Thirst

There is a river that flows with blood, ferrying people to hell, it is said. It carries broken bones and animals hungry for human flesh, birds that feast on the dead and insects that carve out the eyes. Maybe they were trying to say hell is a journey, not a destination. In the old man’s imagination, the river frothed and bubbled, it was the colour of rust tinged with crimson. But he didn’t want to frighten the little ones who were his audience for the night, so he told them it was a river of blood and no more.

Nobody knew where he spent his days, or how. He only appeared at nights, bartering a story for a plate of food, if someone felt sympathetic. His body was always a dirty brown, his head shielded from the sun by wispy strands of white hair, and he carried in his hand a bottle of water. There is a drought coming, he would have said, if he was asked. He wasn’t.

There is an animal that lives in the cracks of the earth, it is said, its tongue so long and so powerful. It knows instantly when a bead of water appears, even miles away. Its tongue slithers out, throbbing with need, in search of that orb. Its succulent limbs covered in thorns, it protects itself from those encroaching on the oasis that is its body. But he didn’t want to frighten the little ones, so he told them about the tongue and no more.

He drank carefully, small furtive mouthfuls, while the others made fun of him. Their days melded into one, they couldn’t imagine how they lived before the sweat took residence on their necks and the itch became a permanent guest in their mouths. They bought water in tankers and bathed themselves everyday, even as their plants gasped. They detonated the earth until they struck a shallow pool, and rejoiced in mindless ways, splashing each other.

There is a plant that has never died, it is said. It bides its time, braving cyclones and aridity, closing upon itself when the winds howled. It is small, but hardy, its leaves a dull green as though anemic, its stem stout, its roots snaking in crevices and over rocks, building strength for when the time came. But he didn’t want them to step on this plant, so he told them a new leaf sprouts every twelve years.

One day, they could spot the river bed, hissing at them in anger. They stood at its banks, confused, the sand settling on their grimy bodies and their hair limp even as the air shook. The drought was here and the old man couldn’t be found.

There is a man who drank the sea, it is said. He took great gulps of that salty infusion, until he ballooned and floated away on a bed of weeds and debris.


This week’s prompt: “There is a drought coming.”

Crowd favourite this week for Fiction|Poetry! Thank you to everyone who voted for me.

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9 thoughts on “Thirst

  1. I really enjoyed this allegorical story. You developed the character of the old man well, giving depth to his thoughts, and restraint in his words/actions. That was a good way of showing more of him to the reader than is revealed to the other characters, and drawing the reader in to his world.

    The perspective shift at the end felt a little abrupt. Since you’d established the old man as the most prominent character, and the rest of the story allows us to see from his perspective, it would have been good to see his perspective at the end too. Did he skip off into the sunset with nary a glance behind? Did he regret leaving, but know that was his role?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment!
      I really struggled with the ending. I wanted to provide closure for the character, and I also wanted him to leave the place because he thinks the others cannot be saved.
      Maybe the shift to the observer’s voice at the end doesn’t work? I shall revisit and try to improve. 🙂

      Like

  2. :There is a drought coming, he would have said, if he was asked. He wasn’t. :
    :sweat took residence on their necks and the itch became a permanent guest in their mouths.:

    Memorable lines!

    It is really, really hard to convey character without dialogue and the mood and voice in this story handled that perfectly. The world unfolded in his eyes, the foolishness of others shown, and how the world changed. Beautiful stories too and they didn’t feel out of place.

    I expected the end, though, to be a “story” told by the man in the same manner that he told the other stories even though there was probably no where to listen.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am so slammed right now trying to get ready for a 2 week vacation (including prepping all the YeahWrite stuff so y’all don’t notice I’m gone) that I didn’t have a chance to make the rounds and comment this week, but I wanted to let you know specifically how much I loved the rhythm of this piece. I totally agree with the criticisms folks have laid down above, but there’s no story so good it couldn’t be tweaked. None. You interspersed plain language with vivid images. You used storytelling structures and tropes to make the piece seem timeless. You used repetition in “it is said” to make the whole thing mythic, and there’s nowhere I can really point to and say “well, you wasted this space a little.” Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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