Thursday, January 18, 2018

Flash Fiction # 286 -- CTS # 1 -- Liquid Gold

(A few days ago I bought a book called Complete the Story -- which I will call CTS in my post titles -- and decided to use it for some of the flash fiction pieces.  I'm not sure how I'll do.  The first one I didn't notice the prompt was in First Person and wrote it in Third Person -- I'll have to watch that in the future.  It's an interesting experiment though.  I corrected that in this typed version and added a few other additions and changes.)

White rocks and burnt sand, that was all we owned.  It stretched for a mile one way, two miles the other way.  Ridges outlined the edges of our world, unchanging except for cloud shadows and sometimes a flock of birds heading for somewhere else.

Today something glittered in the baking sun ... something dark and moving in the shadow by the big boulders.  Not a creature of any sort, though.  At first, we thought the black liquid was oil, that we'd struck it rich and that we'd be able to retire and live in leisure.  We actually started talking about all the ways we'd spend the money.  Our first choice was a car so we could go far away, all three of us.

"To the ocean," I said, my voice a soft whisper.  "I always wanted to see the ocean."
My two older brothers, Mark and David -- twins and as opposite in attitude as they were alike in looks -- both sighed but nodded. They'd always given into me, though the truth was that I rarely asked for anything.

I remembered better times, but I knew they were gone.  Now, in our late teens, we lived as best we could, growing a few plants on the little scrape of land the bank had left to us after they took everything else our parents had worked so hard to gain.  My brothers would not abandon me, though we all talked about moving to the city someday.

"Mary, don't you think we could have a nice place to live?" David suggested.  Always practical was David.  He looked back at their tar paper shack with a bit of anger.  If our parents hadn't died of influenza -- if the bank hadn't taken just about everything we owned and left us with this bit of hardscrabble land in an area without enough water....

I stared out at the sandy desert, pocketed with rock and white sand.  It glittered, deceptively pretty.

"What about you, Mark?" I asked. "What would you buy?"

"I would buy back our dreams."

I stood there with the spade still in hand and looked world around us.  Then David, being practical, went closer to the black liquid that had started to bubble up from beneath the boulder he and Mark had moved.

"Just muddy water you know," he said and kicked at it.

Rare enough, but we'd seen spots of water appear and disappear again in an hour, the ground drying, the sand and sagebrush returning.  Wishes and dreams died that quickly and we went back to work with the shovels digging into the hard ground, hoping for enough spring rain to grow food to feed ourselves and maybe sell a bit on the side.

The next day we found more water by the boulders.  The day grew hotter and we worked around it.  Muddy water, not pure enough to drink, but it did make some of the dirt softer and easier to dig, so David and Mark carried buckets of it to where we were working.  We were all covered in mud by the time we finished for the day and none of us in a good mood.

The next day there was more water.

"A spring," David said, a touch of awe in his voice that I'd never heard before.  "I think we uncapped a spring.  If it keeps up...."

It did keep up.  David and Mark cleared more boulders and we watched in amazement as water rushed out and down the slight incline. By late afternoon, deer and birds had already come to taste it.

"How much, do you think?" I asked.  "Should we try to capture some?  Can we save it somehow?"

We made plans that night and the next day.  We could build a cistern, maybe, and get jugs to bring the water into the house and try to keep it all from evaporating.

The water continued to flow.  We learned later that we'd moved a capstone on an artesian well that had sat undisturbed for a thousand years or more.  We had said nothing to anyone else at first, though.  However, it wasn't long before others noticed the growing pond.  It filled the depression below the bit of land they'd been farming -- still their land, but mostly hard rock and burnt sand.  It filled that area and grew wider, and by the next year, we had a marshland filled with birds and deer, coyote and rabbits.

In a place where water was so rare, it made us rich.  Oh, we didn't sell it to our neighbors in need.  We didn't allow companies to come in and claim it, either.  The marsh grew until it filled our piece of the desert from one end of our land to the other and by three years it had formed a respectable lake with cattails and willows all along the edges.  Magic, I thought.

We sold part of the land to the state for more money than the bank had taken from us, and they planted trees, grasses, and it because of a popular little camping ground.  I liked to meet the people who came and found such wonder in the midst of all the sand.

We kept the far northern shore and tore down the tar paper shack when the water lapped up at the wall.  We had built a new house on the ridge overlooking the lake. We lived there a good many years.

David and Mark took me to see the ocean, too ... but I was glad to come home.  I loved Dream Lake better.

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