Those who would remain knew about the visions of the lost. They’d been warned of the end—or of the beginning. It was impossible to say which it was because the two seemed the same.
Before the lost fulfilled their names, they talked of the value of the pieces of the past. Memories, stories, and dreams. They were to become the new future. They couldn’t—and wouldn’t—really ever be gone. Like gods.
The realization came when nature’s beds overflowed from a swirl of downpours and drizzle. Rivers broke free. Oceans proved as untamed as the rumors had always claimed. Buildings were no more reliable than a child’s sandcastle. Bricks and vinyl like broken shells. Paper from office windows became inanimate seagulls. Water swept over until no land remained.
Those knowing people clung to life, inside their equipped boats, above the surface. And there were trees, too—but those trees rooted deep into the pressured soil.
During the first few weeks, the man talked constantly. The rain. The visions. The aluminum. Always going on about the cheap aluminum, with its relentless dinging. When fish rubbed against the dented boat, he cursed at the high, scratchy echo that screeched from the flimsy walls. He kicked the sides, and the life scattered below. He was hush only when he was thinking of her—or when he was asleep, but there wasn’t much of that when the waters first took he and his son away.
Even when the waves tried to sing them a lullaby under the stars and the less hopeful slept anchored to the branches of the remaining trees, they, the man and boy, sat, focused, on their overturned buckets in the middle of the vast watery wasteland and made their own song with the melody of their synchronized reels, casting feverishly toward parts of the earth they had yet to search. In search of something they did not know.
Other fishermen waived at them, forcing their broken smiles, as they passed by in the night. These were the ones who still had a taste for nostalgia, those who dreamed of the memories they might yet find—relics of their mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. These were the ones who, too, hadn’t laid claim to their own tree. And why would they? Them with their bare harvests.
But, over time, the waters offered little to anyone. Pieces. Fragments. More like memories of dreams, possessing a haziness too unfocused to recall. Only symbols of an unclear whole.
It went this way for days. Then weeks. Soon, months passed. And eventually, those months added up to years.
For many, the spare, broken memories were all they recovered. Ripped pictures and headless dolls. Bundles of strings and empty vases. But all was nameless. Docked at their now permanent trees, these souls, who were once called fishermen, stared up to their lightly burdened branches weighted by their broken ornaments. They thought of the lost, but they couldn’t remember them. It was enough only because it would have to be. Their voices fallen quiet to the unknown missing memories.
It was the boy who told his father not to look when they came upon those docked memorials. They weren’t them—not yet.
But the man began to drift when the nightly song began. Soon, the woman visited him. The boy didn’t need to hear the words from his father; there were few secrets under the stars.
The man grew comfortable sitting on the edge of their floating vessel. He stared below. For her and for his future. There was also something else in that murky water that he needed: a past. His past—his past filled with multitudes.
The boy knew as much, which is why he dived into the watery fossil of the world that was.
Whether it was after her first vision or her hundredth, when she told him of the coming waters, her words were clear. She knew her husband. The boy—her son—had made a promise.
Salt burned the boy’s eyes. Debris tore at his skin. Still, he plunged deeper into the darkness. His hands grabbed at anything that floated near.
When his lungs burned, he returned to the surface and opened his mouth to the sky. It like a mother, dangling life above a begging mouth. The boy like the helpless hatchling. Breaths. In and out. In and out. Repeat. Again and again. Furiously. Frantically.
For some, everything. But nothing of her—of them.
The man came to when he saw the woman splashing ahead. He reached for one of the rods in the floor of the boat and cast the line to her.
“Grab it!” he called. His voice broken, segmented.
Tears ran down his face. “I’ve got you. I’ve got you,” he cried, reaching down into the water.
But it was his son—his son with her eyes—who he pulled into the boat.
The man remembered.
“Even if you don’t think you can, promise me that you’ll help him find me somehow,” she said.
The boy nodded.
The man and boy, with their full hearts, docked under a tree—the tree they would claim as their own.
Bradley Sides is a writer and English instructor. His work appears at BULL, the Chicago Review of Books, Electric Literature, The Millions, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He is at work on his debut collection of short stories. For more, visit bradley-sides.com.