Chapter Two - The Red Tide
The Under Board was a thick forest of support beams, crisscrossed in haphazard ways. The Izz children were forced to wind their way under the homes of their neighbors, w ere globs of who-knows-what dripped on their heads. It didn’t smell like just a tea spill, that’s for sure.
Lynd noticed something was sticking out of Gai’s waistband as he crawled. “Is that part of my present?” she asked.
He simply wiggled it back down into his pants and kept moving.
Lynd followed her brother’s every move through the beams. She reached and jumped, grabbed and shimmied, all with that thin piece of wood she needed in case the urge to break something arose. No telling what could happen if she didn’t have that close at hand. As she went to grip the next beam, that all-important sliver of wood slipped and fell all the way to the rushing water below. Oops.
She didn’t tell Gai.
The boy kept a sharp ear up at the planks above, listening for their mother’s next steps. Where in Esa was she going at this late hour, anyway? Especially when she never went outside during the day. As far as the children knew, she hadn’t been out of 76 since their father disappeared ﬁve years ago.
Lynd couldn’t bear the silence any longer. “‘Ey, Gai.” “What?” he replied sharply.
It was so dark that Lynd only knew where to go by following her brother’s silhouette in the dim glow of Hop’s center ahead. “Ya think Ma could be out lookin’ for spryts?”
“What’s with ya? No one wants to ﬁnd a spryt, Lynd. Ma says they’re dangerous as a deathﬁsh.”
“What do ya think they are, then?”
“I heard they look like spooky red doom dots,” Gai said. “Some say they’re ghosts. All the souls lost in the gulf come back to haunt us.”
“Ghosts?” Lynd stopped in her tracks. “Do ya think . . . one of them could be Pa?”
Gai almost slipped off a beam. “Pa is not dead!” His voice cut through the air like a razor. “He just . . . left and hasn’t come back yet.”
“I-I don’t think he is either.” She touched the back of his shoul‐ der, but Gai snapped it away and continued his march.
After a few quiet moments, he softly said, “Ya really don’t remember the night he left?”
“No, I wish.” She mimicked his moves from post to post.
Her brother kept quiet, leaping through the knitted beams even faster.
Finally, Lynd said, “Wanna know what I think spryts are?”
“No,” he mumbled over the roaring sea below. “Y’already made me lose Ma.”
“Oh, just thought ya’d like to know,” Lynd said. “Since one was in our room last night.”
“In our—?” A wave crashed on the posts and splashed Gai’s whole left side. He turned his entire body around in one jump, shaking the wooden lattice. “Where was I? Why didn’t ya say anythin’? Did it touch me?”
“No.” She laughed.
Gai stood motionless. “What was it?”
“Kinda like the light electri lamps make, just not yellow. A bright red dot, like ya heard. And it zipped around like a bug tryin’ to get out.”
“So, it was a ghost?”
“No,” she said. “I mean, it didn’t say anythin’.”
“Did ya stomp on it?” Gai was both glued to the post and her story. “How’d it even get in?”
“I was asleep, having another dream about Pa comin’ home. He was with Uncle Baald on the ship. Anyway, when I woke up, there it was!”
“But Ma boarded the windows?”
“It was just a tiny thing.” Lynd’s voice started to break up. She cleared her throat. “But then it left, right out a crack. I dunno, Gai, I felt like if I could’ve caught it, somethin’ wild would happen . . . Do you think spryts could be dreams?”
“Doubt it,” Gai said. “What about that scooper who said one blew a hole in his scoop? Or Mayor Tanning, who swore he saw two hit each other and they exploded all crazy?”
“Bad dreams,” said Lynd. “But what if I caught mine and my dream of Pa comin’ home came true?”
“I miss Pa, too,” Gai said softly. “But we’re not touchin’ any spryts, ya got me? A’way. We gotta ﬁnd the other parent, now.”
They continued stretching and reaching for the beams, some‐ times having to bend their bodies in slithering ways. Most Hoppers were asleep, silent and unlit above their heads. But soon, yellowish electri lights were peaking through the cracks. Then the Under Board boards started to jitter a bit with footsteps above. Garbled voices, small and booming, rained down. “We’re right under Tanning’s Vice House,” Gai whispered. “Cover yer ears. I don’t want ya to hear the way these people talk.”
“I’m not a baby!” Lynd half-yelled over the sounds of clinking cans, roaring voices, and falling dice above. What’re ya lookin’ at, ya quirk?
Gai smirked, looking back. “I just don’t want ya to pick up any new names for me.”
Lynd glanced up at the golden lights of Tanning’s Vice shining through the ﬂoorboards. No children were allowed in, so who could blame her for peeking? She tried to make out who was in there by the shapes of their shoes. Mrs. Shakk had ones made out of metal buckets that she hammered around each foot; and hers were the least interesting ones. Lynd then heard a familiar voice up there — Just lemme play, she says!
Lynd pressed her eyes up closer to the ﬂoorboard. “I think that’s Ma!”
She tilted her ear to the voices just above. First was a man’s voice — Yer gonna bet that necklace on one game of Elix or Ruin? That’s right, she says. I’ll bet on Elix this time!
“Yup. Ma’s up there,” Lynd whispered.
Gai’s brow twisted in disbelief. “In the Vice House? She gambles?” The two children were glued under those planks of wood, like boogers. The boy grabbed a nearby beam to leverage himself higher and felt that it was wrapped around many times with ﬁshing wire. He couldn’t believe his luck. It was precisely what he needed for Lynd’s present — a wire he could pull tight over the nice piece of wood he found. He wanted to make a ﬁddle like Pa had. But what if this ﬁshing wire were wrapped around that beam to hold it in place? He was afraid to take it and have the whole place come down on them.
“It’s my girl’s thirteenth tomorrow,” Mape continued in the room above them. “I’d like to get her somethin’ good for once.”
“All the times ya been in here, Mape,” the man muttered, “Ya promised ya’d never bet that necklace.”
“Promises are the easiest things to unmake,” Mape said softly. “I’d rather my girl have shoes than me have a necklace, she says.”
Lynd felt her cold toes curl around a splitting Under Board pole.
The man in the room chuckled. “Alright, Izz. Deal her in! Look’s like yer up against Mrs. Shakk for the win.”
“A’way, Lynd.” Gai stepped on the next beam beside her. “I don’t wanna hear how this ends.”
Lynd stood still, staring up at the cracks. If she wanted to, she could yell to her mother. She could tell to stop, to not bet her only real possession on a gift for her. Her heart became so heavy. Her eyes welled up.
“Lynd . . .”
“I miss Pa, Gai. That’s all I want for my birthday.” She started to fully bawl. “Ma shouldn’t have to do that!” She kept squeezing her ﬁst. But that trusty piece of snapping wood had fallen into the water. Krak! A beam right beside her splintered instead.
Gai whispered. “It’s a’kay, Lynd. Just snap the wood in yer hand—” He then saw it was gone.
Krakk! Snnap! More posts and boards started breaking around her, seemingly in sync with her sobs.
Gai reached out to her, “Where’s yer—whoa!” Chunks of the splintering wood were ﬂying through the air like a storm was ripping bark off a tree. The Under Board began shaking, and so too did the Tanning’s Vice House above. The patrons yelled, “Currents are pickin’ up!” and “Another storm’s rollin’ in! Nothin’ lasts!” The ﬂoor‐ boards banged with footsteps as they vacated.
The beam with the ﬁshing wire wrapped around it snapped in Lynd’s destructive chaos. Gai quickly grabbed it and began to wrap it lengthwise around that lovely curved un-Hop-like piece of wood he brought. Once it was tight, he plucked the wire with his ﬁngernail as if it were an instrument. Ping! “We’ve been here before,” he sang. Ping! “With yer hand in mine.”
The rumbling stopped. “Pa?” Lynd opened her eyes and wiped a tear.
“What do ya think?” he said, “Sounds like Pa’s ﬁddle a little, yeah?”
“Ya made that for me?”
“It’s what I came out to make, yeah.” Ping. “I thought if I could learn to play it, maybe . . . happy birthday.” Of course, the boy was thinking his sister’s destructive nature was only becoming more and more dangerous. He worried what would happen, exactly, when he ﬁnally couldn’t calm her? What if Pa never came home?
Lynd snifﬂed a few more times and took the instrument from him. She smiled. “Ya remember when Pa ﬁrst brought that ﬁddle home?”
“How could I forget?” Gai said. “Ms. Shakk heard him playin’ and told the whole Board. Then they came and painted ‘QUIRKS’ in front of our door.”
“It took us forever to wash that off.” Lynd started to laugh through her crying.
Gai smiled. “Hopper White really sticks.”
“He was playin’ it in my dream, Gai. I keep hearin’ that song.
Mrs. Shakk is there, too . . .”
“A’way. I think ya scared everyone up there back to their homes.
We can climb up here and walk back. Just be careful.” “A’kay.”
The children used the outer scaffolding and climbed directly up to the Boulie’s ledge unnoticed. Lynd had a new present, and they even managed to sneak out for the ﬁrst time without getting caught. As a bonus, the Vice House didn’t crumble on top of them. But the children walked with a heavy, defeated shufﬂe all the way home. That’s Hop for ya. There just aren’t enough little wins to take away the big lose of living there. Their mother was gambling for presents. Their father was thought to be dead. And they were trapped forever in a dangerous place surrounded by unforgiving waters. Whose light would dare shine there?
“What’s that?” said Lynd. “Did ya see that?” “Let’s just get home, Lynd. A’kay?”
“Never mind.” Lynd sighed hard. She held up her ﬁddle and plucked it. Ping.
Gai stopped and turned to her abruptly. “Don’t play it here!” She stopped walking. “But, I wanted to hear—”
“Neighbors can hear, too! I don’t want any repeats of that night. We’ll ﬁnd a safe spot tomorrow to play, a’kay?” He turned and marched to 76.
Gai ﬁnally turned, enraged. “Lynd, I said—” But his jaw fell.
Terror washed over his eyes. He pointed behind his sister.
Lynd turned around. Her mouth hung oval, stunned. Hundreds of bright red specks were tossing about in the air above the center of Hop like ﬁreﬂies.
The yellow electri lights all started shutting off one by one as the neighborhood realized — just as Tanning’s fair warning signs warned — the spryt lights were out tonight. Swarms of dazzling rubies danced over the port and surrounding water. The Izz children couldn’t run, they couldn’t speak, they couldn’t look away. The curious lights seemed to avoid boarded-up windows, walls, posts and twine as if they were thinking. They dipped near the water by sleeping scoopers, who still had their scoops tied to poles in the curling currents. The tiny dots didn’t seem to be aiming to go anywhere in particular, just dashing and drifting delightfully.
Gai whispered, “These are?”
“Spryts!” Lynd ﬁnished, her eyes ticked about like she was trying to follow every one.
Most of the lights were still far down Boulie, back over the center, making them feel less imminently terrifying. But then a few drifted up from sides of Boulie Board near their feet. The danger literally came close to home.
“Lynd,” whispered Gai. “We should get back inside.” “Y-yeah,” she said, turning. “Sure.”
The two slowly walked the short distance left to their home, careful not to touch any of the lights as they gently ﬂoated past. Gai reached for the rope Lynd used to sneak out and pulled himself all the way up to their room. But Lynd paused on the Board. She plucked that note one more time. Ping.
Right in front of the Izz house door, that one with thirteen shades of oh-Zeea-I-am-not-touching-that green, another shimmering spryt rose from the churning sea.
Gai waved down at her frantically, afraid to actually yell. What if a neighbor heard?
Lynd played the ﬁrst two notes of the song their father used to play from memory. Ping. Bung.
The spryt flickered its red light and seemed to dance with the notes. “I knew it,” Lynd breathed, stepping closer to it.
The spryt began to bounce casually from their door to the tip of Boulie, a pier toward the open water. Lynd followed it with the ﬁddle in hand, grinning.
Gai rounded the sill and headed back down. “Per course, ya gotta do this to me!” He jumped down and hit Boulie so hard he thought his bones were screaming at him.
“I knew they were dreams!” Lynd said, dancing about like she was mimicking the ﬂoating spryt. They went further and further to the railless end of the Board. “Gai, help me catch it!”
Gai chased after her. “Lynd!” Stormy waves began mashing up against the posts, shaking the whole Board. He couldn’t even see her anymore, only the red dot she was chasing. He was about twenty plank boards from the tip of Boulie. “Get back inside!”
“I’m not gonna let Pa get away again!” she yelled.
He limped after her. Only thirteen planks away. He could barely make out where she was against a forming thunderstorm rolling in from the gulf.
Nine planks away. “We’ve been here before.” His sister was at the very edge of Boulie, facing the violent water, pinky-plucking her instrument for the red light. “With yer hand in mine.” The spryt hovered above her. “In my heart, there’s a window . . .”
She reached up and grabbed it. An impossibly brilliant crimson light engulfed her entire body.
Krack! A glowing red gash formed in front of Lynd in the open air, jagged and quick as lightning, as if the sky itself had just ripped open like a ﬁrecracker.
“Look out!” he cried. Then everything in his view ahead — the open water waves, the pier, and his sister — shattered like it was painted on fallen glass. The planks of Boulie Board’s tip tore apart like an invisible ship just crashed into it, two, then ﬁve, then ten planks in, right under Gai’s feet. He collapsed with it all to tattered Under Board below.
“Lynd!” He gripped a post, avoiding the deadly descent into the rushing currents. Fractured pier pieces ﬂew through the air, a few striking the boy as he dangled for his life. Finally, he pulled himself to an unbroken part of the Board, rolling onto Boulie. He got to his knees and begged to see any sign of her. He cried out against the thunder over Hop. “Lynd!”
There was nothing. No spryt. No dream. And worst of all — no Lynd.