The Waterwood Box, 73

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“Were there many of these ships?” asked Ramata.

Spot spoke up . “This isn’t the first floater I’ve seen. First one I’ve ever been in though.”

“Ramata, what are we waiting for?” Adam tried to bring them back to their point for being there in the first place.

“Were there many of these ships?” Ramata asked again.

“Oh, jeez, I dunno,” Adam replied, annoyed. “A hundred maybe?”

“Oh…”

Adam noticed a hint of uncertainty in Ramata’s voice. “What, Ramata? What is it?”

“It’s just…well, I thought…I hoped this was the only ship.”

“Why?”

“Um, what if a Turtle isn’t in this one?”

“You don’t know if there is a Turtle is in this ship? You brought us here to see a Turtle, right?”

“Well, maybe it doesn’t live here, and goes from floater to floater – if there were so many of them. Maybe that’s how Turtles stay  hidden, keep their bubbles of mystery around them, you know? Or maybe Turtles just get tired of the same old floaters all the time and go to new ones, looking for new things.”

Adam’s face turned pink then red. The ocean water flushed cool against his warm, angry face.

Spot warned, “Don’t yell, Adam.”

“I’m not going to yell,” Adam said, his voice rising anyway. He turned that voice towards Ramata. “Where’s the Turtle, Ramata? You brought us all the way out here. My foot is ruined! And I still don’t see anyone or anything that can help me find land!” He swam over and got in Ramata’s face. “Where’s the Turtle?!”

Adam grabbed Ramata by the shoulders. Ramata turned and bit his fingers. “Don’t you ever do that to me!” The water-folk swam away. “I didn’t guarantee you anything. How could I?”

“Children,” came a voice from behind them.

“Shut up, Spot!” both of them yelled out, still glaring at each other.

“Uh, that wasn’t me,” said Spot from above them. “Look. There on stage.”

The Waterwood Box, 73

The Waterwood Box, 72

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“What are we doing here, Ramata?”

“I told you, Adam. We’re-”

“We’re waiting, we’re waiting. Well, what’re we waiting for? That’s what I wanna know! There’s nothing here but us and those sharks outside!”

“Who, if you don’t quiet down, will hear you, Adam. Sshh. Remember how I first found you in Ocean?” Spot said.

Adam thought back to what seemed like years ago. He replied, much more quietly, “Yes. I remember.” The sharks were the last things he wanted around. His foot hurt so bad it was all he could do to not complain about it. “But, look, we’re just sitting here doing nothing.” He clenched his teeth and let the words struggle to get out from between them. “Ugh. I’m sick of waiting.”

Ramata looked all around the theater, confused yet interested.

“Adam, what was this floater?”

“This ship?”

“This ship, yes, this room, this thing. What did humans do here?”

“Well, people would pay to get on this ship and travel on top of Ocean. We called it ‘going on a cruise.’”

On the water?!” Spot blurted. “You never went in the water?”

“Oh sure. At the beaches, or in pools – but never this far under and never for very long. Some people did, I guess, but not as many as took cruises.”

“So, they cruised on the water, then what?”

“Then, whatever the wanted, I guess. Play games, lay out in the sun, watch people perform in rooms like this. Anything but work.”

“But somebody worked here, right? I mean, somebody had to guide the ship. And cook? And clean?”

“Oh, sure, a whole crew of people ran the ships.”

“So, what did those people do when they didn’t want to work?”

Hmm…I dunno, take a train ride maybe?”

“What’s a train?” Spot asked.

Think of it like a ship on land.”

“Strange.”

“Not too humans. We like to take time off doing what we do every day to try out new things.”

“But why take a land ship if you worked all day on a water ship?”

Adam didn’t have an answer.

The Waterwood Box, 72

The Waterwood Box, 71

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Ramata was out the door without a word. The water-folk swam along one of the ship’s decks and followed it to a large opening into the ship’s interior. Ramata swam into the ship and and down three flights of a wide stairwell. Adam and Spot followed close behind the water-folk. All were nervous and silent, wary of the sharks. The interior of the ship was grim and dark; precious little light came through from above.

“Get in close. Don’t lose me.”

“Do you know where you’re going?” whispered Spot.

“Well, I know where I’ve been and where I saw the Turtle the last time. Now be quiet.”

Ramata led them down one more flight of stairs to swim in front of a pair of brass-handled, double wide, swinging doors.

Spot whispered, “What’s in there?”

“Soon, we’ll be.”

“Is that where the Turtle is?”

“I hope so,” Ramata said and pushed the doors open.

Inside the room Adam saw row upon row of chairs covered with torn, red fabric from which leaked bundles of dull, cream-colored and rotting padding. The rows sloped downward and at the bottom of the room they saw an elevated wooden platform. This used to be one of the ship’s theaters. The curtains that once covered the stage now hung in red, ragged strips, rotting like the chairs. The stage itself was riddled with holes and cracks. Adam wondered how long the ship had been under water.

“So now what?” he asked the other two.

“Well, I don’t know. Wait, I guess.”

“You don’t-. Spot, Ramata doesn’t know. All this way and Ramata doesn’t know what’s next…,” Adam shrugged his shoulders and swam down into a row of seats. He found one that was still mostly upholstered and tried to sit down in it despite his constricting swim suit. Spot swam up to the top of the room and back down again. Ramata moved to one corner of the theater and stayed there, quiet. No one talked. Adam sat in his seat, looked at the stage, and tried to imagine the shows that once graced it. He dreamed up dance numbers, magic acts, and smile-soaked songs. After a while, the noise in his head became overwhelmed by the lonely silence around him.

The Waterwood Box, 71

The Waterwood Box, 70

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Chapter 15
Should You Ever Go Looking for a Turtle…

Adam winced when Ramata touched his foot. “Ow!”

“It’s going to hurt! Be still.”

“How bad is it?”

“I’ll tell you later. Hold your breath,” Ramata said. They took a piece of seaweed from a belt pouch and tied it around the wound, cinching it tight. “This should stop the bleeding, but it’s going to hurt for a long while. Not much I can do about that.”

Tears welled again in Adam’s eyes as he contorted his body around in an attempt to see the shark bite. “This suit is a pain sometimes.” He gave up to rest and floated down to the floor of the room.

“I am so glad to see you two.”

“We didn’t realize we’d lost you until we got to the ship,” Ramata said. The water-folk swam about the room swishing the water as much as possible. “I’m trying to get rid of this blood,” Ramata replied to quizzical looks from Adam and Spot.

“We turned around, Adam, and no you! What happened?”

Adam looked at Spot. “You went too fast, I guess. You went too fast and didn’t wait.”

“But we agreed to keep at it until we arrived.”

“You’re here now, Adam,” Ramata reminded him.

“I know, I know. It’s not your fault. I’m scared, that’s all.”

“The good thing is: this is where we need to be.”

“What?”

“This is it. The Turtle is here. Well, not here, in this room, but in this ship. We just have to find it.”

“Ramata, this ship is huge,” argued Spot. “How’re we supposed to find the Turtle?”

Ramata opened the door a crack and stuck their head partway out. “We start by looking,” they whispered. “Looks clear for now. Adam, can you swim?”

“I don’t know. Spot, is my foot still bleeding?”

“Umm…looks all right. Ramata, are you sure those sharks are gone?”

“No, but they’re not right outside anymore, slamming against the door. And that’s about the best we can hope for. Adam, if you can swim, we should go.”

“I can try.”

The Waterwood Box, 70

The Waterwood Box, 69

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There was no stopping Adam now. He could make out the windows and doors on the big ship in front of him. Halfway there. Unfortunately, there was also no stopping the sharks all around him. In frenzied frustration, they snapped and lunged with teeth that, if sunk into Adam, would gnash his flesh to pulp.

Closer still to the sunken ship, Adam began to worry. It hurt to breathe and his legs were beyond tired. He slowed down and could sense the sharks’ bites around him getting ever closer.

“ADAM!”

Adam heard Ramata and Spot yelling through the water but he couldn’t yet see where they were. His only thought was to keep swimming towards the ship.

“ADAM!” They yelled again and this time he saw Ramata, hanging one hand out of a door and waving. “ADAM, HURRY!” Knowing that Ramata and Spot were waiting gave Adam a surge of energy. He kicked on with renewed vigor. He was was less than one hundred yards away. Eighty now, sixty…

“ADAM, LOOK OUT!” Adam heard the warning and smelled the sweet stench at the same time. Then he cried out in pain as the snaggletooth shark bit into his left foot, taking two of Adam’s toes. Adam screamed but kept swimming.

“The bleeding bleeder bleeds!” hissed the sharks.

Tears welled in Adam’s eyes. Through the agony, he kept swimming. Every new kick hurt worse than the last. Every new kick oozed out a fresh dollop of blood that further enraged the sharks’ frenzy. One shark attacked another and the two fell out from the chase, fighting each other, so great was their lust for some kind of blood.

Ramata and Spot held open a door for Adam and he swam into the room where they waited. Ramata slammed the door behind Adam and the dull thud of sharks smacking against it sounded. Outside, the sharks hissed in unison, “The bleeding bleeder bleeds!”

Adam cried in pain and tried to hold his foot in his hands. “Spot, please, help me. It hurts so bad.” Spot swam over to Adam’s wound and sized it up. “It’ll be O.K., Adam. Ramata, can we stop the bleeding?” Two thuds sounded against the door followed by angry, urgent hisses. “The sharks won’t stop while they still smell blood. We’ve got to stop Adam from bleeding.”

The Waterwood Box, 69

The Waterwood Box, 68

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“The bleeder, the bleeder,” the other sharks repeated, drawing out the words while flashing double rows of teeth pointed and sharp like broken glass.

“This blood is a new blood.”

“New blood, new blood.”

“What do you want from me?” Adam asked, afraid to hear the answer.

“And the blood bag has words?” The snaggletooth shark swam so close to Adam he could smell on its breath a sticky, sweet rotting aroma. Adam curled his lips in disgust. The shark rejoined the circle.

“Yes, oh yes. This is the bleeder.”

“The bleeder, the bleeder.”

“And we, we happy few, we – are the feeders.”

“The feeders! The feeders!” screamed the sharks.

The circle slowly tightened and the sharks’ eyes rolled back into their heads as their jaws again opened wide to bare those never-ending rows of jagged teeth. They whipped their tails against one another, wailing, “The feeders! The feeders!” Adam gave up rotating along with them and gave up trying to keep his eyes on all of the sharks at once.

He gave up thinking altogether and swam up out of the circle as fast as he could, heading towards the closest ruin. Still in the early stages of their frenzy, the sharks were caught unaware but that didn’t stop them from following Adam’s blood trail through the water. Adam swam hard, harder than ever, up and over, down and around all the ruins he could. The sharks followed close behind yet Adam refused to stop.

Finally, at the ruins’ edge, sharks above, below, and behind him, Adam saw what it was that Ramata called the “floater”: a sunken cruise ship. There was nothing to cover his path between the ship and the edge of the ruins – nothing but a straight shot through wide open water. Adam had no time to plan a safe route and instead had to act on instinct alone.

He broke from the ruined buildings. The sharks’ sick chant filled the water around him. On his right side, one of the sharks took a snap at him. Adam dove down and under the shark. He heard another snap above him as a confused shark narrowly missed his back and bit the water instead.

The Waterwood Box, 68