One Who Dreams of the Fountain
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The Journal of the Walk, Friday, January 8th

It was not dead, though it looked it.

The study was filled with dust that rose in motes when the wind hissed through the windows, their seals broken as the wood warped out of shape and the paint peeled. I do not think this place belonged to it. The desk chair, the pens, the human scale of the place ill matched the thing lying on the sofa, the blinking of its old eyes against the dust settling on them the last reminder that it was still alive.

I had heard the fountain in the courtyard used to run with gold. Some mineral deposit colouring the water yellow as it filtered through the stone of the mountain behind us, perhaps.

I saw the deep dark eye of the thing turn a little to watch me as I stood there, the dry-skinned grey tentacles that formed its body as limp as the blanket that half-covered them. The hefty beak, cephalopodic, black and dull as ageing lacquer, clacked softly. It did not seem surprised, or confused, or even interested in my intrusion. The creature did not seem to convey any emotion except total, encompassing, final tiredness.

“This house is a wonder,” I said, standing at the window and giving the creature lying on the sofa some privacy in removal from my gaze. The grubby myopia of the window obscured the bristling mass of the pines below.

My journey here had taken me through a trail sutured through their long, ragged heights, needles hanging limp in the mist, boughs long, trunks bearing their weight in a long, silent exhale, until all of a sudden I was in a clearing. Dark in the cloying whiteness of the air sat the stumps of felled trees and, as my steps, now hesitant, took me through the bare earth of that place, I saw a great machine looming at the edge of the clearing. A huge construction of steel and wood and diesel, rotting perversely into the ground as its articulated axes and shovels and claws slumped down under the weight of their rust as it sank into the dirt like an inert whalefall.

The voice of the thing, when it came, was slow and hollow as an abscess, the place where genial manners had once been now filled by apathy, the place where subservience had once been clamped now raw and open to the air. “Why are you here?”

I told it of my journey, and it listened, and blinked sadly.

A silence descended upon the room again, like a feather landing in thick dust. Out of curiosity and the need to keep the air’s stillness at bay, I spoke again.

“I heard the waters in that fountain used to run with gold.”

The creature dragged a thick tentacle across the cushions with a rasping of dry skin and pushed itself up a little, raising its head up off the arm of the sofa. It blinked, slowly.

“Once,” it said, the word empty of tears to cry.

“I do not get many visitors,” said the creature. “Once this house was filled with them. Silk and silver and wine. Gone, now.” Its beak clacked as it hinged closed, recollecting.

The cloudy sky outside was luminous in the twilight. Huge enough to fall into.

“What happened?” I asked.

“The money ran dry,” it said. “They burned coin like a wildfire. They grew, and consumed, and the fire grew as high as the wind could fan it. And then conditions changed and suddenly they realised the silk and the silver and the wine had been bought with borrowed coin and they were living on borrowed time. The debt collectors never came here. Too remote to be worth the cost of stripping bare. Just me, and these fading walls, and that view…”

It looked beyond me, out the window, down the mountain. The forest below.

“From this window I can pretend,” it said. “I can pretend they never came here. Close one eye and I cannot see the logging clearings at all, and this place is as it should be. Empty of us living, with our thoughts and our buildings and our laws.”

It sighed.

“But we had to possess it. Make this place ours. Bottle it up. Make it into something… potable. And now nobody can drink.”

It slowly returned its head to the pillow with a rustling of old silk and dry skin, leathery eyelid shutting as it lay against the fabric.

“I used to watch the fountain,” it said, beak clacking. “Wait for the spring to run clean again. But I still taste petrochemicals.”

I had passed by that fountain on the way up, seen the trickle of tainted water, the cracked granite and ivy splitting the flagstones. Little blue mountain flowers in the cracks in the exterior walls, the statues at the gate worn faceless and armless by the wind and the rain and the winter ice.

“Sometimes, when it storms, the fountain water splashes out onto the courtyard and the dawn refracts from the oil sheen into rainbows,” it said. “I don’t know whether that is beautiful or not.”

We sat together, watching through that window. At the creature’s assent I found a rag and scrubbed the panes as clean as I could, and offered to find it some things to make it a little more comfortable, but at that it just laughed with a thin, deflated whistling.

On my way out I passed by that fountain just as the clouds split and a ray of light scattered off the oil on the water, a silvery meniscus of rainbows. At the base of the fountain, a single pale blue flower silently fought against its own gravity.

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