There once was a boy, a 4-year-old boy, who on one happy day in November, turned 5.
On this birthday he received a Box Turtle. A Box Turtle, they say, can live to be 100. In the boy’s 5-year-old logic, he reasoned he had a friend until 105, at which point he’d have to find a new friend, but he had 100 years to worry about that; he impulsively named the Box Turtle “Shelly” and began a hunt for bugs to feed his new friend.
Shelly was a natural hunter; while most turtles are stereotypically assumed to be slow, Shelly would slide on his shell as he ran after crickets, grasshoppers and occasionally toes that he confused as worms. Shelly was also an escape artist. He would climb out of his cage when no one was looking, and explore the boxed-in walls of a home. Perhaps in a search for food, but the boy thought perhaps Shelly wanted to explore.
Taking pity on the turtle, the boy brought him outside to explore the backyard. At first the boy followed him patiently, watching him eat and dig. The boy grew weary of following the now slow-moving turtle. When Shelly was exploring, he was not in the same rush as his hungry hunts. The bored boy decided to do some exploring of his own and left Shelly to his own devices for afternoons at a time. However, the boy was always sure to find him before night fall.
One night, though, the turtle could not be found. The boy frantically searched every corner of the yard, but Shelly was not there. The boy became sad, he had lost his friend much sooner than he had planned.
The next morning the boy began making signs to hang in the cul-de-sac:
“My Turtle ran away, please return Shelly if you find him”
(The boy was in too much of a rush to include contact information, or even his name, every moment counted.)
He then hopped on his bike and pedaled around tirelessly in search of his turtle. After a fruitless search, the boy returned home disheartened and sad. His exploring friend got carried away, and would never be seen again.
Much to the boys surprise, these sad thoughts were quickly dashed away as he found his turtle safely back in his cage. His mother informed him the neighbors had found him, and returned him, again.
“Again?” Asked the boy.
“Again,” said the mother, “you get caught up in your own adventures and have forgotten to find Shelly several nights. Luckily for you the neighbors are now on lookout for Shelly and return him in the morning before you wake up. How else do you think he is always back in his cage each morning?”
The boy was in disbelief, how could he ever forget about Shelly! his dear friend. However, upon the now 7-year-old’s pondering, he could remember several occasions that he had never bothered to go looking for Shelly. The nights were many that the boy drew plans in his top secret journal:
Escapes from school, dart gun ambushes, forts hidden by the creek…
The list was long. But using so much brain power in writing these plans, the boy would pass out on his mountain of stuffed animals, never remembering to go and find Shelly. Somehow the turtle always ended up back in his cage and the distracted boy had never noticed Shelly’s many absences.
However, after learning the truth of his negligence, the boy looked troubled, but then quickly switched over to excitement, “SHELLY CAN SURVIVE OUTSIDE! WE CAN’T KEEP HIM IN HIS CAGE!”
This deduction was hardly the one the mother was expecting, but begrudgingly she allowed the boy to let his turtle roam free. Shelly was always found nearby and returned by the neighbors, and provided endless treasure hunt fun for the boy and his friends. However, one fall day, the hunt was never rewarded. Not for days, not for weeks, then the snow came.
The boy was distraught, he had let his friend freeze. He had given him too much freedom and was now responsible for his turtle’s death. But death is a heavy subject for a boy to comprehend. His parents offered logical solutions, and perhaps made up fairy tales, of how Shelly could survive the cold winter and that all would be well.
The boy bought the stories and decided to be patient and await his turtle’s return in the spring. But as happens to young boys, he was soon distracted by other more pressing matters and did not worry about Shelly until the summer was nearly over.
“Where had Shelly gone? Did he survive the winter? Can turtles really make it on their own?”
Two out of three of these questions were answered as the boy was mowing his lawn. Sitting in the grass, with no particular hurry and no particular worry, sat Shelly staring at the boy. Despite the boy’s relentless questioning, Shelly would not answer the third question and it will have to go down as a great mystery in the boy’s life. The boy showed off his turtle with joy, telling his family, his friends, his friends’ family, his friends’ family’s friends and so on.
However, after a grand celebration of earthworms and apples and a night of hospitality in the turtle’s honor, the boy knew he could not keep the turtle any more. Shelly had things to do, and was clearly capable of accomplishing them on his own. The boy told the turtle he was welcome to stay in the yard as long as he liked, and also that he had an invitation to return anytime. The boy set the turtle down in the grass; Shelly turned and slowly meandered away into the garden. Probably to eat the last round of zucchini blossoms before his long journey.
The boy had realized that the time shared with Shelly was quite special indeed. But the exploring turtle could not be kept in a cage, and the boy was content in accepting this fate. Still, to this day, the boy (now a man) wonders where Shelly went off to, and whether his dear friend will make it to 105 years old with him.
This brings to an end the tale of the boy and his runaway turtle.