A Barnacle’s Tale (A Short Story)

In a recent post I mentioned the importance of flowing with life, and finished off using the analogy of a barnacle. (A barnacle being an arthropod that clings to rocks, resisting the tide.) 

I remember reading a tale about a barnacle, but I can’t remember whereabouts I read it. 

I’m going to attempt to write one here.


There was a fast-flowing river that weaved its way through a green country. At one of its many sharp bends, right in the middle of the river, sat a cone-like rock. For most of the year, its peak poked out of the rushing surface. Birds and dragon flies often liked to alight there. But during the rainy season, the peak sat submerged, longing for the days when it basked in the sun’s warmth. But right now, we join the rock with its peak warm and dry.

Clinging to this rock, beneath the surface of the water, was a group of barnacles, but in this story we are only concerned with two of them. Their names were Barry and Bev. 

That’s Barry the barnacle and Bev the barnacle. 

Barry and Bev, like all other barnacles, were conditioned from a young age to resist the river’s flow. No matter how hard life got on the rock, one was never to let go, because if one let go one got swept away.

“And those that get swept away,” said Barry to Bev, “are never seen again.”

They had been discussing something Barry preferred not to discuss. But for Bev, it was all she could think about.  

She said, “But don’t you think there could be more to life than just clinging to this rock? Day in day out, all we do is cling.”

“More to life?” said Barry, looking at her quizzically. “What do you mean more?”

“Well, suppose all those who have let go and trusted where the flow took them are—”

“Now stop all that talk about the flow and letting go!” interrupted Barry, unimpressed. He lowered his voice. “If the elders hear you, they’ll—”

“I wasn’t saying anything bad,” said Bev. “I was just going to say, what if those who have let go are not only OK, but are actually, you know, having a good time? I mean, what if they’ve found other rocks?”

“You talk daft!” said Barry. “Other rocks.”

“But what if they’re doing what every barnacle dreams of?” said Bev.

Barry frowned. “And what exactly might that be?”

“Seeing the world,” said Bev, dreamily.

“Seeing the world,” said Barry. “Why do you want to see the world when you’ve got this rock?” When Bev didn’t answer, Barry added, “You just need to learn how to cope better.”

Bev stared at him angrily.

“And what do you mean by that?”

“Well,” said Barry, “you don’t hear me fantasising about being swept away by the flow, or finding other rocks and seeing the world.”

“Yeah, and do you know why?” said Bev. “Because you’re afraid!” 

“Pah! Afraid?” said Barry. “Me? I’m not scared to let go. It’s just that, well, we’re not supposed to, that’s all. I prefer to follow the rules, unlike some barnacles around here.”

They clung in silence for a while. A colourful bird alighted on the warm peak of the rock. It sang its cheerful song, preened its feathers, then flew away.

Bev had been watching the bird. Look how free it is, she thought.

“You’ve heard the rumours, though, right?” she said, wanting to get back onto the topic of what it might be like to let go, and flow with the river.

“What, that trusting the flow leads to happiness and all that stuff?” said Barry. “Of course I’ve heard them. Everyone has. It’s all nonsense. Do you know who you remind me of, with all this talk?”

“Who?” said Bev, not really caring.

“That crazy fellow. What was his name?”

“Boris?” said Bev.

“Yes! That was it. Crazy Boris. That’s who you sound like. Always dreaming about leaving the rock and seeing the world. And what happened to him? He let go, and was eaten by a starfish.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” said Bev.

“But is it worth the risk?” said Barry, warningly. “Might as well stick to what you know. And what do you know? This rock. That’s what you know. And this rock is safe. It’s not going anywhere.”

“Exactly,” said Bev, under her breath.

That night Bev had a dream. The river spoke to her, and its voice came from all around her. It said, “I’ve got you. If you want to let go, I’ve got you.” She woke up with a start. Everyone else was still asleep. With the dream still fresh in her mind, and the river’s voice still ringing in her ears, Bev knew the time had come.

“Goodbye,” she said quietly, and let go of the rock.

She was never seen again by the barnacles on the rock. They mourned her absence, especially Barry, who was hoping one day to have some baby barnacles with her. 

As Bev surrendered to the flow, the river took her for a wild ride, round bend after bend. She was having a great time. She had never dreamed it would be like this. 

But then the river threw her into waters that were so deep, that she couldn’t even see the bottom. It was as if the sun’s rays had given up trying. Moreover, the river had stopped carrying her forward, and now she was being pulled down, into a cold, dark abyss. 

She started to panic, and was full of regret for not listening to the elders, for not listening to Barry. What had she done?

What was worse was that she was certain she was being watched, by what she didn’t know. And nor did she want to know.

Then, out of the darkness and despair, she heard a deep voice. It said, “Now, now, who’s this?” 

Bev spun around. Her eyes grew wide and her mouth dropped open. Barnacles, just like her, were clinging not to a rock, but to a huge whale.

“Hello there, young one!” said the whale. “Welcome. Don’t look so worried. Find a space. Move up, everyone. Make room for the newcomer.”

All the barnacles shifted and shuffled for her.

Bev was still speechless as she gazed at the joyful faces of all the barnacles on the whale.

The old barnacle next to her said, “Well done for letting go. It takes courage, that.”

“You’re Crazy Boris!” Bev blurted out without thinking. 

Boris laughed. “Is that was they call me on the rock? Crazy?”

“They all think you’ve been eaten by a starfish,” said Bev.

“Well if I have I don’t know anything about it,” said Boris. “What do they call you, then?”

And when Bev said her name, all the barnacles, and the whale, all chorused, “Hello Bev!”

“This is Winnie,” said Boris. “She’s a whale, and a grand one at that.”

So that’s what she is, thought Bev, for she’d never seen a whale before. She’d heard about them in barnacle folklore, but didn’t think they were actually real.

“Doesn’t she mind us all clinging to her like this?” asked Bev.

“Mind?” said Boris. “It was her idea, wasn’t it, Winnie?”

In her slow deep voice, Winnie the whale, said, “It can be lonely swimming around the world all by one self.”

And that’s when Bev realised she had made the right decision letting go of the rock, for she was going to see the world.



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If you enjoyed A Barnacle’s Tale you may also enjoy the uplifting fable Happiness & Honey.

Let’s keep in touch. Click on this link to join my monthly newsletter. You will receive a free copy of Memento Mori: A Sneak Peek into a Seeker’s Diary.

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Published by Gavin Whyte

I am the author of the modern-day fables The Girl with the Green-Tinted Hair, and Happiness & Honey, plus several other works of fiction.

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