Before someone loses their mind
and before someone presses the button
that will destroy our hearts...
Before the clouds around here
decide it's time to leave
because they can no longer sleep...
Before the seas abandon us,
before the seas abandon us...
-- Mecano; Canción cortita para antes que nos abandone el mar (A short song for before the sea abandons us)
When I was a kid, my grandpa used to take me for a walk from his beach house to the Collector's house. I never knew his name, but every summer he had something new to show us: a box set with seven colored mermaid scales (one for each of the Seven Seas
), a minotaur
hide (with visible lice damage, now impossible to sell) and even the first working prototype of Archimedes
' perpetual motion machine, batteries not included
On our way to his house we would collect anything that the shore had left for us. Sometimes it was gold doubloons or pieces of eight or something like that, but every once in a while we found real treasures. Somehow the treasures always found their way to us, without fail. A few of them were scattered on the sand but most came in unexpected ways, like people emptying their garbage bags from the highway, and stuff falling from joggers' pockets. Why would someone throw away things like that has always been a mystery to me. There was one time when a strange guy fell from the sky and impaled himself on his own spear, apparently stolen from Saint Longinus himself.
At first my grandpa would encourage me to look for something so I could present it to the Collector as a gift (it's terribly rude to show up empty handed to such a museum of a house). He taught me to look to the sand and up to the skies, he taught me to track wild octopodes and kraken, as they often mate near treasures. He taught me to speak shrimpese so I could ask them for the news, the advance of the red tide and the kind of gossip that you can use as blackmail for king Tadorna the Second. I learned to lure hermit crabs out of their miniature cities into a new gold or silver home.
Everything was different back then. For starters, there was life everywhere; the seas were more like a soup of micro-societies, each with their own ruler, bylaws and wars. The day after my eighteen-hundredth birthday, when I was officially declared an adult human, I was summoned for jury duty, to listen hour after hour of seagull lawyers' allegations. That was millennia ago.
- - -
One day, the Collector told me about the ships when my grandpa wasn't looking. He said they were built by others like us to explore new worlds, to learn from creatures far away from the shore. I asked him how it was possible for us to be out in the open without dying, but he wouldn't tell me. I had to wait another year before asking him again, but he wouldn't say anything else. "It's not a story the whales would tell you", he'd say before storming to the next room. I had to get him drunk on grape rum before he opened up for a while before he passed out on his porch.
This happened again the next summer, and the next one... On and on I learned about these mysterious travelers, never fully understanding whether the Collector talked ancient history or second-sight
One by one the ships came, carrying two or two hundred beings. They certainly looked like us, walking on two legs and with five fingers on their hands. Their skins were rather dull, in black, brown, red or white tones, but only one for all time. They always came from one of three points in the horizon, always the same 3 points.
They showed us how they boiled water to make beverages, and how they hunted with pointed sticks. They talked of multi-beaked finches, beagles, their discussions of how old is the earth, and how to use a sexant.
We offered them food and shelter, but they would never stay. They always talked about "sharing this discovery with the rest of the scientific community", whatever that may mean. They always left us after only a day or two, and none ever came back a second time, even though we left them a map of stars so they could always find their way back.
- - -
One day, the last ship left our horizon. Ever since then, the shore has been getting bigger and bigger. The seas are drifting away, as if sleeping. Every wave is just a bit shorter than the last, and the tide never fully recovers from day to day. There are no wars to fight, mostly because there's no one to fight them. There's nothing left to rule over, every kingdom is slowly moving to braver seas, letting their coral palaces to rot.
The Collector is gone, too. I've kept the Collection pristine, dusting here and there, sculpting and forging new parts for the old machines. I don't know where he's gone, but I'd like for him to find his home welcoming after all these years.
Grandpa didn't die. He went to sleep eons ago, before the seas got sleepy and lonely for ships. The other day we woke up and brought his grandchild to me. She's pretty, with the skies on her hair and silk on her eyes. She brought me a small rock. She said it came from above in a flash of green and landed on her lizard-house. Almost killed them all.
Grandpa told me he moved away, to the mountains, so that she wouldn't have to be sad for the desert-shore. His old shack is still where I remember, but it's easy to get lost in the way. He told me she's next in line for something or other. I didn't understand a bit. All I know is that she's building a new ship turned on its side. That way, whenever she's on board, she can look directly at the skies above.
- - -
(The machine, we learned later, was a simple Stirling engine; the discarded batteries were the actual providers of infinite energy. Why didn't we realize sooner, we'll never know)
* * *
Part of reQuest 2018
(Empty) |Andy's reQuest 2018
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