Billy and the Hermit
Short story and watercolour illustration
- Short story
Meeting the Hermit
Billy watched hermit crabs form a chain from big to small, waiting for their turn to upgrade their houses. The biggest one had been evicted from his newly renovated home, and was dashing around searching for an emergency shelter. Kind-hearted Billy sprung into action. With no suitable shells in sight, he started digging. About three inches down, he found a glistening shell, perfect for the wandering hermit.
“There you go. Home sweet home!” he put the shell next to Hermit. He climbed in, then crawled away slowly without saying thank you.
Days went by and Billy wondered how Hermit was doing with his new home.
“Thank you for saving my life! I’ve settled into my new pod and come to pay my thanks to you kind stranger.”
Billy looked down to find that Hermit was staring at him, his shell shimmering in the sun.
“You’re welcome,” Billy uttered in disbelief.
“To thank you my friend, I’ve prepared a deep sea voyage for you! Would you be interested?” asked Hermit with hope in his eyes.
“Sounds amazing, but my parents will be worried if I’m gone for too long,” Billy replied.
Hermit waved his claws above the sand, a small hurricane twisted and turned, getting bigger and bigger, when it subsided, a ‘Billy’ stunt-double appeared. Not only that he looked stunted, he looked and sounded the same as Billy, too.
“When you come back, he’ll turn into sand again,” Hermit reassured Billy. “Next, put that on your head,” Hermit pointed at a mop of seaweed laid drying in the sun. Billy giggled like he was being tickled by an invisible man.
“Trust me! Try it on!” Hermit insisted.
Billy imagined how silly he would look, but put the seaweed on his head nonetheless. The seaweed inflated into a helmet with one strand hanging inside that released a constant supply of oxygen from its bubbles.
“All you need to do now is to throw me as far as you can into the sea,” Hermit shouted.
With a low “pod-dom”, Hermit hit the water. Ripples ringed across the sea before a deep hole drilled into the water.
Billy walked closer to inspect the vortex. To his surprise, instead of a whirling mass of darkness, it appeared to be the interior of a spiral shell.
“Be my guest!” Hermit’s voice echoed from within. “By the way, please call me Tim.”
Home Sweet Home
Billy’s face lit up, probably from joy or reflection of the pearlescent walls.
“All mod cons!” Tim gushed as he stood shell-less on Billy’s shoulders.
Tim clicked some rhythm with his claws, the walls that segmented the rooms slid open, revealing a spacious rotunda. “This is gymnasium mode. Carrying a heavy shell isn’t easy. I need to stay fit, you know.”
Tim clicked another rhythm and “Pop!” Water gushed in through a hole, turning the rotunda into a swimming bath.
“Is this what hermit crabs do when they hide in their shells? Enjoying the comfort of their home instead of being scared?” asked Billy.
Tim glanced at Billy, then continued munching on a leaf that floated past and said, “Help yourself to some food, we’ll go to the seabed after a snack.”
* * * * *
Just as Billy thought that he had seen all the main features of Tim’s home, the floor lowered into the form of a coil. Seaweed appeared out of nowhere, securing Billy to a soft sponge-like surface that swayed back and forth, gently transporting him down to the seabed.
Deep Sea Voyage
Upon arrival, Tim knocked on Billy’s helmet and said: “I’d like you to meet Mr Blob.”
In front of Billy was a grotesque fish that looked permanently upset.
“Hello my friend, Tim told me how you’ve come to his rescue. Legend has it that the child who finds the magic shell and gives it to a homeless hermit crab is destined to be one of the most celebrated architects in history.
“In the near future, humans will exhaust the landmass on earth. Building in the sea will become inevitable,” Mr Blob sighed, “our only hope is to find talented yet sympathetic souls like you to build a world where sea creatures and humans can live in harmony.
“On that note, I shall delay your journey no more. Enjoy your visit.”
Mr Blob turned and disappeared into a colony of corals.
Sowing the Seeds
“I’d like to thank my parents for all the wonderful things that they’ve taught me; Tim for his crash course in architecture, showing me creative ways to maximize space and how function and comfort can go hand in hand. Last but not least, Mr. Blob for introducing me to marine biology, which has inspired many designs of mine.
“I hope we treasure all the wonderful creatures on earth and take them into consideration when we create. Enjoy your evening. Thank you.” Billy’s speech was greeted with a big round of applause from the audience.
* * * * *
“Let’s see who’ll be the next to join forces,” Billy murmured as he hid a glistening shell deep in the sand.
“One day, you’ll travel the world because of your job,” said Tim as he pointed at a pouch delivered by Octopus Amy, “take this with you and help us find others who are destined to build us a better world.”