The sand gritted its way into the slight spaces between my teeth. Swollen tongue pasted to the roof of my mouth, I plunged to the floor of the swirling desert.
The sound of a voice wafted through the air. No, it could not be. I had run too far; surely I must be long beyond the reach of any voice. My lolling tongue tasted the dust as laughter forced its way through. Beyond reach is where I had wanted to be. I should congratulate myself.
The screech of a buzzard brought me to my feet as I looked to the circle gathering above me.
“You can’t!” I screamed, “You can’t! I wasn’t promised death. I was promised-”
My tongue stuck to flesh again, absorbing the raw sensation of blood seeping from my lip. I plodded on, eyes darting to the horrific creatures again and again.
I was sure I heard the voice call out. He still followed me.
As I crested the top of a sand dune, my eyes captured the valley below. Lush greenery adorned the entrance of a lovely garden, its centerpiece a diamond covered lake.
Overwhelmed with thirst, I tumbled from the dune and through the rose covered arbor, landing within inches of my passion. Scooping my hand in the chillingly clear water, I lifted it to my lips. The voice called again, causing the liquid to spill from my vibrating palm.
“Leave me alone!” I tried to sound authoritative and in control, but I knew the weak tremor of tone was pathetic. He would still follow.
I had to drink...now. But as I reached for the crystal loveliness, my eyes caught something they were blind to at the first. Thousands upon thousands of moaning humans were scattered among heaps of skulls and bones lining the shore around the lake.
My eyes traveled the full circle of the incredible sight, finally resting on an agonized face I recognized, a friend. One who had encouraged me to take this journey. Why was he here?
“Drink it,” his voice was a whisper as he spoke around the bulk in his mouth. “Drink it. It’s good and it’ll make you happy.”
I hesitated as my eyes moved past his prone position to the corpses around him. He grabbed my throat and hissed, “Drink it!” His mouth opened wider, I saw the gravel that filled it as his body convulsed. His grip loosened as his last breath evaporated.
Looking back for the lushness surrounding the lake, I saw nothing but wide boards propped up by scrap wood. Fake. All fake with the exception of the poisoned water that had captured these lives.
Fear overcoming thirst I crashed through the cardboard arbor, desperately trying to flee death. But the bitter taste filling my mouth became a constant reminder of my doom. There was no escape.
Knees buckling, I fell on my face as images flashed through my mind. A variety of sensations saturated my tongue. The crude oil taste of lust. The acidic taste of forgiveness denied. The chalky taste of hatred. The rusty taste of selfishness.
The sensations overwhelmed me until I longed to cut my tongue out and be free from the satiety of flavors I had sought so vehemently in this desert. To what end? The buzzards waited in their patient circle.
The voice called again. He was near enough I heard the words. Or rather the one word, repeated.
No. He shouldn’t see me. He had nothing to offer that I could accept. Please don’t find me.
The voice was so close I knew I had only to lift my head and behold His face. But I couldn’t.
A splash of water bathed my face. My tongue screamed for it, anything to wash the bile away.
The gentle coolness of the cup neared my lips. I dared to meet His eyes.
“I can’t. I don’t want it. I-I don’t deserve it.”
The cup moved closer, touching my lips. He spoke. “You will die without it.”
They were simple words, pure. True. I nodded.
He cradled my head as life from His cup poured onto the bitter sand that filled my mouth. The water gushed over thousands of taste buds at once. The sand did not wash out. It was destroyed as the source of my deliverance rushed through my entire being.
The water was alive. So was I.
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