The Sinking City by Ian Pool

Walls of water descend like animate metal. The hands of the Gods that once fanned the flames of our glorious civilization, and applauded our triumphant ascension, now sweep cascading walls of water upon our eternal fire. The very earth growls and trembles beneath our feet like a beast shedding water from its hide. For generations the earth has retreated into the ocean as though fearful of the sky. Funnels form in the firmament as the sky empties itself to feed the titan rush of great waves. Our monuments fall and crumble and wash away like sand. Great slabs of beautiful white stone burst like cresting waves upon our streets. The faithless sea hammers our city with gavels; a vengeful well-whetted weapon set upon us. The streets are rivers, the canals now trenches beneath the waves. Our levees resist the rising waters about the perimeter. The ocean holds Atlantis in its maw like a great whale playing a wicked game with its prey in the pool of its throat. Keystones and columns dislodge, and paragons of architecture topple. More for us to rebuild once the gods temper and tame themselves. They crash their fists upon our lot, raze our towers, but they are powerless against the will of our citizenry who forever rebuild our constancy. We, the last and proud citizens of Atlantis, are unfaltering in the grip of ruin.

The rains pass, the waves settle and the tide rolls off with the sable clouds. The glory of the golden sun returns and we bask in the wash of its rays. The water rolls back like tentacles receding into the sea, revealing the assault upon our home.

The sea carried away many of our dead along with the debris. The fortunate souls lay snared amidst the crags of shattered stone and great slabs bullied about by greater waves. The sea feigns to render us mad by washing the city clean of blood and the Gods' ill act. We gather the bodies. We will celebrate them, honour the life they gave to Atlantis. Their souls shall be delivered beyond the horizon, and beyond the reach of storms and the ocean's depth.

The rubble carted to the shore will dampen the power of the next storm. We salvage stone to rebuild, but with each great storm there is less and less. We turn to the city as to a quarry, cannibalizing the quality materials from the city’s reclaimed wards before cutting into the foundational rock beneath. The masons, the few that remain, are ready to make use of the salvaged stone. Our architects and engineers, often apprentices promoted by circumstance, reconstruct our world-wondrous plazas, pavilions and great halls. The artists sculpt new statues in our own image to replace those of our Gods from the surviving marble.

It has been a tremendous labour to quarry rock free from the island, shape it, and patch the walls and walkways. The quality is a compromise. One can’t help but notice the scars of feeble rock amidst the polished white stone; stone so strong, so beautiful and so favourable to craft. The pillar of Atlantis holds the weight of the sky above the sea.

The quarry flooded long ago, dug so deep that the water seeps through the pores of the earth as speckles of blood from flayed flesh. Still, we venture into the pool and hollow the heart of Atlantis. Our poolmen carve into the rock with pick and bore. There are rumblings that the water is rising with every storm. We dig too far outward to the edge of the city and the levees, scraping the sides of our bowl as though stricken by sharp hunger. What comes to the surface is so insufficient that our scrupulous masons and engineers are casting raw materials to the stormline barricades of rubble at the shore.

Trade has diminished, building materials no longer grace our shore, and resources are scant. We lack talent and skill with each wave of bodies that flow out on the storms. Many hold their heads instead of their tools, shirking their duties like childish truants. Atlantis did not fall from grace, it rose from the ocean. Our mother city pleads us to nurture what was once reverent and wondrous.

The dead lie decorated in rows and columns before the mausoleum. We are so few now that none of the dead are strangers, and we cannot replace those we have lost. Our mausoleum will grant them remembrance, a haven from the ruthless sea.

I caught wisps of treachery, aloft upon the air as whispers of ill-intent. It is strewn upon the faces of the cynics, those who listen too intently to their wives, and the burden of their children’s cries. They would all leave, if only a ship would happen by and offer clemency to their feeble will.

I spied the words of a treasonous thought exchanged amidst our excavators. A foreman inquires, startling two workers cast down their heads to their labour. Pressed, the one confesses, saying we dig our grave so that our tombstone may stand taller. The grit of the foreman’s teeth marks their reprimand. The two are sent for lashes to strip the nerve from their spine.

Rumour trickles like water into the quarry: a large fissure grows at the perimeter wall. Impossible. The fortifications of the levees hold ever strong. Water doesn’t enter the city unless by our decree. Our ranks are not for the festering of gossip. Neither the hammers of Gods nor babble of man may fracture our fortress.

A canopy of bridges string themselves like a fisherman’s net over the excavated core. The shallow quarry pool that sits below, its perfume of mineral marrying the salt of the sea, is the richest cerulean, colourful with life. The foolish storms sweep fish and crabs and spineless crawlers into our bowl with every tempest and raging tide, refilling our stock. Our boats have grown brittle from lack of necessity, but the Gods, in their blind anger, feed us in body as well as resolve. There are, of course, monsters that hunt our company. They would make food of us, steal our limbs or drag us to the bottom of the pool. Being great hunters, we have grown smart to the gods casting the many toothed beasts into our garden. We are no prey. We break bread over the roasted flesh of monsters.

The mausoleum, battered by the merciless storms, now offers little room to accommodate the dead. Flood waters rest there now, tepid and putrid. Corpses rot in the still water. There is a poison there, a malady of the dead. Our ancestors spurn us for breaking our vow that the sea would never consume their flesh. It is not enough for the elements to invade and steal our living, but to desecrate the dead is obscene and blasphemous, even for the Gods. It reeks of foul omen; of horror and ill calamity. The birds come from afar, beyond the horizon, their bills soaked with hunger and their foul eyes eager to taste the flesh of our dead, as though the sea had preserved them in brine for the fowl.

Our ceremony rallies the dead before the halls of the mausoleum. We are a fire burning defiantly atop the ocean. We sing, give thanks, and surrender our thoughts and prayers. The dead cannot thank us, but cannot thank us enough for the tribute we give. The waves roar that night, and crash upon the mausoleum’s broken fortitude. We seal away the dead one by one, but the loss of our halls and too many tombs leave us pondering the fate of our fallen.

One noble suggests the internment of those long deceased, who would be no more than dust, wherein we place the dead where their ancestors once lay. Another spurns those dead who lacked devotion, citing that their lack of faith in Atlantis is what brought about their demise.

We concede to the rite of purifying the dead by fire. Flame is a more noble fate than water. We raise a pillar of warm light into the night sky. The ash ventures off, each particle of ash becoming a star amongst the sea of stars. The fire burns out in the late, cold night, and before I take my rest I spy an omen in the Milky Way, this fissure in the firmament, as though the stars have cut through the very sky to make way for the next assault.

The levee breaks in the swell of the morning tide. Countless of our strongest divers and quarrymen are swept into the whirlpools and the rip, held beneath the surface by the spiteful sea to drown. Several of the bridges collapse and fall into the heart pool. The wall caves in so profoundly that the fish are as free to come and go as the predators and beasts of the sea. Fishing from the web of bridges was our last luxury. The waters rise well above the canals, and our streets run high with silty brine: a fit hunting ground for the sea’s vicious monsters and unpredictable eddies stirred by imp’s forks. Our boats are decrepit, rotting, too few hold water let alone rest upon the water’s surface. We dismantle them, fashion makeshift bridgeways to connect gaps between rooftops.

The wistful souls suffer the thought of hurling themselves into the sea to end it all. All fools, all cowering before an illusion of the end days. What of perseverance? What of loyalty? What of our dream to conquer the greatest force set upon the world? The audacity to concede in full view of our republic.

Our nets fray as though blades lurk in the deep, dark waters. Sediment and silt pollute the rotten catch of scant, slithering bottom feeders. Our bodies grow thin, but we retain ambition and fortitude in place of our shattered levees. We are too few, plentiful in ordinance but lacking brawn. We make pace with urchins rebuilding our beloved monuments and architecture. Fish and food grow scarce now that the gates of our pools are open to the hoarding sea. Infighting has begun. There is no more talk of glory, no reverie or ambition. There is only work for our overworked lot.

It is not the end. Not for Atlantis, how bat-strung the thought. Our isle must be the focus of consciousness the world over. O, the memory of our ancestors, how the moths did venture to our flame ushered by the obsequious sea: the great and noble minds, philosophers, artisans and craftsmen, tradesmen with their spices and linens, joyous music and intimate stage-arts, and the astrologers' clearest skies. How they fell to their knees at the site of our altar, transfixed with awe, and rejoiced in the celebration of our achievement. Where are they now? It was once all ours, and it can be again. Atlantis is still a proud city, a nation all its own, owners of the sea itself. We will continue to dig down to rise above the waves. We harvest the very earth offered to the sky. Earth that need only be remodeled like clay and cast in glistening bronze. Built stronger and broader to prove to the sea that the levees of Atlantis will never again fail, and the sea is the lowest of the low.

The townsmen scatter, like clay pots upon stone, into denominations. So many differences amongst so few who remain. We are a people divided. My words of encouragement, or conviction of rhetoric no longer assuage failing faith or bolster spirits. All doors close; all ears fill with wax.

The noble and holy fashion a new narrative of Atlantis. Their lore crawls beneath the skin, grants us vision and emboldens us, but by strange power. They take to the pike and the blade. Fear and force will motivate the traitors. There is no other option, they say, and it won’t be long before these outlier factions fashion the act themselves. They threaten to diverge the future of Atlantis away from its past.

Treasonous ideals wash up on our shore and infect the divided minds of our people. Let it not be so. I yield, my mind weighed upon our sinking sun, this ringed city all white and gold descending into the night of hope.

I take up arms, and yield to all inquiry. I submit myself to the holy militia, but to the back of the mob where my dim eyes burn not as bright, and the chanting of my peers drowns my meager voice.

We proceed through the city, to the shelters and blockaded doors and hidden havens. We impose our simple order: join the colony of Atlantis, concede to your birthright or perish in its name. Atlantis will forget its traitors, as traitors forgot their homeland. Their every tentacle and serrated tooth is parasitic upon our legacy.

Doors break and chaos pours forth from the city’s wounds into the street. The cowards use hearsay as currency to bargain their lives. Rumour grows like fire upon blighted fields; a ship has landed at our shore. It could be the first of many ships, coming to honour the accords of old and bring aid. It could also be bandits thinking Atlantis weak in our most desperate hour.

We confront the ship, its crew and captain captive to an invisible malevolence that haunts their passage. The sailors are weary, stricken with terror as though the sea mistook them for Atlanteans. We usher the mariners into the city, away from the calamity and treasonous thoughts that float about like monsters in our shallow streets. The seafarers cannot know the true state of the ocean's capital, lest they alter the nature of their discourse.

Given warmth and nourishment, the captain recounts their tragedy. They were a fleet of five ships, which, one by one the sea swallowed in gruesome instants. The gluttonous sea hadn’t afforded time to scream, let alone casting prayers.

Sea monsters? Sirens? We ask. The crew look about as though a witness be amongst them, as though they are doubtful of their own eyes. How far does the curse reach into the ocean fields of Atlantis?

The hand of God? Our holiest voice asks. Terror fills all minds, and visions of power beyond the quaking sea fill our heads and hearts. They knew they’re course, the captain recounts, and indeed Atlantis was a marker of their voyage. The tales from the far shores had told that Atlantis was failing, that the sea was reclaiming an ancient debt. Blessed did they find themselves upon our shore, but the state of our isle renews their worry and the vile words of the mainland.

Our most holy of leaders asks them their intent. Do they come as allies to Atlantis, or do they wish to kneel and throw themselves to the ocean floor at the altar of the Gods?

Our priest explains, with graceful words and welcoming tongue, our cause for inquiry. Our city is under attack. The Gods themselves wreak pestilence and catastrophe that come without so much as a warning from the stars. These sailors come at the turning of a great tide. Are the Gods against these seamen for they veered too close to battle? By sailing through our waters they surely declare war, but upon whom?

The crew reel back. They notice the guardians at the exits, and the interrogation in our scowling stares. They will join or be cast out upon the seabed to perish, their screams muffled by the thick embrace of the brine.

They attempt diplomacy, but in the instant of their treasonous discourse they are put upon by our blades and hammers and clubs. They draw arms against us, knives and fists, and we brawl like crabs. Blood fills the floor of the room. Cries of battle and agony rattle off the walls of the chamber. The Gods have sent us spies and usurpers.

The bodies are many when we snuff the final moan. I recoil into the street where the sky weeps and the Gods mourn the foolish sacrifice of these pirates.

Milksop heathens are running for the dock. Their faces melt to horror at our company, blood-soaked and eyes crazed. They flee. We pursue them down the causeways, full wroth and beastly growl, to the infiltrator’s ship that looms on the precipice of the sea. Our posted guards lie dead; the flooding water laps their blood into the hungry sea. The villains make up hundreds upon the ship: families, widows, bastards and naysayers. They betray Atlantis for a hollow hope and the open ocean.

Our hurling spears fall short and harpoon the empty water. Defenders stand at the ready upon the dock as the ship begins its slow crawl out to sea. They slash at us, flail and attempt to dissuade or deny us access, but they fall to our weapons.

Still, we are late. Our fury knew not their pace. The ship departs, and on it the last children of our home. Their sorrowful eyes and sanguine faces stirred with terror. The mothers avert the eyes of their children away from the lasting image of true Atlanteans drenched in the tears of the gods and the blood of treason. We have war left in us, and our most holy venerator cries forth.

“You abandon us, heathens! Ours is the greatest in all history and forever onward, and you would abandon it?”

There is silence but for the curdling sea and the coming storm, and then, "History will have no memory of you, for there will be no history told."

Their voices fade away on the salt in the air. We sit at the edge of the boiling waters and watch the ship sail off into the coming sun that is veiled like a widow by the black clouds with gilded trim. And as the ship meets the horizon it seems to freeze, as though the seasons shift in an instant, and then it drowns. They took their chance and met with a coward’s fate. Our most holy smirks, proud as a true Atlantean, and we fill the free air with laughter at their cruel end.

Storms brew once more on all horizons. We huddle about a fire made from the furniture of those who fled. The homes all ransacked, the hoarded supplies gathered together. We will sustain ourselves on the preserves we pillaged, and find fish should we find fortune. In time the Gods will concede defeat and lower the water. Be it a test of faith or a test of might, we will remain as proof of what was, and will forever be, the greatest nation ever cast upon land or sea—Atlantis.


Ian Pool lives on the outskirts of Toronto with his wife, daughter, centenarian cat and two hoodlum rabbits. His writing took shape as a humble passion to offset his professional life as an image editor. This story is his first publication.

Author's note

Atlantis has always been captivating for the fact that its history is so far lost that it has become a myth. Today we're seeing people obscure the truth and muddle history for the sake of idealistic vanity, and so I wondered if Atlantis suffered a similar fate. Did they cut off their nose to spite their face? Is their history lost because they felt their pride and view of themselves was all that mattered? Carmina is a wonderful place to unpack a shrouded myth like this one. I hope its readers enjoy it.