The Waterwood Box, 83

Catch up!

Chapter 19
King Altern Unfolds

The Lady King Altern, a brick-red color, undulated out from under the flat shelf of rock. She was a colossal squid, longer than a semi-truck, capable of sinking an ocean liner, and she slowly rose to her full length. On either side of her pointed, shell-like head, Altern had eyes as large as swimming pools. Sinewy, stringy tentacles seemed to trail out to infinity behind her. If ever there was a true, sea monster – she was it. Altern’s mouth, a giant beak, wholly alien on an Ocean creature, clicked open and close, open and close so slowly. The clicking, muffled in the water, sounded like two flat rocks smashing together. Altern swam alongside Adam until she had him lined up in front of one of her gigantic eyes. Adam trembled in the water. Each crack of Altern’s beak reverberated inside of Adam and worked its way back out through his trembles. Altern floated there, staring at Adam.

Adam finally spoke. “I’m here for the Drain of the World.”

Altern did not reply but continued to snap her beak in that unnerving rhythm.

Adam spoke again. “I’m here for the–”

One of Altern’s tentacles whipped out and snaked itself tightly around Adam’s bottom half. Altern whisked Adam from his upright position and dangled him, upside down, right in front of her cracking beak. Closer and closer. Adam was going to be Altern’s food! Then the beak stopped moving. Inside the beak, Adam saw a large tongue working. Altern’s voice came out in a raspy, but surprisingly soft whisper, “Who…are you?”

“I’m here for the Drain of the World. Show it to me.”

Altern repeated, “Who are you? Who are you to address Us with such demands? We take orders from no Tiskaloons just as no Tiskaloons take orders from Us.”

Adam stood firm. “I’m not Tiskaloon. I’m human. My name is Adam Might.”

Altern’s beak snapped shut. The sound startled Adam and he jumped inside of Altern’s tight grip. Slowly, the beak opened and Altern whispered into Adam’s ears, “So, you’re the human, the screamer, the instigator. Now it all makes sense. Your disguise fooled well my admiral. Your disguise fooled Us and it’s been so very, very long since We were fooled. Are you quite sure you’re only in disguise?” The tentacle loosened around Adam as another slithered around to tug at his suit. “We are sorry for being so rude. We are King Altern.”

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The Waterwood Box, 83

The Waterwood Box, 82

Catch up!

Ahead in the distance Adam noticed a break in the grid. The manta turned and swam towards this clearing. Adam saw that the clearing was actually a large, rock shelf that stretched out over a shallow basin. The tight grid of coral hovels resumed on the other side of the basin.

The manta stopped directly above the clearing and the urchins up top signaled the net’s release. The thick, dark ropes tumbled downward and the net, along with everyone in it, drifted downward. Adam, Ramata, and Spot climbed out of the top and swam down to the clearing.

While the net full of urchins touched down, Adam took in the immensity of his surroundings. This was indeed a complex. Building after drab building as far as the eye could see and in every possible direction. Adam then heard some scuffling behind him. He turned to see a pile of urchins forming around Ramata and Spot. The urchins rolled up each other’s backs to form walls to separate the three friends.

Adam heard Ramata cry out once, but only once. He didn’t hear any noise at all from Spot. Adam himself was soon enclosed within a dark shell of living urchins. A shaft of light then broke through the walls, then another, and another as Adam’s urchin cell began to dismantle itself. By the time Adam could again see around, most of the urchins that had been on the clearing were nowhere to be seen. He watched the few stragglers roll off down the tight streets – maybe they were headed home. Only one urchin remained on the clearing with Adam, Admiral Pinch.

“Where are my friends?”

“Safe. Away, away.”

Adam clenched his fists. “What have you done with them?”

“These are the King’s orders: ‘Leave the child, take the other two.’ I don’t question my King.”

“I have a question for your King.”

“Oh, you do?”

“Yes, I must ask him something.”

“Then, by all means, you should ask her.” Admiral Pinch barked then rolled away from the shelf lip, his spikes twitching with laughter.

“Her?” Adam asked.

Pinch, with shrill excitement, replied, “Yes, child. I present to you, for all your precious questioning, Her Royal Wetness, the Lady King Altern.”

The Waterwood Box, 82

The Waterwood Box, 81

Catch up!

Chapter 18
A Complex Of Strict Arrangments

The urchins chattered and chittered at Adam’s bold behavior. Pinch himself seemed unsure of how to respond. “Uh…very well then,” Pinch finally managed to chirp out. He then barked so loudly that everyone jumped, Adam included. A few seconds later, a group of urchins left on-board the manta let down a large, weighted net. The urchins at the bottom rolled away to allow for the net to spread out completely as it came to rest.

When the net settled, the urchins rolled onto it, fighting each other for space while rolling on top of one another. Once the entire mess of urchins squeezed together, Pinch turned to the three and asked, “To Altern?”

Ramata hesitated. Adam said to the water-folk, “It’s the only way.” After some hesitation, Ramata followed Adam into the milling mass. Spot was close behind. Pinch then barked again, abrupt and loud enough to frighten the three outsiders.

The manta took off at a slow pace. Immediately, the net curled up around them all, jostling the urchins about while they chattered and chittered and cursed each other’s presence. Adam, Ramata, and Spot were the lucky ones in this situation. Because they could swim, they could stay close to the top of the closed net and away from the pile of urchins that collected at the net’s bottom. Glad for a chance to rest after their long journey, Adam grabbed the netting and held tight, letting the water rush past him as the manta carried them to where, despite the obvious dangers, he hoped to do what he could to get back home.

The manta swam over row upon row of the urchins’ coral hovels. Adam wondered how many there were, spread out below, surrounding Altern’s complex. At first, the hovels were spaced at regular intervals, perhaps a few hundred yards between them. As they approached their destination, however, the hovels had less and less space between them. Soon, the manta swam over nothing but hovels, all perfectly lined up with just enough space between them to let a single urchin roll through. “This is huge…how many do you think there are?” Adam asked Spot.

“Too many, Adam,” Spot said. “Far too many.”

The Waterwood Box, 81

Purple Wizard Tales, Part 1: Whence Comes the Wizard?

More Poems About Purple Wizards and Our Neon-Bright Exceptionalisms is, first and foremost, a book of collected poetry. It’s also, however, an exercise in book design and, for some, an entry to participate in The Game of Poems. In an effort to promote the book and decompress a bit from putting it together, I thought I’d do a short series of posts about its origin story.

The collection began, as most collections do, when its mommy collection and its daddy collection met, fell in love and kissed. Then, 10 months later – POOF! – a little purple wizard was born.And the purple wizard was a sweet, little toddler and a charming young person and a moody adolescent and an inquisitive young adult and a stressed-out grown-up and a collector of facts and incantations and aphorisms and finally the wizened purple-spirited book appearing before you today.

Purple Wizards, as a concept, began with the poem “Royal and Wrinkled with Age”, though that’s the poem that winds up now closing the collection. That poem has a line, “The Purple Wizard stands on a barren hillside / facing the rising sun,” that worked its way into the book cover collage (which I’ll talk about in a subsequent Purple Wizard Tale). I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of the wise, old person, persnickety yet divine, seemingly frail but truly full of fire. The book itself may or may not be concerned with that fascination but, nevertheless, I do hope we all grow to become Purple Wizards in our own right.

If you’d like to read more about Purple Wizards – and our neon-bright exceptionalisms – I wrote a book about ’em! You can buy it here.

Purple Wizard Tales, Part 1: Whence Comes the Wizard?

The Waterwood Box, 80

Catch up!

In the distance, Adam could already see a manta coming their way. Admiral Pinch and the Urchin Army were no doubt atop the manta, delighted at the prospect of handing over such vile trespassers to King Altern.

“Look, Spot, seem familiar?” Adam directed Spot’s attention to the manta.

Spot sighed. “Our old friend, Admiral Pinch.”

The manta stopped a good distance above the three travelers. Adam, Ramata, and Spot looked up at the manta’s underside. Urchins dropped off the manta, at first one-by-one, then they plummeted in droves, slowly sinking to Ocean’s floor, landing on top of each other, and rolling around to claim a spot of individual space.

Soon, the urchins covered all the seabed around, where they chattered and barked amongst themselves.

“We could still swim for it,” said Adam. “These things can’t follow.” Wide-eyed and nervous, Ramata looked with hope at Adam. The water-folk turned to Spot.

“We’ll be fine here,” Spot said. Hope drained from Ramata’s face.

The last few urchins dropped off the manta like paratroopers without any chutes. On Ocean’s floor, one urchin among the many rolled its way to a front-most position. The other urchins quieted.

“And I thought taking you home would be the last I saw of you,” chittered Admiral Pinch.

“Well, Admiral, as a wise Turtle once told me, ‘That’s what you get for thinking.’” Adam said with a smile.

“Snarky, water-man. You may be certain that Altern will fix that part of you.”

“Good, good,” Adam said with no hesitation. Ramata and Spot looked at each other, unnerved by the cool, even tone in Adam’s voice. “I hope you take us to the King soon. That’s why we’re here, after all.” Ramata smacked Adam on the shoulder but he refused to acknowledge it and went on with his steady-handed charade. “Are we ready to go? Don’t you think you’ve kept us waiting long enough?” Even Adam was surprised at his confidence and surety. He knew answers were close.

“I warned you once, child, about your impudence. Don’t-”

“Admiral, take us to King Altern or leave us be to find the King ourselves. There will be no more talking.”

The Waterwood Box, 80