THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK

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We are looking for submissions for this exciting project. The Little Green Book.

Please submit all written works as a clean, unformatted word document.

If your work is accepted for publication, Dreams Edge Publishing retain the right to edit or amend your work as necessary.

Stories can be up to 10k word count, poems any length, you can submit up to five works of art (in jpeg form please do not send physical works).

Closing date for all submissions is 1st January 2023.

(for full details on submission policy check our home page)

There follows a sample story from the book entitled "Take It Back" By the very talented writer Vanessa Krauss. We feel this story is a perfect example of the type of story we are looking for to entertain and to educate. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Vanessa for her stories and writing and being very supportive of all projects that we have under taken.

TAKE IT BACK

By Vanessa Krauss

‘Dolphins are just like tuna; big, stupid fish.’ It was Curtis’ job to dispel ignorance and fill the void with understanding. People who said such things had never met Marine, Sapphire, and Azure.

“Alright, ladies!”

Curtis stood poised at the pool’s edge with a bucket of fish in one hand and a whistle in the other. In the water were his favorite gals in the whole wide world, three Pacific bottlenose dolphins.

They leapt to attention, splashing about when the whistle called. Was time for what animal caretakers called, ‘enrichment,’ which for the captive critters was supposed to keep them from getting sad, bored, and rocking back and forth in their cage. Curtis was all they had to keep them sane. The three captive dolphins were penned in a tank with a water volume equivalent to that of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. They’d do anything not to be driven mad by the pale plaster of their concrete and glass enclosure.

Curtis rattled the bucket, then blew the whistle. “Everyone, clean up, clean up, clean up,” the man trilled, doing a sing-song ditty meant for kindergartners. “Clean up. Put your things away.”

‘Things’ was whatever floated on the top of the tank: hoops, balls, rubber duckies. Curtis received a pile of plastic doodads at his wetshoe-clad feet.

“Good work, Sapphire. Marine. No, Azure. You can’t keep that overnight. You know the rules.”

The dolphin in question, eight-year-old Azure, snorted her contempt. Mr. Ducky was hers, and she wouldn’t let Curtis have him.

“Come on. Give me Mr. Ducky. You’ll see him again tomorrow.”

Azure protested with a fart.

“Azure…” Curtis was giving her tone, scowling expression matching. He outstretched his hand. “Give me the duck.”

Sapphire and Marine weren’t amused, neither. They started chirping derisively at the holdout. There was a bucket full of tasty mackerel, and because of her they weren’t getting any. Two against one, and the pair always won. Azure slapped her fluke and puttered over.

“Thanks, love. Have a treat.” They each received a handful of stinking mackerel, repulsive to people, haute cuisine to dolphins. Curtis could have them do almost anything for a taste of fish and squid. As part of his profession, to keep them engaged and happy, he would make them work for their dinner. It was what dolphins did in real life. Next was the hunting game.

First came the whistle, then the command, “Find the trash.”

The dolphins went about their task with gusto, flipping into the depths of their enclosure with enthusiastic splashes. They jetted off and were gone, forms matching the blue bottom of the pool.

Unimaginative trainers would scoop the garbage that found its way into the tank themselves, the ingeniously lazy ones would teach the animals to do it for them. It was a sad reality of captivity, that in order to look after these beautiful creatures it required public funding. Empty stands encircled the pool. Every day, tourists and school groups would take their seats and watch the dolphin shows. It was supposed to be an educational exposé. What it was instead was banal entertainment for its audiences; watch these domesticated animals perform spectacular tricks! There was at least one dazzled child in the audience each performance in their dolphin t-shirt and matching aquarium hat, forgetting how to drink their soda as they daydreamed of having Curtis’ job. The same kid would then have the audacity to throw their plastic cup into the tank to see if the dolphins would bat it back. They never did, and it left a mess behind for others to clean up.

The side gate opened with its tell-tale creak and a pair of footsteps Curtis knew well. “Good evening, Angelo.”

The head trainer was in attendance with a man Curtis thought he recognized but couldn’t name. Guy was in a two-piece gray suit with no nametag, where Angelo was in the company-issued dry uniform. “Evening, Curtis. Finishing up?”

“Yeah, just getting the girls to do some cleaning before I head home for the night.”

The nameless man eyed the water’s edge and stepped as close to Curtis as his leather shoes would let him without getting ruined. “What are they doing?”

Marine, Sapphire, and Azure were each waiting with a piece of trash. There was the sensible pair who had delivered the goods in their mouths. Azure was balancing a coffee cup on her head. Someone’s trash was someone else’s fashion statement. Curtis failed to stifle a snicker; such a goofball.

Maybe the nameless person was asking what she was doing, which was always something unconventional. The actual answer was, “Collecting trash from their enclosure. When they bring back something, they get fish.”

“Very interesting,” the stranger said with zero enthusiasm.

“Excuse me while I feed them.” Curtis had his side of the bargain to keep. Very angry porpoises were known to drown their trainers. Who knows what Azure was capable of, with that mischievous glint in her eyes and a paper cup for a top hat. Would make a fine villain in a silent film. Nah, she was too cute to do that to him. Curtis thanked her for the trash, and exchanged it for some fish. Rather than flip away, she stayed to watch. All three of them did. It wasn’t normal for strange men in suits to show up after the last call.

“Curtis, you’ve met Mr. Bormann, right?” Angelo identified the mystery man. It took Curtis a few seconds longer to put the name to the face, and his position. He was the owner of the sea park.

“Oh yes, Mr. Bormann!”

Mr. Bormann recoiled. Handshake rejected. Proved which side of the business he was on. Curtis could swear the dolphins were laughing at him. He gave them a warning wave of the finger. The trainer was on to them, especially Azure. Their eyes met. That’s right. He was the one who controlled the fish. Thou does not laugh at the fish bringer! Smart girl knew, her rostrum clapping shut.

“We came by with some awesome news!” Angelo sounded of pep, but his facial features were frozen. Mr. Bormann had an invisible gun to his head. “We’ve found a rehabilitator out in Vallejo for the dolphins.”

Curtis was nodding, slowly. He didn’t like where this was going.

“They’re going to help Marine, Azure, and Sapphire get reacquainted with the wild.”

“With the wild? They’re domestic dolphins!” Curtis flailed at the three and their adorable cluelessness, blinking at him. “Even their mothers were raised in captivity. You’ll kill them!”

Angelo’s nerves had failed him, and he stuttered to a stop. Lucky for him, he had Mr. Bormann to do the dirty work.

“The bleeding hearts of PETA, Save The Whales, and the whole wide internet at large have started a boycott. Attendance is down, the website keeps getting attacked. Times have changed. Can’t have sentient creatures in captivity anymore. It’s 2023, and we’re holdouts.” Mr. Bormann’s fists were shaking. No wonder attendance had been low… and why everyone had suddenly gotten so good at pitching their coffee cups at Curtis’ head. It made sense, now. “We need to change direction. No more animal shows.”

He knew what was coming.

“We won’t be needing your services any longer.”

There it was, the dreaded pink slip, thrust into Curtis’ fishy hands. Mr. Bormann had completed his ugly duty, leaving the quaking Angelo to finish up the rest.

“I’ll need your gear and your keys.” Angelo couldn’t face him, instead muttering to the floor, because looking at Curtis’ furling indignation was too much for the man.

Curtis slapped the keys straight into the waiting palm. “Here.”

“You’ll be getting severance. I can put in a good word for you at your next job.”

“What, ‘next job?’ You heard it from Mr. Bormann.”

Curtis had performed his duties well for the last eight years. Where was a dolphin trainer of twenty-nine going to get work? Angelo’s brown eyes were still locked on the floor. Silent omission that Curtis was screwed.

The three dolphins were bobbing at the top of the water, having heard everything, though not understanding what it meant. He patted them on their melons.

“There, there, girls. Looks like you’re going on an adventure. How exciting.” Coming from a guy who sounded like he had his heart ripped out. He failed to drum up the enthusiasm, at least he was capable of holding back his tears.

Marine, Sapphire, and Azure regarded what he said with solemn sympathy. Such sweet and patient ladies. He traced his palm across their rostrums, trying to etch the feeling of their wet, rubbery texture into his memory.

“Okay. I’m heading out. Have a good night.” The final whistle, then it was over. He’d never see them again.

Animal welfare groups understand that the world’s creatures are empathetic beings, as did Curtis. He refused to cry in front of the dolphins. They didn’t need to know his sadness. He let loose his anguish inside his vehicle, all the way home.

***

It had been months since Curtis was let go from his job at the sea park. Curtis was parked on his faux leather couch, a worn grove conforming around his posterior. He long since gave up on doom scrolling, convinced that the harrowing articles were part of a ploy by Big Pharma to drive sales for Xanax. Daytime TV wasn’t much better. Talk shows and game shows, and while he may have been bored, the guilt crept up his spine for wasting time.

On the walls hung cheap picture frames with photographs of Curtis and his squeeze, Oliver. The glasses-wearing, beard-sporting, square of a man was Curtis’ everything. The software engineer, two years his senior, was the most forgiving person on Earth. Curtis remembered coming home, bawling that he lost his job, and Oliver took him in his arms, listened, and offered to give him the support he needed. Oliver gave him time to figure himself out.

He had it figured out. In two weeks, he’d be going back to school. He beamed at the prospect, of his mature, experienced self absolutely creaming the snot-nosed competition who had yet to have a reality check.

Curtis was laughing internally, grinning crazy externally. It was good to have something to look forward to. Every picture on display showed a Curtis, natural tan, hazel eyes and all, in a state of mirth. Radiant and joyous, unlike the sad sack of a self he had been. Life would get better, he knew it. Couldn’t speak for what was going on in the media, however.

He caught the tail end of a news broadcast with a reporter live at one of California’s many piers. Or it could have been Seattle. They looked the same after a while. What made it more likely to be Seattle was the unsuspecting reporter getting doused by a venti full of grimy maybe-Frappuccino, the Starbucks mermaid smiling as the cup flung past. Someone was having a bad day, and it wasn’t him. Poor woman looked like a creature dredged from a swamp. More so, as green netting plopped onto her head, completing the look. The strain on her face, the utter professionalism, of not to scream. Her 15 minutes of fame forever memorialized with a sulk and running mascara. Glorious.

There was a knock. With the thought that nothing would ruin his day carrying him, Curtis sashayed to the door.

“Hello!”

Day did a swan dive into a vat full of sharks, not the lawyer kind, but the black suit with opaque sunglasses that made people disappear kind.

“Curtis Hernandez?” No ‘Hi,’ ‘Hello.’

Curtis was already pointing. “You sure you’re not looking for Carl Fernandez?” The next door neighbor who spoke in Bitcoin and infrequently wailed the words ‘HODL!!!’ and ‘MOON!!!’ Of course he was up to some shady shit. What in the world was an ‘NFT’ and why did it involve monkeys?

“No. We are looking for a Curtis Hernandez. Are you him?”

There was still time to throw Carl under the bus, if only Curtis had that thing called a spine.

“I’m him,” he squeaked.

“Good. Come with us.”

Curtis stepped out into the blinding California sun. Took his eyes a moment to adjust to the sight, and it was unbelievable.

A dozen creepy black vans and other vehicles from every secret government organization lined his quiet suburban street. Milling on the apartment complex’s yard and sidewalk were the men in black—not the fun ones—and what were probably military personnel based on the camo clothes they were sporting.

A gulp slugged down Curtis’ throat. They must have had the wrong guy.

‘I love you.’ He texted his boyfriend in a flurry, then hid the smartphone in his back pocket. Might be the last thing he’d ever get to send before they strip-searched him and threw his falsely-incriminated behind into a government black ops site.

“We have him,” the agent announced, voice blunt and barking. The waiting crowd hustled into their vehicles. Curtis was led to a black Mercedes with the dark spoilers that signaled it was used by someone who was capable of issuing arrests with impunity, and without warrants. The man who had knocked on his door sat in the rear next to him.

“We’re ready.” He was ready, Curtis was sweat in the shape of a person. His clothes sucked into the leather seat, if the amount he was perspiring couldn’t be more obvious. Perhaps, these men were used to their charges appearing seconds away from dying of fright.

The driver pulled out, center in a cavalcade of vehicles meant to escort international terrorists and presidents. They made their way towards the freeway in silence, not even the radio played. Curtis would have heard his own breathing if he remembered how to do that.

“Do you know why you’re here?”

Curtis stared, baffled. He had no F-ing clue why. They should be telling him that! Did the man who had a decent credit score, watched romcoms, and for the past several years trained marine mammals sound like the kind of person who was numero uno on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list? Why, he must have trained the dolphins to attack submarines, because that was totally a thing. Really, it is. The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program is run out of San Diego and employees several dozen sea lions and dolphins as of 2019. Why was Curtis dwelling on this? Can they read minds? Stop thinking!

After going a solid minute without answering the man, the agent said, “I’m Special Operations Agent Jacob Jessie from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA.”

Curtis was resurrected into the world, remembering what breathing was. FEMA was the disaster response agency. Took a few more seconds for the oxygen to return to his brain. Still didn’t make sense. Curtis didn’t have any qualifications that would award him a parade escort.

“We’ve been reviewing videos of you online—”

Not what anyone wanted to hear.

“—and have collected footage of you training three dolphins that were in your care.”

The stiffened Curtis managed a small nod. Agent Jessie shared his phone screen with Curtis, and played a video of him getting Sapphire, Marine, and Azure to fetch. The videos shown were the ones where they were returning trash from their pen following a performance. Onlookers were allowed to hang around the stands and film, most didn’t. The footage did not surprise him, though it confirmed that he was the guy they were looking for. Was easy for Curtis to recognize himself. Didn’t hurt that his butt also looked good in a wetsuit.

“Okay?”

“You trained them to return garbage?”

“Ah-huh.” Yet, somehow the topic required a contingent of cars. He hoped it was easy to pick up on his befuddled expression, because his head was starting to hurt from furrowing his brow so much.

“Mr. Hernandez, we need you to help your fellow countrymen and save America.” Agent Jessie had made his pitch with the sincerest of clarity. It wasn’t a joke.

How was one supposed to respond to a statement like that? ‘Of course, sir. It would be an honor!’ Salute! Instead, Curtis stared as if he had become part zombie and his brain was leaking out his ears. He hadn’t died, he wasn’t sleeping. The logical answer had gone out the window the moment the feds showed up.

“We understand you are confused. But trust us, the circumstances are very real and dire. This is no laughing matter. When we arrive at our destination, you’ll see what we mean.”

***

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***

Curtis stepped out of the car and was welcomed with… something. It wasn’t the chaos he’d expected. A hurricane wasn’t looming on the horizon. There wasn’t a meteor hanging in the sky. The Santa Monica Pier and its aging Ferris wheel remained intact. The one standout to note was the garbage. There was tons and tons of trash splayed across the shoreline and the iconic pier. Santa Monica was part of Los Angeles after all, and the entire city was basically garbage. The trash seemed fitting.

Curtis narrowed his eyes at Agent Jessie, waiting for the punchline. There wasn’t one. The agent’s face maintained the seriousness of a broadcaster announcing the end times.

“Walk with us.” Formed up next to him was a swarm of personnel, ready to escort Curtis through the site of discarded detritus.

“You see, the animals have been exhibiting strange behavior lately. One of our correspondents has made a possible link to it and the three dolphins that were released last month. We’d like your thoughts on it. Please observe.” Thus Curtis was placed in the privileged position of marveling at humanity’s gape-mouthed idiocy. Survival instincts equal zilch. His first assumption was that the reason FEMA hadn’t announced an emergency was because, instead of repelling the locals and tourists, it would draw them in. The animals were staging a revolt, and every Joe Schmoe for 100 miles wanted to film, and in some cases, get in on the action.

Humans, the dumbest animals on the planet.

Curtis made his way along the boardwalk to the pier, accompanied by an army of suits, doing as he was told, ‘observe.’

Santa Monica State Beach was a renowned surf spot for beginners looking to catch some waves. Or on that particular day, some sharks looking to catch them. There were plenty of surfboards with Jaws-like chunks taken out of them lying across the yellow sand. No one dared to go into the water anymore. Going out onto the water wasn’t much safer, neither.

There was a big fella on a mission. An elephant seal lumbered along the shoreline, shoving a dingy with dogged determination. Two hapless fishermen dangled over the edge as the massive male mammal heaved and shoved, snorting his discontent as he muscled the boat up the beach to where the tide wouldn’t reach. The two guys were baffled, scream-laughing for help. Heave, shove, snort, went the seal, butting his blubbery frame against the boat. Disgruntled males who failed to snag themselves a harem were known to hump cars, but this one didn’t seem interested. He pushed the boat to where the five-foot-high walls of trash stood, then made his leave, flopping until his flabby frame met the water. Task complete, he was gone beneath the waves. Oddly noteworthy. Curtis looked around to see what was next.

 Some sunbathers were taking advantage of low tide with no regard to what was transpiring. Either they were daring or dense; baking in the relentless California sunshine was bound to fry a few brain cells. One woman was determined to get in her tan in spite of the trash and the seals going back and forth, bringing with them their fine rubbery accoutrements courtesy of Michelin Tires. Nothing, not no one, was going to stop her, not even the crab inching along, empty tube of suntan lotion held aloft in its pincers. ‘Go on. Take the tube, lady. Take it!’ The crab scuttled next to her, dropped the lotion, and ran away. She retained her face-up position, unflinching. Curtis tensed, because a moment later, the crab returned with something sinister.

There were bound to be a few items associated with ill-repute on the beach, like cigarette butts, condoms, or in the case of neighboring Venice Beach, discarded needles. Someone had lost a knife, and the crab found it. Was it ever delighted to show it off.

The crab came racing towards the woman, blue handle in one claw, the blade out and gleaming. Little bugger was happy to show her, and she sure as hell wasn’t happy to see the crustacean scurrying towards her at supersonic speeds wielding a kitchen knife.

A squeal of terror reached Curtis’ ears, and the woman bolted. Down the beach they went, the arthropod following after. Left, right, left, right, the whole while the crab was carrying the knife, silently pleading for her to take it. Common courtesy says to give knives handles first to someone else, where she wanted nothing to do with the stabby-crabby. Finally, common sense struck, and she barreled over the trash piles and into the urban jungle sans bikini top.

The poor crab, sulking and dejected, shuffled its way to the heap and added its wares to pile. All it wanted to do was share.

‘Sharing was caring,’ a motto that would never be uttered by seagulls. Tourists were filling their faces with the quintessential fairground foods of mini donuts, hot dogs, and fries; a smorgasbord for the bottomless, flying trash bags that circled above.

The gulls wheeled and dived. With a bit of luck, they would come up with a fry, or even a whole slice of pepperoni pizza. Then, something peculiar took place. There was a man who had a huge serving of fries, golden and upright, the perfect position for snatching. Fry went up to his mouth and was gone. Seagull had taken it. Never mind, he had plenty. Another fry went up, and it was gone with the wind. As he stared at his empty hand, hoping in vain that it would rematerialize in his fingers, a straw appeared. What luck! He now had something in his hand, but it wasn’t a fry. He tossed it aside and reached for another. Before it could enter his mouth, it vanished. A second later, a seagull swooped in and replaced it with a straw. In the matter of a minute, he became surrounded with plastic straws and zero fries. Curtis had underestimated the nature of seagulls. They could be generous.

Screw this nonsense, the fry-less man had a plan. The guy raised his hand, full of plastic straws; yellow ones, red ones, most of them white, and dared the seagulls to take them. Maybe they’d be dumb enough to mistake them for fries and choke. Here’s what happens when one teases the birds: Two soared overhead and released ketchup and mustard bottles all over his pristine shirt. Curtis couldn’t hear the man from his vantage point, but was pretty confident it was full of swears and curses towards the gulls and their mothers, giving them a different kind of bird.

Something was peculiar about these animals.

An octopus, with its head in a glass bottle, lumbered onto land. The critter popped out of its container, dropped off the bottle, and made its way back into the sea. A minute later, the same octopus was inside another bottle, tentacles wriggling beneath. Out of the bottle, and back for a third. Repeat.

Sea lions were dragging nets from the ocean, depositing them above the waterline before tumbling into the water.

White-sided dolphins were juggling anything that was round, sending them flying through the air. Ten points to the one that decked the old lady on the head.

The most awe-inspiring of the sights were the blue whales. They gathered in pods, surrounding larger vessels, and forcefully guided the ships to shore. Clusters of marooned boats were stranded, with the lapping waves unable to reclaim them.

At this point, the beach was more debris than sand, and Curtis couldn’t help but fixate on it. Littered across it was everything and anything that wasn’t biodegradable. The endless stretch of garbage was due to the coordinated efforts of every marine mammal, bird, fish, and crustacean coming together and purging the seas of filth. Even the near-brainless aquatic amorphous blobs that were sea cucumbers slugged their way onto land and dribbled, or pooped—never knew with these things—microplastics onto the sand. Wholly unified against one thing, trash.

The realization washed over Curtis. No wonder FEMA had contacted him. What was being exhibited was an unnatural behavior that he had taught to three dolphins, to fetch trash.

Agent Jessie leaned over, muttering in his ear, “Why are they doing this? What do they want?”

Curtis’ lip curled upwards. All those wishy-washy nature lovers were getting exactly what they wanted and more. Learned, domesticated animals teaching wild ones how to exploit humanity. The answer to Agent Jessie’s question was simple. “They want fish.”

“Fish? But why?”

Curtis pointed out to sea and the bygone memory that was his three favorite ladies. “Because, when I trained the dolphins, they were given fish in exchange for garbage. When they were released into the wild, they kept that behavior and taught everything else.” Sound and logical reasoning.

“How do we make them stop?!” Agent Jessie had his hands forth and pleading. Curtis was smirking, to him the solution was obvious.

“You give them fish.”

“B-But, there isn’t enough fish in the sea for that!”

Once a behavior was learned, it became a habit. Duller creatures wouldn’t know why they were doing it, and the act of returning garbage would perpetuate forever. Who was calling dolphins stupid, now!

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