The Waterwood Box, 36

Catch up!

Adam decided to disregard the Admiral’s orders and, as soon as the Admiral dropped out of sight, Adam took off. He swam low over the back of the manta, over the urchin crew and the cargo tied down atop the manta’s back. After he cleared the manta’s tail he swam down to a smaller portion of the kelp forest that was off to one side. He hoped Spot was paying attention.

Adam swam two rows deep into the forest then got behind the large base of one plant to keep watch on the manta above. Things seemed all right so far. Adam felt a fuzzy something tapping his shoulder and heard a slow, “Excuuuuuuuuuuse me,” behind him. Adam jumped and swam around to put the kelp stalk in between him and whatever had touched him. He peeked around the plant and saw a huge starfish, balanced upright on two of its five points. The starfish spoke to Adam through a hole smack dab in the middle of its body.

“Nooooooo neeeeeeed toooo beeee afraiiiiiid. Aaaaare yooooooou reeeeecruuuuuuuitiiiiing alllllreeeeeeadyyyyy?”

“Recruiting?” The question baffled Adam.

“Yeeeees. Loooooooook arrrroouuuuuuund yooooouuuuuu.” The starfish swept one of his thick, light-orange “arms” out to one side of the kelp forest. Adam’s eyes followed the movement, yet failed to see what the starfish was getting at. The starfish tried again. “Looooook dooooooowwwwwwwwnnnn aaand aarrrrrrrouuuund yoooouuu.”

Adam looked at the floor of the kelp forest. The bottom of the ocean floor was covered with tiny purple and red spiky balls; baby urchins.

“What is this place?” Adam asked while still trying to take in the massive number of urchins the forest housed. If hundreds rode on the mantra’s back…there must be thousands, a million, here.

“Whhhhaaaaaaaat? Whyyyyyyyyy, thiiiiiiiisssss iisssss aaaaaan Urrrrrrrrrchiiiiiin Aaarrrrmmyy faaarrrmmm, nuuuuuuummmmmmbeeeeerrrrr thiiiiiiiirrrrrrtyyyyy-threeeeeeeeeeeeeee, toooooo beeeee exaaaaaaaact.”

The Waterwood Box, 36

The Waterwood Box, 35

Catch up!

While in transit, there wasn’t much in the way of scenery to entertain Adam. His trip on the manta was unlike any trip he’d ever taken with his family. The murky, ocean water didn’t allow him to see much of his surroundings. Thankfully, the manta never dove down deep enough to escape all the light. He would have been much less willing to cooperate with the urchins were they traveling in total darkness. Some light filtered in from above and occasionally he’d catch a glimpse of something small, blue, and black off in the distance.

The manta made several stops along the way. At one stop, alongside an underwater cliff, the Admiral inquired about the disturbance to a family of octopuses living inside of hollows in the cliff face. The octopuses admitted to having heard the cry, but could say nothing of actually seeing anything out of the ordinary. The Admiral also steered the manta to a kelp forest. The seaweed grew in relatively shallow water and Adam could see all the way to the ocean floor. Up above, Adam saw the blurred outline of a warm, full sun. However shallow the water, Adam saw no signs of land.

The dull-green kelp plants swayed back and worth like grass in the wind. Hundreds of fish swam in and about the long, finger-like, fronds. Tiny snails and crabs covered the fronds and stalks. Adam asked if he might swim about the forest and the Admiral squeaked, “Stay right where you are. We won’t be long.” He then turned to the rest of the urchins and squeaked loudly, “That goes for the rest of you, too. I know this is home for many of you, but we are not on leave. You do not have permission to disembark the manta.” Adam watched Admiral Pinch and his entourage drop off the edge of the manta wing and listened to the disgruntled chatter of the urchins left aboard in his wake.

The Waterwood Box, 35

The Waterwood Box, 34

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“-hungry?” Adam screamed as Admiral Pinch stood holding out some white bits of meat.
“You are quite possibly the strangest water-man I’ve ever met. What in the sea are you screaming about?”

“Nothing.” Adam remembered that he shouldn’t talk much. “Just a bad dream.”

“Humpf. Eat some food then. We don’t want your people thinking you haven’t been treated with the utmost respect.” Adam watched this creature talk and hated it for its air of superiority and contempt. The Diamond Fins, the manta, the water-folk, nothing measured up in the urchins’ view. The only real sense of civility Adam had heard come from the Admiral was when he spoke of King Altern. “Tell me about the dream,” the Admiral said.

“I’d rather not,” Adam snapped.

The Admiral twitched. “Now you’re sounding like water-folk.” He rolled off to speak with one of the many urchins that surrounded him. The Admiral left the bits of meat on the bench for Adam to do with what he pleased.

“It was about my parents,” Adam whispered. “My dream was about home.” His tears trailed out behind him, as always, mixing instantly with the seawater all around.

Chapter 7
The Army Farm

The journey to Tiskaloo was, for the most part, uneventful. Adam sat on the bench almost the entire way. Time didn’t seem to mean so much under the water. For one thing, it was hard for Adam to tell what time it ever was. He slept when he felt tired, not when the surface looked dark because, although he could tell when it was light or dark up above, he could never know whether the dark meant nighttime or a storm. Eventually, he gave up trying to keep track of days going by and just accepted that time was measured differently in Ocean.

The Waterwood Box, 34

The Waterwood Box, 33

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In his dream, Adam ran into the kitchen to find Mrs. Might with a bowl of batter in one hand and a thick stack of pancakes beside her.

“Hon, why don’t you sit down and pour yourself a glass of milk? Your father will be done soon and then we’ll eat some breakfast.” Adam sat down and did what his mother requested – except for getting himself a glass of milk. His father came in a few moments later and sat down beside Adam. The bitter smell of cut grass clashed with the sweet, welcoming odor of fresh pancakes. Mr. Might was sweating buckets. “Gross, Dad,” said Adam. “Go hop in the shower or something.”

“It’s OK, son. Have some milk.” Mr. Might reached over Adam to grab the milk carton and poured Adam a glass. Sweat poured off of Mr. Might as though some invisible hand dumped water on him from above.

“Dad, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Now, Adam, don’t make me tell you again. Drink your milk.” Adam grabbed the glass of milk and took a sip. It tasted salty.

“This milk is bad,” Adam said as he set down his glass.

“Nonsense, Adam. I just bought that carton yesterday,” said Mrs. Might as she brought the pancakes to the table. “Let’s just eat, shall we?” Adam looked up at his mother. She, too, was drenched with sweat. Everything in the kitchen glistened with a sheen of moisture. Mrs. Might plopped a plateful of pancakes in front of Adam. Fins and tails and scales poked out from every inch of the breakfast treats. “Eat up, hon.” Adam look from his plate back to his mother. A slick, gray fish wearing an apron asked him, “Aren’t you hungry?” Adam turned toward his father. Another gray fish sat in his father’s place, reading the morning paper. Adam looked down at his own hands. Fins had replaced them. “Aren’t you hungry, Adam, honey? Aren’t you-”

The Waterwood Box, 33

The Waterwood Box, 32

Catch up!

The Admiral turned to another urchin on the bench. “Commander, instruct the pilots to bear us toward Tiskaloo. We shall inquire about the disturbance and return this lost creature to his miserable home.”  The Commander’s spikes shook and the urchin rolled off the bench to squeak the Admiral’s orders to a nearby urchin. This urchin then rolled a ways and squeaked orders to another urchin. This process continued until the orders found the pilots’ ears and the manta ray glided off in the direction of the water-folk city, Tiskaloo.

Adam tried to stay as quiet as possible and thankfully, the Admiral didn’t press him much. Other matters aboard the manta required Admiral Pinch’s attention, which meant that Adam sat alone, half-reclined on one of the benches. The manta’s slow, gliding movement through the water kept him pushed back into the bench. Had he the desire, Adam could have easily got up and swam around but for now he simply enjoyed a moment’s quiet. He was frightened and surrounded everywhere by urchins, but the lazy way the manta moved relaxed him enough that he fell asleep.

Adam dreamed he was home. It was a Saturday. He was in his bed. Outside, his father mowed the back lawn and something smelled delicious downstairs. He got out of bed and looked through one of his windows. Sure enough, there was Mr. Might pushing the mower and bobbing his head to the beat of whatever music played through the portable CD player that Adam always teased him about.  Adam paused, sniffed the air, then turned his head to get a stronger sense of the smell. Pancakes.

He bolted from his bedroom still in his pajamas, practically slid down the stairs and almost slipped on the last step. The smell of pancakes filled the air. Adam’s mouth watered.

The Waterwood Box, 32

The Waterwood Box, 31

Catch up!

“So, Adam water-man. How did you wind up lost and stuck within that dreadful school of fish and, as long as you’re answering, however did you wind up without blue hair?” asked Admiral Pinch as he rolled along the manta’s spine. Adam followed close behind him. He remembered Spot’s advice: Don’t talk too much.

“I’m not sure,” he offered, more so confused by the question of the blue hair than anything else.

“Not sure?” the Admiral huffed. “You are either the most humble or the most ignorant water-man I’ve ever met.”

“I mean, I can’t remember. Anything.”

“Pity, pity. Well, maybe not all pity. If you were to remember everything I doubt we would be having this conversation.”

“Why is that?”

Admiral Pinch stopped rolling and said, “Because urchins hate water-folk.” He continued rolling, “And they hate us right back.” Adam didn’t say a word.

Adam and Admiral Pinch arrived at the middle of the manta’s back where the urchins had attached several, long benches shaped liked sofas. The furniture was pinned into the manta and it looked painful. The Admiral rolled up to one and hopped onto it. “It’s really King Altern who detests the water-folk. But, what the King detests we detest. The water-folk do not listen and they do not obey. They live in their little city and make up their own rules of civilization. Ahh…much like their forebears, the humans did, or so the old tales caution.”

At this, Adam wanted to cry out, Did?! Are there no more humans? What happened to them?

“But this is elementary. I gather you don’t recall Ocean history either?”

“No, sir.”

“Sir,” Admiral Pinch repeated. “That, water-man, is why I offered to take you home. You, unlike the rest of your kind, have respect for authority. Had you displayed the impudence typical of your kind…I would have fed you to the manta.”

The Waterwood Box, 31

The Waterwood Box, 30

Catch up!

“Speak up, lost water-man.”

“Go on, Adam. You’ll be OK. I’ll follow you.” That was Spot’s voice.

“No, Spot. I don’t want to.”

“You have to, Adam. To refuse is to doom us all. They’ll kill us. You can’t refuse. You just can’t. Swim up to the Admiral. They’ll take you to Tiskaloo, where the water-folk live. Try not to talk too much and you’ll be OK.”

“What’s going on down there?” called Admiral Pinch. “Water-man, come on. Let’s get you back home.” Sarcasm soaked his voice.

Adam swam out of the formation and up to meet the Admiral. “Hello, sir.”

Admiral Pinch’s spikes contorted and twitched. He called to the mass of urchins behind him, “He calls me ‘sir.’ Here is a water-man who knows his place.” The other urchins squeaked their approval. “Lost water-man, what do your people call you?”

“Adam.”

“Well, Adam,” the spikes twitched again. Adam gathered that this twitching was how urchins giggled. “Shall we make for Tiskaloo?” He squeaked and twitched, clearly delighted.

“Yes, sir,” Adam said.

“To Tiskaloo!” yelled the Admiral. “Let’s get this liquid lung home. One so obedient must surely be missed.” The Admiral barked his urchin orders to the pilots at the manta’s mouth. The four urchins pulled back hard on the harnesses and the manta slowly backed up. One pair of pilots eased up on their harnesses and the manta began to turn. Adam watched the pilots on the fins as they manipulated their part of the manta. He looked back at the school, still floating in their diamond formation. Just before he turned away Adam noticed a tiny, black and blue spot of color spurt out of the formation. He followed the spot until it disappeared underneath him. Adam looked at his surroundings. Hundreds upon hundreds of urchins. Hundreds of urchins and a lost, young man pretending to be something he was not.

The Waterwood Box, 30