Aqueum: Part III

 

A star held in my hands. An entire world, radiating, pulsing aliveness through my palms. I smile as I offer it to the waterwoman. 

Without even looking at it, she swallows the sun whole. I cry out in anguish; freezing salt water pours into the dream from all sides. I sink to the ground. 

I do not float in these depths; I fall to the bottom, like a rock. My skin is hard, shaped by countless ages of external pressures. My limbs are gone. My mind is gone. One rock in a field of rocks, at the bottom of a nameless ocean. 

I stood still, gazing at a rock on the ground, in a massive, empty hallway. The rock was about the size of a volleyball. “It reminds me of myself!” I thought. “I feel as if I sank down here, like a rock, embracing gravity wholeheartedly until I landed here: in this city-under-the-ocean.”

“The waterwoman, I wonder where she is…” I continued to myself. “Hmm… I wonder what her name is? God, I wonder what my name is?” A flicker, and a pull in my throat…a feeling, like a different kind of gravity. I could feel my friend calling to me, obviously from outside this room (empty as it was, but for me and some rocks).

I was in a hallway of a palace. Three walls had rough-hewn openings to other places, and the fourth wall had a mural, stretching wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling. The mural was the only remarkable feature of the huge, underwater room. Nothing was here but rocks, and small ocean-floor creatures living and dying amongst them.

How the mural got here was as unfathomable a mystery as the palace itself, and this entire city. It’s a city of dreamers, not builders, so how did all this get built? It felt as if the drug, Aqueum, came first, and waterhumans grew around it, and the city just grew around the waterhumans, forming natural rock structures over countless millennia—and yet, from communicating with the palace directly, it could just as easily have grown out of the rock yesterday.

Our city-wide addiction to Aqueum made such a mess of memory that it was impossible to tell. Much simpler to just take the palaces, and the entire city, at face value. If you’re down here, you’re already too high on Aqueum to care much anyway. I stepped out and headed for the entrance of the palace, following the call of my waterwoman friend.

Presently I was outside again, in the street, amongst other people and other creatures. Waterhumans, fish, a giant turtle that walked slowly past. I turned back to look at the palace I had just left: all domes and spires on the outside, in greens and yellows and blues. On the highest tower I could see her, waving to me. I reached and pulled, kicked and stroked, paddling my way up through the water until I could join her in her view of the city.

Fish swam in schools. Waterhumans walked, or danced, or stood still. Stingrays swam by their heads. The view was breathtaking, and I held my friend’s hand and gazed at our city for a few long moments.

After a while, my waterwoman partner grew agitated and looked around us, and then in my pockets, searching for an Aqueum pipe. Just as I was about to brush her off in annoyance, a memory came drifting by, and it looked like a ribbon of a yellow-rose hue. It was quite beautiful and vivid to the taste. “And what’s more,” I thought, “I think I made this memory! There’s a man, just like me, with pale skin, just like this!” I waved my hand to myself. “And he’s walking into an empty elevator…why, it’s more empty than anything! I don’t think there’s water in it at all!” A remarkable thought came to me then, regarding the smiling face of a certain old man, and I jumped right off the tower, swam back to the ground, and rushed back to the hallway with the mural.

Back in the hallway, I stood, gazing with renewed interest at a beautiful mural I’d passed by at first, in favor of the rocks. “Now, I know I came out somehow, out of this wall…what do you think?” The last bit I addressed, aloud, to my friend—but she wasn’t there. Furthermore, I couldn’t feel her presence at all! Even when I reached with my mind as far as I could, I encountered only myself… and my thoughts…a quite remarkable experience, I can assure you, after having lived in a drug-induced telepathic connection with thousands of others for who-knew-how-long.

“You know, it must be that I haven’t had Aqueum for hours. Being so close to that girl for so long, I didn’t notice!” I said to myself. “And now I’m remembering so many strange things…I know there was something here…oh!” My hand, which had been probing and stroking the curves of the mural, leaped back as a large section of the wall pulled back and to the side, exposing a small room. Every side of it shone a metallic silver. It was the elevator.

As the elevator traveled up its shaft, towards the surface, the seawater drained slowly out the bottom—until my face was in empty air, then my shoulders, then finally my whole body. I took huge breaths of air for the first time in ages, and I shook with joyous emotion and sensation. Water drained from my lungs, out through my mouth and all my other orifices.

As I waited for the elevator to reach the surface proper, I went through all I could remember of the city-under-the-ocean; all the experiences I’d had on that remarkable drug. “I don’t remember much,” I thought, “but her I do remember: that girl following me for the last few days. Still, I wonder what her name was? Down there, names are pretty useless, I suppose. But I’ll give her one now: Moana!” And then I reached out, with friendship and love, towards her, even though I could no longer feel her. “Goodbye, Moana!” I exclaimed aloud. “I finally made it to the surface! I’ll enjoy all the sunlight I can for you.”

The door to the elevator opened at last, and I stepped out into a city submerged completely in miraculous air. It was a city filled with throngs of people, and everyone clung tightly to their private thoughts and identities. Everyone had names here, myself included.

* * * * * *

Moana came sharply back to the present moment, having dozed off atop the tower. Such warmth! The daydream she’d just had…it was fading quickly, but she remembered enough. There was a surface, above this city, with more light than anyone here could imagine.

“I’ll get there,” she whispered to herself (and she noted with some surprise the act of addressing her own person, as if she were separate), “I’ll get there somehow, or I’ll die trying!”

She leapt off the tower and swam with passion until she reached the ground. When she touched down, Moana no longer remembered herself, nor what she’d just decided to do. She wandered into her city-under-the-ocean in search of more Aqueum.

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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.