The Waterwood Box, 42

Catch up!

The Admiral’s voice dropped into a false sympathy. “It’s not your fault. Blame your parents. Your education is as much a program as the Urchin Army’s. The difference is that, we urchins have no major choices to make. We can therefore devote ourselves wholly to whatever task is at hand while you Tiskaloons flounder about debating and reasoning every little thing.”

“But-” Adam began, but Pinch interrupted.

“And that is exactly why the Urchin Army is a model for all Oceanic activity and why Altern must be our guiding rule. Think of it: true contentment! We strive for an Ocean, unified under a single will, free from the burden of having to decide. It’s a vast playground that Altern wants for us all, Adam. Everyone free to follow Altern’s will. Isn’t it grand?”

What could Adam say? The manta swam and the waters of Ocean rushed past him. Admiral Pinch rolled off the bench to take care of matters aboard the manta. So, once again, Adam was alone with time to think. What Pinch said both did and didn’t make sense. How could one person be free if they had to act according to the will of another? Following someone without question didn’t sound like freedom. On the other hand, Adam thought that it would be quite nice to have someone who would always take care of the big stuff and leave him alone to play or read or wander. Life in Ocean was a puzzle. What kind of world had he drowned into? 

As the manta swam out of the kelp forest’s shallow waters, Ocean’s darkness crept in around Adam. All the scenery he’d enjoyed, the bright schools of fish, the floppy, lazy plants on the ocean floor, and even the light-blue ceiling overhead faded away into a murky void. There was nothing to distract him except those ever-present urchins. And he was growing quite tired of those ever-present urchins.

The Waterwood Box, 42

The Waterwood Box, 41

Catch up!

The Admiral wasted no time in replying. “Well, I’m glad you asked! This is a much more interesting topic than nasty, old Tiskaloo. This-” the Admiral leaned his body out and swept it in the kelp forest’s direction, “-is one of many recruitment areas for King Altern’s Urchin Army.”

Adam sensed the urchin’s spikes tingle with pride. “You come by every now and then to ask for volunteers?”

“There are some volunteers, yes. But we mostly grow our own recruits.”

“You grow them?”

“Why, yes. We use only the most exceptional parents to give us the most exceptional offspring. Nothing but the best for the Urchin Army.”

“That’s very wrong, Admiral. You shouldn’t take a child from its parents.”

“Oh, come now. We are not barbarians. The child never meets its parents. Starfish tend over our recruits from the moment they are born. They see to it that our recruits are properly cared for until they are old enough to join the Army.” If the Admiral had a smile to give its brilliance would surely blind. “The system is as close to perfect as we’re likely to get.”

“Don’t you ever get recruits who don’t want to join the Army? Maybe they want to be farmers or teachers?”

“No. Not a one. The army is what these creatures, what I, was born to do. We know nothing else. To not be a part of this great organization would be to remove our purpose for living.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t, water-man. You’ve been brought up with the notion that you are free to make of yourself exactly what you want in whatever manner you see fit. You were raised to believe you have a choice in deciding how things turn out for you. A pesky, Tiskaloon quality, that.”

The Waterwood Box, 41

What Were the Skies Like When You Were Young?

i’m listening to the orb
since 1992 i’m listening to the orb
for 25 years i’m listening to the orb
for more than half my life i’m listening to the orb
and i’m so bad at math and so easily
distracted
it took me more than 20 seconds to work the numbers out
but when i’m listening to the orb
i’m reminded of everything that’s ever happened to me since 1992

and i’m in an office now
reviewing documents for someone up above
but in my head it’s 1992 and 1993 and 1994 and 1995 and 1997 and 2001 and 2007 and 2017 all at once
and early tears well in my eyes just waiting for a nudge to spill
for all those behind me years
that somehow still exist buried between the lines
of the story i tell of myself to myself like:
who we were at midnight on empty, suburban streets, an orb album on repeat
who we were at midnight on a cold, hard futon, curled up in a confused panic, an orb album on repeat
who we were at midnight on another’s sofa, sleeping after a shift, an orb album on repeat
who we were at midnight on a windy Christmas eve, drinking whiskey alone in the dark, an orb album on repeat
who we were at midnight on a still, star-filled lake, talking dreams of coming futures, an orb album on repeat
who we were at midnight on a faded, rusty rocker, with a swaddled baby swaying, an orb album on repeat
who we were at midnight on an empty, suburban street, doing dishes left from dinner, an orb album on repeat

and on my screen are these words you’re reading now
sitting in front of another’s words you’ll never read
and in my ears the lazy lilt of ‘back side of the moon’
for i’m still listening to the orb over and over again
and i’m looking out the window
and i’m so high above the ground here, now
but not as high as those above me
and i want to jump through that double-pane wall of melted sand
shatter glass everywhere like a sharp-toothed rain
but i never want to fall when i’m listening to the orb
considering a crash
no, no, no

in every year i ever was
i ever am
listening to the orb
i just want to go on forever

What Were the Skies Like When You Were Young?

The Waterwood Box, 40

Catch up!

Adam stared and shrugged his shoulders.

“Oh, I’m sure of it. Water-man gets cursed by a wicked Turtle or eel, falls asleep, woken by the kiss of a water-lass, herself on the run from a tyrannical mother. You should know this; typical Tiskaloon lore, full of unbearable wisdom.” The Admiral carefully watched Adam for some response and getting none said, “No? Well, no matter.” Pinch turned away from Adam and toward some nearby urchins. “The recruits are on their way. We’ve got 150 with another 100 promised upon return. Prep the manta for Tiskaloo. Our fears our confirmed. The cry was human and the Tiskaloons must answer for its whereabouts.”

These last words stuck in Adam’s head. The Urchin Army thought he was already in Tiskaloo! He breathed easy. Adam watched the underling urchins roll off to carry out the Admiral’s orders. Then the Admiral hoisted himself up onto the bench next to Adam. “We’re finally going to get you home. I bet you’re ready for that.”

“Yes, I am,” said Adam.

“What are you most excited to see, water-man? The Hydean heat vents, or perhaps the rock monument at Kimball’s Rift? Oh, do tell me.”

Pinch was prodding Adam. He must be on to him. Surely, he’d watched Adam swim off to the kelp or during his return to the manta. But, rather than get drawn into Pinch’s game, Adam decided to tell the truth.

“I miss my family,” he said. “I’m most excited to see them again.” Well, it was true, wasn’t it? Pinch didn’t press Adam or poke fun, but rather quietly sat. The two sat together for a bit, neither one speaking or moving. Finally, frustrated and uncomfortable, Adam did what Spot told him to avoid. He spoke.

“Admiral, why did we stop here?”

The Waterwood Box, 40

Boethius, With the Top Down

(for John Q. Climate-Change)
———————————
on the interstate
doing 95 mph
blasting Boethius, with the top down,
is not the same
as blasting Motley Crüe
with the top down,
doing 95 mph
on the interstate
though, The Consolations of Philosophy
might be a better long-term prescription
for handling the world as it is
than one writ in the jittery script
of one Dr. Phineas A. Feelgood;

but who really needs a long-term prescription
for tomorrows of a different persuasion
when that drop-top’s down,
and you’re humming at 95,
along that never-ending,
never-changing,
make-ya-feel-all-right
inter

state.

Boethius, With the Top Down

The Waterwood Box, 39

Catch up!

Adam sighed. The whole world was turned upside down and now, here he was, taking orders from a fish. He didn’t like the idea of returning to the manta but he liked even less the idea of being found out as a faker by Pinch and the Urchin Army.

“OK,” Adam finally said. “I’m going back up there.”

“Gooood luuuuck,” said the starfish who, up until this point, had remained silent. Adam was about to say thanks but Spot cut him off in an unusually bitter tone.

“Shh. Don’t talk to that thing. Have you been speaking to it?” And then to Lettles, “Get out of here. You’re going to give us away. Go do your job.”

Adam reminded himself to ask Spot why he was so mean to the starfish. Lettles, however, paid Spot no mind. It simply turned around and ambled back into the kelp.

“NOW GO!” Spot yelled to Adam.

Adam shot up into the water that bordered the forest edge. There were plenty of fish swimming about so he was able to make his way from one group to the other in a zig-zag line up to the manta. None of the urchins paid any attention to him at all. Adam had sneaked off, and back onto, the manta under Admiral Pinch’s command without any trouble whatsoever!

Chapter 8
An Admiral Explanation

Back on the bench, Adam positioned himself so that it looked like he’d been sleeping the whole time Admiral Pinch was off the manta. He was lying down, hands under his head, when Pinch returned to check up on him. The sound of shrill, urchin barking “woke” Adam and he sat up.

“A-ha! The sleepy water-man wakes,” Pinch said. “Isn’t there a children’s tale about that?”

 


 

Today marks, give or take a bit, the halfway mark in this experiment. To those reading and commenting and sending e-mails about the story, thank you! If you are one of those folks enjoying the tale thus far, I’d love for you to share it with your friends and family. If you’re not that into it, that’s OK too. I get it! Thanks, as always, for your eyeballs and time.

The Waterwood Box, 39