Wit’s World: Never Was, Chapter Sixteen by Elizabeth Watasin

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Pip paused among the garden terraces of Mystica’s castle and frowned. Something disturbed the serenity of the gardens; it was the distant noise of grinding machinery. She began descending the terraces they had just climbed, hopping down the slopes like a nimble goat.
“Philippa!” Mr. Wit called, but Pip was already halfway to the shore. The Light Bridge had been steadily contracting with the sounds of loud, working gears. It was slowly losing its gentle arc and becoming a straight line. The machinery came to a halt. She waited expectantly. The bridge floated in the water, a completely flat line. Pip was certain that if Em could draw a picture for her, it would explain that what the bridge had just done was not possible. However, her white doves were evidence enough of what this reality was capable of.
The grinding sound resumed. Pip didn’t need to see the actual machinery to know that it was presently working in the opposite direction. The contracted tubes of the bridge were pulling apart, lengthening the bridge again. Pip watched it form its new arc below the water, an upside down version of what it had been before. It began to sink in a rush of displaced water and foam.
“Oh my goodness,” she whispered. “It’s becoming its opposite.”

* * *

Em watched the plates beneath her feet methodically slide into each other. The glass tubing slid as well. The bridge was doing something she couldn’t believe; it was becoming shorter and straightening. The loss of the bridge’s arc forced it closer to the lake’s surface, bringing the water beneath her feet rapidly nearer. Em turned around and ran.
Water began lapping at the sides of the glass tunnel. As she ran, the water rushed against the walls and swirled over the roof, obscuring the sky. Em could still see the bright sunlight that lit the opening to Astraopolis. She felt the plates move again, this time to stretch apart. Her path lengthened. She saw the light at the entrance grow farther and farther away as her path grew longer. A new arc of the bridge was forming, the opposite of what it had been above the waves. The bridge slowly grew into a curve that met the lake floor. The pathway Em desperately ran upon became an incline that grew steadily steeper. Tiny lights blinked into existence around her.
“No!” she whispered frantically when she slipped back down the glass path.
Em fell. She slid the long length of the bridge’s curve to the bottom of the lake. Submysterea loomed in the rippling waters. There were the large stones of a lost civilization, its strange statues and tumbled columns. Chiseled words appeared through the churn and bubbles: “LAND OF ADAM.” There was a dead submarine and a dead fighter plane. A deep sea diver floated listlessly, his bathysphere bobbing in the waves created by the sinking bridge. A swift current swept the diver away. The press and presence of embracing, dark water was everywhere and it wanted to crush her.
When Em finally stopped sliding she shut her eyes tight and clung to the lit, glass path beneath her. She gave in to terror.
Buck and Shade heard her frightened gasps for air and paled as they looked at each other.
“Em, what’s happening?” Buck said. “Em, talk to us, please.”
“Em, c’mon,” Shade tried. They only heard her ragged attempts to breathe. He hit one of Buck’s bookcases.
“Em, tell us what’s happening, please,” Buck said. “Let us help you.”
“Br — bridge sank,” she said, gasping. “Can’t – can’t move,” she whispered tearfully.
“The bridge sank?” Shade cried. “She’s under water?!”
Buck hit the mute button.
“She’s terrified. I’m calling her mother,” Buck said in panic.
“Wait. What would Pip say to her? How would she help her through this?”
“Pip would say, ‘Hold my hand,’ because she was there the last time this happened to Em and this time there’s no Pip and we’re not there!”
Shade hit the mute button.
“Em,” he said. “Listen to me. Remember what I told you about my uncle, the one I loved? What’s his name, Em? Answer me, I want to know you can hear me.”
Her panicked breathing hitched as Em tried to speak.
“Wi — Wittie the Third.”
“That’s right. Wittie the Third went looking for Atlantis because he wanted to discover something of what Ray Buster Higgs had planned. He grew up dreaming of Submysterea. He designed suits and submersibles and had all these courses plotted. I thought Uncle Wittie was something else, remember Em? I thought he was amazing, just like your Aunt Dawn.”
“When he disappeared,” Shade continued, “I hated the ocean that took him. I wanted to destroy all those stupid dreams of Atlantis. But I knew he wouldn’t want me to do that because hurting that would be like hurting me. What’s my dream? Do you remember? What do I dream of?”
There was only the sound of her frightened breathing through the speaker.
“It’s okay to say it in front of Bucky,” he added. “I know I told you not to tell anyone but I bet you told Pip.”
“I didn’t,” she said with a gasp. “I didn’t.”
“Then can you say it, Em? C’mon. Let’s hear it.”
While listening to Shade, Em forced her frozen body to move. She reached blindly with shaking hands and limbs. Eyes screwed tight, she made herself crawl. She spoke as clearly as she could.
“You want to go to Mars.”
“That’s right,” Shade said as Buck stared at him, agape. “First man on Mars, that’s my dream. Uncle Wittie would want me to keep dreaming. He’d want me to put on a suit and go, just like him. That’s why Aunt Dawn wouldn’t want what took her to take you, too.
“I’m not going to lose another person like this,” he said. “Move, Em. This water can’t take you.”
Em’s breathing was still labored, but they also heard the slow shuffle of her crawling. The boys exchanged hopeful glances.
“Hey, do you think you can walk back to land now?” Shade said with humor. “Now that we’re sharing secrets again maybe you’ll go out with me. We can share a lot more. We can go to the Mediterranean. I’ve got an island.”
“You moron,” Buck said. “An island?!”
Em didn’t answer. Her eyes were open, the better to see if she was crawling in the right direction. She pushed herself after each tiny light on the path of the tunnel. She was still far under water. She focused on Aunt Dawn, Dad, Mom, and Pip, all of whom would not want her to drown. And on what Shade was telling her.
“I know you don’t like a lot sun but we can spend that time, y’know, exploring. In caves, I mean. Your mom can come. Pip, too. To chaperone.”
“I told you, Wit,” she said, her voice sounding stronger, “I’m not that kind of girl.”
Shade’s goading made her regain her trembling feet. She would have preferred hugging the glass walkway like a life raft but knew she’d never make it out if she did.
“Em, let’s walk you back to land,” Buck suggested. “You keep listening to us and we’ll get there together.”
”Okay,” she whispered. ”Keep . . . keep talking.”
“Nothing much to see on our end except that Shade looks like crap and his eyeliner is running. He drank all my Astro Fizz and I think his breath stinks.”
“What?” Shade said.
“And his belt buckle is stupid.”
Em could hear the boys tussle.
“I . . . I see Submysterea,” Em said. She concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. She felt she was only one movement away from hugging the floor again.
“You do?” both Buck and Shade exclaimed.
“Yes . . . it’s a sunken city.” She took deep breaths, trying to focus on facts. “A lost civilization. The . . . mini subs from the surface, they’re touring inside of it. I’ll . . . I’ll draw it for you when I get back.”
“That’ll be great,” Buck said.
“It’s called ‘Land of Adam.’”
Em’s ear was again filled with the chatter of excited male voices. Then her world darkened. A huge shadow crossed over her.
An immense beast sailed past; a massive fish. Its eyes were small and blank and its bony jaws with its jagged teeth looked cruel. The iridescent scales of its body were so true to life, Em was unsure if she was really staring at a Puppetron. Her heart beat in her throat as she watched the beast glide away for the tilted ruins of Submysterea. Bubbles rose before her. She knew that something was also passing underneath. She looked down through the transparent floor.
Her sudden gasp alerted the boys.
“What is it?” Buck asked, alarmed.
An enormous sea serpent looked up through the glass. It stared askance, studying her with one, round eye. Its head slowly moved past her feet, the eye never leaving her. As it passed, Em felt the floor rise, pushed up by the mass of the beast. The giant serpent slowly curved back so it could stare at her with its other huge eye. In some detached part of herself, Em noted that the leviathan’s head was larger than her and therefore had a length of body that could be calculated by the size of such a head. This speculation certainly didn’t help, so she decided to stop.
“Buck, did . . . Mr. Higgs make monsters?” Em whispered. She was as still as a statue before the serpent’s cold, blank regard. Its eye was as large as one of her arms.
“What? No!” Buck whispered back. He looked at Shade. “Why would he do that?”
Em swallowed. She began to recognize the look the leviathan was giving her; that of a predator having spotted food. “Someone did,” she whispered.

* * *

Pip stood vigil on the balcony and watched the waters that had swallowed the bridge. Mr. Wit, taking advantage of his guest’s rare moment of silence and stillness, had ordered Godfrey to set a table and bring over some drinks. “It’s only a bridge,” he said to her as he enjoyed his drink and smoked. “No need to worry about it.”
When Pip didn’t answer, he continued.
“It makes that arc below rather than sinking in its previous form because it’s a statement about transformation. How was it described . . .” Mr. Wit exhaled smoke thoughtfully. “‘Arcing in light, it goes for the sky, but as its opposite, it goes for Below.’ Something like that. A light and dark comparison. God knows why anyone would bother doing it this way. That transformation took forever, didn’t it? If you want to submerge a bridge, just submerge it.”
Pip leaned against the stones. She had been gripped by an ominous dread since the bridge’s sinking. She thought it was because it reminded her of what happened to Aunt Dawn, but she wasn’t sure. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something terrible was unfolding and there she stood, useless on a fairytale isle.
“I don’t know,” she said, more to herself than to her oblivious host.

* * *

The sea serpent bumped the bridge again, but purposefully this time. Em stumbled. The beast, seeing her movement, suddenly pulled back. Water churned around the swaying tunnel. Through the curtain of bubbles Em saw massive jaws hurtle towards the glass.
She threw her arms up as metal teeth struck. Cracks spread and she turned to flee. The serpent flung itself at the glass again. Teeth screeched against the surface. It coiled around the tube, blocking out the light. She felt the tunnel rise. The serpent was dragging the Light Bridge out of the depths.
Water swirled against the walls until the tunnel broke the surface of the lake. Sunlight shone through curtains of water. Em heard an earth-shattering crack and she tumbled down the length of bridge within the serpent’s grip. The tunnel tilted again in its coils and she began to slide the other way, towards the isle. As she skidded she realized she was falling towards a new and jagged opening and towards the leviathan’s huge eye on the other side.
She reached for her left boot and quickly drew the weapon she’d hidden there: the silver throwing dagger, engraved with the name DAWN. Em swiftly flung the blade. It hit with a thunk, and the eye instantly cracked into a spidery pattern that bled blue electricity. The monster roared and thrashed, hurling Em into a wild tumble back down the tunnel. She regained her feet once she hit the bottom and ran across the cracking platform. She felt the tube sink underwater again just as the beast re-submerged. Water shot from various cracks in the glass. She kept running.

* * *

When Pip spotted the monster she gasped and tipped dangerously over the terrace balcony. Far in the distance, the formidable head of some sea creature had risen from the waters of the lake. Its body was that of a snake and within the grip of the coils that also rose was the span of the glass bridge. The monster raised the structure further out of the cascading waters and to Pip’s horror, the glass bridge snapped in two.
Pip and Mr. Wit silently watched the sea creature roar and thrash in fury, then sink back into the lake’s waters, taking the glass bridge down with it. Waves from the beast’s thrashing struck their shore, angrily churning up the sand and rocks. Pip removed the hand she’d held to her mouth.
“That was a Puppetron?” she asked.
“Yes.”
“Terrible,” she whispered.
“Such nonsense, making sea beasts,” Mr. Wit quietly commented.

* * *

Watery Submysterea reappeared. Adam’s Land was nothing to Em but stones and death. She heard the thunderclap snaps of the tube cracking further, spraying her with water. The deep sea diver still dangled by his tangled air line as she ran past. The faceplate turned in her direction, revealing a man’s decaying, sleeping face. The helmet read: “HIGGS.”
She scrambled desperately up the tunnel for the swaying exit and the light of Astraopolis. Water rushed in and swirled high enough to reach her body. She waded, climbing the handrail as her lifeline to the top. Adrenaline kept her one step ahead of submersion. When she reached the Astraopolis sunlight she stumbled from the bridge’s opening. Water surged and sloshed out on the polished ground, following her.
She did not stop moving until she was across the pristine boulevard and climbing the grassy hillside upon which more of Astraopolis’s sedate, little buildings gleamed. She was dimly aware of Buck’s frantic voice in her ear. She kept going until she reached the top, an incongruous little dining table with its yellow umbrella greeting her.
Only then did she allow herself to collapse.

end Chapter Sixteen
Wit’s World: Never Was © Elizabeth Watasin 2011

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