Drowning On Dry Land

By Wayward Tempest

From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
--Edgar Allen Poe

Alone. . . . The word is life endured and known.
It is the stillness where our spirits walk
And all but inmost faith is overthrown.
--Siegfried Sassoon

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
it's always ourselves we find in the sea. -- E.E. Cummings

The waves rolled to the shore like invading armies. Advancing upon the sand, rolling prisoners back into the depths of the ocean and leaving already tumbled wreckage behind. Relentless and unstoppable, they were at the mercy of the moon. A young boy, stripped down to the waist stood solemnly on the shoreline. His bare feet formed indentions as they sank into the grainy wet sand. The cuffs of his pants were becoming sodden as the water rose up and washed over his feet in a foaming frenzy. The moon shimmered off the sheen of sweat that covered his pale skin. His breath was heavy and ragged. He had to force it from his lips in effort. Another fitful sleep full of hazy dreams brought him from his small bed into the darkness outside which carried with it an unseasonable cold summer air. It thrashed around him, caressing the naked flesh of his exposed skin. Whipping matted locks of hair to and from his eyes. The cold sank into the farthest depths of his bones.

Another day had passed since Ellone had vanished from his life. Took from him in the middle of a night not unlike this one. Gone without so much as a "goodbye" or "I'll see you soon." Her bed was just empty one morning. The others were sad, but life continued on for them. They simply held on to each other. Often they wondered why he clung to her so much, and why it nearly killed him to let her go. They didn't understand. Though she was never his biological sister, he felt a certain bond of family with her. She was the only link that he had to his parents. She gave him faith, gave him something to hold on to. Time and again she would tell him stories. She would tell of how much his mother had loved him, and the look on her face as she held him, before her eyes closed forever. Always, she would remind him that her death was never his fault. He had never truly believed her on that one. She would spin tales both long and heroic about his father. The father that still wandered the entire planet and had yet to lay eyes upon his son. And then she would tell of how he would return one day after his adventures had come to an end. He would return smiling with love and open his arms wide to them to take them home. He waited and longed for that day. It was all the hope he had in this barren world. Without arms to help cling to it, it died, screaming, defenseless, and completely alone.

Alone. The word fell from imaginary lips and encircled him in a veil that hindered his vision. Cruel voices echoed in his mind. His thoughts traveled back to earlier that day...

Every other month, the orphans were treated to a boat ride to the quiet and small town of Balamb. This was a day they each looked forward to, even Squall himself. Edea would give each of them a little gil to spend on whatever they wanted. It was exciting to the children, who, other than on their birthdays, never received any gifts. If the matron had her way, she would shower all of them with gifts. She loved each of them so dearly. But she could only do so much with the government funding and the sparse handouts and donations she received. The much-needed maintenance on the aging orphanage was beginning to show through the cracks and holes of the buildings surface. She made due with what little they had, and took great pleasure in the little joy she was able to give them. The group made their way up the plank and boarded the boat. Squall lagged behind. He walked with slow and heavy steps, eyes cast downward, hands in his pockets. For the first time, he had no desire to go. It was the first time she wouldn't be with him. The first time she wouldn't be running ahead of him, telling him to hurry up, to lift those corners of his mouth and smile a little. It was like he was only capable of following her instructions. He felt so helpless.

On their trip over, Quistis tried desperately to get him to open up a little, to join in the laughter and excitement of the rest of them. She talked calmly and soothingly. The words only dropped out of her mouth and fell to the floor. Selphie approached him with her contagious joyfulness, danced about him and handed him a flower. Her infectiousness never penetrated his immunity defenses. Irvine tried telling him a dirty joke that he had heard once. Though his young mind as of yet didn't get the punch line. Irvine knew though that it had to be dirty because of the way the gruff man he overheard telling it laughed. Squall never even heard him approach. Zell tried the "I accidentally bump into you, apologize, and then make conversation" routine which backfired as the boat made a sharp turn which threw him past his intended target and directly into Seifer, who grabbed him by his shirt collar and threw him to the floor of the boat. Zell limped quickly out of his way. And in his rage, Seifer decided to pick a fight with Squall. He delighted in getting the young man riled up. He strutted up to him confidently and gave the boy's shoulder a shove. Squall met it with all the resistance of a rooted tree. His eyes never lifted from the sea below the boat, even when Seifer commenced to bombard him with all the insults and names he could think of. Seeing Squall in a state of mind that wouldn't fight back bewildered him. The blonde tried harder. It ended when Edea came out onto the deck and scolded Seifer and sent him down into the ship quarters below. The rest of the children, giving up in their attempts to bring Squall to the surface, did what children usually do when faced with something frightening that they don't understand. They pretend it doesn't exist.

Edea walked up behind the child and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. He closed his eyes, giving her recognition. A small sob escaped his lips and he turned to her with eyes that threatened a downpour, but were resisting furiously. "It's ok to cry Squall," she whispered while stroking his hair, "Let it go." And though he yearned desperately to, he found that he couldn't.

The boat pulled into the docks of Balamb shortly before noon. The group walked single file down the gangplank and into the town. Eyes around the town looked at them warily and with apprehension. They remained together as a group, stopping at all the stores that fancied a child's interest. And he remained behind, eyes always to the ground beneath his feet. His gil jingled in his pocket, unnoticed. He watched his feet taking one step after another, left, right, left, right. He was so hypnotized by their movement that he failed to see the figure in front of him and crashed straight into another small body. He was brought immediately back to the present and his eyes focused on the girl he had collided with. She had the reddest hair he had ever seen. It held him captivated. She rubbed her head and raised her view to meet his. She smiled.

"Sorry about that," she said.

"No," he found himself saying, "It was my fault."

"I…I wasn't looking where I was going," he stammered.

She giggled. "Me either."

My name is Cerise," she said. "What's yours?"

"Squall," he said with some restraint, as if the name itself were alien to him.

"That's a neat name," she replied.

His eyes caught sight of an object on the ground. It was a pretty doll in a blue dress with fiery red hair in curls that danced on top of its head. To resemble the locks that belonged to its owner. He picked it up carefully with precision off the ground, as if he thought that his hands might cause it to crumble apart. He outstretched it towards her.

"You dropped this."

"Oh," she gave another melodious laugh and replied sweetly, "Thank you."

She took the doll from him and continued the conversation.

"I've never seen you around here before, where do you live?"

"I'm from…"

"Hey Cerise!" Someone yelling the girl's name from behind him cut his answer short. "I've been looking all over for you."

Squall turned to see a boy that looked to be a couple of years older than him. With the mop of red hair atop his head it was easy to deduce that this guy could only be her older brother. He was accompanied by two of his companions. The boy looked down at Squall.

"Who's your friend?" he asked his sister gruffly.

"His name's Squall." She said looking up at her brother. "Squall, this is my brother, Gavin."

"Hey I've seen you before!" piped one of the boy's friends. "Your one of the witch's orphans aren't you?"

Gavin grabbed his sister roughly by the hand. "C'mon Cerise, you shouldn't be talking to the likes of him."

"Why?" she questioned, resisting his hand with all her might.

"He's been very nice to me."

"Because he's no good Cerise!" The tall boy yelled at her. "Orphans always are! Most likely his parents have thrown him out because they couldn't control him. They're home wreckers! They only cause trouble for everyone else."

Every word was hitting Squall like a blow to the head.

"Besides," Gavin said. "If he's in league with that sorceress there's no telling what kind of brain washing stuff he's been fed."

One of the boys with him decided to take this opportunity to grab a handful of dirt and throw it at him. The dust landed directly in the younger boy's eyes. His hands shot up to his face as he tried to relieve his eyes of the burning pain.

"We don't need your kind around here!" one of the boys spat following through with a kick to Squall's stomach. He sank to his knees coughing as he tried to regain his breath, his hands still covering his eyes. The other boy grabbed him by the collar of his faded yellow shirt and threw his body the rest of the way to the ground and made ready to kick him again. He tried to get up, but he couldn't see. He clawed desperately at his eyes.

"That's Enough!" Squall heard the matron's voice ring loud through his ears.

"It's the sorceress!" Gavin exclaimed, "Let's get out of here before she kills us!"

Squall opened his eyes enough to see the fleeing boys kicking up dust as they ran. One of the boys was trailing a little girl by the hand, whose face was turned towards his, and held within it a look of confusion and fear. He closed his eyes again.

Edea made her way towards Squall in a frantic run. The worst fears that had flooded her mind when she found he was missing had horribly come true. As she reached his small form she fell to her knees and skidded to a halt before him. Her hands wrapped around his face.

"Squall are you alright?" she asked worriedly looking him over. "Please open your eyes." He continued to squeeze his eyelids tightly together, somehow hoping that if he wished hard enough he would be taken far away from this place.

"Look at me sweetie," Edea chided gently. Already tears had begun to spill from her eyes as she silently wondered how much pain one little soul could endure. Children could be so cruel. The world was cruel.

Squall finally complied her request as his eyes opened to meet hers. They were bloodshot and sore from the debris that had invaded them. She wiped the excess dirt from around his eyes with gentle hands and then pulled him into a tight embrace.

"Oh Squall," she whispered, "I'm so sorry." She rocked him softly back and forth. The other children approached slowly and circled around the two of them. All of their faces held a look of apprehension and pity. Squall hated people feeling sorry for him. The insults were easier to deal with. He let go of Edea and looked her in the eyes.

"I'm okay now," he said. He pushed his convincing façade further by giving her a small and forced smile. "I'm fine."

He strolled past the astonished woman, past the rest of the orphans and continued walking towards the boat.

Squall traveled back to the orphanage on the silence he rode in on. Only this time, the rest of the boat joined him. The silence loomed with them once they reached their destination. Eagerly, they finished their evening meal and the orphans hurried off to their beds. The sun had not even completely set yet. They longed to forget the day's events. Pain would always be gone; things would always be better, in the morning. Squall still set at the table, idly poking at a bit of food. Edea sat at the opposite end of the table searching his eyes for any kind of emotion. They were empty.

"Squall," she said hesitantly, "Those boys…the things they said to you…none of its true." She paused. "You know that don't you?"

The boy looked up from his plate.

"Nothing is wrong with what you are Squall," she continued. "And, I know its hard, but please don't bottle this up. Don't hide it all inside. You have friends Squall, they will stand by you, and I'll stand by you. Let me help you Squall, before you lose yourself."

She waited for any response from him. The only reply she got was the sound of him shuffling in his chair a little.

"I miss her too," she said after a few moments silence. "We all miss her. Your not alone, in anything Squall, we're all still here. And Ellone hasn't forgotten you, I'm sure you'll see her again."

"I was supposed to see my dad again too," he thought bitterly to himself.

"Until then, let us try and help you," Edea said. "Don't face yourself alone."

And in a flicker of a moment he wanted nothing more than to run to her, wrap his arms around her and cry until there was nothing left of him. But a fear overwhelmed the urge quickly. It was a fear of opening up to her, of pouring his love out towards the kind woman. For he knew he was cursed. If he took that chance, something would happen to her, something bad, and she would be torn from his life…just like everyone else.

He slid off of the chair and began walking towards the bedroom. He turned one last time to look at her with cheerless and broken eyes. He gave her a heartbreaking smile. "I'm fine," he said again as if it were some sort of mantra. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight," she whispered.

He stepped through the wooden doorway and shut the door quietly behind him. Edea put her head in her hands at a complete loss on how to get through to him.

Awakened in the middle of the night, he silently made his way out of the old house to where he was now, standing alone on the shoreline. The waves licked his bare feet as if it were a dog, happily greeting its master. The grief he felt was constricting in his chest. Eating him from the inside.

Why did everyone leave him? Was he really that bad of a person? Perhaps those boys were right, he was no good at all. Squall stared out at the vast emptiness of the ocean, watching the shimmering water dance in the moonlight. He became entranced as the light moved in quick succession. Figures rose up from the shards of light and began walking across the water. The first two were hazy and their features were not clear. The third he saw as clear as if it were the middle of day. It was Ellone. She stopped and turned towards him. She gave him a warm smile and waved. He found himself waving back. She turned and ran to catch up with the two figures up ahead. And then he knew. Those were his parents. The turmoil of emotion, which his small frame could hold no longer, erupted in a heart-wrenching scream.

"Wait!" he cried. "Please, wait!"

They vanished into the darkness.

"I'm so sorry," his voice broke in a small whisper. He was defeated.

A small flash amid the waves near the shore caught his eye. Perhaps they had come back to get him. He waited for it to surface again. A dozen shimmering objects leapt out of the water and hit it again with a dozen small splashes. It was a school of fish. They were enjoying their dance amid the waves. Squall watched as they drew ever closer to the shore, leaping from the water as if they knew they had wings. They came in as close as they dared and soared from the water a final time. One of them had misjudged the distance and jumped too far from the security of the water. It landed on the sand of the beach and flopped vigorously, trying to feel the water between its fins once more. Squall watched as the school it belonged to swam back into the waves and out into the deep, never once looking back.

He stepped closer to the fish. Its silvery scales glistened underneath the stars. The tide continued rolling, progressively moving outward now, and somehow he knew it wouldn't be returning to retrieve the fish. The fish opened its mouth widely trying desperately to collect oxygen to filter through its gills. It was drowning on land. Its tail flashed as it smacked it against the sand, as if angered by its predicament. The exposed fin moved up and down trying to swim out of the choking sand. Squall saw fear and despair in the small rounded eye that looked through him and into the sky beyond. He stared at it for some time, watching it fight with everything it had for survival. Its mouth moved more slowly now, it seemed to be in agony. Squall wanted to help the small fish, to toss it back in the ocean, but some force was holding him back. It was as if he were meant to see this, and not intervene.

The fish opened its gills one last time, its eye glazed over, and it was dead. A small droplet of water splashed against the scales from a rivulet of water that fell from the young boy's eye. And somewhere in the back of his mind, Squall swore it would be the last tear he would ever shed.

He spread his arms outward from his sides and faced the ocean. His head snapped up to the stars as his feet tilted backwards and he fell. The sand sprayed upward from the force of his landing. As to mimic the fish his body thrashed violently on the dry surface. His eyes rolled back into his head. Images of a wild and barren desert filled his mind. This was where he would reign as king. He choked in the cold and un-breathable air as he tried desperately to find his way home again. He struggled and fought until he couldn't. His young heart, which pounded so violently within its cage slowed, until it was nothing more than a dull and detached throb in his chest. The cold air that pierced his flesh was gone. He was completely numb now. His large pupils shrank into tiny pinpoints that were almost invisible. Squall decided that he would keep everyone safe, including himself, by not feeling anything anymore. His body never moved from the ground for the remainder of the night, and the gaze of his eyes never left the endless dark that loomed above him.

Selphie was the first to spot his small body on the beach the next morning. She let out a terrified scream. The rest soon caught up with her and gazed in horror at what they saw before breaking into a run towards the beach. Squall was lying on the sand, now wet from the incoming tide; arms open as if to embrace the sky. The water ran to and from underneath his body, playfully pulling at his hair and pant legs. Edea ran as fast as her legs would carry her, tripping over the thick sand and her long nightgown. She fell to her knees beside his still form. The children circled around her and Squall much like they did the day before. Quistis and Selphie were hugged together as tears fell from both their faces. All of them looked upon the scene with disbelief.

Edea's long hair splayed across Squall's bare skin like a blanket as she put an ear to his chest, checking for any sign of life. Upon finding it, she looked into his blankly staring eyes. Fear seized her. The once deep blue sparkling pools were now a clouded shade of gray. It was as if he had locked away all the storms in existence into those eyes. He never seemed to register her presence, he was looking right through her. Carefully, she picked up his small frame and cradled him against her. Water dripped onto the sand. She motioned for the other children to follow and turned to head back to the orphanage.

Squall turned his head to look behind them as she continued forward. He looked for the dead fish, but its cold, stiff body was nowhere to be found. And he knew then that the tide had finally returned inland at last to claim it, just as it had claimed the remainder of his soul during the night. His soul was floating amid the depths of the sea with the lifeless little fish. They ebbed and flowed with the tide. They crashed amongst the waves, both of them at the unremitting mercy of their sovereign, the moon.

Wayward Tempest's Fanfiction