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The Water behind the Rock

by Mitchell Aji 11 months ago in literature
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Two siblings make a life-altering discovery not only for themselves but for what remains of humankind.

Courtesy of Keith Hardy via Unsplash

In the stark, lifeless field of cracked rock and red-orange earth, two figures stood in the shadow of a large rock formation. From a distance, it appeared they had taken refuge from the sun’s plague of heat. But the way they stood was unnatural; lifeless like the desert all around them. For several moments their bodies did not move at all, their attention, transfixed on the ground before them.

“Trea, is…is that what I think it is? It can’t be right?” Jhevon stammered, his eyes wide with shock, disbelief, and thirst. His cracked lips barely moved to form the words, more a prayer than a question.

Behind the layers of browned fabric that wrapped around her head, the same look of shock possessed Eritrea’s face. She blinked repeatedly at the small puddle that formed where she had dug out a heart-shaped locket from the ground. Her dark brown skin grew taut beneath the layer of heat-displacing fabric. Eritrea hardly noticed when the large rock the necklace had somehow become fused to slipped out of her grasp. She lowered her body slowly to the ground. Nothing was alive or sounded around them. Even the air was still.

Cautiously Eritrea extended her hand and gently touched the liquid that had pooled. A small drop clung to her forefinger and she brought it to her tongue. The feeling was indescribable.

Water.

It was water.

Eritrea did not take her eyes off the water for fear that the moment she did, it would disappear, a trick on her mind and vision. So she signaled to her brother by throwing a deft fist into his shin, causing Jhevon to also lower himself to the ground. Following his sister, he slowly and delicately tasted the water for himself.

“Trea what should we do?” Jhevon asked, trying his best to manage his basic urges, urges that had long been forgotten, and at the very least drastically altered.

“I don’t know,” Eritrea replied in a small hushed voice that did not feel like her own.

The rules were clear. If water was ever found then it must be shared. She knew the rules better than she knew her own name but she, like her brother, had never seen water before. Not water like this. It was so clear. So pure.

A confluence of panic, excitement, fear, and anticipation clashed viciously in Eritrea’s mind.

Before Eritrea or Jhevon were born even before their parent’s parents were born, there was a heat that moved over the lands, oceans, lakes, and rivers with an unquestionable force. War broke out over what was left of the water. It was no longer money or militaristic strength that was used to define a nation’s power but how much water they were able to keep and how they could create more. Many of those nations died out having wasted their most precious resource on gambles that reaped nothing but dehydration and famine. Smaller factions began to spring up, tribes of people bound by blood and ideal came together to protect their water. Eritrea and Jhevon’s tribe had been on the brink of ruin for the past decade and this puddle could be the key to their salvation and rise to prominence.

“Do you think there is more?” Jhevon asked the one question that Eritrea was nearly too terrified to answer.

“I don’t know, but we have to find out.” Eritrea, putting aside her fear for this gift, this thing that her whole life had revolved around, removed the protective wraps from around her face, laid flat on her belly, and brought her lips to the water.

“Trea…?” Jhevon asked, drawing out his sister’s name not only out of caution but out of a small spark of jealously that had begun to stir in his heart, jealousy he didn’t know he could muster. Respect was the only safeguard for his emotions but even that had its limits.

Eritrea sipped slow, lightly drinking the water but only by a hair. She pulled away, resisting biology as it compelled her to drink, even more, fighting against her baser instincts, and watched the water carefully. She eyed the place where dark soaked earth met the dry.

To her amazement, slowly but surely, the water rose again to where it had been a moment ago.

“Come here,” she told Jhevon who had no compunction for the same delicacy his sister displayed, hastily removing the wraps from his hairless head and face, flopping onto his belly with no form or grace.

“SLOWLY!!!!” Eritrea screamed as Jhevon nearly displaced the water.

He followed the instruction and only took a sip, that was more of a gulp; his own urges somehow stronger than his sister’s or restrained a bit less.

“Von!!” Eritrea smacked him in the face, a tad harder than she expected to but Jhevon could care less, a euphoric grin on his face.

“It’s…sweet! I mean not sweet. I don’t know, it’s just so good and the way it makes me feel! Oh wow!!!” Jhevon shared dazedly, caught in a slight stupor by Eritrea’s jab and the water on his tongue.

Eritrea let out a sigh of relief as the water came back up. She hadn’t realized she held her breath until that moment, her heart thumping against her chest.

“It’s clean. That’s what it is.” She said after a moment, finding two vials in her pack. Each was filled with a hazy, semi-translucent liquid with noticeable hues of yellow and brown. Removing their airtight caps she dumped the poorly recycled water out.

“TREA!!!!” Jhevon now alert screamed, “that was our water for three days!!!”

Instinct forced Jhevon to leap and put his lips to the ground where Eritrea had poured out the hazy liquid.

“That’s not water. This is.” Eritrea said confidently, using the small cap of the long glass tube to slowly guide the water from the puddle into the vial.

With each scoop, Eritrea could feel the slight changes in the air, the motion of the sun, the difference in the tilt of the earth. Each small pour into the glass vial was another step for her people out of poverty. A means to barter. A means to persuade. A means to reestablish themselves.

And as the small puddle continued to refill itself, the more that hope grew. Once the two vials were filled, she raised them to the setting sun and saw sparkles that danced like starlight. She had never cried, save for birth, but at this moment her eyes glistened.

Eritrea and her brother drank from the puddle to their fill. However, their bodies were unfit for its purity causing a sort of delirium to set in. Eritrea, slightly more focused than Jhevon who had begun to hum to himself, replaced the rock and tucked the heart-shaped locket out of sight. She prayed that the water stayed behind the stone and did not trickle out where it could be seen by other passersby. They stumbled back home, almost losing their way twice until they arrived at the barren crater that was once known as San Francisco Bay. There were three massive ships that were close to one another. The small city of the sibling’s people dwelled in the vessels and large rectangular containers that were not tossed when the ships ran aground.

With their faculties back in place, they told the story of how they found this small puddle behind a rock that had a heart-shaped locket fused to it. But they only spoke to their father. They told him of how the puddle would refill no matter how much they drank. Eritrea then showed him the vials to which he spoke a language that she had not heard him speak in years. He was grateful they told him about the water, embracing them tightly, but that should never mention how much they had drunk. They would also have to cover their faces with dust, noting the slight luminance their dark brown skin now had. The water rules of their people, of all people really, were absolute and unforgiving. Though excited, they would need to be careful. There was still too much to know and very little time to act.

Words were then shared in secret. Clandestine trips were made and the puddle was kept in the strictest of confidence until it was clear that its source was larger than anyone from Eritrea and Jhevon’s tribe could have imagined.

The small puddle Eritrea found led to a small man-made reservoir that would bring about a new era for her people. Though the water was finite, they had learned enough from the past to carve out a fertile future for themselves and many others.

No longer needing the stone to hide the reservoir, Eritrea liberated the locket from the rock and wore it as close to her heart as she could. The memory of that day never too far from her.

literature

About the author

Mitchell Aji

I love writing and telling stories where the adventure unfolds around some who looks like me. There is something about being able to craft a world or a place where I can invite others into so they can feel like they belong.

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