Aphelion Issue 250, Volume 24
May 2020
 
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The Pool

by Lester Curtis




There once was a man who lived at the edge of a beautiful, serene forest, and each morning, he would walk along the little path from his house, down to the edge of a mountain stream, where the water poured out of a spring between the rocks. Just below this spring, the water formed a clear, quiet pool, and the man enjoyed bending over the water to drink from it. Each morning, he would bend over the pool to drink, and he always saw his reflection, quite clear and familiar in the surface of the water.

One day, however, as he bent over the water to drink, he was startled to notice that the face reflected in the pool was not his, but the face of a stranger. He was startled, and thought at first that someone had crept up behind him, and it was this stranger's face that he saw reflected, but when he looked around, there was no one else there. He then wondered if some turbulence in the water had distorted his reflection, but he held his hand out over the water, and saw its reflection clear and steady. He bent over the pool again, and again, the face he saw reflected back to him was not his own.

This disturbed him greatly, and he wondered how his face could have changed. He brought a hand up to his face to feel the familiar contours, as he examined the reflection in the calm, clear water, but he could feel no difference, and he could not think of an explanation for what he saw there.

He left without getting his customary drink, and for several days he didn't come back at all, but then his craving for the cold, refreshing spring water finally overcame his upset, and he returned to the pool. This time, though, he brought a small tin cup, and, instead of bending over the pool as he had before, dipped some out with this so that he wouldn't have to bend over the pool and see his reflection in the water. For several days thereafter, this was how he got his morning drink of water, but with each passing day he became aware that the water from the cup did not taste the same; it was flat and metallic, and somehow unsatisfying.

At long last, he realized that he could not be satisfied without his drink, and that the tin cup just would not do, so, with some hesitation, he again bent over the pool to drink, and again, there was that stranger's face looking back at him. He quickly closed his eyes and tried to take a drink, but found that too awkward; he almost lost his balance and fell in. He opened his eyes again, and the stranger's face was still there.

Up until this time, he had not told anyone about this, but now he felt that he should try to find a solution to this mystery. He went home and told his wife about the incident, but she simply said, "Dear, I thought you didn't play pool with strangers anymore. Will you help me to paint the kitchen this weekend?" He tried again to explain to her what had happened, but she seemed unable to comprehend it.

The man went to work, and at lunch, he sat with some of his co-workers, and he told them about it, being very careful to describe the incident in unmistakably clear terms.

"There was a stranger swimming in your pool?" one said.

"I'd throw them off the property," said another.

"That spring water is awfully cold to be swimming in," said a third.

After work, as the man was walking through the village on his way home, he met the minister of their church. Ah, he thought, surely this man can help me. "Reverend," he said, "could you help me with a dilemma?"

"Of course," the minister said, "what can I do for you?"

The man described his experience carefully, but when he was finished, the minister patted him on the arm and smiled, and said, "It was most commendable for you to offer a drink to a stranger. God bless you. We'll see you Sunday, won't we?" The minister then turned and left.

The man was at a loss as to what to do next. He couldn't think of anyone else to talk to about his strange experience, and was baffled and discouraged that nobody else could seem to understand it. Not knowing what else to do, he began walking home.

Some way out of the village, he came upon a very old man sitting on the fence alongside the road, whittling on a stick. The old man said, "Good afternoon, stranger."

The man stopped and looked at the oldster, and said, "Excuse me, sir, but I haven't met you before. It would seem that you are the stranger here."

The old man shrugged and smiled and continued whittling on the stick, and said, "Everyone's a stranger somewhere, I suppose. Why, some people are even strangers to themselves. I must say, that's an unsettling discovery."

"You've had this experience yourself?" the man asked.

"Yep. A long time ago. And to judge by the look on your face, and the fact that you've asked, I'd venture to say you're having the same problem now. Am I right?"

"Something like that, I think," the man said, and then, without knowing why, he blurted out the account of his experience at the pool.

"Well, don't feel badly about it," the old man said. "This happens a lot. What you need to know is that there's nothing to be afraid of. All you have to do is to make friends with that person. Now, since you've mentioned it, I have traveled many miles today, and I would be grateful if I could get a drink from your spring."

"You may," the man said. "Follow me."

The old man left his perch on the fence, and the two of them made their way along the road, past the man's house and down the path to the spring, the old traveler smiling and whittling on his stick the whole way.

When they arrived at the pool, the old man bent over it to drink, but paused for a moment and looked deeply into his reflection and smiled. He then took a long drink of the cold, sweet water, and stood up.

"I must continue my journey now," he said, "but in return for your kindness I will leave you this." He handed over the object which he had been carving, a large spoon. Its bowl was smooth and round, and its long, curved handle was finished at the end with the figure of a bird.

"Thank you," the man said, as the traveler turned to leave, "and if you're ever back this way, feel free to help yourself to the spring."

After his visitor had left, the man once again went to the pool for a drink, and when he bent over the water, he again saw the stranger's face reflected back at him. This time, though, instead of being afraid, he simply looked into the face, and said, "Hello."

The stranger's face smiled back at him.


THE END


2013 Lester Curtis

Bio: Lester describes hiself as an "Out-of-work spam-kicker, hoping for meaningful (meaning paid) employment doing something with words. Lives with a camouflaged tactical assault cat and a slowly-growing but perennially-unfinished novel manuscript." But of course, he is so much more than that, really.

E-mail: Lester Curtis

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