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by Alice McVeigh
Once, there was a drop of water. Clear as the ringing of a small round bell, she sprang into existence in northwest Crete, at the chill end of winter – and was released into a crystalline stream at the top of the White Mountains.
Water fell with a plop onto a rock, shivering in the early morning sunlight, then skimmed sideways, into a pool. The pool was riddled with tiny, supple, mud-brown fish. Some of the other drops decided to stay, but Water longed to get to the sea.
‘The sea? You’ll never get to the sea,’ chortled a snail, as he slurped from the edge of the pool. The deep soil begged her to stay but Water somersaulted into a rivulet catapulting down the mountain. She was propelled onwards, breathlessly, the sun’s grip deepening, until the rivulet joined a wide-curling river.
Here there were bigger fish, making leaf-shaped patterns in the soil-rich water. There were eddies and whirlpools – Water almost got trapped in one, but escaped just in time. She had only one idea, which she mentioned to a comrade, who laughed and said, ‘Nobody gets as far as the sea. There’s the power station, for a start. And there’s only one end to that!’
Water wished to ask what a power station was, but the other drop had slipped away.
She felt the power station before she saw it: an irresistible suction propelling her over a steep waterfall and straight into the engine’s great maw. By then, it was too late for escape. Huge claws hammered every drop, then blasted them over a hot-glowing rod. The drops nearest to the rod frizzled and sizzled; the rest were pummelled into a dazed torpor.
All around Water, drops were slipping away with silvery cries. Water survived, though she noticed that she had deepened, widened. Some change had occurred as they’d passed over the fiery rod, some heaviness. ‘I feel – different,’ she said, so slowly that the drop she’d been addressing was gone by the time she had finished.
Suddenly she was flung sideways by a steel piston, a drumming thrum-thrum-thrum that almost stupefied thought. ‘I may die here,’ thought Water frantically, but instead the pistons pulsed her into a pool, dark blue at the bottom, softer at the top.
‘I shall stay here,’ another drop confided, ‘It’s so peaceful.’ For a moment, Water was almost tempted to do the same. But something in her nature pulled her onward. The pool was warm and creamy, yet somehow unreal. Instead, she pushed towards a gigantic glugging plughole leading to an enormous pipe. After what seemed an eternity of fierce and rushing blackness, an ocean of drops found themselves spat out of the pipe, rejoicing in their lightness, rejoicing in their bubbles as they crashed back into freedom.
The section of river Water rejoined was lazily drifting downhill, and so dark that Water asked a spider crab, ‘Is it always so dark in this part of the river?’
‘Of course not,’ snapped the spider crab. ‘It is night.’
Only then did Water register the distant hunting cries of owls, the slowing fish-fins, and the thinnest possible slice of moon, between spiralling clouds. As the sun crested the horizon, though, Water tasted salt. ‘I can taste the sea in the air!’ she cried, but the other little drops trilled, ‘We’ll never get to the sea. Nobody gets as far as the sea!’
But as dawn began to thumb fuchsia and gold onto the edge of the horizon, and the fish began to stir from the depths of the riverbed, there was brine in the air. Gulls yapped, ‘The sea is close, the sea!’
‘The sea,’ murmured the river-reeds, wavering.
‘The sea,’ sang the skylarks, dipping, soaring.
‘The sea!’ cried Water, tumbling forwards.
The first splash of pure salt spurred her skyward, where curved the vast plume of the open sky. She floated ecstatically as wave after wave lifted her up and set her gently down again.
Water thought, ‘I am the sea!’ and she danced on the frill of a long green wave.
About the Author:
Alice McVeigh has been published in contemporary fiction by Orion/Hachette, in speculative fiction by UK's Unbound, and in historical fiction by Warleigh Hall Press. Her novels have won first prize/gold medals in the Global, eLit, Pencraft and Historical Fiction Company Book Awards, Kirkus stars, IPPYs, IndieBRAG medallions and been “Editors picks - outstanding” in Publishers Weekly. They have also been quarterfinalists in the BookLife Prize, and finalists in the Foreword Indies “Book of the Year”, CIBA’s international Goethe, Cygnus and Chatelaine Book Awards, the International Book Awards etc. This is her first very short work of fiction.
Alice spent her childhood in Asia (South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar) and her teenage years in McLean VA, before moving to London for a year to study cello with Jacqueline du Pre. Instead, she married an Englishman, and spent fifteen years travelling the world with London orchestras before taking fiction seriously.
Alice and her husband share a daughter doing a Ph.D in Chinese Lit. at Harvard, two long-haired mini-dachshunds, a second home in Crete and an incurable addiction to tennis.