He collapsed onto the wet mud beside the bank. He’d finally found water.
After the thrumming in his heart had relaxed, he trickled into his mouth what little water he could cup in his palm. His tongue opened like an amoebic creature with a porous maw, absorbing everything it could. The rest sizzled and evaporated like droplets falling on a hot concrete pavement in the afternoon sun. Nothing reached his throat in the first few tries He was satiated and about to go when he saw the floating heads coming towards him.
When they came closer, he realized that all of them looked the same.
They were septuplets. It was rumored that when they were born, their umbilical cords weren’t tied to their mother but to each other. But he didn’t know this. What he saw was seven females staring at him, wanting him.
One naiad got closer to him, tracing a hand over his nape and sliding it down his back. She was guided by his occasional moaning as she unraveled the sore, unloosened muscles and stiff joints. They were going to need it later, this bodily mapping. He thought so too.
In his mind, he was doing his own mapping. Or at least trying. For all his discerning taste in women, he couldn’t quite make up his mind as to who he liked better. After staring at one for long, he thought he’d pinned down and memorized her specific mannerisms and features and where she stood. He named her accordingly and when he thought he could pick her out from everyone else, he moved on to another one and then another. After he came back to the woman in the first position, she didn’t feel like the same person. The minute details he’d memorized to remember her had transformed into something else. Her differentiating characteristics were so subtle that he believed he had only imagined them on her. After all, he knew she hadn’t physically moved. He started again and kept losing track. It felt like they weren’t distinct people housed in separate bodies but were constantly passing in and out of each other’s consciousness as if through doors.
“You must be hungry.” she said the words like they’d been plucked from a song meant to lull.
She brought a shroom to his mouth. He wasn’t hungry but he ate out of the naiad’s hand like a deer unfazed by its predator.
Before he knew it he was lowering himself into the water.
There were a few tadpoles eddying around at the bank. They swam about in a strange frenzy, never moving away from the edge or deviating from their short circles in which they swam. It seemed as though they were almost toppling over each other to stay the closest to the edge.
Like a corpse being pulled in by a warm current along its course, he moved toward the waterfall with the naiads encircling him.
The water steadily grew warmer. The shroom had rooted itself inside him by now. The warm water drained all the tension from his body and the shroom untied whatever remaining apprehensions he had. What was left was a hazy awareness of everything around him.
As they went deeper, he felt the mud and sediment skid from beneath his feet and he lost balance. Maybe he was just stepping on slippery dead tadpoles lying at the bottom.
They all looked at him and gave him a moment to register what was coming.
He thrashed, splashing water in every direction. He was drowning belly up, with his whole body horizontal on the water. His body lurched, twisted and rotated, dunking and spitting out water. But it wasn’t the uncoordinated desperation of a normal drowning person. It was as though each naiad held an invisible string tied to a different part of his body, like a puppeteer to a puppet. The deft movements of their seventy fingers orchestrated the flailing. After having done this many times before, the rhythms were ingrained in them. They knew the weak points, which string to pull to crack a bone or twist his abdomen. It was a spectacle, a show of their love and continued devotion to their sisterhood. The drowning of that male body proved to each other that they’d drowned their desire for it too. To achieve that, they had to be as violent as they could be.
Drowning the way he was, he couldn’t see the naiads, only the sun. As the water turned hotter underneath, pulling him in, he felt the sun grow bigger and swallow him.
He grew translucent and one could almost see through him, the sediment, rocks and dead tadpoles underneath. The naiads looked placid as they sucked his essence in from the small sun in their loins. They stood still, their bodies too steady for the fact that life was being poured into them. They only moved after he had turned completely into water.
“They never learn.” said the naiad who’d fed him the shroom. She then let out a contrived laugh, hoping the others would join in and their collective laughter would drown the desire pulsating in each one of them. No one responded.
They’d promised to each other long ago that nothing would ever mar their kinship, no person. They could find in each other everything they would ever need. Loving someone besides the other six would mean a dissolution of that closeness.
One by one they each went toward the waterfall and stood under it. The water that fell onto their heads was cool unlike the one he’d died in which was warmed by them.
All of them looked up at the sun suspended in a pond of azure, surrounded by the canopy, waiting for it to happen. Then it did, like always. The peaceful green at the corners of their eyes hushed, spreading inward like venom, before finally closing in on the sun and their sisterhood.
Tara is a freshman in college. She likes long walks, math, listening to ABBA and rewatching the same musicals over and over again. Her poetry and essays have been recognized by the Young Poets Network and Cambridge University.