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Tarpeian Rock

An Annual Literary Magazine

"Hinc ad Tarpeiam sedem et Capitolia ducit
aurea nunc, olim siluestribus horrida dumis."

                    --Virgil's Aeneid, VIII, l. 347-8
Articles from
the 2009 issue...

We Must Follow

They Know Not What They Do

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2009 Young Writer's Contest Winner

...we must follow.

by Anna Jakubiec

     I circled beneath the water—thoughtful, waiting. Though what I was waiting for was hard to tell. What I was thinking about was less vague, though perhaps not less complicated.
     It was a dreary day, when the water felt a little slimier, the sun seemed a little darker, and the tower-city of Lithrho looked a little redder. I hated those days.
     It wasn’t that the water’s slimy feeling annoyed me so much—though I didn’t like the way my hair stuck to my scalp afterwards. It also wasn’t that I loved sunlight that much, though I’d never been like the other sea nymphs, who shunned it. It also wasn’t that I hated the color red—or Lithrho, for that matter. Though seeing that city carved of red rock sometimes made my eyes hurt. It wasn’t even that rain usually followed this state of things. (I happened to love rain.) I just disliked how empty Lithrho looked.
     The people of Lithrho had been human. Usually when sea nymphs mention humans, you can reckon that they aren’t going to say much good. It’s not that humans themselves are so bad. But the things they do—intentionally or inadvertently—drives us up the waves. So it shouldn’t have bothered me too much that they left. But it did.
     If the humans were here today, I thought, they would have lit up the windows of Lithrho to drive away the shadows that cover the sun. They would have rung bells, played flutes, and danced in the city corners to tell the gathering clouds that no dampening of the ground would dampen their spirits.
     I used to like listening to the sound of their music and the beauty of their lights. But now…they were gone.
     Treading water, I thought back to the day the humans left. It had been abrupt, and I still hadn’t been able to figure out a clear reason for it.
     That morning had been beautiful, unlike this one. The sun had been shining brightly, but not in the way that drives sea nymphs into the deeps for fear of drying out our scales. The waves had been neither too high, nor too still. (I’d never liked it when the sea is too calm. It bored me.) Things had seemed just fine in Lithrho. But then, I’m not human. They see things differently than we do.
     But maybe they didn’t want to go. Maybe there had been no choice in the matter. It could have been out of their hands. Though it didn’t seem that way to me. Because if that had been the case, it would have stood to reason if they had gone with weeping and sighing. But they had gone smiling, excited. Anticipation had lit their eyes. Of course, I had seen some hesitation, even fear—but didn’t everyone feel a bit of that when leaving home?
     At first I had thought the Lithrho-dwellers were coming back. True, it had seemed strange that everyone in the city should leave at once, but I didn’t think much of it. I knew enough about humans to guess that they wouldn’t leave for good without weeks of preparation beforehand; and certainly nothing strange had seemed to happen before they had left.
     But they hadn’t come back. Not yet, I thought, still clinging to the slight hope that they would. But the majority was against me. Most thought, and hoped, Not ever. (I’ve said already that most sea nymphs dislike humans.) Though perhaps the fact they that weren’t back wasn’t intentional either. Maybe something had prevented their return that they hadn’t foreseen.
     The oncoming clouds drawing over the sun brought me back to the present. I dove beneath the water as the clouds blew away again. It was a good thing I was interrupted, because a continuation of those thoughts might have caused me to be sentimental. The humans had had bad qualities, as well, and I mustn’t forget those!
     A shadow was cast over me. Looking upward, I could see the outline of a creature in the water. It was shaped somewhat like a sea-star.
     Sea turtle! I thought excitedly. I liked turtles. They were friendly sorts of creatures. And this one was simply gargantuan, and probably very old. I thought with eagerness of the stories it might be able to tell me.
     As I neared the surface, I realized I knew this turtle. Her name was Marla, and she was absolutely ancient. I recognized her by the deep, craggy lines on her underbelly that spelled out a sort of R-shape. I had always wondered where she got those markings—whether they had been given to her, or if she had been born with them. But I hadn’t been able to get her to tell me.
     Marla never talked to anyone, in my experience. She was quite cantankerous. But rumor had it that she had helped carry the Lithrho-dwellers away from their tower, and since I had already been thinking about their departure that day, I decided to try to strike a conversation with her one more time. Maybe I could find out more.
     I put my head above water…
     And froze.
     Marla’s huge beak-like head was tethered. And on her teardrop-shaped back were humans.
     Have the Lithrho-dwellers returned? I thought, flooded with a mixture of feelings. It was short-lived.
     They could have possibly been Lithrho-dwellers, but there were only three. And they were fairly young. The oldest was approximately twenty; twenty-two at the most.
     There was one male and two females. The man, who had brown hair strung up in a ponytail, stood in the front with a telescope pointed at Lithrho.
“There it is!” cried one of the girls, pointing excitedly. She also had a ponytail, but blonde. The other female, who had black hair bound by a wide headband, smiled nervously.
     Hmm, explorers… I thought. I could have some fun with them. Suddenly the day seemed a little brighter, if in a slightly malevolent way. While formulating a plot that might involve anything in the realm of mischief from scary noises to rather large crabs, I continued listening to their conversation.
     “Aren’t you excited, Harper?” asked the blonde.
     The one called Harper made a face. “Yes, very. Just as long as we don’t drown. Or get eaten. Or run out of food. Or get stranded. I’m ecstatic, Piper.”
     Piper laughed and called the male. “Chandler, help me here. Convince your sister that nothing out of the ordinary is going to happen to us.”
     Chandler turned around, smiling. “Oh, no, nothing extraordinary. Except the fact that we’ve found a large red tower sticking up out of nowhere, in the middle of the ocean. That’s perfectly ordinary, of course…for brave souls like us! Right, Harper?”
     Harper just groaned, shaking her dark head.
     Harper, Piper, and Chandler. What odd names, I thought. Though they probably would have thought my name, Lasoosoi, odd as well.
It began raining, rapidly thickening from a light, sprinkle to a steady curtain. Harper loudly voiced her complaints, and even Piper began to pout.
“How long until we’re out of this beastly drizzle?” Piper cried.
     Chandler pushed his now sopping hair off his forehead. “Come on, girls! Buck up!” he said cheerfully. “It’s an adventure! Don’t you feel excitement pounding through your veins?”
     “I feel something pounding through my veins, but it isn’t excitement,” growled Harper crossly, baring her teeth in a snarl. “It’s more like a wish to kill you.”
     Chandler, ignoring his sister, went on. “Can’t you barely wait to step foot on undiscovered soil? Doesn’t this very rain make you more determined to reach our goal?”
     “No,” said the two girls in unison.
     “You’re both crazy,” said Chandler, shrugging.
     Harper was quite indignant at this. “I’m crazy?! You convinced me to come with all that nonsense about new horizons! But now it seems that the horizon gets worse the closer we get!”
     Chandler sighed. “Well, I still think the horizon is worth pursuing. You, Piper?” he asked hopefully, looking to his friend for support (which was unlikely, in my opinion).
     Piper just scowled, turning her back on him with crossed arms.
     I paddled along behind Marla, buffeted by the waves that were growing ever choppier. I wondered what this exchange said about the humans’ individual characters. I already felt I liked Chandler best. Then, Listen to yourself, Lasoosoi! I scolded myself. Making pets out of the humans, indeed. How silly of you.
     When Marla landed on the sandy shore near the tower, I hung back in the water, debating what to do next.
     We sea nymphs have legs. Therefore, we can walk on land, if we wish. But we are more awkward on dry ground, being unsuited to it. Our sensitive skin is easily chafed and dried by air. But with the persistent rainfall, I felt safer from the danger of my slick, wet skin becoming “wind-bruised”, as we call it.
     My real concern in following Chandler, Harper, and Piper into Lithrho was fear of discovery. If I were to trail behind them, it couldn’t be too closely, or they might spot me. I didn’t want to know what might happen if they did. But, on the other hand, if I got too far behind, I could get lost. I had never been inside Lithrho before—and I might not have gone now if it weren’t something beyond mere curiosity driving me, something that was slowly overcoming my fears.
     Something else occurred to me. With humans, the trip might be more productive than any I could have taken alone. Sea nymphs have been granted the gift of speaking and understanding tongues, but we are illiterate. We have no need to write down our own language, so why bother with others? Some clues the Lithrho-dwellers might have left could be in writing—I couldn’t read them, but likely the three humans could.
     With this in mind and rain slapping my head, I finally waded through the shallows and sprinted clumsily across the wet sand after the humans, who had entered the tower through a wide red arch. I followed.
     Without the familiar support of the sea around me, I felt weighed down and weary. I squirmed, as though to shake away the heaviness. I just haven’t got my land-legs yet, I told myself.
     Though inside the tower, I was not out of the rain; the streets of Lithrho were roofless and open, though the houses themselves were sheltered.
     I faced about five different paths. I paused and listened to see where the three companions had gone. Then I noticed a strand of twine tied to a post on the far left road. It began winding down the street, out of sight. That’s smart of them, I thought. Now they won’t get lost, and neither will I.
     I followed the humans up spires and down hallways. It continued to rain. Finally, their twine ran out. Hiding behind an empty barrel, I heard their conversation.
     “Can we explore this house before we turn back?” Chandler said, pointing to large-sized house before them.
     Harper started to say no, but Piper said, “Anything to get out of the rain.”
     While they went in the front, I circled around back and went in that way, through a window. The room was surprisingly fine, with red-tiled floors and elegant carvings. I could imagine tapestries on the bare walls, desks and bookshelves in the corners, and a fire blazing in the hearth. (Of course, being a sea nymph I wasn’t familiar with any of these things, but I knew what they were due to folklore and such.) I hid in a closet, but found myself in a mess of papers. I shoved them out onto the floor, and tried to be silent as the humans came in. I peeked through a crack in the door.
     “This is the last roo—what in the world?” Chandler broke off as he stared at the papers scattered across the floor.
     “What do they say?” cried Harper, sounding genuinely excited for the first time.
     “Wait, let me see,” said Piper, picking up a scroll and unrolling it. “Help me, Chandler—this handwriting is atrocious.”
     “Then I’m the best one for the job,” said Harper, taking it from Piper’s hands. “After all,” she said, jabbing a thumb in her brother’s direction, “I’ve had to read his writing all my life.”
     The three sat cross-legged on the floor, and Harper began to read- haltingly at first, but with greater certainty as she got used to the writing. I listened eagerly. Maybe now I would find out why the Lithrho-dwellers had left.
     Harper read:

July 11.
     The prophet Abraam had a revelation from the I AM a week ago. He told us to leave our city Lithrho, to go where he directs. He has promised to lead and guide us if we will trust Him.
     We received this news with trepidation. Leave Lithrho? Pack up our goods, our wives and children, and simply leave, with no knowledge of where we are going?
     Abraam assured us that the I AM will bless us if we leave. “He will make us a great nation, set apart for His pleasure,” the prophet said.
     With fear and excitement, we bundled up our things and stripped our houses bare. We did not know how we were to leave our tower. But the I AM has provided. He sent several giant sea turtles to carry us. Surely the I AM is great and mighty!
     We must leave now. I am leaving this scroll in the city, so that those who come after will look and know what the I AM has commanded and how wonderful He is. We have prayed for His guidance, and are now confident that He will give it, if we trust and obey Him. We still face our journey with some fear—but the I AM had promised to protect us. And where He calls us to go, we must follow.
     Peace be with you all.
                                                         —Jacop ben Rewen

     Harper stopped. I realized the scroll had ended, and for some reason, I was sorry.
     I didn’t hear what the humans said to each other after that. Eventually they left, probably to explore the rest of the tower. But I stayed in the closet, thinking.
     Who was this God, that His people would follow Him to the unknown?
     Who was this Great One, that the sea turtles obeyed Him?
     Was He real? Was He good? Was He just for humans, or for nymphs as well? Was there a way to find Him?
     The questions swirled in my mind, refusing to settle. I walked out of the building and sat in the door opening in the rain, thinking about this I AM. Thinking about His wonders. Thinking about the words, “Where He calls us to go, we must follow.”

Anna Jakubiec is 13 years old and resides in Michigan.

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