Then I got a real good look at the thing and realized what a numb-nut I’d been.
It was only the light from the Bass Lighthouse.
Bass Lighthouse is the one that sticks out on a rock as you head towards the mouth of the Bass River. You can see it from practically every corner of the Bay. Granddad says it’s the first thing that made him fall in love with the island.
There it was, swinging round through the mist, regular as the tide. After everything that had happened, it felt like some sorta signal. As Granddad says, there’s always a candle lit for those lost at sea.
Back and forth, back and forth…
A lighthouse light can be pretty hypnotic if you stare at it closely. I must have zoned out for a few minutes. Because when I came to my senses, the clouds were clearing off the sky.
You ever been at sea when the stars come twinkling to greet you? I highly recommend it. Out on the ocean there are no streetlights and high beams to get in the way of the meeting. It’s just you and the universe saying hello.
From where I was sit-u-ated, I had a pretty good view of the brighter constellations. Mom taught me all about them on our camping trips. The Big Bear and his little brother. Leo and Virgo and Hercules.
My favorite has always been Hercules. Hercules was this crazy strong baby who strangled a massive snake in his crib. When he got bigger, he did something horrible that Mom would never explain. So, as a punishment, the gods gave him twelve labors to complete.
First he had to slay a lion—that’s why Leo is up there—and then he was forced to do all sorts of wacky stuff. Capture a giant boar, clean up a huge amount of dung, steal some magical golden apples. It took him years.
The first time I heard the story of Hercules, I asked Mom why he didn’t just tell the gods where to go stick it.
“Because he’s a hero.”
“So it means that he doesn’t give up on his quest.”
“What’s a quest?”
“It’s a search for something.”
Mom got this distant look in her eyes.
“Like fame or fortune or knowledge.” She paused. “Or the edge of the world.”
“Does every hero have a quest?”
It felt kinda funny to be sitting there on the bell, looking up at the constellations and remembering Mom. It was like time was folding in on itself. I could have been talking to Hercules in Ancient Greece. I could have been in the woods with the wolf. I could have been an old man on the docks. There didn’t seem to be a beginning or end to things.
And it got me to thinking.
Maybe, I thought to myself, maybe everyone in life is lost at sea with the storms and the stars. Maybe we’re all blundering around on our quests—I look for fish, Pepper searches for stories, and Mom tries to find the edge of the world.
And maybe you never reach the end of the world. Maybe that’s the point. It’s not really about catching the fish.
It’s not about fish at all.
A geyser of water blasted skywards. I checked out the shore.
And there, in the reflection of the stars, was a fin.
Now, before you ask, it wasn’t a Great White. The reason I know this is because the fin was small and curved. Besides, sharks don’t have a habit of breathing through blowholes.
But this little fella did. He kept circling round and round, probably about twenty feet off the bell, fin coming up and fin going down.
I figured he was there to get a gander at the sight of Arcturus—that’s the super bright star at the knee of the Plowman. I couldn’t blame him. It was winking like a diamond earring.
In fact, between the sky and the ocean, I was starting to have an interesting evening. Sure, my teeth were chattering and my legs were aching and my jiggly bits were in danger of falling off, but you take your happiness where you can find it.
The longer I studied the fin, the more I was betting it belonged to a harbor porpoise. Granddad says harbor porpoises are about the length of humans and like to hang around the coast. Some of the old fishermen call them puffers.
This one was puffing—you could see him huff through his blowhole as he came up for air. And I don’t know why, but I suddenly got the urge to talk back. I guess I was feeling lonely.
So I whistled.
Not a big, scary whistle. Just a low whistle you might give to your dog.
Then he dived. I wanted to kick myself. I thought I’d scared him back down to the bottom. For a long time, I kept scanning the surface, but there was nothing, not even a ripple.
Another geyser of water hit me full in the face. I looked over the bell.
And there he was! Poking his head up next to the buoy. He gave me an odd kinda chirp, flicked his tail, and dove again. I held my breath and then…
He burst from the water and did a flying leap through the air. The jump must have been six feet high and ten feet long. At the top of the leap, his silhouette got caught in the constellations. It was like he’d gone to join the dragon and the lion and the bear.
And then he was gone.
I whistled and whistled until my lips turned white, but it was no use. I figured he must have headed back home.
It was about then that I began to hear something I’d never heard before: