The day has been long, made longer by the drowsiness clouding and swirling about my head. I slide my key with productive clicks into the lock, granting entry to my silent sanctuary once again. My feet drag against the short carpet strings as I drop my keys into the pocket of my coat. Though I yearn to envelop myself in blankets and drift away to the land of dreams, the nights have shown no such kindness of late. Fortune, however, smiles on me this eve; my package was delivered while I was away.
Shards and remnants of once beautiful flowers spill out onto the countertop. The catalyst of my slumber, the subject of my craving, lay scattered. With a low rumble, shallow water bubbles over the amber flame. Stems and petals falling from my lifted hand, I am hardly able to contain my impatience. My foot taps with each severed reagent that drops and rings and floats on the water’s surface. My unattended left hand threatens to rip the pot of boiling water to my lips. I compromise, resting it on the handle, knowing that the brew must take its time. The wait is short, and already the boil is changing hue until at last, I hold it once again.
The gold water.
Swiftly, I rush the pot of sacred draught into my waiting glass. The dull stems that once held color and the navy petals that now add naught more than beauty are strained away. The steaming nectar streams around these idle bits and cascades elegantly into the vessel. Remnants discarded and pot set aside, I drink deeply of my effort’s fruit. Though lacking in flavor, the essence of the brew is a satisfaction like no other.
The effects of the drink are rapidly descending upon my mind. I will soon be dozing in wondrous peace, exploring a land yet unknown with unimpeded control. Such it has been for many months; once an experiment, now a vital necessity. The gold water grips strongly to my soul, or so I tell myself. Its consumption brings great visions and deep slumber, surely a boon as any man would see. With haste, I take to the couch and let the cloud consume me.
My toes dig softly into the minuscule mound, one of many set in the winding waterway. The gleaming river extends into and away from the setting Sun. On its banks, just shy of the horizon, the glimmer of the sands upon which I stand emulates a limitless sea of diamond snowflakes. Light wind carries the steamy warmth of a June afternoon and the light fragrance of familiar azure flowers. The surface of the golden river gently ripples as fragile cobalt petals dance and bob atop their shining stage, stems and buds concealed beneath silently orchestrating the carefree waltz.
With full cognizance, I step forth toward the gold water, exposed toes carefully cataloging each tiny grain of sand holding me aloft. The breeze slithering through this vast desert land plays a tune of pressure on my ears. Testing the water reveals it to be soothing and warm, as a bath at the end of an exhaustive night.
I immerse myself up to my neck in the beautiful stream. Cupping my hands below the surface, I carefully retrieve an azure lotus. Water drips and spills back into the river source. Each drop collides with a ringing resonance, the sole sound in my dreamscape. It enchants me, like a siren’s melody, as I sit transfixed, gazing long into the vibrant petals.
For what feels like an eternity, the lotus is the sole occupant of my attention, my cares, and my worries. It feeds from them, and like a miracle, it blooms a second time. Each petal flutters in the breeze, revealing a second navy strip beneath. The tiny appendages spin and twirl about the center, making room for their new neighbors. The new arrivals are hungry too, and they feed just as their predecessors, producing spawn of their own. So it goes, until the dreamscape dissipates from view, and a lotus bearing a thousand petals dances in the shallow water cupped in my hands.
The enchantment is broken by a golden streak colliding and splattering against the lotus with a satisfying ‘plish’. The river and the desert return to me, and the fiery Sun has pulled far overhead. What I thought was the end of a time was revealed to be the beginning, or perhaps the night had passed while the lotus kept my attention.
Another ‘plish’, this time off of my own forehead. I turn to face skyward, toward the blazing star, and find the gold water falling from the blue. Tiny drops seem to descend in slow motion; a splash to my left, then seconds of silence, then a splash behind. The rain further away seems to fall faster, and the landscape on the horizon has changed. A thick line of navy blue now rings around me in the distance.
A drop collides on the nearby shore. The glittering sands adopt the golden shade. Then, in seconds, each tiny grain blooms into a minute lotus, the same azure hue as the distant circle. I see now; the water brings life and vibrancy to this desolate wasteland. One of the flowers tumbles into the river and swells, bursting with petals.
The ring in the distance is shrinking. A sea of clouds hangs above the blooming circle. No doubt this is the true source of the rain.
The clouds are moving quickly. The sky is growing dark.
The sands aren’t glimmering now. The blooms glow…
...like neon all around.
The gold river has turned clear.
A web of stems beneath…
A net of pulses…
Thunder cracks above me. The web of stems in the river pulses and flashes, sending shocks everywhere and nowhere. The water around starts to bubble. It’s burning my skin. I try to stand, try to get out of the boiling river, but the net catches my ankles. I tumble face-first into the river, and the water scalds my skin, my tongue, my eyes. The stems send random shocks into my legs. My body twitches and flails.
I manage to pull myself out of the river, back to the mound I started on. The sand here has changed to lotus flowers too. Gold rain splashes everywhere. There’s so much of it. The river is rising.
Another drop hits me. ‘Plishhhhhhh...’ It burns. It’s not water, not anymore. Acid. It’s acid. Acid on my skin. Poison in my veins. The flowers are spewing smoke. The sizzling is all around. They’re burning. They’re going up in flames.
The water’s getting closer. I pull my toes away. I can’t stay here. I have to leave. I have to get out. I’ll be swallowed whole. Burned alive. Eaten away.
I run through the river. My legs burn like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I look down. All I see is red. A sea of red. Red blood from my legs. Blood from my face. My arms. My chest. The rain keeps falling. The net shocks my muscles. The Sun blazes through the clouds.
I step ashore. Flames are everywhere. The sand is glass. It stabs and cuts. I run. I stumble. Trip. Scrape. Sharp fire. Thick edges. Outlines. Sharp sand. Crystal knob. I grab it. Turn it. Slam the door behind me. Lock the fire in. And I run. I run far away. Far away…..
And what happened next? What else do you remember?
I’m in the ambulance. A paramedic is tending to the bits of gravel embedded in my feet. It’s loud. There’s a siren. Two of them, actually. A lot of splashing water. A bevy of people undoing my mistake.
Is that when they told you?
No. It’s a few days later. Friday. I’m in the police station, in a small, private room. An old man with no hair tells me what I did. I made my tea. I left the stove on. The fire caught a washrag, and it fell onto the floor. The carpet went up in flames. The heat and smoke must have woken me, but I had no idea. I stumbled out and locked the door.
And you didn't realize...?
No, not until he told me. They must have slept longer, or the fire didn’t get to them until later. Marie. Jeannie and Danny. My family didn’t have the chance I did.
What did you do after you found out?
The only thing I could to numb the pain away. Shallow water over an amber flame. Navy petals and golden stems. The gold water made everything okay again.
Soon enough, I forgot they ever existed.
Written by TheWizardOfTheWoods