In which some history is made clear.
“Ernest,” I said, another day. My insides were warm and my mouth was bitter from the cup of coffee I’d been offered. ‘Offered’ was a generous word for the constant persistence Ernest put up about it. He seemed to think it was a tragedy to go without the caffeinated drink. With the metal cup still dangling in my fingers, I swished the dregs in the bottom. I'd drunk it to satisfy him and attempted a smile that probably bordered on a grimace. He had snorted. That cup of coffee was the most bitter and revolting thing I could remember tasting. Apparently, I was not a fan of coffee. Sitting on the edge of the boat, I let the cup clink against the side. If it had been warm enough, I would have trailed my feet in the water. As it was, I dangled my borrowed boots just inches above it. The water sloshed and whispered in a language I could not comprehend. Nothing was ever quiet in this world. Not for me.
Ernest had a fishing pole in his hand and slouched in a lawn chair behind me. His cigarette pulsed orange in the morning air. A few degrees less and my breath would have hung in the air like sheets on a line.
“Hmm?” Ernest answered. I remembered that I’d addressed him. It took a moment to remember what I had wished to ask.
I set the cup down and continued staring toward the horizon.“Why are you the only one on this boat?”
I heard him shift in his seat. Silence. And then: “I like to travel alone.”
“Oh.” My gaze fell deep into the water.
And then he continued. “Usually.”
I smiled wanly as Ernest sighed. “It wasn’t always like this. I used to own a company. Had a whole crew. But after the Event, you know, economy dried up. So it’s just me now.”
It was yet another reminded of my lack of memory. I twisted to look at him. “The Event?”
“The last Author, he did a lot of… bad things. Impossible things.” Suddenly he frowned. His eyes fastened on me like hooks. “Hold on. Do you remember the Authors?”
I shook my head and swung my legs around so that I faced him.
“Right. This is going to be a bit of a long explanation but it’s important. Especially for you, seeing that you came from a fight over the next Author.”
It took me several seconds to formulate a response. “You don’t know that.”
“It’s a high possibility. There isn’t anywhere else you’ll find red water, like you said.”
“Why is it red?”
“A kind of plankton. It’s an overgrowth in the North ’cause of the Event. Stop asking questions. I’ll lose track.”
A sort of relief filled me. It wasn’t blood. It was plankton. That made sense, of course. Humans only have an average of 10 pints of blood in their bodies (why did I know that?). Diluted by the ocean, it would take the blood of several whales to get such a deep tint of red in the sea. The idea of swimming in blood made my stomach curdle.
“Tell me about the Authors,” I murmured to distract myself.
Ernest nodded. “They are… peculiar people. There’s only one Author alive at any given moment, legend has it. The death of one sparks the birth of another. Before the Event, they were unknown, untraceable, and for the most part, harmless. Authors, for most of history, have done what they do best. Create. Most did it through writing, but others through art, or music. They could see beyond the fabric of reality… making something spectacular. Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Homer, Da Vinci, they’re all suspected Authors.”
I cocked my head, curious but still confused. “I don’t understand.”
“Let me talk, and you will.”
“Can I continue now?”
“Yes. I mean, if you like.”
Rolling his eyes, Ernest opened his mouth once more. “Authors are far more powerful than anyone knew. Until the Event, they were invisible parts of society. After, their existence was brought to light. Along with the knowledge of their supposed power.”
Ernest leaned forward, fishing pole still in hand, and I found myself mimicking him. “The power to influence. To change the world as we know it. They can write things into existence.”
Slowly, I sat back, stunned. Skepticism caught up to me immediately. “That’s impossible.”
“Of course, it is. And yet, the Event proved that it could be done, and indeed, had been done for centuries with no one the wiser.”
I held up my hand to stop him. “You must see how ridiculous that is.”
“I don’t care whether you believe me, Vince, only that you know.” Ernest tugged at his line and pursed his lips thoughtfully. “The Event, your original question, was the result of the last Author. He just shows up one day, tellin’ the story of the Authors and saying that he’s one of them. I suppose he wanted control, cause he wrote himself a frantic group of followers. But that was just the beginning. He unbalanced the Earth. Changed the seasons, messed with the tides, all sorts of stuff. Just because he could. That was the Event. I was a young man then.”
Squinting skeptically, I hopped down from my perch. My boots thudded onto the deck. “How do you know all of this?”
“S’ common knowledge, Vincent. You’ll see once we make it back to land.”
I nodded thoughtfully as another question bubbled up through my thoughts. “You said before that there’s a battle over the next Author. Why? Who is it?”
“Why? Because they don’t want the same thing to happen again with a new Author since that the other guy is dead. Now that we know about Authors, everyone’s running about like headless chickens trying to find the next one. Rumor has it that someone located him or her. So a whole lot of the Earth has gone mad trying to get a hold ’em. There’s two big sides, really. But I couldn’t tell you what’s the difference between them. Both seem pretty jacked up to me. As to who the Author is, that I can’t tell you. I don’t even think the people fighting know who they’re fighting for. It could be anyone. Well, anyone younger than twenty or so, since the last Author died ’round that long ago.”
I sat back against the side of the boat and crossed my arms thoughtfully. “And I came from a battle over this… Author? You said there’s sides? Which side am I on?” Then again if both sides were just as ‘jacked up’ as Ernest put it, did that really matter? Maybe, maybe not.
All the same, Ernest shrugged. “How should I know?”
“Well, your guess is as good as mine.”
Ernest squinted at me, wrinkled his nose and then sighed. “Going by the clothes you were wearing when I caught ya, I doubt you’re a soldier. Besides, you’re young. A bit shy of seventeen, by the looks of it. Perhaps you were caught in the crossfire. Either that or you’re-” Ernest stopped suddenly and pursed his lips as if berating himself.
“A sailor, perhaps.”
That was not what he was going to say, I knew. I could tell by the tone of his voice. The way his eyes shifted.
I tilted my head, suspicious. I still wasn’t sure whether I believed any of this. I squinted and crossed my arms. “And while all of this is happening, you’re just out here fishing.”
Ernest grunted. “As I may have mentioned, I like being alone.” He finally tugged in his line, fishless. He scowled at it and began packing away the equipment. “Besides,” he continued, “the world’s gone mad back at home. I needed to get away. If I could have convinced her, I would have made my wife come with me. But she couldn’t leave her precious New York City. She’s got her social group to look after” Ernest rolled his eyes. “That’s where we’re headed, by the way. Back to New York. Can’t avoid the world forever.”
“No,” I murmured. “I suppose not.”
All the rest of the day, my mind buzzed with the new information, and I locked it up into special compartments. Little sentences inside book covers. I didn’t want to forget.
Even if I still didn’t believe him.
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