The City on the Sea

The City on the Sea

A Story by quirkycakes

Centuries after sea-levels rose and the world was swallowed up by the ocean, what little of humanity remains resides on a single land mass, surrounded by nothing but water, called the Rock


 “Letty Bolland is pregnant, did you hear?” I say.

Ren nods as he stretches his arms above his head. “Yeah, she told me this morning,” he says, stifling a yawn. “She was really upset about it.”

“What did she say? Will she keep it?” I ask.  

“No, she wasn’t petitioning for a child so she can’t,” he says, his voice lowering so he almost sounds sad. Girls being forced to get abortions is so common that it doesn’t really bother us, but it’s never happened to anyone we know before. Letty and I are the same age. I can’t even begin to imagine what she must be going through right now.

I shrug my shoulders. “Well I guess the population is too high as it is,” I say. “I’m surprised though. I never thought Letty was careless enough to get herself pregnant"”

“Don’t you two have anything better to talk about than petty gossip?”

My mouth hangs open for a second, my words cut off by Quill’s sharp voice. He had been sitting so quietly, elbows resting on his knees, eyes shut, that I thought he was asleep. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had been and woke up just to interrupt me.

I lean forward, looking past Ren to glare at him. “No one is forcing you to listen, Quill.”

He turns and opens one eye to look at me, a cross look on his face. “It’s hard to ignore you when you’re sitting two feet away.”

            In between us, Ren laughs, the booming sound echoing through the cave. He throws his arm over Quill’s shoulder and leans towards him. “Lighten up. You’re too serious all the time,” he says, grinning even as Quill shrugs him off and nudges him away roughly with his elbow.

            “I’d appreciate it,” says Quill gruffly, “if you didn’t touch me.”

            “How is it that you’re so nice, Adrea, but your brother is so mean?” he says, facing me.

            “I’m not mean, you’re just too sensitive,” Quill grumbles. He shakes his head in annoyance and closes his eyes again, but his mouth is still twisted into a scowl.

            “No, you’re mean,” I say. I lean back on my elbows, ignoring the uncomfortable feeling of the gravel digging into my skin. “If anything, Ren takes your rudeness too well.”

            “If I didn’t then you’d be his only friend,” Ren says, his voice lowered as if he meant only for me to hear, but Quill hears him anyway and lazily lifts one hand to smack Ren on the back of the head. He’s right though. Only Ren and I tolerate Quill’s unpleasant attitude. Even our parents keep their distance from him and I only put up with him because we’re related. He softens up when we’re alone. He’s not particularly kind, even though I’m his sister, but he is considerably less rude. Ren though has no reason to stick around and be his friend. He does it anyway, often taking the brunt of his sour attitude, and somehow manages to be kind to him, even though Quill never reciprocates.

            Our family was never really well liked, even before Quill and I were born, because of the way our mother looks. Our father has the same tanned skin, silky black hair, and angular eyes as most of the people on the Rock, but our mother has paler skin, yellow hair, and eyes that look like water, traits that Quill and I inherited. When Quill was younger people used to pick on and bully him because he looked so different. In a way he was forced to become so withdrawn and rude. The only reason no one ever bothered me was because Quill made sure of it.

            Things only became worse for our family after I was born. Quill and I are the only two people on the Rock that have the privilege of saying we have a sibling. I should be dead. Two years after Quill was born my mother accidentally became pregnant with me. In any other case, I would have been aborted; but since there are only a handful of white skinned people, I was allowed to live to preserve the dying race. Ren is the only person that never cared about any of that, even though his family is a victim of the one-child policy. He’s never told me why he became our friend while everyone else shunned us, but I think that it’s simply because he pitied us.

            “Why are we even down here?” Quill groans, scratching his fingers through his curly hair.

            I sit back up, wiping the dirt off my arms. “We’re waiting for something.”

“For what?” he grumbles. “The two of you drag me out of bed in the middle of the night and force me to come down to this nasty cave. The least you could do is tell me why we’ve been sitting here for the past hour. And it better be good because we’re not even allowed down here. It’s too dangerous and it’s against the rules.”

            “It’s a surprise,” Ren says excitedly. “Trust me, it’s worth the wait. We’ll only be a little while longer anyway.”

            “We’d better be,” Quill replies. “You know that once the tide comes in this whole cave will be underwater.”

            “We’ll be fine,” I say. I look down at my feet dangling off the edge of the cave, above the ocean that has slowly been making its way closer to us. During the day the ocean looks blue but now it looks black as the waves crash against the rocks below, spraying our feet with frigid water.

            Quill is right though. We’re not supposed to be here. Teenagers used to come down looking for a place to mess around but after the sea levels rose even higher and bodies started being found, all of the caves on the lower levels of the Rock were declared off limits.

            I’ve always been careful to not break any rules"just by being alive I cause enough trouble"but when Ren came to me, asking if I wanted to touch the ocean, I couldn’t refuse. It’s sad really. I’ve lived my entire life on the Rock so I know nothing but water, but I’ve only ever looked at it. Only the fishermen get to actually go into the sea because the waves are too dangerous. I don’t know what I expected to see when we finally came to the caves, but now that I’m here, I’m not sure why I was so excited to come. I thought seeing the ocean up close would be some sort of life changing experience but it really just looks the same as it does from far away.

            The only difference really down here in the caves is the smell. I’m used to the salty scent of the ocean. It’s impossible to escape it because there’s nothing but seawater surrounding the Rock.  But this close to the ocean the smell is so much

stronger that it stings my nostrils as I breathe in. I’ve noticed Quill rubbing his nose and sniffling softly so the smell must be bothering him too. I have a feeling though, that Ren breaks the rules pretty often and has been down here before more than once because he doesn’t seem to be affected at all by the sharp scent.

            “We’re wasting candlelight too,” Quill points out.

            “Can you not be so whiny for once?” Ren says tiredly.

            “Well it’s true.” Quill glances over his shoulder, nodding towards the small, multicolored candle behind us. If it weren’t for its meager, flickering flame, we’d be sitting in almost complete darkness.

            “We’re catching the wax so it doesn’t matter.” Ren reaches back and picks up the red bowl holding the candle, being careful to not let any of the wax spill over the rim. Ren’s never been one to follow the rules"he’s forcing me and Quill to break one just by bringing us here"but even he’s not careless enough to waste wax that can be recycled into another candle. We all know that candles are the only way to see inside the caves and that the supply is running low.

            Ren lifts the candle towards his face, bringing the flame dangerously close to his nose. “My grandfather says in the old days people kept light in glass balls called light bulbs.”

            Quill groans. “Not this again,” he says wearily.

            Ren rolls his eyes and goes on, ignoring Quill’s comment. “You could turn the light on just by flicking a switch and it would stay on for years,” he continues. “People didn’t have to worry about saving wax or anything like that.”

            “Glass balls of light,” Quill mutters. “Sounds plausible. Just like the magic machine that contains the moving pictures that you were going on about before. Oh, the wonders of the old world!”

            Ren shoots him an irritated look. “Why are you so skeptical?”

            “Well how does your grandfather even know any of this?” Quill says, returning Ren’s scowl. “He was born on the Rock just like us.”

            “That doesn’t mean it’s not true,” Ren replies. “You’ve had to have heard some stories about before the oceans rose and you’ve seen the stuff that washes up on shore.”

            “That junk is supposed to convince me?” Quill says. He rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “Don’t be ridiculous. And none of those stories are real, Ren. Grow up.”

            “Just let him speak, Quill,” I say. He always gets irritated when Ren talks about life before the Rock. He’s never cared about the old world and says dwelling on the past only makes it harder to move on. Really no one talks about the old world but mostly because no one knows anything about it. People tell stories sometimes about how the world used to be, like the metal machines that flew in the sky, buildings that were thousands of feet high, and the soft, green fuzz that used to cover the land, but no one knows for sure anymore if they’re true.

            Sometimes strange objects are pulled up out of the water. Warped pieces of metal and other strange contraptions covered in seaweed, but they’re all too old and waterlogged to be of any use. When people from the land generation were still alive most of the objects could be identified, but they were all dead long before I was born. Now a majority of the stuff that gets dredged out of the water is just thrown back in because no one knows what to do with it.

            Ren is the only person I know that is fascinated by the old world. He’s always going on about the stories his grandfather tells him. Yesterday he went on for over an hour about all the animals that used to exist. I’ve seen animals other than fish before. A few dozen sheep and cows have managed to survive all these years on the farms. Thirteen years ago, when I was five, I even saw a chicken but those have been extinct for years now. According to Ren, there used to be hundreds of different animals. Some could even fly and others were massive things more than three times my size. He said there were so many creatures that they could be eaten and no one cared. He even said that people kept them in their homes just for fun, treating them like people. I’ve been to the farms before and I can’t imagine keeping a cow around like that. They’re big, smelly animals and I wouldn’t want to own one even if I could.

            Ren smiles broadly at me. I don’t usually encourage his infatuation with the old world so he must be excited. “They had a lot of amazing machines back then, not just the one with the moving pictures. Gramps says that there were even these things that people could sit in and it would carry them around places so they didn’t have to walk. And people didn’t sleep on mats on the ground; they slept on cushions similar to the pillows that the toddlers use. Can you imagine sleeping on something like that?” His voice rises with excitement. “They had these other contraptions for people to go to the bathroom in and pipes would take the waste somewhere else so people didn’t have to piss in buckets.”

            “Where would the waste go?” Quill asks. I’m almost surprised to see him even remotely interested in the topic until I realize he is just trying to discourage Ren.

            “I don’t know,” Ren says, hardly fazed by Quill’s mocking tone. “There was so much land back then that it could have gone anywhere. Gramps told me that the Rock is barely a fraction of how much land there was and it used to be this thing called a mountain"”

            Quill’s harsh laugh interrupts him. “Mountain? Now you’re making up words.”

            “I’m not making it up!” Ren says defensively. He holds his finger up, tracing a triangular shape in the air. “Mountains were these big land masses that rose up out of the ground. When the water started rising everyone moved to the tops of these mountains but only a few were high enough to reach above water. We’re on one of them now and there are probably others out there with more people and we just don’t know it.”

            “Don’t be silly,” Quill says, shaking his head.

            “I’m serious! My grandfather"”

            “Your grandfather made all these things up just to entertain you, Ren,” Quill interrupts, his voice rising slightly.

            “You’re wrong,” Ren insists. “How else would you explain the Rock? It didn’t just appear out of nowhere.”

            “But people’s piss just magically disappeared?” Quill retorts, “And light appeared by turning on a switch? Mountain isn’t real, Ren.”

            Ren lets out a frustrated noise and turns to me, his eyes pleading for me to back him up. “You believe me, right, Adrea?” he asks hopefully.

            “She doesn’t,” Quill says. “Just let it go.”

            “I didn’t say that,” I snap at my brother, but he’s right.

            “The world wasn’t confined to just the Rock. There was thousands of miles of land,” Ren says, stretching his arms out. “There was no population cap either because of all that room. There were way more than just a thousand people alive; there might have even been a million! The world was so much bigger so overpopulation probably wasn’t as big of a deal and people probably didn’t have to do things like petition for a child"”

            “Just shut up, Ren!”

            His mouth snaps shut instantly and Quill’s outburst is so startling, I jump, almost tumbling down into the water. I yelp and steady myself, turning to look at Quill.

            His eyes are shut again, pressed together so tightly it must hurt. He’s gripping the edge of the cave floor firmly, his knuckles a ghostly white, and every muscle in his body taut.

            I’ve seen Quill get upset before and I’ve seen him get mad at Ren countless times, but I’ve never seen him quite like this, arms shaking, teeth gritted so hard his jaw must be aching, leaning forward like he might suddenly throw himself into the ocean to be carried away by the black waves.

            My hand shakes as I reach towards him. “Quill, what are"”

            “No!” He’s shouting now. “That’s enough! I don’t want to hear anymore of these silly stories!” he snarls. “Don’t you know anything, Ren? All the things your grandfather has told you are just childish bedtime stories, you stupid fool!”

            “Stop it!” I snap, failing to keep my voice from trembling.

            “I’m done putting up with this idiocy, Ren!” he yells. He lets go of the ground and abruptly stands up, taking a few steps back. “Why can’t you see it’s just nonsense?”

            For several seconds, Ren says nothing. I can see his hands quivering, but he’s surprisingly calm, despite Quill’s cruelness. When he finally speaks his voice is steady. “I know that’s not why you’re mad, Quill.”

            “Oh, what are you going on about now?” Quill says angrily, clenching his hands into fists.

            Ren’s voice is so hushed I can hardly hear him. “You know in the old world,” he says slowly, “you could’ve kept the baby.”

            It takes me a moment to understand what he’s saying, but when I do, a strange noise, somewhere between a gasp and a hiccup, leaves my mouth. “Quill…” I whisper, “and Letty?” I hadn’t even known they were friends. Quill isn’t supposed to have friends.

            My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of an angry, strangled cry. I shriek as Quill rushes at Ren, grabs hold of his shirt collar, and hauls him backwards, dragging him across the ground.

            “Quill! Stop! Stop it!” I cry as he forces Ren to his feet and throws him up against the wall, wrapping one hand around his neck. I’ve seen Quill get in fights before and I know what’s going to happen next.

            “No!” I scramble to my feet and lunge at them, grabbing and pulling back Quill’s arm before he can hit Ren. He yells at me to get off, but I just hold on tighter. “Leave him alone!” I try to force his arm down, but he’s too strong. “Don’t, Quill,” I beg, but he doesn’t seem to hear me.

            “You b*****d,” Quill hisses, tightening his grip around Ren’s throat. “Don’t act like you know anything about me or Letty!”

            Ren’s expression is still calm, but I can hear him wheezing and struggling for air. “You’re the fool, Quill,” he chokes out. “You’ve wasted a candle.”

            It’s not until he says that that I realize we’re standing in darkness, only a few, faint, white rays of moonlight illuminating the cave. The candle we had been using is gone, probably knocked into the water in the struggle. The only evidence that it had been there are a few small pools of solidifying wax on the cave floor.

            “Shut up!” Quill shouts. With his face scrunched up in rage and his chest heaving up and down rapidly, he almost looks feral. My heart is beating so fast I can hear my blood pumping in my ears. “Please, Quill,” I whisper. “You’re scaring me.”

            He whips his head towards me, his eyes fierce, and I’m afraid he might hit me. But then he releases his grip and Ren collapses to the ground, coughing and sucking in air desperately. Quill jerks his arm out of my hand and steps away from us, staring at his hands like he can’t believe what he had just done. “Why did you bring me here?” he asks, his voice hoarse from yelling.

            “We had to bring you down here because you wouldn’t believe us if we just told you,” Ren says, his voice still strained. “You had to see it for yourself.”

            “See what?” Quill drags his hand roughly down his face, stopping once it covers his mouth as if he’s trying to keep himself from yelling again. “Just tell me.”

            “The cave,” Ren says. “You said it yourself. When the tide comes in this cave is supposed to be underwater.”

            “The water is sinking, Quill,” I say. “This cave is proof of it. Ren and I have known for a while now. We’ve just been trying to decide when to show you.”

            “And after I heard about Letty,” Ren says, holding his hands up slightly as if getting ready to protect himself, “I thought you should know.”

            “This doesn’t make a difference,” Quill says. “It’ll take years for the world to return to normal. We’re still going to die on the Rock.”

            “Maybe so,” I say softly, trying to meet his eyes in the darkness. “But isn’t it nice to know that someday people might live in a world that’s bigger than the Rock?”

            Quill snorts and shakes his head. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” he says, but the anger has left his voice. He steps towards Ren, who is still crouched on the ground, and holds out his hand to help Ren stand. “Get up, you fool,” he says softly. Hesitantly, Ren reaches out, takes Quill’s hand, and gets to his feet. For a moment they just look at each other. Then the corner of Ren’s mouth twitches up into a slight smile and he raises his eyebrows as if hoping that Quill might smile back for once. Quill rolls his eyes and lifts his hand. I step forward quickly and open my mouth, worried he might try and punch Ren anyway, but before I can speak Quill reaches out and flicks Ren hard on the forehead.

            “Idiot, you’re the one who lost the candle,” he says, ignoring Ren’s cry of pain. “It’ll be tough getting back to the upper caves without it,” he grumbles. His voice has returned to its usual gruff tone, but his expression is soft. “If only we had a light bulb.”

© 2014 quirkycakes

Author's Note

I wrote this for a short story class I'm taking. I might eventually expand on it and make it into an entire novel but only if people like it. So please let me know what you think!

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Added on December 8, 2014
Last Updated on December 8, 2014
Tags: quill, rock, adrea, ren, dystopian



Hagerstown, MD

Jude Jude

A Story by quirkycakes