Wait, what are we doing on the ground?
Yeah, I know, but seriously, did our body just quit because you got distracted by the shiny
We can eat fish! I think I like fish!
Hold on, really?
I don’t know. I want to like fish?
Weird. Um. Also. The ground and desk seem to be staying solid, even though, um, we got a little,
Fish! We don’t have to eat rats!
Wait. Do we know how to catch fish?
Did we know how to catch rats?
I don’t think we can just fall on the fish.
Fish. I think we can grab one. That one looks slow.
I don’t know if our mental representation of the fish moves the same as they do out there. But I guess some of them might be slow?
Are we hungry?
Gastrointestinal rumbling rolled in accompaniment to the gentle time being kept by the water.
Hah. I say we go for it.
Wait, what about being insane?
Can we do anything about it if we are insane?
I, well. I don’t know?
Then I think we concentrate on the fish.
The collapsed pile of child slumping against the desk crawled, up on fingers and toes, silent again, toward the soft glow of the pool, two of his fingers held just off the press of the ground. Eyes now traced the path of first one small brown fish, with black fins and white spots, then another that looked to be looping in a more relaxed way, a fish that was either orange with white speckles, or the inverse.
As the boy looked over the edge of the pool, hunched on his heels, one hand rested just above a knee, last two fingers held out and apart from the rest, untouching, untouched. His other hand hovered just below the boy’s line of sight, mirroring the winding path of his gaze, waiting for the slow fish to come into reach.
How many fish are there?
Still as the unmoving air in the tunnel, the boy waited. Poised and tense, engaged in every primal sense, the hunter and his food, predator and his prey. The lazy fish swirled close, then away, and the boy swayed along, timing the movement, waiting, until the fish spiraled close to the edge upon which the boy crouched, drifting slow and ready, ready to be caught.
Like a snake exploding from coil, the boy unleashed himself upon the unsuspecting fish, hand darting faster than his eyes could even follow, right into the watery glow, right where the fish was going to be, lead by the intuition of thousands of generations of hunters refining their talents and passing them along in their training and their genetics.
Eager little fingers, confident of their timing and their speed, closed triumphant on the barest edge of what might have been a tail, as a splash sent ripples cascading across the surface of the pool, the last thing that the young hunter noticed before his precarious balance betrayed him, thrown off by his lightning thrust into the water, free arm flailing back, trying in vain to arrest his momentum before he fell right into the pool.
Splashing around, water was everywhere, in every direction. He fought to open his eyes, to orient himself. The water burned his eyes and the boy blinked furious blinks, twisting every which way, looking for up, for air, but you can’t see up, you can’t see air.
The thrashing movements in the water took on a frantic desperation, and then right as his head broke the surface his thrashing settled into a even pulse which, between his good arm and his legs, managed to keep his head up long enough to take one breath, and another. Relaxing into the rhythm of not drowning, several thoughts rushed for simultaneous prominence.
We can swim!
This water is Cold!
Hey, we are wearing shorts!
Of course we are wea
THERE IS SOMETHING IN OUR SHORTS!
Another flurry of movement sent splashes and ripples across the soft light of the pool surface, and a soaking little boy scrambled up now wet stone, shaking and spasming and shivering all at once, kicking a leg out while a hand tried to brush down his thigh pushing, scraping, slapping whatever had joined him in his shorts back out, out of his shorts where he was pretty sure just he belonged.
The lazy orangey-white fish flopped onto the stone floor, and lay there, blank eye staring up at the unmoved ceiling.
Shivering, the small dripping wet boy was now very aware of each article of clothing that he wore, as each of them held more of the now even colder water, pressed right up against his puckered flesh.
Huh. We are wearing clothes.
Very cold, very wet clothes.
This doesn’t seem to have worked out very well.
At least there is the fish.
Um, speaking of which. Did you guys notice, well…
All the other fish are gone.
Yup, sure did. Are we sure we aren’t crazy?
Um. Not, really.
Still can’t do anything about it. We have things we DO need to be doing, though.
Oooh, really? A quest!
I just meant, something to do. Like, yay, we have something to do? That is what quests are, right? Something to do?
Yeah, I mean. They are. How did you..
Sure. Like a quest. Two missions. Do something about these clothes and do something about this fish.
Can’t we just eat the fish? Um. Like the rat?
I don’t think so. Fish have scales. Um. Like armor?
Don’t other fish eat fish?
Hah. Sharks eat fish. Sharks also have hundreds of razor sharp teeth, like this
With another flickering a shark, huge and grey appeared lunging up out of the depths of the pool water, jaws flared and teeth looming, snapping
Aaahhhh! Sweet motherson of a sour sack. What. Wha… Not ok. Not ok.
The shark faded, leaving the pool water smooth and undisturbed.
That was in fact the funniest thing I have ever seen. Hah. Cause you know. We’ve only seen, like eight things. And that chair isn’t funny.
That was kinda funny. Get up, you’re fine.
Hpmh. Fine. So, fish, then, and clothes?
Um, which one first?
I don’t know. Clothes?
Wait, what are we going to do about the clothes?
Right. And, um, the fish?
What can we do right now?
The boy shot to his feet, his good hand ripping at the soaking hem of his shirt before he even stood, then fumbling at the drawstring of his shorts before just shucking them, and his undershorts, right onto the stone, then jumping clear of the sodden pile to a dry spot in the direction of the desk.
Standing there, for some reason squeezed together with his hands cupping his genitalia, his head jerked back and forth in sporadic spasms as his eyes scanned sparse wooden linings of the wall. He snapped a quick look around the cave, down the hall out the door, and then down, at his shivering body.
Ok, next? Maybe a not naked step?
He was not big, his ribs were showing through the scant protection offered by his little muscle and less fat, and his leg muscles defined in the soft light. He took another look around and then shook, rolling his shoulders, and pulling his hand up to swipe all the remaining water off his skin, brushing it out of his short hair, wincing when he got near the still tender spot above his left ear.
He leaned back as far as he could, wincing again and letting a hand drift toward his ribs before rolling his neck to several audible pops and leaning down to brush the stone floor with his fingers.
And sore, but standing here shivering isn’t fixing either of those conditions.
Um. Did we just GO crazy?
I just realized. I think we actually DID just fall on the fish.
Focus! Cold, naked, remember?
Right. Next step?
The boy stood as straight as he could and strode over to the wooden boxes next to the desk.
Closest to the desk were wooden crates stacked higher than the boy’s head. Peering through the time warped slats in the dim light from the pool the crates he saw they were all filled with empty glass jars, lids all screwed closed.
He moved on with a quick shiver to a long low chest further down the wall, in the back furthest crook of the cave from both the pool and the doorway. The lock had fallen off the front of the chest to lay on the ground before it. The boy stood looking at the lock for a moment, before lifting the top of the chest.
Bibbity bobbity boom!
Reaching into the chest, the boy grabbed a thick roll of cloth and whipped it out, giving it a hard shake to reveal it’s sweater shape before wiggling inside, trying to manipulate his little body through the holes without snagging or moving his tender fingers.
When his head poked through the top he resumed rooting through the chest, tossing some items out into what became distinct piles, and shoving other stuff over into the other side of the chest. He emerged holding a small knife, still wrapped in leather sheath. He looked over at the fish laying still next to the pool, and grinned.
First stage accomplished, now for the feasting!
I am not trying to rain on the parade you’re throwing yourself there, but just what do you think you’re gonna do with that knife?
The boy sat down next to the fish, looked at the knife in his hand, and back at the fish. With another little shrug, he bent, pinned the fish with the heel of his broken hand and brought the knife down, hard. The blade scraped sparks on the stone and he jerked back, gripping the knife tight.
The fish head spun across the ground, resting just out of arm’s length.
Thanks. Just tried to think of what part I didn’t want to eat.
I can think of another.
With a quick snap of his wrist the boy flipped the fish around to pin it in the other direction, raising his arm to repeat the jerking grindy hack and send the tail spinning off in the direction the head had gone.
Any idea how we handle the armor?
The scales. Um. Drag the blade under them, try to peel them off?
Rolling his shoulders and neck again, the boy picked up the fish, pinching it between the two largest fingers and his thumb, and he began dragging the knife along the side of the fish scraping off scale in chunks and pieces, all falling into a little pile.
He tore open what felt like the softer side and all the insides of the fish slipped onto the pile of scales and he almost dropped the fish. He kept scraping until he felt like pretty much all of the scales were off, then he pried out the long bone running down the back and held aloft his peeled fish.
So this is supposed to be the edible part of the fish?
Um. You kinda said that like it was a question. Could you make it more statementy?
This is the eaty part!
Well, regardless, I think what we have left is the part we’re eating.
What he had left was almost as big as his hand, and had little white spines of bone jutting out all over. He looked at his meal for a moment. Raising it to his lips, he crunched right through the tiny bones, chewed as long as he could stand it, and swallowed. Staring at the dwindling food in his hand, he repeated, chew, chew, chew, swallow, bite, chew.
When there was no more fish he licked his fingers, then stopped, mid lick, and looked at the pool. He shuffled over and washed his hands in the water, wiping them on his sweater, and smiled. He cupped his hand and reached into the water, scooping some up to his mouth, which he spat right back out with a grimace.
Gah, that water was worse than the fish.
Which really wasn’t that bad.
Right? We could do that again.
Except the other fish left.
Maybe we can get them to come back?
Hah. Fish eat fish, right?
Standing, he looked down at the pile of fish remains and swept them into the water with a foot. Then he looked up at the wall of the cave, which leaked in places like the wall out in the tunnel, water running along the smooth stone into the pool.
He went over, leaned in and smelled the water running down the wall, which smelled like the water in the tunnel, not the bitter water in the pool, so he wiped at it with his fingers, licking them and nodding before leaning in to lap at the grimy wall.
We did good work right there.
Quest items and experience gained!
You’re so odd. Not wrong, always, but odd, every time.
We should get some sleep.
Clothes, and the door maybe?
He walked back, picked up his clothes, one at a time, wrung each of them out into the pool as best he could with one good hand, and then laid them out to dry on the chair. Eyeing the arrangement with satisfaction, he turned and eased the heavy door almost shut.
Then he returned to the pile next to the chest in the corner, grabbed a blanket, wrapped it around himself and was asleep in minutes.