A young adult, fantasy novel serialized throughout 2017.
Updated every Wednesday and Friday.
The Waterwood Box
…we must all part
Into this sea of air
Adam Opens the Box
Adam opened his eyes. He rolled out from under his cozy covers with a half smile on his face. Today was Adam’s thirteenth birthday. He walked into the bathroom and splashed some cool tap water on his face. Thirteen, he thought. Adam dried his face and bounced down the stairs to the living room where his mom and dad sat watching the morning weather report. Mrs. Might looked up from the television, her round face glowing with a good mother’s love.
“Happy birthday, hon. Come sit down. What do you want for breakfast?”Adam squeezed between his parents on the couch. Mr. Might put his hand on Adam’s head and tried to smooth down Adam’s hair (which stuck up every which way). In a funny, exaggerated, Bronx accent Mr. Might said, “Happy birthday, kiddo.”
“Well, not technically a kiddo anymore, I suppose. But ‘Happy birthday, teen-o,’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Weatherman says it’s going to be another scorcher today. Should we move the party inside? We can clear up some space in the basement.”
The town of Edinburgh, IN hadn’t seen rain since the beginning of June. It was now the middle of August. The days between had been hot, dry, and downright dangerous for those without air conditioning. “No,” Adam replied. “Everyone knows it’s going to be a hot day. We’ll be OK outside.”
“I sure do wish it would rain, though,” said Mrs. Might. Adam looked at her and she winked. “Just not today.” Mrs. Might stood up from the couch. “No, no, not today, honey. Ivan,” she said to Adam’s father, “do you need some more coffee?” Mr. Might nodded. She took his coffee mug from the end table and left for the kitchen.
“Dad, can we watch something else?” The weather report was over and now the anchorpersons were interviewing someone about lemonade. “This is lame.”
“Lame?” Mr. Might passed the remote to Adam and got up from the couch. “Tell your mother I hopped in the shower.” Then Mr. Might went upstairs. Adam sat on the couch, flipping through channels until he found some decent cartoons. Thirteen’s not too old for cartoons, is it? he asked himself. Nah, fourteen -fourteen is definitely too old for cartoons.
The Might family prepared for Adam’s birthday party all morning. They hung streamers, blew up balloons, and set up the folding table with lots of goodies. Mr. and Mrs. Might had indulged Adam this year by allowing him to have such a big party. Adam was grateful and glad to have his parents around. Some of his friends had it bad when it came to their families. Mr. and Mrs. Might had fights and they sometimes yelled – typically over silly things – but, when it was all said and done, the Mights loved each other and Adam knew it.
Barefoot, Adam walked around the backyard, his long toes helping him scout out sticks and large rocks to clear off the lawn. He was sure that his friends would want to play some touch football or soccer even if got to be ninety degrees in the shade. Adam and his friends never seemed to think much about the weather. When it was cold, they wore more clothes, then went outside. When it was hot, they put on shorts and flip-flops, then went outside.
He picked up sticks and stones and hurled them out toward the back fence. Eventually, he found himself near the table his mom had set up for gifts. There were already lots of presents stacked upon the table; a few from his parents and others sent by relatives. As Adam paced slowly alongside the table, however, his eye caught something that stopped him in his barefoot tracks.
He noticed a box on the table that stood out from the other gifts. First, the box wasn’t wrapped at all. Second, there were no ribbons or bows holding the box together – no decoration whatsoever. Third, the box seemed to be made of wood. Adam picked up the box. It is wood. This is weird. No card. He flipped the box over a few times then shook it. Nothing moved inside. His curiosity got the best of him. He put his hand on the lid and –
“Adam! Get away from those presents!” Mrs. Might came around from the side of the house, a tangled, green, garden hose trailing behind her. “You’re supposed to be thirteen years old! You can wait to open your gifts until your guests arrive!”
“Don’t ‘I wasn’t’ me! I saw you about to open that box.”
“Who gave me this present, mom? I couldn’t find any card or name or anything. It isn’t even wrapped. Look.” Adam attempted to hand her the box. Mrs. Might took the box and set it on the table without once looking at it.
“You’ll find out later. There’s probably a card inside. Now go inside and see how your father’s coming along with the cake. It’s almost noon.”
“But, mom, that box is…weird.”
“No ‘buts’, goofball. In two or three hours, we’ll all find out about that box. Until then – inside, inside.” She smacked him lightly on the bottom, sending him on his way.
Adam went inside and tried to forget about the box but couldn’t. He went into the kitchen where his dad was decorating the cake. The cake had HAPPY 13th, TEEN-O written on it. Adam smiled and took a swipe at the frosting on one edge. His dad was always doing stupid stuff like this. One St. Patrick’s Day Mr. Might dressed up like a leprechaun and hid in Adam’s closet, waiting until Adam woke up to find him. When Adam finally opened his closet door, Mr. Might jumped out and ran past Adam screaming, “You’ll never get yer hands on me pot o’ gold!” A goof.
“Dad, do you know anything about that wooden box out there?”
“Nosiree. Wait, what wooden box?”
“Out on the gift table.”
“Nosiree. Wait, what gift table?”
“C’mon. Quit playing around. Out with my other presents there’s a weird, wooden box that isn’t wrapped or anything. There isn’t even a card.”
“You’ve got presents?”
Frustrated, Adam left his dad in the kitchen. Sometimes goofiness was a pain. Adam thought about clicking on the T.V. for a while but then he noticed that it was a quarter till noon. His friends would soon arrive for the party. He ran upstairs to change clothes and comb his hair.
Eight of Adam’s friends showed up to help him celebrate the big one-three. There was Cory McAry and Juan Villacruz (Adam’s two best friends), Mike Figgit (whom everyone called “Monkey”), Seth Bourder, Grant Willem, Carlos Marquez (whom Adam didn’t really like but had to invite because he was Grant’s best friend), Don Crane, and Leon Oliver. All of the boys were sat at the picnic table, talking, joking, eating cake, and sweating profusely.
“Man, I wish it would rain, rain, rain, rain, rain,” Mike said.
“Me too, Monkey,” said Juan. “Then I’d get to mow the lawn and help my mom in the garden again. Oh, God, please let it rain.”
“Whatever. Like your fat butt couldn’t stand to do a little work.” All the boys laughed. Juan and Monkey were quick to tease each other.
“Hey, Adam, why didn’t you invite any girls to this party?” asked Carlos. Some of the boys murmured a similar interest.
The question took Adam by surprise. He hadn’t really thought about why. “Umm…I just didn’t know who to invite,” he lied.
“Yeah, right. More like you didn’t know any to invite.” Carlos elbowed Grant and took another bite of his cake. “I dumf thinf I’f efah…” Carlos paused, swallowed, then continued, “seen you with a girl, man. What gives? You like girls, man?” A couple of the boys snickered but quickly stopped once they realized this wasn’t teasing like that between Juan and Monkey.
Adam was getting uncomfortable. He didn’t like Carlos and Carlos knew it. “I just wanted to hang out with my friends. That’s all.”
“What’s your problem, Carlos?” Cory interrupted. “It’s Adam’s birthday. Quit being a jerk.”
“Hey, I was just asking, man. Jeez.” Carlos leaned over to Grant and whispered something in his ear. Both boys laughed.
Adam looked at Cory and silently thanked him. They’d been friends since first grade and now they were about to start their last year of junior high together. Cory and Juan and Adam. The Three Musketeers, Mr. Might called them.
“Where’s your bathroom?” Leon asked Adam.
“Through the back door, take a right, go through the kitchen, down the hall, first door on your left. If you see my folks, tell them to come on out. I think we’re finished with cake.” Adam looked at Carlos, who had just served himself another piece.
“It’s so hot,” said Cory. “My dad says that if it doesn’t rain soon the rationing is going to get worse.”
“Like how?” asked Don.
“Probably have to start showering every other day or something” answered Seth.
“Oh man, we already all have to shower together at my house. If I have to see my sister naked one more time I’ll puke,” said Monkey.
Juan couldn’t pass up this opportunity. “You can send your sister over to my house to shower, Monkey. I’ll make sure she gets all cleaned up.” Again, all the boys laughed.
Adam heard the back door open and out came Leon. Mr. and Mrs. Might were right behind him with lawn chairs folded up in their arms. Before Leon could sit down at the table Mr. Might started to sing ‘Happy Birthday’. Mrs. Might and all the boys soon joined in and Adam felt pleasantly embarrassed. As the final line of the song came to a close, Mr. Might added “and many more” in a funny, high-pitched voice that sent all the boys into a fit of laughter.
“Open your presents!” they all cried. Adam looked at his mom and she nodded okay. He walked over to the gift table and the wooden box immediately caught his attention. He resisted the urge. If there’s no card, it’ll just have to wait until last, he thought. So, one by one, he went through the gifts. Juan and Cory had gone in together to get him a new video game. Mike gave him a couple of books. Even Carlos had brought him some comics. Mr. and Mrs. Might’s gift to their son was a Swiss Army knife. Adam’s smile broke wide when he opened the package and saw the knife. He looked up to his parents from the pile of unwrappings around him and grinned at them. Mr. Might saluted back. Before going on, Adam put the knife in his pocket.
Finally, all the packages sat open except one. For some reason Adam now felt hesitant to open the wooden box. While he opened his other gifts, Adam kept a mental checklist of who had given him which gift. And, if his list was right, he’d already opened all his friends’ and his relatives’ gifts. Who was left? The wooden box remained on the table, alone and unopened.
“You’ve got one more, Adam!” yelled Monkey. “Hurry up so I can go pee.”
Adam walked to the gift table and picked up the box. The thing felt incredibly light, weighing no more than a few sheets of paper, but didn’t seem to be made of flimsy wood. He shook it again. Still nothing moved inside.
“Open it!” Monkey and Juan yelled simultaneously, then laughed. “Jinx!” they both yelled together again.
Adam shrugged and examined the top of the box. He had to slide open the lid in order to open the gift. He set the box down on the tabletop and placed his palm flat on the box top. The wood budged a bit, but that was all. Adam pressed his palms forward to slide the lid open. Nothing happened. He then tapped the edges of the box with his fist and tried again to slide the top open. This time the lid gave way. He slid the lid off and peered down into the box. Empty! No card, no gift, no thing. What? Then Adam smiled. He turned around. “Daaaad, what’s this all about?”
Mr. Might raised his eyebrows. “What is it, son? What’d you get?”
Adam laughed. “Nothing at all, Dad. It’s empty.” To prove his words Adam took the box from the table, shook it, spun it between his fingers, and turned it upside down. He tapped the bottom for emphasis. “Empty. See? Very funny, Dad.” Don Crane sat closest to where Adam held the box upside down.
“Whoa” Don said, pointing. “Look. There’s a drop of water in there.”
Adam lifted the box to eye-level just in time to watch the drop fall from the box. His eyes followed the droplet through the air to the dry ground at his feet. The light, brown dirt slightly darkened where the water drop landed. Adam flipped the box right side up and stuck his hand inside the box to feel for any other wetness. “There’s nothing in it though,” he said.
“Well, there was something, but you lost it,” joked Mr. Might.
“That’s not funny, honey,” said Mrs. Might, smacking her husband’s arm.
The joke wasn’t funny to Adam either. The situation made him uncomfortable. He set the box on the table. Monkey jumped up from the table and ran inside to use the bathroom. Adam looked down to where the drop fell. The small spot of wetness looked larger and darker still, as though someone spilled a tall glass of water there. But that couldn’t be. It was such a tiny drop. Adam slipped one foot out of his flip-flop and touched his toes to the wet ground. Is that mud? The spot grew into a spill and, before Adam’s eyes, it blossomed into a patch of mud. Adam panicked. “Dad, Mom, what was in that box?” Mr. Might stood up from his chair and he, too, noticed something was very wrong.
“What the – ?” he said. The muddy ground give way as soon as he put his full weight on it. “It’s muddy over here.”
“It’s muddy over here, too.” said Leon.
Cory looked at Adam. “What is it Adam? What’s going on?”
Adam shook his head in disbelief. He could only watch water well up from the ground around his feet. Confused and frightened, he couldn’t move. After a few seconds, Adam found his voice. Water encircled his ankles. Adam looked to his parents and cried, “What did I do?”
Mrs. Might tried to stay calm. “You didn’t do anything, baby. It’ll be all right.” She turned to the other boys, who by now had moved to sit on top of the picnic table. “Let’s get in the house.” The boys looked at the yard around them. The water lapped at Adam’s knees. Carlos began to weep.
Adam snatched the wooden box from the table and waded back to the gift table for the lid. He grabbed the box lid just as the water reached the tabletop. He slid the lid into place and the box snapped shut. Adam held the box close to his chest as he swam to the picnic table. Plastic forks and plates floated around everyone’s ankles as all ten of them stood crammed on the table top. Adam put his feet down and stood with the rest of them, on top of the table, overlooking a submerged backyard.
Over the next few moments, the rising water covered the first story of the Might’s house. The fences that partitioned out Adam’s neighborhood were now all underwater. From the window in Adam’s bedroom a voice rang out. “What is going on?” Monkey yelled. “I flushed the toilet and flooded the house!” Then Monkey noticed that the everyone was standing in chest-deep water where the picnic table used to be. Monkey screamed.
Carlos was crying unstoppably now. “I can’t swim, man. I can’t swim,” he kept saying over and over.
“Here, hang on to the box with me,” Adam offered.
“Anyone who can swim, let’s swim to the roof,” suggested Mr. Might. He yelled to Monkey, “If you can swim, Mike, jump out of the window. As fast as the water’s rising we’ll be able to get on the roof in just a minute.” No one dared to ask how long it would take the water to cover the roof. Monkey jumped into the water. Mr. Might turned back to the boys. “Carlos, grab on to the box and you and Adam paddle over to the house.” Mr. Might gave a desperate look to his wife and started to swim. Mrs. Might and the boys followed.
Adam and Carlos, slowed because of the box, came up last. Some of the boys kicked up water that got into Adam’s mouth. “Yuck. It’s salt water,” he said to Carlos. Carlos was crying too hard to respond.
By the time they reached where the roof had once been, only the television antenna remained above water. The party clung to the antenna and to each other. There was hardly any room left to hang on, so Adam and Carlos floated with the box between them. Adam looked around at what used to be his neighborhood. He could see other antennas jutting above the water line here and there. Some ways off to the east, he could see One World, Inc.’s large office building. He saw bits of debris: a plastic rake, a soccer ball, floating around them. What he didn’t see were any other people. Adam guessed that about ten minutes had passed since he’d opened the box. Ten minutes for the world to become unrecognizable.
The water rose to the top of the television antenna. Most of the boys were crying now. Mr. Might let go of the antenna and treaded water to free some space for the others. “I’m going to go look for something else that we can use to float on. Adam’s box won’t hold us all.” And with that, Mr. Might swam away. Everyone else had to let go of the antenna. The water was just too high. Juan and Seth swam to Adam and grabbed on to the box. The box sunk a little lower in the water.
“Get off, you tub,” cried Carlos between sobs. He tried to push Juan in the face. “It won’t hold us all.”
“It’s okay, Carlos,” said Adam. “It’s not sinking. See?”
Mrs. Might was crying now too. “We’ve got to find another float.”
“C’mon Don, Leon,” said Cory, “let’s go find something.” The boys swam off.
“Mom,” said Adam, “come over here. Take my place on the box. You need – ” Adam paused. He heard something that sounded like a strong gust of wind coming from off in the distance. “Do you hear that?”
Between sniffles and splashes, they could all hear something. To Adam, the sound was like the wind. To Mrs. Might it sounded like a distant train. Whatever it was, the sound grew louder. Soon, they began to bob up and down in the water; small, gentle waves rocking them about. Mrs. Might was the first to understand what those waves meant. “Hang on to that box, boys!” she screamed. Hang on tight!”
Adam and the others looked in the direction of the waves and cutting a new horizon across the sky was a giant wave, taller than any building, as tall as the highest mountains on earth. The smaller waves became bigger waves and lifted them higher and higher. Carlos stared at the oncoming mountain of water and let go off the box. No one noticed as the water’s steady ebb and flow pushed Carlos farther away.
The giant wave came upon them and swept them up, high onto its face. They rode the wave for a time, treading, floating, before it began to curl up and crash. The water’s force turned everyone over, and shoved them far, far under the surface. Adam thought of nothing other than hanging on to his breath and the box. He was underwater for so long. He wanted to open his mouth. Instead he willed his mouth shut and held his breath until it hurt.
Finally, in the wake of the giant wave, the box, with Adam clinging to it, bobbed up through the surface of the water. He opened his mouth to suck in salt-tinged air and yelled, “We made it! We made it!” A relaxing sigh of relief passed through him. He opened his eyes to see who needed help. No one was in front of him. He kicked his body around in a circle, looking for a head, a hand, anything. But there was nothing, not even a bit of trash floating nearby. He swam in another circle, slower this time. He was alone and floating in the middle of an ocean.
Alone in the Ocean
Adam’s head and face burned under the intense, angry stare of a full sun. The seawater underneath, however, was cold and he couldn’t get enough of his body out of the water to warm up anything else. He tried by sitting on the box for a while, but it took so much energy to keep his balance that he found it easier to drape his body over the box and float with his bare back to the sun. No matter in which position he floated, though, some part of his body was in the water, making it impossible to fight the cold.
Where is everybody? Adam thought. All of them, where did they go? He put his head down on the box where his sadness leaked out in tears.
There was no way for Adam to know how much time had passed between his birthday party and the big wave. Everywhere he turned looking the same. There were no people, no streets, no cars or trees, no sounds of life – just water, only water. Airplanes? he thought and looked to the skies. A flock of birds flew in a V formation far off in the distance. Well, at least something besides me is alive.
Adam gripped the box and propped himself up so that it rested under his chest. He kicked his feet and paddled ahead, hopefully in a single direction, but, with no landmarks for him to gauge whether he moved toward or away from anything, he was certain of nothing.
Adam paddled off and on until the sun went down. As darkness fell, the temperature dropped further. Adam’s felt his legs grow numb and he didn’t know what to do. He put as much weight as he could on the box without sinking it and tried to sleep.
Adam woke up thirsty. He was hungry too, but right now he was thirsty and wanted juice or milk or a glass of ice water. He tried drinking the ocean but its saltiness made him gag. Water all around me and I’m going to die of thirst. He coughed, growing angry thinking that he’d lived through a giant tidal wave only to be left alone, floating on a box. “Stupid box,” he said, wishing he could let it go. Unfortunately, without the box, he would have drowned long ago.
What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do? Adam’s mind returned to that question over and over again. He didn’t have many options: sink or float, stay put or paddle. The only way he could be sure of a change of scenery would be to let go of the box. His family and friends all gone, his home, his school, his town, his world…it was all too much. Adam screamed, “HEEELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLP!” The wind responded quietly but offered no assistance. For no reason other than sheer frustration, Adam dunked his head into the ocean and screamed again, “HEEELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLP!” What Adam failed to consider was that sound travels farther and faster through water than through air. He pulled his head out of the water and laughed at himself.
Adam floated on, drifting in and out of sleep. His throat itched from thirst, his face ached from sunburn, and his arms and legs throbbed from the cold. A lazy breeze moved him back and forth on the water. Hurt and scared, Adam resigned himself to letting go and sleeping forever.
Adam heard a splash behind him. His attention picked up but he was too weak to lift his head. He kept his eyes closed and listened. A few seconds later, he felt a steady stream of water squirt him right on the forehead.
Adam’s eyes jerked open and he saw a black and bright blue striped fish, its head half out of the water, with its lips puckered up and ready to spit another stream of water at him. When the fish saw Adam’s eyes open its mouth dropped and water spilled out. “It’s alive!” cried the fish before disappearing under the surface. Stunned, Adam let go of the box and slid under the surface. The water revived him but he was still very weak. He bobbed back up, groping for the box. When he finally settled back with the box underneath him he paddled in a quick circle, looking for the fish who’d spit at him. Nothing. I must have been dreaming. No sooner did he think this than the striped fish’s head sprang up out of the water, talking a mile a minute.
“I -,” Adam began.
“Hmmmm, hmmmm, hmmmm?”
“I…I don’t…know…there was a wave and my family…,” Adam stammered. His thoughts moved slowly, he was so thirsty and tired. The fish swam around Adam in a quick circle.
“But why are you up here?” the fish wanted to know.
“Where else was I supposed to go?”
The fish looked at the ocean surface. “Below,” he said, as though the answer were completely obvious.
“Below? I …I don’t understand.”
The fish quickly dunked his head under the water and brought it back up again.
“Below, below, beeeeelooooow. I mean you’ve got to breathe, right?”
Adam laid his head down on the box. “Right? Right? You’ve got to breathe. What kind of water-man are you anyway?”
“I’m not a water-man.”
The fish’s eyes widened and he disappeared under the water.
“Well, you’ve got that right. You aren’t a water-man. And you aren’t a coral. And you aren’t a shellback. You definitely aren’t an urchin. Are you a dolphin?”
“No,” Adam said. “I’m a person.”
“Well, duh…we’re all persons. No need to get snotty. But what kind of person?”
“What kind? I don’t…I’m a human.”
The striped fish gasped and disappeared again under the water. The fish’s up-down-all-around movements made Adam queasy. The fish popped up a second later and squirted Adam in the face with a thin stream of water. Then he disappeared again. Adam had no idea what just happened and laid his head down on the box to sleep. I must be dreaming.
Some time passed before the fish popped his head up again. Adam heard the small splash and opened his eyes. The striped fish was much further away now.
“Where did you go?” Adam asked.
“I had to go tell my school to go on without me. They were waiting to see if whomever called needed the entire school.”
“You – you called for help, right? Of course you called for help. Everyone in this part of the ocean no doubt heard you. Silly human. You’re lucky the Urchin Army didn’t send a unit your way.” The fish took a dip then resurfaced. “So, again, what are you doing here?”
“Why do you keep doing that?”
“Going under the water so much.”
“I have to breathe, you know.”
“Oh…there was a flood.”
“That’s why I’m here. There was a flood. I opened this box and then there was a flood and a big wave. The wave passed over us,” Adam’s voiced dropped, “and I hung on to this box. It brought me right up to the surface. Everyone is gone. I’ve been floating here for a day. I screamed, ‘Help!’ because I didn’t know what else to do. I think I’m dying.”
Shaking its head, the striped fish swam over to the box. The sun danced over the fish’s stripes, entrancing Adam. The fish said, “Well now, that’s certainly an interesting tale. How do you know of the flood?”
Adam stared. “I told you. I opened this box and the wave came. I know about the flood because I was there.”
“Hmm…” was all the fish said before moving to inspect the box. The fish put his lips to the box and said, “It’s waterwood. Who gave you this?”
“I don’t know. It was with my other birthday presents.”
“You don’t know but you opened it anyway? Silly human. Silly person. My school has a saying, ‘An unmarked gift may never stop giving.’”
“How was I supposed to know?”
“You weren’t,” the fish said flatly.
“What’s your name?” the striped fish asked, one eye on Adam.
“Adam Might. What’s yours?”
“Spot,” the fish said with a touch of dignity.
“Spot? Why?” Adam sputtered and laughed.
“What’s so funny? Why are you called Adam?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just that – it’s funny that your name is Spot but you’ve got stripes all over you.”
“What? Where? GET THEM OFF OF ME!” Spot screamed at Adam. He jumped out of the water, did a spastic twist as though he were trying to shake something off, then came back down with a splash. He resurfaced, still upset and said to Adam, “Are they gone? Please tell me they’re gone!”
Adam shook his head.
“AAAAAHHHH!” Spot yelled and jumped out of the water, coming down hard on one side. He jumped again, this time coming down on the other side with a painful SMACK!
They’ve got to be gone now!” Spot declared.
Adam shook his head again. Spot sped over to Adam. “Please help! Rub them off! Rub off those evil stripes!”
Not understanding, Adam said, “But they’re part of you. I can’t rub them off without taking your scales too.”
Spot paused. “Pick me up.” Adam picked up the fish. “Now point the stripes out to me.” Adam pointed at the stripes. “Not on me – on my reflection in the water.” Adam did so.
“See, here. Here. Here. Stripes all up and down your body, no spots anywhere. That’s why I think it’s funny that your name is Spot.” He put Spot back in the water.
“Those aren’t stripes, you dunce. Those are spots.” Spot dunked under, then up. “Don’t ever scare me like that again.”
“I didn’t know. We call them stripes.”
“Of course, of course. Just don’t tell anyone else who looks like me that they have stripes. You don’t ever want to see the things we call stripes. And, if you do, may the Exsalted help you.” Spot bowed his head ever so slightly.
“But I truly didn’t know. I understand every other word you’re saying. I thought that what I called stripes you would call stripes, too.”
“My school has a saying, ‘There is a word for ‘not a word.’”
For the first time, Spot spoke in a slow, measured way, “Words are just sounds that can mean any thing people agree to. When I say spot you think of one thing and I think of another. It is a miracle that we can understand each other at all. What if my word for air was shells and the word air meant something else to me, something like – seaweed. Then I asked you, ‘How can you breathe shells?’ You would say, ‘I’m not breathing shells. I’m breathing air.’ We’d be dancing around, saying the same thing. Eventually we’d figure it out, but for a while you’d think I was crazy for saying you could breathe shells and I’d think you were crazy for saying you could breathe seaweed.” Spot dunked under for a breath.
“I’m confused,” Adam said, when Spot returned.
“Well, that is what words do best, ya know?”
Spot and Adam talked until Adam’s voice started to give out. He still felt drained, cold, and hopeless. He also really needed something to drink. Spot didn’t have any suggestions but one – for Adam to open the box.
“I already opened the box, remember? That’s why I’m here. The box was empty except for a drop of water. Then the flood came.”
“And I told you – this a waterwood box, Adam. It will be empty…until it gets wet.”
Adam didn’t believe Spot. Then again, Adam was talking with a fish in the middle of a vast ocean. Still, thinking about the box at all brought him close to tears. If he could have survived without using the box as a float he would have let go of it a day ago. The waterwood box brought this trouble. But he didn’t have many other options. So, Adam opened the box again. Spot was right. The waterwood box was not empty.
Adam Opens the Box (Again)
The first thing Adam pulled from the waterwood box looked like a single leg from a very large pair of pants. The outer layer was covered by a scaly, pale blue fabric that shimmered in the sunlight. The inside of the garment felt like wool, soft and warm to touch. “What do you think this is?” he asked Spot.
“Hmmm…I don’t know. For your arms maybe?”
Adam let go of the box and put one arm, then the other, into the fabric tube. Not only was the fabric warm inside, it was dry, too! But having both his arms inside the thing didn’t feel quite right to Adam. Despite his sense that he wasn’t wearing the tube properly, Adam hesitated to take it off because he didn’t want his arms to touch the cold water again. Then, Adam had an idea.
With renewed energy, Adam pulled his arms from the tube and let it float beside him while he took off his water-logged jeans. He slid his entire body feet first into the cloth tube. The material covered him from the bottom of his ankles to just underneath his armpits. His arms, shoulders, and head were free to move about. The tube squished his feet together but Adam didn’t care. He was so, so warm. He rolled over to float on his back and inhale the salt air with a deep satisfaction.
“Wow, Adam,” said Spot. “Now you look like a water-man!”
“Well, I don’t care how I look. I feel like I’m wrapped up in a hot towel,” he said to Spot.
“What’s a towel?” asked Spot.
“Never mind,” Adam said and turned over to watch his jeans slowly sink beneath him. Just before they were lost to the depths, he remembered his knife. Somersaulting in place, Adam dove underwater and darted, not unlike a fish, toward his jeans. He pulled the knife from the right back pocket and tucked it into the top of his new swimsuit. For the first time since the flood, he felt comfortable.
The next item Adam removed from the waterwood box caused Spot to spitter and sputter and spatter and splatter salt water everywhere. Between water-wrinkled fingertips, Adam held to the sun a thin, semi-clear circle about the size of a quarter and made from some flexible material like rubber or plastic.
“A breather!” gasped Spot.
“What is it?” asked Adam as he turned the thing over in his hand, bending it in half and half again.
“It’s an antique. The Coral Annals recall that the Turtles invented breathers after the Rise. They’ve been long forbidden.” Spot swam around Adam’s hand and stared at the small disc.
“Well, what do I do with it?”
“I don’t know what you do with it. The Annals tell tales of water-folk using breathers when they wanted (or needed) to leave Ocean.” Spot’s eyes never once strayed from the breather. “Maybe it’s for me?” Spot whispered.
“Maybe. But where would you go if you swallowed it? Is there any land around here?”
Still staring at the breather, Spot slowly said, “Not that I’ve ever seen.” Adam’s face tensed up with a sad rage. Spot added, “But what do I know, Adam? I’m always with my school and we don’t go hunting for land. Maybe there is land somewhere, Adam. And, now that you’ve got your suit, maybe you will find it.”
“Maybe,” Adam choked back a sniffle. “What am I supposed to do, Spot? I can’t float here forever.” He put the breather back into the waterwood box.
“What’s left in there?” Spot asked.
Adam tilted the opening of the box towards him and peered inside. There was one other item in the box. “There is something else.” He reached in and removed a folded piece of dried seaweed. Adam let go of the box and flipped over on his back so that he could unfold the seaweed. In a chalky, glorious cursive it was written:
I must apologize, young man.
Often, that which spells Tragedy for one spells Blessing to another.
Enjoy the gifts.
Furious, Adam crumpled the seaweed and tossed it into the water. “Somebody did this on purpose? Everything? On purpose?” Adam cried to the open sky. Why would someone want to hurt him? Why would they want to take away everything? He sobbed uncontrollably, with great heaves and shudders. Waves of anger and loneliness roiled through his body. Spot swam close by, paying attention but letting Adam alone.
Eventually, Adam settled down. He rested on the box and stared off into the distance. Without saying anything, Spot disappeared under the water and didn’t come back up. Adam began weeping again, for himself and for his lost world.
Being a Breather
Adam decided he would swim slow and steady in one direction until he ran into land or ran out of energy, whichever came first. He tried to kick his legs only to remember that he was wearing the warm, constricting clothes. After some experimenting, Adam found he could swim as well as before (if not better) while wearing the tube, just not the way he was used to. He had to move his whole lower body in one, wavy motion instead of moving each of his legs separately. So, gripping the box, he swam forward without knowing or caring where he might wind up.
In a trance, he moved this way, seeing nothing but water, hearing nothing but wind. Adam’s trance broke when his bare feet brushed up against something soft and slimy. He immediately stopped swimming and pulled his legs in toward his body. The water around him undulated. Adam gripped the box tightly, trying to sit atop it and get his body out of the water. All around him, just under the surface, floated fluid, purple-red-blueish bubbles. Adam kicked and thrashed at the bubbles but they wouldn’t pop. Instead, they multiplied. They multiplied and drew nearer…close enough for Adam to see long, milky-colored tentacles trailing out all around him and the bubbles. He was floating in a giant bloom of jellyfish.
Adam panicked and pulled out his Swiss Army knife. Trying to swim directly through the bloom was like trying to swim through a bunch of wet clothes. He slashed out with his knife but still the jellyfish packed in tighter. It didn’t seem to matter to them that he cut and thrashed them. One of the bigger bubble-headed creatures made its way through the throng from behind Adam. It pushed its gooey, bendy head right into Adam and, like putty pushed against a stick, it began to mold itself around the boy.
Two more jellyfish closed in at Adam’s side and pushed their heads around the first jellyfish and Adam too. Another jellyfish pushed its head into Adam’s arms, which forced him to let go of the box. Adam could no longer swim. The jellyfish gripped him tight before the whole mass slowly started to sink under the water.
Adam heard a small splash behind him then a familiar voice yelled, “JELLIES!” Adam looked up in the air to see Spot overhead. The fish had leapt from the water over the tight mass of jellyfish. The water around the jellyfish came alive with a foamy fury. From beneath came hundreds upon hundreds of fish that all looked like Spot. Their rapid swimming and jumping caused the water to froth up violently.
The fish swam in a tight formation back and forth over, around, and even through the group of jellyfish so that the jellyfish couldn’t help but be swept along by the force of their movements. The jellyfish had to let go and, as they did, Spot’s school split into several different groups. Each group circled around one or two jellyfish and then swam off away from Adam, carrying their jellyfish along with them.
Throughout the excitement, the waterwood box didn’t float away. Adam swam toward the box, thankful for its support. Spot’s head popped up right beside him. “Adam, everything’s going to be all right. My school has decided to help you find land.” Adam didn’t reply. He put his head down on the box and passed out.
When Adam woke, the hundreds of fish in Spot’s school surrounded him. The fish startled Adam and he thrashed about in the water, letting go of the box and forgetting how he was supposed to swim now that he had on the suit. He sunk into the water. Several members of Spot’s school swam underneath Adam and buoyed him back up to the surface. Adam rolled over and floated on his back, breathing heavily. Spot took advantage of the break in the confusion to speak up: “We’re going to help you, Adam. But, you have to swallow the breather first.”
“What? Why do I need that thing if we’re looking for land? Besides, I’ll choke if I swallow it.”
“For two reasons: one, the school doesn’t think the breather will choke you if you swallow it. If the breather lets water-folk breathe air, we think it will allow air-folk to breathe water. Two, we have to be careful about where we take you. If the Urchin Army sees you and files a report…oh, the entire school would be in trouble. And who knows what they’d do to you. Take you to Altern, that’s for true.”
“Where’s Altern?” asked Adam.
“Not where – who. Altern is king. King Altern of Deep Fright. Great Leader of the Urchin Army, High Lord of Ocean, and so on and so on.”
“Altern doesn’t like humans?”
“I doubt Altern’s ever known one. But the point is this: we don’t want to cross the King. The more discreet we are, the better. We want to avoid, not invite, the Urchin Army along for our trip. All you have to do is swallow the breather and, assuming it does what we think –,” at this Spot turned over to float belly up alongside Adam, “we float right on by any trouble.” The fish smiled at Adam. To show approval, the rest of the school slapped their fins on the surface and spit fountains of water into the air. “We can find land just as easy underwater as above. It doesn’t float, you know.”
“What doesn’t float?”
“Land, of course. So swallow up.”
Adam looked up toward the sky that had always been there above him. Patient and secure, its ever-changing shades of blue and purple and grey, the sky snuggled the world like a safety blanket. Adam thought of his parents, his friends, his bedroom, his old life. Was it all really gone? Were they all dead? They can’t be, thought Adam. Not all of them.