Cast of Wonders 507: The Last Auction

Show Notes

Additional Editor’s note: At the time of this episode’s release, the people of Pakistan are struggling with the aftermath of devastating floods. The climate crisis affects all of us, but the brunt of the suffering is often borne by those with limited resources, and those who have contributed least to human-induced climate change.  There are many charities running appeals to provide aid for Pakistan: these are just a few:,

The Last Auction

by Abhilash Jayachandra

When the last piece of land that was destined for the ocean was about ready to be swallowed by the waters, the last great auction was held.

The auction was handled by the Land Ho! Auction House (since defunct) and, as such, they were obligated to inform any and all interested parties who might want to participate. It was rumored that they had even dispatched an invite to the underwater town of New Atlantis, where the oldest of the old, those who still remembered the planet before the “Melt” and the “Submerge” still lived with their descendants. But whether the Grand Old Matriarch or any of her sisters would make an appearance or send a representative was not known.

According to the Master of the town nearest to the piece of land (who indirectly owned it), a great many boats, dinghies, kayaks, canoes, yachts, sailing ships, cruisers and the like were expected to show up to the auction, carrying both participants and spectators. A large barge was built to hold the auction itself. It was a genius feat of engineering. When it was placed in the sea, it barely displaced any water and was able to stay close to the last piece of land without running aground.

Sadly, with land erosion escalating due to tide and rain, the whole event had to be brought forwards. Some cried bureaucracy. The old radio receivers that were still ticking were now ticking like crazy, and even satellite communications had to be shut down due to overload.

But nothing could be done.

“The land wouldn’t listen to us,” said the Master.

It didn’t use to be like this. The last piece of land used to be huge. The last fully functional piece of land. It used to be about the size of a small village. Nearly two square miles. The Master was the first to notice it, six or so years earlier. He anchored his floating town right next to it and laid claim to it. He was as surprised as any to find himself with stewardship of this huge piece of land, but he didn’t hesitate to claim it and pretend that he knew about it all along.

“That’s politics, I’m afraid,” he told his assistant.

News broke out, enquiries were made, and months later, the Master was informed that his piece of land was the last one. The sole remaining piece of prime real estate in the world.

Of course, there were others. But they were not functional. Most lay submerged under the water, prevented from rising above the water for more than an hour or so by near-constant earthquakes. The Himalayas were a wreck in more ways than one, though they were still the tallest hills in the world. All in all, the Atlantic was the safest place to be, even though it was absurdly hot and cold and it rained and was sunny all the time.

Proposals started coming in very early in those days.

“We will build a factory here –”

“A small, but quaint resort–”

“The only golf course in existence–”

“Imagine the housing opportunities here–”

“–it could have an indoor pool. No! no! That’s silly, but think about it.”

“–so much better than water golf. Honestly, my hair is never the same.”

“–we could easily stack a pile of towers here about yea high. Sell it as a place of comfort for communities in all the camps left around here. Split profits!”

“–think of the jobs. Dozens… no! Hundre– Thousands of jobs. We could end poverty (probably) and hunger (maybe… I mean, we’ll try) … but think about it!”

“–think about it.”

Think about it!

And the Master did. He wasn’t sure what should be done in the end with this last precious piece of land. In the meantime, incredibly long, inter-locking pylons made of a combination of wrought iron and petrified wood were rammed into the ground to form a fence all around the land to keep it away from the ocean. It was rumored that these were the same pylons used in the defense of the west coast of North Dakota (didn’t work, of course). With sea levels still rising, the height of the land (0.765 inches below sea level) was checked every month.

Additionally, the Master declared the area zoned off so no one could selfishly use it for their own purposes. Some kids tried playing the old Pre-Melt game of football on the land like it was originally played, i.e., on land, sans water and breaststroke. Their boat was confiscated and they had to swim home. Their football was torn and sent for recycling. Today, one half of that football is now worn as the Master’s skull cap, with the remainder used to repair his left boot.

A few people even tried to get permission to plant the last seeds they possessed in order to grow and enjoy some fruit and some vegetables while the land lasted. Then they did it anyway thinking that growing something on land didn’t require permission. They were dead wrong.

Absurdly enough, the Master’s advisors were against anything on the “surface of the last glorious piece of land.” The land had to look empty and presentable. The crops were destroyed.

The land was then declared barren by a committee set up by the advisors, none of whom knew anything about land except how to sell it.

Although declared barren, grass did grow on it lending it a beautiful look in a way that only weeds could provide. The Master was now eagerly leaning towards the golf course. He too hated water golf. The holes kept moving with the waves and most caddies were too tired from lugging golf clubs around to be able to row.

So, inevitably, when the first auction took place the golf course won. The new owner (who had secretly installed the grass during a particularly dark night) had pointed out the absurdity of ripping up the grass to build anything else on it. “Houses? That’s what the floating towns are for. And they even make them sturdy now. And who needs a resort to relax? That’s what a golf course is for!” So, the course was built.

Meanwhile, the land was still sinking. Not in an obvious, see-what-I’m-doing kind of way. It was more slow, methodical and over the course of many years – just like always.

And like always, no one saw it going.

One day, the Master was playing a spirited game of golf with his new best friend – the owner of the golf course, who was sportingly “letting” him win – when he realized that the 18th hole was missing. “That’s odd. I could’ve sworn that there were 18 holes.”

The owner laughed uncomfortably, only now noticing that the water was inside the boundary of pylons. “Ha ha ha. Don’t be absurd. This game never had that many holes. We had to drop a few when we switched to water,” he said, trying to keep the Master’s attention away from the water.

That was four years ago. The golf course was now gone. The grass had withered from all the salt in the air and the land now looked truly barren. The size of a football field, access to it was still restricted to a few privileged adults only. The owner and the Master, hoping to recoup some of the costs of their misfire, once again had the auction house hold the sale of the last exuberant piece of land.

The marketing team once again went into overdrive. Publicity was phenomenal. The old radios that were still ticking ticked all night. Calls never stopped. Two satellites overheated, fell into low orbit and burned up on re-entry, mistakenly becoming the targets of several unfulfilled wishes.

By turns, the marketing was threatening, downright disheartening, and nerve-rackingly emotional but the final goal was achieved. The land was advertised to the people as paradise, the last piece of God’s green (read: barren) Earth still remaining, and “a fun, resort-like place of wonder and excitement that could very well be the last time you see land under your feet unless you plan to visit the wreck of the Hills of the Himalayas.”

And, every town within sailing distance headed to see the last piece of land. Only some would be participating in the auction, yet all wanted to be a part of the phenomenon.

But then, as mentioned earlier, the auction had to be moved up. The sea had risen (11 inches above land level) even after the land erosion. This put the auction plans in jeopardy but nothing could be done. The auction house brought the date of the auction forward with minimal advertising, and there were a lot of complaints, but still, nothing could be done. The auction simply had to happen earlier than planned.

At last, the day arrived. A great many boats, ferries, dinghies, yachts, canoes, kayaks and the like (just like the Master predicted) showed up to the auction. The last great auction of the most beautiful piece of real estate on Earth, stable now in spite of the quakes. A perfect sendoff for this fabled Eden.

Cruisers from distant lands arrived too, four-storied and huge, carrying a great many people who were both spectator and participant in the event.

The auction house charged through the nose for a seat on the large, magnificent barge. Everything was business these days. The participants stayed on their boats and ships to look at the auction from above. In their stead, they sent representatives to act as bidders. These representatives took their place at the head of the barge where chairs had been provided in an attempt to re-establish Earthly decorum, while some select members of the audience from the ships were allowed to stand at the back. Most chose to hang back on their ships because the ships offered better vantage points. Those in kayaks, canoes and other smaller vessels placed themselves on the other side of the land, opposite the barge. This was prime location. And it was free. The auction house hadn’t considered that.

The auction began in earnest once everyone had examined the land and labelled it pristine. Many had not seen land in ages and had to be reprimanded for stealing it in small bags.

The representative for the People of the Cruisers Group offered tarps for catching rain water and a season’s worth of tomatoes, garlic, chilies, and potatoes that they had grown in greenrooms on their ship in exchange for the land.

The representative for the Tunguska Coalition offered coal and oil excavated (“at great expense”) from the Serbian Sea (the distillation of the crude oil was not mentioned and neither the auction house nor the Master asked).

From New Oceanus, the offer was for a whole new fleet consisting of 11 ships.

The Mangrove Community decided to participate at the last minute and offered their newly developed fruit grown using interspecies grafting and other techniques. The fruit was orange and the Mangrove Community promised ten barrels for the land. In addition, they offered to show the People of the Cruisers Group how to grow oranges in their greenroom if they withdrew their bid, prompting the other representatives to increase theirs.

The Master was about ready to end the bidding and give the land to the Mangrove Community when a large commotion was heard. People on the cruise ships were pointing out to where a large cylindrical ship was rising out of the water on its way to the gathering. As it neared, it became recognizable as a Pre-Melt submarine. The people looked at the relic from the past as it deftly made its way through the floating vessels, bending and twisting among them with seemingly no effort.

Within only a few minutes of its arrival, it had made its way comfortably to the barge and now floated very still in the waters. A hatch opened and another rare sight greeted the onlookers: the Grand Old Matriarch of New Atlantis.

She was old, very old, almost 130 years: a testament to the medical sciences of the Pre-Melt World. She and her sisters were expected to easily last another 40 years if they chose to do so, but who knew how they would react to the current state of the world? Nevertheless, her presence was greatly admired. It was unusual to see anyone from the underwater cities on the surface. The few who ventured outside only did so for business purposes or for flotsam and jetsam. But for the Grand Old Matriarch herself to visit meant that this was a very important occasion. The bidders suddenly began thinking of more items with which to increase their bidding.

But before they could do so, the Grand Old Matriarch stepped up to the Master’s podium and asked him for permission to speak.

Without any pageantry, she began, “This brings back memories. I remember such a gathering when I was still quite young. The Yellowstone had finally erupted underwater, as we had feared long ago when the Submerge began. What remained of our people had a final meeting, much like this one, to finalize the plan and go underwater, to rely on buoyancy and submarine-tech to survive. We could let the tsunamis and the earthquakes pass us by without much hindrance. We would survive.”

She smiled at the gathering, and there was pity in her eyes; though exactly why, no one understood.

“Even then, the commodity remained land. That which was lost and could never be reclaimed. So, people started building foundations deep enough, despite the best advice available to them. I watched them drown as their foundations buckled like paper in the quakes. Land that still remained was coveted, subject to encroachment and abuse and yet still, I saw nothing done to save it: no advice was taken and the lands kept slipping away underwater.

“We offered a place to stay. It wouldn’t be comfortable at first, but it would be pleasant. Close enough to the surface to obtain power through the sun, the wind and the waves, yet deep enough to avoid getting caught up in the tides. There was fish aplenty and the incredible vegetation of the sea. And, by retrofitting ancient shipwrecks with wreckage from the surface, we were able to expand our cities without much hassle. But still no one would come. Land was important to you; the very land you did nothing to protect in the first place. I –”

What’s your point?” interrupted the Master, annoyed at the scolding that seemed misplaced to him.

The Grand Old Matriarch turned towards him slowly and smiled. “My point is: land is slipping. It will always be slipping. This land will be gone soon.”

“No, it won’t! we have taken precautions. The pylons.”

The representative of the Mangrove Community took a chance. “Yes, and once we plant a few mangroves along the coast –”

“Assuming you win! Which you won’t! We have experience stabilizing the coal mines deep underwater. A simple island will be no trouble whatsoever.”

“Mangroves are better!”

Even the Master could see that the situation was getting out of hand. Thankfully, at that moment, the Grand Old Matriarch raised a hand, and as if struck by something invisible, all representatives at the auction stopped talking immediately.

“Do you see what I mean?” she said, addressing the Master as well as the gathering. “You refuse to see the truth and remain steadfast in your pursuit of castles in shifting sands, literally.”

She smiled at their confused faces before continuing. “This might come as a shock to you, but this isn’t the first last auction that I’ve attended.”

There was complete and total silence following this revelation.

“I attended at least 6 different last auctions in the area that was formerly the east of Africa. And each time, factories, towers, tennis courts, and the like sprang up and the island disappeared overnight with all that hard work. It was good while it lasted, but it was still meaningless.”

“What do you expect us to do, then?”

“Have a little game of football.”



“The old bat has lost it, literally!

Once again, the Matriarch raised a hand for silence. “Shall I at least bid on the island?”

Her bid was twenty barrels of fish, caught, dried and salted, 15 barrels of minced shark meat, 5 flagons of whale oil, and enough seaweed to last the Master’s town a whole month.

It was food the likes of which the town had never seen. Sure, they could have salted fish whenever they wanted, but sharks were difficult to come by let alone capture and no one had even seen a whale in decades. And New Atlantis seaweed had a reputation for being sweet, unlike their own seaweed which was salty. The auction was a closed deal for the Grand Old Matriarch.

The other representatives did try to up their bids in response, but the roar of approval that followed the Grand Old Matriarch’s bid was enough to convince the Master and soon silenced the rest.

Why was she actually doing this? No one knew, and the other bidders were too angry to ask anyway. They didn’t believe that she actually meant to have a football match, but they were proven wrong. Once the deal was finalized, she invited the kids to the island, officially handing the piece of land to them for their own use. She even threw in a ball made of shark leather. From the submarine came the children of New Atlantis. They were a pale, thin bunch. Though they looked weak, they came with an abundance of energy that seemed unsurpassed by the children of the Master’s town.

The other communities couldn’t believe that the Grand Old Matriarch could actually be that stupid: to hand over the last ever piece of functional land to a bunch of brats? There were so many other uses that it could be put to.

“We could’ve built a factory… dozens of jobs…”

“But if it’s for the kids, a circus could’ve been so much better.”

“Don’t get me started! What’s wrong with a small cottage resort? A simple inland pool that could be enjoyed by both children and adults? Can you beat that?”

“I don’t think I mind. The golf course was done anyway.”

Eventually, everyone settled down to watch the game. The players had the land while everyone else was floating in the water just beyond the pylons (23 inches above land level) from where they could easily see the match.

The town’s children, calling themselves the Floating Lions, had at least had practice playing with a football on the wooden streets of their town. The swinging movement of the waves on their town had taught them how to have a strong sense of balance. In contrast, the New Atlantis players, called the New Atlantis Sharks, were not used to playing on solid sand without the constant cool pressure of the sea and were soon sweating bullets. Nevertheless, both teams had never felt so alive as they did in the spirit of competition.

The Floating Lions were leading the match 3-2 against the New Atlantis Sharks as the sun wore down. The tide was rising already (31 inches above land level). The referee decided to call it a day. With the surprise auction twist and the impromptu football match, it was unlikely that the enthusiasm for the land would abate for the next few weeks.

As the kids formed a line by the pylons to climb onto the barge, a few of them stayed back and played with the football. The match had to be abandoned but a winner still needed to be declared. It is not known which team kicked last (and they keep the secret still), but what is well-known is that one of the shots mishit, curving the ball away from its intended goal and straight into one of the pylons that kept the seas at bay.

The Grand Old Matriarch was right after all. Eventually, the land would go. Not even the pylons could stop the land underneath them from shifting, seeping, and eroding, little by little, inch by inch until at last even a single unlucky pylon was ready to topple too.

It was this pylon that was hit with a child’s raw, enthusiastic shot.

As the waters rushed in and the children scrambled to escape to the barge, those gathered couldn’t help but laugh at the expense of the Matriarch.

The Matriarch herself only remarked how it was sad that the game remained unfinished. She considered it an evening well spent.

As she made her way back to her submarine, to return to the confines of her landless underwater empire, everyone looked at her and agreed that giving their last precious piece of land to the children to play with might have been the dumbest idea that the Matriarch had ever conceived.

But in private, they thought to themselves, What would we have done different except take the land, like all land before, and played with it until it was no more?

Host Commentary

Commentary from Samuel Poots:

As someone whose native coastline has been swallowed up by more than a few golf courses, this one hit home. It somehow manages to strike the balance between pessimism and optimism perfectly. Small-minded, selfish thinking rears its head again and again, and we continue in the same ways which doomed us in the first place. But the importance of small, reclaimed moments wins out. There is still fun and hope outside the ever-gnawing business ventures. And, ultimately, a quick kick about is infinitely more valuable than chasing castles in shifting sands.

Additional Editor’s note: At the time of this episode’s release, the people of Pakistan are struggling with the aftermath of devastating floods. The climate crisis affects all of us, but the brunt of the suffering is often borne by those with limited resources, and those who have contributed least to human-induced climate change.  There are many charities running appeals to provide aid for Pakistan: these are just a few:,

Additional Author’s note: Climate disasters are always measured by human lives lost. But heatwaves, floods, and droughts are just the beginning. The real impact of these events comes after. Disruption of food production causes delays in the supply chain which can lead to starvation, famine, inflation, mass revolts, riots, destruction of property and lives, and so on. Weather patterns are changing every year. Today, it is isolated to a few areas that serve as a warning to the rest. But, by tomorrow, it could be everywhere. By tomorrow, it could be too late.

About the Author

Abhilash Jayachandra

Abhilash Jayachandra is a freelance writer and editor from India with a background in Physics and English Literature. He usually writes about food and books, and also edits for a few indie publishers from time to time. He is currently working towards finishing and publishing his first novel. His short stories have been published in The Hakara Journal and The Prachya Review. Find him on Twitter at

Find more by Abhilash Jayachandra


About the Narrator

Kaushik Narasimhan

Kaushik Narasimhan is a management consultant by day, writer by night and psychonaut every weekend.

Find more by Kaushik Narasimhan