Alec and the Clams
A short story about being polite
By Stuart Baum
Way back in the woods,
there is a small, but deep, pond. It's just a few trees
further back than where your Mother will let you go. You can
only see it when you are standing right on its banks, almost
in the water. In this pond are some of the most amazing fish
you could imagine. There are dogfish that actually look like
dogs, catfish that actually look like cats and mousefish,
which do not look anything like mice at all. There are fish
that Dr. Seuss would love to have seen, but he never was
allowed to go to the pond either.
The only one who has ever been to the pond is a little
boy named Alec. No one knows his last name. He might not
have one. Alec is eight years old and has no Mother and no
Father. He was raised by the animals in the forest, mainly
the deer. The deer taught him to be afraid of people, so
Alec runs off as soon as anyone gets very close. Perhaps
you've heard something running away as you approached the
pond you did not know was there. It was probably Alec,
running off just like a deer.
Alec's favorite color is a soft, light
brown, the color of deer in the Springtime. Since he likes
light brown so much, he wears only light brown clothes.
Once, a hunter mistook him for a deer and almost shot him.
But the hunter missed. Which was lucky for both of them. The
hunter would have lost his license and Alec would have been
Alec fishes at the pond. He scoops the fish up with his
yellow bucket as they swim by. When he catches one he asks
it, "I am very hungry, would you mind very much if I cooked
you and ate you?" He asks so nicely that many of the fish
let him. Other people, they reason, would not even have
asked. Other people would have eaten them regardless of how
they felt about it. A few of the fish that Alec catches are
so very old they would probably be caught by one of the
mean-looking, pointy-toothed predator fish and be eaten soon
anyway. They would rather be eaten by Alec because he is so
One day Alec caught a predator fish in his yellow bucket.
It looked somewhat like a shark, with its big, pointy teeth,
but it was electric-blue colored like an eel. The predator
fish had arms like a human being, but instead of fingers it
had tines like a fork on one hand and razor sharp knife-like
fingers on the other.
Alec was a little scared by how mean-looking the predator
fish was, but he was hungrier than he was scared. "Do you
mind," Alec asked, "if I ate you? I am very hungry and have
not eaten since yesterday." One of the fish who was watching
from inside the pond yelled, "Eat him! Alec. He's mean! He
ate my brother!" This fish quickly swam away. But Alec said
to the predator fish, "If you don't want me to, I will not
eat you, no matter how dangerous you are."
The fish looked at Alec and said, "I would rather you did
not eat me. I may look very dangerous and I may eat some of
the other fish's family members, but I cannot help it. I get
very hungry, too. And the only thing I like to eat is other
fish. In fact, most of us fish eat only other fish. I just
happen to be scary looking when I do it." The predator fish
then became very sad. "I did not choose to be scary looking.
I did not choose to have to eat other fish. And if you let
me go, I will be nicer about it. I am very young," he
begged. "I do not want to be eaten. Please, please do not
"Do not worry," said Alec. "I will not eat you. If you do
not want to be my lunch, you do not have to be. I know you
can not help eating other fish or looking scary," Alec
reassured. "I bet you would not be very tasty with all the
sharp points and teeth, anyway."
With that, Alec gently lowered the yellow bucket into the
water and let the predator fish swim away.
Before the predator fish swam away, he said to Alec, "If
you catch me when I am older I will let you eat me. I
promise. I will also be tastier then."
"Thank you," said Alec. Alec continued fishing, but he
could not catch any fish in his bucket that agreed to be his
lunch. Soon lunchtime became naptime and Alec's hunger gave
way to his need for sleep. He put the bucket down by the
edge of the water, walked a few feet away from the pond and
lay down against the nearest tree.
He was almost asleep when he heard a tremendously loud
splashing sound by the edge of the pond. Suddenly, from out
of the water jumped the largest, scariest predator fish Alec
had ever seen. It was nearly as big as he was! This might
not seem like a big fish to you, especially since you know
that Whales are bigger than houses, but Alec did not know
about Whales. He did not even know about oceans. In fact,
before finding the pond, Alec had only ever seen small
creeks and springs.
Though Whales may be very big, they do not have long,
sharp tines on one hand and razor blades on the other like
the predator fish do. The predator fish in front of Alec had
fingers that were nearly as long as your arms and sharper
than your Mother's sharpest kitchen knives. Imagine that!
The large predator fish grabbed Alec's yellow bucket,
leapt back into the water and swam away.
Alec was very upset. "How will I ever catch my lunches
and dinners, now? I will never eat again!"
No sooner had he finished lamenting over his lost bucket
than the large predator fish returned with an even louder,
more thunderous splash. It stood on its tail and looked
right at Alec.
Alec was terrified. He no longer worried about what he
would eat, but what the large predator fish might eat.
"Pl-pl-please don't eat m-m-me," he stammered. "I know I
have eaten s-s-s-some of the fish from this pon-pon-pond,
but I was very, very hungry. And I never ate any fish that
didn't w-w-w-want to be eaten. Besides," said Alec," I am
only eight years old. And humans, which is what I am, live
to be sometimes over twenty. Which means that I am very
young for a human."
"Don't worry," said the large predator fish, doing its
best to smile through its huge, pointy teeth. For a vicious
looking fish, it had a surprisingly soft and soothing voice.
"I am not going to eat you. I wanted to thank you for not
eating my little son. He is my youngest child and I love him
"He did not want to be eaten," said Alec simply, "so I
did n-n-not eat him."
"Other humans," said the large predator fish, "would not
have asked. They would have eaten him whether he wanted to
be eaten or not."
"If you are happy with me, then why did y-y-you take my
The predator fish reached one of its hands back into the
water, pulled out Alec's yellow bucket and put it down by
Alec's feet. It was full of clams.
"What are those? asked Alec, more curious than
"They are clams," said the large predator fish.
"and they are my gift to you for not eating my child."
"What are clams?" asked Alec.
"Clams are found underneath the pond, in the slimy mud,"
explained the large predator fish. "And there are millions
of them in this pond. You open the shells like this." The
large predator fish inserted a razor finger between the two
clam shells and pried them apart. "Then you boil them in
water for about ten minutes and eat them. Best of all, clams
have no bones or scales to get caught in your throat."
"But do they want to be eaten?" asked Alec. "I
will not eat anything that does not want to be
eaten," Alec said firmly.
"Ask them yourself," said the large predator fish.
Alec asked the bucket of clams if they wanted to be eaten
and the response was very loud and excited. "Yes! Yes!
YES ! " the clams all shouted at once.
"You see," said the large predator fish, "most fish do
not like clams. We think they look and taste yucky. This
makes the clams very sad. They want so much to be liked. I
have heard that humans like clams very much. Since you let
my son go, I will get you as many clams as you can eat. And
you will never go hungry. Just place your bucket on the side
of the pond, right here, and I will fill it up with clams
"I would like that very much," said Alec. "Thank you."
Alec took the bucket over to his campfire and cooked all
the clams. He had a most delicious and filling meal.
Before he went to bed that night, he placed the empty
bucket by the edge of the pond. In the morning the bucket
was full of clams again. And all of the clams were happy to
be Alec's meal.
Which is why Alec, the boy by the pond that you did not
even know was there, eats only clams to this day.
© 1991 Stuart B Baum,
Illustrations by ZoŽ Baum