Aqueum: Part II

For a moment, I just sat there, saying nothing, feeling the warmth of this room. The comforting feeling seemed to roll off of him in waves—the man sitting in front of me, I mean.

His eyes were crinkled with amusement, some divine joke recalled there that only he remembered. Bushy white eyebrows framed his bright eyes. Big bubbles escaped his mouth in long, slow breaths; the mouth itself framed and accented by a fantastic beard.

In our city-under-the-ocean, we lived in water, breathed water, grew in water. A miniature aqueous ecosystem had grown into the old man’s beard. Trails of algae hung from its white threads. Two small seahorses chased each other around and through the facial forest.

Sitting near this man, this sober man (a miraculous trait, in a city of addicts), brought the strangest sensations to my awareness—I was struck by the wondrous feeling of the seawater surrounding me, enveloping my body, and my lungs. How had I not noticed the strangeness of it? I raised my hand and waved it in front of my face, felt the slight resistance of displaced water. Currents pushed by my hands into the space between us caused the man’s beard to sway gently. All of it tickled a faint something in the back of my mind, a knowledge of another place. I had always taken it for granted, but living underwater seemed now a strangeness, and a wonder.

“Do you remember how you got here?” The old man finally asked.

“What a silly question,” I thought to myself, “I’d climbed up here, from the alley…it’d been dark outside…”

“What I meant is this city-under-the-ocean,” he said aloud, reading my thoughts. “How did you get down here?” He leaned forward to grasp my hand, turned it palm up. “Our skin is not blue, like everyone else’s. You’re not from here, and neither am I.” He looked into my eyes. “Do you remember how you got here?”

“An elevator shaft.” I murmured. The words came seemingly of themselves, like his eyes were drawing them out from my well of lost memory. “Like…a metal tube, going down from somewhere. A machine.” I could see dimly a mental image of it, but I couldn’t recall being there; couldn’t recall seeing the thing with my eyes.

“That’s right, my boy.” he whispered, his grin widening. “An elevator. It’s here, somewhere. You must return to it. This city will swallow you whole, unless you escape soon.”

I grimaced, my heart twisted, and I remembered finally the dream of this morning. For a moment I remembered a life on the surface, in air, under a sun. If I had been up there in this moment, my eyes would’ve been filled with tears. The clarity of being around this old man was precious, and I knew that the Aqueum-trance would sweep it all away: the memory, the very knowledge of my identity. I would forget it all, and perhaps worst of all, I knew I wouldn’t mind one bit.

“You’ll remember.” the old man said, softly. “This isn’t your place. Trust who you are. You’ll find the surface again.”

I looked down, nodded, only half-listening.

“You’ll need this soon.” the old man said, and he laid an Aqueum pipe in my open hand. “Now, look at me.” he demanded.

I looked up. The old man’s smile persisted.

“You’ll hit this, and you’ll forget.” he said. “But you’ll remember my face. And eventually, you’ll remember how you got down here.” At this point, he leaned towards my face, and his gentle voice gained intensity as he spoke. “Pay very close attention when you do. When you remember how you got to this city, it means you’re very close to your exit.”

I stood, back in the alley, a spent Aqueum pipe sinking to the ocean floor. A smiling, bearded face drifted through my memory for a moment, and then the present surged forward in its place. The Aqueum-trance swept through me, and all memories fled before the growing brilliance of what lay before my eyes.

A waterwoman was in the act of bounding to her feet. Walls of blue rose to either side of me, and the apartment doors in the walls seemed to wink open and closed with my fluttering eyes. Water surrounded all of us… “And no one notices but me.” I thought. “Not this woman, not this light-fish swimming above our heads… Water is a reality for myself only, and soon I’ll forget it myself.” I said the words; knew I was a stranger here, but the heart-wrenching sorrow of it was washed away, for the moment.

The waterwoman, that strange, recurring partner of mine, stood before me, drinking in the experience I’d just had in the old man’s apartment. To her hallucinating vision, my pores were oozing a glittering gold essence. “So warm.” she murmured, breathing deeply.

I looked down at our hands; mine had reached out to hold hers. I saw the pores of our skin, saw the vast difference in shade: my hand pale, almost pink, while hers was a brilliant, sapphire blue. Strange…but still, only an oddity. The high walls of blue coral apartments leaned in over me… “It’s too cramped to think here.” I thought.

“Yeah! Let’s go out into the city!” She said, feeling my changing mood. I let her pull me into a run, and the last vestiges of memory collapsed under the wondrous high of Aqueum.

Goodness flows gold in veins, and leaves are falling up through the water. Sweat escapes a body, only to be met by the salty Mother Sea that surrounds. Bare feet cling and release the rock. Gulps of water, then bubbles exhaled from a mouth: green and red, then yellow and blue. Oils from insides color the exhalations. My bubbles are my gift to this world.

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Howl was born in the wastes north of Hithlum, where only beasts and witches dare roam. He was raised by two old hags, Tabby and Wiles, who had an unhealthy fascination towards the literary arts. Howl now resides in a well-furnished cave off South Rim Trail, complete with an old iBook and Wi-Fi.