I am a planner. I try to plan for every and all possibilities. Saved in the pictures app of my phone, I had exactly 37 schedules and lists of what to do when something goes wrong, or just what I should do on a normal day. It was a foolproof system. Every single possibility that could happen was somewhere in the lists, I promise you. But even I, Madi Anderson, a great planner, could not prepare for what happened this camping trip.
“I wish we could do this every day,” my best friend, Maya, said. “It looks like the sky is on fire. The sky is a gradient, starting on the horizon with a red, fading to orange, yellow, blue, and ends with a shade of purple that was so dark it almost looks black. This is beauty.”
If there was one thing Maya and I could agree on, it was the beauty of nature. This was why we decided to go camping that weekend.
Even though Maya and me were best friends, we were opposites. We are the definition of the saying “opposites attract.” Maya was very spontaneous and followed no schedule or routine that I could observe. And I was very good at observing and making schedules. When everything is planned, or you have a plan for everything, then it is hard to be taken by surprise. My biggest fear was the unknown, so planning for everything made me calm and less stressed. I was in control. However, camping isn’t really something you can plan for, right? Planning will only go so far.
Before today, I would have said that I can prove you wrong. I thought I was prepared for anything. I usually am. I mean, I made exactly 23 lists for emergencies, ranging from Bears to Alien Invasions, just for this camping trip.
So, anyways, Maya and I were watching the sunrise. We were camping at the local park, near the lake. We had been planning this outing for months. Maya wanted to go last weekend, but we had planned it for this week. The fact that we didn’t go while the weather was nice was mostly my fault (I’m sorry, I don’t like last minute plans!).
“Beauty,” I echoed. I was only partially listening. After the sunrise, we were going to eat breakfast, then pack for our hike. Afterwards-
“What’s that?” Maya interrupted my thoughts.
I startled when she spoke, and then said, “What’s what?”
“The shiny thing at the bottom of the lake. I didn’t see it until now. I think we should check it out.”
“Wait, Maya, we have to eat-” I started to say, but Maya had already kicked off her shoes and was diving underwater. Well, I couldn’t let her go alone. I took off my shoes and waded in a few feet. By this time, Maya was next to the shiny object. Maya reached down to pick it up, and the next moment she was gone.
Okay, I’m sure I just missed something. She can’t just disappear. I looked to the left and right; maybe Maya came above the water and went to the shore. I’m sure I have a plan for this. I quickly checked my pockets and realized that my phone was back at the campsite. Shoot. I started to panic. She’s gone!
I decided I had two options. Go back to shore and hope Maya showed up, or I could go and touch the shiny object myself. I started to make a mental list of all the outcomes, pros, and cons of each option. There were too many! I needed paper, but I couldn’t just leave Maya! She could be in trouble! I had to make a split-second decision. Without thinking any further, I made up my mind.
As I approached the shiny object, it looked like a seashell. I reached out to touch it, but then drew my hand back. What if I disappeared too? Then no one could help us, because no one else (as far as I knew) knew about the suspicious seashell (Ooh, that’s good. Much better than ‘shiny thing’). I saw a shadow fall on top of me and decided that I’d rather face whatever was on the other side than deal with whatever that shadow was, so I grabbed the seashell. The second I did, the world started to twist and twirl. Everything became misshaped and discolored. The last glimpse I caught of Earth was a hawk and its shadow flying over the lake.
I woke up to Maya shaking me. “Hey, Madi. Madi! You will never guess where the seashell took us… Madi!”
“What-? Maya! Oh, you’re okay! Where are we? We need to make a plan to get out! Do you have any paper?”
“I was actually hoping to stay here for a little longer. Look around!”
I listened to her and looked for the first time on where we were. Honestly, it looked like we had been transported to the ocean. Octopi and fish swam around coral of all colors. Dolphins and sea turtles played with each other. Starfish covered inches of the rocks. It looked like any other coral reef, except the colors were more vibrant, and you couldn’t see the sun. Which was strange, because it was as lit up as if it had been if there was a sun. It was even more beautiful than the sunrise we had viewed that morning. I also realized that I was breathing fine, even though we were underwater, and I wasn’t wearing any kind of underwater suit.
“Where is here?”
“The dolphin over here was telling me all about it. We are in Iqalon, which is Iqalanian for the Land of the Subaqueous!”
“Subaqueous is a word?” Funny how your brain focuses on the least significant part of an important sentence. Like, for example, I could have asked, “The dolphin told you?!” or even, “Iqualon? Where is that?” but no.
The dolphin next to me laughed. At least, I guessed it was laughing. It was more like high pitched squeaking. “It is a word.”
I made a squeaking sound any dolphin could be proud of. “You do talk!”
Maya smiled. For some reason, this just made me more stressed and panicked. I turned to her. “I’m sure you were a little freaked out, too! Right now, we should have been eating breakfast, I think. My watch broke, so I wouldn’t know!”
“Mostly everyone who comes through here freaks out,” the dolphin cut in. It was probably an attempt for peace.
Now, Maya looked genuinely interested, and I felt a lot more panicked. “There are others?” We asked at the same time.
“Where are they?” Maya added enthusiastically.
The dolphin began to explain, “Well, every few weeks, Iqualon gets a visitor from Earth. The way they get in is always the same, a shiny seashell that appeared at sunrise. They touch it, and they come here. From what I have heard from Maya, this sounds like the case for the both of you?” We nodded. “The thing that is different is that this seashell seems to be appearing in bodies of water all over this place you call ‘Earth.’ Why one would name their world after dirt is something I ponder every time we get visitors. Anyways, we welcome you as our guests. In this world, (which is much like an earth ocean, from what I have heard from other people who have visited Iqualon), all the animals can speak. This appears to not be a normal occurrence on Earth, given the reactions of most of the people who have been here. Well, what would you like to do first? You have 12 hours here. Most people are perfectly content to hang out with the fish all day. There is one thing I will caution you about: don’t go to the Queen’s castle. It is over there, and it is made of coral. She has been kind, and welcomes visitors, but doesn’t want to be bothered by you. You have about 11 hours left; here is a watch so you can keep track of the time.” Here he handed (did he flipper it?) me something that looked like a watch, except it looked like a mini sun was traveling on the inside. I could tell that there were 24 marks for each hour. I just had to let the mini sun move until it got halfway across the watch.
“Oh, just call me Dolphin.”
“Are all the dolphins named Dolphin?” Maya wanted to know.
“…And it’s not confusing?”
“Well, actually my name is-” Here Dolphin said a series of squeaks and clicks, impossible for any human to pronounce. “So, you can just call me ‘Dolphin.’ Much easier for you guys to pronounce. It was nice to meet you! I-I must tell the queen that new visitors have arrived!” And with that, Dolphin left.
Maya looked at me. “That was interesting. So, I think it is obvious what we do now.”
“Yeah! We only have eleven hours in this amazing place, so we need to make a plan of what we are doing when.”
Maya let me finish before smirking. “I knew you were going to say that. Of course, we could do that, but where’s the fun? I think we should-”
“If you are going to say sneak into the Queen’s castle, forget it.”
Maya pouted. “You know me too well. Why not?”
“Because Dolphin said not to!”
“Which is exactly why we should!”
“Please, Madi, just for a little bit? Just a few hours? Maybe not even a few hours, just one? When will we ever get another chance like this?”
“Probably never,” I responded.
“Exactly. Don't be so overly organized. Let go a little.”
I sighed. “Only for an hour. And you have to plan the rest of the visit with me afterwards.”
It was easy to find the castle. We just followed the blue coral road (Unfortunately for me, I got the privilege to hear Maya sing “Follow the Blue Coral Road” to the same tune as “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” The. Entire. Time. I am going to be singing that for the next week). The way there was uneventful, except for the singing fish.
“Help! I need somebody, help!” someone sang.
Maya shouted, “WHO IS SINGING THE BEATLES?” Elvis and The Beatles are the most frequent singers on her playlist. Maya loved to sing and had an amazing voice.
“To the left, the left, the left, the left, the left...” We looked to find a fish singing the Cupid Shuffle.
I asked the obvious question. “Why are you singing in song lyrics?”
“Don’t Stop Me Now!”
I said, “Okay, sing in song lyrics if that makes you happy, I won’t stop you.”
“And another one bites the dust!”
Maya looked at the fish and said, “Queen? Those are Queen songs. Did the Queen do this? Or do you just talk in song lyrics because you want to?”
"Can't Touch This!”
“I thought the Queen was nice?”
“Poor unfortunate souls!”
“So, she’s not nice?”
The fish moved from side to side, meaning no.
So, after talking to the fish for at least an hour, this is what we gathered:
- The Queen was evil and punished her people severely. She cursed the poor fish so he could only sing in song lyrics. Others were cursed to have the Baby Shark song stuck in their head for eternity.
- She liked music, especially bad, annoying music.
- The way to reverse the curse she had put on many innocent animals was to break into her castle and steal the shiny seashell- an exact duplicate to the one that we touched to bring us here. This would then bring us home.
We thanked the fish and started to leave. The fish gave us one last word of warning, “Be prepared!”
“We will!” we told the fish and began going even faster to the Coral Castle.
When we finally arrived, an hour had passed since we talked to Dolphin. I turned to Maya. “Technically, we should be planning what to do with our remaining hours here, but I would rather help these animals.”
“Madi Anderson doesn’t want to make a plan?”
“No, I do! We can’t just charge into the Coral Castle with no idea what we are doing! I was just saying that I would rather make a plan for THIS instead of make a plan for THAT.”
Maya facepalmed. “What do you think we should do? Sing our way into the Coral Castle?”
“Not a bad idea, actually. You just have to sing happy songs. Like Happy by Pharrel Williams!”
“Why do I have to sing?”
“Because I don’t sing,” I reminded her.
“You’ve never tried.”
“I can't sing. I’ll be the emotional support.”
“Fine.” I think the only reason Maya agreed was so that we could stop planning and storm the castle (Well, we are calling it storming, but it is really just sneaking through the back entrance with the servants). We made the rest of the plan and decided that after sneaking in the back door, we would look for the Queen. According to the singing fish, the Queen had it on a necklace. If the seashell was taken, then the Queen would die, and the curses would be lifted.
We haven’t forgotten about the seashell time limit. We still have seven hours. Should be enough time to get the seashell, destroy it, and leave.
Once we entered the Coral Castle, it wasn't hard to find the throne room. There were only a few rooms in the castle. It was not as big as you would think. There were the servant’s quarters, the Throne Room, and the Queen’s quarters. So, as you would expect, it was very easy to find the Queen.
She was sitting on her throne with perfect posture. She was wearing clothes that resembled Elsa’s in Let it Go, but they were more for underwater. She had long brown hair that flowed and she wore a crown that sparkled with pearls and blue sapphires that matched her blue eyes. Basically, she was beautiful. Maya nudged me and pointed to her neck, where a golden seashell sparkled.
“What now?” Maya asked me.
“You expect me to have a plan for this?” Maya gave me a really? look. “I didn’t think we’d get this far!”
“Here’s the plan: You distract, and I get the seashell,” Maya sighed.
“How will I do that?”
“Sing happy songs, maybe?” and with that, my best friend in the world shoved me out into the middle of the room.
“Who are you? You are the tourist Dolphin told me about! Why are you here? Where is the other?” The Queen demanded.
“Wait! I-I have a song for you!” What was I thinking?! I had nothing prepared!
At least the Queen now seemed less hesitant to kill me. “Sing this song.”
I don’t sing either! I was trying very hard not to glance at Maya, who was now behind the throne. Without a second thought, I started singing, quietly at first, and gaining volume. “The seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake. Your dream about going up there, but that is a big mistake!” I dared to take a glance at Maya, and she looked confused. I continued to the next line. “Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor! Such wonderful things surround you, what more is you looking for?” The Queen looked like she both wanted to slap me and continue listening. At least she recognized the song, unlike Maya, who was still super confused.
I began the chorus. “Under the sea! Under the sea! Darling, it’s better, down where it‘s wetter, take it from me!” I looked again at Maya, who had her head in her hands. She quickly remembered that she had a job to do and watched the Queen closely.
“You dare sing The Little Mermaid to me! Annoying tourists!”
At that moment, Maya dove from the side and knocked The Queen over and grabbed her necklace. The Queen faded away without another word.
However, as soon as Maya grabbed the seashell, she disappeared, the seashell clattering to the floor. Dolphin came from nowhere and called, “Wait!”
I paused and turned to him. “Hey.”
“You and Maya did well. You have also saved Iqalon from The Queen’s dictatorship. On behalf of the kingdom, I thank both you and Maya. You are welcome here anytime.”
Dolphin started to swim away when I stopped him. “Oh, here is your watch.”
He replied, “You can keep it. You and Maya have earned it.” He bowed and swam away.
I reached down and picked up the seashell, this time prepared for the distortion of the world around me.
I climbed out of the lake, prepared to see Maya and talk about what had happened.
“Madi! Did that really happen?”
“If you mean saving Iqalon, then yes. Here is the watch.”
Maya threw a ton of words at me. “Planning things is amazing. It’s awesome to have things all planned out. You also sing very well. We should do a song together sometime. Why is it night?”
“I don’t know, but the moon over the lake is beautiful. I vote we figure it out later and enjoy the now.”
“You don’t want to plan what we do afterwards?”
“Just enjoy the beauty, Maya. Planning can wait. When will I live if I don’t live in the now?”
“Sounds like you have learned that you cannot possibly plan for everything. And I have learned that planning can be good, too.” Maya and I shared a smile and were quiet as we enjoyed the company of each other and the beauty of the moon rising over the lake.