The Waterwood Box, 39

Catch up!

Adam sighed. The whole world was turned upside down and now, here he was, taking orders from a fish. He didn’t like the idea of returning to the manta but he liked even less the idea of being found out as a faker by Pinch and the Urchin Army.

“OK,” Adam finally said. “I’m going back up there.”

“Gooood luuuuck,” said the starfish who, up until this point, had remained silent. Adam was about to say thanks but Spot cut him off in an unusually bitter tone.

“Shh. Don’t talk to that thing. Have you been speaking to it?” And then to Lettles, “Get out of here. You’re going to give us away. Go do your job.”

Adam reminded himself to ask Spot why he was so mean to the starfish. Lettles, however, paid Spot no mind. It simply turned around and ambled back into the kelp.

“NOW GO!” Spot yelled to Adam.

Adam shot up into the water that bordered the forest edge. There were plenty of fish swimming about so he was able to make his way from one group to the other in a zig-zag line up to the manta. None of the urchins paid any attention to him at all. Adam had sneaked off, and back onto, the manta under Admiral Pinch’s command without any trouble whatsoever!

Chapter 8
An Admiral Explanation

Back on the bench, Adam positioned himself so that it looked like he’d been sleeping the whole time Admiral Pinch was off the manta. He was lying down, hands under his head, when Pinch returned to check up on him. The sound of shrill, urchin barking “woke” Adam and he sat up.

“A-ha! The sleepy water-man wakes,” Pinch said. “Isn’t there a children’s tale about that?”

 


 

Today marks, give or take a bit, the halfway mark in this experiment. To those reading and commenting and sending e-mails about the story, thank you! If you are one of those folks enjoying the tale thus far, I’d love for you to share it with your friends and family. If you’re not that into it, that’s OK too. I get it! Thanks, as always, for your eyeballs and time.

The Waterwood Box, 39

THE WATERWOOD BOX, 38

Catch up!

No one here had ever seen a human so no one considered that he might be one. Adam guessed that might not be such a bad thing after all so he changed the subject. “Why do you work here, Lettles?”

“Dooooo I haaaaveee aaaa chooooiiice?”

Adam, surprised by the starfish’s answer, didn’t know what to say. He opened his mouth several times but closed it every time he thought he had an appropriate reply. No response seemed sufficient. He wanted to say, “Yes, of course you have a choice,” but then he remembered his own inability to refuse Admiral Pinch’s offer and wondered how much of a choice the starfish had after all.

A familiar striped face and speedy voice darted into the kelp forest.
“AdamamIgladtoseeyouareyouallrightcomeonwegottagetyououttahere!” It was Spot, excited as ever. Spot’s eyes tried to take in everything at once, he was so nervous.

“Spot!” Adam cried. “I’m glad to see you, too.”

“Cmoncmoncmon,” Spot spouted while swimming in circles around Adam. “I saw Admiral Pinch getting ready to board the manta.”

Adam gasped and swam to the edge of the kelp. He looked up to the manta and, sure enough, members of the Urchin Army were loading large, kelp-packaged supplies and newly “recruited” urchins up onto the manta’s back. Adam didn’t see the Admiral but didn’t doubt Spot.

“Well, where are we going to run?”

“Run? Running requires legs! But anyway, we’re not running anywhere. You need to get back onto the manta!” Spot said.

“What? No way. I’m not going back there. I thought you were here to help.”

“I am. But, if you ride to Tiskaloo with the urchins you’re guaranteed to get there safely. You and I alone is a much more dangerous plan.”

THE WATERWOOD BOX, 38

The Waterwood Box, 37

Catch up!

“An Army farm? You mean…th-they grow urchins? For the Army? Adam began to think that leaving the manta wasn’t such a good idea after all. “What do you do here?”

“Iiiiii’mmmmm aaaaa faaaaarrrrmerrrr. Lllllleeeettlllleeees’sssss mmmyyyyyyy naaaame-,” here Lettles the starfish stuttered, which sounded most bizarre to Adam’s ears considering how slowly the starfish already spoke, “-eerrrr, Iiii meeannn nnummmbeeeerr Twwwooo Fiiivveeee Eeeiiighhhht Twooooo.”

“You don’t have to give my your number, Lettles. I’m not with the Army.”

“But Iiiii saaawww yooouuu coooooommme dowwwwnnnn froooommm theeee mmmmmaaaaannnttttaaaa tooooo iiiinnnssspeeecct mmmmmyyyy wwwooorrrrk.”

“No,” Adam corrected, “I came down because Admiral Pinch left. He is holding me on board. I escaped.” At this, Lettles gasped and each of his five appendages curled up to cover its mouth, forgetting that he was using two of those appendages to prop itself up. The starfish fell right over onto its back. Adam moved to help Lettles.

“Yyyyoooouuu hhhaaavveee toooooo llleeeaavvveee. Yoooouuuu’rrrree aaaaa ddaaannngggeeerrr toooo uussss allll.”

“I’m not going anywhere yet. I’m waiting for a friend of mine who will know what to do.” Adam nervously peeked out into the open water beyond the cover of the kelp. No sign of Spot. He darted a glance up towards the manta. It didn’t seem to be moving – yet. He hoped Spot hurried.

“Aaarreeee yoouuuuu trrryyyiinngg toooo gggeeett hooommmmmee?” asked Lettles from behind him. The question surprised Adam. He was trying to get home and he wondered how Lettles could know that. But then he remembered that everyone thought he was water-folk and home was Tiskaloo. Adam was slow to respond and when he finally did he simply said, “Yes, I am.”

“Wwwwwweeeeelll, Tisskaaaaloooo’sss nooot thaaat farrrr awwwaaayyyy. Iiiifff yooouuuu cuuut throoouuuugh theeee fooorrressstt, thhhhaaaat iisss…”

“I’m not-” Adam began, then figured it would be too dangerous to explain otherwise.

The Waterwood Box, 37

The Waterwood Box, 36

Catch up!

Adam decided to disregard the Admiral’s orders and, as soon as the Admiral dropped out of sight, Adam took off. He swam low over the back of the manta, over the urchin crew and the cargo tied down atop the manta’s back. After he cleared the manta’s tail he swam down to a smaller portion of the kelp forest that was off to one side. He hoped Spot was paying attention.

Adam swam two rows deep into the forest then got behind the large base of one plant to keep watch on the manta above. Things seemed all right so far. Adam felt a fuzzy something tapping his shoulder and heard a slow, “Excuuuuuuuuuuse me,” behind him. Adam jumped and swam around to put the kelp stalk in between him and whatever had touched him. He peeked around the plant and saw a huge starfish, balanced upright on two of its five points. The starfish spoke to Adam through a hole smack dab in the middle of its body.

“Nooooooo neeeeeeed toooo beeee afraiiiiiid. Aaaaare yooooooou reeeeecruuuuuuuitiiiiing alllllreeeeeeadyyyyy?”

“Recruiting?” The question baffled Adam.

“Yeeeees. Loooooooook arrrroouuuuuuund yooooouuuuuu.” The starfish swept one of his thick, light-orange “arms” out to one side of the kelp forest. Adam’s eyes followed the movement, yet failed to see what the starfish was getting at. The starfish tried again. “Looooook dooooooowwwwwwwwnnnn aaand aarrrrrrrouuuund yoooouuu.”

Adam looked at the floor of the kelp forest. The bottom of the ocean floor was covered with tiny purple and red spiky balls; baby urchins.

“What is this place?” Adam asked while still trying to take in the massive number of urchins the forest housed. If hundreds rode on the mantra’s back…there must be thousands, a million, here.

“Whhhhaaaaaaaat? Whyyyyyyyyy, thiiiiiiiisssss iisssss aaaaaan Urrrrrrrrrchiiiiiin Aaarrrrmmyy faaarrrmmm, nuuuuuuummmmmmbeeeeerrrrr thiiiiiiiirrrrrrtyyyyy-threeeeeeeeeeeeeee, toooooo beeeee exaaaaaaaact.”

The Waterwood Box, 36

The Waterwood Box, 35

Catch up!

While in transit, there wasn’t much in the way of scenery to entertain Adam. His trip on the manta was unlike any trip he’d ever taken with his family. The murky, ocean water didn’t allow him to see much of his surroundings. Thankfully, the manta never dove down deep enough to escape all the light. He would have been much less willing to cooperate with the urchins were they traveling in total darkness. Some light filtered in from above and occasionally he’d catch a glimpse of something small, blue, and black off in the distance.

The manta made several stops along the way. At one stop, alongside an underwater cliff, the Admiral inquired about the disturbance to a family of octopuses living inside of hollows in the cliff face. The octopuses admitted to having heard the cry, but could say nothing of actually seeing anything out of the ordinary. The Admiral also steered the manta to a kelp forest. The seaweed grew in relatively shallow water and Adam could see all the way to the ocean floor. Up above, Adam saw the blurred outline of a warm, full sun. However shallow the water, Adam saw no signs of land.

The dull-green kelp plants swayed back and worth like grass in the wind. Hundreds of fish swam in and about the long, finger-like, fronds. Tiny snails and crabs covered the fronds and stalks. Adam asked if he might swim about the forest and the Admiral squeaked, “Stay right where you are. We won’t be long.” He then turned to the rest of the urchins and squeaked loudly, “That goes for the rest of you, too. I know this is home for many of you, but we are not on leave. You do not have permission to disembark the manta.” Adam watched Admiral Pinch and his entourage drop off the edge of the manta wing and listened to the disgruntled chatter of the urchins left aboard in his wake.

The Waterwood Box, 35

The Waterwood Box, 34

Catch up!

“-hungry?” Adam screamed as Admiral Pinch stood holding out some white bits of meat.
“You are quite possibly the strangest water-man I’ve ever met. What in the sea are you screaming about?”

“Nothing.” Adam remembered that he shouldn’t talk much. “Just a bad dream.”

“Humpf. Eat some food then. We don’t want your people thinking you haven’t been treated with the utmost respect.” Adam watched this creature talk and hated it for its air of superiority and contempt. The Diamond Fins, the manta, the water-folk, nothing measured up in the urchins’ view. The only real sense of civility Adam had heard come from the Admiral was when he spoke of King Altern. “Tell me about the dream,” the Admiral said.

“I’d rather not,” Adam snapped.

The Admiral twitched. “Now you’re sounding like water-folk.” He rolled off to speak with one of the many urchins that surrounded him. The Admiral left the bits of meat on the bench for Adam to do with what he pleased.

“It was about my parents,” Adam whispered. “My dream was about home.” His tears trailed out behind him, as always, mixing instantly with the seawater all around.

Chapter 7
The Army Farm

The journey to Tiskaloo was, for the most part, uneventful. Adam sat on the bench almost the entire way. Time didn’t seem to mean so much under the water. For one thing, it was hard for Adam to tell what time it ever was. He slept when he felt tired, not when the surface looked dark because, although he could tell when it was light or dark up above, he could never know whether the dark meant nighttime or a storm. Eventually, he gave up trying to keep track of days going by and just accepted that time was measured differently in Ocean.

The Waterwood Box, 34

The Waterwood Box, 28

Catch up!

“We’ve seen nothing, Admiral. Our school has been on retreat in these waters for two weeks and has encountered nothing but jellyfish and the occasional whale,” replied one fish.

“A non-Ocean cry? A bird?” questioned another fish.

“We suspect the cry may be…human,” squealed Admiral Pinch and, at the word “human”, all the urchins on the manta squawked their disapproval.

Adam shifted around in the back of the group. He was doing his best to stay invisible. Although he knew nothing about the urchins other than what Spot had said, he most certainly didn’t like the looks of them. The thought of getting caught and taken away by this collection of spiky squeakers frightened him immensely. When none of the fish responded to the Admiral’s charge, he continued: “Very well. I trust if you see anything out of the ordinary, human or otherwise, you’ll report it immediately?”

“Absolutely, Admiral. May the King have many wet years.”

“May the King stay wet indeed, Diamond Fin. Carry on.” Admiral Pinch rolled back from the fin’s edge and the other two urchins followed him. He squealed something loud and unintelligible and the urchins filled in the path they’d earlier cleared. Another two, high-pitched orders and the manta lurched forward.

Adam let out a relieved breath. He hadn’t been caught. The manta continued to glide by him and the rest of the school, its great, lumbering fins flapped and forced funnels of water around and through the school. Strong as the gusts of currents were, however, they couldn’t break the school’s formation. The manta’s tail drew close to Adam. His eyes took in the many urchins sprawled out like parasites over the manta’s back. Without emotion, the urchins stared at the school while the manta carried them by. One particular urchin caught Adam’s eye and Adam should have turned away, but didn’t.

The Waterwood Box, 28

The Waterwood Box, 26

Catch up!

Eventually, the frenzied swimmers exhausted themselves. Adam and the rest of the school floated, dazed and recovering. A few fish began to swim again, asking about finding a Turtle or the possibility of land. Some asked about humans and if there were any left in Ocean.

Adam heard snippets of the conversation going on about him but he was so worn from swimming that he didn’t pay much mind to what was being said. He felt hopeful. He felt— “Urchins!” yelled a fish on the outer edge of the group.

The school snapped into a rough, diamond-shaped formation. The speed at which they grouped together into a single unit of black and blue amazed Adam. No way do I have energy left for that.

“Adam!” Spot barked. “Get into line. Quick!”

Adam, though tired, didn’t hesitate to swim up and over into the back of the diamond.
“Keep order, everyone,” a fish up front commanded. “Here they come.”

Adam looked around but didn’t see anything. What’s the fuss? he thought. Surely the school is able to out swim any urchins. The water above Adam began to darken. He looked up to see a giant manta ray swimming overhead. The manta’s wide, flat body blocked the sparse sunlight that filtered down through the water. “What is it?” Adam whispered.

“An Urchin Army patrol,” replied the fish in front of Adam. “They have to use mantas when they want to get this close to the surface.”

“Sshhh…” another fish whispered.The manta overhead stopped directly above the school then turned and began to drift in a downward spiral toward Adam and the school.

“Here they come, here they come. Order, order,” whispered several fish in unison.

The Waterwood Box, 26

The Waterwood Box, 25

Catch up!

“Spot!” called a fish from the frenzy. “Adam! Come join us.”

Adam looked at Spot and raised his eyebrows. Spot swam behind Adam and nudged him with his nose. “You gotta try it! Best feeling in the world!”

Adam took the hint and swam to the outer edges of the swirling mass. The fish within moved liked lightening. Adam was afraid to get in the middle of it all. He was new to this, couldn’t swim as fast as they could. Spot came up behind him. “Like this,” Spot said and darted right in.

“I can’t swim like that,” Adam said. None of the fish responded. They just swam around and around and around. Adam tried to follow their movements with his eyes but it made him nauseous after a while. Finally, he closed his eyes and kicked forward as hard as he could. With a start that surprised him, Adam found himself swept up inside the school’s excited movements. He didn’t have to try too hard to keep up because the other fish’s momentum kept him aligned. The school’s energy seemed to give the school more energy. Being part of it was like nothing Adam knew.

And, to his surprise, Adam didn’t feel sick at all. Now that he moved at the same speed as the school, their circular swimming didn’t bother him so much. He could even make out the blissful, determined faces of individual fish as their bodies propelled them around and around. Spot cut down from up above to swim next to Adam’s ear. “What’d I tell you?” he asked.

“It’s better than a roller coaster!” yelled Adam.

“A what?”

“Never mind,” Adam said. He let go of the bad things that had happened to him past few days and enjoyed, for a precious few moments, simply being caught up with the other fish.

—-

The Waterwood Box, 25

The Waterwood Box, 24

Catch up!

The fish swam in close to Adam and piled themselves on top of him. Adam could no longer stay afloat under the weight of the fish. Why were they trying to drown him? He sank under the water and, against his will, was forced to take a quick breath. His mouth filled with salt water. It tasted terrible and felt absolutely wrong in his mouth and nose, but not so bad and not so wrong that he wanted to quit breathing. He wasn’t drowning. Adam could breathe! He could breathe underwater! For the first time since the flood, Adam smiled.

Chapter 5
Under The Sea, Under the Sea

Adam swam down, down, down. He did half-flips before darting straight down and full flips before darting up toward the light and he did spirals and circles and corkscrews. Adam Might could breathe underwater! The sky shimmered green-blue beyond the surface of the water. Adam tilted his head to one side and caught a glimpse of the darkness spread out beneath him. How far down does it go? He shuddered.

Spot and his school gathered in a tight group ahead of and below Adam. He took a sharp breath and kicked off in their direction. Spot was in the center, talking to the school:
“All right, people. We’re looking for land. We’re looking for humans. We’re looking for anything that isn’t Ocean.”

“What about the Urchin Army?” a tiny fish on the outskirts asked.

“We are not looking for the Urchin Army,” Spot said with a wink toward the smaller fish. “Now, I have never seen land before. But, I had never seen a human before today so I think that perhaps land might exist, too. Does anyone have any ideas of where we might start?”

The school murmured and bubbled several responses. Adam heard “Coral City!” and “Water-Folk!” and other strange replies. Yet no answer seemed to unite the group. Finally, a voice cried “We need a Turtle!” This sent the school into a happy frenzy. They swam about so fast and furiously that Adam grew dizzy. Spot shot out from the throng and headed straight for Adam.
“A Turtle it is. They have seen many tides rise and fall and are sure to know something.”

The Waterwood Box, 24