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.”