Paul Van Dyke
All I wanted was a pet turtle. I didn’t want to start a war, or bend time and space, or save humanity. I just wanted a little friend with a shell who didn’t need to be fed too often, and couldn’t run away when I started talking about my personal problems.
The thing standing between me and my dreams of turtle ownership was the same thing that stopped me from ever owning roller blades, comic books, a guitar, or t-shirts with clever sayings. My dad said they didn’t serve a purpose. Turtles not serving a purpose, boy was he wrong!
This was back when I lived with my parents, before the war, and the black holes, and all that stuff. I’d just finished high school and was waiting to start college in the fall. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and possessed no skills that I considered marketable, so I planned to major in business.
I made that plan before I was bestowed with the title of Defender of All Humankind. My dad always said that only bums don’t go to college, but I figured after I saved a billion people, I was an exception to the rule. My dad never got a chance to call me a bum, because he was turned into a puddle of goo during the war. Mom keeps him in a jar on the mantle.
But enough about my lack of higher education or a dad, I was talking about my turtle. I was never much of a pet person. Every one of my mom’s cats was as arrogant as anyone I’ve ever met. Sometimes I would look at one of those self-absorbed felines sauntering around the house like their dad owned the place, and I’d yell, “I get it. You’re a cat. Get over yourself!”
I thought it was just cats I didn’t like, but I spent a summer at my aunt and uncle’s house, and their dog annoyed me at least as much as three cats. It acted like an attention-starved child, and I swear my uncle must have fed that thing twice a day.
Now that I think about it, I was never much of a people person, either. Dogs have nothing on the neediness of humans. Not only do they insist on being fed three times a day, they also invent needs for themselves like friendship, Volvos, maybe a hug every now and then, college degrees, and people to listen to their personal problems.
One positive about humans: they don’t shed.
Fortunately, I was born into the information age and was able to build a happy and fulfilling childhood for myself on the Internet. Chat rooms, search engines, social media, file sharing, MMORPGS, so many ways to connect to the people around me without ever having to leave my room, or for that matter, put on a clean shirt. During the war, I learned that web cams in the future can capture scent, so since then I have always worn a clean shirt while I surf the web.
I was trolling a directory of social media clubs when I made the decision that would forever alter human history. I scrolled over a club called TONA, and I just hated that I didn’t know what it stood for. This might sound crazy, but I have a thing for acronyms. I love them. I can’t remember what the first acronym I learned was, but since then, I have always seen them as the language of God.
A word compressed into a single letter. An entire phrase packed into a single word. I had a panic attack when I was eleven because I had a dream where entire acronyms were being compressed to a single letter and linked together to form a super acronym. It didn’t stop there though; the super-acronyms became single letters to birth even greater acronyms. This continued until everything- Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, military weapon systems- all the information in the world was loaded into the letter F. Looking back on that dream, I believe a panic attack was a severe under-reaction.
I clicked on TONA — because I just had to know — and a cartoon turtle wearing a cowboy hat and a sheriff’s badge appeared on my computer screen.
“Howdy!” it said in a high-pitched voice.
“Howdy,” I whispered back to my new friend.
I was then brought to the homepage of Turtle Owners of North America. As a proud North American, I was immediately interested. The site had streaming video from some show called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thousands of pictures of North Americans with their pet turtles, and links to informational sites about how to take care of them. I was in love.
After checking the TONA site, I made the most important decision of my life: I made the commitment to buy a turtle. I decided I would name him after my favorite band, NKOTBSB. They used to be two bands — New Kids on the Block and the Back Street Boys — until their acronyms merged to turn two washed-up boy bands into a ten-man supergroup. I have never heard any of their music, and I plan to keep it that way. I fear it would ruin something beautiful. I once had a dream that NSYNC merged with NKOTBSB to form a fifteen-man megagroup and an L-shaped acronym with the N serving as the elbow. That was enough to give me another panic attack.
Later, when I became a turtle owner, I learned that turtles name themselves, and I was an arrogant fool to think otherwise.
I thought about joining TONA right when I discovered the site. I already felt like a turtle owner in my heart, and I was certainly a proud North American. I placed my mouse cursor right over the link to join, and nearly clicked it. I was in a bad place in my life then. What stopped me from clicking wasn’t the sense of honor all turtle owners and North Americans should feel; what stopped me was the ugly face of fear. I was afraid the other members would cross-examine me and inquire as to why I had no pictures of my turtle on the site. They would either see me as the fraud I was, or as someone who wasn’t proud of their pet turtle. I refused to be either of those things. If I were caught, I would never be able to show my face around TONA again, no matter how many turtles I owned.
Rather than join TONA under false pretences, I formed my own club. In doing so, I started a war that killed a million people and prevented a larger war that would have slain a billion. I became the greatest hero in the history of mankind, but I also had more blood on my hands than all but ten or twelve people who have ever lived. The club was called FTONA.
Future Turtle Owners of North America.
Oblivious to the million lives I was about to end, I spent the entire summer curating my site. As the founding and sole member of the club, my responsibilities were great. I had to do all of the multimedia myself, which mostly consisted of photoshopped pictures of myself next to various species of turtles.
I also wrote all of the site’s blog entries. My most heartfelt writing was about a dream I had where I was balancing my pet turtle’s shell on my head while little NKOTBSB’s short little arms and legs dangled in the air like he was trying to swim through the sky. When I awoke from the dream, my alarm clock was lying on my forehead and I felt the emptiness of being a non-turtle owner.
Nobody read my blog because, like I said, I was the club’s only member. I think anyone else who had the desire to become a turtle owning North American had already bought a turtle (or moved to North America.) I liked that nobody else was on the site. I don’t think people would have understood the love I poured into my homepage. It was the same love I would show little NKOTBSB when he and I were united in the fall.
The night before I went to college, I wrote my farewell blog to FTONA. In the morning I would be a turtle-owning North American, and could join TONA in good conscience. I wrote in my closing paragraph that spending the entire summer preparing myself for turtle ownership has taught me patience, making me more like the noble creature I would soon own, and if we could all be more like turtles, the world would be a happier place to live.
I had a dream that there was a response to my posting. It was the first response of the summer.
Message: And we would only need to come out of our shells when we ran out of pickles! –N
I awoke with a start, and hit the space bar to take my computer off sleep mode. I knew it was only a wonderful dream, but there was no way I would be able to fall back to sleep until I saw it for myself.
To my surprise, there was a message. I looked at my hands to see if I was holding a turtle. No turtle. I wasn’t dreaming. Someone was interested in FTONA!
Message: How did you find out about the turtles? When are you from? –X
I forgave the typo of when instead of where in the message, because its sender had the class to compress his/her name to a single letter.
My response: I learned most of what I know about turtles from TONA, and I am from North America — Minnesota, to be more precise. Tell me good friend, are you a future turtle owner? –D
I had never signed my name with just one letter before. It felt good. I figured out if my whole family abbreviated our names, we could call ourselves DESK. I made a mental note to broach the subject on the car ride to college in the morning. I actually forgot to mention it after the war broke out, and by the time I remembered, my dad had already been turned into a puddle of goo.
DEK just didn’t have the same ring to it.
X sent me a large data dump, and I clicked on what I expected to be pictures of him/her photoshopped next to various species of turtle, but was disgusted to find it was something no turtle-loving North American would ever send.
It was extremely wordy, but over the course of 75 pages, X explained that he was a member of an organization called F-TONA. Future-Turtle Owners of North America.
They were a collection of privateers from a distant future who learned how to harness the time traveling abilities of turtles to send themselves back in time. The data included detailed plans of how they were altering the past for a massive global takeover in the year 2132. I was disgusted. I couldn’t believe anyone would make a mockery of turtle ownership.
I sent one more message to X before I blocked him from my profile. In the moment, it just felt like the right thing to send.
Message: N says we’re only coming out of our shells when we need more pickles.
I then spent the remainder of the night copying the garbage X sent me and posting it on any site I could find. I included the following heading: This whole story is total BS, some SOB with no MFing respect for turtles sent me this. He’s an MFing D-bag, and when I say he’s an SOB, I mean his mother is in fact a B. Nobody who was raised by anyone other than a terrible, mean B would spread the BS about turtles that this MFer sent me. F him and anyone who is into this kind of S. I love turtles! I love turtles! I love turtles! –D
I don’t know what got into me that night. I’m normally such a level-headed young man. I’m not ashamed of it, though. I meant every word, and even though sending that rant and the accompanying data was the final event that doomed a million people to die in the next few hours, I am glad I spoke from the heart.
The problem was that every word X sent me was true. Now that I possess all the knowledge in the universe, it makes perfect sense. How else could a tortoise beat a hare in a foot race? (Note: tortoises can only transport themselves spatially. They are not as advanced as turtles, who can transport temporally as well.) It also explained why turtles are never in a hurry — they literally have all the time in the world.
The F-TONA didn’t appreciate me plastering their plans of world domination on whatever sites I happened to click on from my favorites list (I also hope that X didn’t appreciate me calling his mother a B.) Their one advantage against their enemies was secrecy, and they were still twelve decades shy of having everything in place. With all the information out there, they were forced to act immediately.
Their response to my posting was a full-scale invasion of North America. The armies of the F-TONA appeared, quite punctually, at 9:00 AM CST sharp in every major city. Pin holes were ripped in the fabrics of time and space as thousands of soldiers wearing purple jumpsuits, carrying a ray gun in one hand and a turtle in the other, appeared out of thin air.
They killed without prejudice, firing ray after ray at the unprepared populous and turning them into fully prepared puddles of goo. Not much preparation actually goes into being a puddle of goo. As long as there’s coagulation, you’re pretty much golden.
I know exactly how many people died during each minute of the invasion. It’s the curse of having all the knowledge in the universe. Knowing that there was no pain involved in the transmogrification from human to goo made the statistic no less terrible.
So much goo.
At 9:32 AM CST, the enemies of F-TONA appeared. Each one of them rent their own hole in the fabrics of time and space, and the hundreds of thousands of pin-prick black holes were stretched and widened by their arrival.
The enemy that appeared was the F-T:ONA. They came from very, very deep in the future, tens of millions of years. They were the Future-Turtles: Owners of North
America. They carried a deep-seated hatred for all of humanity after the millions of years of slavery at the hands of the F-TONA, and they came to cast judgment and deliver wrath upon mankind for the sins they had yet to commit. I guess I understand the turtles attacking us. Other than the purple jumpsuits, we looked a lot like the F-TONA, and didn’t exactly set the best historical precedents regarding slavery.
Maybe that’s just the turtle lover in me talking.
My dad was driving me to college when the war broke out. We were crossing downtown Minneapolis on the way to the U of M, when a black hole appeared in the road a hundred feet in front of my dad’s Volvo. He was livid. Both lanes of traffic were clogged, and everybody was fleeing their vehicles for their lives. At this pace, there was no way he was going to get me to the campus in time for 10:00 AM CST orientation. He laid on the horn and said, “Oh, this is just great,” but I think he was being sarcastic.
People always talk about black holes like they’re the most wondrous things in the universe, but I didn’t see what all the excitement was about. I guess I expected more from reality itself being twisted and crushed upon itself to become its antithesis. Another thing about black holes, once you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all. I know this because the black hole that appeared was like a match in a sawmill with the thousands of pin-prick mini-black holes. All over the city, anything close enough to a black hole to be caught within its event horizon was stripped to a particle level and sucked into whatever universe waited on the other end. Black holes were even pulling each other in, and violent shockwaves erupted whenever those little spots of nothingness coagulated like cosmic puddles of goo.
Then he appeared.
He emerged from the black hole blocking my dad’s route. He was about the size of my hand, and he was in no hurry. He had all the time in the world, which looked like it might not have been much time at all. The thousands of screenshots and photos I’d seen did the real thing no justice. He had a little shell that looked like a leaf wrap burger bun, and tiny little feet. He wore a little golden crown on his head that was not only adorable, but also marked him as the king of his noble race.
My dad screamed at me when the backdoor of the Volvo opened. He told me to get back in the car so he could drive me to college. He didn’t want me to grow up to be a bum with only a high school diploma who was unable to show my face in public; he wanted me to be a proud college graduate who drove a Volvo and didn’t need to cross the street in shame when an educated man walked by. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this exact speech; he used to recite it to me as a bedtime story until I was fourteen. He was about to get to the part about how no man without a college degree could ever honestly say he lived a productive life when a stray beam from a ray gun turned him into a puddle of goo.
He lived a productive life.
I didn’t even look back. All I could focus on was the little turtle with the crown on his head as he slowly went about his business of exterminating the savages who had imprisoned him and his kind for so long.
Lots of puddles of goo.
When I came close enough, I realized he was talking. His voice was strange, like a man without a tongue who was in a hurry to get his point across. The turtle wasn’t speaking in a manner in which any human had ever communicated; his brain was far too advanced to waste energy explaining every detail of every little thing with a long, drawn out, stupid language.
“B!” he bellowed, “B!”
I understood perfectly, and tears rushed down my face as the truth and beauty of his message sank in. It was like a supernova compressed into a single syllable.
“V,” I answered.
The F-T:ONA began to weep as well.
“K,” we both said, almost at the same time. That made us laugh.
My hands were shaking as I picked the little guy up and placed him upon my head like a crown. A throaty joyful noise came from his mouth as he moved his arms and legs in a swimming motion.
The black holes closed, and the Turtle War came to an end.
I pulled out my smart phone and added myself to the TONA roster, then I took a picture of me and N standing among the ruins of downtown Minneapolis.
North America was devastated by the 42-minute-long war. All across the continent, productive citizens had been turned into puddles of goo, and it would take months to clean up the sticky mess they left behind. The NYSE dropped 4000 points before closing bell, and the global markets tanked in the following week. Businesses were closed for weeks as owners and employees scooped up their lost loved ones. It would take years to rebuild all the infrastructure destroyed by the black holes, and retrain new workers to replace the ones who had been turned to goo. Those could have been years of industry and innovation driving humankind into the future, but instead it would be wasted getting us back to where we left off. The SEC called the Turtle War the single worst financial atrocity in human history. I am thankful my dad didn’t live to see the world become so unproductive.
We rebuilt though, no thanks to the turtles. Other than traveling time and eating pickles, they really don’t do much of anything. Even after the reconstruction and stabilization of the markets, we never got back to where we left off. After so much death, everybody seemed to care less about money and more about one another.
The Future-Turtles had to stay in our time, because the future they came from was destroyed by the new decisions we were making. The pressure my dad put on me as a kid had nothing on the responsibility that comes with knowing my every move will ripple out into eternity. Now I’m really careful not to step on bugs. At first, I was worried the Future-Turtles would also be destroyed in some weird time/space paradox, but after N taught me everything there was to know about quantum physics, I realized how silly I was to think that.
Since I’m the only human fluent in super-acronym, I have been appointed UN ambassador to the F-T:ONA. It’s not a bad gig; I get to spend a lot of time with my hard-shelled little buddies, and according to the turtles, I’m the most reasonable human being they have ever met. I just wish it didn’t take so long to explain what N means when he says, “ü!”
PAUL VAN DYKE’s fiction and non-fiction has appeared in several literary journals, including Water~Stone Review, Revolver, and War, Literature & the Arts. He is a host of Write On Radio at KFAI FM in Minneapolis, where he gets to interview authors from all over the country every week. He is currently working on a memoir about his experiences in Iraq, and a novel about professional wrestling.