The villagers crowded around me when I arrived. They hadn’t seen her, or at least they claimed that. No visitors in years.

They talked about a door in the mountain. I didn’t understand. They pointed up to the only nearby mountain—there is a door in that, they said.

They explained: once you go in there, you never come back.

I asked them to speak slower. I mishandled their dialect.

*

I had promised her family that I’d find her. I explained: there’s no one better at this.

Deep jungle expert, I said. Hundreds and hundreds found.

Which isn’t entirely true. Dozens and dozens, more likely.

But still.

They gave me a journal of hers from before the trip.

Her destination was remote—she was looking for an artifact, but I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. I’m sorry to be so unclear. It was a strange time in all of our lives.

What with the water and the flood and all of that.

*

They let me pitch a tent at the edge of the village. They left me alone.

The mountain rose from the jungle. It changed colors all day long: black, dark blue, light grey, pale yellow, white, pink, orange, red, violet, and then black again. The mountain held a spectrum in it. It was an uninterrupted mass of rock—no trees or anything. It curved evenly on all sides like a parabola. It rose to a sharp point.

*

I showed her picture to the villagers. They shook their heads like a grave. This is important, I said. She’s someone’s daughter.

I asked if anyone had come looking for artifacts or specimens. I couldn’t figure out their word for snooping. We’ve already told you, they said—it’s been years.

They were nice. They fed me and never asked when I was leaving.

Searching the mountain was never forbidden, although they implied disapproval.

*

Things started going wrong when I started climbing.

The flood being the first thing that went wrong.

I ran further up the mountainside to escape it. I saw villagers bobbing against the torrent.

The water seethed brown. I watched treetops bend then break against the rush.

Later that day the water grew still.

My camp—my tent and all my belongings—were underwater or otherwise ruined.

I had nothing on me.

I climbed higher.

I found the door in the mountainside. It had no handle, so I wedged my fingers in the jamb and pried it open. The door was heavy—the door was made entirely of rock.

A light glared inside.

I’ll tell you right now—she wasn’t in there.

Instead I found a small stone bench. Also a man.

I say a man, but he lacked the necessary characteristics.

What I mean to say is that he was as naked as the day he was born. If I can describe him as having been born.

Which—when I think about it—I can’t.

He asked me to sit on the bench. He told me a story. He told me to think of my life as a cup.

How much water is in the cup, he asked.

I told him that my cup was overflowing—I thought I was being funny. What with the flood and all.

He said that, over time, the cup will lose its shape—the cup will deform. The cup will eventually lose its water and cease to function as a cup.

You’ll just be water, he said.

He was bald and ancient but his skin was smooth, stretched much too tight against him.

He told me that my cup was fine—he said that if I stayed here much longer he’d have to ask me to leave.

I asked him if he’d seen her.

The word him, of course, being inaccurate.

He explained: she’s nothing but water now.

*

Later, much later. After the raft.

After the water everywhere, the global flood.

After the lobbing off, the bartering parts of myself and others for safe transport.

After the receding and after the shore came back.

Her parents did not accept the ungendered man’s statement—they didn’t accept that she was just water now.

They had heard about the villagers. You didn’t even try to help them, her parents said.

Needless to say.

I was never paid for anything past expenses.

 

 

 

•••

© William VanDenBerg