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.

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The Waterwood Box, 86

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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.

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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!”

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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.”

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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.”

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Chapter 18
A Complex Of Strict Arrangments

The urchins chattered and chittered at Adam’s bold behavior. Pinch himself seemed unsure of how to respond. “Uh…very well then,” Pinch finally managed to chirp out. He then barked so loudly that everyone jumped, Adam included. A few seconds later, a group of urchins left on-board the manta let down a large, weighted net. The urchins at the bottom rolled away to allow for the net to spread out completely as it came to rest.

When the net settled, the urchins rolled onto it, fighting each other for space while rolling on top of one another. Once the entire mess of urchins squeezed together, Pinch turned to the three and asked, “To Altern?”

Ramata hesitated. Adam said to the water-folk, “It’s the only way.” After some hesitation, Ramata followed Adam into the milling mass. Spot was close behind. Pinch then barked again, abrupt and loud enough to frighten the three outsiders.

The manta took off at a slow pace. Immediately, the net curled up around them all, jostling the urchins about while they chattered and chittered and cursed each other’s presence. Adam, Ramata, and Spot were the lucky ones in this situation. Because they could swim, they could stay close to the top of the closed net and away from the pile of urchins that collected at the net’s bottom. Glad for a chance to rest after their long journey, Adam grabbed the netting and held tight, letting the water rush past him as the manta carried them to where, despite the obvious dangers, he hoped to do what he could to get back home.

The manta swam over row upon row of the urchins’ coral hovels. Adam wondered how many there were, spread out below, surrounding Altern’s complex. At first, the hovels were spaced at regular intervals, perhaps a few hundred yards between them. As they approached their destination, however, the hovels had less and less space between them. Soon, the manta swam over nothing but hovels, all perfectly lined up with just enough space between them to let a single urchin roll through. “This is huge…how many do you think there are?” Adam asked Spot.

“Too many, Adam,” Spot said. “Far too many.”

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In the distance, Adam could already see a manta coming their way. Admiral Pinch and the Urchin Army were no doubt atop the manta, delighted at the prospect of handing over such vile trespassers to King Altern.

“Look, Spot, seem familiar?” Adam directed Spot’s attention to the manta.

Spot sighed. “Our old friend, Admiral Pinch.”

The manta stopped a good distance above the three travelers. Adam, Ramata, and Spot looked up at the manta’s underside. Urchins dropped off the manta, at first one-by-one, then they plummeted in droves, slowly sinking to Ocean’s floor, landing on top of each other, and rolling around to claim a spot of individual space.

Soon, the urchins covered all the seabed around, where they chattered and barked amongst themselves.

“We could still swim for it,” said Adam. “These things can’t follow.” Wide-eyed and nervous, Ramata looked with hope at Adam. The water-folk turned to Spot.

“We’ll be fine here,” Spot said. Hope drained from Ramata’s face.

The last few urchins dropped off the manta like paratroopers without any chutes. On Ocean’s floor, one urchin among the many rolled its way to a front-most position. The other urchins quieted.

“And I thought taking you home would be the last I saw of you,” chittered Admiral Pinch.

“Well, Admiral, as a wise Turtle once told me, ‘That’s what you get for thinking.’” Adam said with a smile.

“Snarky, water-man. You may be certain that Altern will fix that part of you.”

“Good, good,” Adam said with no hesitation. Ramata and Spot looked at each other, unnerved by the cool, even tone in Adam’s voice. “I hope you take us to the King soon. That’s why we’re here, after all.” Ramata smacked Adam on the shoulder but he refused to acknowledge it and went on with his steady-handed charade. “Are we ready to go? Don’t you think you’ve kept us waiting long enough?” Even Adam was surprised at his confidence and surety. He knew answers were close.

“I warned you once, child, about your impudence. Don’t-”

“Admiral, take us to King Altern or leave us be to find the King ourselves. There will be no more talking.”

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