THE HIDDEN CHALICE

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Being knocked over by the blast, Tommy soon realized that he was looking up through several feet of water and was sinking. If this current course of watery descent continued he would drown encased in an armor of bronze. He watched the sickening colors of the lightning bolts through the opaque liquid. A vast wave formulated overhead. It was like a tsunami. As it passed by, it swelled him upward in a huge draft. The plastic straw was wrested from his hand by the force of it and carried away out of reach. He floundered about what he could still move. He struggled to break his metallic cocoon and swim up to the surface. His valiant efforts, pitted against the overpowering element, were in vain. After the vast wave’s departure, he quickly began to sink again. The instant sea with which the fortress of his body had been besieged had suddenly taken on depths to the rival the Atlantic Ocean, devouring the sky in a wet fury. There was no sandy bottom in sight. The previous shallowness had been replaced. He now plummeted through limitless fathoms. Either the wave had marked a stupendous growth in the invading ocean or the desert floor had somehow fled by sinking away.

 

“I’m not through yet” Tommy said to himself resolutely. He battled the watery defeat that would separate him from his creative identity by sifting through his memory for the content of a story which could aid him. Instead a scientific book aimed for a middle-grade audience about prehistoric reptiles that he had cherished floated up to mental prominence. Two specific creatures swimming within its pages arrested his attention and buoyed his hopes. He honed his thoughts in on their actualization as he had with the Navajo toad. Even though he knew it would cost him, he concentrated hard and imagined two Ichthyosaurs to come into being and save him and keep him afloat with the dreaded weight of the bronze clothing bringing him down. They appeared instantaneously underneath his drifting feet as if springing directly from the Prehistoric Creatures book that he had read as a child. They looked like green prehistoric dolphins with bent rows of sharp crooked teeth. He shifted his feet onto their curved backs and they accepted his weight and brought him gasping to the surface. He felt their musculature move and slither and undulate as they swam. The two aquatic reptiles continued to swim along the surface after their rescue of the human astride their backs. He sailed with them through the swells and valleys of the abrupt sea. As he became more confident, he settled and allowed himself to submit to where the creatures took him. The concentration it took to settle into the movement took his mind off the sharp pain he had in bringing these extinct marine reptiles into manifestation.

 

Above his head light penetrated the ocean from the lightning bolts. Long shears of jagged brightness sparked intermittently with an uncomfortable nearness. A strange world emerged in the light. It looked like one robed in crystalline sap. They passed huge schools of fish that swam in one direction and then immediately turned in the other as they saw the Ichthyosaurs approach. One Ichthyosaur caught a huge mackerel type fish as it swam past. Tommy could feel its throat tilt and its muscles jerk backwards as it swallowed the piscine prey in one gulp. This motion of the Icthy swallowing knocked him off balance for a moment. He swung his arm around to a securer hold and regained his balance as the Icthy finished his meal and they sailed through the sea as if in flight. He felt as if he should have reins for these majestic beasts. The weight of his bronze attire settled him onto their backs, one foot for each as they careened and caught currents that were interspersed in a sinuous maze throughout the salty expanse. A glimmering shoal of fish swam up and jetted by in a haphazard manner past the two beast of burden’s snouts. They split into two groups and ramified in direction upon seeing the sleek predators. They refused to travel behind them. Because of this Tommy realized that the school of fish wasn’t just evading them. There was something else that was spooking their numbers. He turned his skull around in fearful anticipation. His suspicion was corroborated in the most terrifying conceivable fashion. Without any time to adjust, he spied an enormous Tylosaurus, another creature he recognized from the science book, coming straight for them. It was hunting them, its flippers gliding and paddling and flapping furiously. The ferocious prehistoric marine reptile was a good fifty feet long and its jaws were murderous with rows of pencil-length teeth. Its cranium was rounded with a ridge at the brow and broader and longer than a funeral coffin. Its maw widened expectantly in the gloom. One of the two Icthys noticed its pursuit and broke away and angled in a semi-circle towards the apex predator.

 

Tommy turned forward and lowered himself onto the remaining Icthy’s back, riding it like a horse. He admired the defending creature’s bravery. The Ichthyosaur that had broken away challenged its oversized opponent to a duel of sorts. As the apex predator advanced to consume the noble defender it evaded at the last second to the right side of its hungry rampage’s trajectory. It had moved at just the right time to catch the Tylosaurus presenting its side. The Icthy turned with a flick of flippers and swam straight towards the enormous monster and hit him with his snout with full force. A muffled Thud reverberated through the watery vastness. Unfortunately the expansive noise was the most significant and damaging part of the attack. Two flashes of lightning showed the Tylosaurus turn inwards on impact and then deftly maneuver sideways in an evasive manner. Having suffered little harm due to its durable enormity, it turned to confront the valiant Icthy. It slithered with deadly speed through the brine. The defender responded in kind. They grazed each other’s sides, but not before the Tylosaurus had somehow in the last moment turned his head and swiped at the opponent and dragged sharp teeth along its body. It convulsed and wriggled by with a huge gash in its side that gushed out inky clouds of blood. The Icthy winced and grimaced in pain and tried to retreat but was off balance and slowed by the gaping bleeding hole in its abdomen. It had been crippled. The Tylosaurus took its time, a methodical hunter, and circled back around and caught the fleeing prey and snapped it in twain with mighty jaws. Then it devoured the first Icthy in two bites. An unwinnable contest for the prey that ended in a most predictable way!

 

The remaining Icthy that Tommy rode like an aquatic steed accelerated its bobbing pace and swam away now with a frenzied desperation. Shimmering shoals of fish that swam in their way immediately turned on a dime and scurried away in multiple directions through the darkness of the sea. Tommy twisted his neck to position his eyes to take in the view from behind to see if they were in fact succeeding in their escape. Disappointment awaited him there, hovering with a horrifying nearness. Stimulated by the bloody delight it had enjoyed the Tylosaurus had altered its course and it now lunged after them in a full-fledged pursuit. It snaked through the gloom with a dark purpose, wisps of blood and flecks of gore trailing from its begrimed mouth. Tommy spun around and dug his nails into his ride’s hide to motivated further haste. The marine reptile gurgled an exhausted grunt and undulated harder and swam as swiftly as it could. It was not enough. As fast as the panicking Icthy swam, the apex predator was faster. It gained on the evolutionarily mismatched pair. Tommy looked back again. The Tylosaurus neared and as it did it briefly rolled back its eyes. He saw gelid death swimming rapidly towards them. He bubbled a girlish shriek. His sleek transport evaded back and forth. It swerved side to side. It explored fruitless avenues of evasion. The Icthy tried to swim directly through teaming schools of bigger fish so that possibly the Tylosaurus would lose interest when presented with troves of easier prey. They had no such luck as the thalassic carnivore continued to come on full tilt towards them. It was only interested in their more substantial flesh and that interest amplified each passing second because of the thrill of the chase. A havoc of confusion ensued. In a last ditch effort the Icthy sped skywards and surged to the surface. Unfortunately this course of action was exactly what the Tylosaurus had waited for. It simply changed its angle of pursuit and sped on a quicker path to its quarry. It barreled upward and caught the reptilian underbelly with its tremendous impetus. The resulting crash was horrific. The Tylosaurus impacted the Icthy full force next to the surface. The force of the collision hurled Tommy off his mount and sent him flying high into the air. As he sailed through the lowness of the dangling sky, his bronzed clothes transformed into moveable fabric again. His flight reached its zenith, and he curved downward. As he fell back down flailing, he saw the Tylosaurus viciously devour the fruit of his imagination. It was ruthless in the consumption of one of his prehistoric saviors. Worried that he would soon be next, Tommy conjured an Italian fishing boat he had seen in the pictures of a history book to break his fall. The barbed flail of necessity had churned up this inspiration, and it spurred his quick decision to act upon the idea emergent of its flow. His weary mind became a realm of unadulterated pain as he imagined deeply the nautical object. From out of his agony the Italian vessel sprouted. It evinced on the waves below in the nick of time. He landed with a huge impact on fishing nets that had been set aside for mending. He was winded terribly by the fall despite the generous cushioning. Groans and murmurs of dissatisfaction crawled up in gradual streams from his raw lungs. As he gasped in a prone scramble to regain his breath, he heard close by within the same boat Facinorous run through a trench of dialogue that was configured thusly:

 

“Well, Bob, it certainly has been an exciting day here out at sea,” he began in his best deadpan imitation of golfing commentary. “By my stars and garters! It looks like our fledgling hero has survived the salty assault of an instant sea, the concussive force of a massy toad splitting apart and a wild chase by a peckish Tylosaurus. It’s really quite astonishing. We don’t usually see this kind of excitement out here.”

 

“That’s right, Facinorous,” he replied to himself in another commentator’s voice, one measured and wry. “This kid has chutzpa. Just when you think he is down for the count, he defies expectations and springs up again. In this high-step dance with saturnalian doom, he procrastinates wonderfully.”

“Bob, I think this has become perhaps the match of the age; a true plaything for posterity.”

 

“Yes, it has Facinorous,” the ‘other’ announcer agreed. “But, lapsing into another subject for a brief moment, my old wily pal, my old ludic monstrosity, I must confess that the bruit condensation building up over the inglorious origins of your strident lunacy has become increasingly difficult to wipe away. The voice of something resembling reason pales and falters against such a monumental undertaking. The rumors, the aspersion and the slander have accumulated and escalated in intensity to such a recalcitrant degree that even the youths victimized by your cruel agenda openly mock your perceived failings. And there seems to be little respite from such criticisms in sight. Tell me dear sir: How does that make you feel? What is your opinion on the matter? It can’t be easy to take.”

 

“O, it is strenuously unfortunate! The traducement I suffer! What a darling compliment to the bane of my existence. But you know what they say: ‘The brond of intendiment is the key to deracinating the obstreperous surquedry grown meretriciously of lancinating obloquy’.”

 

“No one says that, Facinorous. No one sane anyway.”

 

“Thankfully, Bob, sanity is a sanable malison.”

 

“Faugh! What a perfectly deranged thing to say! A demented dogma of nihilistic lunacy! Pure poppycock and nonsense! Outrageous dross!” He sighed deeply and then said: “Oh my. Oh well. That’s as fine as any utterance I suppose. Now I don’t wish to digress but I think I should mention that you have already the used the locution ‘Obloquy’ before in your malevolent persiflage. And I think it is incumbent upon me to remind you that such careless repetition only lends credence to the rumor that your imagination is lacking.”

 

“You’re a paragon of lenity.”

 

“No, I am merely an honest commentator.”

 

“Honesty is the appanage of bantlings and the sport of balatrons. But… Oh my goodness! Would you take a gander at that! Looks like the kid found yet another way to stave off his inevitable defeat. Let’s get back to the action. Shall we?”

Thus the impromptu and unintentional lesson in the personality’s ability to disassociate from itself ended. Tommy finally recovered his lost breath. He sat up amidst the tangle of the nets and looked towards the stern of the boat. He saw Facinorous garbed in Venetian attire steering the fishing ship. He sighed in frustration and slumped down for a moment trying to assess amidst the agony what had occurred and also to take stock of the new embellishment worn by this tireless villain.

 

The sky through the closeness of the lurid lightning bolts was astoundingly low. The boat steered towards a place in the sea where continual bolts of mute lightning struck the surface of the water. Tommy was frightened. It was as if they were going directly into the belly of the storm. The rolling oceanic expanse became violent; the waves crested twenty feet in height. The boat dipped over and over again in fjord-sized troughs of sea before it rose to the top of a massive wave. As they crested this alpha wave of apocalypse-inducing stature, a tremendous bolt of lightning struck the boat rending it in twain. An explosion of fragmented wood and torn netting sprinted out across the white-capped waves. The sundered vessel rolled over to face the depths and sank. Again Tommy was chucked and hurtled into the air before hitting the sea. He plunged downward through the brine. The tempest ceased abruptly, suffocating Lethia in a cloak of utter darkness. The constant downfall of jagged bolts sickly in coloration whimpered to a sudden close. The instant sea was now pitch-black. Tommy plummeted further down the fathoms unable at first to halt his momentum because he was dazed by the jarring manner of the inauspicious capsizing. He soon regained some semblance of bearing and composure. He found that the bronze enchantment that Facinorous had assumedly placed upon his clothes was no longer in effect. His clothes were of their regular composition. He tried desperately to swim to the surface but only found more water and blackness. After a tremendous struggle, he realized that any remaining air or sky had been swallowed up by the rising sea. There was no surface left to reach. The instant sea was somehow inescapable now. He panicked as he tried to think of something he could conjure up with his strained imagination that could save him from drowning. In the process he began to lose consciousness. His awareness flickered like a moribund flame. Moments before the loss of his creative identity, his mind limped to the acquisition of an element of a story that he needed. The whimsical element was the air bubble spell cast by an industrious mermaid on the human she fell in love with that allowed him to breathe underwater. The story was a tad saccharine and quaint but it served its purpose. A self-sustaining oxygen bubble manifested over Tommy’s head. Its translucent sheen encircled his facial features snugly. A breathable environment invisible as the silver speck of a coin in the crumbling cosmic refuse of a supernova’s insensate tide lurked within the narrow confines. He gasped in the precious air it afforded. The supply was endless, and he soon regained his breath. Crisis averted, he looked about the dark depths that surrounded him through the terrible agony blistering his thoughts. His tunnel of vision was smothered by absolute blackness. He couldn’t even see beyond his own ocular lenses. It felt as if he had been sepulchered long before the expiration of his last breath. After his recent encounter with the Tylosaurus, he realized that now not being able to see anything in the oceanic murk made him a sitting duck for whatever lurked beneath. He shuddered involuntarily. He turned warily around in slow circles with cautious strokes. The fear of the unknown drained and whittled his reservoir of courage down to an infinitesimal scintilla over-shrouded by an oppressive fog of affright. He just wished that whatever happened, it would be merciful in its swiftness. He could imagine that there were skyscraper-sized sharks and monstrosities with many mucilaginous tentacles gliding sinisterly about down here. There had to be by the law of shambolic disorder and the malevolence of Facinorous’s misrule of Lethia. He knew that at any moment the monsters could strike. There would be no warning. There could be no adequate defense. He would be just a tiny morsel to those vast shapes of horror. He gritted his teeth against the inevitably oncoming extinction.

 

Then his fortunes changed miraculously for the better. Sure and bloody oblivion never arrived. Instead he was visited by a peculiar phenomenon. Wallowing deep in dread, he saw a sphere of light flicker into being nearby. It was followed with an incandescent flash so intense that he expected subsequent heat to wash out and sear his defenseless corpus. But deleterious warmth never registered. He squinted and focused through the water to see that the sphere was in fact a house-sized star. This incandescent oddity illumined the dark sea with elongated rays of hypnotic radiance. It was like a miniaturized celestial beacon or a minified apparition of one of heaven’s myriad lamps. He clove forward through the pressure of the deep and swam towards the luminous sphere of uncertain origin. As he drew closer, he saw spherical lights the size of basketballs that swam like fish interacting in patterns around the small star take form. It was as if they were birthed from the luminousness of the larger sphere. He watched in awe their manifestation and their animalistic movement as he neared the inanimate parent illumination. The basketball-sized lights swayed and swam, continuing their pattern despite the faint intruding influence of some ineffable force from somewhere unattainable up above that penetrated even this deeply. Tommy navigated their circling congregation with care and dexterity. He inched by unnoticed. He sidled up to the smallish star. He felt an inexplicable urge to touch the giant orb of light. The rational portion of his identity worried that he might be burned though. But then again there seemed to be no heat coming from the star; only neutral brightness. It was actually surprisingly cool this close to its beamy surface. The comprehension of this fact assuaged his worry of finger incineration and allowed his nagging curiosity to finally overpower his concern and he reached out his hand and touched the curved surface. His tentative contact was gingerly applied.

 

Immediately the bantam star and the tiny basketball-sized spheres of lights decomposed inward and dissolved away to nothingness. In one solid mass they collapsed in on themselves. It was like watching a solar system in miniature implode. All the minor celestial bodies orbiting around the orb were absorbed by the ineluctable suction and then reduced back into a primordial state of utter darkness.

 

Maybe as a consequence of this seemingly forbidden contact and its resultant catastrophe of snuffing the instant sea started to split in twain, not horizontally but vertically, and pull apart. It lurched into two halves, rattling violently as if the foundations of the mystical dimension were sloughing off into some unspeakable void, with a thunderous sloshing sound. Tommy, stunned as a sidereal deer caught in heavenly headlights, realized that he was stuck at the bottom of one half of the split sea and he could somehow despite the blackness make out the cavernous space between the diverging portions. Below that enlarging airspace was another equally deep section of sea that drifted downward. He was stuck to the bottom surface of the ascending portion with the majority of his frame exposed to the air like a fly trapped on sticky paper. He was hoisted and dragged by nature of his immersion upwards. His heart danced with giddy astonishment. An astounding spectacle unfolded whose wondrousness could counter a thousand year slog through the tedium of daily life’s ordinariness.

 

Manifold splotches of radiance spangled his purview. A field of fresh sources of illumination in the shape and form of a plentitude of familiar house-sized stars and basketball-sized lights manifested sporadically throughout both portions of the split body of salty water. Tommy looked up towards the surface of the sea he lay in the bottom of. Above he saw through the brightened brine the incredible beauty of the squirming orchestra of sidereal spheres that swam with graceful elegance.

 

The gradual separation continued. As they split apart, both seas experienced tremendous growth in the amount of stars swimming their depths. Tommy felt as if he were looking through the glass bottom of a boat, like he had done in Florida once on a tour through the Everglades. He enjoyed the increasingly byzantine sight. He nearly swooned with its starry immensity. Minutes flew by and congealed in the ether of experience. The bubble bewitchment sustaining him popped after prolonged exposure to open atmosphere. He discovered that he could draw precious breath even at the height he had been pulled to. He gratefully swallowed mouthfuls of usable air.

His half of the sea then drastically began to lift skywards with a paradoxical celerity. The other separated half started to drop downwards in a spiral pattern like a staircase. The stars that swam inside it moved closer together and clustered and formed galaxy-like structures. Brilliant hues of light shot forth; each had its own unique shape and pattern. An intricate web of spiraling stars stretched out across all that was visible of creation. In between the twin galaxy-like seas lurked vast recesses of darkling space. Shortly afterwards the ethereal movement of the distancing halves of celestial sea halted with a languid flourish and came to a rest. The mad ascent stalled. Stillness prevailed. Laid bare to innocent understanding in all its glorious nakedness the ravishing splendor of a sidereal sea swirled and whirled through the infinite. The soft fluid fabric of the oceanic cosmos was exquisitely silky and lissome and flowing; the enthralling craftsmanship of the whole configuration beyond mortal keen.

 

Tommy admired the phenomenal view as he acclimated to the remoteness of his position. Even in the summer when he had laid upon the grass and gazed upwards, he had never seen anything as spectacular as this. He felt like he was floating in the ocean of deep space now. His view was not altered by the limitations of being stuck to one half. This event was entirely personal and experiential and freeing. He felt as if he were a cosmic being hovering in space and feeling the profound depths of the universe. Despite the dangers he was facing on this odyssey and this awe-inspiring new environment, he felt as if he was in a state of otherworldly calm. Even the pain weighing on his head had lessened. He felt strangely at peace dangling in the starry abyss. In his mind he imagined new journeys on new planets that he could undertake and explore. He imagined exotic creatures inhabiting these unusual planets with multi-colored moons. He imagined the possibility of exploring these worlds, without the pressing need for spacecraft travel and towing an oxygen supply. His head stopped throbbing nearly completely as he imagined taking his family on these journeys and explorations. He imagined an entire new television show documenting their adventurous expeditions. A rapid parade of exciting scenarios rife with intrigue and captivating thrills played through his thoughts. These were fanciful imaginings created and sifted through lightly without the intention of actualization.

 

A shiver of motion above interrupted his fascination with inner musings. He looked up. An amazing figure descended towards him from the half of the sea he was situated on. It was his erstwhile tormentor and abductor Facinorous. His vaporous body was full of tiny stars; each swimming about haltingly as if his confining insides was a suitable firmament. His maroon eyes were composed of gleaming red dwarfs that twinkled with a low glow. Seemingly reliant on the environing wonders his extravagant camouflage fluctuated with a purloined grace. Like some mythic cosmic figure, Facinorous slowly dropped to Tommy’s level, and they both surveyed the dazzling grandeur from the bottom of their half of the celestial sea.