Story Time: Turtle Juice by James Steele
This story is dedicated to Rose O’Keefe. James Steele wrote it after reading a comment (below) she made. Personally, I think that if anyone was to become an illegal brewer of young turtle wine, it would be Rose.
Happy Birthday Rose O’Keefe!
“I saw a photo of a turtle that was smaller than a grape. I wonder what it would be like to have a bunch of turtles like that, hanging from a vine.”
Rose plucked one turtle from the tree and held it in her hand. The little thing was about the size of a grape, and it crawled around her palm, trying to get its bearings in the darkness.
She closed her hand, pulled a collapsible plastic cup from her pocket and held the turtle over it. She squeezed. The turtle cracked. Its green juices flowed between Rose’s fingers and trickled into the cup. She shook the empty turtle from her hand, lifted the cup to her lips and slugged the whole thing down. It wasn’t much—turtles this size only yield about three grams of juice each—but she only needed a sample.
Rose lowered the cup and licked her lips. This tree was perfect.
Quickly she reached up, grabbed another branch and lowered it to eye level. She fished a plastic bag from her pocket and flapped it open. Holding the bag as wide as she could, she shook the branch violently. The tiny turtles flailed on their stems, struggling in slow, ineffectual motions. One by one they fell away from the branch and cart-wheeled through the air into the bag. Rose grabbed another branch and shook the turtles into her bag.
She harvested every branch on the tree this way. Turtles who missed the mouth of the bag fell onto the grass and crawled away as fast as their reptilian metabolisms would let them. But she couldn’t let them escape—they were too valuable—so she paused, got down on her hands and groped around for the strays.
Rose had sampled the turtles on a dozen trees tonight. All tasted young and fresh, but these turtles were just mature enough to taste young, but not too old that they’d begun to ferment. It was an illegal pleasure. Years back, someone in the government decided immature turtle juice was unsafe to drink—too many impurities, too much bacteria, too many antioxidants, too cruel to kill the animals at such a young age—so laws were passed forbidding its sale. The only way to get it was to take it from the source.
Flashlight beams hit Rose, blinding her. It was the grove guards; they had caught her green-handed. Turtle growers were notoriously protective of their crop, and lawmakers gave them the right to shoot on sight. Anything to protect the turtles from people like her, people who would deny them a full life, maturity and happiness for the sake of taste and the freedom to choose their beverage.
Rose hoisted the bag over her shoulders and darted through the trees. She hated to do this, but what choice did she have? She grabbed every random branch she passed as she dashed by letting them whip back. Turtles flew from the trees, plopping on the ground. Rose shook down hundreds of them. Thousands. They crawled madly to the flashlight beams, drawn to them as to the full moon. They charged the guards and plowed over them, their combined weight suffocating the men. Without looking behind her, Rose scaled the fence and sprinted away from the grove, prize in hand.
Her turtle juice was the best in the county. It was worth the risk, but it was also principle: no government would tell her which turtle she could drink.
James Steele is a writer in Ohio. He is often asked to sum up his life’s story in a single paragraph. James is very depressed by how easy this is. He has been published in the Magazine of Bizarro Fiction (issue 3), Anthrozine (issue 18), Different Worlds Different Skins v.2, Roar v.3, and Planet Magazine. His bizarre action/comedy novel, “Felix and the Sacred Thor,” is published through Eraserhead Press. His blog is http://daydreamingintext.blogspot.com/