A website is like a living organism. If it is going to thrive and flourish it needs to grow. Pop’s Blog is no different. Since the blog is about to turn one years old, I’ve decided to include YA short stories written by myself or guest writers. So if you have a story you’d like to see published on Pop’s Blog, submit it to Pop at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I like it, I’ll edit and send the story back to the author for approval. If that writer agrees to the changes, the story will be published. All published authors will be asked to subscribe to the blog and promote their stories on social media.
I wrote the first story, “Birtle the Turtle” in 2005. It won Honorable Mention in the Friends of the Decatur Public Library Writing Competition. It is based on a true story that happened to my twin brother Elliott and I when we were in elementary school decades ago.
“Birtle the Turtle” is about a sixth grade boy, Mickey, finding a turtle in the woods. He shares his new pet with his neighbor, excluding his younger brother, El. Only after Mickey loses interest in the reptile, does he realize how valuable a friend his kid brother really is.
Now, here’s “Birtle the Turtle”
Birtle the Turtle
By Michael Thal
My little brother, El and I took a shortcut home through the woods. The path wound through a thicket of brush, low hanging trees, and to a lazy stream. I led the way, but the pounding of his footsteps signaled his closeness. I stopped in mid stride.
My brother skidded to a halt by my side. “What’s up, Mickey?” El brushed his brown hair from his eyes.
I pointed to a dome shaped turtle near a bush by the creek. “Look!” I moved to the bush and scooped it up. It was so big it filled my hands.
“Let me hold it!” El begged.
“Go find your own.”
I ran off, holding the turtle to my chest, leaving my little brother in the dust.
At home, when Mom caught sight of the turtle she said, “Don’t put that thing on my clean kitchen floor!” So I took the turtle next door to show my best friend, Don.
“What are you gonna call it?” he asked.
“I dunno. Any ideas?”
“Birtle. Birtle the turtle. Get it?” His smile revealed the gap between his front teeth.
“You’re a regular poet,” I chuckled. “I hope our sixth grade teacher doesn’t mind.”
“If you don’t tell Mrs. Birtle, I won’t.”
Don and I decided to build her a pen near the old oak tree marking the border between our two homes. He nailed rotting two-by-fours together. I searched for rocks, branches, and plants behind the garage as trumpet music drifted from my house.
Don found a shovel in the tool shed and dug a hole in the ground for the bowl. The pen looked like a tiny version of the wooded path El and I just ran. Trees, shrubs, rocks and water made the perfect home for Birtle.
As Don put away the shovel, a sudden silence filled the air. The screen door slammed and El ran across the backyard.
He circled the pen and pushed his glasses up his pug nose. “That’s so cool. Can I help?”
“Get lost, runt.”
He went off crying.
Then I had a thought. “Hey El, come back here.”
“What?” he asked whiping his wet eyes with the bottom of his dirty t-shirt.
“Go find out what turtles eat.”
Fifteen minutes later El returned with a plate filled with apple slices.
“Why so much?” I asked.
“Wikipedia says it’s a box turtle and they like apples. I thought we’d join it for lunch.” El grinned.
The next day, Don reached into the pen and pushed the turtle’s shell. “She’s sure lazy. She lies on the rock doing nothing.”
“Yeah. I noticed that too. She doesn’t move around much in the afternoon. But this morning she climbed rocks and splashed in the pond.”
“Maybe she doesn’t like the heat.” Don wiped his sweaty brow with his hand.
I shrugged. “Want to play stickball?”
The months rolled by. Don and I lost interest in Birtle, but not El. One day I found him leaning over the turtle pen. “What you doing with Birtle?” I asked, my voice loud and accusing.
El turned around quickly. He brushed dirt off his brown winter coat. “Nothing.”
I approached the side of the pen and looked carefully at Birtle. “She has something in her mouth. What did you feed her?”
“Snails.” El pointed to the side of the house. “I dug them up.”
“Won’t those things make her sick?”
“No. Mr. Greene brought a turtle to class. We fed it snails, green vegetables, and fruit. It likes snails the best.”
“For a fourth grade squirt, you’re pretty smart.”
His chest puffed and he smiled.
That winter sixth grade work took so much of my time, I forgot all about Birtle. While doing my homework I looked out the window by my desk. El was feeding Birtle, giving her fresh water, and then put a toy soldier on her thick shell watching her move around the pen.
That weekend Don and I finally gave Birtle some attention.
“Look at this, Mickey, Birtle’s not moving.” Don stood outside the pen pointing.
“Maybe she’s sick,” I said.
Birtle’s head and legs were tucked up inside—closed off by her shell. Don stepped into the pen, picked her up, and tried to claw the shell open with his fingertips. “She won’t come out.”
“Riga mortis,” I said. “She’s dead.”
We squatted at the perimeter of the pen and planned a fancy funeral. “I can be the minister.”
“And I can be the undertaker,” Don said.
Music came from inside the house. “Let’s ask El to play trumpet.” I felt bad I didn’t let him help build the pen. He took such good care of Birtle all these months. I owed him.
Don and I went to El’s second floor bedroom to tell him the sad news. He put down his trumpet, lay down on his bed and cried.
I sat next to him and put a hand on his back. “Will you play the trumpet at his funeral?”
El shook his head, yes.
The next day was Saturday, a perfect day for a funeral since we didn’t have school. We all dressed in black, marched around the garage, and circled the turtle pen under dark clouds. El played taps. I followed and toted a Bible under my arm. Don took up the rear with a shovel.
The three of us stood around the pen. As minister, I said a prayer.
El gave the eulogy. “Birtle was a good turtle. May she rest in peace.”
Don placed Birtle in an old shoebox with snails and lettuce.
“What’s with the food?” I asked. “She’s dead.”
“The ancient Egyptians buried their dead with earthly possessions to take to the other side. I thought we’d do the same for Birtle.”
On his side of the oak tree, Don dug a hole big enough for a shoebox a few feet from the pen. We took turns covering the box with earth. Just in time, too. Icy snow stung my nose.
That spring El came running home from school. He panted as if he beat the record mile held by a nine-year-old. I shot hoops by our garage.
“What’s up, bro?” I asked.
“Birtle’s not dead!”
“What are you talking about? We buried her six months ago.” I bounced the ball and took another shot.
“She was hibernating. Reptiles are cold blooded animals.”
“So.” I tucked the ball under my arm and looked at him with interest.
“Birtle is a reptile. Her body temperature is the same as the air temperature. When it gets too cold, she hibernates. When it’s too hot, she goes into a state of limited activity called estivation. Remember this summer how slow she moved?”
I nodded, threw the ball into the shed and grabbed a shovel. “Let’s dig her up.” I plunged the spade into the soft soil under the old oak. El got on his knees and pushed the soil away from the hole.
“Be careful not to hit the box,” he said. “Let me dig for it with my hands.”
Don yelled from his bedroom window. “What’s up, Mickey?”
I waved him over and watched El scrape the earth with his fingers until he pulled the brown shoebox from the hole. El opened the lid. The snails were gone as well as the lettuce. Birtle looked with blinking eyes and mouth opened ready to eat.
“Wow!” said Don. “That things like a cat. He got nine lives?”
El laughed. “Almost. If we treat him right, he can live up to 120 years.”
Don and I gaped at El and then Birtle in wonder.
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About the Author
You can learn more about Michael Thal on his website.