Chapter 16: When the medium-sized girl almost got gagged with a dirty sock
The medium-sized girl was really struggling. Not quite as much as OTC, apparently. He had lost one of his shoes. He didn’t have any other shoes, he said. She didn’t either, but he kept insisting that his loss was different than hers. And then he’d go off on another “manifestation’s don’t have needs” tangent and say something about how a being couldn’t lose something it never had. She mostly tuned him out. It was tedious and repetitive and loud.
She had only recently realized OTC’s constant refrain of “you just don’t get it” might not be true. She was beginning to think that yes, she did get it. That is, she did get him—he didn’t like being called an “it,” she had learned. He wasn’t that difficult to get. His words made sense. He made sense. She did get it. Him. She just didn’t care. She wondered if anybody did.
“Why did you leave me?” She asked the woman. The woman couldn’t hear her. She had left them. Thus the medium-sized girl asking “why did you leave me?”
“If you don’t stop bringing that up,” OTC said, eyes a little crossed, “I will put this sock so far down your throat that… that…” he couldn’t come up with a “that,” though, and so just left it as a hanging threat. “And you can’t even feel pain, so, you know. I’ll really be able to get it in deep.” Disgust welled up in the medium-sized girl. She hated that emotion. She hated that she had been made to feel it. She had grown to hate it more than she hated even the sun. Which she had actually grown to mostly tolerate, if we’re being honest. Not that she would ever admit as much.
OTC was taking off his sock, which made her think she had said a thought out loud without realizing it. She did that quite often. It was a whole thing. Anyway. He was leaning towards her, sock balled up in his blistered hand. She wondered how it had gotten blistered.
“Oh?” She asked. He froze in place, surprised that she had noticed him.
“Just seeing if you had finally checked out,” he said, tapping his finger to his forehead. She stared at him, not bothering to blink. He sat back down real quick, fidgety and muttering.
“What was that?” She asked, frowning.
“I said, you’re a terrible devil child, and I think Chemie should have taken the supernatural a little more seriously when constructing his research methods.” The medium-sized girl frowned, not quite following.
“What? No, I wasn’t asking you ‘what,’ I was—do you hear that?” She looked around, trying to figure out where the noise was coming from. OTC had heard the noise that second time, though he didn’t exactly understand why she was so curious about it. It had been a splashing sound, a little ways off.
“Manny, we’re surrounded by water,” he said, glancing over his shoulder. Their roof was now a lonely island. This was the fifth roof they had occupied. They would need to move again before the day was up. The rain had continued on and off, and had brought the sea levels up a few feet. “It’s bound to make some noise, every now and then.”
The medium-sized girl looked around, unsatisfied. Water, everywhere. Well, mostly everywhere. The mountain rose up behind her, close, then far, far away. Buildings clung to the stone, sharp and wet and desperate to last another day. People had been swimming past them and climbing up ever since she and OTC had begun their roof vigil. There were fewer people, now. The gap between this mountain and the nearest land mass had grown, and OTC told her it was now probably too wide a gap for people to swim. And people with boats wouldn’t abandon their vehicles for a mountain top. Or so OTC said, anyway. The medium-sized girl wondered how many people there were in the mountain.
“On,” OTC corrected, still glancing around, trying to figure out what was splashing so noisily. The water wasn’t even choppy, this morning.
“On what?” The medium-sized girl asked.
“How many people are on the mountain. Not in the mountain.”
“Grammar, Manny. There are no people in the mountain.”
She frowned, barely able to stand him. He knew nothing. And on he talked, and on, and on.
He started balling up the sock again, and she thought she had probably slipped up with the “speaking out loud” thing. Again.
“There are people in the mountain,” she said, staring him down, sending him back to his nervous fidgets. Something splashed again. She turned towards the noise just in time to see a sparkling silver tail flip back into the water.
“Why do they keep leaving?” She asked, watching the place just beneath the water’s surface where the shimmering was, and then wasn’t.
“Life is full of leavings,” OTC muttered, thinking of a song and a band he had loved. He wondered what had become of them. “Best you can do is to not stay left, Manny.”
“I don’t know. Something I read in a book, once. Probably.” OTC could not honestly remember the last time he had read a book.
There was another splash. The medium-sized girl twisted around, searching the waters surrounding her. It had been a distant sound, this time. And there, in the distance, she could see what had made it.
A boy had clambered up onto a faraway roof. Distance rendered him small and dark. He was watching the water, and did not see her. She thought maybe he was saying something to the water. He straightened up, looking towards the mountain. He looked back down to the water, then to the roofs that floated between him and the ever encroaching shore line. He jumped back into the water and did not reappear.
“What was that?” She asked. OTC shrugged, not having seen the boy. “Wha—“ but she didn’t know how to finish the question. She didn’t know the question. It was there, somewhere in the deep parts of her mind, stirring. Whispering. But she didn’t know it. She thought maybe she once had. Or would. Or both.
A feeling other than disgust blossomed inside of her. The feeling was quite strong. It was something like memory. Something like longing. It was sharp, and sudden, and the medium-sized girl couldn’t tell if the suddenness and sharpness sprang from an aching absence or an intense, overwhelming presence.
The feeling blossomed within the medium-sized girl and she could not ignore it. She followed it over the edge of the roof. OTC didn’t even notice her leave. He was preoccupied, having just spotted his shoe, bobbing in the water some dozen yards away, stuffed full of jerky.
The medium-sized girl plunged into the ocean. She went in looking for the boy, and was confused when she was met with a twisting, shimmering world of silver and gold. And purple and green. And red and orange and yellow—color. She was met with color. And, as you’ll recall, she was not overfond of it. She blinked, and blinked some more. And finally the glittering shades coalesced into shapes. And the shapes formed up into more substantial shapes. And the more substantial shapes were staring at her, quiet and still.
They were the merpeople, of course, which she both did and did not know. But she knew she did not care. They were not the reason something was whispering at her from somewhere in the dark of her mind. She plunged past them, ignoring them as best she could. Which was very close to the very best, by this point. She had spent the past several weeks practicing on OTC.
She gently hit the bottom of the ocean. She looked up, scanning the undulating mass of sparkling colors above, searching for a pair of legs. She didn’t have to search long. Though she was rather selective, when it came to noticing things, Rain and the merpeople were hardly capable of ignoring a strange, sinking child. Especially when that child did none of the usual “child” things, when dropped amongst a trill of merpeople.
The medium-sized girl saw the boy. It was hard to miss him. What with the legs, and the swimming towards her. And the legs.
And the whispering, and the feeling, and the question that she had once known, or, perhaps, would know. And then, she was smiling—something which had not happened for quite some time, and which made her cheeks tremble.
“I could probably ‘make it’ with you,” she bubbled, thinking that she had, at last, found a way to leave OTC.