Fun At The Beach
“Okay,” Nathaniel says, pouring clear jelly into his bowl (his candy is almost gone). Haticat follows behind on his hind legs, the gravity inside The Mama-And-Daddy somewhat less than outside on the surface.
“We’re going to a church,” Mama says.
“What’s that?” Nathaniel asks.
“It’s where you learn about the beginning,” Daddy answers.
Nathaniel slurps his jelly. “The beginning of what?” he presses.
“Of everything,” Daddy answers.
“Okay,” Nathaniel says, intrigued.
Later, Nathaniel and Haticat are led by the couch-unit into a small, white building where Humans have gathered inside. There is an array of seats which the adults have already taken and now sit perfectly still. There are several Human children here, each playing with Gruezhlings of their own. Soon, the adults beckon the children and Gruezhlings to sit. Nathaniel and Haticat sit upon the couch-unit. At this point, a large video screen at the front of the room activates, showing a field of galaxies.
“Four thousand, four hundred, thirteen years ago nothing existed,” the narrator’s voice drones, “There was no matter, no energy, no space, and no time. There was only Y, the smartest and most powerful being ever to exist. Using its creation power, Y created space, energy, and matter in the first instant, and time began. It created matter in the form of galaxies, stars, planets, asteroids, comets, and nebulae. It created all these objects in motion through space and with energy. The entire universe was born. In the same instant, Y created the first life forms. It created animals, plants, bacteria, and viruses. It created children and adults. It created races of beings and it created aracial beings. It created some races only on one planet and some races on multiple planets. Those original, first-generation creatures felt and witnessed in the moment of their creation, the presence and power of Y.”
Nathaniel notices that the narrator speaks very slowly, with long pauses between sentences. He wishes he would hurry up. The video now shows sweeping panoramas of alien landscapes, many with plants and animals Nathaniel has never seen before. Enthralled, neither Nathaniel nor Haticat notice the other children distracting themselves with various games, nor do they notice the adults ordering them to pay attention.
The narrator continues, “As time began to pass, some of the adults of each race and some of the adult aracial beings used their more limited creation powers to create more life. They created animals, plants, bacteria, and viruses. They created children and adults. They created races of beings and they created aracial beings. They created some races only on one planet and some races on multiple planets. This took many years. As more years passed, some of the adults of each race, and some of the adult aracial beings – those created directly by Y, and those created by those created by Y – created even more life. They created animals, plants, bacteria, and viruses. They created children and adults. They created races of beings and they created aracial beings. They created some races only on one planet and some races on multiple planets. This took many years. As more years passed…” The narrator goes on like this for quite some time. Nathaniel wishes for him to get to the point. Finally, he moves on, speaking, “Some of that life created life, some of that life created more life, and so on. This process continues today. Also as time went on, life forms built tools, buildings, machines, and vehicles. Using vehicles or using their own power, life forms migrated and spread throughout the universe, so that now some races live on even more planets than they were created on. As life created more life, the total amount of life increased, births happening faster than deaths. This is where all life comes from; we are all Y’s descendants. Today Y exists as an invisible, intangible entity that rarely reveals itself. Nobody knows where it is. This is the story of the universe.” The voice ends, but the video keeps running, showing pictures of stars and galaxies.
“Did you know Y?” Nathaniel tries to ask, but is cut off abruptly by his parent.
“Be quiet in church!” Mama says. Everyone in the room – children, adults, and Gruezhlings – stare at Nathaniel, making him so uncomfortable even Haticat feels it.
Several moments later, the narrator finally continues, “Remember Y. Y is great.” The video shuts off. Haticat and Nathaniel look around as the others shuffle out of the room. A few stop to talk to each other, but most leave in their wheeled, land vehicles.
“Did you hear and understand the story of Y?” Daddy finally asks Nathaniel as the couch-unit follows the last of the Humans out the door.
“Yes,” Nathaniel answers.
“We’re glad you know about Y,” Mama says.
“Did Y make you?” Nathaniel finally asks the Mama-And-Daddy.
“No, I was created by an aracial being named Loscum three thousand, one hundred, eleven years ago. Loscum was directly created by Y,” Mama recounts, “And you are the first creature I’ve made.”
“Oh,” Nathaniel says, “Are you an aracial creature?”
“Yes,” Mama and Daddy answer together.
“Am I an aracial creature?” Nathaniel asks.
“No, you are a dromaeosaur, a type of dinosaur. There are other dromaeosaurs on several planets. We copied their form to make you,” Mama and Daddy answer together. They are outside now. Nathaniel blinks in the bright sunlight. He turns his head to look at the white building. Large, yellow letters across the front of it spell “church.”
One of the adult Humans approaches. “Hello, my name is Mister Gregg,” he says.
“Hello, my name is The Mama-And-Daddy,” Daddy says.
“May I please ask you a question?” Mister Gregg says.
“Yes, you may,” Mama and Daddy reply.
“Thank you. Is this your first time on Earth?” Mister Gregg asks.
“Welcome, and no, we visit Earth often,” Mama and Daddy reply.
“Oh, where else have you visited?” Mister Gregg asks. As the adults talk, Nathaniel and Haticat decide to explore the grounds a bit. There is a garden of flowers, which they find interesting not so much for the flowers as for the spiders living in it. One spider has a large, shiny abdomen filed with swirling colors. On the side of the building is a rainwater barrel. They try to push it over, but it is too heavy even for both of them together. Behind the building is a tree. The lowest branches are too high to reach by jumping, so Nathaniel tosses Haticat up into it, swinging him by the tail. After several attempts to grasp the branches above, they give up. Returning to the front of the building from the other side, they cross a patch of mowed grass.
“Don’t walk on the grass; it’s against the rules,” Daddy says, turning to see them.
Nathaniel looks down incredulously and then up at Daddy. “Isn’t walking-on what grass is for?” He and Haticat are genuinely confused and surprised.
“Don’t argue with us and just do it,” Daddy says before rejoining the conversation with Mister Gregg.
Haticat looks up at Nathaniel and says, “That’s a strange rule.”
“The Mama-And-Daddy has lots of strange rules,” Nathaniel says, getting down on his belly. Haticat follows his lead. They roll sideways across the grass.
“Nathaniel! Haticat! What did I just say? Get off the grass!” Mama yells.
“I’m not walking on it!” Nathaniel stammers, still believing that the rule only pertains to walking.
“Get off the grass right now!” Mama screams.
Thinking quickly and still confused, Nathaniel realizes that he can get to the edge of the patch faster if he gets up on his feet and runs, but he is afraid that that will get him into even more trouble. He decides to roll to the edge as fast as he can. Haticat follows. Mama looks tired. Daddy and Mister Gregg look angry. None speak. Reaching the pavement, they get up again and decide to walk to the spaceship. Nathaniel tries, but can’t think of a good reason for there to be a rule against walking on grass. Didn’t he (and many Humans) walk on grass while picking apples? Was this a new rule?
Some time later, as Nathaniel and Haticat are reading, The Mama-And-Daddy declares that they will be visiting a restaurant. “I don’t want to go right now; I’m reading,” Nathaniel says, believing himself to be an autonomous entity, not knowing any better.
“You’re going! Don’t argue,” Mama says.
“And remember to use a fork this time,” Daddy adds.
Haticat and Nathaniel are teleported onto the couch-unit, which has already taken a place at a table in a local restaurant. An array of silverware sits on the table. A Human dressed in brown stands nearby, placing four folded pieces of paper on the table. Mama opens one, revealing pictures and numbers. Haticat leans in to look. “Open your own; they’re all the same,” Mama says. Haticat and Nathaniel do so and peruse the colorful pictures of strange things.
“What are these?” Nathaniel asks.
“These are menus. They have pictures of food,” Mama explains, “Choose the food you think looks yummy.”
“Remember, we don’t have lots of money, so also choose the food with the lowest price. That’s what the numbers mean,” Daddy says.
“Okay,” Nathaniel says. Haticat nods. Nathaniel looks over the menu. He has never seen any of the foods before and has no idea what he wants, but he is sure that the oysters look ugly. The Human in brown returns.
“I’ve decided,” Daddy announces, “We’ll have the meatloaf and gravy, egg noodles, peas, milk to drink, and salad to start.”
“Okay, that will be right up, sir,” the Human says and begins to collect the menus.
“I didn’t decide yet,” Nathaniel protests.
“We chose for you,” Mama says.
“Oh,” Nathaniel says. Seconds later, three salads are delivered on glass plates. They consist of a lettuce mix, chopped tomatoes, carrot pieces, oil, and vinegar. Nathaniel notices Mama and Daddy eating theirs with forks and decides to do the same.
“No, Nathaniel. That is your dessert fork. Use your salad fork,” Mama says. Nathaniel looks closely at his forks. They are slightly different. He picks up the other fork and looks at Mama quizzically. “Yes, use that fork.” Nathaniel starts eating. He stuffs some lettuce into his mouth. It is interesting. It is better than the bland jelly from The Mama-And-Daddy’s kitchen, but not as good as candy.
“Why did that person call you Sir and not Daddy?” Nathaniel asks.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full. It’s against the rules,” Daddy says.
“Wait until you swallow to open your mouth,” Mama says.
“Why?” Nathaniel asks.
“Didn’t I tell you before that asking questions is against the rules?” Mama and Daddy ask. It dawns on Nathaniel that this is also a question, but he is afraid to point it out. He says nothing.
“The person called Daddy ‘sir’ because if you don’t know somebody’s name, it’s polite to call people either sir or mam,” Mama says.
Forgetting all about the rules about asking questions, Nathaniel asks, “What is polite?”
Also seeming to forget the rules about asking questions, Mama replies, “Polite is when you show good manners.” The Mama-And-Daddy is not known for consistency.
“Manners?’ Nathaniel queries. He did not know that word, either.
“Good manners is when you follow all the rules, say please when you want something, say thank you after you get it, and say welcome when someone says thank you to you,” Mama answers.
“Oh,” Nathaniel says, mulling over why all of this might be important and picking out a piece of carrot from his salad. It is a bright orange, crunchy thing. He likes it. It is better than lettuce, although it still isn’t nearly as good as candy.
“Your elbow is on the table,” Mama declares. Sure enough, Nathaniel’s left elbow is indeed on the table.
“Don’t put your elbows on the table,” Daddy says, “It’s against the rules.” Nathaniel quickly adjusts his position so as not to have to lean his elbows on the table. As he does so, he puts down his fork briefly.
“The fork goes on the left!” Mama scolds. Nathaniel gets all flustered trying to change directions to move his fork and briefly places his right elbow on the table.
“What did we say about your elbow?” Daddy says. Following all the rules at once is very difficult.
“Don’t put them on the table,” Nathaniel replies sheepishly.
“Try to remember,” the Mama-And-Daddy says. Nathaniel returns to eating his salad. He tastes a chunk of tomatoe. He likes it.
“This red thing is hard on one side and soft on the other,” Nathaniel notes, talking to Haticat.
“That’s tomatoe. The hard part is called skin. It goes all around the outside. Humans like to cut tomatoes into smaller pieces and put them in salads,” Mama and Daddy say.
“I like tomatoes, but I like the orange things more,” Nathaniel says.
“The orange things are called carrots,” Daddy informs.
“I like carrots,” Nathaniel says.
“Good,” Daddy says, “You should like carrots.”
At this time, some Humans arrive carrying three plates, each with peas, meatloaf, and egg noodles. A gravy boat is placed near Mama and salt and pepper shakers are placed near Daddy. Nathaniel and Haticat look on in wonder. What were these strange items? Nathaniel grasps the plate nearest him and pulls it close. He encounters an unusual combination of smells. Seeing Daddy using his knife and fork to cut off a piece of his meatloaf, Nathaniel copies him and places the soft, warm substance into his mouth. It’s good. It is moist, salty, and oily. It tastes lightly of thyme and cilantro. It is strongly caramelized and contains a blend of several species of onion. He likes it. Noticing his elbow is on the table, he quickly removes it before anyone notices. Next, he stabs at the peas with his fork, places them in his mouth, and bites down. Yuck! He is stunned by the intensity of the terrible flavor, opens his mouth, and lets them fall back onto his plate.
“Nathaniel!” Mama and Daddy yell together. They seem especially angry. Did he break another rule? “Eat your peas!”
“They’re yucky!” Nathaniel insists, still reeling with revulsion. The flavor still clings to his tongue and gums with a sickening, pasty sensation.
“Eat your peas!!!” Mama and Daddy yell together. How could The Mama-And-Daddy be so callous to the state he is in? Why did it matter so much to them what he ate? How could The Mama-And-Daddy stand to eat such things itself/themselves?
“No!” Nathaniel yells as a defensive measure.
“Eat your peas right now or you’ll be punished!” Mama and Daddy proclaim. Nathaniel doesn’t want to go to his room again, but he is angry and doesn’t care. It beats having to eat peas.
“No!” Nathaniel yells. Suddenly, he finds himself frozen in place. He can’t move anything, not even his eyes. He can barely breathe. How can he have any fun like this? Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Haticat collapse and pass out from play-starvation. He can do nothing to help.
“You can stay there until you learn your lesson,” Daddy says. What lesson? What is he supposed to learn that he needed to be frozen for?
“You need to eat everything on your plate so you stay healthy. Vegetables are good for you,” Mama says.
“Mama, will you please pass the gravy?” Daddy says.
“Yes, Daddy,” Mama says, teleporting the gravy boat to Daddy’s side of the table, right next to Nathaniel’s plate. Why didn’t Daddy do that himself?
“Thank you,” Daddy says.
“Welcome,” Mama says.
“All right, you can move now,” Daddy says. Nathaniel takes a deep breath, gets up, and feeling the strong urge to move, starts running around the table.
“Sit down!” Mama scolds. Nathaniel is teleported to his seat. He can’t escape punishment; everything he does is wrong! Doesn’t The Mama-And-Daddy know that he had to move and that he was just reacting to something that they did and was their fault? He is uncomfortable sitting still. “Eat your peas,” Mama says sternly.
Nathaniel shovels the peas into his mouth and chews as fast as he can to get the ordeal over with. He isn’t fast enough. The taste is too much to bear. His jaws freeze up and his tongue pushes the half-chewed peas forward. He holds his mouth tightly shut through sheer willpower, but finds he can chew no more. Thinking quickly, he cuts a piece of meatloaf with his fork and stuffs it in his mouth. The meatloaf partly covers the taste of the peas. With difficulty, he is able to chew and swallow it all. “Hey, I invented a new way of eating. If you mix good things with bad things, the bad things aren’t as bad,” he says excitedly.
“Knives are for cutting. Forks are for picking up. Use them the right way, like this,” Mama says, showing him. Another rule! Nathaniel watches as Mama cuts her meatloaf with a knife and then picks up the pieces with her fork. Why mustn’t one cut meatloaf with a fork? It’s easy and uses one less arm. It should be celebrated as a great innovation. Mama didn’t even seem to notice his fantastic inventiveness.
Nathaniel picks up his knife and chops up his meatloaf, careful not to place his elbows on the table. He decides to taste the gravy to determine if it is suitable to cover the peas. He reaches for the gravy boat. “Don’t reach for things yourself!” Daddy says.
“Remember to say please and thank you,” Mama says.
“Please thank you,” Nathaniel says quickly. This seems to appease his parent.
“Next time, ask somebody else to get things for you,” Daddy says.
“I can get it myself. It’s easy,” Nathaniel says. Daddy shoots him an angry look.
“It’s not polite,” Mama counters.
“So it is polite to bother other people for things you want?” Nathaniel asks.
“It bothers other people if you reach for it,” Mama and Daddy both say.
“But then they have to reach for it,” Nathaniel explains, “What if it’s closer to me?”
“Don’t question the rules,” Daddy says firmly. Nathaniel is frustrated. How is he supposed to learn anything?
“How can I follow the rules in the future if I don’t ask questions now?” Nathaniel asks.
“I told you not to ask questions,” Daddy says.
“I have to understand how to apply the rules to future situations,” Nathaniel says.
“I told you not to ask questions!” Daddy yells. Sheesh! That wasn’t even a question.
The three of them continue to eat in silence. Haticat remains comatose. Nathaniel does the best he can to finish all his peas. He nearly gags. He washes the last down with some milk. “Don’t slurp your milk,” The Mama-And-Daddy says. The noodles are good, if a bit bland. Nathaniel prefers the salad. He finds that out of everything, he likes the carrots and the meatloaf the best. Finally, the bill arrives. Nathaniel looks at it.
“Hey, it’s more than the menu said,” Nathaniel says, “The menu said eighteen dollars. Three times eighteen is fifty-four.”
“We also have to pay tax and tip,” Daddy says.
“What are tax and tip?” Nathaniel asks. These are more words he does not know.
“The menu only,” Mama says.
“Shows prices for the food. Tip is what you pay the people that carry it to you. It’s normal for tip to be fifteen percent of whatever the food,” Daddy says.
“Cost is, but,” Mama says.
“It’s okay to pay more if they do a,” Daddy says.
“Good job or less if they do a bad job. Tax,” Mama and Daddy speak together.
“Is how governments get money. Different countries charge different amounts. The country we are now in charges eighteen percent,” Daddy says.
“That’s a lot,” Mama and Daddy speak together.
“We should go somewhere else,” Mama says.
“Next time,” Mama and Daddy speak together.
This is the first time Nathaniel had heard The Mama-And-Daddy talk like that, but it will not be the last. “But I could have carried the food myself,” he protests.
“Hmm,” Mama comments.
“Are you sure they aren’t making it up to try to trick you?” Nathaniel conjectures.
“Yes, this is how all Humans do things on Earth,” Mama insists.
“Maybe all the Humans got together and made it up together,” Nathaniel proposes.
“Hmm,” Mama comments.
Later at home, Haticat and Nathaniel discuss the phenomenon of dining etiquette. “I don’t know why manners are rules. I’d rather be nice and impolite than polite but mean,” Nathaniel states.
“Yes,” Haticat agrees, “Me too.”
That afternoon, The Mama-And-Daddy brings Nathaniel and Haticat to the beach of a warm sea. “Nathaniel, Haticat, we’re going to rest now, but you can explore the beach yourself. Have fun playing in the water,” Mama and Daddy speak together.
“Okay,” Nathaniel says. When Nathaniel goes outside, he finds himself in front of an ocean. It is flat and blue as far as he can see. He is struck by the same sense of “bigness” that he felt up on the mountain. This is a strange landscape with waves instead of trees. Looking around, he sees that he is on a narrow ribbon of sand with grass and trees behind him. The warm sand grains stick to his feet as he wiggles his toes.
With Haticat by his side, Nathaniel surveys the surroundings further. He walks along the beach, looking around, somewhat nervously but mostly with fascination. Dozens of Human adults stroll the beach, while children run around them. Other Humans swim in the water. There are all kinds. There are Humans with yellow hair, orange hair, black hair, brown hair, and white hair. There are Humans with brown skin, tan skin, and pink skin. There are fat Humans and thin Humans. There are short Humans and tall Humans. They all wear small strips of brightly-colored cloth different than the dress of Humans elsewhere.
Setting out to explore the beach, Nathaniel and Haticat first head north, deciding to explore the large rocks to the south later. As they exit out from the shade of the trees, they immediately notice how hot the sand is on their feet. “The sand is hotter here than over there,” Nathaniel says, “Maybe it’s a new volcano.”
“Maybe,” Haticat says, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
“I know; I’ll get my boots,” Nathaniel announces. He and Haticat run back inside and Nathaniel finds his spacesuit boots. “These will protect me from volcanoes.” Not able to find boots for Haticat, Nathaniel ingeniously takes a pillow from his room and rips it apart with his teeth. He wraps the strips of cloth around Haticat’s hands and feet. Haticat teaches Nathaniel how to make some simple knots. “That should keep your feet from getting too hot. We’re ready for an exploration now.”
“And I won’t get frostbite, either,” Haticat says.
“What’s frostbite?” Nathaniel asks.
“I don’t know. It’s something that exposed feet get when exploring,” Haticat says, remembering reading something about it at the Everest exhibit in the museum/library.
“Oh,” Nathaniel says, “I just thought of how it’s odd that The Mama-And-Daddy worried so much about getting cold that it made me wear a coat, but it never said anything about getting my feet hot.”
“It is odd,” Haticat agrees.
Heading back outside and not wanting to waste any time – not that they ever want to waste time – Haticat and Nathaniel run at top speed along the beach, struggling to gain traction in the shifting sand. Soon, they come to a string of boulders and sharp rocks bisecting the beach and stretching into the water. Waves hitting the rocks create spray that the wind blows into their faces. Stepping between and over the rocks, they find themselves in a small field of small, very smooth stones. “Wow, these rocks have lots of different colors,” Nathaniel says.
“This one has green and white stripes,” Haticat says, stooping down to peer closer.
“This one is orange with black spots and white spots,” Nathaniel says, “We’ll keep the stranger ones so we can study them later.” He shoves several into his many pockets.
“Take this grey one with sparkles, too,” Haticat says.
Nathaniel takes it. “The light rocks are not as hot as the dark rocks,” he notes, feeling the difference with his hands.
“That’s strange,” Haticat comments.
“Yeah, I wonder why,” Nathaniel says, “We’ll have to see if it’s in our volcano book, later.” It occurs to neither of them to think dark rocks might absorb more energy from the sun.
Back on sand, they again run north along the beach. The trees on the left give way to a line of dunes over which they cannot see. Nearing a group of gulls standing around on the beach, they observe the gulls begin to run, scattering. As Nathaniel overtakes them, they suddenly take flight, swooping around to land behind them. “Those animals should be fun to chase. Let’s try to catch one,” Haticat says.
“Good idea!” Nathaniel says. Nathaniel and Haticat spend several minutes chasing the gulls back and forth. Nathaniel is faster than Haticat and both are faster than the gulls on land. Unfortunately, the gulls are faster in the air and take flight as soon as either gets close. However, the number of near-catches keeps them interested and engaged enough to play for quite some time. Finally, they give up.
“What are you doing?” Nathaniel asks Haticat.
“I’m drawing a map of the beach here so anybody can look at it to know where to go,” Haticat says, making grooves in the firm, moist sand near the water with his three-fingered hands.
“Okay,” Nathaniel responds. Haticat draws the borders of the sea and of the trees. He pokes holes in the sand to represent the string of boulders. He pokes smaller holes to represent the field of stones. Nathaniel makes small clumps of sand to represent the dunes. They touch it up to make it look nice, taking great pride in their map.
Nathaniel finally looks up. It is cloudier than when they first arrived. The sun had been bothering him a little. It was too bright and too hot, but now it lies comfortably behind a cloud. The wind seems to be picking up just a bit, too. This part of the beach has white-capped waves and froth. Nathaniel watches and wonders why this happens. Approaching the choppy water, Nathaniel notices that up close the water is not blue, but clear. It distorts the images of objects below the surface. Placing a foot in, he feels that the water is pleasantly warm. Nathaniel wades in a ways, but stops when the waves reach his neck, some primal instinct imposing on his mind with thoughts of suffocation.
“How do they go so deep?” Nathaniel asks Haticat, who is well behind him, being a bit shorter and still walking on all fours as he wades in.
“They float somehow,” Haticat says, noting the kicking feet.
“That’s a good power,” Nathaniel says.
“Humans can go in water or on land. That makes them amphibians. I learned that at the library,” Haticat professes.
“I like that. Humans are interesting creatures,” Nathaniel says. “So, Earth has three kinds of places: forests with mountains, orchards with apples, and seas with waves, and Humans live in all of them.” Nathaniel turns to exit the water.
“Yeah,” Haticat says as they both step onto the beach again, his voice low in pitch. He stumbles around.
“What’s wrong with you?” Nathaniel asks.
“The water got inside of me; I feel funny,” Haticat says, his voice even lower.
“How do we get it out?” Nathaniel asks, concern rising in his voice, though he is as yet unsure how concerned he should be.
“I don’t know,” Haticat states flatly, his voice void of expression and now very deep.
“You’re talking funny,” Nathaniel says.
“What do you mean?” Haticat asks flatly. “You’re talking funny.”
“No I’m not,” Nathaniel says, confused and almost scared.
“You sound funny,” Haticat says, “I think the water is in my voice and in my ears.”
Nathaniel shakes Haticat violently, intending to free the water. “Grrr,” he growls. He notices that Haticat is now very heavy. He also notices that where Haticat bends or Nathaniel’s claws hold him, some water dribbles out. He gets the idea to apply pressure. Squeezing and twisting Haticat, he eliminates most of the water.
“I feel better now,” Haticat says, collapsing limply to the ground.
“Let’s not go in the water anymore,” Nathaniel says.
“Okay,” Haticat agrees.
They continue to press north. The adults in this part of the beach lie on blankets on the ground. “They must be tired,” Nathaniel concludes. Even though neither Haticat nor Nathaniel had ever seen a blanket before, they both know the word. Walking further along the beach, Nathaniel happens to notice a Human adult scraping some brown substance out of a jar and eating it (Haticat theorizes it to be apple butter). “Hey, you shouldn’t eat with a knife; it’s against the rules. You’re supposed to use a fork,” Nathaniel yells at him. The adult looks at Nathaniel with a mixture of anger and haughty disdain. “You’re breaking the rules!” Nathaniel yells.
“Yeah,” Haticat says, supporting him.
The adult turns away and ignores him. Unsure what else to do, Nathaniel haltingly walks away to leave the Human to his rebellion. “Maybe someone else will punish him,” Nathaniel suggests.
“No, we have to stop him; he’s breaking a rule,” Haticat argues.
“You’re right. Maybe if we scream really loud at him in his ears, he’ll stop,” Nathaniel proposes.
Just then, the Human finishes and puts away his jar and his knife. “Okay, he stopped; we don’t have to punish him now,” Haticat says.
“Right,” Nathaniel responds.
Finally, they round the corner near the end of the beach. The dunes are replaced by trees again and the beach is much narrower. The sand only continues a bit further before ending. Promptly, they return the way they came until they find their map. They dutifully mark the locations of the gulls, the white-topped waves, and the blanket-laying Humans.
“There. This map will help a lot of people,” Nathaniel says. Curious about what lies beyond the dunes, they next cross over them to the west and find a narrow field of sand stretching south between the trees a ways. They run to the southern tip and then decide to cut between the trees east to return to the beach near where they began where The Mama-And-Daddy is parked.
Soon, Nathaniel and Haticat discover some children making a sand pile. A few adults stand nearby, either talking to each other or just standing still. Neither Haticat nor Nathaniel knows what to call the activity, but they both instantly recognize it as a form of fun. They immediately settle nearby and start digging with their hands. On either side of the hole, they each build a steep pile of patted-down sand. “Hey, there’s water under the sand,” Nathaniel says, reaching the water table.
“That’s weird,” Haticat notes.
“Now we can’t explore underground without a submarine and also it will be too hard to make our hills really tall,” says Nathaniel, looking up at the other kids’ pile. Working together from several holes and throwing handfuls of mud onto the top, they have already built it over two meters tall.
“We should help and play with them so we can all share a really tall pile,” Haticat says.
“Yeah,” Nathaniel exclaims. Nathaniel grabs as much moist sand as he can from his pile in both arms and runs over to the other kids’ structure. He vigorously pats it into the side, joining a blue-furred Gruezhling doing the same. “We’re going to help you,” he declares.
“Okay,” the blue Gruezhling answers.
“Yeah,” Haticat agrees, patting in the small amount of sand he was able to carry while walking on three legs. He decides to help the Gruezhlings pat down the structure while Nathaniel and the Humans gather material.
“Mix in sticks and grass; it will make it stronger,” a tall, thin human with short, brown hair says to Nathaniel, doing the same.
Nathaniel thinks about this for a moment. It makes sense. “That’s a good idea,” he declares, scratching an itch on his back. He runs to pick up a cache of pine needles, cones, and twigs at the edge of the beach. Running back, he tosses them onto the pile. The Gruezhlings pat them in. Nathaniel is happy. He has a mission in life. Feeding on the fun, Haticat soon recovers completely from his water-soaking. An increase in wind also helps to dry him.
Nathaniel runs back to the grassy area to find more sticks and sees ploppjing plants. He pulls them out of the ground and brings them to Haticat. “Look, I found ploppjing plants!”
“Yaaay!” Haticat exclaims.
“What are those?” the tall kid asks.
“These are called ploppjing plants. He discovered them and I named them,” Nathaniel says.
“Okay, put them in,” the tall kid says, “I discovered some plants last week.”
“Oh, what kind?” Nathaniel asks.
“They’re pointy-purple-leaf plants,” the tall kid answers.
“Wow! I haven’t seen any plants with purple leaves yet,” Nathaniel says, running to pick up more dirt. The beach is a fun place. You can’t dig and build piles in a library!
As time wears on, the children soon realize that the pile is growing wider faster than it is growing taller and the diminishing returns on their efforts feed their boredom and drain their energy. “I want to do something else now,” one of them finally says.
“Let’s catch crabs!” another says.
“Yeah!” another two excitedly say.
Following the others, Nathaniel and Haticat soon find themselves wading among the string of rocks. Haticat climbs high up Nathaniel’s back to stay out of the water. “I got one!” one kid cries out. This Human is covered with freckles on his back and on his face. He has orange, curly hair. He holds out a brown crab roughly three centimeters wide on his palm. When it tries to walk off, he holds his other palm out to catch it.
The others crowd around before Nathaniel or Haticat can get a good look. “Whoa,” one says.
“Nice,” another says.
“Let me see,” the blue Gruezhling begs, struggling through the water, his voice already deepening as he absorbs water. This Gruezhling does not mind getting wet. The freckled boy obeys. “Wow.”
Haticat jumps off Nathaniel’s back onto a nearby boulder. “Find a crab for me,” he says.
Neither noticing nor caring that Haticat did not say please, Nathaniel promptly bends down and peers among the rocks. Immediately seeing one, he reaches for it with his claws. The animal runs back and forth, but eventually Nathaniel grasps it. He hands it to Haticat.
Haticat continually moves one hand in front of the other, keeping just ahead of the animal so it cannot escape. Finally, it seems to give up. Nathaniel gently pokes it. It rapidly turns to face him and raises its tiny claws. “This is an interesting animal,” Nathaniel finally says.
“Find him an enemy so they can fight,” Haticat says.
“Okay,” Nathaniel agrees and starts looking for more. Not much later, he finds a smaller, greenish-grey crab. This one is much faster and feistier. Nathaniel has a very hard time capturing it. Just as he succeeds in holding the crab and lifts it from the water, it escapes and falls back in. The increasingly choppy waves aren’t helping. Finally, he catches it. “Give me the first one,” he says.
Haticat hands it over and Nathaniel places both in different pockets of his pants. He tries to keep them there as he seeks more to add to his collection, but they won’t stay put. “I can’t catch a lot of crabs if they keep escaping,” Nathaniel fumes, frustrated.
“I got a big one,” another of the Humans calls out. He holds up a twelve centimeter crab. It is black with white legs.
“Humans do four different things: They make science, they make apple stuff, they build sand piles, and they catch crabs. The Candy Wizards only make candy. This is an interesting planet,” Nathaniel remarks, speaking to Haticat.
“They also make meatloaf and vegetables and they visit church,” Haticat points out.
“Six things,” Nathaniel corrects himself. Seeming uncomfortable, he says, “I have sand in my feathers making me uncomfortable.” He takes off his pants, boots, and shirt to rinse them out.
“Hey, you’re breaking the rules,” the tall kid says, pointing at him.
“What did I do?’ Nathaniel asks.
“You have to wear a swimsuit in the water,” he replies.
“Why?” Nathaniel asks.
“I don’t know; that’s the rules of Earth,” the Human replies sympathetically. Nathaniel, finished rinsing anyways, puts his pants and shirt back on.
“I don’t have a swimsuit,” Haticat complains.
“Gruezhlings don’t have to wear swimsuits,” the Human clarifies, “Only people.”
“Eddie, George, Blue-Bear, it’s time to go home,” an adult suddenly calls from shore.
“Can we stay longer?” the freckled boy calls back.
“No, we’re leaving now! A storm is coming; don’t argue!” the adult says. With that, the kids leave.
“Hey, that adult said that a storm is coming. Maybe we’ll get to see it,” Haticat says.
“That’s a good idea!” Nathaniel says excitedly. Just then, a soft rumble is heard.
“What was that sound?” Nathaniel asks.
“I don’t know,” Haticat says. All the other Humans begin making their way to shore. Some leave. “Why are all the Humans leaving?”
Maybe it’s time for them to sleep,” Nathaniel hypothesizes. Curious, Nathaniel and Haticat follow them onto the sand, leaving the crabs behind. Another rumble is heard. The wind continues to pick up. They observe some gulls flying past. “Where do you think they’re going?” Nathaniel asks.
“I don’t know,” Haticat says.
The Humans continue to slowly vacate the area. Just then, it starts to sprinkle. Tiny drops of water fall from the sky. “Hey, it’s raining,” Haticat says excitedly.
“Yaaay!” Nathaniel hollers, jumping.
Before long, rain pours down violently. Wind rips by, causing nearby trees to sway back and forth. Nathaniel and Haticat dance on the beach, grinning maniacally, energized by the surrounding theater. Haticat periodically wrings himself out to remove the rainwater. Lightning flashes all around, bright enough to cast shadows. A streak hits the far end of the beach. BOOM!! “That was awesome!” Nathaniel screams. “Did you see? It made a funny side-branch that came back the other way.”
“Yeah! That’s the best one!” Haticat replies, still dancing. BOOM!! Another streak of lightning flashes across the sky. “I read yesterday that sound goes slower than light, so by counting the seconds it takes to hear the thunder after seeing the lightning, you can figure out how far away it is. In Earth’s atmosphere, sound travels at three hundred forty meters per second, and light goes two hundred ninety-nine thousand seven hundred ninety-two kilometers per second, which is too fast to matter, so every second delay is three hundred forty meters,” Haticat informs.
“Wow! That’s interesting,” Nathaniel says. BOOM!! Lightning flashes nearby. “That must have been less than one hundred meters away!” he says, still dancing.
“Nathaniel, Come inside right now!” Daddy’s voice booms from The Mama-And-Daddy’s external speakers. He sounds angry.
“They never let us have any fun,” Nathaniel groans. Inside The Mama-And-Daddy, Nathaniel approaches the active polyp-heads in the first room. “Why do we have to come in?” he asks.
“It’s a rule to come inside during storms. Don’t question the rules,” Daddy answers angrily.
“You got sand and saltwater on Haticat! We have to wash him now so he doesn’t get sick,” Mama says.
“We’ll have to wash your clothes and boots, too,” Daddy says, “Give them to us.”
“The sand is very sticky; we couldn’t help it,” Nathaniel says, undressing.
“You should be more careful,” Mama and Daddy say simultaneously.
“I didn’t even get Haticat sandy; he did it,” Nathaniel explains.
“I didn’t know any better,” Haticat adds.
“He certainly didn’t get sandy all by himself,” Daddy argues. Nathaniel doesn’t argue, but merely sighs and walks away, giving up and letting his parent win this battle. “Hey, don’t sigh at us!” Daddy says even more angrily, “Show some respect!”
“Don’t walk away while we’re talking to you, either,” Mama says crossly.
“I obeyed all the rules, but if you tell me something I don’t like, it makes me sigh. I can’t help it,” Nathaniel says.
“Don’t talk back to us! I’ll give you something to sigh about!” Daddy yells.
“Then that will make me sigh more. Do you want me to sigh or not sigh? Make up your mind,” Nathaniel says more in bewilderment than anger.
“You are younger than us and don’t know as much. We know better,” Mama and Daddy speak together.
“I know some things, and I know enough to know you’re not making any sense,” Nathaniel says.
“You’re a very naughty dinosaur,” Mama says.
“Go to your room,” Mama and Daddy say together, simultaneously teleporting Nathaniel to his room and locking the doors.
“That’s not fair!” Nathaniel screams.
“Life isn’t fair,” the Daddy-image polyp-head in his room counters.
“It was fair before you made it unfair. That’s tautology!” Nathaniel yells.
“We’re preparing you for life by making you get used to it,” Mama claims.
Nathaniel pauses for several seconds, taking in the stark foolishness of the statement. “That’s stupid!” he declares.
“Don’t call Mama stupid!” Mama and Daddy say, “Stay in your room until your punishment is over.” The polyp-heads deactivate.
“Grrr. Now we can’t even watch the storm from a window,” Nathaniel complains. He turns around. Haticat is nowhere to be seen. Nathaniel guesses that he must be getting washed. He pushes on the doors with all his might, but they won’t budge. “Well, let’s do more reading,” he says to himself.
Nathaniel reads more about adaptations. He learns that skinks can shed their tails, that the tails continue to wiggle to distract predators, and that the skinks grow their tails back! He learns that some eels can produce enough electricity to stun predators and prey alike! Isn’t lightning electricity? Does that mean it’s dangerous? Is that why it’s a rule to go inside during storms? Why didn’t The Mama-And-Daddy just tell him? He’ll have to find out later. He learns that some plants that can’t get enough nutrients from the soils where they grow, get their nutrients by eating insects! He learns that some shrimp can open their claws so quickly that a bubble forms in the water, collapsing again to produce loud bangs! He learns that a type of mite exists that lives in the ears of moths, but that they always check to see if the other ear is occupied first so that the moth will always have one working ear! He learns that a parasite of tadpoles causes extra legs to grow when they mature into frogs, making the frogs easier to be caught by birds, so the parasite can itself mature inside the guts of the bird! He learns that another parasite that infects mice makes the mice unafraid of cats (and only of cats) so it can finish maturing inside the guts of the cat! Earth is a weird planet. How did Y invent this stuff? Y must be very smart. He stays in his room a long time.
Finally, his parent lets him out and returns his clothing along with Haticat. He looks puffy. Haticat says he never wants to be washed again. It is getting late. Nathaniel eats some jelly from the kitchen and decides to rest in a hallway curled up next to Haticat. Sleep comes quickly.