The Clear Blue Spring by Vincent V. Cava

The forest was singing to us that muggy afternoon – singing the ballad of summer. Its melody swooshed beneath the hooves of doe and fawns bounding through the brush and harmonized with the far away knock of a woodpecker’s beak against the bark of a sweet gum. It was the croaky caroling of toads and the murmur of the creek where they dwelled, the chorus of the katydids hiding in the undergrowth, and the call of the birds fluttering over the treetops.

The day was hot, the air thick and humid. It wrapped its heavy arms tight around my chest, swaddling me in its embrace. Its hug was sweltering. I remember how my sweat-drenched t-shirt clung to my back, how the cool soaked cotton against my skin served as my only refuge from the oppressive August heat.

Lynne was just a few paces ahead of me. I followed her as she ambled down the trail, eyes wandering purposelessly, her hands in the back pockets of her denim shorts like a child lost in thought. Occasionally she’d glimpse over her shoulder and flash me a smile, but despite the hot summer sun beating down on us that day, a storm cloud was hanging over my head and not even the sight of her face could brighten me up.

Lynne’s smile capsized once she realized our walk through the woods was doing little to relieve my burden. She turned and hurried towards me and when she got near, threw her arms around my waist, burying her head in my chest. She hugged me tight – tighter even than the heat – and when she relaxed her grip and backed her face away I could see her smile had returned. I looked into her smoky, gray eyes. We were just kids – only seventeen at the time – but in that moment I knew she was the most beautiful thing in the world. We held each other in silence for a while before she finally spoke to me. Her words were gentle; they fell smooth and soft from her tongue like velvet.

Everything would be okay, she said to me.

And that’s when she inched herself closer, leaned into my ear, and whispered her secret – a secret I wish I had never heard uttered from those full, sweet lips of hers – the secret of the clear blue spring.

Everything would be okay because the clear blue spring would show me so.

Lynne broke free from my arms and snatched my wrist. She started to run, pulling me behind her as she led us from the path. Together we sprinted through the untamed brush, trampling bushes and ducking under tree branches. I followed her trustingly. She was more than familiar with that forest; it was like a second home to her. I had walked the trails many times myself, but Lynne spent so much time out among those trees that they belonged to her.

I’m not sure how long we were running, but when we stopped my lungs felt like they were on fire. Lynne’s cheeks were flush, the sweat on her forehead glistened in the little bit of afternoon light trickling through the trees, her sun-streaked blonde hair had become so wild and tousled that it reminded me of a tumbleweed, yet somehow through all this, she was even more striking than ever. Her splendor was effortless and I loved her for it.

The two of us laughed like lunatics for minutes before we finally caught our breaths. I grinned and pulled her close to me. It had been weeks since we had kissed. She stroked my face with the back of her hand then ran her fingers through my hair. We pressed ourselves together until our noses were practically touching. I could taste the exhale of her breath – it was cool and lovely and I wanted to savor it forever – but just before our lips could meet, I pulled my head away from hers. The tears came fast and unexpected. They stung my eyes and cascaded down my cheeks.

Lynne cradled my head in her arms, letting me cry into her shoulder, and, as she did this she spoke again of the spring. She told me she was taking me there and once more I heard those curious words slip from her lips – it would show me the way. There was an air of conviction in her voice. It was fervent in its confidence – religious even.

I dried my eyes on the sleeve of my shirt then lifted my face to meet her gaze. She watched me lovingly for a brief moment then nodded her head, gesturing for me to follow her deeper between the trees. Running was out of the question now. That southern August heat barely allowed us a slow saunter, but we continued our journey nonetheless, hand in hand, fingers entwined together like the souls of Orpheus and Eurydice.

I trusted Lynne with all my heart, but I needed to hear more about this mysterious spring that she was taking me to. After all, she had never once, in all the time I had known her, made any mention of it to me at all and now we were traveling further into the woods than I’d ever been, away from the trails, far removed from any houses or roads, on our way to find it. I asked her to tell me about it, to explain what she meant when she said it could help me. She was hesitant to indulge me at first, but after I insisted, she told me her tale and as I listened I found myself growing more and more enchanted by the fantastic things she was saying. This story is hers, just as much as it is mine and here is what she said….

Lynne was nine when she discovered the spring. She first stumbled upon it following an argument with her father. Her parents had recently separated and her mother had moved out of the house. She was just a little girl at the time and she didn’t know how to deal with the sudden feelings of abandonment that her mother’s departure had caused her so she directed all of her frustrations towards her dad. One evening following a nasty argument, she sprinted out the backdoor of her house and into the woods behind her home. These were the very same woods that she and I were currently trekking through. Her father had tried to chase after her, but he was a heavyset man and she was quick for her age so she had no trouble losing him in the trees once she veered from the established hiking trails.

She ran until her legs were rubber, until she could no longer hear his voice calling out to her.

She ran until her heart thundered inside her chest, until her head grew light and woozy and her feet ached with every step.

When she finally stopped, she realized she was in a part of the forest she had never been before. A faint luminescence was radiating off the surrounding trees. Lynne followed the glow until she came to a clearing and it was here that she first laid eyes on it – glistening against the pitch black night, an enormous sapphire flickering in the darkness – the clear blue spring.

It beckoned her, she said. It commanded her to wade into its shimmering waters. This was an order she had no trouble obeying. From the moment she saw the spring, she had felt a strange, pressing urge to join it so she stripped off her clothes and plunged herself into the glowing pool as quickly as she could.

She gushed about the experience so much that I nearly felt jealous. Hearing her talk, it almost seemed as if she was speaking about a lover. Her eyes twinkled like little stars as she reminisced about its cool blue water. She confessed that she may not have had the strength to pull herself out of the spring that night, if not for a vivid image of her father that suddenly flashed through her mind.

He was writhing on the kitchen floor, clutching his chest. His face was pallid and he was gasping for air. A phone was in his hand, but he was too weak to dial out for help. Horror pierced Lynne’s gut like an arrow because deep down, in her heart, she knew that what she was seeing was not a hallucination. It had been placed in her head by the spring, a vision of what was soon to come, a premonition of the future. The sparkling water whispered to her too, only she couldn’t hear its words with her ears. Instead, they had been scorched across the surface of her brain, its message burned into her consciousness.

Go to your father, the spring had said. You can save his life if you hurry.

I studied her face as she explained this to me. Lynne had never been the type to tell tall tales, but I scanned her carefully anyway, searching for some kind of hint, anything that would suggest she was joking. She squeezed the palm of my hand and sent a knowing glance my way as if to say she understood my skepticism, but that she’d never lie to me.

I could tell the heat was beginning to press on me. It seemed to be affecting the rest of the forest too. All around us, tree branches bowed as if they were too exhausted to hold themselves up, their green leaves sagged under the weight of the thick humid air. They looked like mourning widows. We journeyed ever deeper into the forest as she continued on with her story. I listened intently. It helped me take my mind off the heat and off my troubles as well.

Lynne had sprung quickly from the water after receiving the spring’s warning about her father. She threw on her clothes on then took off running through the woods. She was not lost; the spring had shown her the fastest route back, but when she got home she found her father was already in the early stages of cardiac arrest. She called an ambulance. Luckily, the EMT’s were able to arrive at their house in time to help him. The doctors said that they just barely made it; a few minutes later and they might not have been able to save his life. Lynne’s father was able to make a full recovery. His heart attack even served as the catalyst that drove her parents back together. After hearing about the incident, Lynne’s mother had rushed to the hospital to be with them.

Lynne said that she believed it was the spring that deserved all the credit. Had it not warned her about her father’s heart attack, she wouldn’t have been able to save him and her family would not have had the opportunity to reunite. She stopped short after telling me that and began apologizing to me. I assured her all was okay and that I knew she didn’t mean any harm by what she said. You see, the reason I had been so upset, the reason she was taking me to the spring, was because my mother had died just three weeks prior. I did not have a father. He passed when I was a baby. I had no family of my own.

She went on to tell me more stories about the spring that day. Once it had helped her find her dog when he went missing. Another time, when she was very sad and lonely, it gave her hope when it told her she would meet a boy who would fill the empty space she was feeling in her heart. That boy was me. I transferred into her school a couple days later.

Lynne loved the spring and its crystal blue waters, but she feared that if she overused it then its powers would cease to work so she resolved to only call on it when she felt that it was absolutely necessary. She kept it secret too, to prevent others from mistreating it. And so, it had always been there for her when she needed it.

It had always shown her the way.

I didn’t know what to make of her tales. Of course I thought they sounded crazy, but I appreciated them because they allowed my mind to wander away from the fire that took my mother’s life. As she spoke, I forgot about the heat from the flames that night. I forgot about how they licked at my heels and burned my legs as I crawled to safety. And I forgot too, how my mother’s screams slashed through the air – horrible screams; I could hear her cry my name.

The woods began to thin out into a clearing and I heard the sound of running of water. We pushed our way through the last of the brush and that’s when I first saw it. The spring was bigger than I expected, maybe thirty feet across at its widest point. There was a blue tint to the water. It did not glow, but there was still a lot of daylight left. I remember a strange electricity in the air and I swear the heat became less stifling as we moved closer to that pool. I could see all the way down to the bottom, an assortment of flat multi-colored pebbles lined its floor. Brown, white, green, red, and a thousand other colors, there were so many I couldn’t keep track.

We approached the water together, fingers still interlocked, palms sweaty, but when we got near, Lynne put a hand on my chest to stop me. She told me that I no longer needed to worry, that the spring would show me the way just as it had shown her time and time again.

She peeled off her clothes in front of me. First her tank top, then her shorts. Lynne’s body was firm and tight. Her stomach was as smooth and flat as stones laying at the floor of the spring. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She draped her arms around me. I could feel her soft breasts pressing against my chest and once again I could taste her cool, lovely breath.

I love you, she said.

And then she kissed me.

Her lips wrapped tightly around mine and her tongue swirled slowly inside my mouth. I ran my fingers over her bare body, exploring her curves, caressing her skin. She moaned softly and I could feel her voice in my throat.

It was she that broke our kiss – if it were up to me I would have never let it end.

She helped me out of my clothes, took me by the hand, and together we waded into the crystal pool. The water was cool and inviting. Lynne dove beneath the surface and when she appeared again she was on the opposite end of the spring. I paddled over to her. Swimming in those waters was truly like being born again. There are no other words to describe it. By the time I caught up to her, I knew that every word of her story had to be true. The spring had a very special aura. It was powerful and intense and even though I had not been in its presence before, I could tell there was something extraordinary about it.

When I reached Lynne, I planted my feet on the floor. Those flat stones felt pleasant beneath my soles. I placed my hands on her hips. She was smiling at me. I can’t recall if I was smiling too, but sometimes, when I reflect back on that day, I like to think that I was. I imagine that I was grinning ear to ear, laughing even. I imagine these things because I want to remember that moment in the spring as fondly as I possibly can. It was the last time in my life that I ever felt happiness.

The spring would snatch my joy away and instant later when it decided to show me everything I had been trying so hard to forget.

It showed me my mother, whom I had grown to resent so much over the years. It showed me the way she abused prescription pills and alcohol, the birthdays she had slept through, the parent teacher meetings she was too high to show up for. The spring showed me all the lonely, late night dinners I ate while she lay passed out on the couch in the living room. It showed me the petty jealously I felt towards Lynne whenever I was around she and her parents, who seemed to genuinely care for her.

Then it showed me the night of the fire. It showed me how my mother fell asleep, sprawled out, facedown, her pants around her ankles on top of the bed in her room. The spring showed me how disgusted I was when I walked in and saw her like that. It showed me the blind rage I felt that night when I grabbed the can of gasoline from the garage. I used it to soak the walls of her bedroom and even the hallway. My mother was so passed out, so hopped up on pills, that the smell didn’t even wake her. The spring showed me how I shoved the heavy oak bookcase from the study, all the way down the hall until it was in front of her door. She was barricaded inside her bedroom. Still she hadn’t woken. I watched myself light a match then drop it to the gas sodden carpet. The flames engulfed my home. It happened so fast that I nearly got caught in the inferno myself. The spring showed me how I escaped just in time. My mother was not so lucky. No longer asleep, she screamed my name out in the night, begging for me to help her, not knowing it had been I, who was responsible for the flames that were eating away at her flesh. Standing in that spring, I felt the same sense of guilt that had washed over me when I heard her voice die out in that fire.

The water Lynne and I were in felt as if it was warming up, but I wasn’t sure if it was in my head.

I peered into her eyes, they no longer twinkled. Terror danced inside them now, as if she was gazing upon the face of a monster. I realized then that everything the spring had shown me Lynne had seen as well. She tried to leap from the pool, but I grabbed her by the ankle and pulled her back in.

The spring was showing me something else now. It was showing me what would happen if I let her go, how she would run home, call the police, and tell them everything. It showed me how the courts would try me as an adult, the horrors of prison, the life of an ex-convict. The water was definitely hotter now – like being inside a Jacuzzi. I was shaking her, pleading for her to understand, but she wouldn’t listen – she refused. She beat on me with her fists and scratched at my eyes. She cried for help as loud as she could, but there was no one around for miles. The spring showed me even more after that. It showed me what I needed to do if I didn’t want to be caught, how to get away and live free.

So I listened.

I dunked her head beneath the water. By now the spring was boiling; it bubbled and fizzed all around us, hot steam drifted off its surface. I ignored the heat and squeezed her throat as tight as I could. She thrashed and kicked and tried to pry at my hands, but I was too strong for her. The spring was whispering to me, encouraging me on.

It’s the only way to save yourself, it said to me.

I didn’t want to hurt Lynne. I loved her, but I was terrified and the spring’s words made so much sense to me. I drowned her in that clear blue water that day and took the first bus out of town that evening. There was nothing to leave behind. All my belongings were destroyed in the fire, my entire family was dead and now so was the only girl I ever cared for. I’ve been a drifter ever since. I wander the country like a nomad, eating out of trashcans, and working odd jobs for money whenever the opportunity presents itself.

We were both reported missing. The media spun our disappearance into a story about two young lovers who ran away together. I wish that were the truth. I check the paper from time to time to see if she’s been found, but I’ve never seen anything that would indicate that she or the spring has been located. Not a day goes by where I don’t think of her. I often wonder if she’s still out there, lying at the bottom of the spring, atop those smooth flat stones that felt so good beneath my bare feet.

It’s been years since I’ve slept with a roof over my head and thoughts of suicide are growing stronger every day. The spring is my last chance at salvation. I’m on my way back there now. It’s only a couple hours walk from where I’m currently writing this. The directions have been burned into my brain ever since that hot August day and I should make it by nightfall if I keep walking. I wonder if the water really does glow at night like it did in Lynne’s story? I’ve only ever seen it in the daylight. When I get there, I want to stand in the spot where she kissed me and think back to how wonderful it felt. Then I’ll get in the water, sink myself to the bottom of the spring, and wait for its command. Maybe there’s nothing more it can really do for me. Maybe it will tell me to open my mouth and take as much water into my lungs as I can. If that’s what it decides is best, then I will follow its instructions without question.

There are mysteries in the universe that we may never fully understand. Perhaps they exist beyond the grasp of human imagination. Sometimes these mysteries manifest as abstract ideas and concepts, but occasionally we can wade hip-deep into them and experience their power without fully understanding what we’re dealing with. I believe that the clear blue spring is one of these enigmas. Lynne thought it loved her, but I’m not so sure. I don’t know why it’s out in those woods or what its true purpose really is, but I know that it will always be there when I need it.

The clear blue spring will show me the way.

…and I’m afraid of what that might be.