Chapter Thirty Nine
Once he was away from the watering hole and surrounded by the tall grass again, Adam found he could move through the water more quickly.
The grunts and bellows of the bog monsters soon became a distant din, but he knew if he didn’t find the end of the swamplands, the entire place would be crawling with them and he would be trapped.
After a while, the water became so high that he could no longer feel the bottom and the tall grass was no more than mere inches above the waterline.
So this is why it grew so tall, he thought as he stopped to look at the horizon. The grass needs to get above the surface of the water.
Looking out over the top of the grass he could see the crystal towers were closer. He’d been gone so long that the sun had disappearing behind the storm clouds and it was dark. Soon it would be pitch black and he wouldn’t be able to see his destination.
He wondered if Emma was beginning to worry about him. He’d promised her he’d be back before dark and it would be much longer than that by the time he did. And, to make matters worse, he’d be returning empty handed.
In all their time spent growing up next to the ocean, Adam and Emma had become strong swimmers and, tonight especially, Adam thanked the red planet above that he was up for the task of swimming the whole way home. The muscles in his arms were beginning to cramp as he paddled through the thick swamp, but he would make it. And at least he didn’t get stuck in the mud.
After about an hour of paddling, the base of the spires revealed themselves through the parting grass. He heaved a deep sigh of relief at the sight. His arms were beginning to ache and his legs had long stopped kicking.
He floating among the massive columns of towering spires until he recognized the one leaning over that he and Emma had made into the their home these past few months.
His heart was heavy as he pulled himself from the water and slid onto the first ledge of the tower. After all they’d been through, they would need to move again. Was there no part of the moon they could call home? Would they never find a place of comfort and contentment?
Something bobbing in the water caught his eye then and he stuck his hand under the surface to fish it out. When his fingers touched it, he grasped it and pulled it from the water. It was small enough to fit in his hand and seemed handmade in its unnatural rectangular shape. He wiped a layer of mud from its top, curious to examine what the strange thing was. But when the top was finally revealed, he recognized it straight away and a sharp worry struck him. It was Emma’s box, her treasure that had been with her since she was a child.
Adam opened it. It was full of water, the mechanism inside broken. Adam knew the hologram of Emma’s mother would never appear again.
She would never have let it tumble down the tower like this unless… If something was wrong, he needed to get to her.
Adam dropped the box back into the water and let it sink below the surface. It was a sad end to something he knew Emma loved, but he couldn’t worry about it now.
He started to climb up the tower, but no sooner had he taken his first step towards their cave than a familiar bellow met his ears. His heart sank at the sound.
It couldn’t be!
But, sure enough, when he looked up, he saw it— a bog monster scaling the tower. He watched it disappear into one of the many crystal caves and cried out helplessly. He was too late! Emma would be caught and there was nothing he could do!
He saw another monster then, and another, and realized that the entire tower was swarming with them. All the towers along the edge of the grasslands were alive with the movement of those wretched beasts, burrowing into the crystal and… were they building more of them? Like termites building grotesque mounds, or bees constructing geometric hives, Adam realized that these monsters must have created the towers for some horrible use.
With no choice but to slide back down and slip into the water, Adam did just that, and began to float away from the swamp and back towards the jungle. There was nowhere else he could think to go.
He looked up at the cave as rain poured around him, tears hiding among the drops. He prayed to the red planet that Emma had made it out alive, but, in her ill condition, how could she have made it all on her own?
Finally, after more time drifting in the water, Adam reached the edge of the swamp and pulled himself from the water. Without giving himself a moment to recover, he crawled as quickly as he could towards the tree line. He was exhausted and desperate to find somewhere to hide.
When he’d finally passed into the dense forest, he crawled underneath a thick bramble bush. He ignored the pain of the sharp thorns that scraped against his bare flesh as he pressed himself to the ground and slid underneath it. They might hurt, but the thorns would provide the safety he needed for the remainder of the rainy night.
He lay under the bush for a long while, looking out at the crystal spires in the distance. Soon they had become overwhelmed with a frenzy bog monsters.
Why does everything beautiful turn to ruin? he lamented as the rain turned from a hard downpour to a soft, continuous drizzle.
The world seemed to quiet as the rain let up and, for the first time, he could hear the jungle around him through the downpour again. But he wasn’t calmed.
Faced with a renewed feeling of the larger world around him, Adam was struck by a dark feeling of loneliness. How am I to live alone on this moon now? he thought hopelessly. The thought angered him suddenly. I won’t do it! I’d sooner die! I’ll throw myself from the cliffs and let my body dash among the rock below!
His thoughts were disturbed by a strange sound that didn’t belong among the others. It was a sound he had never heard before in all his time on the jungle moon and it caught his attention in a way that none before it had. It was a high-pitched whining that danced on the wind, echoing through the trees as it floated lightly all around him.
For some reason the sound didn’t frighten him. He felt drawn to it, almost like it was a language without words that spoke directly to his heart and mind.
Despite protests from his angry muscles demanding that he stay where he was and rest, Adam was compelled to find the source of the whimpering. And so, digging himself out from under the sharp brambles, he limped deeper into the jungle, following the sound in a daze.
Perhaps my mind has cracked? he thought dreamily as he trudged on. Perhaps I’m dead already and will walk forever and ever. Wouldn’t that be funny?
His languid, dreamy thoughts evaporated a moment later when another sound caught his ears. His heart burst to hear it, for it was a sound he’d come to recognize and love. A light humming that could bring calm to the most restless of hearts and easy the most worried mind. And only one creature was capable of making it.
He stumbled through the jungle, frantically searching for the source of the angelic singing. He didn’t care that thorns tore his flesh and thick roots tripped him up. If Emma was out there he needed to find her. He was so determined he didn’t even notice that the first sound he’d heard—the mysterious whining—had stopped altogether.
He let the humming guide him.
“Emma!” he called, throwing caution to the wind as he trudged through the light drizzle. The rain had mostly abated, and the thick canopy of fronds above his head kept him relatively dry. But a light sprinkling still chilled him to the bone and he had started to shiver uncontrollably.
“Emma! Where are you?”
The humming grew louder until, rounding the trunk of a giant red gum tree, he finally saw Emma curled up against it, fronds balancing on branches above her for rain cover. She was looking down, humming softly and cradling something bundled in fronds in her lap.
She looked up when she noticed him coming closer and Adam could see her eyes were bloodshot and wild. All color was drained from her face and she looked sickly.
He was so shocked to see she’d escaped the awakening of the bog monsters that he slid in beside her without saying a word.
She kept humming and looked back down at the bundle in her lap. When Adam looked at it, he was surprised to see it move. Was it an animal? Had KoKo returned? Was she hurt?
Emma noticed him looking and removed a small fold of frond from the top of the bundle. Adam’s eyes went wide with confusion. Underneath the covering was a human baby. He leaned closer. The baby was asleep and it cooed lightly and extended its fingers at the sudden feeling of the cold air on its skin.
“Where did it come from?” Adam asked, taking a closer look.
“I… I found it,” Emma answered quietly.
“But… how? Was it just here?”
Emma didn’t answer. Instead she covered the baby up and held it to her breast tightly. “Put your arms around us,” she said to Adam, and he did.
Wrapping his arm around her shoulder, he let her and the baby snuggle against his bare chest. He began to warm up immediately and a happy glow filled his insides despite their dangerous predicament. He didn’t know where they would go, or how they would survive, but the moon hadn’t found a way to separate them yet. There was something good in that at least.
He looked down at Emma lying against him, the baby wrapped in her arms. “Hey, what’s this?” Adam said. “There’s something attached to the baby’s tummy. Let me look at it—“
“Don’t you dare touch it,” Emma said with a start. She was suddenly fierce and protective, color rushing back into her cheeks.
Adam huffed and rested his head against the tree. He was too tired to argue. They could examine the child in the morning.
Emma fell against him again, her whole body relaxing. “You were away so long,” she said dreamily as she began to drift off to sleep again.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I tried to come home sooner.”
“Home…” Emma repeated.
“We can’t go back.” Adam’s voice was shaking. “Our home is lost. I’m so sorry, Emma.”
“Mmmmm… You lost your hat,” she replied, half awake, half in a dream.
He touched his head. He hadn’t noticed the hat had fallen off somewhere in the swamp. “I guess I did. I’m sorry about that, too.”
Emma’s breathing grew heavy and regular as she finally drifted into a deep sleep, leaving Adam alone to consider the mess they were in. With no home and this new baby to care for, they would need to find somewhere to escape the rain by the next day, or he had no doubt they would all suffer grave illness.
Water pelted off the fronds above their heads as the rain picked up. Adam peered into the night to keep watch.
He wished they’d started a fire, but it was too late now, too wet. Suddenly, his eyes began to feel heavy. Despite wanting to stay awake to watch over Emma and the child, he needed sleep, and his mind would take it with or without his consent.