The Tidal Palace

There is a place waking men can visit under rare conditions – though it calls to all of us in our sleep. When the sea is right, on a moonless night, the Tidal Palace can rise from the glassy water. It can appear anywhere if you are determined to find it.

You must take to the ocean in the oldest boat you can borrow – one with oars, never a motor – and look directly at the shoreline as you row away from the shallows. The exact number of strokes taken, time lapsed, and distance traveled is different for each pilgrim. You may feel bumps beneath the hull, as if you are passing over logs or debris. Stay your course and clear your mind; if you turn around for even an instant before you make landfall, the Tidal Palace will elude you.

Eventually, you will feel your boat bump against the craggy island edge. You won’t be able to travel any further. Only now is it okay to turn. You will find yourself on an island made entirely from glassy obsidian, polished by the gently lapping waves. Crumbling pillars of the black rock reach upward from the ocean surrounding the island you stand on.

The landform itself is not large, roughly half the size of a football field. It swells into a steep hill – black and glossy in the starlight – about as tall as a cathedral steeple.

The palace is built into this rock face. The entrance is a square facade, carved into the bluffs. It stretches roughly twenty feet tall, and is broken up into tiers of obsidian pillars, supporting soaring archways. But the entryway is modest; a man-sized doorway tucked beneath the fanfare.

You will doubtless be tempted to glance back before you enter. And when you do, the shoreline will be gone. Tidal Palace exists in its own realm, carried into our own by a deep power beneath the ocean.

Through the door is the main hall. It is lit by moonlight filtering in through gaps in the ceiling, and lined with corroded iron doors. These are all fused into their frames. Those doors are not for you. As you walk past the doors, you may hear all manner of crying, pleading, or frantic pounding. Ignore these sounds.

At the end of the hall is a stairway, which curves downward.

As you press deeper into the palace you will find that each successive level is more or less the same. The moonlight will be replaced by eerie, blue-flamed gas lamps. If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for by the third flood down, you’ll start to notice the toll the sea has taken on the place: murky puddles on the floor, carpets of seaweed, and barnacles clinging to the walls.

If you are truly unlucky, and still carrying on by the fifth level, the gas lamps will be flickering, if they’re still operational at all. There will be slimy sea life growing across every surface, and a fishy odor will rise up from the successive stairwell.

At the tenth floor, the last of the lights will have doubtless been extinguished by the damp air, leaving you to fumble around in the dark.

At the 19th landing, you will be able to go no further. Beyond here – although the palace is said to be bottomless – every last hall and room is flooded and festering.


On your visit, you should be looking for the one door left untouched by the rust and the ravages of the deep sea from whence it came. Each pilgrim has their own door that opens only for them.

For you see, the Tidal Palace is a sinister prison of sorts. No criminals are kept here however. This place holds only regret. A prisoner has been taken from every man on earth. The person kept in each individual’s cell can vary greatly. Inside can be anyone from a lost love, to a feuding family member you could never bring yourself to reconcile with.

The deeper the regret, the deeper the dungeon. Not all can be released.

When you do find your cell – and it will be obvious – open the door but do not cross the threshold. Depending on your relationship and how you left things with this person, they may react differently. Some may run up to you and hug you. Others may hit you. They might even refuse to leave the cell at all.

The differences do not matter. What does is what you say to them. Speak only the words, “You are free to go,” no matter how tempting it may be to apologize, reminisce, or re-acquaint. You also must refrain from offering them passage back to the mainland. If you take them into your boat, you could row for an eternity and never reach the shore. They can find their own way to cross back.

When you do leave, the sea will no longer be calm. The night will be cloudy and dark, lit only by the ocassional bolt of lightning flitting across the sky. Shove off in your row boat, but from the time you first dip your oars back into the water, be sure your eyes are closed tight. Do not open them again until you feel the bow of your boat come to rest in the sand of the beach.

When you reach land and can go no further, you will experience profound closure. The remorse you have been carrying with you will be gone forever. Those who say this is too small a reward for such a journey do not truly understand regret.

For those of you who do, I beg of you – never return to the Tidal Palace. The temptation will be great. That black rock in the ocean will haunt your dreams until your dying day. This is The Warden, trying to lure you back.

It will be on alert now, awaiting your return.

An Unpleasant Hiding Spot

The stairwell door slams shut, echoing off the white, unadorned walls.

“How long do we have?” Jane asks me.

“Less than 30 seconds, if I had to guess,” I whisper. “Try not to think about it.”

She nods, and turns her attention to a large trash can, sitting between the stairwell and the building’s elevator. She pulls the can to the side, revealing a small metal square. This is a tiny access panel, about two feet across. It’s totally flush with the wall, and perfectly matches the color, making it impossible to see from more than a few feet away.

On the left side of the panel is a tiny slit, meant for a flathead screwdriver. I dig into my pockets and find a quarter. I jam the coin into the grove, and turn the screw. After a little work, I get the panel to swing open.

“After you,” I motion for Jane to crawl inside through the opening. She turns on the flashlight on her phone, and enters the void. I follow after her, dragging the garbage can back in front of the hatch and closing the opening. A few seconds pass by, and I hear thundering footsteps overhead, directly on top of us.

“What the hell is that?” Jane asks.

“Shh,” I whisper.

We sit in the dark, and listen as the stairwell door swings open. When it slams shut, the deafening echo once again reverberates off the bare walls.

“You sure someone came down here?” A voice questions.

“Positive,” another answers. “The lights are on a motion sensor. Someone had to have been in this hallway in the last few minutes.”

“I don’t know why they would come down here, It’s a total dead end, and once…” the voices fade in the distance, as they travel past the hatch and down the hallway.

I lean against the wall and breathe a sigh of relief. “They’re gone.” I turn to look at Jane.

The light from her phone casts terrifying shadows on her face, making her eyes appear sunken and hollow. The glow bounces off the low ceiling, less than four feet high. Enough room is afforded to sit upright, but that’s about it. Thank God I’m not claustrophobic.

“What is this place?” Jane finally asks.

“Access panel for elevator maintenance,” I explain simply. “We’re directly under the staircase, which is why it can get loud. But I really doubt anyone is going to come looking for us in here.”

“How long do we wait?”

“As long as it takes. I’m looking to beat John’s record,” I say.

“We were looking for him for like an hour,” Jane protests. “I think that was the longest game of manhunt I ever played.”

“We’ll stick around down here, and after we’ve broken the record, we can come out before we give up the spot. There are so few places in the church we don’t know about, I’d like to protect this one.”

Manhunt was a traditional part of our weekly routine in the Youth Group – albeit an odd one. Our adult advisor was more concerned with fostering a sense of fellowship, than focusing on actual spiritual enrichment. This was perfectly fine. We had some atheists in the group, which was fine too.

I sat in the unpleasant hiding spot for the better part of an hour with Jane. More than once we could hear the hunters walk through the hall. Eventually, during a quiet spell, we slipped back out through the access panel and sealed it off. Every other member on our team had been caught by the time we turned ourselves in – dusty and a little rattled -but victorious. Jane and I agreed to never use the spot again.

Our opponents claimed to have scoured every inch of the Church from steeple to stone foundation. Obviously they had not.

Something occurred to me as I played throughout the years: every game was easier and faster. The more I knew, the less of a challenge there was. In a way, having that one off-limits location was a reminder that not everything had been explored, even in a building with a finite number of rooms to hide away in.

A.H.W.

Insurmountable

Wind like the whispers from the miles beneath him,

While the voices and the yelling and the memories are within,

With the battle to the summit and the others so driven,

Win the lesson and the title and the honor that’s with them.

Don’t fail, to climb through the rain and the hail,

Avoid the plummet from the summit and the freezing thin air,

Push ahead through the storm, don’t stray from the trail,

Can’t deny it, so try it, see the sky from up there.

Less from the start, some their willpower fades,

Leaving off from the climb, hanging back the glades,

Left the battle to the summit and the others more driven,

Lost the lesson and the title and the honor that’s with them.

Don’t fail, to climb through the rain and the hail,

Avoid the plummet from the summit and the freezing thin air,

Push ahead through the storm, don’t stray from the trail,

Can’t deny it, so try it, see the sky from up there.

Few left get to see all what others were forbidden,

From the glades of the forest all the summits are hidden,

Fought the battle to the summit, with the others so driven,

Found the lesson and the title, a few others were with him.

Won’t fail, to climb through the rain and the hail,

Missed the plummet, reached the summit and they’re breathing the air.

Push ahead through the storm, don’t stray from the trail,

Can’t deny it, so try it, see the sky from up there.

A.H.W.

I’m Sorry, I Have Standards

The whole cabin of my Wrangler shakes in the howling wind that blusters up the towering grassy hill. The night is cool and pleasant – the breeze has only just picked up in the last quarter hour, prompting us to end our moonrise picnic to the Top of the World. 

This hilltop lookout is easily the highest point as far as the eye can see, granting an unbroken panoramic view. Out here in the farmland, the lights of the city cannot obstruct our view of the stars; countless constellations and the cloudy arm of the milky way are all in view in the void above.

“I hate to leave,” She says, looking longingly at the sky. “It’s so beautiful out here.”

“It’s nice and quiet.”

“And romantic,” She smiles, and takes a step toward me, “This is literally the nicest date anyone has ever brought me on.”

I close the rest of the distance between us, and move in for the kiss.


 

We get in my car and take one last look up at the sky – I’ve taken off the roof for the occasion – before we drive back down the hill, across the fields, and though the woods to the road.

The wind screams over the top of the car, making the radio inaudible and conversation impossible. But I keep a smile on my face the entire way home.

As my thoughts on the evening consume me, something breaks through the bliss and itches at the back of my mind. Conversations I had heard overheard, and scraps of information She had mentioned in passing were eating at me.

We pull up in front of her apartment, and I stop her as she reaches for the door.

“Wait.”

“What?”

“I know that you said you’ve still been meeting up with your ex on the weekends to hook up,” I start off slowly, then pause for a breath. “If you want to keep seeing me, that needs to stop.”

She looks at me without a trace of emotion in her face. She opens her mouth to speak but hesitates a moment, stunned by my request.

Finally she replies, “I’m going to keep seeing him. But I love going out and spending time with you. Can’t you just deal with a few more weekends while I get this out of my system?”

Good Lord, she’s not even kidding. I can see it in her eyes: that childish pleading look.

“I’m sorry – I have standards,” I say, curtly. “Now get out of my car.”

She steps out onto the curb, and I reach across to close the door behind her. I speed off in low gear without a glance back. For some of life’s concerts you should never be content playing second fiddle. No one is worth the price of your self respect.

A.H.W.

 

Punishment Fits the Crime – Sprint

Some things are so hard to deal with, your brain tries to just block them out – I tell myself as I grab the rim and throw up – but once you feel them again, the pain comes right back.

My nose and mouth burn, as I wretch, spit, and cough.

I lean back on the wall next to the tub, and groan. I reach out and press down on the handle to flush. What was once a few shots and many, many beers, sinks down the drain.

I look over at my friend, Matt. He sits, with his back to the sink. We have been here for an hour or so.

His eyes are shut.

“I- I feel, I, oh- this is rough,” he says. “Last night just- it just – it got so out of hand.”

“Don’t be dumb. I had a guh- (I fight back the urge to puke again) great time. Glad we went.” I mean it too; we spent the whole night at a ’20s theme bash. When I got home, I had time to take off my dress shirt. . . now here I am.

“We’ll live,” I say. But I’m not quite too sure, to tell you the truth. He groans again.

I reach for the knob to turn on the water. The sound helps.

“It was worth it, right?” Matt says. “I mean, you had your shot with Liz! You took her to her dorm, did you. . . ”

I shake my head. “I just made sure she got there safe. We did kiss. That is it.”

“Wow,” he says. “You are a good guy, you know that? I think we-” Matt stops, and goes limp. I look over to make sure he is ok. Still good – just out cold. My arms slip to my sides. I lean my head on the tub.

When I think of the night, the pain now does not matter much. If this is the price of living in the now, I will pay it.

 

A.H.W.

The Cult of Ampliatas

There were things living at the bottom of White Pines Harbor that one would not care to encounter even on the sunniest of days. When the clouds rolled in over the root beer-colored water, swimmers knew better than to enter. Even boaters were hard to come by. Most dreaded the thought of brushing against the wandering tentacle of a certain loathsome creature. . .

At least, that’s the story we fed the each year’s incoming class of gullible novice rowers. The story started after an odd bit of graffiti appeared on the side of our boathouse. The picture was of an evil looking octopus; bright yellow with purple speckles along its tentacles. It all began as an off-the-cuff joke, but when a superstitious teammate bought into it, the varsity team doubled down


“That’s why we really need to nail down the backstory. Create some lore we can draw on,” Tyler insists.

“Oh, shut up and pass me the seven-sixteenths wrench, will you?” I ask, rolling my eyes.

He leans across the crew shell to hand me the tool bag, so I can take what I need. We’re gathered around a Wintech quad, which is up on slings so we can de-rig and trailer it for our upcoming regatta.

“I dunno, Tyler might be right. Could be a lot of fun, especially if the story lasts after we graduate. It would be kind of like a legacy!” Alana chimes in. She stands on tip-toe – being our vertically challenged coxswain – and works on the slide tracks. She scrapes off crusted salt with a metal file, and greases the components to prevent rusting.

“Well we should keep it simple, right? Ampliatis was kind of an ass pull, but it was the only mysterious sounding thing I could think of at the time,” I admit. “Who does it hunt? How do you avoid it? That’d be the next question anyone stupid enough to buy into this will ask us.”

“Hmm,” Tyler scratches a patch of scruff on his face. He’s staring into space, clearly reaching for an idea. Then his eyes focus, and lock onto a yellow-painted single-seater racing shell. “What if this thing just likes the color yellow?”

“Why yellow?” Alana asks.

“Why not? The water is dark. Yellow stands out. Easy to see,” Tyler reasons.

“Okay, I’d buy it if I was fucking stupid,” I concur.

“You’d buy anything if you were up to your neck in that water and something brushed against you,” he counters. He’s not wrong. I’d fallen into the harbor more than once after an ejector crab – when the boat is moving quickly, your oar gets stuck in the water and keeps going, and the handle slams into your sternum and throws you out of the boat.

“Okay. And how do we stop him?”

“You can’t. You just want to stay the hell away from those yellow singles. It’s like painting a target on your back,” I jump in. “Or your ass,” I reconsider.

Alana nods in agreement. “It’ll make the newbies think twice about asking to take out the single. That boat flips more than any other anyway-”

“Except the pair,” Tyler corrects her. I nod in agreement.


We wound up being right about the legacy of our legend: The Cult of Ampliatas became a canonical part of our team’s habits and history. Within three seasons, enough people objected to rowing in the yellow shell for our coach to have it repainted. She tried to figure out where the rumors were coming from, but could not.

The more people who believed it, the more powerful the superstition became. And eventually, when the rowing club came into some money, the source material was painted over. But that seemed to only further cement our myth.

Sometimes, all it takes is a little mystery to create the most striking stories.

A.H.W.