Sunday, January 19, 2014
THE SCREAMING OF THE TURTLES
It's gone now but there used to be a bridge that stretched over the rocky stream of the Blackstone River not far from my house. It was on a major road and it included a railroad crossing so the tracks broke through the pavement at one end, just after you'd cross the bridge.
I was riding my Jawa Moped home-- in the days before I got my license the idea of a moped represented freedom and an ability to get to my friends houses who all lived on the other side of town. The moped was something I saved a good long time for and I rode it everywhere.
These were in the days when I would bike sometimes 40 miles in a single day, making my way from Worcester to Cambridge and back so I could buy old 1940s Batman comics from The Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square.
Today I wouldn't ride a moped for all the money in the world-- texting has made the roads for people on small vehicles treacherous, but back then, man that moped was boss.
Actually, it wasn't. I'm lying completely, both to you and to myself.
That moped was actually much more trouble than it was worth.
First it would get hot and the engine smell would be sickening. Second it was a two cycle engine which meant you had to add oil to the gas when you filled it up-- although the ideas of a full tank of gas for less than a dollar was pretty sweet.
But the worst thing of all was the chain. If you hit a bump just right the stupid chain would come off and you'd have to pull over and put it back together.
And so it was on this bright sunny afternoon as I made my way around the winding corner of Millbury Street and crossed the bridge, steering around what I thought was a huge rock in the middle of the road and a man in what looked like a park ranger outfit not to far away.
I barely glanced in my mirror to see what was going on when I hit the bump of the railroad tracks and the chain came off. I pulled over, muttering to myself as the ranger guy ran towards me.
"Oh thank heavens you stopped!" He shouted desperately at me. "I've been trying to flag down cars but no one will stop. We have to help him!"
He was pointing back to the rock in the middle of the road.
"Uh." was about all I could manage.
He had his hands on my shoulders and in some kind of out of body experience he pulled me along to the rock which I soon realized was not a rock at all.
It was a GIANT turtle.
Like small child GIANT.
This thing was the size of an ottoman, and it was completely withdrawn into it's shell, obviously frightened by the sound of the busy motorists who were whipping buy it refusing to stop and help the crazy park ranger who wanted help moving his rock.
Only this wasn't a rock. It was a turtle. A GIANT one.
"Uh." I mumbled as I looked at this thing with disbelief. I looked back at my Moped which seemed to be laughing at me. "I really should..."
"Help me lift it. Help me lift it." He said excitedly as he got behind the turtle. "C'mon, help me lift it!"
Now I'm no park ranger, and I'm not an expert on turtles. I was trying to wrap my head around how this thing got here into the middle of the road in the first place. I looked at the turtle which looked like it could weigh 200lbs and back at the ranger. He certainly seemed confident, and he certainly seemed like he had a plan.
I knew right then I should have asked what that plan was, because I had no intention of carrying this thing down the side of the ravine that led from either side of the bridge. I think I assumed we were just going to carry it to one side or the other in the hopes that it would keep walking the other way and not just wander back into traffic. Either way, once we got it off to the side of the road I'd make my excuse, replace my chain and be on my way leaving Turtle boy to worry about the little fella wandering back out into traffic.
"Which end do you want? I have to warn you, they usually pee when you pick them up because they are frightened, and be careful of the claws too!"
Claws and pee? I didn't want any part of this. Nor did I want to put my crotch anywhere near the mouth of a giant turtle that might be so frightened it would pee and claw us to death just for trying to help it-- so I opted for the back end.
I don't know why we didn't pick it up from the sides, maybe that would have made us more susceptible to a clawed hoof or foot or whatever thing this walked on. I'm not sure, but I think it was because when you're dealing with a wild creature and a guy in a ranger suit tells you how to do something you assume they know what they're talking about.
After all he had the suit.
We pick up this thing, which was lighter than I thought it was going to be, and sure enough it lets loose a stream of pee that causes me to do the foot dance to prevent my shoes from getting it-- soon followed by dinosaur like hands and feet that come out and claw at us in a manner that reminds me of a drunk old lady about to fall off her barstool at blue hair night at the Hotel Vernon.
What I will remember is the angry turtle head that came out of the shell-- and it had a beak on it that looked like it could shear through bone and skin with little effort, I was glad I was only dealing with the peeing end.
So we're carrying this thing, which as I said is much lighter than I expected it to be, but obviously too heavy for the ranger because he starts running with it all the time saying "put it down, put it down".
We get to the edge of the bridge railing-- and this I will never forget.
"Just balance it here for a minute." He says as we set the turtle up on the flat of the railing edge. It was a wide railing, but not that wide.
"I don't think this is a good idea." I look at the precariously balanced turtle who must be 200 years old. I also look over the edge-- it's a good thirty feet to the river below-- and there are a LOT of sharp rocks down there.
"Just give me a minute." The ranger says as he leans back on the railing, his hands on his knees and his head down, trying to catch his breath.
What happened next will likely be filmed by Christopher Nolan when he opts to start the Turtle Man trilogy and it reminded me very much of Hithcock's film SABOTEUR (1942)-- to be more specific, the ending (Spoiler)....
Because for some reason, very likely because the Turtle realized getting help by some dopey kid on a moped who never intended to stop and a Barney Pfife like park ranger was going to cause him more pain than good.
Maybe the Turtle had wandered out into traffic because he was looking to cash in his chips, 200 years is a long time.
But for whatever reason, no matter the cause, the Turtle flipped off the edge of the railing and plummeted to the rocky waters below-- looking up at me as he fell with a kind of strange expression.
The ranger screamed in horror and I thought for a second he was going to Batman Forever it and dive after the turtle in an attempt to save it before it hit the ground, but hit it did and if you've ever wondered what the inside of a turtle shell looks like I can tell you-- because that little creature came out of his shell as it shattered into thousands of pieces around him and disintegrated before sinking into the dark murky but fast moving stream of water.
Tears streamed down the ranger's face as he stared down after his fallen comrade.
I walked back to my Moped, re-attached the chain, and drove off.