The Waterwood Box, 88

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“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?”

Adam nodded.

“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.

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The Waterwood Box, 88

The Waterwood Box, 87

Catch 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.

“Spot? Look!”

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 Waterwood Box, 87

The Waterwood Box, 86

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Chapter 20
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.

The Waterwood Box, 86

The Waterwood Box, 85

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“Others survived, like me?” Adam sniffled.

“Hardly. You flooded the world, Adam Might. It’s a mystery that you’ve survived this long, even with the suit and breather. Nevertheless, we do thank you. All of us.” Altern slowly spun Adam around. No longer was she referring to herself as “we,” for lined up along the ravine’s edge were all types of sea-life. Adam saw urchins, fish, whales, sharks, anemone, eels, octopuses, rays, and other creatures he couldn’t name. Adam saw Spot, and Spot’s school. What Adam didn’t see was any Tiskaloons.

“You see,” Altern continued, “life continues. Not life as you knew it, but life as we know it. As a token of our appreciation, you’ve already been presented with the means that enable you to live among us.”

Altern swam down, back under the rock shelf. She brought Adam along. Up above, on the ravine’s edge, the creatures watched them both disappear underneath.

“The Drain is just under here, Adam. I’m happy to show it to you.”

And there it was. The Drain of the World. Adam hadn’t expected the object of his desire to be right there. He figured it would be far away, the goal of yet another long journey. The Drain was plugged up by a large, rock stopper. The top of the stopper connected to a giant pulley and lever system. If Adam could pull the lever, he could remove the plug and drain the world dry. To Adam’s surprise, Altern brought him to the lever and put him down in front of it.

“Well, here we are. Your beloved Drain. What now do you plan to do with it? Draining the world will not bring back your family, Adam. They are drowned; dead some thousand years past.”

“I don’t care.”

“Dear boy, you must understand. Draining the world will kill you, too. You are a part of Ocean now. There is no going back for you. So, look at the Drain all you like but to pull the lever is foolishness.”

Adam put his hand on the lever. “I don’t care. I don’t want to be part of Ocean. I don’t belong here.”

“You belong wherever you are, child.”

“ADAM!”

Adam turned to see Spot swim under the rock lip and into the drainage chamber. “Adam! You can’t do it. You’ll kill us all. We need the water to live. All of us. Please, Adam.”

Other fish and sea creatures made their way into the chamber. Soon the place was full of pleading sea-life. Adam looked from face to face and fin to fin, his hand still on the lever.

“Come, dear boy. You have no choice,” Altern whispered.

“I HAVE NO CHOICE?” Adam screamed. “No choice?!” he repeated, then pulled the lever.

The Waterwood Box, 85

The Waterwood Box, 84

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“I know who you are,” Adam sneered.

“Watch your impudence, young human. You are in the presence of royalty and should behave yourself accordingly.”

“Are you going to eat me?” Adam couldn’t help himself.

“No. We have you close to our mouth so that you’re able to hear us. Our beak noises travel well through the water. Our tongue noises do not. Besides, why would we want to eat you, our incredible little helper?”

Adam didn’t understand. “How did I help you?”

Altern’s tentacles swept the area in an indicative gesture. “You obviously opened our gift.”

At Altern’s mention of the waterwood box, Adam’s stomach filled with bile. He felt ill.

“Y-y-your gift…the box?”

“Why, of course, the box. The waterwood box. Always filled with surprises.” Altern’s beak snapped shut and opened again several times in mimic of a giggle.

“My family, my friends, my world…are all gone, probably dead, because of your ‘gift’!”

“Not because of our gift, dear boy…” Altern lifted Adam right-side up, “…but because you opened our gift.”

Adam began to cry. “IT’S NOT MY FAULT! HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW?”

“You weren’t supposed to know. You were just supposed to choose. Our hope was that you would choose to open the box. It was all so very long ago that we placed the waterwood, hoping for one to open it and spill the drop. As for the box’s other surprises…well, the waterwood does what it does best, turn things upside-down.”

“Why me?” Adam cried.

“Why not you? That seems the better question. What makes you immune from the actions of others? We made a choice to give the box. You made a choice to open it. And we are most certainly glad you did. Forever ago, your kind was a burden. Your kind had forgotten its origins, had forgotten the waterwood tree. This planet should have never been called Earth, Adam. There was never that much earth to it. And now there isn’t any earth anywhere and the planet can rightfully be called Ocean, or Sea, or Water, or something more fitting. You things, you humans, came from Ocean, and to Ocean have you been returned!”

The Waterwood Box, 84

The Waterwood Box, 83

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Chapter 19
King Altern Unfolds

The Lady King Altern, a brick-red color, undulated out from under the flat shelf of rock. She was a colossal squid, longer than a semi-truck, capable of sinking an ocean liner, and she slowly rose to her full length. On either side of her pointed, shell-like head, Altern had eyes as large as swimming pools. Sinewy, stringy tentacles seemed to trail out to infinity behind her. If ever there was a true, sea monster – she was it. Altern’s mouth, a giant beak, wholly alien on an Ocean creature, clicked open and close, open and close so slowly. The clicking, muffled in the water, sounded like two flat rocks smashing together. Altern swam alongside Adam until she had him lined up in front of one of her gigantic eyes. Adam trembled in the water. Each crack of Altern’s beak reverberated inside of Adam and worked its way back out through his trembles. Altern floated there, staring at Adam.

Adam finally spoke. “I’m here for the Drain of the World.”

Altern did not reply but continued to snap her beak in that unnerving rhythm.

Adam spoke again. “I’m here for the–”

One of Altern’s tentacles whipped out and snaked itself tightly around Adam’s bottom half. Altern whisked Adam from his upright position and dangled him, upside down, right in front of her cracking beak. Closer and closer. Adam was going to be Altern’s food! Then the beak stopped moving. Inside the beak, Adam saw a large tongue working. Altern’s voice came out in a raspy, but surprisingly soft whisper, “Who…are you?”

“I’m here for the Drain of the World. Show it to me.”

Altern repeated, “Who are you? Who are you to address Us with such demands? We take orders from no Tiskaloons just as no Tiskaloons take orders from Us.”

Adam stood firm. “I’m not Tiskaloon. I’m human. My name is Adam Might.”

Altern’s beak snapped shut. The sound startled Adam and he jumped inside of Altern’s tight grip. Slowly, the beak opened and Altern whispered into Adam’s ears, “So, you’re the human, the screamer, the instigator. Now it all makes sense. Your disguise fooled well my admiral. Your disguise fooled Us and it’s been so very, very long since We were fooled. Are you quite sure you’re only in disguise?” The tentacle loosened around Adam as another slithered around to tug at his suit. “We are sorry for being so rude. We are King Altern.”

The Waterwood Box, 83

The Waterwood Box, 82

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Ahead in the distance Adam noticed a break in the grid. The manta turned and swam towards this clearing. Adam saw that the clearing was actually a large, rock shelf that stretched out over a shallow basin. The tight grid of coral hovels resumed on the other side of the basin.

The manta stopped directly above the clearing and the urchins up top signaled the net’s release. The thick, dark ropes tumbled downward and the net, along with everyone in it, drifted downward. Adam, Ramata, and Spot climbed out of the top and swam down to the clearing.

While the net full of urchins touched down, Adam took in the immensity of his surroundings. This was indeed a complex. Building after drab building as far as the eye could see and in every possible direction. Adam then heard some scuffling behind him. He turned to see a pile of urchins forming around Ramata and Spot. The urchins rolled up each other’s backs to form walls to separate the three friends.

Adam heard Ramata cry out once, but only once. He didn’t hear any noise at all from Spot. Adam himself was soon enclosed within a dark shell of living urchins. A shaft of light then broke through the walls, then another, and another as Adam’s urchin cell began to dismantle itself. By the time Adam could again see around, most of the urchins that had been on the clearing were nowhere to be seen. He watched the few stragglers roll off down the tight streets – maybe they were headed home. Only one urchin remained on the clearing with Adam, Admiral Pinch.

“Where are my friends?”

“Safe. Away, away.”

Adam clenched his fists. “What have you done with them?”

“These are the King’s orders: ‘Leave the child, take the other two.’ I don’t question my King.”

“I have a question for your King.”

“Oh, you do?”

“Yes, I must ask him something.”

“Then, by all means, you should ask her.” Admiral Pinch barked then rolled away from the shelf lip, his spikes twitching with laughter.

“Her?” Adam asked.

Pinch, with shrill excitement, replied, “Yes, child. I present to you, for all your precious questioning, Her Royal Wetness, the Lady King Altern.”

The Waterwood Box, 82