The Good Water

By Todd Easterbrook [contributor]

And it was then that the last tree fell: it seemed to crumple in the breeze—a slight breeze, a whisper breeze—and collapse to the ground like an exhausted traveler struck with the strife of disheveled and intolerable remoteness—but what isn’t remote now, I ask myself? That tree, I knew it so well; I had seen it many times before, whenever I would leave the fortifications of our village to go on my foraging walks.

The lone tree’s location is far away from anything or anywhere I was supposed to be going, but as soon as I left the village I was compelled to see it at once. It became a thirst for me, an insatiable lust of wonder connected to the Old World—It was as if I sculpted it myself, or with precise strokes coloured its existence there on the mountainside.

Todd Easterbrook// The Runner

I will lament that the last tree quickly became the obsession of my every thought and desire: I dreamt about it while the wind swept through the cracks in the walls of my room; I drew pictures of it—hundreds of them—all buried or destroyed in case anyone found them.

I became violent with anyone whom I learned was scavenging outside the parameters that had been designated to them, in case they should find the tree. Numerous times I could not sleep as I paced about my dwelling in the bright heat of night, worrying the tree was out there, in the vast brevity, alone, fighting for life, slowly succumbing to the sweltering fury of the sun without me. And, because of the latter, I frequently snuck away from my collections in the daytime with a small bladder of the good water to feed the tree the azure life-blood it so desperately needed to survive.

I did this, at risk of being caught by the watchers and hung in dissention for stealing the good water, which would immediately result in the consequence of death. And if they had found out I had been taking the good water for such a lost and desirable entity, I would have been tortured first without mercy for many days and nights.

But I did not care. I reckon I am an old man of about fifty, far past my life expectancy in this world, so death does not woe me; it does not reflect my disposition, it only reflects the disposition I have concerning the tree–which I suppose, in many ways, is much like me. In the old world, I used to be an artist. I used to create; that alone was my business.

You see, people here, they cling to remnants of the old world, the bitter desultory visions of science and progress much like a housecat clings to wood with its claws as you pull its tail roughly (my son knows nothing of housecats). This became the way of the Old World.  And the men here know nothing. Men never did know anything at all.

They would only push and push and push, until they were pulled—into a realm they never expected could exist—a realm where power had finally been taken out of their hands for good. For good.  And now, men here are savages too, practicing an archaic witchcraft they know nothing about, and can only know nothing about; and now, nothing more can be exploited; and now, the deified green papers we all worshiped for so long before have all been burned to heat the cold and still colder days, and our lust for green has gone back to the natural world, whatever that means.  The tree would surely meet its end if anyone else found it, but I suppose that does not matter now.
Regardless, I never told another soul about its existence, for the discourse I shared with the last tree was an ancient one—I knew that; I am no fool.  To me, that tree was the last glimmer of primordial semblance, and I would never allow anyone else to find it.  I would kill for it, and I would die for it.  But again, I suppose that does not matter now.  To me, here, now, nothing matters.

I walked the small corridors and alleyways in sorrow, but not regret, dropping off the Good Water at people’s doorsteps. I did not think about the boy. I thought only of what could have caused the death of the tree, and the answer is simple: the rainwater is poisonous, the soil is poisonous, and the sun is too hot.  It is a miracle the great tree could have survived so long. All life is ephemeral, and all life is an impression. Maybe I played a small part in the tree’s harrowed longevity. I would like to think so.
I fed them the good water.  This was two days ago.

My only son was murdered today. He was poisoned. I murdered my only son today.  I poisoned him. He did not die like I thought he would.  He squirmed and convulsed and choked to death, his face red and veiny, his eyes black and abysmally uncertain as he looked at me, his life searing out from his body into the night. He was eight years old.  He was strong, but many people die here every day, and so no questions were asked about his death. I could not let him be part of this new world.  There is nothing here for him, or anyone else, because hope is an archaic commodity.  I will always wonder if he could remember.

I was going to show him, too. I was going to bring him to the tree when he turned ten, old enough to come foraging in the distance with me.  I was going to show him.  So many times I thought of telling him but reconsidered.  He was young—now forever young, like the new world—and he would surely have told a peer or an elder, and I would have been tortured until I relinquished the location of the tree: behind the red ridge mountain, on the south face, covered from the elements by a rocky overhang, but not the sun for just ten minutes a day, when it does shine.  There it clings to the rock small and rebellious, as beautiful as imagination.  I have seen this, and I was going to show him, that is, before he saw one of my pictures and showed it to his young friend.

The community, if I can call it that, begins work at dusk and continues into the night.  They work to purify the water for us to drink, and forage for food outside the gates in the cover of night.  The cover of ‘night’ is not so they will not be seen, but rather, it is cover from the sun, which will kill you if you are exposed to its torrid wrath for any length of time.  The sun, now, is a searing hot beast that causes lesions and cancers of the flesh very quickly.  Those who are banished are thrown out into the sun, naked, and smothered in oils.  They die within hours.  I saw them in the day, crisp, whenever I stole myself away from the village to sojourn with my steadfast friend.  After the work of day is done, the night is for sleep.  Or death.

I forage for water.  That is my job.  We have set up water traps all over the surroundings.  The traps catch the water in specialized cauldrons that hold the water and prevent evaporation. The cauldrons are made from skins we do not eat and are given structural integrity by the bones that support them.  They have to be replaced frequently because of the sun and heat, even though most of them are kept in the shade. We put them in strategic locations in the shade of night where the large insects cannot get at them.  I am one of the many who go at night to collect the cauldrons of water so that it can be made into the good water. But I am the leader now because the man who turned the bad water into the good water died from natural causes.  I tried to make him better by allowing him to drink the good water.

I fed my son the unpurified water for three suns and moons.  That’s all it took.  I told him it was the good water, and despite the taste, he believed me like a good son would.

I was going to show him.

Now they have taken him away from me.  His body.  They are preparing him because he died a pure death, so they think.  They will eat him with the others who died today.  I will eat as well.  It is seen as a necessary evil.  For survival.  And for me too it is a necessary evil, but for very different reasons.  The others who died today were poisoned too by me, slowly, and they too must have died a similar death to my son.  They will be presumed pure, falsely, and they too will be prepared, and we will feast.  We will also drink the good water.  All of us will drink the good water.  I will prepare the good water for all, like I have been since the morning of two days before this one—which was previously called evening.  Yes, we will all eat and drink merrily today, the secret herbs I add for flavour, the good water; we will eat the flesh, we will feast, and we will indulge deeply, gluttonously, not saving for later, not planning for next day, only binging and slopping on leaf and flesh and the good water until we rightly, justly, purge ourselves into the impression of oblivion. I do this for my creation: beauty: beauty: beauty: beauty: beauty: The Beautiful.  My Danse macabre:  My diabolical good. I do this because now the good water will only and always flow.

And now, with only the world before me, whither should I bend my steps?

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