Some solid, short fiction for your Monday by Kansas City’s own, Craig M. Workman.
Adam continued to swim backward, starting at the vast expanse of Ocean before him. Ramata’s head popped up above the surface of the water, startling him. Ocean flowed in and out his ears and nostrils, mouth and throat. Adam choked on fresh gulps of crisp air and spat out gooey blood and salty water. He heard the sounds of his own tortured gasps inside of his head and then Ramata’s voice came to him:
“Adam, come home, please come home. There is a world here and your time above the water is long past. Sesre had to leave the water behind, Adam. She’d changed forever. Change is neither bad nor good, Adam, it just is.”
Adam was now above the water, staring up at the sky while the sun beamed down upon him. It killed him to breathe, but he chose to keep at it, tears in his eyes, one painful, labored inhalation at a time, for just a while longer, long enough to whisper, “Goodbye, Mom and Dad.”
Before taking one final, painful breath of the salt-tinged air, Adam turned back to the islands. He lowered his mouth into the water to ease his hurting lungs, but left his eyes above the water. As he scanned the island chain, he thought he saw something – something gray and wispy rising high to the very sky above. A column of smoke! Impossible.
The noonday sun filtered down through the surface onto Adam’s back. He relished the familiar taste of Ocean; a taste that reminded him of impossible things, of hope and change. The taste of Ocean reminded Adam of life. The column of smoke reminded him of life yet still to live.
END BOOK ONE
Well, constant readers, that’s the end of the first book in The Waterwood Cycle.
Thanks for accompanying Adam, Spot, and Ramata throughout the year while I delivered the book. I hope to write the second sometime this year (but can’t say that I’ll present it in this same way). At any rate, I appreciate any time you took out of your day to read this site.
Have a happy New Year and, don’t forget, my latest book is available for purchase here.
What’s wrong? May I help?” Ramata asked.
“No, the suit isn’t coming off. Let’s swim closer to shore,” Adam said. He swam to where the water lapped up against the mountainside. “I’ll take the suit off later. For now, get behind me and squeeze my chest with both of your arms. You’ll have to squeeze fast and tight to force the breather out of my throat.”
“I’m going to miss you.” At the water-folk’s words, Adam turned from the mountaintops toward Ramata. “Adam, I’ll try to get other Tiskaloons to come help. We’re free now. We can move through Ocean again.”
Adam turned back around and rested his knees on the gentle, rocky slope. The top of his head lightly touched the surface of the water. “NOW!” He took a deep breath and Ramata wrapped their arms around him.
“Don’t forget where you’ve been, Adam. From where you’ve come.” Ramata squeezed quickly and with great force. Nothing happened.
“AGAIN!” Adam yelled.
“Why won’t you choose to remember Sesre?” Ramata asked and squeezed once more. Still nothing.
“AGAIN!” Adam yelled and flecks of blood sprayed into the water. Ramata did squeeze again and, afterwards, a steady stream of blood began to flow from Adam’s mouth. Adam swam backward to the shore, coughing and choking.
“I’m killing you, Adam!” Ramata cried.
Adam swam backward, struggling to break the water’s surface. Every exhalation brought bright blood along with it. He pulled his body halfway out of the water. In front of Adam loomed the vast spread of water that the planet had become. Behind him stood massive islands of seemingly barren rock, with nooks and crags that could both deter and shelter an inhabitant. Behind him waited the unknown.
Adam and Ramata broke the water’s surface near one of the many mountaintops that poked through. Above the water line, the string of mountaintops turned into a long, island chain, exposed like the humps of a gigantic sea serpent. Dry land. Adam stared in amazement but not for long. He had to get back under the water to breathe.
Ramata also dropped under. “So, that’s dry land, huh?”
“There isn’t much there.”
“What? Those islands are huge.”
“There isn’t much on them is what I meant. What will you eat and drink?”
Adam hadn’t given any thought to that. He broke the surface again and looked at the islands. Ramata was absolutely right. There wasn’t much on the islands at all. Some plants grew near shore, but they seemed like water plants – they wouldn’t last long outside in the air. He didn’t know if he could survive on lumps of barren rock.
Back under the water Adam breathed deeply. Cool, wet oxygen. “You’re right. There isn’t much there. But someday, maybe. That’s my home, Ramata.”
“What makes it home, Adam?”
“What do you mean? I’m a human. I belong on land.”
“If you insist, but remember Sesre’s story. I can help you with food while you’re up there, Adam, but remember Sesre’s story. She knew home is where you make it.”
“I’ve come too far to give up now, Ramata.”
“You’re giving up nothing! Look there! Barren rock! That’s your dry land! That’s what drove you to open the Drain!”
Adam paused. Again he knew Ramata was right. His own conscience told him, “That’s what took away Spot.”
Adam remained steadfast. “I’ve got to try.”
Ramata huffed and kicked. “Fool!”
“Please, help me,” Adam begged. He swam closer to the base of the island. A small shelf of sloping rock extended off from the side of the mountain and formed a hard, flat area – a beach of sorts. Adam swam to a shallow point in the water and rolled over on his back.
To get out of the water, he first had to take off his swim suit. But the suit stuck tight, as though it were glued to his legs. The harder he tugged, the tighter the suit gripped.
Goodbye, Spot,” he said. “I’m leaving now.” Then he began to cry. “I’m so, so sorry.” Adam swam up and away from the Drain, towards Ramata. “I’m ready,” he said.
The first thing Ramata did was to immediately take Adam to the surface. He hadn’t been to the surface since he’d accepted the waterwood box’s gifts. He couldn’t even guess how long ago that had been – a week, a month? When they broke the surface of the water the bright sunlight hurt his eyes. Neither could he breathe the air. He gasped and choked and ducked back underwater. Ramata came back under shortly thereafter. “Nothing yet. Let’s move it.”
They did this several times, rising to the surface, not finding whatever it was Ramata was looking for then going back under to swim many more miles. While swimming, they stayed rather close to the surface and Adam’s eyes started to adjust to the light that shone into the water. This was fortunate because the next time they popped out of the water, Ramata said, “There,” and pointed off into the distance.
Adam followed the water-folk’s finger and thought he saw it: a lump of land, hazy in the distance. Was it an illusion? His breath quickened and he choked. Adam went under the water and watched Ramata balancing above, half in and half out of the air.
“Is that what I think it is?” Adam asked when Ramata finally came back under.
“I think so. I hope so, for the sake of all that you’ve done. Those are the last of the high points I know of near here.”
“How much dry land do you think there will be?”
Ramata shrugged. “Let’s go see!” And so they swam to see.
As the pair drew nearer to the mountains, Adam slowed to appreciate their magnitude. He wondered which mountains they were before: the Himalayas, the Rockies, or the Andes. He could no longer tell, however, not with Ocean all around.
“Where does the Drain go?” Adam asked the older fish.
“Who here could know?” was the fish’s answer.
“Is Spot dead?”
“Spot is not here. This is all we can say.”
Adam hid his face in his hands. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t —.”
“Your choice was a grave mistake. Some mistakes are correctable. All mistakes must be dealt with. We will deal with your mistake; in memory, in love, and in sorrow. One choice may have one thousand results, none of which are preferable. You must now deal with your mistake. Ocean is forever changed; one thousand results from this single choice.”
The old fish finished speaking and the water creatures moved away from the ledge. Adam floated for a long time in absolute silence. He had nothing to say and no one to say it to if he did. He looked at Altern, passed out and plugging up the Drain. “I’m sorry, Spot,” he whispered. “Oh, I didn’t want you, or anyone, to get hurt. I just wanted to…I don’t know…I’m so sorry.”
“There will be dry land now.”
Adam turned around to see Ramata floating in front of him.
“Do you hate me?” Adam asked.
“I don’t hate you, Adam. I just wish you’d have listened. You don’t know everything.”
Adam sobbed, “I don’t know anything.”
“You know that there is dry land somewhere.”
“I don’t know where though.”
“Well, I know where to start looking.”
Adam looked into Ramata’s eyes. “And you’ll take me there?”
“Haven’t I been leading you all along?”
“When you’re ready, I’ll be up on the ledge. We’ve got to make some good of this,” she said before swimming away.
Adam nodded again. He swam to the Drain. Altern frightened him even while unconscious and stuck in a hole. She was going to be mighty upset when she woke up.
The roaring stopped with a final SUHWOOSH!. The quiet caressed the survivors and mourned with them those lost to the Drain. Adam looked around and then back to Altern, who was stuck in the drain from the beak up. Her two, swimming-pool eyes looked bewildered, yet wholly relieved. One tentacle, the one which still held on to Adam, remained free, sandwiched between her body and the Drain. Altern brought Adam close to her beak and he thought that now, more than ever, Altern planned to snap him in two. Instead she whispered in that papery rasp, “What have you done?” and closed her eyes.
Her tentacle loosened around Adam and floated down to the ocean floor, limp. Adam floated down as well, dazed. He lay on the ocean floor and looked up at the ceiling of the drainage chamber. What had he done?
One by one, the surviving sea creatures lined up on the ledge overlooking the Drain. Some stared in wonder, some in sadness, and others in utter rage.
“Altern’s plugged up the Drain,” said Ramata.
“We’ve lost…lost…,” chirped an urchin.
An old fish, clearly from Spot’s school, said, “Even though there will now be Land – to open the Drain was a grave mistake.”
Adam smiled and held his fists up high. “A mistake? No – this is what I wanted! Now the water-folk can move with freedom and I can get back to dry land!” Adam looked around. “Did you hear that Spot? Ramata?”
“I heard you,” Ramata replied.
The old fish repeated, “Your choice was a grave mistake.”
Adam’s smile slowly leaked from his lips. He fervently looked around for Spot. Adam noticed all the many types of water creatures surrounding him yet he didn’t see Spot among them.
The Drain of the World
The quicker fish darted away before the seal entirely broke. Once Ocean started to drain, however, it became more and more difficult for anything in the vicinity to escape the Drain’s pull.
Adam hung tightly to the Drain lever. He watched as one pair after another of accusatory eyes swept past him and down into the Drain. Even Altern could not resist the Drain’s pull. One tentacle after another whipped about looking for an anchor point. Eventually, one snaked around Adam’s waist. He felt like he was being torn apart – and he was. Adam’s grip on the lever slipped as Altern’s tentacle tightened around him.
The pain was agonizing but Adam didn’t let go. He wasn’t ready for the Drain, not yet. There would be dry land to follow this forced chaos and that’s all he was after – to be back on familiar ground. Adam screamed as loud as he could but the water that rushed past carried the scream down and away into the Drain. Adam couldn’t take any more. He let go of the lever.
Adam flipped around to gaze headlong into the hole sucking away the World. The water deafened him. Altern, in front of Adam and closer to the Drain, had not let go of Adam. Adam watched Altern’s tentacles stretch out over the Drain in an effort to prevent herself from being sucked in along with the rest of Ocean. The effort was futile and, one by one, the tentacles gave way to the Drain’s irresistible suction. Only the tentacle that held Adam remained outside of the Drain.
Altern’s body drew nearer to the opening. Adam blinked in disbelief as he saw that Altern’s body was much too large for the Drain. She wasn’t going to fit. A split second later, Altern also realized this. Then, the Drain sucked her body in and she was stuck in the Drain’s opening, leaving only her head and beak above its rim.