We’d wandered into the courtyard of a dimly lit castle at dusk, drawn by a man gesticulating wildly from a keep far up above. It was difficult to tell if he was trying to get our attention, or simply waving his arms in the air for one reason or another, but was curious enough to draw our eye. We walked and sat on a stone bench in the courtyard below, gazing up at where we thought his arms might extend once more. But the moment we sat down, his arms quickly disappeared from view. A moment later a horrid, retching noise began—echoing as if amplified by a loudspeakerfrom the spires high above. At first, we’re unsure of what it is and fear for our lives, then cover our ears with our hands and cower beneath the stone bench, the only noticeable fixture in the courtyard. The noise continues (in a moment we realize it wouldn’t be stopping anytime soon). Once our ears adjusted to the nuisance and we realized we weren’t in any immediate danger we crawled out from beneath the bench and continued gazing upwards. After a time we discerned some renewed sense of movement. The gentleman was back at the window. The retching continued forcefully and then stopped, almost as suddenly as it began. A white object was thrust out into the air and fell toward us at an alarming rate. We barely had enough time to sidestep before it hit the paving stones of the courtyard with a sickening thud. It began moving awkwardly, dragging itself toward us upon its broken limbs.
We struggled as we walked, coughing terribly at times, our eyes dry and burning. A drug named Alice, administered with an eyedropper to the tear ducts, brought some small relief, moistening our eyes and bathing everything in a sullen green glow, eliminating the need for further use of our lamps, which we snuffed out accordingly. We continued quietly, passing one abandoned house after another, their thatched roofs caved in, large portions crumbled away. Stopping to look at one, I kicked a support post; it broke apart like a piece of balsa wood, exploding into a cloud of dirt, the awning it supported quickly collapsing onto the ground, forcing us both to dive out of the way to safety. Further along down the trail, far off in the distance at an elevation a great deal higher from where we were, we could see a green glow, emanating from somewhere off in the forest. Alice guided us toward it, intensifying our experience the closer we got to the septic pallor shining through the trees. In the forest, the air grew even thicker with dust and particulate, leaving a thin film of dirt upon our skin. Our partner and their appearance gave us a start—it was as if they were covered in mud—and for a moment we stopped and stared. Alice intensified the experience, making them appear as some nightmarish figure that’d risen out of the ground. Suddenly, they began to cough uncontrollably, and a cloud of neon-green dust erupted from their throat, spreading out into the hot night air.
There are three taps bearing water from which knowledge pours that awakens you upon drinking. The water in the first tap is made from anything and tastes delicious even if it’s terrible. The second tap is an army ready for war and the third tap is a hat you’ve never liked. There is a spring in every town that produces these three types of water but nobody’s ever satisfied. Everybody says they know better. So now, in the world in which we live, there is everything good and terrible depending on how it tastes, armies ready for war and the hat-wearing population. Those in the armies ready for war are also fond of hats. A terrible thirst slakes the nation and hats are growing ever larger to compensate for the vicious rays of the sun. It is in this day and age the old ones find respite in the fact that they thought they’d destroyed everything but had forgotten about themselves. And my sister and I continue, picking beads off curtains and metabolizing the plastic they contain, while the rays of the sun grow ever stronger in this knowledgeable, thirst-slaked land. We’ve tried all the waters and it’s true, nothing works. But everything is beautiful or tries to make sense, which is the heart of knowledge. We watch an army of ants ready to eat a beetle. Like them, they are like us. We are taking the path to town through the hard-walked sand, which I love to walk. The army of ants will be here when we get back. The wars have yet to begin. Life on the brink, I say aloud, stepping slowly, careful not to kill anything yet. Everything is an invasion. We disappear into the horizon finally. The sand is hard like clay and moistened nightly, then packed down by tiny steel robots that weigh tons. It’s a special kind of steel. To be heavy enough I mean. The swamp glows before us in the distance. Once we’ve reached the end of the hard-walked sand we will tie rocks around our waist and walk out into the muck.