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The Oracle of Benthi

by S. M. Murdock

On nearby countertops, candle flames flicker across thin glass tubes in a long metal stand. The odor of brine, seaweed and stagnant water float and mingle above large, cylindrical containers in the room. A line of microscopes and polythylene wash bottles decorates the shelving mounted on the antiseptic walls. In daylight, the laboratory is a shrine to science.

At dusk, one lone scientist converts it into a different variety of shrine. It becomes a dim, lonesome place; a place for premonitions and prophecies.

The scientist turns on a microscope on the smooth top of an examining table. Its illuminator clearly reveals the colorful buttons of a micro-recorder lying next to the equipment. She presses “Record” before sitting, before her thoughts become hazy and ebb.

The first message came many weeks ago, she remembered, while relaxing in the bath. Lavender candles scented the steam rising from the bath water. Words formed in the steamy wisps; a fragmented, cryptic message from the water. Now the messages have become recurring, urgent, and more complete.

Her eyes blur; entranced by the candlelight reflecting off the glass and metal in the room. The technician stares off into an unknown distance. Soft, tinkling words begin to flow with liquidity. Another’s voice from her lips:

“Water says it cannot survive. It does not know time, but senses what we call the past and future. It knows change, feels energy, and senses its end.

“It arrived and cannot leave. Trapped by Gravity, it became an integral part of Life to assuage its loneliness. Water is a foreign prisoner; a desired, unintentional guest.

“Water has no voice, but must speak. A poison grows; an abysmal black with an unnamable stench that roils through Water’s being. Its toxic ribbons coil around the benthic, stifling Water’s vitality. It can be stopped. It must be stopped, but messages in the water go unseen, unheeded. Man must heed these warnings for Water to survive; for all to survive.

“Water has now found a voice. The time has come to speak, to be heard, to act.”

A long, deep inhale of oxygen fills the scientist’s starving lungs, and her eyes clear from the short trance. She sits for a moment, softly hyperventilating.

The scent of stale water is stronger and a taste of salt stings the back of her throat. The vomit erupts almost before it hits the rim of a resin sink mounted into the examining table. Shivering, the scientist huddles in her lab coat to counteract the sudden chill of an imaginary breeze. Embroidered above the breast pocket of the coat is “JA Desalination Plant” the largest and most environmentally controversial water treatment facility in the world.

Silence activates the recorder’s automatic shut-off, stopping power to its small motor. Crouching, the exhausted woman finishes rinsing her mouth at the sink; collects the warm, flameless candles from the room; and flips the switch for the overhead lights to turn on.

She ejects the mini-cassette from the recorder and haphazardly tosses it into an open drawer filled with others of the same size. Plastic casings shift within, bumping and rolling with half-spent wax only to be still after the drawer is back in place. Click, the lock is enabled.

The scientist scans the room searching for anomalies, anything out of place. The laboratory is back to its clean, sanitary condition.

Before turning to leave, she shakes off the last remnants of fogginess and wonders when the episodes will end, when the mysterious messages will stop and everyday reality will continue undisturbed. The contents of the cassettes are dismissed as temporary episodes of accumulated stress, hallucinatory migraines, and nothing more.

The odor of the salt and vapid water follows and clings to her, almost imploring, as she opens the door to leave.

Copyright © 2007 by S. M. Murdock

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