If he stuck to the bank he could’ve taken the river to its end, all the way to where the water falls. It was a wide river, but he was a fairly inexperienced sea man.
That’s what he called himself—a sea man.
Alas, the salt was still far and few between, other than the copious amount of sweat that spilled into the river on all-too-sunny days.
Days like today.
But Theodore George didn’t mind the sweat too much. It was better than all the inconveniences of before, and the pitfalls of his fellow Homo sapiens, and their possessive and all-too-short-sighted ways.
A species of self-gratifying nincompoops.
And this was back when Theodore went by “Theo”. Not because he preferred it, but because he still had a loving family that was collectively convinced that “Theo” was inherently superior to his God-given “Theodore”.
But now he could set things right—many, many, things.
He was sailing down the river because he shunned his fellow Homo sapiens, and all their insane ideas, and even though their end had not yet come, he knew it had to be soon.
There wasn’t any one reason Theodore George had to stick to the bank of the river (a river whose name he didn’t know, and never would bother to learn).
Instead, there were many reasons he preferred to stay close to shore.
He was lucky to score a twenty-sixty on an eye exam, so it was awfully dangerous for him to wander too far away, especially when he figured the river was currently miles wide.
So he would use the trees to guide his ancient, rickety fishing boat along.
And he was woefully aware of his inexperience as a sea man, so he trusted his ignorance, and was afraid to get caught too far off shore. If he drifted towards the middle, he might never make it to where the water falls.
The currents would wind him north and south, east and west, in the dark of night, and even though this isn’t the void of space, it was still a kind of void, and Theodore just couldn’t take that chance.
Directionality was fairly important to a partially blind man.
But the trees were there to guide him, and keep him company, as they’ve guided many other Homo sapiens in the far past. He had undiagnosed attention-deficit disorder, after all, and needed to focus on something other than the monotony of the still, murky water.
The trees helped him pass the time away, and he thanked those trees.
He would say things like, “Thank you, Mr. Umber,” and, “Thank you, Mrs. Penny,” and on and on until he thanked all the trees he thought were worth thanking.
Theodore was of the opinion that not all trees were worth thanking.
Only the trees that went above and beyond (or at least above-er and beyond-er) than a not-worth-thanking tree happened to go.
But he didn’t just stick to the bank because of his poor eyesight and undiagnosed attention-deficit disorder.
He also was convinced a German U-Boat was on his tail.
How an early twentieth-century German U-Boat could be in slow pursuit of a middle-aged man named Theodore George is beyond comprehension for any reasonable Homo sapien.
“But they’re all unreasonable,” explained Theodore to Mr. Umber the Third as he slowly drifted toward him. “And you, sir, can understand me. Your father and grandfather sure enough did. Trees are willing to be reasoned with. They’ve been around a lot longer than all these Homo sapiens, so they’ve seen a few more things.”
Theodore didn’t believe humanity deserved the formal title of “wise”.
“Let me tell you why the Germans are after me, Mr. Umber the Third. May I call you ‘Tre’? I had a cousin who was a third, and he let me call him ‘Tre’,” said Theodore.
Mr. Umber the Third said nothing, because he was a tree, and always would be.
“Tre, the Germans weren’t always in high pursuit of me and my own. I believe it’s happenstance, actually, as I noticed a large wake miles back—days back even. And this was after I crashed into something that seemed large and metal. And I would’ve thought it was a sunken ship, long forgotten, as most would’ve thought.
“But I saw the periscope, and some would’ve thought that perhaps it was a muffler, from a sunken truck, also long forgotten. But I saw the light bend off the glass lens, and a dark, brown eye stare right back at me as I did all I could not to fall out of this rickety boat. The sailor was looking right at me, right into my eyes. Then, the periscope submerged, and I bobbed up and down until I regained my sense of balance and direction, until the waves quieted, and everything was still again.
“They didn’t just leave me, though. They’ve been following along, as their periscope gives them away. Maybe I’m a liability? Or maybe they’re interested to see if I can take this to the very end.
“You can ask your grandfather about all of the ordeal, Tre, if you don’t believe me. Go ahead and ask him about the German eye-ball, because he witnessed it just the same,” said Theodore.
In fact, Mr. Umber the Third didn’t know his “grandfather” at all.
Theodore was being presumptuous, and didn’t properly understand trees. He was no more related to his grandfather than Theodore was related to the Roosevelts.
But what can you do about a partially-blind man drifting down a river?
Hope for the best, thought the trees.
Mr. Umber the Third was long gone, now.
Theodore believed he had just passed Mr. Umber the Nineteenth, but he honestly forgot, and there was no way to double check himself. While Theodore had the proper imagination to enjoy an enthralling conversation with trees, he was unable to come up with original names.
Blame it on his upbringing, as most often did.
He kept an accurate count of the fake-muffler sightings, however. He was up to eight separate occasions since his talk with Tre, and he was almost to the point where the water falls.
Did the Germans want to see if he had the kahunas to go off the edge?
“Why else would they be following me? Surely they have a map, and know it’s ahead,” said Theodore, talking in the direction of any tree that cared to listen.
But the trees refused to respond.
“Kids these days,” said Theodore, shaking his head. “I remember your father’s father’s father. He would have given a lonely man some company—a man with nowhere to go. When the world had crumbled, or surely would sooner or later, I chose to be a little different.
“I chose to be preemptive. Yes—your father’s father’s father would’ve given me his ear, because there’s not much else you trees can do for me. But you can listen, and he certainly would have.
“No doubt about it.”
But now, the distant roar of the falling water pierced the silence. The noise grew louder and louder until it was all that Theodore could hear, and all that he could stand to hear. Just a few short moments ago he found solace in the sound of the wind rustling the Autumn leaves.
But those days were gone.
He had kahunas, he knew, but he wasn’t sure how large they actually were. But there was no turning back—not anymore. Because as he turned his head and glanced over his shoulder, he watched the fake-muffler surface.
His rickety fishing boat turned over from the incoming waves, and Theodore held on to the edge as he was slammed half-way into the river. He held on with an iron grip, if only to finally see the water fall.
Just to join the water.
But the waves receded and the river momentarily calmed, and Theodore pulled himself back inside the boat. He was soaked, but couldn’t care less.
All he cared about was the monstrous German U-Boat towering over him, and the man who climbed out of the hatch and stood looking down at him.
The man said, as Theodore stared up at him in wonder, “How goes it young Theodore? Hope we didn’t give you too much of a spill.”
“How do you know my name?” he asked.
“How could we not know your name? You’re the riverboat captain, the tree-man, and most importantly, you’re the man to soon be kaput if you don’t come aboard. The falling water is finally upon us.”
“But how do you know all this?”
“Come aboard and find out. But hurry!” said the strange man, as he pointed down river. Theodore turned his head around once more and saw the water falling off the edge.
It seemed to Theodore that the Earth came to a complete end up ahead, and to fall off that edge with the water would be to fall into nothing—into the deep void of beyond.
And, in that moment, he didn’t think he had big enough kahunas anymore.
So he carefully pulled himself out of the rickety fishing boat, took the strange man’s hand, and delved down into the German U-Boat.
The trees were happy they were alone once again.
“I’m glad you chose this path, Theodore,” whispered the strange man as they stood in the dark corridor below the hatch.
A single light bulb hung on the metal wall. It flickered softly, illuminating the man’s rough, worn face.
Theodore couldn’t look past the man’s nostrils, opening and closing in an almost cartoonish way as he pronounced each word.
“I don’t see what other path I could’ve chosen, and what is your name anyways? You seem to know me and mine an awful lot,” responded Theodore, nervously grasping at the cold ladder below the hatch.
“You’re speaking to Captain Archibald, my friend,” the Captain said, nostrils opening and closing word-by-word.
“And Captain Archibald was afraid you’d choose the other path—the path you were wishing to take ever since you secretly set off,” said a voice from behind the captain.
A figure stepped out of the shadows, and into the light the bulb so poorly produced.
Theodore wasn’t one for the finer things of life, but he preferred his light bulbs completely operational. He had to admit that Homo sapiens’ improvement of artificial light over the last half of the twentieth-century was one thing they might have been good for.
“Hello, Mr. Umber,” said the Captain.
“Mr. Umber?” asked Theodore in complete bewilderment.
“The very same, Theo. We were afraid you’d actually make it to where the water falls. Nobody wanted you to fall along with all them gallons of water. Not in something barely better than a glorified raft, at least,” said Mr. Umber.
“But you’re a tree,” said Theodore.
Mr. Umber frowned, and the Captain patter him on the shoulder.
“I’ll let you take it from here,” said the Captain. “I’ll be down below.”
Mr. Umber nodded as Captain Archibald disappeared down the corridor, and into the dark and all that lay beyond.
“Do you not remember who I truly am, Theo? Do you not remember Mr. Umber, the first of his name, as you used to so often say?”
“I’m not sure,” admitted Theodore.
“I bet you’ve been naming them trees. You’ve been naming these damn trees for so long, you’ve forgotten the original. You’ve forgotten me! How could you have forgotten me, Theo?”
Theodore’s big Homo sapien brain was working awfully hard now, attempting to remember Mr. Umber, the first of his name.
He remembered his conversation with Tre, and Tre’s complete indifference for his grandfather. He remembered Mr. Umber, the first of his name, was the first to see the fake-muffler.
“You aren’t a tree,” said Theodore.
His big brain was on to something.
“No, I’m not a tree, and I never was,” said Mr. Umber. “Theo, I am your father. And you left us months ago. You thought all that we planned to do was insane, and that causing the end of humanity was something we should avoid. But remember, humans are short-sighted and inherently self-gratifying! That’s what you thought!
“We should all be like the trees, living together in balance and harmony. Living together in silent satisfaction, in communal acceptance of fellow man, and the capability to live and die peacefully. We were going to wait out the undoing of it all together. You and me, and the Captain, and your sister, Penny, and all the others in our little community who felt the same way.
“You used to be so reasonable, Theo. Ever since we jacked this German U-Boat and set off down this damn river,” said Umber George as he took his son and held him tight against his chest.
Theodore’s tears fell and fell because of the sudden rush of regret and guilt.
Only minutes ago, he was so close to the edge of his world. He was so close to falling along with the water, and becoming one, and leaving all that he had done wrong behind.
He blamed most on his upbringing, even the parts about not doing enough to save all the other Homo sapiens. Because even though he might be annoyed by them from time to time, he knew in his heart they were better than trees.
Or at least he was fairly certain.
He wished he had twenty-twenty vision, because maybe he could’ve seen things a little more clearly.
But his father whispered into his ear, “You abandoned ship, but you’re finally back where you belong.”
And the German U-Boat fell off the water’s edge and lifted off into the void.