Trinket the Baby Seal
The parents were worried. It was uncommon for a little girl to like sardines, and it was downright unnatural for one to refuse to eat anything but.
Sophia sat at the kitchen table, cutting the little fish carefully with a knife and a fork.
“This is really all she’s eaten?” asked the father.
“Breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” said the mother. “I actually had to run out for more. We haven’t used a can of sardines in years, but suddenly she’s going through them like, I don’t know, milk.”
“She never really liked milk.”
“I just don’t understand it,” said the mother.
“I do,” said Matt, the older child. He was on one of his rare trips up from the basement—a paused Nintendo game for a sustaining peanut butter bar. “She’s got a new favorite TV show.”
“Yeah,” Matt grinned. “Remember when I really liked the Reginald Rabbit show and I started eating a lot of carrots and cucumbers?”
“I guess I do,” said his father.
“That’s because that’s the food Reginald ate,” said Matt, loading his skinny arms with snack pack chips, gummi-sours, and a can of Yoo-Hoo.
“I think I see what you’re getting at,” the mother was peeking in on Sophia, still at the table.
“Sophia found a show called Trinket the Baby Seal.”
Since the day she was born, Sophia had been a wonderful gift that no one in the Gallows family was entirely sure what to do with. She was small for her age and had fierce yellow eyes that burned with a type of friendly disdain. She was a nonnegotiable type of little girl, which is not to say she was bratty. She simply did things her own way. If it became a problem, she brawled it out with her parents.
Trinket the Baby Seal lived in an igloo in the gray-skied artic north. He spent his days diving for sardines and sliding down icebergs with penguins and polar bears. His show came on at 6am on Saturday mornings, which was a good time for Sophia because it was before her brother would dominate the TV with Nintendo.
“Still, it can’t be good for her,” said the mother.
“I mean, look at what Matt eats,” said the father. “I think she’ll be fine. She’ll probably get tired of them, and we’ll be right back to jelly sandwiches.”
Sophia did get tired of strictly sardines, but she never went back to jelly sandwiches. At the supermarket she picked out a hunk of salmon and some dried squid. Her mother drew the line at a live lobster.
Matt was grossed out by the volume of seafood that was suddenly being brought into the house, but he kept to himself, in the basement, playing Shark Park.
The little red submarine sinks below the waves. A cheerful, 8-bit tune begins to play. Tiny, moon-yellow headlights click on and off. All systems are go.
“Okay,” says Matt, taking a deep breath. “Here we go again.”
“I’m joining,” says Cranston, picking up controller 2.
“No, idiot. If you join now you’ll just die at the tuna school. I need you for the Alpha-Shark.”
“Please don’t fight,” says Elliott the Girl, her long body curled on one corner of the couch. “It’s stressful enough as it is.”
“We’re not fighting,” Cranston tells her. “We’re debating. It’s strategy, Elliott the Girl.”
“Shh,” says Matt, eyes glued to the screen.
Bubbles begin to rise around the red submarine. Just a few at first, as the little ship begins its dive, then more, then more until it is momentarily obscured. When the sub comes back into focus the tuna have arrived. They are pink and gray and there are dozens of them swimming in erratic patterns around the ship.
“No, Cranston!” shrieks Elliott who has—among other things—an irrational fear of tuna fish. Elliott’s eyes widen with her anxiety. The little fish are battering the submarine. She slaps controller 2 out of Cranston’s bony hands.
“Hey! What’s your problem? It’s no fun if I don’t play.”
“You will play,” says Matt, smashing A and B with his right thumb. “Just wait. Get another beer or something.”
Cranston is a skin and bones kind of dude. He doesn’t try for it; he just hasn’t gained any weight since he turned thirteen. He has blond curls and a sharp chin. He wears the same glasses as They Might Be Giants.
“I already have a beer,” he says before noticing it’s empty. “Want anything, Elliott?”
“I want the people on the submarine to be safe,” she says.
“I want a beer,” says Matt.
“Elliott: that’s stupid. Matt: you get nothing because you’re a jerk who never learned sharing is caring.”
The red submarine has escape the tuna swarm and is hiding in a field of flowing seaweed. It can take its time here, but it is far from safe. Little pink urchins leap off the seafloor and explode in small fuzzy pops. A hit from one of those could take out the shield, and all would be lost. The tuna have already nibbled away at the health bar.
Upstairs, in Matt’s parent’s kitchen, Cranston grabs a beer from the cooler and decides to draw a funny picture of Matt on the family’s magnetized shopping list. He makes an enormous oval for the head and uses a brown crayon to scribble Matt’s perpetual bedhead. He smirks at the drawing so far and cracks open his beer. He hopes Matt’s mom will see it. Matt’s mom is hot. She has a good sense of humor, Cranston thinks.
A giant squid is rising out of a black crevice. The little red submarine is in trouble. This is an unexpected event.
“Shit,” says Matt. “Cranston! I need you!”
Elliott the Girl is both whimpering and giggling. She cracks herself up sometimes.
In the kitchen Cranston turns on the radio and puts a plate of pizza-bagels in the toaster. He tries to think of a good speech bubble for cartoon-Matt.
“Is this all you guys are going to do tonight?”
Cranston turns to find Matt’s little sister in the doorway. She has hooded yellow eyes and mangled bangs she cuts by herself. Cranston notices a patch of acne on her left cheek. He stops himself from checking if she’s grown breasts. He’s known her since she was a toddler.
“Hey, Sophia. What’s up?”
“Aren’t you guys college students now? Don’t you have stuff to do?”
“We have some arrangements for later in the evening,” says Cranston. “We are currently engaging in what college kids call pre-gaming. It is a sacred ritual that prevents us from showing up to parties uncool and sober.”
The 8-bit soundtrack has become urgent and ominous. The giant squid is hostile. Its arms lash out like deadly whips, sending the little sub spinning. The squid’s giant milky eyes are contorted with rage.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” yelps Matt.
“Oh god!” yelps Elliott. She is having too much fun acting scared to actually be scared. Elliott has had two beers, which is enough for her.
“You have to join, Elliott” Matt barks. “Take controller 2!”
“I can’t,” she laughs. “I can’t!”
“You have to! Damn it, Girl!”
Elliott the Girl slips of the couch and reaches for controller 2.
A green submarine rushes in to the rescue and is instantly sucked into a deadly whirlpool.
“I told you I suck at games,” says Elliott.
“God damn it, Elliott the Girl!” Cranston is at the foot of the basement steps with a plate of pizza bagels, a beer, and Sophia. “You’ve ruined the voyage!”
“College must be wild,” says Sophia blankly.
The little red submarine is struck by a tentacle. It explodes into millions of tiny blue bubbles.