack team of writers would be hers alone. She knew how to turn out solid writers. No one understood the power of the written word more than Toby Hemingway. It had made the world throughout  history. This would be no exception in the Magical Kingdom of the Gulf.

On a clear Fall night she assembled the writing team for a potluck and planning. Among them was a golden-haired lad with green eyes full of excitement.

 

Toby Hemingway 14

“Anchors aweigh!” Columbus squawked as the living room emptied of women.

This was the grey parrot’s usual utterance when he sensed a departure. How he knew it Toby’s family had never discerned, but perhaps there was a change in activity or tone of voices unnoticed by them. Or, could the intelligent bird understand their conversation?

Columbus had come into their lives when a marina owner on a Caribbean island had asked them to adopt a young parrot he was unable to care for. The man had named it Columbus. The bird was obtained from a small village on the Ivory Coast ending up in the ownership of the marina owner six years later. He’d had the bird for four years. By ten years of age, Columbus had acquired several hundred words in three languages. He understood numbers of things and possessed a fondness for wine corks and legos. The Toby and Ron’s boys taught Columbus to sing ‘ooh, it makes me wonder‘ from Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven–guaranteed to bring down the house.

When Ron passed away, Columbus turned 20.

A few mornings after the funeral, when Toby fed him pieces of mango, he’d stopped eating, cocked his head at her, staring with one luminous yellow eye.

“Anchors aweigh,” he’d said.

Toby was silent, stunned. “Yes, anchors aweigh.”

###

Marsh biked over to the local skate park. It was really cool. Brand new and not far from his house. He didn’t own a board himself but there was always an extra that other skaters brought along.

“Hey, man!” Sky shouted.

A blond, super-tanned boy waved to Marsh from the top of a shoot. He jumped on his board and rode it to the lip, rocketed into the air and executed a high ollie, clapped down with arms spread like wings on the concrete runway and skated to where Marsh stood. They high fived. Sky’s t-shirt and face were dripping with the sweat of exertion.

“Got a board yet?” he asked.

“Nope,” Marsh said faking a grin. “I haven’t got over to Waterboyz,” he fibbed.

He’d been there looking at the skate and surf boards and all the bright t-shirts and gear he could not afford to buy. Waterboyz was a great store started by a veteran surfer who loved youth. The owner had all kinds of classes going for kids. In an adjoining warehouse, a small skateboard course was frequented by neighborhood kids. It was always packed and the music great. Marsh so far was just an observer.

Sky skated to the other side of the park motioning for Marsh to follow him. He pulled an old skateboard from his backpack.

“Here, this is the board I learned on. Keep it until you get your own,” Sky said.

“Really?” Marsh said, thrilled. “I’ll take great care of it, man, ’till I get my own.”

“I know bro. Come on, let’s get rollin’.”

Marsh was a natural athlete. He got right in the thick of the action, made a few spectacular wipeouts but got right back at it, learning from Sky and other boys who were happy to lend advice to an initiate. Sky showed him “the ollie.”

“You have to learn the basic motion. Step on the tail to raise the nose, slide your foot toward the nose but over the bolts, jump, then come down over both sets of bolts.”

At one point Marsh achieved a little hop with the board under him.

“Sick, man,” Sky said.

“Hey! Give me a break, bro,” Marsh said, frustrated.

“No, man, that means cool!”

Skateboarding came with its own language and rules.

“You should come to the tournament next Saturday. A bunch of us are competing with boarders from all around the South. You learn a lot. And there are girls.”

“Yeah, I’ll drop by. Thanks, Sky.”

He strapped his borrowed board to his bike and headed for home. He was starving.

 

 

 

 

Toby Hemingway 13

Marsh and Shaundra sat shoulder to shoulder in front of her computer screen. Mr Paine had guided them to write to the local U.S. Fish and Wildlife office. They composed an email to a contact he provided them, and attached the photos Shaundra had taken. Paine had frozen the fish carcass. They offered to deliver it to the office figuring Mr. Paine or Shaundra’s mother would provide transportation. The friends had downed chocolate milkshakes, a bag of Fritos, and couple of apples in Shaundra’s bedroom where they left the door open as required by Mrs. Williams, her mother. Their email was the leading edge of a wave that would grow over time. But for now, the friends just attended to the matter at hand.

Shaundra’s home was palatial compared to Marsh’s house. Her father was a Colonel at the Naval base, conferring beautiful housing for their family. The living room was filled with family photos, a piano, and comfortable furniture. In the family room a gigantic smart screen TV spanned one wall with a semi-circular couch in front of it for viewing movies together. Marsh suddenly understood his poverty.

“What’s wrong,” Shaundra said, looking at his facial expression. Like turning off the lights in a dark room, a shadow had passed over Marsh’s face.

“Nothing. Just thinking.”

Marsh had Shaundra’s mother drop him off at DeLuna Plaza downtown. After they were out of sight, he walked the two miles to his Uncle’s house.

###

City Hall sat behind the dias in the public meeting room. His gut felt tight and his heart raced again. His doctor had just warned him he was under too much stress and needed to drop the thirty pounds he had acquired over the last ten years as a public servant.  It was all too depressing.  Every move to improve his city was opposed by a fierce minority who though few absorbed a great deal of his time.

“Thank you for your presence here today,” he lied as he stood to respond to the 3-minute public comments. “I appreciate your concerns but as I’ve presented before, the city engineers assure me that widening the overpass will not affect the bayou.”

A tall woman dressed in outdoor clothing stood and shouted, “And we are supposed to believe in engineers that work for development?” Sneers from the audience.

City Hall was a short man with a round belly and skinny legs. His hair was balding so he brushed it over the bare spots making him look ethereal when the lights shone overhead. Yet inside that lit up head storms raged and dark clouds flew across his mind. He had grown to hate the public, at least the ones that continued to poke at him and his fellow council members whenever a development project was proposed. They represented everything he loathed: left-wing socialists, god damn preservationists. If they had it their way, the city would be a hamlet.

 

Toby Hemingway 12

From U.S. Fish and Wildlife service

A student intern led Toby around the Institute research and rehabilitation area.

“These are Kemp’s Ridleys,” Molly St. John explained.  Several small sea turtles swam around a large tank.

“I see these frequently from my boat,” Toby said.

” It is one of the smallest of the seven turtle species found in the Gulf of Mexico. It is endangered,” Molly said.

Toby studied the young graduate student. It was obvious she was perfectly placed in her chosen life’s work. She was a graduate student focused on marine ecology at University of South Alabama.

Sea turtles, dolphins, and a small whale were being cared for in large tanks and pool at the Institute. They had been injured by boats, or caught in fishing nets or floating debris, and others suffered from a weakened immune system.

U.S. Energy Administration

Toby and Molly had just left a meeting with an Institute scientist about the dolphin Toby and Marsha had reported to the refuge. He had suggested that Holly and Toby discuss ways Toby’s community could assist the Institute in tracking the bottlenose dolphin population near their city.

The scientist confirmed Toby’s suspicions that the impacts of the oil spill continued in the Gulf ecosystems. But, it wasn’t only the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. It was the combined impact of 4,000 oil wells in the Gulf.

“That, plus the fact that the Gulf leaks oil from cracks in its underlying bedrock. That’s what we call a natural baseline of this particular marine ecosystem, ” Molly explained as they walked to her office. “It’s a combination of forces that are changing the Gulf ecosystem. Climate change is not easily visible to the eye. Warmer temperatures shift the chemistry of the air and water interface, and microbial communities at the base of the food chain are also changing.”

“So, how do ordinary citizen make sense of it? This requires more scientific literacy than most citizens possess, I’m afraid.”

Toby plopped herself in front of Molly’s disheveled desk. Molly put on a pot of coffee and offered Toby a powerbar.

“I am impressed you sailed here on your own,” Molly said sitting at her desk and flinging her long tanned legs on the desk. Her golden hair swung above her sun-burned shoulders, and her bronzed face and warm brown eyes shown with youth’s radiance.

“Me too.” Toby laughed. “This is a first for me . . . to solo such a distance.”

Toby shared a short biography with Molly who seemed engrossed in her story.

“We can build on your writing classes and experience in schools. I gotta meet the Fishin’ Chix, too,” Molly said. “I think I might like those girls.” Shifting to the issue at hand and mindful that Toby had to get back on the water, she explained how Toby’s community could help her with her research. “Adults and teens can submit data using a survey tool that we provide to monitor a particular area on a regular basis. And, you can use your experience as a writing teacher to get folks writing about the Gulf and advocating for conservation and rehabilitation. That,” she emphasized, “could be more powerful. Raise awareness, send folks to City Hall.”

“Could you meet with a group of us if I prepare them ahead of time so we don’t waste your time?” Toby’s mind was racing ahead with a plan to engage her peers and through them multiple groups of stakeholders.

###

It was dark when Toby arrived at a dock on a small inlet in Mobile, Alabama. She motored in slowly and tied up near the Banana Docks Café, famous for its Cajun cuisine and one of Toby and Ron’s haunts. She would stay overnight in the small hotel on the harbor, then resume her trip at dawn.

After a dish of blackened grouper finished off with bread pudding and praline sauce, she would sleep like a baby. Before she dove into bed, Toby called Marsha to let her know her location. Her dear friend had insisted when she learned of Toby’s solo sail. At that point in the trip it still seemed like a good idea. She’d overestimated her progress tacking-back against a steady SW current and offshore breeze. It was okay with her. She needed the time to mentally plan how to mobilize her community, and move City Hall in the right direction.

That night she dreamed of Ron. On waking it occurred to her that their relationship had been defined by the Gulf of Mexico. She loved that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toby Hemingway 11

KINGFISH

Marsh gutted and cleaned his catch on the picnic table in the backyard. It was late afternoon on Sunday. He was feeling weak from the intense sun while fishing on the pier and the arduous bike ride from the trolley with two King Mackerel packed in ice, strapped to the seat rack. They were both about 30 inches long and weighed over 35 pounds together.

Uncle Albert surprisingly offered to start a fire in the bar-b-que. Then, he sat down across from Marsh and began gutting a mackerel. He was an expert. A deep cut along the long belly, pulled the gills up and cut them from the body, and with one hand grabbed the gills and gut and pulled the whole of it out. Then he cut along the spine to drain the blood. He was a master.

“What the f— is that?” Uncle Albert was staring at a dark mass in the gut tissues.

Marsh cut the strange growth from the enveloping mesentery. He poked it with his knife, then his finger. It felt gummy. He picked it up and gave it a sniff. It smelled like something familiar but he could not recall what that was.

Uncle Albert followed Marsh’s observations with keen interest. “I’ve never seen a thing like that,” he said. Then, he disappeared through the back door for a beer.

That was the extent of his Uncle’s attention. Marsh was left to finish the cleaning and grill the fish. He put aside the odd mackerel with disappointment. It would have provided many steaks and fish tacos. But, he was smart enough not to eat it. Instead, Marsh planned to take it to his biology teacher.

###

Before school started, Marsh and Shaundra delivered the deformed mackerel to Mr. Paine. It was smelling ripe by then. Shaundra took photos on her smartphone.

“This is strange, indeed.” Mr. Paine examined the black clump of tissue through his bifocals. “Perhaps this could be a project for the two of you” he said as he laid the black mass underneath a dissecting scope and leaned down for a closer look.

“Whoah,” he leaned back suddenly.

“What is it?” Shaundra said.

“I got a strong whiff of petroleum,” he said placing the specimen in a collecting jar.

“That’s it!” Marsh recalled that odor. “I couldn’t place it yesterday, but that’s right!”

The bell rang for first period. The teacher promised they could discuss the fish in science class later in the day. After the teens left, Paine wrapped the carcass and stored it in a cooler. It was probably too toxic for his students to work with, but he could point them toward reporting the find to the proper authorities.