Here’s a new ATL side story written by Joi Massat. Read Joi’s new blog series about reading Harry Potter for the first time in 2019. And also read this.
Please rain, Atlanta. Please don’t make me swim.
The weather report last night said clear skies. I shouldn’t be worrying — the forecast is never right — but our world is governed by Murphy’s Law.
Then again, it’s my will against the will of about a hundred fellow Atlanteans. I may be thinking “rain, rain,” but they’re all wanting sunshine. A hundred high school kids and parents want to see me embarrass myself at the pool. Or more likely they want to watch my classmates win. Or, strangely even more likely, Marge bribed them. They may believe they’re tipping the cosmic scales in their favor (that is, for rain), but really they’re tempting fate, and I will stand victor.
That’s why I’m bringing two umbrellas: one that’s tiny and fits in my backpack, and one that’s huge and looks like a cane. I’m also leaving my swimsuit behi– nah, I’m not that stupid.
“Oh, just try a sport, Morgan! It’s your last year of high school but you’ve never done anything! You’ll like it!”
The world outside my tiny window is gloomy and overcast. I turn to the door, open it up, and find–
The most beautiful golden break in the clouds I’ve ever seen.
If ever I had any goodwill for the spirit of Atlanta, it’s gone now.
“Ah, Lamar,” I say, standing by the pool’s edge, cracking my knuckles. “My greatest rival.”
“Morgan,” he says, rolling his shoulders and neck. The one thing today I got excited for was the chance to see Lamar without glasses while simultaneously awake and not drunk, and he disappointed, because he’s got on those dang goggles. Like the glasses never left. Even I can stand pool juice in my eyes. “Wait, I’m your greatest rival? I thought that was Karina.”
“Not my si– I mean, my overenthusiastic swim coach?” Marge has coached me all week, logging times, insisting that I practice for a full hour straight every session. She has never swum.
“No, she’s just the first boss.” Lamar turns to me, and I realize that for as casual as his tone has been, his face looks exhausted. Put through the wringer by his own coach, I’m guessing? Well, something’s working for him, because his abs are on full-blast. “You gotta stop this ‘won’t call her my sister’ thing, it’s not funny.”
“It’s not a joke. Well, it is a joke. Halfway.”
Someone shouts from the stands, though it feels so far away. It’s the announcer hyping us up. Why the big fuss about a swim-off between…uh, let’s see…between a grand total of ten nobodies? See, this is why nerds don’t play school sports — because no matter what you pick, an unconscionable amount of people is always watching. You pick chess club, there’s a statewide chess competition.
But I’m not here to complain. I’ve done my complaining. All week, in fact.
“Well, best of luck, Morgan,” says Lamar as he bends into position. “Oh, and, uh…why did you only crack your knuckles? That’s not how you stretch. Your sister raised you better than that.”
“It’s a sign of rebellion!”
The whistle has blown. We jump into the blaring cyan grid-world of the Jimmy Carter High pool, and I have my mouth open so blauhrighfmprghpfff haah, haah, m’ugggh mmfpht…
In the confusion–
Beyond my stinging eyes–
Between my windmilling left arm and the lane dividers–
For a frenzied second, I see Lamar’s legs.
He’s beating me, yes, I knew he would, two seconds in and his lead is certain. That’s not why I’m surprised.
He’s got fins.
I don’t speak a “huh?” into the water and freeze; I keep going… In fact, I put more energy into my swimming than ever before. I turn away, stare at the underwater floor, follow technique, let my arms and legs work.
Strangely, I feel that Lamar’s not Lamar anymore — that I’m not me anymore, that I’ve got fins too. I become…someone who cares about sports…
No, someone to whom swimming is life or death.
Therefore, a fish.
Chlorinated speed flies through my gills. It feels like the steam of well-pressed coffee. It’s bringing me back to the day I and Lamar — no, we didn’t call him “Lamar” — we were fish of Atlantis — the day we — we…
We were racing deep in the ocean. Far from here, far below here. A world away.
When I come out of the pool I’m like a torpedo. I can’t explain it — having long since abandoned the freestyle stroke, my arms seem glued to my sides, my legs simply glued together. In this way I jet out, gasping as my face hits the glittering sun, gasping because my gills were a delusion and the shiny tile below me is about to see blood.
In a flash, a gym mat is shoved below me by some courteous bystander. I land softly on — oh, no, that’s styrofoam — soft enough, I guess — and now I’m thanking that bystander by flopping uncontrollably on the mat whilst opening and closing my gob, limbs still bolted to my sides. I could not look more like a fish…and I don’t stop for another…phew, okay, for another eight seconds.
Speaking of time, someone’s finishing time is called. Not mine; I must have missed that with my seizure-like lip smacking. As I catch my breath and sit upright, I hear splashes in the other lanes. Then one comes from the lane beside me; Lamar starts to hoist himself out, but he stops midway just to gawk at me. Why? He didn’t see me make an even bigger fool of myself than once thought possible.
“Morgan!” he half-shouts, half-gasps. He’s concerned…no, beyond concerned. He’s excited. He’s thrilled. He turns to the other lanes, and it sinks in for me: I got out first.
Lamar says breathlessly, “Whatever you got, that had to be a world record!”
“You’re studying psychic phenomena?”
Karina turns to me with a huffy, pouty look. If we weren’t in airplane seats right now, she’d have hands on her hips too, I’m sure of it. “What’s that mean?”
“I thought you did robots.”
“My dad does robots.”
“And whatever he does, you follow.”
“Well,” she says with a smile, defrosting, “you don’t see him anywhere, do you?”
The two of us are on a plane to Bermuda — yes, that Bermuda, the triangle one, although we’re not lost or dead yet. I had the impression (keyword “had”) that Karina, who is one of Atlanta’s many chronically inaccurate part-time weather reporters among way too many other things, was here on business. Like, y’know, a 60 Minutes special on Bermuda’s…weather. You don’t ask too many questions when your pal hands you plane tickets right before spring break. The more you learn about your “educational business trip,” the more you have to lie to your mom and the more she can smell the lie on your breath.
I knew Karina wasn’t a hardcore spring breaker. I just…wasn’t expecting paranormal phenomena to play into this.
“Back on topic,” I say. “Atlanteans with psychic powers derived from a past life? Isn’t that…stupid, though?”
“It’s just a theory, Morgan. I didn’t bring you along to make myself feel stupid!”
“Yeah, you just brought me knowing I do that all the time.”
“Well,” she says, kicking back insofar as one can on a plane, “when you have surprisingly high savings and a dad who hit a big break, you can test any hypothesis in the world. Even those in Bermuda. And I happen to believe — provisionally believe,” she clarifies after seeing my smirk — “that Atlanta’s citizens have some connection to the lost city of Atlantis, which may well be in the Bermuda Triangle.”
“Wouldn’t it be in the Old World, though?”
“No, because the Amazon’s in South America.”
It takes me three blinks’ worth of time for that logic to sink in.
With a grandiose point in the air, I say, “And you’ll test this theory by…!”
She chuckles. “I dunno, Morgan, I just had a weird dream about it. I’ll figure it out.” She’s trying to brush it off, but something about what I just said, or what she just said, made her uneasy; she runs a hand through her hair and turns to the seat in front of her. I guess the dream was scary?
Now I begin to wonder — yes, only begin to wonder — if we’re flying into danger.
Imagine if I had stupid Atlantis dreams like Karina. I’d probably think I was so important, like some “chosen one.” Ha ha haaa…
It hits me as I’m looking at some random shiny rock on the border between Bermuda seashore and Bermuda grassland. Why now? Is it because as I pinch the rock between my fingers, tilt it back and forth in the light, it shimmers white, yellow, and even a little…cyan?
“Karina,” I call out.
“Yes?” She is examining a hermit crab at a tide pool ten feet away.
“I think I might have that, uh, Atlantis connection you were talking about.”
“Yeah? Oh, me too.”
We turn back to our items: my rock, her hermit crab.
“Were you some kind of undersea…warrior, or something, swimming in a one-on-one Atlantean duel of honor? A duel of honor to the death?”
“No,” says Karina. “Wait, are you saying you dream-dueled me?”
“To the death.”
She doesn’t respond.
“No, actually I killed Lamar.”
“Oh, that’s not good,” she says, but she’s obviously relieved.
We sit immersed in an awkward silence.
Then the world changes as suddenly and dramatically as if by a lightswitch. Like all along this beach was Fourside, but just now launched us into Moonside. (If you don’t know what those are, please come to my apartment and prepare for a truly life-changing video game experience.) I mean, the transformation is total: the air has gone dark and thick and humid, the sun just up and warped away, and everything else is deep, deep blue. Except for my hands, Karina, and, as I realize by logical deduction, the entire rest of my body. We’re flickering with brighter blue, as if we alone were under the surface of bright, sun-touched waves.
The planet’s trying to convince us we’re underwater, but’s it’s more like it became a huge child’s playroom. I expect fake, paper fish and streamers to drop down from the heavens. Also, I feel queasy.
Karina is taking this far more seriously than I am; she’s pointing toward the sea in stunned silence. I turn.
Lemme tell ya, that’s the biggest face I’v ever seen.
It’s a lump of light greys, and yet, against the deep blue surrounding it, it looks…garish. Too vivid. It reminds me that grey is a color.
It seems to sit on the water’s surface. So much steam, and so many bubbles, billow around it from the depths of that near-black ocean that the face’s features are as hard to comprehend as its sheer existence. The proportions, the shape, they’re human enough, but there might not be a nose, not even a mouth… I see eyes for sure, hewn from crystal. Green irises in black hollows, each emerald the size of…actually, they are simultaneously too massive and too distant for me to assess their size. The head is on the water’s surface — a hundred feet away. Yet it fills the horizon.
And yet we hear it when its voice issues from somewhere, booming, “I AM THE ANCIENT ATLANTEAN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE…AR-EYT!”
The planet shakes with its (his? their?) voice, and the waters churn. It’s not really disturbing the awkward silence of us humans, though.
Now Ar-Eyt’s giggling like some neighbor from down the street. When the volume of giggles is blown up to movie-theater surround-sound levels, it is fearsome. Guess I’ll have nightmares now too.
“I remember you two!” Ar-Eyt cries. “Times have changed and you may have swapped your scales for skin, but, yes, same people. You, with the fairly distinct mole, you’re still MorOcean, soldier of the seas.”
My alter ego from a past life sounds like “morose?” Oh well, I guess it’s fitti– ohhh, I get it, more ocean. Very funny. I’m laughing, in a past life, surely.
“And the sea priestess, Kelp.”
“That…wasn’t an insult or anything. It was your name.”
She clearly feels some type of way about that.
The more I look into Ar-Eyt’s creepy gemstone eyes and remarkably blank, polished-rock face, the more my mind flicks back to what I suppose must really be a ridiculous past life as a fish-person. It’s like remembering a dream, only the dream is filed in some distant storage bin in the sky that I can only access from miles and miles away, perhaps via a broadband internet connection, or using some other technology well known to the people of today in this restless year of 1997, and also probably not in the sky either, because it’s not like this is the future or anything, data doesn’t live in clouds.
But my point is, I think this giant stone head lived in a temple. It was a really shitty broken-down temple, too.
Oh wait, no it wasn’t. It wasn’t always destroyed. I’m just remembering snippets of the destruction of my former homeland, that’s all.
“My duty,” Ar-Eyt intones, “has always been, and will forever be, to protect Atlantis.”
“But Atlantis is no more!” Karina yells.
“No…it lives on.”
“Oh, I get it,” she says, self-satisfied. “It lives on in us!”
“No, I mean more like literally bringing Atlantis back up from the seafloor, hoisting up with cranes and everything, as a result of a villainous plot to resurrect the old world in order to gain access to its sunken riches as well as its advanced technology, thus knocking modern society catastrophically off-course.”
“…Oh… But I was still right about the psychic reincarnation thing.”