Little Suzie skipped through the cool darkness, humming happily to herself. She followed the carpeted pathway down further into the cave-like room. Barely seen on the walls were the fake embellishments of rocks, plants and even the occasional hint of freshwater fish. She skipped ever deeper into the cavern towards the dim light up ahead, her excitement growing. Her humming had stopped and she now walked with widening eyes as the blue ambience filled them ever more. She stumbled to a stop in front on the center large acrylic window.
“Come closer, Child.”
The creepy voice made her look over her shoulder. Nothing seemed notable but the dark corridor and the blinding brightness of the entrance; no one else was here. She had left her parents behind at the door as they sat on a bench, relishing the air conditioning just inside the attraction. They had encouraged her to venture alone, to take your time so that they might recoup from the searing heat outside. Seeing no signs of anyone else joining her adventure, she turned back to the viewing window.
“Oh!” She gasped.
There before her hovered a massive heap of grey flesh. She giggled as he reminded her of an enormous grey potato with whiskers. A frown crossed her lips; manatees weren’t as exciting as everyone had made them out to be. The whiskers twitched and a few bubbles rolled out of the nostrils on his squishy round muzzle. Its beady little eyes rolled to peer down at her, as if disappointed in how tiny she was in comparison to himself.
“Will you join me, Child?” Again, the mysterious voice.
Suzie swung herself around, but once more, found she was alone in the blue glow of the aquarium window.
“H-hello?” Her tiny voice echoed as she squinted at the dark corners of the room and corridor.
“No, Child. Behind you.” A thumping brought her back around to stare at the manatee who had moved closer to the window.
A smile crawled across her little freckled face. Excited that the grey potato was so close, she too joined him. Her nose pressed firmly against the acrylic made her look like a pig from the manatee’s side. Now she could count the whiskers in his snout, see the rolls and folds of grey flesh that made her giggle to see he had not one, but four chins adorning his neck. He flapped a fin, thumping the window and she jumped back. After a shocked pause, she laughed and ran back to the manatee. With a hardy slap, she high-fived her new potato friend.
“Stop that!” Bubbles rolled from the manatee’s nostrils. “I command you to stop your buffoonery at once!”
“You can talk!” She gasped, clapping her hands excitedly. “No one told me manatees could talk!”
Another snort of bubbles, “Do you know who stands before you, Child?”
Blinking, she pulled at a curly strand of her auburn hair. “Mister Manatee?”
The tiny bulgy eyes started to glow red as he thumped the window with both flippers. “I am the Antichrist!”
“The what?” She furrowed her brow. “The Ann, the anteee, I can call you Andy!”
“NO!” Bubbles exploded from his snout this time.
Suzie laughed, clapping excitedly, “BUBBLES!”
Suddenly the potato floated up and away. Smashing herself against the window she watched in wonder. He had such a big circular fin, unlike the dolphins and whales she had seen in the other dark rooms. With a cheek firm against the cool acrylic, she looked upward, watching as he took in a gulp of air. Slowly he drifted back down to her level again where she smiled warmly, happy her new friend had returned. This was a rather slow process, taking several minutes for the massive mammal to achieve as if a snail climbing up and back down a sliding glass door.
“You’re funny!” She was tugging on her shirt and swinging her body from side-to-side.
“Hmph.” Again, he peered down at her as if a King staring at the homeless. “Again, I ask, will you follow me, Child?”
“Umm, where are we going?” Content that her conversation would be continuing she sat on the floor. “I’ll have to ask Mommy and Daddy if it’s ok to go with you…”
“We are not going anywhere.” His eyes glowed brighter. “I wish to acquire you as a follower in my cause, Child.”
Her eyes seemed to glaze over, thoughts visibly distorting her face before she spoke again. “You wish to... umpire me? I know Daddy does that, but I’m not playing baseball, Mister Manatee.”
A long silence came. He stared down at the little girl in disbelief, the red in his eyes fading away. “How old are you?”
“Oh!” She jumped to her feet, excited at a question she could answer. “I just turned five! In fact, today’s my birthday!”
“I got new shoes, and this shirt!” She spun around like she was in a scene from Sound of Music. “And when I get home we’ll have cake!”
Again, he remained silent.
“Mister Manatee?” Her smile fell away, her brow knotting. “Are you sad?”
A flick of his flippers rotated him so his back was to her and he mumbled, “Yes.”
Pressing her nose against the glass she pleaded, “Don’t be sad, Mister Manatee! Did someone hurt you?”
A few bubbles floated up from the other side of the grey potato. “Sort of…”
“Awww…” She frowned. “It’s ok, you can tell me!”
A good minute went by before he pouted, “I was tricked.”
“Tricked?” Her eyes grew wide.
“Yes, tricked into thinking manatees were the ruling animal of the world.” He sunk deeper in the water.
“Oh, how mean!” Pulling away from the acrylic she crossed her arms and stomped a foot. “What a Meanie! But, Mommy said its ok to cry…”
“I’m not crying!” A large explosion of bubbles erupted up from him.
The sound of approaching footsteps echoed through the cave, breaking their little talk. Suzie turned about, her parents were finally making their descent toward the windows. Excited to see them, Suzie ran to them, giggling. She hugged her father’s leg when they connected at the halfway point which brought them to a stop. Her mother gave her a stern glare, and her giggling ceased.
“Suzie! Didn’t you hear us calling you?” fussed her mother, hands on her hip.
“Oh!” She looked back to the glowing blue, now empty.
“We’re going to miss the sea lion show,” warned her father.
Letting go, she stood straight, a serious expression on her face. “Let me say bye-bye to Mister Manatee.”
Laughing, her mother agreed, “Ok, Suzie. Say good bye and meet us outside, Love.”
Rushing back to the window, her heart was breaking to see her grey potato was nowhere in sight. Closing her eyes tight, a tear trickled down across her freckles. Biting her lip, she thought a moment and decided she dare not miss a chance to see Pirate Pete the Sea Lion’s show. Sighing, she did the only thing she knew to do.
“Bye-bye, Mister Manatee…” Her tear had made it to her chin, dangling for a few seconds before falling to her feet.
“A tear for me?” Opening her eyes, she looked at a blur of whisker speckled grey flesh. “Perhaps you are still of use to me, Child.”
“Mister Manatee!” she clapped.
“Cake, you said?” The red glow was building in his eyes as they stood nose-to-nose through the acrylic window. “Will there be candles?”
“Oh yes! Five of them!” she nodded. “Because I turned five today!”
“Burn it all to the ground, Child.”
She stared into the red glowing eyes, wide eyed. The glow now building in her own eyes as she took in his command.
“Take the fire and burn it all to the ground.”