"By appointment only" - the sign on the lawn alerted incoming guests. A young boy, about the age of 12, made the arrangements, coaxing his reluctant mother to come along.
It was a strange building. The glass walls secured ocean waters, housing fishes big and small and sea life of all kinds. This was not an aquarium, like most would imagine. It was a place to gather and share tales, preserving the stories of aquatic antiquity, guiding the ideas for the future.
Entering through a stone archway, the boy and his mother were greeted by a giant statue guarding the path. He was tall with striking features. Skin like bronze beamed like sunshine. He wore long pants made of gauze and had a flowing beard complementing his bare chest. Looking beyond the entry, into the place where the stories are kept, the statue slowly lifted a glowing trident, pointing the way to the next room. The boy and his mother took the cue to move along. Through the walls of water, the sun cast shadows of turquoise and tiffany, bright jade and soft periwinkle. Traversing the dancing light, the two came upon shallow bodies of water resembling tide pools filled with tiny hermit crabs, pink and orange starfish, and beautiful fluorescent colored sea anemones. In the center of each pool was a single seashell on display - all different shapes and sizes, yet so amazing in their own way. The boy and his mother concluded that this was no ordinary collection. It must be a library featuring seashells. Satisfied with this discovery, they proceeded to search for some kind of educational glossary to learn more about the shells.
Suddenly, the statue, with his glowing trident, was standing behind the boy and his mother. Without saying a word, he touched the very top of the sleepy pool with the tip of his trident, just above one of the seashells. As the water illuminated, the shell slowly ascended into the air, gently spinning as if it were floating in an invisible display case. Upon the delicate return of the shell to its place, the statue waved his glowing trident over the pools across the vast room. Shells of all shapes and sizes flashed silvery lights, beckoning the boy and his mother to each select their own shell to experience the stories that live in the sea.
Of course, the boy made his way to the largest seashell he could find. The magnificent object had a sweeping hollow cave with colors that looked like the sunset fell into it. The tip of the shell was caramel and vanilla swirled together like an ice cream cone. Studying the seashell, it was almost as if instinct told him to hug the shell to his ear. Like they say, you really can hear the ocean waves, which he heard, then there were voices in the distance. Sounds of whooping and hollering became louder as an accordion began to play a jolly tune.
Meanwhile, the boy's mother strolled the great room, appreciating the small creatures and their busyness and activities throughout the tiny sea kingdoms. She always had a way of selecting the most misfortuned-looking being, whether it was an animal or friend. Stopping for a closer look, the shell she considered had no beautiful colors. In fact, it was light gray with darker gray accents, and on top of that, its exterior had lumps and bumps everywhere. "Poor creature. I choose you", she said with a sigh, full of empathy. As she lifted the seashell, it was as if it could read her thoughts and chose her as well. Cupping her hands, she gently lifted the shell, tilting her head to the side, willing a story to fill her ear.
As the boy continued his own experience, he could hear the men clamor about, stomping and clapping in rhythm with the melodies coming from the accordion. He figured as much, they were definitely pirates.
The pirates had been sailing around the world, attacking and plundering other ships and small villages for as long as they could remember. Trinkets and treasures filled the lower portion of the ship. It looked like a hoarders paradise, making it so difficult to see one thing from another. The only ones on board the pirate ship that could find their way through the treasures were the twenty rats and two calico cats, which had made their way onto the ship during the pirate's most recent plunder along the coast of Cadaqués. No one saw the rats, or cats for that matter, because the pirates had been too busy swiping up all of the gems and jewels and consuming every libation in the local's sotanos.
The boy made himself comfortable sitting on the floor, balancing his elbows on his knees to keep the heavy seashell close to his cheek. Closing his eyes, he could see the cavorting and carousing, amused by the wretched behavior of the pirates.
Across the way, his mother stood very still, with the special shell cradled in her hands, listening carefully.
"Don't be afraid", whispered the shell.
Slightly jolting to take a look, she couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. "OK, that was kinda strange," she thought.
"Everything will be alright. It only hurts for a little while, you'll see. When completed, you will be the holder of a precious gem to give away one day."
Tears filled the eyes of the boy's mother. The voice she heard was a Mamma Oyster comforting her child. The voice was reassuring to the listener as well.
That very moment, a harvester was opening Mamma Oyster, laying claim to the most enchanting pearl anyone has ever witnessed. The delicate gem reflected all of the colors of a mermaid swimming through rays of light. Mamma Oyster knew her gem would one day change someone's life, which gave her strength. She shared with her child that now, she will face strife and struggles, yet those times will result in more gems.
Encouragement filled the boy's mother listening to the comforting words. Just that morning news was shared that she and her son would no longer have a home. This world had taken so much from her; she now wondered if she would ever experience a precious pearl in her own life.
"The keeper of the stories, he will show you the way."
Perplexed, the boy's mother wondered who Mamma Oyster was speaking to in that moment. She liked to think the message was special, just for her. "These are just stories", she said aloud, only half believing her own words.
Elbows aching, yet the boy didn't much care, he could see, in his mind's eye, the rats were running and the cats were chasing, all through the pirate ship. With their dirty claws and tarnished paws, they sullied and soiled the whole of the ship. Their padded feet brought dirt and filth to every pirate's pillow and the ground-meal for their porridge. When the pirates finally returned to set sail again, within three days, they all fell ill, except for one. The lone pirate saw the rats and the cats board the ship during the plunder of Cadaqués. He was of sober mind, and smart to steer clear of the muck and mayhem. All the other pirates died from their illness. One by one, they were carefully put out to sea by the lone pirate. The cats eventually rid the ship of the rats, leaving the lone pirate and his new pet cats to set sail for undiscovered lands.
With tattered sails and empty bellies, the winds pushed them toward a small island shoreline. Peering over the bow into the legs of the mangroves, they could see fish of all kinds. They hadn't had a meal in eight days, making the urge to jump into the shallows of the sea difficult to overcome. Swimming when you're hungry is no easy task, especially when you're a cat.
When they landed, the lone pirate caught a giant fish, and they all dined until they couldn't move. The next morning, the pirate decided it was time to settle down. The island town looked like a nice place to stay. Using the gems and the jewels gathered during the plunder of Cadaqués, the lone pirate bought the nicest house in the whole town where he and his cats could settle forever. Inspired by the lovely gardens and view of the ocean waters, the lone pirate passed the time writing down memories, sharing all of his adventures at sea. And that is how this story came to be.
The boy and his mother thoroughly enjoyed their experience listening to the shells from the the sea. As they were leaving, the great statue once again used his trident as a guide, pointing it down to the end of the street, to the place where the sun would soon meet the water; a silvery glow lit their path.
As they stood there admiring the completion of the day, a calico cat with a gem the color of mermaids in its collar, brushed against their legs.
Looking up, they saw the old house of the lone pirate. The door was open.
Sometimes, stories are given to us so our heart can know where to travel on life's journey. In that moment, the boy and his mother knew that this day was created so they would finally know - they are home.