The Waterwood Box, 71

Catch up!

Ramata was out the door without a word. The water-folk swam along one of the ship’s decks and followed it to a large opening into the ship’s interior. Ramata swam into the ship and and down three flights of a wide stairwell. Adam and Spot followed close behind the water-folk. All were nervous and silent, wary of the sharks. The interior of the ship was grim and dark; precious little light came through from above.

“Get in close. Don’t lose me.”

“Do you know where you’re going?” whispered Spot.

“Well, I know where I’ve been and where I saw the Turtle the last time. Now be quiet.”

Ramata led them down one more flight of stairs to swim in front of a pair of brass-handled, double wide, swinging doors.

Spot whispered, “What’s in there?”

“Soon, we’ll be.”

“Is that where the Turtle is?”

“I hope so,” Ramata said and pushed the doors open.

Inside the room Adam saw row upon row of chairs covered with torn, red fabric from which leaked bundles of dull, cream-colored and rotting padding. The rows sloped downward and at the bottom of the room they saw an elevated wooden platform. This used to be one of the ship’s theaters. The curtains that once covered the stage now hung in red, ragged strips, rotting like the chairs. The stage itself was riddled with holes and cracks. Adam wondered how long the ship had been under water.

“So now what?” he asked the other two.

“Well, I don’t know. Wait, I guess.”

“You don’t-. Spot, Ramata doesn’t know. All this way and Ramata doesn’t know what’s next…,” Adam shrugged his shoulders and swam down into a row of seats. He found one that was still mostly upholstered and tried to sit down in it despite his constricting swim suit. Spot swam up to the top of the room and back down again. Ramata moved to one corner of the theater and stayed there, quiet. No one talked. Adam sat in his seat, looked at the stage, and tried to imagine the shows that once graced it. He dreamed up dance numbers, magic acts, and smile-soaked songs. After a while, the noise in his head became overwhelmed by the lonely silence around him.

The Waterwood Box, 71

The Waterwood Box, 70

Catch up!

Chapter 15
Should You Ever Go Looking for a Turtle…

Adam winced when Ramata touched his foot. “Ow!”

“It’s going to hurt! Be still.”

“How bad is it?”

“I’ll tell you later. Hold your breath,” Ramata said. They took a piece of seaweed from a belt pouch and tied it around the wound, cinching it tight. “This should stop the bleeding, but it’s going to hurt for a long while. Not much I can do about that.”

Tears welled again in Adam’s eyes as he contorted his body around in an attempt to see the shark bite. “This suit is a pain sometimes.” He gave up to rest and floated down to the floor of the room.

“I am so glad to see you two.”

“We didn’t realize we’d lost you until we got to the ship,” Ramata said. The water-folk swam about the room swishing the water as much as possible. “I’m trying to get rid of this blood,” Ramata replied to quizzical looks from Adam and Spot.

“We turned around, Adam, and no you! What happened?”

Adam looked at Spot. “You went too fast, I guess. You went too fast and didn’t wait.”

“But we agreed to keep at it until we arrived.”

“You’re here now, Adam,” Ramata reminded him.

“I know, I know. It’s not your fault. I’m scared, that’s all.”

“The good thing is: this is where we need to be.”

“What?”

“This is it. The Turtle is here. Well, not here, in this room, but in this ship. We just have to find it.”

“Ramata, this ship is huge,” argued Spot. “How’re we supposed to find the Turtle?”

Ramata opened the door a crack and stuck their head partway out. “We start by looking,” they whispered. “Looks clear for now. Adam, can you swim?”

“I don’t know. Spot, is my foot still bleeding?”

“Umm…looks all right. Ramata, are you sure those sharks are gone?”

“No, but they’re not right outside anymore, slamming against the door. And that’s about the best we can hope for. Adam, if you can swim, we should go.”

“I can try.”

The Waterwood Box, 70

The Waterwood Box, 69

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There was no stopping Adam now. He could make out the windows and doors on the big ship in front of him. Halfway there. Unfortunately, there was also no stopping the sharks all around him. In frenzied frustration, they snapped and lunged with teeth that, if sunk into Adam, would gnash his flesh to pulp.

Closer still to the sunken ship, Adam began to worry. It hurt to breathe and his legs were beyond tired. He slowed down and could sense the sharks’ bites around him getting ever closer.

“ADAM!”

Adam heard Ramata and Spot yelling through the water but he couldn’t yet see where they were. His only thought was to keep swimming towards the ship.

“ADAM!” They yelled again and this time he saw Ramata, hanging one hand out of a door and waving. “ADAM, HURRY!” Knowing that Ramata and Spot were waiting gave Adam a surge of energy. He kicked on with renewed vigor. He was was less than one hundred yards away. Eighty now, sixty…

“ADAM, LOOK OUT!” Adam heard the warning and smelled the sweet stench at the same time. Then he cried out in pain as the snaggletooth shark bit into his left foot, taking two of Adam’s toes. Adam screamed but kept swimming.

“The bleeding bleeder bleeds!” hissed the sharks.

Tears welled in Adam’s eyes. Through the agony, he kept swimming. Every new kick hurt worse than the last. Every new kick oozed out a fresh dollop of blood that further enraged the sharks’ frenzy. One shark attacked another and the two fell out from the chase, fighting each other, so great was their lust for some kind of blood.

Ramata and Spot held open a door for Adam and he swam into the room where they waited. Ramata slammed the door behind Adam and the dull thud of sharks smacking against it sounded. Outside, the sharks hissed in unison, “The bleeding bleeder bleeds!”

Adam cried in pain and tried to hold his foot in his hands. “Spot, please, help me. It hurts so bad.” Spot swam over to Adam’s wound and sized it up. “It’ll be O.K., Adam. Ramata, can we stop the bleeding?” Two thuds sounded against the door followed by angry, urgent hisses. “The sharks won’t stop while they still smell blood. We’ve got to stop Adam from bleeding.”

The Waterwood Box, 69

The Waterwood Box, 68

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“The bleeder, the bleeder,” the other sharks repeated, drawing out the words while flashing double rows of teeth pointed and sharp like broken glass.

“This blood is a new blood.”

“New blood, new blood.”

“What do you want from me?” Adam asked, afraid to hear the answer.

“And the blood bag has words?” The snaggletooth shark swam so close to Adam he could smell on its breath a sticky, sweet rotting aroma. Adam curled his lips in disgust. The shark rejoined the circle.

“Yes, oh yes. This is the bleeder.”

“The bleeder, the bleeder.”

“And we, we happy few, we – are the feeders.”

“The feeders! The feeders!” screamed the sharks.

The circle slowly tightened and the sharks’ eyes rolled back into their heads as their jaws again opened wide to bare those never-ending rows of jagged teeth. They whipped their tails against one another, wailing, “The feeders! The feeders!” Adam gave up rotating along with them and gave up trying to keep his eyes on all of the sharks at once.

He gave up thinking altogether and swam up out of the circle as fast as he could, heading towards the closest ruin. Still in the early stages of their frenzy, the sharks were caught unaware but that didn’t stop them from following Adam’s blood trail through the water. Adam swam hard, harder than ever, up and over, down and around all the ruins he could. The sharks followed close behind yet Adam refused to stop.

Finally, at the ruins’ edge, sharks above, below, and behind him, Adam saw what it was that Ramata called the “floater”: a sunken cruise ship. There was nothing to cover his path between the ship and the edge of the ruins – nothing but a straight shot through wide open water. Adam had no time to plan a safe route and instead had to act on instinct alone.

He broke from the ruined buildings. The sharks’ sick chant filled the water around him. On his right side, one of the sharks took a snap at him. Adam dove down and under the shark. He heard another snap above him as a confused shark narrowly missed his back and bit the water instead.

The Waterwood Box, 68

The Waterwood Box, 67

Catch up!

Once he’d caught his breath, Adam felt ready to get to the floater, what he guessed was a sunken ship. He surprised himself by not being panicked (for once) that he was alone. It helped him to know where he needed to go and that friends would be waiting there for him. He stretched his legs inside his suit and headed out in the direction he’d seen Ramata and Spot swim toward.

Adam took his time, swimming at a decent speed and taking care to not wear himself out again. Ramata had been worried about swimming through the ruins, but for what? Adam hadn’t seen anything besides them swimming around here, much less anything else to worry about. Ramata’s just paranoid from a life lived in that prison of a city. Always thinking that someone’s out to get them. Adam reached out to touch a nearby steel beam. He looked up the beam and tried to see it as the large building it used to be. Remembering city stuff made him smile.

Adam ran his hand up and down the beam and cried aloud as a piece of splintered steel caught his finger and sliced a deep gash into it. By the time he pulled the wound toward his mouth a small pool of blood had spilled and slowly mixed with Ocean. Ouch. Adam sucked his finger. I’d better get going. He swam off at a brisk pace. Every now and again he’d put his hurt finger into his mouth to stop the thin trail of blood that leaked out behind him.

The first shadow passed over Adam so quickly that he barely registered it. He looked up to miss seeing what it was that cast it. He kept swimming. Two more shadows, larger this time, circled around Adam’s shadow on the ocean floor.

Adam didn’t miss this new shadows and stopped dead in the water. Three more shadows joined the circle, which was now less a circle and more like crisscrossing mayhem on the ocean floor. Adam looked up. Five large sharks swam above him, slowly making their way down in a spiral – just as Adam had when he rode the manta down to Tiskaloo.

The shark circle widened as it descended around Adam. He rotated himself along with the sharks, trying to keep his eyes on all of them at once. One of the sharks, who had a huge tooth jutting out from its bottom lip, spoke in a slithering whisper, “So swims the sad, sorry bleeder.”

The Waterwood Box, 67

The Waterwood Box, 66

Catch up!

“Maybe you’ll be able to answer that yourself after you see it. I know it’s human-made and must have floated at some point. Anyway, go straight ahead. You won’t miss the floater. GO!” Ramata stuck out a hand for each of them to grab hold of.

“Stay close.” And then Ramata kicked.

They swam in and out of steel beams, concrete pilings, and the occasional rusted light post. At first, Adam thought that Ramata was leading them by some uncanny sense of direction but he soon realized that the water-folk was winging it. Ramata’s main concern seemed only to keep moving and to keep moving erratically. They all knew the direction to go, but how to get there best seemed anyone’s guess.

Ramata zigged left and zagged right, swam up, down, and around whatever happened to wind up in their path. They let go of each other’s hands to increase their pace and Adam and Spot stayed as close to Ramata as they could. Spot was much better than Adam at keeping up. At times, Spot actually swam ahead of Ramata. The distance between the two natural born swimmers and Adam became more and more pronounced. So did Adam’s breathing. Two zags, an upswim, a zig, another up, and Ramata and Spot pulled too far ahead of Adam for him to follow. He watched them continue on through the maze of concrete and steel, then disappear altogether.

Forget it, he thought. I gotta catch my breath. So he swam down to the ocean floor and leaned against one of the old skyscrapers’ massive, steel beams. The beams sprung up around him like a forest of metal. Adam closed his eyes and took slow, deep breaths to calm his pounding heart.

With his eyes closed, Adam didn’t notice the dark shadows that passed over him. First one, then two, then five oval shadows crawled over and circled around his resting body. When his eyes opened, the shadows disappeared into ripples of sunlight on the sandy bottom.

The Waterwood Box, 66

The Waterwood Box, 65

Catch up!

Ramata had no response but a wet, blank stare. The words “highway” and “gas station” meant nothing to water-folk.

Adam said, “Never mind. Let’s keep moving.” He turned away in frustration but Ramata grabbed his shoulder.

“Is that what you meant?”

“Huh?”

“There,” Ramata pointed off to Adam’s left. “Can you see that?” In the distance stood several tall structures.

“Is that Tiskaloo?”

“No, Tiskaloo is,” Ramata pointed behind them, “that way. That,” Ramata said, pointing  back to the left, “is where we’re going – the Big Ruins. Well, actually, we’re going a little ways past it.”

Adam, Ramata, and Spot looked at the remains of the big buildings.

“Is that a gas station?” Spot asked.

“No, those are what’s left of a human city: skyscrapers.”

“The Big Ruins,” Ramata added and swam strong toward the buildings.

Chapter 14
Come on Down to The Big Ruins! We’ve Got Everything!

Once the trio arrived on the outskirts of the Big Ruins, Adam saw that the highway’s desolation extended to the ruins as well. There were no old houses. In fact, there were barely any buildings left at all. Seven ruined skyscrapers, really nothing more than girders and posts, protruded from the sand along with six or seven other buildings. Concrete crumbles all around them. Together, the jumbled mess formed an underwater, ghostly likeness of a downtown city.

Ramata stopped them before they got too close. “We need to stick together and move fast. Sharks like to feed here. If something happens and we get split up – just keep going straight through to the other side. You’ll see a large floater there. We’ll meet up at the top of it. We won’t have to worry though, if we stick close. Any questions?”

“Nope,” said Spot.

“Wait, I have a question,” Adam said. “What’s a floater and why is it at the bottom of Ocean?”

The Waterwood Box, 65