Thirst is a monster that lurks inside us.
I lick my lips, trying to provide moisture to the cracked and peeling skin that coats them, but I have no saliva from which to draw moisture and impart onto them. The dry skin scrapes and slices my tender tongue and reminds me of the barb-like skin of a shark.
I look down at my hands and run my finger along the old scars. I remember how she would smile disapprovingly at me as I would caress each shark I caught before releasing them.
I groan deeply, but the effort irritates and tickles my parched throat. I sit up as I cough, pressing my fingers into the rubber of the raft that separates me from the salty water below. The raft rocks and sways softly as the cough sets my body convulsing and twisting.
I wait for the pain in my chest to subside, before leaning over the side of the raft and staring into the water. My face is mere inches away from the wet and shining temptation. I try to remember the identity of the man who stares back at me from the mirrored surface.
He has my same hair and features, and his eyes look like my muddy brown eyes, but there is a look in those eyes that my reflection never showed before. This man's eyes have a desperate and hungry look in them that sends a chill running down my spine. This man calls to me, and I want to answer.
I stretch my weak and shaking arms over the rippling surface and drag my fingers across the cool and moist mirror, and the man's face becomes disfigured as the ripples break him apart. I shudder as I cup my hands and dip them beneath the surface.
The puddle in my palms looks as pure and delicious as the first fruit of a new season. As my hands and face meet, the man in the water appears to me again, and he tells me to dip my tongue into the clear and intoxicating liquid.
I try to resist, but his power is too great. I stretch my tongue between my teeth, past my lips, and hover it above the pool in my hands. I can hear some old and familiar voice in my mind telling me to pull my tongue back, but my hands are too quick, and they bring the pool closer to my mouth.
The water is cold and feels like satin on my sticky tongue, but as I withdraw my tongue over my lips, the salt stings and burns the cracked and sore-covered skin, and I remember that the old voice was my own. I withdraw my face and splash the water over my arms and torso and hair.
The water cools and soothes my body but only for a brief moment, and as I lay back in the raft and rest my head against the side, I know. Soon, I will not mind the stinging of the salt on my lips or hear the voice in my head. Soon, I will give into the man whose reflection is like mine but different, and I will embrace the pure but momentary bliss of quenching my thirst.
I try to sleep during the day as much as I can. The heat of the sun makes it so much harder to resist the thirst. The hunger is not as unrelentingly bitter, and I have grown accustomed to the pain in my stomach. It is insistent and makes me feel hollow, but it is nothing compared to the thirst.
I awake with the moon beaming down on me. It is cooler at night, and for a brief moment, I forget where I am. For a brief moment, I think I might be on the deck of the boat. For a brief moment, I believe she is next to me. My Sara.
For a brief moment, I want to reach out for her hand and pull her closer to me. Then, that brief moment is gone, and I remember that she is also gone. I feel the grief tearing at my insides like a monster that is trying to claw its way out of me.
I wonder if the thirst is the manifestation of that monster. It is clawing its way through me and leaving holes as it goes. Holes that burn within me. I want to fill those holes and kill the monster, but I cannot.
I know that if I kill the monster, maybe he will take my memories of her with him when he dies. I resist the monster as I resist the thirst, but I know that it is only a matter of time until one of them stakes a claim on my soul.
My tongue burns and feels too big for my mouth. I can feel my teeth digging into the edges, and when I swallow, I taste blood. It is an instinct that I paid no attention to until recently. Until it became something that was less instinct and more a necessity. Now, I must force myself to swallow and brace myself for the pain.
I look up to the sky as I force the dry air down my throat. The sky is clear, but the waves are choppy and smack against the raft. The air feels balmy against my skin, but it is not warm, and I think maybe.
Just maybe there will be a storm soon. Maybe there will be rain. Maybe my thirst will be quenched. Maybe I will live.
I search the horizon for clouds in the distance, but I see only ocean and stars as far as the eye can see. The world looks spherical out here on these clear nights, and I used to wonder how someone could fear falling off the edge of the world, but the longer I float on these endless waves of salt and desperation, the more I begin to understand.
Though, I believe I would welcome such a sudden and finite ending to this great misery. I fantasize about falling off of the edge. Deeper and deeper into oblivion.
I peer over the edge of the boat again and stare into the reflection in the water. I blink my dry eyes rapidly. I think I see, not a man, but a woman staring back at me, and as I move, she does not mimic my movements. She reaches up to me with her hands full of water, and she beckons to me to drink.
The moon reflects off of the water in her hands, and I know it will be delicious. I know it will cure me. I lean down to drink from the pool in her graceful hands, but I stop. Her face has changed.
My Sara stares up at me, and she begs me not to betray her. There are tears in her eyes, and I want to reach out and caress her face, but I cry out as her face ripples and breaks apart.
I try to yell for her, but my throat is too parched, and I remember. My Sara is gone. She was not there just now. Neither was the Siren. I stare down at my own hands that rest on the raft in front of me. They are cupped and filled with water.
The water that the Siren had offered me. I spread my fingers apart, letting the water fall away. My Sara. She saved me, but I know she won't be able to forever. It won't be long, now.
The visions have been getting stronger. Darker. More tempting. I know I will not be able to resist them much longer. My vision has begun to fade, and I know that my mind is fading with it. I don't even think about Sara much anymore. Or my hunger.
I lay on the edge of the raft, and I stare into the water. I look forward to the visions, now. I am like the man who seeks out the dark corners, looking for the opportunity to do wrong.
I find I enjoy the visions, now. I enjoy the temptation. I want to give in. I want to embrace the momentary bliss and the permanent oblivion that I know will follow soon after. The only thing that keeps me from giving in is her. My Sara. Still, I know. I will give in soon.
My mind taunts me. . .
You know you will give in soon. Why not give in now?
End it now. Sara is waiting for you.
My reflection smiles back at me, and I know. He knows. He has won. She is next to him, and she is smiling, too. I understand, now.
She is not my Sara. No. She is his. They are us. He is me, and she is she. And I can be with her again if I give in. I scoop the water in my hands, and I raise them to my mouth, and I drink.
The salt still burns, but I welcome it, now. I drink until my hands are empty, and I dip them back in the water. I drink again. I laugh as the water burns my throat. I dip my hands back in the water, and he disappears. She is still there, though. She smiles at me, and she beckons to me, and I know that if I drink again, it will be enough. She will welcome me.
I raise my hands to my mouth, but she is no longer alone. My Sara is next to her, and she is crying again. I look to the other Sara, and she is no longer Sara, but she is the Siren again, and she is laughing at me. I drop the water as she disappears, and I reach out, but my Sara is gone as well. I am alone, and I know she will not come back. I know I am a fool. I know it won't be long, now.
I fall back into the raft, and I weep as the saltwater burns through me. It has joined the grief monster inside of me, and, together, they will finally be able to tear me apart.
I look up to the moon and the stars, and I cry out. I roll onto my side, and I stare to the edge of the water. I stare to the edge of the world, and I wait to fall off. I know oblivion waits for me, and I wait for it. I watch the horizon, waiting for the end of the world.
I watch the horizon, and I see it. I raise myself, and I rub my eyes. It is still there. I blink rapidly. It is still there. I laugh as the two monsters within me claw at my insides.
I know, now. Soon, the sails of that ship will carry it to my side. Soon, the current will guide it to me. Soon, the ship that floats across the edge of the world will no longer be on the horizon, and it will float alongside of me.
I stare at the ship and watch as it moves ever so slowly toward me, and I know that it is real. I clutch my stomach as the two monsters continue to claw my insides, and I feel that maybe they will be here in time. Then, I look to the water.
The three faces look up at me from the softly rippling surface. I look back at them, and I weep. The two laugh and taunt me. They beckon to me, but I know it is an evil joke that they play.
My Sara is still crying, and I know. I know I won't be here, but I won't be with her either. I will be with them. I will become the tempter. I will become the monster.
Soon, they will be here.
Soon, they will find me.
Soon, it will be too late.