Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner
“Help! It’s going to get me! It’s going to eat me!” screamed Benny Alden. He looked back at the giant shark swimming toward him. He swam away from it as fast as he could, pulling his hands through the water and kicking his legs harder and harder. But each time he glanced back, the shark was closer. It was gaining on him.
Six-year-old Benny gasped for breath. How much longer could he swim before the shark caught him?
Suddenly, Benny felt something grab him. He closed his eyes tightly. His body began to shake.
Had the shark gotten him at last?
From far away Benny heard a voice calling, “Benny! Benny!”
Benny opened his eyes.
“Benny wake up!” cried the voice. “You’re dreaming!”
Benny slowly began to realize where he was. He was in bed, and his twelve-year-old sister, Jessie, was standing beside him, shaking him gently by the shoulders. The clock on his bedside table said it was midnight.
“What’s going on?” Benny asked, rubbing his eyes.
“You were having a nightmare,” Jessie said. “Was it a shark again?”
Benny nodded, shivering. “It almost got me this time!”
Jessie sat down on the edge of the bed and put her hand gently on Benny’s arm. “It was only a dream,” she reminded him. “You’re safe in bed.”
Benny noticed his grandfather standing beside the bed, wearing a blue bathrobe over his pajamas. Benny and Jessie lived with him, along with their fourteen-year-old brother, Henry, and ten-year-old sister, Violet. After their parents had died, Benny, Violet, Jessie, and Henry lived for a while in an old abandoned boxcar in the woods. Then their grandfather found them and they went to live with him in his big white house in Greenfield. Mr. Alden even brought the boxcar to the backyard for the kids to play in.
“I should never have let you see that movie,
Danger in the Deep,
”Grandfather said. “I had no idea it would be so scary.”
Violet poked her head into the room. “The shark dream again?” she asked, yawning.
“Poor Benny,” said Violet. “That’s the third time this week.”
“I’m never going to the beach again!” Benny said.
Grandfather frowned, thinking about something.
“Will you be able to go back to sleep now?” Jessie asked Benny.
Her little brother nodded.
Grandfather bent to give Benny a kiss and tucked the covers snugly around him.
“Can we still finish our checkers game tomorrow morning?” Benny asked.
“First thing,” Mr. Alden said as he turned out the bedside lamp, but he sounded distracted. Benny wondered what Grandfather was thinking about. But he only wondered for a moment, because he quickly fell back to sleep. This time there were no more dreams of sharks.
The next morning, when Benny woke up, he could smell pancakes cooking. He quickly dressed and made his bed, then ran downstairs to the kitchen. “Good morning, Mrs. McGregor!” he called out as he poured himself a glass of orange juice.
“Good morning, Benny,” replied the housekeeper, with a friendly smile. She handed Benny a plate piled high with steaming hot pancakes.
“Thanks,” he said, sitting down to eat. “Where’s Grandfather?” Benny licked a drip of syrup off his fork. Mr. Alden was usually the first one up.
“He went out,” Mrs. McGregor said.
“So early?” Benny said.
Mrs. McGregor looked at the clock. “It’s not so early young man. You slept in today.”
“Where did he go?” Benny wanted to know.
“He didn’t say,” said Mrs. McGregor. “He was having his coffee and reading the paper as he does every morning, when suddenly he jumped up and made a phone call. Then he went out.”
The corners of Benny’s mouth turned down in disappointment. “He promised we’d finish our checkers game first thing this morning.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll be back soon,” said Mrs. McGregor.
Henry came into the kitchen. “Good morning,” he said, serving himself some pancakes. He sat down at the end of the table, moving the morning newspaper out of the way.
“Hey, what’s this?” he asked, pointing to the paper. It was opened to a page with a large photograph at the top. “Something about a shark.”
“What?” Benny said, coming over to take a closer look. The photograph showed a giant shark with a huge mouth and rows of sharp, pointed teeth.
Henry read the headline aloud: “
Great White Shark Caught.’” He read the article quickly. “It says that an adventure park in Florida just brought in a great white shark.”
“Sharks again?” asked Jessie, coming into the kitchen with Violet.
Henry handed Jessie the newspaper. She looked at the article. “It says that it’s very unusual for a great white shark to be in an aquarium.”
Just then the door opened and Grandfather came in, whistling, an envelope tucked under his arm. “Good morning,” he said. He waggled his eyebrows and smiled at the children.
“What have you been up to?” Violet said.
“I just made a little visit to the travel agent,” Mr. Alden replied. “We’re going on a trip.”
“We are?” Henry said.
“Where to?” asked Jessie.
“Here are the tickets—take a look!” Grandfather flipped the envelope onto the table.
Benny snatched up the envelope and pulled out the tickets. “F—fuh … flo …” Benny sounded out.
Jessie helped him, reading the ticket over his shoulder. “Florida?” she asked.
Grandfather nodded. “Ocean Adventure Park.”
“We were just reading about that place in the paper,” said Henry.
“I know someone who works there,” Grandfather explained. “Her name is Emily Ballard and she’s the daughter of a good friend. This morning I called and asked if you kids could spend a little time there—help out, learn about the animals. You see, I’d been wondering how to help Benny get over his fear of sharks. When I saw that article I had the answer. We leave this afternoon.”
“This afternoon?” said Jessie.
“Emily said to come as soon as possible, so you’ll get a chance to see the great white shark,” Grandfather explained. “She said they may not be able to keep it very long.”
“But do we have to go so soon?” Benny asked nervously.
“The sooner the better,” shouted Henry. “We’re going to Florida!”
Jessie, Violet, and Henry raced out of the kitchen excitedly. Only Benny remained with Grandfather. He did not look happy.
Grandfather pulled out a chair and sat down beside his grandson.
“What’s Ocean Adventure Park like?” Benny asked in a quiet voice.
Mr. Alden put his arm around his grandson. “It’s a wonderful place,” he assured him. “They have all kinds of underwater creatures—fish, penguins, manatees, dolphins. You’ll meet people who love working with all of them—even the sharks. You’ll learn all about the animals, and that you don’t need to be afraid of the water.” He paused. “Sometimes, if you’re scared of something, learning about it can be a great way to overcome your fear.”
Benny looked up at his grandfather. He didn’t seem convinced. “All right,” he said. “I guess I’ll go pack.”
“You don’t have to pack right this minute,” Grandfather said. “We’ve got a checkers match to finish.”
Benny broke into a smile. “That’s right!” he said. But as he got up to get the board, he couldn’t help seeing the newspaper lying on the table. He took one look at the gaping jaws in the photograph and shivered.
That evening, the Aldens stepped off the plane in Florida. A cheerful young woman approached them. She had long blond hair and bright blue eyes, and her skin was deeply tanned.
“I’m Emily Ballard. Are you the Aldens?” she asked with a friendly smile.
“Yes, we are,” said Grandfather. “I’m James Alden. I’ve heard so much about you from your dad. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you, too,” Emily said. Then she turned to the children. “You must be Henry, Jessie, and Violet.”
“And I’m Benny,” Benny piped up.
“Come on, let’s go get your luggage,” Emily suggested. As they headed down the walkway, she and Grandfather talked about her father and how he was doing.
At a pause in the conversation, Violet asked, “Emily, what do you do at the park?”
“I’m the head animal trainer. I help care for the animals, feed them, and teach them tricks for the shows,” Emily said.
“Wow, that sounds cool!” said Jessie.
“It is,” Emily said. “I love what I do. It’s the best job in the world.”
When they arrived at Ocean Adventure Park, the Aldens found it was not at all what they’d expected. They couldn’t help noticing how run-down and shabby everything was. The buildings needed fresh paint and the fences needed to be repaired. Weeds grew up over the edges of the cracked sidewalk.
“Looks like this place could use a little work,” Mr. Alden said.
“You’re right about that,” Emily said. “Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough money in the budget right now for that.”
“Really?” Grandfather asked. “Is the park having trouble?”
“We’ve had a hard time competing with all the fancy theme parks nearby,” Emily said.
“I bet you won’t have a problem getting people to come now that you’ve got a great white shark,” Henry said.
Emily frowned. “Yes, it’s nearly empty now, since the park has just closed for the day. But it was quite crowded earlier.”
Henry noticed Emily’s frown. “I would think you’d be happy about that.”
“It’s not that I don’t want the park to do well,” said Emily. “It’s just … that shark is a living, breathing animal. But to some people here, all that matters is how much money it’s going to make.”
Grandfather was silently studying Emily’s serious face.
“What do you mean?” Violet asked.
“Oh, I shouldn’t have said that. …” Emily shook her head as if to clear away whatever she’d been thinking about. “Come on, we’ll drop off your bags and then I’ll give you a tour.”
They were passing the main office building when someone called out, “Hello!”
The Aldens looked behind them to see a young man wearing a bright blue baseball cap coming up the path. He seemed to be calling out to them, but the Aldens didn’t recognize him.
“Is that someone you know?” Violet asked Emily. “He seems to be trying to get your attention.”
Emily glanced back at the man and frowned. “No one I know,” she said, turning to a gate with a sign that read EMPLOYEES ONLY. She pulled a white card key out of her pocket and slipped it in a slot beside the gate.
As Emily led them down the path on the other side of the gate, Violet stopped and looked back. The man was standing at the gate, which had closed and locked behind them. He was still watching them. Who was he, and why was he trying to get their attention?
Violet hurried to catch up with the group. They had stopped in front of a small cabin. Emily was saying, “Here’s where you kids will be staying.”
“What about you, Grandfather?” asked Benny.
“I’ll be staying with Emily’s father,” Mr. Alden told them. “I’ll head over there after we see the shark.”
“My dad’s house is about an hour from here,” Emily said. “But if you kids need anything, my cabin is right next door. Your grandfather said you like to be on your own.”
“We do,” said Jessie.
“You live right here in the park?” Henry asked.
“Yes, it’s much easier, since I work long hours,” Emily explained. “I have no commute to work, and I don’t have to worry about paying rent.”
The Aldens entered their cabin and found themselves in a small sitting room with a couch, chairs, and a table. At one end was a kitchenette with a small refrigerator and stove. Off the sitting room were two bedrooms, each with a pair of beds.