Life’s a Starfish – or Better Not?
By Antje Hergt
“Me! Me!” Starfish jiggled all her arms. “Look at me!”
Jellyfish stood besides her, beaming. “She’s amazing, isn’t she?”
His gaze swept over the sea creatures. The crabs at the back dropped their claws in exhaustion.
“We’ve done it,” one small red crab said, nudging its companion.
“I’d high-five it, if I had enough energy to lift my claw,” Black-dotted Crab mumbled, yawning.
“Shhh,” Jellyfish puffed out his body. “Starfish’s award!” He wiggled a pearl around.
“Ooooh,” a murmur rippled through the crowd.
Starfish stretched her arms tall. “I gratefully accept this award.”
Jellyfish clapped his polyps excitedly; sending little sparks bubbling up in the water.
The crabs looked at each other and joined him, but with little enthusiasm.
“Thank you all so much,” Starfish tweeted holding up the pearl. “I could never have accomplished it without your help.”
“Uh-huh,” Black-dotted Crab hissed while his friends nodded grumpily.
“Without us there would be nothing to receive an reward for,” Red Crab said clicking her claws.
An older crab clipped her from behind. “Not worth upsetting yourself about.” The other crabs nodded wisely. “Don’t break your pretty red head about it.”
“We’ve seen it all before.” They said in unison, their antennae bobbing in the current.
“Starfishes always want to be admired,” her dotted friend said and grey one added. “They have to be the centre of attention.”
“We like the dust and sand better, anyway,” her friend stirred up a bit of the sea bottom and the other crabs stomped their eight legs before bustling away. Red Crab scratched the mud out of her claws. “That’s so unfair.”
Big Fish nodded contently and swam off. He had a busy schedule and more awards to present for he was responsible for a far bigger section of the sea than this little reef pocket. Red Crab watched him disappear into the brightness of the open sea.
“Hey, dreamer,” her black-dotted friend called. “Waiting for an extra invitation?”
She scurried after them.
“You heard her,” Grey Crab shoveled past. “We excavate a gathering cave – higher, brighter and bigger.”
“So Starfish doesn’t scratch her arms on the walls,” a passing crab snickered.
“We do the work again and she gets the reward?” Red Crab squirmed her antennae.
The other crabs didn’t even stop to answer her.
Waves washed over waves high above the sea bottom, but the crabs didn’t notice. They were busy digging tunnels.
“The construction is unstable,” Grey Crab said as Jellyfish jotted impatiently past him. “If we don’t add support beams, it will collapse.”
“You said that with the last project,” Jellyfish’s umbrella-shaped body pulsated in bright colors. “And it’s still standing.”
Grey Crab jotted his claws. “This cave is bigger, closer to the surface waves and has many light openings to accommodate Starfish’s wishes.”
“Then, go ahead with it,” Jellyfish undulated in the current. “Can’t be that hard.”
“But we don’t have the necessary shells to support it,” Grey Crab crawled behind him.
“Never enough shells. That’s all I ever hear from you,” Jellyfish ballooned to his full size. “I don’t want to hear anymore ‘Can’t’ from you. I want to see results and a bit more light for Starfish shouldn’t be that hard.” He contracted his body and shot off into the darkness, shouting. “Results – not debates.”
“What did Jellyfish say?” Red Crab asked at seeing Grey Crab’s antennae dropping.
“We are going ahead as planned,” Grey Crab thumbed his claw into the sea bottom.
“But that is insane,” she said at break time. “If we continue like this, we need a plan.”
“Like what?” Grey Crab wiped his forehead.
“An evacuation practice, safety, something,” Red Crab waved over Black-dotted Crab and the others.
“Can’t a crab enjoy his break in peace?” her friend complained mockingly.
“Not if it wants to live long enough to have breaks,” she shot back.
“What did you say about safety?” the others mumbled.
Grey Crab rubbed his antennae. “Safety in numbers.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Back-dotted Crab kicked up some sand.
Grey Crab coughed. “You work together in pairs.”
“How’s that helping if the roof caves in?” Black-dotted Crab twisted his antenna, bored.
“We make it work,” Red Crab shook her claw. “We build a chain.”
Grey Crab scratched his head. “That might work. An evacuation string.”
The trumpet fish blasted a signal. It was the end of break.
In the cave tunnel, they lined up in work formation. The smallest crab, the deepest in the tunnel and the strongest closer to the exit to shovel out the dirt.
“Okay, when you hear the alarm, you drop everything and grab the crab in front of you,” Red Crab demonstrated by hitching up to black-dotted crab.
“Ouch!” he rubbed his tail, but she ignored him.
“Now the most important task is the crab positioned at the cave entrance,” Red Crab looked to Grey.
“What? You want me to pull everyone?”
Red Crab shook her head. “You jump and while you sink down your weight pulls everybody out.”
The crabs looked doubtful.
“Let’s try it.”
They struggled a couple of times before everybody trusted each other.
“Evac,” Red Crab shouted, imitating the trumpet fish. Grey Crab dived out of the opening and in one big train pulled everybody out.
Cheers filed the reef and Starfish poked her head out. “What’s the hullabaloo?”
“Safety training,” Grey Crab said slightly out of breath and the crabs hurried back to work.
Inauguration Day came. Jellyfish and Starfish paraded Big Fish around the reef.
“Isn’t it amazing?” Jellyfish pushed out his chest.
“Impressive,” Big Fish examined the pockmarked structure.
“See the gathering space at the top?” Starfish waved upwards. “Flooded in light.”
“I like Sunshine,” Big Fish bobbed his head. “And you created this structure without losses?”
“Of course,” Starfish smiled widely. “I designed a special emergency procedure to get everybody out, if a tunnel collapses.”
“But that was Grey Crab’s idea,” Red Crab piped up.
“You must be mistaken little crab,” Jellyfish said, his polyps swaying in the current. “Starfish told Grey Crab how to do it.”
Starfish nodded and Red Crab looked around, but all the other crabs remained silent, heads bent.
“You don’t even have claws,” she pointed at Starfish. “How could you have thought of this idea?”
“Silly, mind your place and don’t interrupt the fish who know,” Jellyfish scolded, his body pulsating rapidly.
“But,” Red Crab pushed out her claws and Jellyfish exploded into colors.
Big Fish observed Red Crab thoughtfully. “Too bad Grey Crab is not here to clarify this misunderstanding.”
“So wisely spoken,” Jellyfish said his polyps standing high above his head.
“Oh, he is so great with last minute touch-ups,” Starfish latched onto Big Fish’s fin, “Come see!”
Big Fish bobbed his head.
“Amazing, the size of it. Even I can fit in,” Big Fish swam into the cave.
“It’s at the highest point of the reef system,” Starfish said with pride. “It has the most natural light in any cave system.”
“I bet we are the first in the whole ocean with such an elaborate set-up,” Jellyfish’s body ballooned to twice its size.
“Well, well,” Big Fish said with a smile.
“In this area of the ocean at least,” Starfish caressed the walls. “Look at the transparency. Sound will carry evenly through all caves.”
“No more dispatching messenger crabs,” Jellyfish added smugly pointing at the silent crabs behind them.
“The walls are thin as shells,” Big Fish turned impressed. “How can they support the weight—,” his fin smacked the cave wall.
“Evac!” Red Crab yelled.
All crabs took a hold of the next and Grey Crab who just came to join them grabbed the closest one and jumped out of the entrance.
Big Fish and Jellyfish were right behind them.
A shadow swooped over them and the trumpet fish sounded the ‘Above Water Creature’ alarm. The crabs dug low into the ground and Jellyfish flopped under a stone.
Like on a giant stage Starfish stood alone in the middle of the broken structure.
“Jump down,” Red Crab yelled, but Starfish wouldn’t move, her body shaking with fear.
“Jump,” ordered Big Fish hidden in the reef.
“I caaaaaaan’t,” Starfish cried as a net pulled her off the reef, her voice growing fainter and fainter. The crabs poked their heads out.
“Guess, that’s it for her.” Grey Crab murmured.
Jellyfish scooted out of his hiding place. “We have to help her.”
The crabs went back to work knowing the laws of nature.
“So sorry,” Red Crab’s antennae shuddered as Jellyfish deflated into a knot of sadness.
Grey Crab shuffled past her. “At least now she will always be admired.”
High above the sea bottom, Starfish was fished out of the net. The Above Water Creature put her into a glass container to the sound of many ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahhs’ and hung her on the wall of in the highest meeting space, forever caressed by sunlight.