Something in the Water – Fiction

The library book lay open on his bed. Don Huxley walked into the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. The rash on his neck had spread to his face and his hands had begun to tremble. How much water? How much water did he drink since being stuck in this small town? Four days since his car broke down on his way to returning the rental to the airport. Four days. Four days since the engine light went on, the needle on the temperature gauge rose into the red zone and his car died on a gravel path, where the GPS had led him astray. He should have seen the signs. Why would the town Sheriff just happen to be driving by? Or for that matter, the town's mechanic in his tow truck? Why had they become so frustrated when they couldn't get the car to start? And why would the sheriff have the names of the next town's hotels programmed into his phone? And the look he gave when not one of the hotels had any vacancies this holiday weekend. If he had been paying attention, he would have recognized that look. It resembled panic. They brought him into town. It was a Friday. The car parts would be delivered first thing Tuesday morning. The town's beauty parlor owner, Mary Helen, took him in and let him stay in her upstairs bedroom. The town was under a "Do not drink the water" order. There were signs throughout the town. Sewage leakage he was told. Nasty thing, others said. Just make sure you don't drink the water. Mary provided him bottled water to drink and to rinse with after brushing his teeth. She lent him some of her son's clothes. He had died in a car accident two years before. The way she said it, though. Don didn't quite believe her. Not about the car accident, anyway. With nothing to do, he jogged a lot and spent a lot of time in the town's public library. Sometimes its the things you don't see that catch your attention. Where was the town drug store? Or the town's doctor's office? And where was the cemetery? He had run past the sign on city hall several times – established in 1906. The town was over 100 years old, but not a single burial plot anywhere. And then there were those signs. "Don't drink the water" signs. The bolts that held them in place were rusted, and the edges of the signs showed wear and tear from the elements. It was as if they had always been there. Why wasn't there a cemetery? And when he walked into the diner for the first time, hadn't he seen the boy in the last booth drinking water? Bottled water, the waitress insisted. She was tall and young but her uniform and the way she wore her hair made her look like a transplant from another era. Opal, she said, as she smiled. She made him a new batch of coffee when he ordered a cup. She said the clear glass coffee pot behind her was stale. It was full, though, and a customer two seats down from the bar had a full cup, still steaming. All the businesses in town had water bottles handy. But he never saw a resident drinking from one. And there was the groundskeeper, Gary. He had a tattoo of an anchor, draped with an american flag, on his right forearm, in tattoo green. It looked out-of-place. The water? When did he first drink it? When Opal accidentally poured him a cup of coffee out of the wrong pot? When Mary absent-mindedly gave him a glass of water at dinner? Don had assumed they had used bottled water. But they hadn't. And now he was back in his room, and the book from the library was open on the bed. A World War II buff, Don looked through the books in the history section of the library. An oversized book, The War in Pictures, caught his eye. And there they were. First, he saw Opal, the waitress. A black and white photo of a World War II nurse, dressed in white, surrounded by several other nurses. They had their arms around one another, smiling, laughing. And Opal was there, the third nurse from the left. Maybe it was her mother, he thought. Maybe. But then, just eight pages later, there was Gary, the groundskeeper. A naval man, dressed in blues, his sleeves rolled to his elbows. And there was the tattoo. The green tattoo. He flipped back and forth between the two photos. They were taken the same week in June, 1945. There was Opal and Gary. They hadn't aged a day in 66 years. What was in the water? Don was startled with a knock on his door. It was the town's sheriff and mayor. They shook their heads and looked at each other knowingly when they saw Don's rash and the book open on his bed. The sheriff picked it up and showed it to the mayor, who frowned. "I guess you've put two and two together by now, Mr. Huxley." the mayor said. "What's going on? What's in the water? Did it do this to me?" Don said, pointing to his neck. "Or this," showing his trembling hands. "Yes and no," the Mayor responded. "Yes and no." "What does that mean?" Don exclaimed? "What does that mean?!" The sheriff took a step closer. The mayor brushed him back. "No need to raise your voice. I'll explain everything." The mayor stood at the edge of the bed. "This town, as you've seen on the sign you've jogged past every morning for the past four days, was established in 1906. Our founder, Jonathan Williams, was an odd sort of fellow. He, like others before him, believed in the existence of a fountain of youth. Well, you're from Florida, so you can appreciate that. St. Augustine. Ponce De Leon." "All De Leon discovered was a foul-smelling fountain." "Yes, that's all De Leon found. But Mr. Williams…Mr. Williams discovered much more. He came across a pond. He had been walking for days, short on supplies and suffering from high fevers, chills and sweats. He fell to his knees and lapped up the water. Within second, his symptoms disappeared. In time he realized that not only did the water cure disease, every kind of disease, it also froze the aging process. He, Mr. Huxley, had discovered immortality." "Well, the water seems to have side effects," Don said holding out his quivering hands. "That's not the water. That's the enhancement to the water." "Enhancement?" "Yes. Mr. Williams realized what he discovered. Once word got out, every person in the world would come to this town and deplete the pond. So he came up with a plan. He added certain elements to the water. As long as you drank it, you were fine. But once you stopped, well, you would start experiencing symptoms." "Is that what you call this," pointing to his face. The shaking had gotten worse. "Symptoms?!" "You really need to calm down Mr. Huxley. Getting anxious only aggravates the symptoms. So what was I saying? Oh yes. So our founder, in his infinite wisdom, added elements to the water. As long as you drank the water, the water would mask the elements. But once you stopped drinking the water, its restorative powers would end and the enhancements, with nothing to keep them in check, would take over. Are you starting to understand?" Don bit his lips. "What's been added to the water?" "A number of things. Arsenic for one. Mercury for another. A number of metals. Some other unique substances." "The water is poisoned." "Enhanced, Mr. Huxley. Enhanced." "You poisoned me." "Now, now. We tried everything we could to keep you out of this town. We tried to fix your car. Tried to get you a hotel room. Warned you with the signs. We couldn't help it if Opal or Mary got a little sloppy. You should never have been in this town and more importantly, you should never have drunk any of the water." "I'm going to die, aren't I? I'm going to die…" Don trailed off. He slowly lowered his body and sat at the edge of the bed. "That's entirely up to you Mr. Huxley. From where I stand, I see you have two choices. You can drink more water, and all your symptoms will be gone. See, as long as you drink the water, you'll be fine." "But you can only get the water here." Yes, yes, you've figured it out. You figured out Mr. Williams' plan. Others would discover the pond, would want to tell others, spread the word and get rich off of it. But for them to do that, they would have to leave the town, leave the water behind. And once they did that, they would start suffering symptoms. First a rash, then trembling, and then.." "I can't see!!" Don grabbed his eyes, he was panting, anxious. "I'm blind!" "I was wondering why it was taking so long. And yes, Mr. Huxley, then blindness. And shortly thereafter, very shortly thereafter, death. So you have two choices Mr. Huxley. I can have Mary fetch me a glass of water from the sink, and you can drink it and have your symptoms disappear or you can refuse and die. And the sheriff here and Gary will have the unpleasant task of disposing of your body in the woods. And they haven't had to do since Mary's son ran away two years ago, hoping to tell others about the pond. We found his truck crashed against a telephone pole. We assumed he didn't see it. The blindness, you know." "This isn't happening. I'm going to wake up any minute. The alarm is going to go off and I'm going to wake up." "I'm afraid not, Mr. Huxley. This is all very real." He gently grabbed Don's hand, opened it and placed a cool glass in it. "You don't have much time Mr. Huxley. Drink it. You can stay with us as long as you like. Forever, if you like. We can use a young man like you to help Gary maintain things around here. And Opal. I see how you've looked at one another. And Mary, she looks at you like she used to gaze upon her son. You look a little like him, in fact. Mmmm," the Mayor paused. Don finished his thought, "It wasn't an accident that they gave me the wrong water." "No, I don't think that it was. They're a bit lonely. Opal has wanted a baby for some time now. Drink the water. Keep drinking it. At least three glasses a day. And stay with us." The glass was trembling in Don's hand, his body started growing numb. He didn't have a choice. He drank it, and before he was finished with the glass, he could see again, his hands stopped trembling and the rash had disappeared. "Since you're going to be staying a while, you don't mind if I call you Don, do you," the Mayor said, smiling a devil's smile. "You're going to like our town Don. Your town now. You're going to like it for a very, very long time." Share this: Twitter LinkedIn Email Digg Reddit StumbleUpon Facebook Like this: Be the first to like this post.

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