The Iron Writer Challenge #166
2016 Summer Open Challenge #3
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Amy Kasim, Jason T. Carter, Casie Blevins, Malissa Greenwood
A Bombay Duck
This question must be used in your story : “If you found the Fountain of Youth, would you drink?”
The Curse of the Bombay Duck
“If you found the fountain of youth would you drink?” David asked me.
“Why? Do you think this it?”
He nodded and reached into his satchel to pull out a goblet.
I grabbed his arm. “Wait. Don’t you think that sword might be a warning?”
“Nonsense. I’m sure someone just hung it there for decoration.” He bent down to fill the goblet with the water from the fountain. A lizardfish leaped out of the water and knocked the goblet out of his hand. The goblet sank to the bottom of the fountain. “You stupid fish!” David shouted. He climbed onto the ledge of the fountain and reached above him and untied the sword from the rope that held it above the water. He held the sword in one hand and reached into the water with the other. “I’m going to get my youth!” The fish leaped at him again. David swooshed the sword in the air and struck the fish, which landed on the ground several feet away.
I approached the fish and bent down beside him. His tailfin flipped against the grass. He transformed into a young human boy.
“Don’t do it,” the boy said. “Don’t drink from the fountain of youth. Or you’ll be cursed to spend your rediscovered youth as a Bombay duck.”
“Is that what you were? A duck? But you looked like a fish.”
“It’s a bit of a misnomer, much like the fountain of youth, which promises you’ll be forever young…but at what price?”
I turned around to see David pulling the goblet away from his lips. He convulsed and dropped the goblet into the water before shrinking down to a lizardfish. He landed on the ground just outside the fountain.
“David!” I shouted as I ran to his side. “What have you done?”
He repeatedly smacked his lips together as if he were trying to talk, but no words came out.
I picked him up and dropped him into the water. He swam frantically around the goblet, which now lay on the fountain floor.
I heard coughing coming from behind me. I turned around to see an old man in the young man’s place. I ran back to his side. “How do I stop this?”
“I’m afraid you’re too late. The curse can only be lifted in death.”
“You’re dying because of my friend. You tried to warn him by blocking his way into the fountain. But he didn’t know. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. He did me a favor. I’ve spent countless years swimming alone in a fountain. I’d grown tired of seeing the same walls and being trapped inside them. I can finally rest in peace. Feel sorry for your friend instead.” He took his last breath.
I returned to the fountain and watched David swim frantically around the shallow water. “I’m so sorry, David.” I hung the sword back on its branch to serve as a warning to others. Then I walked away. Never to return again.
Let me tell you a story. The story of the woman I lived all of my life with; for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, till death did us part. Don’t get it twisted; the Lady was not my wife. I call myself her faithful friend, much like a dog with its master, I was her chief butler.
The lady Naa Adoley Mensah was a woman made of both fire and ice on the inside. These are typical characteristics of a woman from the coast of Ghana, a Ga woman to be precise. She was tall with chocolate skin so flawless and what I did love about her? Those piercing brown eyes that was as bright as the sky and how she would munch on her favourite meal, Ga Kenkey with shrimps and a Bombay Duck at the side.
Everyone that assumed they knew her felt her life was all peaches and roses. Ha! Have them ask me to my face and I would tell them the exact truth. The truth of what it really was. Naa was one of the loneliest people I’d ever met! She had parties four times a week to while away time and spent the other days with a “friend”. Naa changed men, she claimed were “friends” like she would her clothes. Whenever she was tired of one, she would rid herself of him and find herself another one to make up for the emptiness.
Naa knew danger was looming with her promiscuous lifestyle yet she never cared. Whenever I looked at her disapprovingly after one of her many “partners” left, she would giggle, shrug her shoulders and say, “no more assumptions should be made about something than are necessary Adjetey. They are just friends”.
I remember vividly that day. The time was 8:44pm. I, the only friend she ever had, sat beside her sick bed.
“Adjetey…” she hiccupped. “…I have something to ask you.” Now where I come from, should a person hiccup when seriously sick, it could only mean one thing… death.
I clasped her hand tightly in mine replied with shaky breath. “Yes Naa”
“If you found the fountain of youth, would you drink?”
“Why that question Naa?” I asked her, looking at her as if she had lost her mind.
“I would you know? I would make few friends, love my family and be happy…” she paused “…but I can’t” she whispered “I sat on life’s throne and felt I had it in my grasp. I was ignorant that it would cut the thread to the sword over my head and pierce my soul. Go live your life; I have held you prisoner for too long. I love you…” she left me.
Naa died on Wednesday, July 22, 1998 of cervical cancer. I do not know how saying she loved me was going to make me any free because to the best of my knowledge, I am still her slave and I doubt I will ever be free.
A Dab Will Do You
Last night–rough. Tom tried to roll over but found that he couldn’t move at all. What a bender. He really needed to stop going out with the Davis Brothers, Thorne and Jack. He couldn’t possibly out drink those two. The headache, oh man.
Jack had yelled, “If you found the fountain of youth, would you drink?” and Tom’d lifted his drink and said something about wasn’t that what they were doing? And then laughed, so much laughter. A little hard on the ears if he was honest. A little overdone.
What had Thorne said? Drinking it was like drinking off the devil’s tongue. He’d said, only a sip will do you, but had Tom listened? Did he ever?
He was paying for it now. He couldn’t even turn his head, couldn’t open his eyes.
He could hear though, the sounds of voices. A lot of them, but subdued. Maybe he was on the floor of the bar. He didn’t remember making it home last night. Maybe the TV was on.
What had possessed him to drink so much? Oh, that’s right. Jack’s wife left him, that ballbuster. Tom’d felt a kinship to him having been tossed by the wayside himself. Together they’d toasted their new lives, their freedom. Jack’s wife had wanted a taste of the good life without him. Hook up with whoever, that Brent guy probably, they all knew that. She’d wanted to taste the wine, sit in the Queen’s spot. Well now she had it, didn’t she? Along with a misogynistic playboy with a penchant for battery in a trailer with no AC in the middle of July. It was almost funny, if you had that kind of sense of humor.
“I’m so sorry, Jack.” Tom could swear he heard Bella. “It was just a stupid accident.”
You don’t leave somebody on accident, Bella. If Tom could move his face, he’d be sneering. Stupid woman.
“It’s my fault, Bella.” He heard Jack say and Tom wanted to shout–never admit it man! Don’t let her back in! “I brought the drink.” He could hear Jack’s tears, the man was bawling like a lost three year old.
Tom was confused. Bella hadn’t left him over booze. That was more Tom’s wife’s problem.
What the hell was going on?
He was feeling nauseated now. If he didn’t get it under control he would be revisiting the Bombay duck he’d eaten. Don’t swallow, that was the trick. Tom found he couldn’t swallow anyway. His mouth was too dry.
More voices. He was really tripping. He could hear his mother murmuring, was that his sister? What was going on here?
“I’d like to say something.” Who was that? It was so familiar. “All of us who knew Tom knew he was capable of anything–he had so much potential. He just had demons to fight. Unfortunately, I was one of them.”
Was that Marissa? Anger bubbled in his stomach. Who let that wench in? The woman who, at the divorce hearing, swore to never look him in the face again unless he was– dead?
“If you found the fountain of youth, would you drink?” she asked me.
“If you were offered the highest office in the land, would you take it?” I shot back.
We played this game often; there are no easy answers. Sure, it may be nice to be young forever, but who wants to live in this rotten world longer than he has to? And who really wants all that power, along with all the peril that comes with it?
She picked at her fried Bombay duck. “You don’t like it?” I asked.
“I had a big lunch. I’m sorry.”
Sorry. That was a word she rarely used. A concept she rarely even acknowledged. Something must be wrong.
“Which is worse,” she asked, “failing, or never trying?”
I pondered the question, smiling. “What are you afraid of? Failing? Or missing out on something that you never tried?”
“I’m not sure. I want to be more than I am. But I’m not sure what I want to be.”
“Okay, here’s a question for you. If happiness were the national currency, what job would make you rich?”
Her face turned white at the question, as if she had never considered the possibility of happiness in her life. It has always been about acquiring more, doing more, being more…never contentment or joy. The very thought that one’s state of mind could bring peace seemed to floor her.
“Are you saying that I can be whatever I want to be, and that’s all I have to be?”
“Life is not a contest,” I said. “You are not competing against him or her, you are only here to fulfill your own destiny. If you can be content, why not?”
The concept was so simple, but she had never considered it before.
“The simplest explanation is usually the correct one,” I said.
“That seems like an oversimplification of Occman’s Razor.”
“Perhaps, but it is true. Why do you want more money? To buy more things? Why do you want more things? To have more than someone else? But why? What’s the point?”
“That’s just the way it has always been.”
“Break the mold. Be yourself. Be content, be happy even!”
She put down her fork. Her food was cold.
“I don’t know how,” she whimpered.
I frowned. “Neither do I,” I conceded.
That’s the problem, I thought. No one really knows how.
A Simpler Life
“If you found the fountain of youth, would you drink?”
The young man responded with a shrug and a chuckle. “Who knows?”
“Oh sure, it may seem like a silly, theoretical question, but think about it. Think about it now and decide, because you’ll need to know how you feel about this should you ever be placed in the situation. I tell you my friend, it is out there. And the moment for debating is now, not in that room.
“I spent most of my adolescence in the village I was born in; began working with my father at the fish markets hawking Mackerel, Ribbon Fish, and the occasional Bombay Duck. It was a fine life for people in those days. But I had loftier goals, grander plans for my future. I would plot and scheme ways to make extra money so I could leave the village and move to the city. But my father would find out and put an end to my ‘senseless behavior’ saying things like, ‘the road to prosperity is simply son. Hard work and integrity. Be mindful of excess.’ His philosophy was that the simpler explanation is always true, and the simpler way of life is always better.
“Though I admired my father I didn’t always heed his advice – I eventually found my way to the city and into a much more lucrative industry. By the time I hit thirty I was surrounded with powerful, wealthy people and boundless opportunities were unfolding before me. Incredible opportunities, the kind most men only dream of.
“I eventually had a choice to make. At the time it was simple – drink from the fountain, remain young and vigorous for as long as you can, enjoy the party. My ‘friends’ were all very quick to partake. And thus, so was I.
“The first few decades passed in a blur of money, sex, drugs, and authority. I amassed fame and fortune while remaining handsome and energetic. It was simply glorious… until it wasn’t. Eventually the friends I once had, those who had not been privileged to the fountain, had moved on with their lives, growing old and passing away. I lived in constant fear that I would be found out and killed. A “Damocles Sword” was ever present, always threatening.
“Eventually I got tired of it – the fear, the inevitable loneliness you feel after you’ve isolated yourself for safety. So I walked away. I packed a few of my favorite things and slipped away in the night. I travelled around for a while, stowing away on ships, hopping on trains. Went anywhere I could and found odd jobs to sustain myself. I spent a great deal of time wandering in search of a fulfilling life until one day, over a hundred years later, I realized what I wanted.”
“And what was that? What do you have now?” the young man asked.
I smiled and said, “A simpler life, in a small village, hawking Mackerel, Ribbon fish, and Bombay Duck.”