This is it! The last time you'll ever see this darned disclaimer! Yea! Gill, Nemo, Marlin, Dory, exc. belong to Disney and Pixar. Stroke, Mr. Skimmer, Niches, Chang, Tanachi, Maisey, Rosie, Mr. Mask, and Mr. E. Spear are mine.

AFPI: none! At least I don't think so. I don't think there's really anything wrong with this chapter. I do know that Freckles' real name is Kathy. But…also…this chapter is extremely long! Unnaturally long! Joyfully long! Painfully long! I saved the longest for last!

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Chapter 12: A New Beginning

Eco Valley was, or course, the name for their portion of the reef. Although the reef itself has a name- Great Barrier, it is comprised of many other small communities. It may seem inaccurate to call it a valley, but this portion happened to be a bit lower than other portions, except for the cliff where this family resided. On this first day at Eco Valley, Nemo, Dory, and Marlin ordinarily showed me around.

"And this is our humble home," Marlin said as we neared upon an anemone, its pink tendrils gently waving back and forth. "Well, Nemo and I. Dory sleeps outside since she obviously can't go in there…"

"It's not fair!" Dory teased. "You're so mean; making me sleep outside!"

"It's okay, Aunt Dory," Nemo said, smiling. "We still love you."

"And we show it by making you sleep outside," Marlin added. "You'd probably be dead by now if we didn't…"

Dory swam over and rubbed his orange head. "Ah, calm down, worry puss."

Again, I felt as if I were looking through a window, but this time not a window into the past, but a window into these fish's lives. I was not playing a part in this movie- I was only filming it. Was this what it was like to really have a home and a family? These three fish made a picturesque example of a loving family. This was where they belonged. Home. The word really meant nothing to me, since I'd never really had one. Did I have a home? Did I really belong anywhere? Where did I fit into all this? Was there really a place out there for me, or had I been searching all my life for nothing? It didn't exist; I had been fooling myself from the moment I had left our reef cavern. I had missed being caught in the Moorish idol civil war, I had avoided being killed by the sharks, I had escaped being shocked by the eels, and I had gotten out of the tank…but why? If I could never achieve this peaceful unity, what had been the point?

The little voice swelled up again. "Gill! Wake up, Gill!" Nemo's little face materialized just in front of my snout.

"You were scaring us," Dory added. "We thought you were paralyzed."

"No, no," I brushed it off. "Just thinking."

That night, I couldn't sleep and wandered around the area around the anemone. I wondered if I should leave now, but Nemo would be so disappointed.

Dawn was breaking above us. A few minutes later, I began to make my way back towards the anemone to see if the clownfish were awake yet.

A blue freckled face suddenly emerged from the coral in front of me. "Aaaugh!" Dory screamed. "Don't scare me like that!"

"Are they up yet?" I blatantly asked. This needed to be settled, and I would have to tell them now that I was leaving. If there was a place for me somewhere, I definitely did not think it was here.

"I…don't know," Dory answered, after she had finally figured out who "they" were. "I'll go find out!" She jetted up just outside the anemone, took a deep breath and yelled. "Rico! Rico's dad! Rise and shine!" Sure, that was really a way to wipe away the uneasy atmosphere.

I zipped up and covered her mouth. "I didn't mean for you to wake them up!"

"Forry," Dory mumbled under the plastic.

"Don't worry about it, we're up already," Marlin said, emerging from the pink forest with his son at his side.

"Guess what?! Guess what?!" Nemo cried. "We're going to the drop-off today! You're coming, right?"

I opened my mouth to try to explain that I was leaving, but I never got the chance.

"Of course we are!" Dory cried. Before I knew it, she was pushing me out with them and I had no choice but to follow.

As we made our way through the colorful masses of coral, Nemo and his father seemed to be discussing something. At last, Nemo turned back to look at me. "Since Dory's my aunt now, you should be my uncle!"

I was slightly taken aback by this. I didn't expect him to be clinging to me that much. This only made breaking the news of my departure even harder. I might as well tell him now before this went any further. "Well, you see…"

"Uncle Roadkill!" Dory interrupted me.

Marlin burst out laughing.

I instinctively tried to stop my laughter and choked a bit.

Nemo just looked perplexed since he didn't know what "roadkill" meant.

"What?" Dory asked, confused as always. "That's his name, isn't it?"

Marlin and I were stifling chuckles and we didn't bother to correct her. Now this cheery regal blue tang forever knows me as Uncle Roadkill.

At last, we reached the cliff of the drop-off, where the world of the reef suddenly halted and plunged into the world of the open sea. "Come enter a world that you never knew." Why had I suddenly remembered that line from The Seaside Tales? It didn't apply in this situation. I knew the world of the ocean very well by now. However, there was another, totally different world inside the ocean that I had never really known. That was the world of the reef. Somehow, Papernell had a message for more than just the children. We traveled as a small unit out into the blue, not too far from the edge.

"So, what are we going to do?" Nemo asked.

"Don't know," Marlin said. "You wanted to come out here."

"I thought there might be another butt and we could watch it," Nemo said.

"Boat," Marlin corrected him.

Someone was approaching us, and I glanced back to get a look at him. It was a puffer fish with dark brown stripes on his body. One strip went across his eyes.

"Well hello, Mr. Mask," Marlin called to him. "What brings you to the drop-off?"

"Oh, just my morning swim," the puffer replied. "Got to keep in shape y'know." Slowly, he turned to his right, and set eyes on me for the first time. "Aaugh!" he cried, and suddenly inflated like a balloon.

"Oh no," Marlin said. "Don't worry, Mr. Mask, we'll deflate you."

That is my claim to fame. I can make puffer fish puff and octopi ink with just one glare. Yes, we all have unusual talents, although I don't mean to use mine. It would come in handy later, though.

Suddenly, I noticed Nemo's little reddish eyes light up. "Wait, Dad, I want to show you something."

"Not right now, Nemo," Marlin said. "You can show me right after I deflate Mr. Mask."

"No, wait!" Nemo cried. "Look, this is something else that Gill taught me…"

With a bit of a panic, I realized what he was about to do. "No!" I yelled over to him. "Don't, he's a stranger, he might not take it well…"

It was too late. Nemo zoomed forward and bumped Mr. Mask with the front of his face. Great, I thought. Now what would Marlin think of me teaching bad lessons to his son? Had I set a bad example and Nemo thought our little game in the tank translated as "If you see an inflated puffer fish, hit it?"

"Hey, what the…" Mr. Mask floated over towards Dory, a bit dazed.

"Dory!" Nemo called. "We're playing a game!"

Dory's eyes lit up as well. "A game? A game?! Ooh, can I play?"

"Sure!" Nemo replied. "Hit Mr. Mask back over to me!"

Dory whacked Mr. Mask with her fins and he glided over to Nemo. In the background, I could see Marlin watching in horror. What had I done…As I looked at Mr. Mask, careening back and forth between the little clownfish and the regal blue tang, he didn't seem to be in pain. He looked a little surprised, but he actually looked like he was enjoying it. Dory suddenly hit Mr. Mask the wrong way and he went flying towards Marlin.

"Get him, Dad!" Nemo cried.

Marlin suddenly looked confused, and I could understand why. Would it make him a bad parent if he joined in because he was encouraging bad conclusions such as "if you see an inflated puffer fish, hit it?" Would it make him a bad parent for stopping everyone's fun, even though it was pretty harmless? Marlin smiled, to my surprise, and tapped Mr. Mask up into the water. Then, he started succumbing to gravity and arced back down to the other side.

"Uncle Roadkill!" Dory cried. "Hit him over to me!"

Indeed, the reluctant pufferball was headed in my direction, and there was no going back now. I tapped Mr. Mask over to Dory, hoping he would forgive me, since I had unintentionally started this whole game.

As the game progressed, we all began talking and laughing, and soon even Marlin and I were talking to each other like old buddies. There was no lashing at ourselves for immature behavior, since we were all reveling in youthful pleasure. It amazed me later that we were suddenly all blending in a strange kind of harmony. If you ever have to meet someone new, make sure to have a nervous puffer fish on hand, because nothing breaks the ice like a good game of pufferball.

At last, Mr. Mask finally managed to deflate himself, and although Nemo groaned, he looked pretty happy. He laughed and rubbed his head. "Whew! The world is spinning…"

"Uh, we're really sorry about that," Marlin said, catching his breath and smiling broadly.

"No, it's fine," Mr. Mask said. "In fact, it was quite invigorating. I'm ready for my swim now!" Mr. Mask swam away, wavering dizzily.

Now that he was gone, I forced my cheek muscles to relax and got a hold of myself again. I cleared my throat and coughed a little, since I still had a slight bit of asthma.

"That was fun!" Dory cried between giggles. She rolled about, giddy with fun and excitement. "Can we do that again? Huh? Can we, Uncle Roadkill?"

Now the fun was over- it was time to get serious again. "No. We can't play pufferball again. You shouldn't use fish as toys just for your amusement."

Hearing this, I noticed Marlin also snap back into serious father mode. "Yes, he's right. Did you hear that, Nemo? No more using puffer fish, or any other fish for that matter, as balls. Mr. Mask didn't mind being part of our game, but other fish might get very angry if you hit them around."

"I know," Nemo said, sadly. "But…can I still play pufferball, just as long as it's with Mr. Mask?"

Marlin and I looked at each other. "Well," Marlin said. "That's up to Mr. Mask."

---

The rest of the day seemed to flow a lot more smoothly and easily. The uneasiness in the air had almost completely dissolved. It seemed like someone had seen me peering in the window, and at last I had been let in the room. Speech was flowing like a gentle river, and I was so comfortable with them, I didn't even realize it. I returned to the coral outside when night fell, and for once in my life, did not spend all night thinking. It felt strange and unnatural, but this was the way it was supposed to be.

The next morning, I awoke to a familiar voice yelling, "Rise and shine, Uncle Roadkill!"

"Hi, Dory," I replied, without looking up.

Dory gasped. "How'd you know it was me? Are you psychic?"

Something came over me, and I decided to have a little fun with her. I got up and stared into her eyes, intensely. "Yes, Dory, I have psychic powers…I can see into your mind…"

"Oooooooh…" she muttered, her whole body trembling. "Oooh, don't do that…it's creepy…"

Fortunately, my creepiness was cut off as I tried to suppress a big yawn. For a moment, I was afraid she might take me seriously. What was wrong with me? My mind wondered. I hadn't interacted in teasing sarcasm in many years. Maybe the sleep was corrupting me. I find it strange that when you don't sleep for a night, you feel awoke, but when you finally get some sleep, you are sleepier than before. At least that was how I felt, and nothing felt normal anymore, it felt…better than normal.

That morning, Marlin and Dory went to drop Nemo off at school, and I decided to come with them. Of course, Nemo was overjoyed and talked excitedly about school and his friends the whole way there. Seeing him so full of energy seemed to give me more energy. We arrived at the clearing and saw Nemo off, waving to him as he rode away on the back of a spotted ray. Some of the parents in the clearing gave me strange glances, but my glaring kept them from asking any questions.

"So, who might you be?" a seahorse finally approached me. "We don't see many Moorish idols around here."

"Oh, my name is Gill," I informed them. "I'll only be staying here for a little while. I was just passing through. Who are you?"

"I'm Bob," the seahorse answered.

"Well, pleased to make you acquaintance, Bob."

"So…" Bob began. "What're you here for? Do you have some kids back where you come from?"

"Oh, no," I replied. Kids? I just couldn't imagine myself with kids, or even a wife. I pictured a strange fish floating next to me, calling me honey, and little Moorish idols everywhere. No, it definitely couldn't happen. For one, if I were ever going to have kids, I'd only want one or two. For another, I don't particularly care for my own kind. The only kind, caring Moorish idol I had ever known was my mother, and I had barely ever seen my father. Returning to my conversation with Bob, I nodded towards Marlin and Dory. "I'm a friend of the family."

"Boy," a long-nosed butterfly fish spoke up from the back. "That family sure is small, but it has a lot of friends!"

"What are you talking about?" Dory's voice startled me, since I didn't know she'd been listening in on what we were saying. "This family isn't all that small. It's got four members."

"Four?" an octopus said, next to the butterfly fish. "There's only two of them- Marlin and Nemo."

Dory shook her head. "Nope, our family had four members: me, Frito, um…that other guy, and Uncle Roadkill here."

I froze again, in front of these new acquaintances. I couldn't believe she really thought I was part of the family, and I realized that maybe Nemo thought that way too. A distant thought way in the back of my mind told me that just maybe I was becoming part of the family. Perhaps that was why I was acting so strange, since I'd never really been part of a family before. Nevertheless, I sort of laughed it off with the other guys and we returned to out anemone area.

I began swimming back to my little coral shelter, out of habit. Hey, maybe I could get in a few more hours' sleep before Dory or Marlin proposed another trip. I floated back down among the various coral species. Maybe now I could finally concentrate and figure out exactly what was going on here. It had all happened so fast. Was I really part of this family, or was this yet another setback on my journey to arrive at some bigger destination?

Just as I had closed my eyes and began to slip into deep-thinking mode, I suddenly felt something on my face. A thin, slippery substance was now making its way across my nose. Perhaps a piece of seaweed had been torn from the sea bottom and had fallen onto me. Aggravated, I opened one eye to see what was once again disturbing my quiet thinking time. The one good point about the fish tank had been the plastic skull. It was separated from the rest of the environment and looked so crazy and distorted that no one liked to come near it. I couldn't think of anywhere like that in this reef.

The blue freckled face of Dory stared back at me. It had been her fin that I'd felt across my nose.

"What are you doing here?" I asked her, still a bit agitated.

"Well…" Dory lifted her fin off my face for a moment. "I don't think you heard, but as the school pickup clearing, some fish said you had a face as hard as stone." Her long yellow fin shot forward and poked somewhere near my cheek. "But it's not. It's soft."

I almost laughed, but held it in. Dory was pure and innocent- more like a fish about half her age. "No, no," I tried to explain to her. "They mean hard as in unchanging, serious…" she still looked completely baffled. "…uh, meaning I don't smile a lot."

"Well, you should!" Dory cried. "C'mon, lighten up, Roadkill!" She grabbed my face and pulled my cheeks up, forcing it into a smile. Suddenly I knew what it was like to have a grandmother. Thankfully, she let go soon after. "When you're smiling, the whole world smiles with you…hey, wait…I feel a song coming on…" Dory immediately launched into the first verse of "When You're Smiling." I groaned, softly, so she wouldn't hear. Yes, she was only trying to be friendly and helpful, but this was downright embarrassing. If any of the former tank members had been there to see their leader being serenaded by an eccentric blue tang…

A little orange body appeared in the distance and I knew that salvation was in sight. "Don't worry!" Marlin cried. "I'm coming to rescue you!"

"Really?! You're coming to save us?!" Dory cried. With her upbeat attitude, she didn't even realize that she was being insulted.

"Um…Gill?" Marlin addressed me. Even though we had broken some of the ice between us and were a little more used to each other's company, he still seemed nervous. Whenever he said my name, his voice trembled, as if my name alone would attack him if he said it too loud. "I need to talk to you out back."

Out back? He needed to "talk to me out back?" Suddenly I felt like a little kid being called out of class for being naughty, and at first I began to resist. Was he speaking in this manner just trying to feel more important then me? Was it just habit, or was he really saying, "I'm better than you are." With the tank fish, it had been very easy to figure out what they were thinking, but Marlin's more complex mind was difficult to figure out. Since I'd been unable to pinpoint his thoughts, I just followed him "out back", which was really just on the other side of the anemone. We met eyes for a moment in icy silence.

"So," finally I decided to speak up. "What was it you needed to talk to me about? You didn't want her to hear?"

"Well," Marlin slowly answered. "It's not that I didn't want Dory to hear, but I need you to seriously think about this, and Dory would have just given us a snap decision."

Seriously think about this? What could he want me to seriously think about? I hadn't gotten much time to seriously think about anything, and it was frustrating me, since I was a professional serious thinker.

The little clownfish father took a deep breath. "Okay. I've been thinking…worrying, actually…"

Then I got it. He was going to ask me to leave, and I wouldn't have to break the news to them! I guess I looked a bit relieved, because Marlin seemed to calm down. "I remember you saying you were trying to find a place of your own, correct?"

I nodded. My mind formed the next sentence I expected to come out of his mouth next. "I believe it's time you moved on and tried to find this place, away from our home."

"I've been worrying because Nemo had really latched onto you, and I believe it would now be devastating to him if you went away…"

Yes, I had been concerned about the feelings of out little friend, but I hadn't been expecting something like this. I guess I looked a little more interested and my slight atmospheric change affected Marlin as well.

"So…" he continued, more excited. "I think maybe you should look for a place close to here, so that you can…y'know, visit once in a while."

I hadn't been expecting anything like this, but…this idea didn't seem too far-fetched. It actually made sense. It was like someone had turned a light on in my head. I was seeing everything differently. Why not? For the first time, I had been able to live somewhere without something terrible happening or feeling oppressed. Why not try my hardest to keep a place like this? I gave my little enlightening clownfish friend a bit of a smile, and he looked pleased with himself.

"I'll think about it." Using this phrase, it kept a pinch of suspense hanging in the air, and Marlin unsure if he had really proposed a useful idea. I had already made up my mind, of course, but since he had played games with my mind, I was now playing games with his. Since I know how easy it is to read others' minds, I make sure no one can read mine.

The very next day, I began looking for somewhere close I could stay, preferably somewhere small and dark.

While I was gliding through the reef-ways of Eco Valley, I came upon a newsstand, and one advertisement caught my eye. "Eco Valley- Caverns For Sale! Dirt Cheap! See Mr. E. Spear at Flat Plat Acres." I politely asked the newsstand vendor where I could find Flat Plat Acres, and he answered, although I had to ask him to repeat his directions. The first time, his voice had been too shaky to understand.

A few minutes later, I arrived at Flat Plat Acres, a small neighborhood composed of two rocks, filled with caverns. Maybe I could find a suitable apartment in one of these rocks. I was also pleased realizing that this neighborhood wasn't all that far away from the pickup clearing and Nemo's anemone home.

"Excuse me," an odd little fish with blue and yellow stripes spoke up from below me. "Can I help you, sir?"

"I'm looking for Mr. E. Spear, it's about the caverns for sale…"

The little fish smiled a little. "You're speaking to him. Now, what about the caverns?"

"Well, I'm looking for a cavern around here to live in- just me, so it should be pretty small, but not extremely tight. Preferably in a darkened corner."

"Well I think I have one of those for you. Right this way." It took a while to swim to the other side of the large rock, and on the way Mr. E. Spear tried to make conversation. "See, most fish go for the bright, roomy places, so I've got plenty smaller and darker caverns available. You can check them out and see which one you like."

He brought me around to several different caverns. I kept the darkest ones in mind and kept on searching. I was hoping to find a cavern with something strange or intimidating on the outside that could frighten away over-friendly neighbors, like the skull, but so far I couldn't find anything intimidating about these caverns except their amount of darkness.

Finally, Mr. E. Spear turned around and said, "Well, um, that's all the caverns we have here. Of the ones that are small and dark, that is." The little striped fish was slightly quivering as I stared at him. "But…uh, there is one more, but…we normally don't put it on the listings because we think that no fish would want to live there…but, if you want to look at it…"

A few minutes into the future, we were floating just outside of another small, dark cavern, except with something white sticking out of the rock side just above the entrance. Closer examination revealed that it was a perfectly white fish skeleton, tightly wedged between the boulders.

"We tried to get it out," Mr. E. Spear said, his voice trembling. "It wouldn't budge. Some people say it was a poor fish that panicked during a barracuda attack, got stuck between these two rocks and starved to death."

Even though he was floating behind me, I could see the shocked look on his face as I casually strolled into the cavern and glanced around. It came equipped with a little spongy bed and a sheet of woven seaweed like all the other caverns, but other than that, it looked untouched. Poor little Mr. E. Spear looked even more terrified when I glided back out with a smile on my face. "I'll take it!"

His wide eyes stared back at me. "Y-You're sure? You know, some people say this cavern is haunted…"

"I don't believe in ghosts," I immediately answered, although that was only part of my initial thought: I don't believe in ghosts, I am one.

Mr. E. Spear nervously took me back out to the front of the room to fill out my application. "Name?"

"Gill." Looking over his head, I saw him write down my name next to "cavern 519." "I don't have any money right now, but…" like a responsible citizen, I began to explain that I had no money, but I'd pay for the cavern as soon as I found a job.

Mr. E. Spear held up a bumpy fin, interrupting me. "Don't worry about it, you can have it for free." Wow, a free cavern! It was then that I realized I actually was very lucky.

Two days later, after settling into my cozy cavern, everything would be revealed to me in a brainstorm flash. I had been doing just fine, visiting the clownfish and regal blue tang family to tell them about my findings. No friendly neighbors came to bother me, scared to death of the haunted cavern. Anyway, on that revealing day, I would make a decision that would forever change my life- and reveal to me my true purpose and place in society.

I swam out to the pickup clearing to see Nemo off to school, along with Marlin and Dory. This had become daily routine to me, but usually, after it was over, I had nothing to do with myself. I basically just floated around, gazing at the beautiful, 100 authentic coral, and counting my blessing. No one bothered to come near me, as I was "that creepy Moorish idol who lives in the haunted cavern." Well, it was an improvement from being "that creepy Moorish idol who lives in the fake skull."

On one of these days, I was hovering in the pickup clearing with Marlin and Dory, waiting for Nemo to return. I was so incredibly bored I picked up a short stalk of broken-off seaweed and began to write quotes from The Seaside Tales in the sand. Little did I know, Dory was hovering above me, reading my writing.

"Aaaaaaaaa…aaan…Anne…dddd…and. Wwwww…hhho. Wa-ho? No, hooooo. Who. And who. Mmmmiiigg…hhhhht. Mig-hit? No, miiiight. And who might…yyyoooooo…bbbeeeeeee…and who might you be?"

I suddenly realized that she was reading what I was writing and whipped around. "Dory? You can read???"

Her reading had caught the attention of Marlin, and he swam over at this sentence. "Gill? You can write???" The three of us stared at each other in bewilderment.

"Hi Dad! Hi Aunt Dory and Uncle Gill!" We were so busy confusing ourselves that we hadn't even seen (or heard) the spotted ray arrive.

"Wow…" Dory said. "I can read, but I don't know any fish that can write."

Marlin shook his head. "They're out there, they're just very scarce- even more scarce than fish that can read."

"Cool!" Dory cried. "You're really smart, Uncle Roadkill!"

Once again, it was Nemo's statement that sparked this wild and crazy barinstorm. "I want to learn to write! Can you teach me, Uncle Gill?"

I pushed the idea away, saying something like, "Maybe another time." However, all that night, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I didn't sleep all night, and was a bit happy with now having something to seriously think about.

That afternoon, I had built up my courage and was now ready to get this project rolling.

The big spotted ray glided down into the pickup clearing, letting off a stream of little fish students, and finishing up a song. After he had finished saying his farewell, I swam up in front of him. He didn't seem to notice me and began to turn around.

"Excuse me," I spoke up, getting his attention.

"Oh, sorry. Didn't see you there. What can I do for you?" he said in a loud, friendly voice, the kind of voice that I knew would get on my nerves after 15 minutes.

"Actually, I'm looking for a job."

"A job?" the ray said. "Well, can't help you there." He began to turn around and leave me by myself again.

"Wait!" I yelled. When I yell, no matter how much bigger the other fish are they shut up and listen. The big ray stopped in his tracks and turned back around. "Look, this may sound like a crazy idea, but I've been thinking about it for a long time, and I think it had potential, so just listen!"

The whole pickup clearing went deadly silent. Here was my stage. Let the show go on.

"I'm not doubting your teaching, or criticizing this institution, but it seems like these kids only have one teacher-you, a science teacher. What about the other subjects essential for a well-rounded knowledge of this world? What is science without mathematic configurations? What is science without language in which to convey these ideas? Subjects go hand in hand, and one should never be taught more than another. A universal knowledge is important to these young fish if they wish to advance in the world. We owe it to them to give them the best education they can get!"

After my little speech, I was surprised to hear a resounding applause behind me. I hadn't expected to get this much support from just one stirring up of issues.

"Well…" the spotted ray began to say. "Yes. The Great Barrier Reef school system is flawed. We've been trying to ignore it for a long time. You're not the first fish to bring it up. So…what's this got to do with you finding a job?"

"Well…" this was the most daring portion of my proposal. "I have been properly educated in the nearby reef portion, am one of the few fish in the area that knows how to write, and have had experiences with children. I believe I'm qualified to be Eco Valley's first English teacher."

This sent a wave of murmurs through the crowd of parents that had been applauding me moments before. Did they really want to send their kids off with this creepy Moorish idol?

The spotted ray gaped at me for a second. Finally, he said, "Well…are you certified?"

"Certified?" There it was again. Whenever I thought I had a foolproof plan, something else came up, that I had not been expecting.

"Yes," the spotted ray continued. "In order to teach in this reef portion, you must be certified as a teacher at the Barrier Reef School, or a branch of it."

Once again, I felt like killing myself for not seeing this beforehand. Even though I had begun to have some foresight, I hadn't seen this coming. "Well…" I was thinking that maybe I could enroll in the Barrier Reef School and obtain certification. But did I really want to go through all that when I wasn't sure that teaching was the right path for me? I was just about to find some way to let the crowd of parents down easy without making myself look like a fool.

This idea was interrupted and shot back down as Marlin suddenly swam forward, right next to me. "Mr. Ray, please. I know this fish may not have the proper certification requirements, but the truth is, very few fish do."

Mr. Ray lifted one tip of his wing to his mouth. "True. I don't know any fish certified as English teachers…"

"I know you could just wait until he gets a certification, but I believe this is very urgent. In this new generation, much depends on how much you know. These little fish need to know how to read and write…their…their lives could depend on it!"

Everyone began staring again, surprised with Marlin's outpouring of concern. I was among the staring fish, and after noticing how put on the spot he was, turned around and tried not to stare.

"Well…" Mr. Ray began. "We'll try it out. You can come here tomorrow afternoon for a mini class, if everything goes well, we'll see about getting you a real job, Mr. …um…what was your name?"

"Gill."

"Mr. Gill."

As soon as our conversation was over, little Nemo jumped on my side. "Yea! Uncle Gill is going to be my English teacher! I'm going to learn how to write!"

"Shh," Marlin gently advised him. "We're not sure about that yet."

---

That night, I couldn't stop thinking about what would happen the next day. The night was not spent sleeping, but weighing pros and cons. Some pros included being able to open up more to others, and to spread my knowledge. Some cons included having too much responsibility and seeming to favor my "nephew". As much as I switched from left natural side to right plastic side beneath the seaweed, trying to sleep was useless.

Suddenly, a face popped up in front of me from out of the darkness. "Good morning," she said. "What 'chu thinkin' about?"

"Nothing," I instantly replied. "Go back to sleep."

Dory totally ignored my prewritten dialogue. She glided right up and tapped my side. "Something's the matter. What's wrong, huh? You okay?" She may act a little dumb, but she has an uncanny ability to know exactly what someone is thinking.

I sighed and took in the lovely, pure cavern water. "I'm worrying about what happened today. Do you think I'd make a good teacher?"

She shook her head. "Nope. I think you'd make an excellent teacher."

"Really?" I asked. "You don't think they'll think I'm favoring Shar…uh, Nemo? What if I'm not strict enough?"

"You don't need to be strict," Dory easily replied. "You can be a nice guy."

"Yeah, but someone needs to whip the troublemakers into shape. Some need a little motivation to do their homework…What if I let one of them get hurt? Oh, I'll kill myself!"

Suddenly Dory burst out laughing.

"What?!" I cried. "That's not funny!"

She chuckled for a while. "I'm sorry, I just couldn't help noticing…Marlin's becoming more like you, and you're becoming more like Marlin!"

I froze in place. I think I'm so advanced and I can figure anything out, but sometimes I don't see something until someone else points it out for me. As I gazed back at Dory, her face became pink, and her eyes became small black beads. Dory was acting just like Peach at that moment. I did a double take, caught my breath, and glided back beneath the seaweed "blanket." "Well, then, it's decided. I must not be paranoid. I'm going to be a teacher!"

"Whoopee!" Dory cried. "I'll see you at school tomorrow after…something. Why are you paranoid?"

I sighed, turned onto my left (non-plastic) side and said, "Never mind."

---

Sooner than anyone expected, it was tomorrow afternoon. I was at a loss, since I didn't really know what I would do with these kids for the half hour that they were under my supervision.

At the exact time, right after lunch, Mr. Ray came whooshing into the pickup clearing, once again finishing up a song.

"Hey, what gives?" I heard a little voice ask.

"We're getting out early!" another called.

Mr. Ray waited until all of the students on his back filtered out into the pickup clearing. "Okay, class, today we have a special visitor."

Once again, I actually felt a little nervous, being an intruder again. What was I doing, barging into this peaceful little valley, demanding a piece of it for myself? This wasn't where I belonged, and I shouldn't try to force myself into a place where I wasn't welcome.

Mr. Ray swooped over to present me, and I could feel his large triangular shadow descending over me. When I had once been a glorious leader of a hopeless tank band, I was now a stranger in the shadow of a ray.

"This is just a little experiment, and I hope you kids don't mind being our test class. Now, this is Mr. Gill. From now until the release time, he will be conducting a test English class with you."

All of the students (except for Nemo) all stared at me in wide-eyed terror. I knew what they were thinking, because this was often the kind of reaction I got from strangers: Oh no, fun's over, here comes the army general. "My life is over," I heard one little striped fish whisper.

"So, I hope you'll all be good for Mr. Gill, just like you are for me, and…well, we'll see how this turns out." At last, he turned his long tail and "flew" away, looking very worried. Did he think I'd hurt them just because I wasn't properly certified? It wasn't as if I had taken the teacher test and failed; I had never taken the test!

As I was going off into oblivious trance-like thinking mode, little voices began whispering behind me.

"Who is that guy?" one little girl's voice asked.

"That's my Uncle Gill!" Nemo cried.

"Your uncle?" A little boy asked. "How can he be your uncle? He doesn't look anything like you!"

"He is to my uncle! Watch this! Uncle Gill!"

At last, I turned around and got a glance at my class before Nemo pounced on me. It was made up of many different species of fish, an octopus, a seahorse, three different crabs, and even a little turtle. With twenty-three students, it was a pretty big class, but I was determined that I could handle it.

"Uncle Gill! Uncle Gill!" Nemo called, bobbing up and down in front of my nose. "You're going to teach us to write, right?"

I realized that I must keep order within this little society, and gave the little clownfish a small warning. "Calm down, Shark Bait; get back with the rest of your class." Using my snout, I pointed him back in the direction of the crowd, but then I covered my mouth, noticing my slipup. Thank goodness Marlin wasn't around at that moment. He didn't like me calling Nemo by his tank name, thinking it was a sign that I thought of him only as a little runt to be eaten by sharks.

"Shark Bait?" the little seahorse asked, confused.

"Oh, that's my nickname," Nemo explained to him. "He gave it to me when I met him in the tank…" The proud little clownfish began to go off on his entire story of escape and reunion.

I was about to slide up and interfere with this retelling of a frequently retold story, but the little turtle made a comment at that moment. "Yeah, I know that story! It's totally awesome! The saga of the Jellyman!"

"Aw, we've heard that story millions of times before," a reddish-orange fish with blue stripes down his side complained.

"Okay," I said, interrupting what could be a potential argument. "Quiet down." There was a moment of total silence as the shivering students stared at me. Even the troublemakers wondered: Do I dare say a word and see what this martinet does to me? "You're here today to learn the English language. Now, I'm quite sure you can all speak it well, but now you must learn how to read it and, in turn, write it."

A little parrotfish that reminded me a lot of Maisey slowly lifted her fin.

"Yes, uh…" I quickly glanced down at my attendance list and saw "Molly Parrotfish" printed near the bottom. "…Molly?"

"Um…are we going to sing?" she quietly asked.

I should have been expecting this, since all of these students came from a class of constant songs, but there was really nothing I could do about it. "Well, this is a different kind of class. I'm sorry, but we're not going to be singing in this class."

I was a bit surprised to see the little smiles beginning to form on their faces. "Yea!" several students in the back cried.

"Yeah!" Nemo's butterfly fish companion spoke up. "We're sick of singing!"

"I know!" the reddish fish with the blue stripes spoke again. "I like Mr. Ray, but does he have to make us sing every single day?!"

Slowly, the other students began chiming in with additions to this protest. At last, even the little turtle was swimming back and forth, chanting, "No more tunes! No more tunes!"

"Alright, quiet down," I said again. That was all it took to get their undivided attention. "As I said, in this class you will be learning to write and read in the human language. We'll first start off with the alphabet. You'll be learning how to write each letter and the different sounds each letter makes. Then, we'll move on to combining these letters to form simple words…"

"This is going to be boring," a bluish fish with big yellow stripes suddenly had enough pluck to interrupt me. All the little fish turned to look at him in shock.

"And why do you think it will be boring?" Was I doing something wrong, or did he have a contradictive view of these mechanics? I shook myself, remembering Dory's revealing words. I must not be paranoid. How could I have already done something wrong in the past ten minutes?

"My big brothers go to a fish school way out in the reef somewhere. They have to read and write all the time. They say it's hard and boring."

This exact situation was unexpected, but something similar seemed inevitable. "Well, your brothers are very lucky, it's too bad they don't see the potential of their abilities."

The little striped fish seemed confused and just stared at me, wondering what I would do to him.

"Some of the ones that have known how to write and read for so long have forgotten the good points of it. Not many fish in the ocean know how to read, and there are even less fish out there that know how to write. You may wind up being able to do things that even your parents can't do!"

During that little meeting with Dory, she had told me that Marlin couldn't read, but advised me not to mention it around him since he'd grown pretty sensitive about it. Perhaps he was more sensitive about it now because his son now had an adopted uncle who could do things he couldn't.

"You like stories, right?"

Everyone murmured in agreement.

"Well, if you learn to read and write, you can hear stories from books, and they won't have to be told to you anymore. You can even write a story of your own!"

This seemed to catch the attention of some of the little fish. That still left half that were just staring blankly, waiting for the end of school.

Suddenly, I got an idea. It was time to spice things up a little. "Okay, I'll give you an example. I first learned to read around your age, and if I hadn't learned, I wouldn't know this story to tell you today…"

All the students gathered around me in interest. Once again, I was the chief and they were my tribe, clamoring around, hanging on to my every word. "This is from a book called The Seaside Tales…"

"Oooo!" Nemo cried. "The Papernell story! Are you going to tell us the Papernell story, Uncle Gill?! I really liked that story, but I fell asleep before you finished it…"

I smiled as we reminisced about times passed. "Well, now you'll hear how it ends!" So for the umpteenth time, I began to retell the story of Captain Papernell and his five children friends, crossing the sea in search of adventure. The only difference was that now I had a real, appreciative audience. At last, I reached about the halfway mark of the story. "Its shimmering side crashed the boat like a gong/ The children all gasped, "It's a hundred feet long!"/ But Papernell said, "You take heed of my song/ 'Tis not humane to bind him with a tether/ Humans and animals must work together."

Soon after this memorable quote, I felt a pair of spotted wings whoosh past my filamentous extension. "Okay, kids," I told them. "That's all the time we have. It's time for you to go home!"

I expected a group cheer after this statement, but instead groaning and complaining voices lifted from the tribe. Mr. Ray's face descended behind them, and from the look on it, I could tell I had passed the test.

"Aw, do we have to go?" the little seahorse complained.

"I wanna hear the rest of the story!" the little pink octopus cried.

"Next time," I told them, now knowing that there would be a next time.

After the students had filtered back out with their parents, Mr. Ray glided up to me. "Well," he said, "Looks like you're hired. Wednesdays and Fridays."

I nodded. "Sounds good." And just like that, my life had changed.

Next Wednesday, they demanded that I finish up The Seaside Tales, and after that, I thought it was time to start the alphabet. I picked up a piece of seaweed, stripped it of its leaves, and used it to write a letter A in the sand. "Do any of you know what this is?"

"Oooo! I know!" a blue buck-toothed fish called. "It sha mountain with shnow on it!"

"Nuh-uh," one tiny green fish cried. "It's a weird arrow thing!"

"It's a triangle with legs!" a purple fish said.

I tried hard not to laugh and ended up smiling at them. "No, no, this is an "A", it's the first letter of the alphabet…"

The lessons continued like this for s few more Wednesday and Fridays, and one day, while I was making myself a quill by stripping another piece of seaweed, it came to me. Once again, in an effort to make these children feel more empowered, I could replicate an induction ceremony with them.

The next Friday, the group of students dully swam up to me holding their stripped sticks. (The seahorse had to hold it in his tail, and the octopus in her tentacles.) "Well, good afternoon, class," I said to them.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Gill," they chanted, looking very sleepy and bored. Some of them perked up as they looked at me, wondering why I had that mysterious smile on my face. I loved to make them wonder and keep them in suspense. That is part of a teacher's job- to make things exciting.

At last, when I had everyone's attention, staring at me, wondering what was going on, I made the announcement. "Okay, put your sticks down- we're having a special class session today."

The students looked at each other in confusion. What did this weird teacher have up his sleeve? I could see them wondering.

"Today, we're going to have a ceremony."

"A ceremony?" That was the general response among the baffled pupils. Surely their almighty leader had gone crazy now.

Nemo was the only one not stuck in the pea-green muck. "A ceremony? You mean like in the tank? When you gave me my nickname?" Now the fish swarmed around Nemo, demanding an explanation.

"You'll see." I set the young fish off to work on their adornments, giving them a big stack of seaweed to rip up, tie together, and make into almost anything they wanted. Most of the boys made headdresses or "feathered" headbands. Some girls made grass skirts or necklaces.

While they were working on their projects, I constructed the best fake volcano I could, over a naturally spewing bubble jet. To make it "work" someone would pull a strip near the base, uncovering the bubble jet, and the bubbles would come out the top of the fake volcano. It wasn't exactly the same, because it was much too bright, and there was no mysterious glow from the side, but it was the closest I could get.

The little kids trooped into the area wearing their tribal best. Nemo received the job of uncovering the bubble jet, because he had already done this, and it would just be show for him. I gave a short speech, similar to the one at the tank, using a few of the words Bloat added, and leaving out others that didn't apply in this situation.

The first student to take the plunge was the little pink octopus whose name at this moment was Pearl. Nemo pulled the strip and the bubble jet shot out. Pearl concentrated and bounced through the spray, barely missing my snout. Her classmates cheered and clapped for her. Now came the best part. I lifted her up and presented her to the crowd. For a moment, I forgot where I was. It was just like another time warp had opened up, this one sucking me into the past.

"From this moment on, you shall now be known as Ink Jet." The dialogue came out of my mouth without even thinking about it, and I half expected Bloat, Gurgle, Bubbles, and Deb to pop out of nowhere chanting, "Ink Jet, ooo ha ha!"

Everyone stared at me, noticing my hesitation. Nemo suddenly zoomed up behind me. "Ink Jet, ooo ha ha!" he cried.

"Uh, just forget that part, Shark Bait," I told him, nudging Ink Jet back over to her friends.

Next came his other friend, the little seahorse, Sheldon, who received the nickname of Thoroughbred. Nemo's other friend, the butterfly fish whose name was Tad, was nicknamed Sea Comb. I nicknamed the little blue fish with buckteeth Freckles, and the parrotfish named Molly just Molly Polly. A fish with a black face and a blue striped body was nicknamed Bandit, a little all green one Kiwi, and the purple one Violet Nectar. There was also a little blue-and-yellow striped one nicknamed Banana Split. During the ceremony, I noticed that he bared a strong resemblance to Mr. E. Spear, and I later found out that he was his son. The one with blue stripes was named Bobo, and his friend the greenish one with big yellow stripes was named Honey Nut. Then the seven little green fish were the Mawspot Septuplets: Mawspot 1, Mawspot 2, Mawspot 3, Mawspot 4, Mawspot 5, Mawspot 6, and Mawspot 7. Then there were three crabs: a green one, Psychedelic, a purple and orange one, Hawaiian Plus, and a little orange one, Noodle. Poor Noodle was always fighting with Bobo and Honey Nut, because they liked to steal his shell and play monkey in the middle with it. Even though if I ever had children, I wouldn't want that many, I knew that unlike my parents, if I had 300 kids, I'd be able to name them all without running out of names.

The little turtle nicknamed himself when it came time for his induction. "Thanks, dude, but I don't need a nickname. I already got one, man! I'm the Super-Awesome-Wipeout-Tour-Messenger-Survival-Dude!"

"Um, welcome brother Super-Awesome-Survival…what was the rest?"

"Super-Awesome-Wipeout-Tour-Messenger-Survival-Dude!"

"Super-Awesome-Wipeout-Tour-Survival-Dude."

"You forgot Messenger."

"Look, kid, that's the best you're going to get, unless you want to be here all day." The other kids laughed at us, which is what I wanted to happen. "Okay, if anyone has a problem with their name, or doesn't like the name I've given you, just come and talk to me, otherwise these will be the names I will call you during our class time together."

"Cool," Bobo said. "It's like a club or something."

"It's just to make things a little more interesting," I informed them. Then, the shell bell rang and that Friday's class was over.

---

I found it hard to believe for the next few months that after about three years, my life constantly changing, I had a permanent fixation on Eco Valley, Nemo's family, and these students. I now had a commitment to these young fish, and although I hated to be tied down, this commitment instilled me with a feeling of a freedom that I couldn't achieve just by wandering about the ocean. There were two types of freedom that I had at last attained. The body may be free, able to go anywhere and do anything, but the soul also must be free, with the ideas to make things happen and to unlock itself, laying its contents out for possibly harmful exposure. For a while I figured teaching the children the English language and passing on my concrete knowledge was my purpose in life, but I would soon find a deeper meaning. There was a reason I had endured so much ridicule, there was a reason I had kept on fighting, although the chances of surviving were slim. There was a reason for Nemo's capture and his involvement in my life.

That day, I was conducting a class just like I always did. Now we were on the letter E, and the children were practicing their pronunciation, reading simple words from the letters they knew, such as "Dad" and "Bed".

I heard laughing from the back of the crowd, but took it as a good sign. Maybe they were beginning to realize that reading could be fun. However, I was horribly, horribly wrong.

Once again, we all looked up into the water as the shell bell rang to indicate the end of the school session. The little fish all paddled off to their parents waiting in the clearing around us. Marlin was bringing Nemo home today, so I just floated there for a few seconds, meditating.

When I opened my eyes again, they set upon the little blue Freckles. She hovered, alone in the clearing, covering her speckled face with her light blue fins. I glanced around, wondering where her parents were- she and I were the only ones left in the clearing. Perhaps they were late to pick her up. Sometimes fish get tied up at work, and they hurt their children although they really don't mean to. I slowly approached her, as not to scare her off.

"Freckles…" I gently addressed her.

She lifted her spotted face, trembling with fear and sadness. She had been crying.

"It's okay," I told her. "Your parents will be here in a little while to pick you up. I'll wait with you."

Freckles shook her head and held back more tears. "I-It'sh not that…I know they'll be here…I jusht…" she hid her face again. For a moment, I just let her get her emotions out, because that was often a crucial part of the recovery and healing process. Once she had calmed down, I slipped a little bit closer.

"Now, what's the matter? You can tell me, I promise I won't tell anyone else…"

She shook her head again.

"I need to know, because maybe I can help you…"

She frowned. "You're not a plashtic shurgeon."

I let this bounce around in my head for a while. She probably meant that she was upset about her appearance. Female fish are often overly critical about the way they look, even more so than Moorish idols.

At last, little Freckles burst out with her problems, and she couldn't keep quiet anymore. "They…they make fun of me. Nobody will be my friend becaushe I have thish ugly tooth…and becaushe I talk funny…" She turned away again and stared out into the open sea. "Why am I telling you thish? You're my teasher. You don't understand."

While she hid her face again and tried not to look at me, she didn't see the smile on my face. While she was a little spotted blue fish, crying from the rejection of her classmates, I saw a little Moorish idol, crying from the rejection of his siblings.

"Freckles, I know something to cheer you up."

She slowly turned around again. From the expression on her face, I could tell that she really didn't believe I could cheer her up. "…What?"

I glanced quickly back up at the clock. "I believe we have enough time. I'm going to tell you a story."

Freckles began to wipe her eyes. "The Sheashide Talesh?"

Grinning, I shook my head. "No. This is a different kind of story, but I think you'll like it."

She sniffed and swam a little closer to listen.

"Well, once upon a time, there was a young fish around your age, and he lived in a reef cavern protected by a spiky shell with his 99 brothers and sisters…"

"Wow," Freckles said. "99 brothers and shishters?"

"Yup, there were 99 of them, and they all had a perfectly white stripe down their side…" I began to tell her the beginning of my life's story, about my sibling's terrible treatment, the death of my parents, and the run-in with the book. I finally got to my departure.

"What happened nexsht?" Freckles asked, completely intrigued.

"Well," I said, trying to make a very long story short. "He went on a long journey, grew up, and got captured by a couple of humans and stuck in a fish tank. After two years, he managed to escape, and went searching for a new home. He met a couple of old friends, and they took him to this amazing new place called Eco Valley…"

"It'sh you!" Freckles cried. "I knew it! They really did those things to you?"

"Of course they did," I explained. "I was a little weirdo back then. Nobody liked me…well, except my mother. But I grew up and I learned to make fish respect me, and nobody teases me anymore."

Freckles clenched her little blue fins. "Yeah…I have to fight back! I'll make them stop teasing me!" She stopped short. "Hey…I didn't talk funny that time!"

Just then, two bigger bluish fish, resembling Freckles floated down, obviously her parents. She began to swim towards them, but suddenly stopped and zoomed back up to me. To my surprise, she threw her fins on my side in as much of a hug as she could manage. "Thank you, Mr. Gill." Then she swam back off with her parents.

I felt I had given her a lot- the assurance to stand up to her teasers, but she had also given me something, and I hovered there for a moment in joyful revelation. This was my true purpose. Although there had been many other small assumptions, distracting me from the ultimate target, this was what it had all led up to. I had endured all these horrible experiences in order to help the young fish of this area, to pass on my hard-earned knowledge of the world, so that this generation would not have to go through what I did. By improving the lives of these fish, I was also improving the world, and at last I knew that I had reached my destination.

At long last, I was home, with Nemo, Marlin, Dory, Mr. Mask, Mr. E. Spear, and all the precious children in that class, where I was truly free. Although the adventures were over, I knew that my new life was only just beginning.

Although a suitable purpose I thought was helping Nemo, he was only a window into this beautiful future. He was a sign of things to come, and the biggest clue as to my true, hidden purpose. Nemo is a small light, shining as a reminder of what I was meant to do. Nemo is another extension of myself, just like Freckles, and I had helped him in the same manner. Nemo is "omen" spelled backwards.

---

Preceding the little meeting, Freckles did begin to become more confident and even told her friends about what I had done for her. This sparked ideas, and many of the other fish began coming to me with their own problems. I had transformed into a teacher/psychiatrist/friend. Some even had enough determination to swim right into my "haunted" cavern to visit me privately.

I knew much more about my students than most teachers do. Honey Nut had ten older brothers who were all taking courses at prodigious universities in another part of the reef. He was sick of always being in their shadows and having high expectations from his parents. Bobo's parents were getting divorced and he was angry and frustrated with them, trying to get them to stay together. Molly Polly was a bit obsessed, thinking she was too fat. Violet Nectar was sick of being called a tomboy, and all of the girls thought she was weird. Kiwi was extremely nervous and paranoid, and wanted to stop worrying about every little thing. Children always had so many problems, and I was here to help lessen the pain of these problems. I had become another Niches of the world.

---

I knew that this was the life I was meant to lead. From the day I was born, it had already been predetermined that this would be my life. "I'll find a new home. Even if it takes me a long time to get there." Yes, there had been periods of hopelessness, many horrible obstacles to overcome, all leading to this single, wonderful reward. There are many plastic volcanoes in life, but once you reach the other side, you are an important part of the universe. You have a purpose, a meaningful life, and day by day, you live out your existence in harmony and pleasure. This is what you were meant to do, and life in general becomes brighter. A spot of light, even if coated with darkness, will one day grow and deliver you to that bright future. You must shake off both sets of chains, and free yourself, mentally and physically…find your place.

As I float here now, just above the cliff where the reef world ends and the delivering ocean begins, I turn to the future. There is no way to tell what destiny has in store for me next, darkness or light, but no matter what may change during the course of the next years, my mission shall remain fixed, as it is meant to be. Life shall never fail me, in the end. This will always be my purpose. This will always be my home.

---

THE END