Keelo's Shame


by Judo Dan


The sea was a gleaming, silver sheet under a huge, smiling moon, and Keelo lay awake. Beside him on the sand of their tiny beach, his mother was another sleek, dark shape among the slumbering seals that covered every possible surface of  this part of Seal Island. Sometimes a restless sleeper would rear up and then settle itself with small contented grunts, but otherwise, the island was at peace.

Even Paheesa was silent tonight. His wrinkled belly was full of stolen fish and his lonely songs among the rocks were still for the moment. The old one-eyed jackal had been there since before the memory of the oldest seal and he haunted the seal colony by day and by night.


Only Raydor, the great white shark, was feared more than Paheesa, endlessly gliding the channels and gullies around the island on the lookout for careless seals and floundering  pups.


Keelo could not sleep.  He wasE was

 three months old and weeks ago he should have joined the other youngsters playing in the water. His mother had pushed and shoved and hissed and snapped, as he honked and flippered back and forth on the slippery rocks at the edge of the reef where the sea boiled and rushed in and out over the weeds and limpets, but Keelo could not gather the courage to plunge in.


Every day it had been like that, and every day Keelo had followed his mother away from the water to their little beach, his huge, dark eyes full of tears and his great whiskers bristling anxiously at her silence.


Keelo’s mother was never angry for long and soon she would bend her long, graceful neck and begin to lick him, curled tightly against her side, and then she would murmur,


“Rest, my child. Rest and grow strong. I am here and I will always be here when you need me, no matter what happens. Perhaps you will find the courage tomorrow.”


Keelo would squirm with happiness at her gentleness, but inside, he was sure he would never be brave enough to swim beside her through the great green swells that crashed and boomed on the shores of the island. He grew sadder every day.


So it was, on the night of the full moon, that Keelo could not sleep for the sadness in him and he knew that he would have to run away from his shame. With the turning of the tide, he quietly left his mother and slowly and very sadly made his way through the sleeping bodies of the colony where he was born. On a ridge above the nursery beaches, he paused and looked back one more time. Far below him, the seals looked like shadows on the pale sand and he could not even guess which one was his mother. He hesitated there a long time, and then with a heavy heart, he started the long journey down the other side of the ridge.


It was a place where the seals never came, full of towering black rocks that cut off the moonlight, so that he travelled in darkness most of the time. In the distance, he could see a stretch of beach beside the sea and he headed in that direction. He was not sure what he would do when he reached it, but it seemed far better than this gloomy place of shadows.


These cold, hard rocks had never felt the comfortable weight of a seal’s body in the summer sun. The sea below would be just as terrifying it was on the other side of the island, but there, he would not have to feel such shame with no other seal to see him.


When Keelo was halfway down the slope, he felt that he was not alone and he stopped to listen, but there was no sound. He turned to set off again and then stopped again. The night had turned deathly quiet. And then, somewhere behind him, there were scratching sounds amongst the rocks. Scratching and the breathing of some other animal.  For just a moment, his heart swelled in his little chest and he cried out in his hoarse, baby voice,


“Mother? Mother? Is it you? I am here. I never meant to run away…it was the shame… only the shame….”


But the voice that answered him was not his mother’s. It was a cracked, mad voice that echoed through the silent rocks and sent Keelo charging down the hill in terror.


“Ahaaa, my little one, there you are. Poor old Paheesa is all alone behind you here in the dark…and he does so much want to meet you. Please wait for Paheesa, my little one.”  And the old jackal giggled hideously in the night at his own horrible humour.


Down through the strange rocks raced little Keelo, his flippers cut and bleeding in his mad race against the nightmare behind him. At last, he came to the stretch of beach, smooth and level in the light of the fading moon.  He galloped along the sand, casting fearful glances behind him. Once he thought he caught a glimpse of Paheesa and he cried aloud in his terror.


At last there was no more beach. Keelo turned at the end with the sea behind him and stared back the way he had come. His worst fears came true when he saw the slinking form of Paheesa emerge from the distant rocks and start off down the beach towards him.


There was no escape and Keelo knew he was doomed. Nothing could save him now, alone and unprotected on a darkening beach with no escape but the icy Atlantic behind him. If he could not brave the water by day, by night it was impossible.


Paheesa drew steadily closer, taking his time as he saw that the little seal was trapped. Keelo threw back his head and cried out for help. Paheesa only slobbered and cackled, shuffling along, closer and closer.


“Hush, my little one. Paheesa is here. You are not alone. We are together, you and I. But soon we will be more together than now, and then, after that, sadly, Paheesa will be alone again. So sad!”


Then from the rocks far above, there was a ringing bark that stopped Paheesa in his tracks. He turned and snarled uncertainly, squinting one-eyed up at the slope behind him, his tail between his skinny legs. He looked back at Keelo and licked his lips, but now he knew that his prey would not be taken as easily as he had planned. Just as the moon disappeared completely, Keelo’s mother burst from the rocks and came pounding down the beach towards them.


Paheesa yapped and threatened, but she charged him and he skipped lamely out of the way so that she arrived, panting and blowing, at Keelo’s side. Here, she swung about to face Paheesa, her great eyes flashing and her teeth bared, hissing and swaying from side to side.  Paheesa drew back and then began to circle them, seeking a way past the mother seal.


For hours, they remained like that. Paheesa was very patient, and quite nimble for such a miserable animal. Keelo’s mother was deathly afraid of him, and with her body between the jackal and her pup, she retreated a little at every rush, but she would not turn away.


At last, when the sun rose on a high tide that thundered against the island, it found Keelo and his mother at the edge of the rocks with nowhere left to go but into the sea. Paheesa sensed that this was his last hope of taking Keelo and he crouched for a last rush. Keelo’s mother whispered to her child, “Now, Keelo, now! You must come with me. He will not give up on the land, but he cannot follow us into the sea. Come now!”  And she turned and dived, as a great wave burst over them. The wave swamped the place where Keelo was standing, lifting him and tumbling the old jackal end over end before it rushed back down the sloping rocks and back into the sea taking a yelping, struggling Paheesa and the terrified seal-pup with it.


From far beyond the breakers, like the cry of a seabird, Keelo heard his mother’s anxious cry, “Dive, Keelo! Dive!” Keelo obeyed and as he fled underwater for his life, he heard a sickening crunch and a strangled yelp from Paheesa as Raydor welcomed him to his watery kingdom.


Later, Keelo’s mother was as gentle as ever as she licked his shaking body to comfort him. “Foolish child. See how easy it was to join me in the sea. Here is where your life begins, for you have become a seal. Remember always that it is the sea that feeds you, takes you on your journeys and will save you in times of need. It will always be your friend.”


Because Keelo was young, he had no thought for tomorrow, and he had no way of knowing just what tomorrow would bring in the way of adventure and fame. Keelo the seal-pup had done away with Paheesa on the very first day he conquered his own fear of the sea.


Judo Dan.


Back to blog