The next morning, after breakfast with the monkeys, Turtle shuttled Will back out into open waters. Bertha, the whale, and the other sea-friends were waiting for them. “Ready to find your house, kid?” asked the whale.
“You bet!” said Will. It had been a cold, uncomfortable night sleeping on the sand. Will missed his bed and his mom’s home-cooking. After two meals of coconuts, bananas, nuts and leaves, Will was ready for a nice hot plate of pancakes and bacon. Or macaroni and cheese. Or tomato soup, or chicken pot pie, or ravioli…
In spite of the breakfast he’d just eaten, Will’s stomach growled.
“Better climb up, then,” said the whale. “We’ve got a long way to go, and we can’t have your feet hanging off Turtle’s sides. I heard that the sting ray is on the hunt. If he sees your feet, you’ll be dinner!”
“Thanks, Mr. Whale,” said Will, gratefully climbing onto the whale’s back.
“Mr. Whale is my father,” said the whale, burbling water out his blowhole. Will guessed he was laughing. “Call me Tony.” With that, Tony, Turtle, Bertha and the rest struck out. They soon lost sight of the island where the cyclops family lived. Will was very glad to be among friends. The ocean was a very big place, and he was a very small person. What would he have done if Tony hadn’t found him?
A school of fish passed below them. “Excuse me!” called Turtle. “Has anybody seen a house?” But the fish were in too much of a hurry to answer.
A seagull swooped above them. “Hey, there!” shouted Tony. But the birds were not interested in talking to them.
A pair of dolphins, leaping through the air, paused in their routine to listen, but they had not seen Will’s house.
“Who’s that?” asked Will, pointing to a fin moving toward them. “Maybe he knows!”
“That’s a shark,” Bertha said, fear rippling through her sheet-like body. “Let’s not ask him.”
“We have to ask everybody,” Will said firmly, so Tony led the way, with Bertha and the smaller fish bringing up the rear. “Excuse me,” he said to the shark. “We’re looking for a house. Have you seen it?”
The shark swam in a circle, thinking. “What’s it look like?”
“It’s big, and blue, with a red front door and white shutters.”
“Oh, yeah yeah yeah!” said the shark. “I seen that. It washed up on an island a little way from here. I’ll show you the way, if you want. Name’s Lucifer. Right this way, amigos.”
“See?” Will said to Bertha as the friends followed the shark. “Good thing we asked!”
“I have a bad feeling about this,” was all Bertha said. And many of the other fish seemed to feel the same way. When they came in sight of land, Bertha and the small fish hung back. Will couldn’t see the house yet, but he and Tony and Turtle forged ahead after the shark until the water grew too shallow for the whale. Then they left Tony in the deep water and went on without him.
“It’s just around this peninsula,” said Lucifer. Turtle and Will followed him around to the far side of the island. Will still could not see the house. Suddenly he had a very bad feeling that Bertha’s bad feeling had been right. Out of sight of their friends, he and Turtle were alone and defenseless against the shark, who was now circling them with a hungry grin on his face. “Man, that was too easy,” he laughed. “You humans are so gullible. You fall for it every time.” The shark bared three dozen sharp white teeth.
“I don’t think so,” Turtle said, snapping at the shark. “Just try to get through me. I’m a snapping turtle. I bite back. And my shell will break your teeth. Still want to eat my friend for dinner?”
The shark’s grin shrank a little, now showing only about twenty teeth. He saw that Turtle had a good point. “Can’t I just have one foot for a snack?” he whined. “Please. It’s tough out here with the Sting Ray eating up all the meat. We sharks aren’t natural vegetarians, but with that guy around, we don’t have a choice. He’ll arrest you for eating the sea bass he wanted on his dinner plate. Better to eat seaweed than get thrown in the wizard’s dungeon.”
“So you’re only allowed to eat meat as long as the wizard doesn’t want it?” said Will. “Then you’re out of luck, Lucifer. The wizard brought me here magically just so he could eat me. That’s why I want to get home so badly. It seems an awful lot of people want to eat me around here.”
The shark thought about this, still circling but in a less threatening way. “I would definitely go to jail, then,” he said. “Even if I just nibbled your toes a little bit. Big trouble. Not worth it. Sorry to trouble you folks.” Lucifer broke the circle and made for the open water.
“Wait!” shouted Will. “So you really haven’t seen my house?”
“Kid,” said Lucifer, “I don’t even know what a house looks like. But for your own good, I hope you find it soon.”
The shark’s fin zig-zagged away and disappeared in the distance. Will slumped on Turtle’s shell. He had really hoped the shark had been telling the truth. But now he was nowhere nearer to finding his house than he’d been when he woke up on the island that morning. Will wondered where his parents were. Had they, too, awoken at sea? Were they afloat somewhere with the house, wondering what had happened to their son? Or maybe they had gone out looking for him and were just as lost as Will was. Or maybe they’d never come to this ocean world at all. Maybe they’d come home from work last night to find their house and their kid mysteriously gone. Will wished he could call them and let them know he was all right, that he had friends to help him get home. But there was nothing he could do for them, and not very much he could do for himself, either.
“Would you look at that,” said Turtle. Will looked toward the shore. A huge gathering of birds dotted the sand: grey and white seagulls, smaller, brown seagulls, pelicans, Canadian geese, tall sand cranes and squat ducks, strutting black cormorants and tiny, hopping sandpipers, egrets, kingfishers, and a dozen other breeds besides. A great blue heron had taken flight, his wingspan impressive enough to block the sun for an instant as he pushed himself skyward. After circling the island, the heron glided toward the spot where Will was watching from Turtle’s shell.
“We are having a clam bake,” said the heron. Then, shifting his weight bashfully, he asked, “that is, if you know how to start a fire. Otherwise it will just be clams without the bake.”
Will had learned to start fires in boy scouts, so he and Turtle took a detour to the island to help the birds. Will stretched gratefully. It was good to set foot on land again. The birds gladly shared their bounty with Will as thanks for his help with the fire, and Will ate his first proper meal since waking up in the middle of the ocean. Turtle wandered a little way and satisfied his hunger with some greenery by the water’s edge.
The heron wanted to know if there was anything else the birds could do to repay Will. Patting his full belly, Will couldn’t think of anything else at the moment. But then it was obvious. “I’m looking for a house,” he said. “My house. The evil wizard brought me here to eat me, but if I could just get back to my house, I would be safe. You can travel farther and faster than my friends in the water, and you have a better view from the sky than they do. Could you look for it?”
“Certainly,” said the heron. “I will send the troops out now. Meanwhile, you’d better wait here until they return. If the Sting Ray wants to eat you, then the ocean is too dangerous, at least during the day. Once we locate your house, you can travel there by night, while the Sting Ray is stuck in human form.”
Will thanked the birds and watched in awe as they all took to the sky with a thunderous flapping noise. Spare feathers rained down on the beach. The birds rose as one, like a great raincloud rising up from the sand, and then spread out in all directions until the sky was clear again. Will settled in on the warm sand to wait. When the birds returned, it would finally be time to go home.