A creature older than gods regarded the Watercolours without care. In that moment, Allison knew he could kill each and every one of them, without the barest trace of hesitation or regret.
“…Are these yours?” asked the Ocean, its voice all roaring waves and tide pools.
“Yup!” David crowed. “That’s Allie, and Arn, and Billy, and—oh! Mabel! Show him what you can do!”
Mabel did not obey. She’d rather not risk the sea-zombie thinking she was starting a fight.
David’s grandfather looked upon them all again, and this time, allowed them a smile.
“So many pets.”
David smiled and rolled his eyes. “Friends, Papa. They’re my friends.”
“They’re small, souled animals.”
David wriggled out of his grandfather’s arms and thumped him playfully in his midsection. The Ocean feigned a gasp.
“And we’re both big puddles.”
Billy remembered his manners. “Costume off!” His suit vanished and he started wading into the water, past his friends desperate attempts to pull him back, until he was standing right in front of Grandfather Ocean. He offered his hand. “Pleased to meet you, sir! I’m William. People call me Billy.”
The Ocean looked down blankly at the sticky, furry boy with the swaying tail currently sticking out his hand at him. He seemed to want something from him.
“Go on,” said David gently. “Shake his hand.”
Grandfather Ocean nodded. “If that is what you want, child.”
A tendril of water rose in front of Billy, slapping his arm hard enough to knock him backwards off his feet.
“Good try,” David said.
Billy looked up at the Ocean, shook himself instinctively, and grinned. “You’re funny!”
“Am I?” the Ocean asked. It turned to David. “Am I funny, child?”
“I think so!” chirped the water-sprite. “I haven’t really known you long.”
David suddenly seemed to shake slightly. He threw his arms around his grandfather again. “I love you, Papa,” he murmured. “I really love you.”
Slowly, the other children joined David and Billy in the water. At the very least, they needed to wash the ship’s blood off their bodies. It was starting to itch.
The Ocean genuinely appeared to startle when Allison formed from the water next to his human husk.
“Hello!” the pale little girl said, smiling smugly.
Ocean examined her curiously. She could do what his spawn could do. Her skin was as white as his. Had he mated with her mother?
No. She didn’t feel like his flesh. And there was something else inside her, too. A fire.
“What are you?” he asked. “One of the little goddesses of my element? Or of the volcanos that burn beneath me?”
“Nope!” said Allison, tracing a circle around herself in the sea-sand with her toe. “I can just have whatever powers I want. I’m borrowing your grandson’s right now!” She smiled at him. “Your song’s like this one big voice made of whales ramming into each other. It’s great!”
The girl levitated twelve feet out of the water, before looping through the air and landing on Ocean’s shoulders. “Also, I can fly!”
The Ocean looked up at the girl batting her heels against his chest. This creature had no fear. “Are you human?”
Allison wrinkled her nose. “No! I’m a super! I even got my insides changed so they were better! I’m gonna live forever! Who’d want to be human?”
The Ocean felt something deeply foreign to him. It took him a moment to comprehend it. The best he could decipher it, he mildly wanted this not-quite human to not die. Somehow, despite lacking a drop of his blood, she amused him without drowning or exploding.
He called over to his grandson, body-surfing with the male children and the second female. “Child” he said, “be careful with this one. If it caught you by surprise, it could harm you.”
“Why do you think that?” asked David.
“…I don’t know. She makes me wish to see her life continue. I suspect sorcery. I keep imagining what your spawn would look like with her blood. You might want to try convincing her to mate someday.”
David went pale with embarrassment. “Papa!”
Allison though was grinning. Somehow the idea didn’t seem so gross when an old man wasn’t setting a date.
David laughed. “Yeah, it’d be pretty wild.”
Ocean looked vaguely hopeful. “… Is it possible?”
Noticing Allison’s smile, David giggled, his eyes drifting across to Arnold.
Arnold pretended not to notice. His cheeks were scarlet. Then his face became very hard. There was a spark of green, and David found himself floating less than a foot from the other boy. Arnold grabbed David by the head and kissed him hard on the lips. He had expected David to flinch, or at least to be surprised. David just grinned.
“… I’m claiming this beach,” he said.
“What?” David asked, still grinning.
“This beach,” Arnold repeated. “It’s mine. I am now the beach-master.”
David wasn’t sure why, but those words lit a fire in his gut.
“No you’re not,” he said, his tone dangerous. “I am.”
Arnold grinned slyly.
The proceeding game of chase lasted over an hour.
High in orbit, the Flying Man finished towing the Physician’s ship into her makeshift service dock1. Glancing down at the Earth below, he spotted the rogue children frolicking in the water. He was just about to head down and apologize for his outburst, when he noticed the Ocean-Beast amongst them.
The sky was a pale, glowing blue when David awoke the next morning. He’d fallen asleep between Mabel and Allison the night before, and both girls were still napping beside him. The boy considered waking them up, but decided to let them be. They’d be up in their own time. He pecked the pair on the cheeks, got up, and stretched. He was smiling, for no real reason. That still surprised him sometimes.
The remnants of a fire smouldered a few yards off. They hadn’t really needed it, but Allison had wanted to show off for his granddad. She had also wanted to cook last night’s fish before they ate it.
Humans, he thought to himself. So fussy.
It occurred to David that it had been Lawrence who had taught him to think of humans as something outside himself. That might have given the child pause, except he was also pretty sure Lawrence hadn’t imagined him turning out like this, either.
David looked to where Arnold and Billy had curled up for the night. They were both asleep, too.
A breeze flowed through the warm air, rubbed cool against the sea.
David sighed happily. Might as well go for a swim.
He walked into the water, not stopping as it rose above his head. Soon enough he was treading water. David knew he didn’t have to swim. The water would move for him. But his body still made the movements instinctively. It made him feel the way he imagined breathing deep did for regular kids. Maybe that was the part of him that was still a little human.
It didn’t matter, really. What mattered was conquering the weight against his limbs. Every undulation he made was like a victory.
He swam deeper, until the sea-floor was far below him. There was a coral reef stretched out under David. It was funny, seeing it after the Physician’s true form. Like watching the parody first. The water-sprite swooped down into the colourful field of polyps and anemones. Long, brown eels with faces like grinning Komodo dragons slipped out of rocky crevices. Spindly-legged crabs with battle-scarred shells scuttled across the sand like underwater pedestrians.
David pitied them. Who wanted to walk in the sea?
A cloud of tiny, purple and blue fish swam in front of the boy’s face.
Cool, David thought to himself. Then he lunged forward, managing to grab one of the fish in his mouth and crunch it between his teeth. He floated on his back for a moment, cheerfully munching on his morning snack.
The water beneath David suddenly shot upwards, sending him careening into the air.
A pair of hands caught David under his arms just as he legs slipped back into the water. His grandfather smiled at him with green, rotten teeth.
“Good morning, child. Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah. Can we go down now?”
Ocean and his grandson dipped beneath the water. The pair drifted together in the deep blue. Bits of plankton and other oceanic debris hung in broken shafts of sunlight like pollen in the air.
“Why didn’t you sleep in the water, child?”
David was unsurprised to find his grandfather could still talk to him underwater. It would have been more surprising if he couldn’t.
“Allie and Mabel are comfy.” Guilessly, the boy asked, “So, I was wondering, why do you look look all dead?”
If Grandfather Ocean was offended by the question, it didn’t show. “Because I wish to. It keeps humans from trying to worship or talk at me.”
David spun around in place, feeling the bubbles whip around his hair and ears. “Humans can be fun. Look at Allie! She’s really fun! Even you think so!”
“She is… not unpleasant.”
“You like Allie, you like Allie,” singsonged David. He was cut off when a thick layer of ice flash-froze around his body.
“Your Allie is barely human,” Ocean said cooly. “Please don’t speak ill of her.”
David slipped out of the ice like a molting sea snake. “Okay,” he said, gesturing down at his healthy brown skin, “why don’t I look more like you?”
“You look like your mother and father, like all children. Unlike most, however, you look like that because it is what feels right. If you felt differently, you would look differently.”
David considered this. “…Yeah,” he said eventually. “I like looking like my mum and dad.”
A stray current pushed David towards his grandfather, who embraced him tight.
David looked up at his granddad’s face. He looked confused.
“You make me feel strange,” the Ocean said.
“Looking at you makes me happy. But it hurts, too.”
Ocean ran his fingers through David’s hair. “I don’t know. I have a child again. But you make me think about your mother. Why do I still want her when I have you?”
David snuggled against the Ocean-Beast. “It’s okay,” he said, “I miss her, too.”
Ocean’s grandson was a mystery to him. Even with the cloying patina of humanity washed off him, the boy kept doing things he couldn’t understand. Why should him being in pain as well make him feel any better? His daughter never would have tried anything so foolish with him.
But then why was it working?
“Child,” he said, “there’s something I want to show you.”
The one thing you could say for Dr. Corrick’s day was that he’d pulled his fly up before the washroom sinks exploded behind him.
A chunk of porcelain struck the doctor in the head, knocking him to the rapidly flooding floor.
“That was amazing!” David shouted when he reformed out of the rising pool of water, enthusiastically miming their passage through the pipes to his grandfather. “We were all whoosh and zoom!”
Ocean chuckled. The simplest things gave his spawn such joy. Everything felt new with him.
David glanced down at the man floating at their feet, staining the water with his blood. Specifically, at his white coat and stethoscope. “This is a hospital, right?”
To the credit of the girl manning the hospital snack bar didn’t scream when the walking bog-corpse and the little brown boy wearing the too-big doctor’s coat came around the corner, a crest of water following behind them. Instead, she froze. Much more sensible.
The dead man and the child came to a stop in front of the counter. “My child desires sweets. You will give him some.”
David followed his grandfather down the hospital halls, sucking on a strawberry Chupa Chup2. The fire-alarm was blaring, which amused him slightly. Shame they didn’t turn on the fire-sprinklers, not that he and his granddad were wanting for water.
He felt a troupe of men running towards them, all holding big heavy somethings judging by the way they had their arms stretched and their fingers curled. Guns, probably.
David turned to ice. “Let me handle them, pretty-please?”
“If that is what you wish.”
A mixed platoon of Australian and American soldiers charged into sight. Shouting, they took aim at the Ocean and his spawn and fired.
The bullets passed harmlessly through the water-gods’ icey forms. Dozens of jagged ice shards erupted out of their watery trail, spearing the soldiers through their arms, shoulders and legs.
David strolled past the groaning, screaming troops. “Consider yourselves lucky,” he said as he reverted back to flesh. He looked down at Dr. Corrick’s now bullet shredded coat and frowned. He threw the ruined garment and stethoscope over a weeping soldier.
Eventually, the pair came to the door of a private room.
“You gonna tell me what we’re here for?” asked David.
Grandfather Ocean flattened the door with a wave. There was a nurse cringing beside the hospital bed.
“Get out if you want to live,” said Ocean.
The nurse nodded frantically as she scurried past the pair.
There was a man in the bed. His eyes were deeply sunken, while his fingers and lips were mottled deep purple. He appeared to be crying, but his eyes produced no actual tears. He barely seemed to notice his visitors.
“Who the hell is that?” asked David. The man felt… dryer than he thought people could be. His mouth was parched. There was hardly any spittle on his breath.
“This,” said Ocean, “is the man who killed your mother.”
David stared at the man. His muscles tensed. He never imagined he’d meet his mother’s murderer. He’d imagined him as some behemoth of a man with stubble like hooked spurs and gunmetal muscles. Instead, he was faced with a twenty-one year old boy, lying in front of him in obvious agony.
He found that didn’t change a thing.
David looked up at his grandfather. “Did you do this to him?”
“Yes. He harmed my daughter. He will never drink a drop of water again.” He pointed at an IV trailing from the soldier’s arm. “I am letting him absorb enough through that false vein that he will continue to live for some time to come. So that he may feel the thirst.”
“Makes sense,” said David. “How long do you think he’ll last?”
“Weeks at least. Maybe months.”
Something about that didn’t sit right with the boy. He looked at his grandfather. “Could I…”
“Do whatever you wish, child.”
David took a deep breath and clambered onto the soldier’s bed. The man let out a choked grunt as the boy put his knees on his chest.
David’s bright, sea-fog eyes bored into Private Wilkins. “You killed my mummy,” he hissed. “I don’t care if you were ordered to, you still did it. And this is going to hurt.”
Private Wilkins’ eyes widened. He rapsed, trying to speak. “I—”
The soldier’s eyes exploded in his skull. He screamed, only for his tongue to burst like a rotten piece of fruit. Wilkins thrashed as his veins pulsed and strained against his sallow skin. Tight geysers of blood spewed from his wrists against David’s body.
The boy was tearing up now. He bent forwards and whispered into Wilkins’ ear, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”
Soon enough, the soldier stopped writhing. His blood-drowned lungs stopped rising and falling in his chest. David, red and sticky now, climbed off the bed. He wasn’t sure how he felt. He thought he felt better at least, but he wished his granddad hadn’t done this. Then he could’ve killed the bastard without it being mercy.
Why hadn’t he just let the guy lay there and suffer for as long as possible? It was stupid. Maybe it was the part of him that was still human.
No. That didn’t make any sense. Humans did nasty, rotten things to each other all the time, for way worse reasons. Maybe it was the part of him that was still like his father.
Ocean opened his arms for his grandson. David stepped readily into the hug.
“Do you feel better?” the Ocean asked.
“Yes,” David answered stiffly.
“Are you okay?”
“…I feel like I have upset you somehow.”
“Tell me how to fix this. Now.”
Deep beneath a green, moonlit sea on the other side of the world, David and his grandfather watched humpback whales crash back down into their world, their flanks silvered by thousands of bubbles.
It was everything David had ever wanted. Almost.
Grandfather Ocean was holding him. “I still miss your mother. Will that ever stop?”
“No,” answered David. Whalesong echoed through the water. “But that’s okay, I think.”
1. An orbital workstation he had initially built to harvest mineral rich asteroids pulled from the Kuiper Belt when he was first working on his childhood clubhouse. ↩
2. A brand of lollipop established in 1958, which would later go on to adopt a logo designed by surrealist artist Salvidore Dali. ↩