THE TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The sweat vanished from her skin as she sank down into the cool, blue swimming hole. The radio spread a festive mood to the commune members, who were picnicking, sunbathing, and laughing while dropping from the rope swing into the water a few feet away. Everybody got silent, however, when the music was replaced by an automated emergency broadcast network message. Thinking it was just a test, the festivities resumed until the annoying tone switched to a panicked broadcaster’s voice…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
Heather pushed her way through the overgrown jungle to the exact spot she had been standing 40 years earlier when the radio announcer and irritating buzzing of the emergency alert system had ruined her first visit. She left the commune behind just a few weeks later and hid that part of her life from everyone – her friends, her husband and her children, and even herself – for the better part of four decades. Now, she wanted to remember.
Heather listened to the panicked Spanish coming over the airwaves and tried to translate it, but after just three months at the commune’s island paradise, her translating skills weren’t very good. She caught the word “agua” and knew it meant water, but that was about it.
Her brothers and sisters laughed it off, calling it another attempt by The Man to lie to them and take away the good things in life. Despite the welcome relief the hidden falls and pool offered from the oppressive jungle heat, she climbed out of the water and found Miguel, the local who had guided them to the spot.
“What’s he saying? Should we be worried?” Heather asked him.
Unfortunately, with eyes glazed from the local weed he was enjoying, Miguel was in no condition to answer. He murmured that the warning was telling the island’s residents to avoid all the water that came from the Leon River because of its hazardous effects. Heather pressed him for more details. Instead, he handed her the last of his blunt and headed back toward the water. Just before he dove into the water, he said, “Don’t worry, beautiful. They’re just trying to scare us away from this beautiful place, to keep it for themselves.”
Heather snuffed out the roach, preferring to be clear-headed and debated going back into the water. Still puzzling about the message that seemed to be on an endless loop on the radio, she pushed her way back down the path that had led them to the secluded falls.
Under the full foliage of the jungle, the heat was less oppressive, but the humidity! Sweats poured off her as she made the half mile trek away from the water, wishing the entire time she was headed the other direction. Off the dirt road that wound through the island’s jungle-covered mountains, she found the battered VW bus that was the commune’s only transportation.
Even with the windows open, the van was unbearably hot as she dug through the handwritten flyers offering hair braiding and guides to the local flora, a not too subtle advertisement for the weed the commune grew, to the local tourists. They had to repost them twice a week at the better hotels along the beach, but it made for a booming business. Underneath the dayglow posters, beer cans and pot baggies, she found what she was looking for – her Spanish/English dictionary.
Phonetically she tried to find the words the announcer kept repeating, stumbling again and again over the verbs. The words for danger and stay out were the easiest to translate, but the others made no sense. The announcer wasn’t saying that the water would harm them; he was saying it would erase them.
More confused than ever, Heather took a can of Tab from the cooler and began to push her way back to the clear blue water of the falls. As she approached the falls, Heather found the path littered with cutoff jeans and halter tops. Not surprised that the midday break had turned into skinny dipping, she pushed past the last curtain of jungle foliage and looked out over the water.
The trail was overgrown and threaded with barbed wire, attempting to keep people out. Not as lithely as she would have before, Heather ducked through the strands and pointedly ignored the signs claiming that the area was hazardous. For years after that first day, the island government had kept armed soldiers here to keep people away, but with budget cuts they had slowly faded away.
Everyone considered the broadcast a hoax anyway. No one believed in folk tales or miracles anymore. But Heather had seen it with her own eyes and knew the truth of the matter. She was the one who carried the infants and toddlers down the path to the safety of the bus and drove them down to the local orphanage. When she had told the authorities what happened, no one believed her. They initially charged her with kidnapping, but released her when none of the children were reported missing.
They’d had her deported back to the States and burned the bus and all signs of the commune. The island government had, very effectively, erased nine of the ten people there that day. While waiting for her plane home, she had seen the broadcast retracting the early warning, proclaiming that the broadcaster had been tripping on LSD.
But Heather knew the truth as she hiked through the forest. Less than an hour in the pool had erased 20 years of their lives, turning her companions into children.
Now it was time for Heather to return to the fountain of youth.
She wouldn’t stay long, even set an alarm on her phone to let her know exactly when she needed to leave. She couldn’t say for sure how much of her life she would remember once she felt the time-erasing effects of the water. The others had been barely able to speak after their transformation, but that could have just been due to their new developmental age. Heather hoped rinsing away the years might just leave behind the good times, but one way or another, she was diving in head first.