The Waterwood Box, 46

Catch up!

How’d they get light? Adam wondered. That thought passed though as he came to understand the massive scope of the valley city. The three, outer spires’ color inspired the rest of the city’s color scheme. From behind the blue spire sprawled out a thicket of blue buildings and roadways. The same thing occurred behind the pink and yellow spires. From this high up, Tiskaloo resembled a flower on the ocean floor; a flower moving and pulsating with light.

The manta took a sharp dip over and into the valley. A few urchins near the manta’s edge rolled away and sank down into the ocean that surrounded them. The sudden lurch surprised Adam but he held tight to the bench. Soon, rolling right up the middle of the manta’s back, Admiral Pinch appeared. He stopped at Adam’s tail fin.

“Look down there. Tell me what you see,” Pinch demanded.

Adam looked down the right wing of the manta as it banked in a spiral down, down, down towards the city. Lights hurried back and forth throughout most of the buildings. The only section immune to movement was the center-most ring around the white spire. No lights were on, nor did any move into, the center of the city.

“Looks busy,” Adam offered.

“Busy?” Pinch turned to a nearby urchin. “Busy, he says.” Then, back to Adam, “Boy, I’ve never seen your people move about so much. Busy? More like crazy. What are they doing down there? Tell me now!” Adam wished he had an answer for him.

“I don’t know. I’ve…I’ve been away.”

“—,” Pinch started to voice on objection but Adam cut him off with more of his imagined explanation.

“Besides, they don’t tell me much.”

Pinch accepted this and instead turned his attention away from Adam to a clinging urchin.

The Waterwood Box, 46

The Waterwood Box, 45

Catch up!

The spire never seemed to grow in height, only in width.

The closer they got, the better Adam could see that the spire top wasn’t a skyscraper, not even close. It was something else entirely that almost breached the surface of the ocean. Strangely though, no matter how close the manta came, Adam remained unable to the see the spire’s base. All he knew from this distance was that the spire was chalk-white, wide, and incredibly tall.

The closer the manta swam to the spire, the more details Adam could make out. Around the bottom of the spire were three small, cone-shaped, points. The points were each a different color: blue, pink, and yellow. They must be coral. What a strange reef, Adam thought. The formation fascinated him and although the manta was still a fair distance away from the spire, he couldn’t keep his eyes from it.

When finally the manta was close enough for Adam to understand what he’d been seeing all along, he still didn’t believe it. The tall, white spire did come close to breaking the surface of the water. And, yes, there were three, different-colored, pointed formations situated around the white spire. What Adam could now see, as the manta swam next to the lip of a deep, ocean rift, was that those three points were the tops of three other, individual spires. And all four spires extended down to the rift valley floor. The white one, the largest, rose up from the ocean bottom taller than five radio towers stacked one on top of the other.

At the bottom of the rift, Adam could see the city of Tiskaloo teeming with light and movement.

The Waterwood Box, 45

The Waterwood Box, 44

Catch up!

Off in the distance, Adam heard a familiar sound – like a loud wind or a distant train – and looked up from the city to witness a great wave amble towards the skyline. Even from Adam’s vantage up above the city, the great wave towered impossibly high. One moment, the wave hung suspended over the city like a frozen waterfall, the next moment it crashed over and into and through the city. The wave hit Adam too, and knocked him under the water for a second time. This time, however, he didn’t drown. He only floated, suspended in liquid above the sunken city.

The wave passed overhead. Nothing moved below. After some time, fish began to inspect the flooded buildings and abandoned alleyways. Adam watched the slow decay of the city unfold before him like a video on fast forward. Dirt and mud built up along the streets and avenues while some of the buildings toppled and stirred up a murky mess. Eventually, there remained only a husk of human life and Adam woke up.

Around Adam, the water temperature rose. As the water warmed, diffuse light seeped through the ocean top, illuminating the water with a blue-green glow. The color reminded Adam of the sponges he and his mother used to wash dishes. Mom, mom…Adam didn’t want to think the worst but it was harder and harder to keep the worst away. He missed his family.

The manta swam on through ever clearer water. Off in the distance, Adam saw a pointy spire that looked like the top of a skyscraper but, recalling his dream, Adam didn’t want to get up his hopes only to find the ruins of a human city. The manta seemed drawn to the spire like a fish on a line. Ever onward, the manta carried its crew.

The Waterwood Box, 44

The Waterwood Box, 43

Catch up!

What am I going to do when I get to Tiskaloo? Am I going to have to trick the water-folk like I’ve tricked the Urchin Army? How am I going to get home? This last question pressed upon Adam more than any other. Adam hadn’t seen for himself or heard anyone talk of land since he’d arrived. Do I even have a home anymore? These thoughts spun out of control. As long as the manta swam through deep, dark waters nothing captured Adam’s attention like his own nervous thoughts. Finally, he fell asleep.

Chapter 9
A Second Dream For a Flooded World

Adam dreamed of a large city brimming with people. He dreamed of a a city loud and bright. He floated over this city, watched cars moving, people crowding sidewalks. Adam heard traffic horns and emergency sirens and he floated up above it all. He soaked up all the people and the way they moved, one leg in front of another, then behind, one arm swinging forward while the other swung back, and he tried his best to keep focused on everything at once. Then Adam heard somebody scream. Ah, but in a city this large there was bound to be someone or another being hurt or frightened at almost every given moment. But then Adam heard another scream, and another. Soon, an entire chorus of screaming people burst forth from the rest of the city’s soundscape.

Adam saw why: flood waters. The first people to notice the water probably thought a water main somewhere had burst or that some punk kids had wrenched open a fire hydrant to soak themselves under the hot, noonday sun. As Adam watched, however, he saw the people realize what Adam already knew – the water wasn’t going to stop.
Flood waters rose to trap people driving in their cars. Those without power windows could swim out if they were quick enough to act. Many people ran into buildings and climbed onto a rooftop, but the water climbed right along with them.

The Waterwood Box, 43

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

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