The Waterwood Box, 60

Catch up!

Adam was close to pulling out his hair in frustration. Ramata just smiled and looked at Adam, Spot, and the door Frear swam behind. “They are discussing you staying here in Tiskaloo and you’ll never learn whether there is land or not.”

“Do you know?” Adam sarcastically asked.

“Haven’t any idea. But I’m not afraid to admit it either.”

“Oh, great,” said Adam. “That helps.”

“You didn’t let me finish. I don’t know, but I know someone who might. And this certain someone will at least give you an answer with some kind of evidence.” Ramata nodded toward Frear’s door. “Which is a lot more than I can say for the answers you’ll get here.” Ramata finished her sentence and the door opened up. Frear swam out with an armload of supplies, a kelp quilt, a brush to scrub the fins of Adam’s tail pants, and a key carved from coral.

“C’mon,” Frear said. “I’ve found you a place to stay.” Then Frear noticed Ramata. “Ah, good. You can escort our guest. Grey Hole, Never-Dry Burroughs. Do you know the one?”

“Of course,” she answered. “Follow me.” Ramata led the pair away from Frear and back towards the city center. Frear called out, “I’ll be by later to check in on you, Adam.”

In a quiet breath, Ramata said, “Clueless,” and continued on. Adam and Spot followed, Adam’s hands full of the gear Frear gave him.

“That was kind of him,” Spot said.

Abruptly, Ramata called back, “Do you want to find out if there’s any land left coming out of Ocean?” The water-folk paused to let them catch up.

Adam answered, “I thought you said that no Tiskaloon could give us a real answer.”

“No one in Tiskaloo can. We’ll have to find the answer elsewhere.”

“But Frear said they might be able to help.”

“Frear is distracted by all that’s going on with the Urchin Army. They may be able to help, but not for some time. Until then, all they can do is make you comfortable.”

“So what can you do?” Spot asked. “My school has also never heard of land.”

“And has your school talked with a Turtle?” snapped Ramata.

“NowehavenotandIseriouslydoubtyouhaveeithercomeonAdamwater-folkleadingusonawildgoosechase.”

“No, I’m not leading you on a chase. I know where a Turtle lives and I can take you both there. If anyone knows anything about land above Ocean, that salty, old thing does.”

The Waterwood Box, 60

The Waterwood Box, 59

Catch up!

“Those urchins who dropped you off will be back someday, someday soon.”

“What do you plan to do?” Adam asked, his personal troubles forgotten for the moment.

Frear smiled and again Adam thought that, when smiling, the water-folk wasn’t so bad. “Trying to do anything as a group is impossible in Tiskaloo. Now, mind you, I’m not questioning the wisdom of the zigga. But sometimes it is hard to manage with everyone so intent on honoring themselves first. So, I plan to put my opinion in the water with everyone else’s and hope that we all come to swim the same current. Presently, however, I plan to find a place for you and the fish to stay.”

“My name is Spot.”

“Spot fish,” Frear returned. Frear opened the door where the commotion continued, then squeezed in, leaving Adam and Spot alone.

“Adam, are you OK?”

“Why didn’t you tell me, Spot? You knew.”

“I didn’t know you didn’t know! How do I know what humans teach each other?”

Though angry, Adam recognized that Spot was right. How would the fish know?

“There’s got to be land, Spot. Frear hasn’t swam through all of Ocean.”

“Yes, that seems true. But, Adam, I’ve never heard of any actual land either, only in stories.”

“Well, somebody’s got to know something.”

“That somebody isn’t here,” chimed a voice from above Adam and Spot. Ramata sat on a rooftop, looking down on them. “You won’t get two shells of knowledge from a Tiskaloon.”

“What do you mean?”

“Knowledge is subjective here. That means that when the world presents a fact — this coral is hard — ,” the water-folk rapped knuckles on the roof top, “ — then each and every explanation that interprets that fact is OK by Tiskaloo. Then comes debate and talk and discussion and committee then, finally, after enough people have their say, we reach an agreement.”

“Well, that’s not too bad a place to be. Probably pleases a lot of people.”

Ramata floated off the roof-top and sunk to Adam’s level. “It is a bad place to be when you’re trying to decide how you should defend your people and need to act fast.”

“We have the same problem where I come from. We debate and vote and it all works out in the end.”

“And where did that get you?” Ramata wanted to know. “Look, you can’t ask, ‘Is there any land?’ of a Tiskaloon because no one ever bothers to check whether there is any land or not. They just talk about it and since enough have agreed that land doesn’t exist – land doesn’t exist!”

“I knew it!” Adam cried. “There could be land.”

“There could be. Could not be, too. That’s not the point.”

“What is the point?” piped Spot, who grew tired of these word games when he wasn’t with his school.

“The point is that any Tiskaloon will give you their opinion and expect you to consider that as some truth about Ocean beyond Tiskaloo even though most have never even been that far outside of Tiskaloo. But, you aren’t supposed to ask them how they know what they know. It isn’t considered proper to question their opinion. The point, Spot, is this: we don’t know for certain.”

The Waterwood Box, 59

The Waterwood Box, 58

Catch up!

“You mustn’t mind her too much. She has lots of ideas but no small inkling of how best to broach them among her own people. Now, you were about to tell me what I could do to help you.”

“I want to go home,” Adam said, for what seemed like the millionth time.

“If you mean home, to land, I told you – there is no more land. If you mean home, among the water-folk – I welcome you.”

“I mean home, my house, my room, my parents.”

“I cannot help.”

Spot chirped up then. “But, surely you must know something. What about Sesre’s beach?”

Frear was patient but firm. “Truly, I tell you, there is no land. There are countless ruins, but no land above the water.”

Chapter 12
A Plan Swells Together

Adam choked up. “R-r-ruins?” remembering his dream of the ruined city.

“Yes,” Frear continued, “ruins of humanity. That’s why our city was so agitated to see you. The human world flooded many, many years ago and, so we assumed, all of Sesre’s descendants right along with it.”

“B-but – that’s impossible! It couldn’t have been that long ago.” Frear said nothing. “But I’m the one who did it! I flooded the world! I was there!”

“Child, I cannot explain the curse that’s brought you here and tricked your mind. Still, I assure you, these are human ruins I speak of.”

“What am I going to do?” Adam asked, grief-stricken.

“Don’t worry, Adam,” consoled Spot. “We’ll think of something.”

“Please, you’ll be more than comfortable here,” Frear offered. “Just let me go inside and see if there’s been any resolution. Then, I can work on getting you situated in Tiskaloo.”

“Resolution?” Spot asked.

“Yes, yes. All the hubbub you came in upon. We’re trying to decide what to do about Altern and the Urchin Army. Altern’s grip grows tighter every day.”

The Waterwood Box, 58

The Waterwood Box, 57

Catch up!

Adam turned to Spot. “So, that’s why you brought me here? To hear this?” Adam was upset. He’d hoped to find a way to get back to land, not listen to some dreamed up tale about the origins of humanity.

Spot swam up close. “No. I brought you here because you needed help and I knew the Tiskaloons would want to help. You share a common heritage.”

“Adam, what is it you need?” asked Frear. A ruckus sounded inside the dwelling. The rough door opened and a young water-folk popped out from the crowded doorway. “Frear, you deal with this,” came a voice from within.

The water-folk curled up in a ball. “Leave me alone. You’re on a fool’s mission armed with worthless weapons. Self-interest philosophy won’t prevent Altern from taking Tiskaloo. We need to unite!”

Frear went over and lifted the water-folk’s chin. “Ramata, you are young. The Crisis has yet to come upon you. Keep your dreams, yes, but not at the expense of what your heart and mind tell you to be true. Make yourself presentable. We shouldn’t talk politics in front of guests.”

Ramata set their jaw firm and turned their pale face towards Adam and Spot. “Is that the human?” Ramata’s bright green eyes went from Adam to Frear to Adam again. They ran a hand through their dark blue hair and straightened up their proud body. “Maybe you can talk some sense into Frear. Don’t you think a war is best fought as a unit rather than a loose gang of stubborn ego-maniacs?”

Adam hesitated so Frear jumped in.  “Excuse my sibling. They’re young and inexperienced. Adam, Spot, this is Ramata.”

“Hello,” said Adam, unsure about this new person. Their entire body quivered as though they were about to explode.

“How do?” asked Spot.

“I’m angry. Thank you. Goodbye.” Ramata’s powerful tail kicked out a strong gust of water and they swam off among the blue-tinted, coral alleyways of the city.

The Waterwood Box, 57

The Waterwood Box, 56

Catch up!

“Sesre’s legs grew stronger the more they used them. Soon, they no longer needed hands and arms for support. Sesre could walk upright. Not very well, but Sesre could walk. And walk Sesre did. Every day they walked a little further inland than they had the day before. One day, they didn’t show for their usual visit with the water-folk and the water-folk began to worry. First one day, then many more went by with no visits from Sesre.”

“Eventually, Sesre returned to the water-folk full of fascinating stories about the inland. Sesre talked of seaweed that grew hard as a rock and of creatures with four legs and animals that swam through the air as though they were dartfish. Sesre told the water-folk, ‘I must return inland, for my heart and mind are no longer bound to Ocean. I shall not return again to meet you on this beach.'”

“This upset the water-folk and, after some debate, they decided to accompany Sesre. Ten of the water-folk attempted to rid themselves of scales and tails. Six succeeded. Two died while trying, and the other two couldn’t remove their scales and tails no matter what they tried. These two were charged with going back to Tiskaloo to tell the others Sesre’s story.”

“With Sesre’s help, the six that made it out of the water learned to move. The seven walked inland and never returned, as Sesre vowed, to that particular piece of beach.”

“But that doesn’t explain humans,” Adam protested. “Just because the water-folk got rid of their water-parts doesn’t mean that their babies wouldn’t have them.”

“Perhaps the parents removed the babies’ tails at birth? I don’t know either. But, that’s the story as we are told it. And now that I see you here before me, Adam, I believe the story so much more.”

The Waterwood Box, 56

The Waterwood Box, 55

Catch up!

“Yes, well, legs of a sort. Sesre had indeed pulled off their own scales and tail and found something like legs underneath. Unfortunately, Sesre didn’t see this as an advantage in their new situation. Instead, they sat on the shore lamenting the loss of their gorgeous water-parts. Sesre wailed and begged for Erato to take mercy upon them. The other water-folk heard Sesre’s cries and offered small consolations. They moved the rock which still pinned Sesre’s scales and tail and brought them to Sesre upon the beach.”

“’Here, you can put them back on and rejoin us,’” the water-folk suggested. Sesre tried and failed. They felt their life was now over. They grew hungry and began to crawl along the shoreline in search of shellfish to eat. They came upon a crab and just before picking it up to eat it, paused. Sesre had seen countless crabs during their lifetime but had never before paid close attention to how they lived their lives. Now, however, they interested Sesre very much. The crab, you see, uses its legs to move in a scuttling motion over the sand. So Sesre imitated the crab and pushed herself up on hands and legs. At first, they couldn’t move like the crab, but with practice they became able to move easily and quickly through the shallow waters.”

“Like the crab, Sesre scuttled up and down the beach. They found shellfish among the pebbles and caught small fish to stay alive. By day, they combed the beach and at night they crawled completely out of the shallow water to curl up in a small cove uncovered by the receding tide. The water-folk kept Sesre company as best they could. For those that could remain out of the water for a small time, Sesre offered shellfish and they in turn brought seaweed to adorn Sesre’s hair and body.”

The Waterwood Box, 55

The Waterwood Box, 54

Catch up!

“The water-folk in charge of Ocean at landrise did their jobs as best they could. Then, one day, a most curious event occurred. A small group of water-folk decided to get as close to landrise as possible without drowning in air.”

“Day after day, they would come up out of the water, force themselves to struggle to breathe, then fall back to Ocean for a refresh. Over time, their experiment, in a way,  acclimated them to breathing air instead of water. One particularly curious day, a water-folk named Sesre was exploring near landrise and got their tail stuck under a large rock. They were halfway out of the water already while the tide kept getting further and further out. Sesre grew desperate, thinking that their end was near. They struggled frantically to get free when, in one curious instant, they pulled so hard that they slipped right out of their scales. Those scales stayed pinned under the rock while Sesre lay on a soft, sandy beach, barely able to breathe.”

“Sesre pulled their way up the beach, taking in labored breaths, trying not to panic. When they did this they found they could breathe, if only barely. Sesre clawed and crawled. They were exhausted. When finally they dared to look down at what had become of their bottom half, they cringed in fear. They saw a bloody, runny, mass of flesh. They splashed salty, sea water on their wounds. The water washed and helped to heal them. Sesre saw that where scales and tail once were, two, thin pieces of muscle-covered bone remained. Two, separate limbs, mind you.”

“Legs…” Adam whispered.

The Waterwood Box, 54