Note #1: I wrote this short story a few years ago and recently discovered that I still had it on my computer. It’s strange, but I love it. Note #2: I’m not sure how this blog became so focused on walruses… these things just happen, I guess.
There was always something peculiar about that painting. Then again, the girl normally interpreted strange things from everyday objects.
“We should move the refrigerator outside,” she said one day. “It looks so lonely.” Her parents looked at each other and gave hesitant responses.
“I … I think it’s fine where it is, sweetheart.” She often heard them murmuring to each other in the next room, hearing her name and phrases like “not normal” and “should be taken to a specialist” and “we should pick up some eggs at the store; we’re all out.”
But really. That painting was different. On long summer days, she would simply stare at it. Since the attic was so hot, she would often bring a fan or something with her. One day she asked her friend about it.
“Have you ever seen such a thing?” she asked with a contemplative air.
“Well sure. It’s a painting of a walrus…I’ve seen a walrus at a zoo once,” said her friend, as he gave her a you-invited-me-over-to-look-at-a-large-tusked-animal-so-what’s-your-point type of look.
“Well, I’m not sure. It looks…different.”
“Yeah. Well, walruses are pretty strange looking animals. Walruses? Is that really the plural of walrus? Is it ‘walri’ like ‘octopi’?”
“I just don’t know,” she said, shaking her head solemnly.
The next day, the girl decided to follow her parents’ advice and go see a specialist.
“Excuse me, sir.”
“Why yes, hello little girl. How may I help you?” asked the antique appraiser, peering over his tiny spectacles.
“I have a strange suspicion that this painting is trying to communicate with me, but it is hindered by its ambiguous, desolate two-dimensional world,” she explained simply, holding up the dusty painting.
“Interesting. That’s the third one this month, you know.”
He stroked his mustache.
“How old is it, Mister?”
“Well I’ve been growing this for a few months now.”
“Right. Yes. Let’s find out.”
He put on a different pair of glasses, which were magnified to make his eyes look amusingly disproportionate to his face. She suppressed what would have been a rather large snort, and settled for a polite cough.
The man inspected the painting. He turned it this way and that, examining the frame, the way the paint crackles, the type of canvas used, using all his fancy little tools and such.
“I just so happened to have studied walruses extensively in college,” he said with a slightly self-satisfied air. “So I can tell you that this is a very rare species: the Odobenus rosmarus laptevi. These exist only in the Laptev Sea in Siberia.”
Later that day, the girl was eating dinner with her parents.
“You know, the weather sure has been terrible lately,” declared her father listlessly. The man was not the most enthusiastic person.
“Why yes. This rain … horrendous. I wonder —” her mother began to say.
“Speaking of portly tusked animals,” the girl cut in without missing a beat, “did you know that there’s a rare type of walrus from Siberia?” She ended with an isn’t-this-the-most-interesting-thing-you’ve-ever-heard-in-your-life?! type of voice.
“Sweetheart, it’s rude to interrupt.” Her father gave her a disapproving glance.
“Well then continue, Mother. What were you going to say?” asked the girl, slightly miffed.
“I was about to say, I wonder what’s causing this nasty weather.” Her mother took a sip of water.
There was a pause.
“Well did you know, Mother, that there’s a rare type of walrus from Siberia? And it’s in our attic!”
Suddenly the doorbell rang. The girl walked to the door to answer it. The house was large (and from the early 1800s, as her parents boasted), so it was a comparatively long walk. Shortly after, she arrived and opened the door.
A large man loomed in the doorway. The look on his face said, “I don’t let anyone get in my way,” the clothes he wore said, “I don’t compromise,” and his shoes said, “I’ve stepped in something rather unpleasant.” He was wearing a jet black suit, a skinny black tie, and an earpiece. Although his aviator sunglasses hid his eyes, they did not fail to hide his mercilessness. He seemed to bring a menacing air along with him, and it was evident that he wasn’t there to deliver Girl Scout cookies.
“Can I… help you?” the girl asked hesitantly, suddenly afraid for her life.
A deep piercing voice came from somewhere inside him. “We have reason to believe that you are harboring a certain Odobenus rosmarus laptevi in your very house. This, as you must surely know, is an act punishable by law.”
“I — what? But no, it’s a —”
“Young lady, you are now a person of interest in the FBI’s recent hunt of a certain kidnapped walrus. Our operatives will be questioning you shortly.”
Now this girl had her strong suits, but courage was not one of them. Just as the man grabbed her arm to take her to the unmarked black Volvo, she promptly fainted, with a bit of a half-squeal. Her parents, assuming she had gone with a friend, did not pay her any mind. Plus, their dinner was getting cold.
Franklin had been a part of the FBI for six years now. While his intentions were respectable, he was never able to stand out much in his field. He was a stay-in-line, do-what-you’re-told type of person, a norm from which he never once deviated. Recently he had stumbled upon a case that was equally peculiar and fascinating — that of the misplaced walrus. Here in central Illinois, one would think this wouldn’t be a problem, to lose track of a walrus. Strangely enough, it was true. The case was entitled “Rare Walrus Reported Missing,” as though it were merely a run-of-the-mill happening. Once he first read it, he imagined the conversation that would ensue:
“So, what are you working on?”
“Missing walrus case. Classified.”
“Ah. Care for some coffee?”
He chuckled. It was pretty funny. He Googled “walrus” just to make sure he wasn’t confusing it with some other large-tusked mammal. No, that was certainly it: a big blubbery thing with enormous teeth and big tired eyes. It looked like a hound dog with flippers. Well, it was still his job, so he ran background checks on anyone who had reportedly handled said walrus, anyone who was ever in 100 yards of said walrus, anyone who had ever seen a walrus, etc., etc.
“Hey, Frank! You’ll never believe this!” Herman, his coworker, had been working on the case as well. Franklin looked up from his computer as his friend bolted through the door, gasping for breath. The former opened his mouth to answer, but, like always, Herman just kept on talking.
“We got the guy! Well — it’s a girl, actually. We got her. She has the walrus; we have an audio recording of her confession!”
“You — what? Since when?” Franklin was somewhat crestfallen to be out of the loop.
“Just now! We got a lead a couple hours ago from Dan—you remember Dan? He works for us undercover as an antique appraiser for that other stolen painting case. He called us saying that he put a wire on this girl’s painting, just to see if it had any connection with the animal.”
“Well it sure does! She’s in the other room! She’s a little thing — maybe about 16 or 17? I figure you can question her more to get the details.”
“State your name.”
“Rosemary, could you tell me how you happened upon your little walrus friend?”
She looked down at her hands, fidgeting. “Attic. He was in my attic,” the girl mumbled.
“Interesting. Could you describe him for me please?”
“Big, wrinkly, brownish.”
“Do you know much about walruses?”
“No. All I know is that he’s part of some rare species found only in Siberia.”
Brilliant! he thought, that’s precisely the species specified in the case file on his desk. It’ll be smooth sailing from now on. “And did you put him in your attic?”
“No, I found him.”
“So let me get this straight,” Franklin leaned on the table with both hands, staring into her eyes. That was the intimidating move: the casual lean. She’ll crack soon, giving him the satisfaction of catching the bad guy for once. Yeah. This was the life. “You say you found a walrus just lazing around in your attic? Is it even still alive?”
At this, she suddenly burst out laughing, unable to contain herself. In between breaths and with tears in her eyes, she shot him several amused glances. After a couple of minutes, she wiped her eyes and calmed down. She had a giant grin on her face.
Franklin was so caught off guard that he actually backed up a few steps, his eyes wide. Was this girl mentally stable? He wasn’t so sure. “Young lady … are you … all right?”
“You think,” she started laughing again, but then regained composure after a few seconds. “You think that I have a real walrus in my attic?”
“Well … yes. Don’t you?”
“Painting! Painting! It’s a painting of a walrus. You didn’t even ask.”
“Oh,” said Franklin, feeling more than a little foolish.
“Man, I’m telling you,” sighed Herman, shaking his head, as he drove the girl home. “It might sound ridiculous to you, but we thought you were the guy. I mean, we were pretty positive.”
The girl, who had been staring out the window, glanced over at him. “How come you’re still wearing the sunglasses? It’s nighttime.”
He adjusted his aviators. “I’ll let you in on a secret. You see these shades? They’re prescription. This fool broke my regular glasses last week, and I haven’t gotten around to replacing them. So these are what I’ve got to wear instead.”
“Also, this earpiece is totally useless. I figure it makes me look hardcore.”
“That it does.”
They drove home in silence after that. He stopped at her house, and as she was getting out of the car, he remembered something. “Hey look, honey, could you keep this whole deal between you and me? It’s supposed to be classified. As far as you’re concerned, this never happened.”
“Got it. Never happened.”
She arrived at her house that same day, around eleven. Her parents had gone to sleep, so she had the whole house to herself. She went into her basement to collect her thoughts. Munching on a cookie, she mulled over all the strange things that had occurred that day. The antique appraisal, the disastrous dinner, and of course, that surprise situation in the FBI office. She shook her head.
“It sure has been a crazy day, Wally.” She stroked her Siberian walrus as he grunted in agreement.
Images via 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.