Ridge walked around in circles.
That’s no metaphor.
“Ei!” called out Ridge’s companion, Goz. “You find it yet?” Goz was walking a zig-zag path, bouncing off the inside edges of Ridge’s circles.
“Neh,” responded Ridge. They were walking over the numerous pebbles that littered the ground.
“What did Gron say we’d find?” called out Goz.
Gron, as you might imagine, is someone who is vital to this story. Gron never makes an appearance but has a tremendous impact.
“That we’d find something no one has seen in over a hundred years…” replied Ridge.
“A decent job?” offered Goz. They both smiled at that. They smiled under their tightly wound cloth headgear. The heat was almost too unbearable during the day for someone to wander about without adequate protection from the sun.
There was a rivulet of sludge making its way a few hundred meters from the two. A rivulet of green-ochre sludge.
Goz went over to the rivulet, scooping up some of the sludge in a cup and poured it over her head. The slightly viscous fluid soaked through her headgear and cooled her down.
Ridge came over to Goz and did the same. I would say it was to escape the summer heat but for over a century, there has been no real distinction between the seasons; The earth hadn’t lost its tilt, the weather just lost its schedule.
They walked up a slope, along the rivulet, to what appeared to be a large basin. It was filled with rounded stones and smaller pebbles. Everything here was green-ochre. Even the nearby buildings, now abandoned, were tinted with the sludge, dried out over the years.
“What’re we doing, Ridge?” asked Goz, clearly fatigued while walking, “We don’t even know what we’re looking for!”
“Gron used to say that this would bring us hope.”
“Hope! You know how old people are with these words!”
“But nothing! I’m fed up with this fool chase.” In frustration, Goz kicked the stone nearest to her foot and stood still.
Just then, they realised that they no longer heard the rivulet flow. It had stopped a few meters before along their path.
They also just noticed that the rocks here weren’t as green-ochre as the others, where they walked from.
Goz bent down to pick up the rock she kicked and felt a wetness to its underside. She then lifted a few other rocks nearby and they were wet, too. Wet, but… grey? Wetness and water had come to mean green-ochre to everyone they knew.
Without explanation, she fell to her knees and started scooping out some of the sand underneath these wet rocks.
The sand was starting to feel wetter and her hands weren’t stained by the green-ochre.
“Ridge…” she started.
Ridge got down, too, and started scooping out some of the sand with a cup.
They dug for what felt like a good few hours in the sand, not knowing what to find. They were only motivated to get to the source of this unusual wetness.
“Do you-” huffed Ridge between scoops, “think – this – is – what Gron meant?”
“I’m here with you, aren’t I?” snapped back Goz, not really on board with talking while digging.
At last, just as the blazing sun dipped towards the west, the two stopped their digging. They collapsed by the slopes of the hole they just dug. Their feet were now soaked in this odd clearles liquid, as they leaned against the sides. Their toes moved about in the wet, moist sand that lay just below the shallow pool. This sand was a peculiar brownish-grey colour.
“What is this, Ridge?” asked a fatigued Goz, after catching her breath. Their eyes were fixed on this peculiar sand beneath their feet and the liquid that it contained.
“Gron…” started Ridge and stopped.
It was only after a few minutes had lapsed when they resumed talking. They were no longer exhausted now, just bewildered.
They crouched low to scoop up the clear liquid in their hands and feel it slide back into the little pit they carved out.
“Gron said that people weren’t always like this.”
“Like what?” asked Goz, her eyes now widening with excitement as she moved her hands around in the puddle, in a circle.
“People used to live beyond fifty, and they could breathe the air easy, without the cloths like we do.”
Goz was listening but didn’t lift her eyes from her swirling hands.
“People used to like going outside their homes. They used to walk around.”
“Where did they walk to?”
“Just… out. Gron said there were these things called parks. Filled with green things that would clean the air.”
“Sounds like fantasy!” snorted Goz.
“I guess. Gron once told me a story about two gardens.”
“Two gardens? What the heck is even one garden?!”
Ridge sat in the puddle, settled in, enjoying the wetness soak through the clothes.
“There’s a story, isn’t there?” asked Goz, rolling her eyes.
Ridge nodded. Ridge smiled, but of course Goz couldn’t see it. No one had seen another person smile in well over fifty years.
“Go on, then!” said Goz and collapsed opposite Ridge, arm still swirling in the liquid.
“There was once this garden, a place full of plants.” Then looking at Goz looking straight at her, she added, “A plant, Gron said, was a living thing that would absorb sunlight and turn it into food. Gron even said she once had a friend who saw them, even though they’ve been gone for so long. They were all over the earth, providing food and clean air. They were also the homes of animals. Animals were living things like us. They used to share this planet with us. We were sent out of the first garden because we disobeyed the person caring for it, Gron said. Someone they used to worship.”
“Pfft,” interjected Goz.
“Then, we started building our own world full of parks and plants and animals. We picked the animals we wanted to eat and killed off the rest. We grew the plants we wanted to eat and destroyed the rest. We only kept the things that we needed. This was our Garden. It wasn’t as colourful as the first garden and it was designed to only have what was needed. Anything that wasn’t needed was killed. We didn’t have the space to have animals and plants that we couldn’t use and we used everything that lived.”
Goz lifted her eyes to listen to Ridge. Maybe it was because of the story, or maybe it was because she had enough of swirling her hands around.
“We maintained our garden for a while. Then everything started to go wrong. The trees we had in our garden needed little animals to keep spreading them. While we destroyed the other plants, we destroyed the homes of these little animals. The plants we had started failing. Some people asked to grow the plants that the little animals needed but there was no space in our Garden for anything that couldn’t be eaten by us. The people who controlled the world decided it was better to build machines that would imitate the plants. They had some that could turn sunlight into energy and some that cleared the air and some that provided shelter. But none of them could do everything at once. We ended up losing so much space because we had to fit these machines in.”
“What does that have to do with this here liquid?” asked Goz, not really seeing how important this story was.
“When we lived in the second Garden, we had access to this liquid called water. Gron said it was without colour and if you drank it, you’d be healed.”
“Healed of what?”
“So this… water, it heals?” Goz looked down at the liquid they were drenched in. A little of the colour from their clothes now tainted some of the water. It was still less green-ochre than what they used to drink.
“Gron said they used it for everything – to drink, to cook, to bathe.”
“People used this water to wash their bodies!”
The two girls shuddered.
“Why did the water go away?”
A cheery voice from outside their hole responded, “I can answer that one!”
Just then, the edge of the hole was surrounded by people, bigger than Ridge and Goz, just standing in a circle. The girls stood up and looked around.
“Who are you?” asked Goz, with a steely calmness in her voice.
“Oh,” said the voice, “I’m just the Waterboy.”
“What?” The girls asked in unison.
“Finding water,” said the Waterboy, wielding a club in one hand and a bucket in the other, “is my mission. I get paid to find water and tell my boss where I found it.”
“There’s more?” asked Goz.
“Oh, plenty! If you know where to look! Or if you know people to look for!” The Waterboy chuckled heartily and was joined by the others.
“You followed us?” hissed Goz.
“Calm down, little one!” the girls couldn’t see his face, but they heard him sneer. “We didn’t plan on following you. But when we see a dip in the ground and hear old garbage stories – we tend to pay attention. So, if you don’t mind, I’d like for you to leave this hole. It’s mine now.”
“We found this!” protested Goz.
“And I found you. What will you even do with this water?”
“Why do you want the water?” asked Ridge in response.
The others chuckled mirthlessly.
Waterboy squatted to look at the girls closer.
“Where did the water go, you wanted to know?” he offered.
“We used it up!” laughed Waterboy, prompting his mates to laugh too.
“We controlled the water. It was too precious for everyone to use, so we made people work for it. Like we did with the food. We poured our waste into the earth and it just kept giving us more and more water. Until, we could no longer take as much as we wanted. We took too much from underground and too much from the sea. That’s what happens when you let people use up free things like water. We thought we learned the lesson by locking up food, but apparently we didn’t. A few brave people tried to lock up the remaining water and sold it only to those who deserved it. That didn’t last long. The rivers dried up inside our massive reservoirs and were choked off in the mountains. Our wells dried up and only drew sand. The water that was meant to replenish us was mixed with the sea and could no longer be drunk.”
“The water… disappeared?” asked Ridge.
“No, silly girl. Look at your feet! Of course it didn’t stop! We just weren’t able to collect enough to grow our plants, our animals and our fancy drinks. Can you believe it, people used to PAY to have coloured water that would make them sick in those days? Now you just drink from a stream and you’re as good as dead! It flooded our cities and swallowed our islands but with water we couldn’t drink.”
“So what do you want with it?” questioned Ridge.
“If… water got into the wrong hands, it might make people live a little longer and then suffer more. Really, I’m just here to reduce the suffering!” he said, with mock piety.
“You know that it heals!” exclaimed Goz.
“What will health get you, little girl? Longer years of burning in the haze and the heat. Longer years of coughing and organ collapse from the so called ‘food’ that we buy. How much do your parents have to work to get you food that burns your throats as you eat it? How much do they work so you can have a home to come back to after you wander around digging holes?”
“What will you do to the water when we leave?” asked Goz, looking down at the puddle she’d made her home.
“Good question, little girl,” replied the Waterboy as he stood up. “We will cover up the hole so that no one can ever find it again and accidentally get healthy only to live longer.
“Why do you have a bucket if you’re going to cover it up? Why do you all have buckets?” Goz asked, looking around at them all.
“You’re smart. It’s a shame that you’re mistaken about one crucial thing.”
The girls looked up at the Waterboy in unison.
“You’re not leaving,” he said and this time, they were certain that there was a tone of malice in his voice.
He slid down the edge of the hole to where the girls were, raised his club to Goz, the closest one. She lifted her arms to hold the club off.
Ridge shuffled around Waterboy to grab his arm from behind.
The others just stood around on the edge of the hole, not bothered about the struggle taking place inside.
Waterboy broke free of the girls’ grip and tried to swing at Goz with the bucket. Goz knocked the bucket out of his hand and ducked to avoid a follow-up swing of his club.
Ridge tried to jump onto his back to restrain him.
Waterboy then caught Ridge by her collar and tossed her into the puddle. Goz picked Ridge up and Ridge thanked her.
“Hey, what are sisters for?” responded Goz.
“Sisters?” asked Waterboy, twirling the club in his right hand. “Well, I guess that makes it just one set of parents to tell of a tragic accident.”
He swung with all his might at the two girls in front of him, relying on his brute force to knock at least one of them out.
Goz ducked and tried to pull Ridge down with her. Ridge didn’t drop fast enough and the side of her head met with Waterboy’s club. She fell right into the puddle.
“Noooo!” screamed Goz, looking at her sister fall.
She drew a scavenger knife from her coat and tucked it into her right sleeve, and lunged at Waterboy, digging the knife into his upper back. He yelped in pain and tried to shake her off, only managing to slap her with his free hand. She dug the knife deeper into his body and twisted it.
Waterboy asked the others to intervene. They turned around and ran off into the twilight.
Alone and wounded, he tried to tackle Goz but she was too quick and lithe to be caught.
He finally got his hands around her neck and tried to strangle her. She produced another knife from her coat and dug it into his abdomen while simultaneously biting his thumb.
He screamed in pain while she picked up his fallen club and swung as hard as she could into his head. Then again. And again. At last, he collapsed. His head bleeding into the puddle.
Goz dropped the club to check on her sister. There was so much blood yet no breath from Ridge.
Goz wept loudly, holding her sister in her hands.
She was collapsed in the little hole with water.
Water that was less despicably coloured than green-ochre.