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"Aqua" by J. A. Castillo
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     We have been enjoying decades of relative peace and prosperity, but in the future, the wars will be about water.  No, no, not that water, this water.

     After all this time, we haven’t learned that much, not even to tolerate each other.  Remember, the perfect human being is all human beings put together.  It’s not you, nor I; it is all of us that will reach perfection. 

     With so much frustration and emptiness in our society, I decided to leave it.  I just wanted to vanish, to disappear, to start again to enjoy what is left of my life.  I can’t keep the pace of our “progressive” society. 

     I decided to venture deep into the rain forest.  I heard that some cultures still exist that have not been touched by “our way of life.”  So I left everything, and I was ready to start again.

     After a long journey, I was where I always wanted to be, the rain forest, the last frontier where your abilities to survive are tested far beyond our limits. 

     I met a local guy called Jose who was kind enough to help me go into the beautiful jungle, but he didn’t want to go deeper.  I thanked him for all his help and gave him all my worthless money.  Since that moment, I was on my own.  North, South, East, it didn’t matter.  Everything looked the same to me.

     I began wandering around.  If there is a place you can call paradise, this is it.  Before you die, come here.  You will change your concept about society and harmony.

     As time passed, I started to become familiar with the place.  The rain forest gives you everything to survive, if you learn how to survive.

     One day when I was exploring my new habitat, I thought I saw something that looked human.  With so many noisy monkeys and other critters, it was hard to find out what it was.  It is strange, but all this time, I have had the feeling I was being observed.  Maybe I am beginning to lose my mind, and it is playing tricks on me.

     Nothing is perfect in this life, and on one occasion, I was bitten by something that looked like an insect.  I have been bitten before by them in the past without it being a big deal, but this time it was different. 
     I began to run a fever that kept getting worse.  I had tried all the remedies that I knew, but nothing seemed to work.  I thought this was it for me.  I had no regrets.  I will vanish in the way that I always wanted.

     The fever was getting worse, and I lost the sense of what is real, and what isn’t.  Maybe I realized nothing is real, and my brain creates three dimensional objects that have surrounded me all the time. 

     I was getting very sick.  Finally, I was able to confront heaven and hell.  Both are an abyss.

     The fever was killing me.  Everything was getting dark.  It was not cold; it was just this emptiness that surrounded me.  It was empty, so empty.  I tried to open my eyes, but my eyelids felt so heavy.  I saw flashing, shooting lights that went so fast.  Suddenly, they stopped flashing and disappeared. 

     Is that what was awaiting us?  It must be something else. 

     I began to hear noises like crickets, but then I realized it sounded like human voices in a strange language.  My body started to feel warm, really warm.  I heard a familiar voice.  Jose.  It was Jose’s voice. 

     Jose:  “He is dying.”

     Another voice:  “He has el dengue.”

     A third voice:  “Why don’t we give him holy aqua?”

     Jose:  “Quiet.  He can still hear you.”

     The second voice:  “Who is he?”

     Jose:  “He speaks the language of the waxy faces.”

     The third voice then said:  “Give him some holy aqua.  He looks like a peaceful man.”

     The second voice said:  “No!  We have kept the secret for generations!”

     Jose:  “He is a peaceful man.  He doesn’t deserve to die this way.”

     The third voice spoke again: “Give him some holy aqua before it is too late!”

     I heard some voices whispering among themselves in a language that I did not understand.  Suddenly, I began to feel the freshness of the water on my lips.  I passed out.

     I don’t remember how long I had been sleeping, but today I felt better, much better.  I opened my eyes and saw Jose smiling. 

     Jose:  “Welcome back, amigo!”

     Me:  “Gracias, Jose!  I owe my life to you.”

     Jose:  “These are my people.  I am the only one who speaks your language fluently.  You are welcome to our clan as long as you respect our natural habitat.”

     Me:  “Thanks, Jose.  I will.”

     As time passed, I guess they became familiar with me.  I guessed because I looked like them.  It helped a lot.  I am picked up some words.  I was really happy for the first time in a long time.

     One of the things that got my attention was that they didn’t suffer from any disease or sickness.  They looked very healthy, even the older ones.  In all this time, I hadn’t seen a single one complaining of anything. 

     One day, Jose came to me to tell me that the celebration of the clan would be soon.  Now I was considered part of the clan.  We would travel to a waterfall  to celebrate. 

     That day arrived.  All the clan was ready to leave:  women, children, and the elderly.  We began our journey through the emerald forest.  I had no idea where we were going.  It was a long trip, and sometimes it seemed to me that we were just walking in circles.  Maybe they didn’t fully trust me and were trying to confuse me.

     Suddenly, we arrived at an area that had no trees, only grass almost to my knees.  It got my attention.  It looked like someone had mowed the grass to the perfect size.  There are no spots of grass bigger or shorter; all the grass is the same.  A soft wind keeps it waving all the time, and the sounds of the jungle grew silent.  It is strange.  There are no trees or bushes.  It looks like it is a mile in diameter in a perfect circle. 
     As we go through the grassy area, you can feel an unusual cushion under your feet.

     Once we left the grassy area, the sounds of the jungle came back. 

     We started up a small hill.  I never thought there would be hills in the rain forest.  Not this kind, anyway.  As we went up the hill, I noticed some figures carved into the rocks.

     I suddenly realized these were not hills.  They were the ruins of an ancient culture.  Even though I tried to hide my surprise, they noticed my obsession.  I didn’t say anything.

     Finally, we arrived at a waterfall.  The water had an emerald color.  I hadn’t seen such a beautiful color in my life. 

     Jose:  “Hey amigo, my people come once a year to this waterfall.  This is the holy aqua.  It cures everything.  Sometimes, it rejuvenates, too.  You are welcome to join us. “

     The water feels a little bit heavier than normal water, and its color has a hypnotic effect.  It is so transparent and clear.  It feels great.  Everybody seemed to have a good time.

     I needed to talk to Jose, and finally I found him.

     Me:  “Jose, where does this water come from?”

     Jose:  “Up there, amigo”, pointing his finger to where the water was coming from.

     It is unusual where the water comes from.  It looks like a giant bird’s nest built of rock.

     Me:  “What is there, Jose?”

     Jose:  “Nobody knows.  We are not allowed to go there.  Don’t go.”

     Me:  “Why not?”

     Jose was silent. 

     Oh God!  The curiosity is killing me!  What was the secret?

     I waited until they were distracted, and I then started to climb toward where the water came from.  Suddenly, they noticed that I was climbing.  They started to scream and ran away in a panic, but I kept going as if I had been possessed by something or someone.

     I finally arrived to the top where the water came from.  It looked like a big swimming pool, no deeper than six feet.  There was something in the bottom of the pool.  It looked like a big statue.  I tried to see it through the water.  It appeared to be a big astronaut suit.

     I didn’t think the thing was from this planet.  I had never seen anything like this in my whole life.  I kept staring at it, fascinated.  The hands had fingers three times longer than ours. 
     What was this thing?  How long had it been here?  Was this the secret of the holy aqua? 

     I kept staring.  I had to see the face; I had to see the face!  It is hard to describe what the face looked like when there was nothing close that I knew of to compare it with.  The eyes looked very strange, like white nut shells.  The eyes held my attention for a long time.

     Suddenly, the thing opened its eyes.  It is alive!  The thing was alive!  I screamed, but I could not hear my own scream.  I felt like my heart was going to stop at any minute.  I ran in a total panic back down the hill. 

     The clan people were right.  Some things are better left undisturbed.  Maybe without knowing, I might have discovered something that I shouldn’t have.  I kept running until I was exhausted.

     Suddenly, Jose appeared in front of me with an elder. 

     Me:  “I am so sorry, Jose.  I am stupid.  I deserve to die.”

     The elder began speaking.  “Please don’t be sorry.  You are the chosen one.  We have been waiting for you for a long time.  Our ancestors told us that one day, a man will arrive to our land.  He would speak the languages of the waxy faces, but he won’t be white.  Only he will know the secret of the holy aqua.  He will receive the knowledge and will be the one to lead our people to our destiny.”

     I was astonished!  I am not the chosen one!  What knowledge?  I was scared to death.  What destiny?

     Suddenly, I had the feeling that time was running out.  Tyrants and kings would fall to their knees to have the holy aqua.  Governments would ravage entire continents to get the secret.  It happened before.  It will happen again.

     Indigenous peoples have lost everything to the invaders:  gold, land, freedom, culture, until there was almost nothing left.  Disease and slaughter wiped out most of them.

     I am not the chosen one, but the destiny of the clan is in my hands.

     God help me.

 Story by S. Florence and J.A. Castillo.  Names, characters, places and incidents featured in this publication either are the product of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, without sarcastic intent, is purely coincidental.