The letter turned to ash in Wirt’s hands.
He’d just spent his day uprooting seedlings and dipping them in vinegar to appease a piece of paper. Wirt was kneeling in the centre of what used to be his squash garden, now just a plot of overturned soil and dead plants. It was a loss for sure to kill an entire plot, but Wirt still had thousands of acres of fertile land he could work, and if the year proved to be difficult, he knew he could fall-back on the provisions he jarred last year.
Wirt’s legs groaned as he stood up. It was only 4PM, still plenty of sunlight left in the day to begin repairing the damages he caused. Mercifully, the Task Curse never told him to kill the squash seedlings he was growing on his windowsill, so Wirt got to work breaking the root bound seedlings from their containers. He needed a third hand to gently separate the tangled roots, but as he was alone, he had to improvise. The roots passed by Wirt’s thin lips and were met with a set of tea-stained teeth. Wirt gently chewed the roots free of themselves and spat out the dirt in his mouth. He winced, mentally reprimanding himself for forgetting that his salivary enzymes were probably not good for the plants. Before transferring the seedlings to the soil, he gently rubbed some water into their roots.
“That should be alright, ey Dad?” exclaimed Wirt as he patted the first seedling into the soil. “Yeah, had a rubbish day following that bloody curse’s instructions again. Woke up to it in fact, the post was lying right on my chest. But the damage could’ve been worse, it only wanted the Western squash plot this time.” … “Oh, its fine, I have more than enough to eat. Honestly! You get yourself so worked up when it comes to my stomach!” Wirt laughed to himself and continued to plant the rest of the seedlings. “Bugger off, they are not being planted too close together. Let me remind you that it was because of my reading that we were able to salvage the purple Kenlacks from that fungal soil last year.” … “That’s what I thought, not so talkative when you’re proven wrong.”
Wirt took handfuls of soil out of the ground to create divots and planted the remaining seedlings. He thought a sprinkling of water would be good and went in search of a watering can. Gardening tools in multiples were strewn about Wirt’s property. It was necessary since his land spanned very far on his crescent-shaped property and having to lug around tools to each plot would be an inefficient expenditure of stamina. The nearest tools to the western squash plot were not too far-off fortunately, sitting just under a group of trees by the fence line.
Grabbing a rusted bucket and resting his calloused hand on the fence’s banister, Wirt took a moment for himself and studied the landscape before him. In the evenings, the Sun’s golden colours soaked into the Earth giving a soft glow to anything absorbed in its light. It was still a prison, Wirt never could find a better word to describe his situation, but at the very least it was infallibly beautiful. If Wirt concentrated, he could hear a hum oscillate from the fields, he assumed, from the cicadas and crickets – though he’d never seen them.
He wasn’t sure if he even could.
The aquifer well was a ways distance from where the Western plot was, prompting Wirt to collect water from the creek nearby. A watering can was left on the shore side, already entangled by a binder weed at the handle after being left alone for only a day. Wirt ripped the vine from his gardening utensil and stepped into the creek leaving his shoes to hang off a nail on the fences. He laid the bucket on its side to fill to a finger’s worth of water, and the watering can upright for collection. It was back-aching bending up and down to collect such meagre portions of water one pass at a time. “I hate how long this takes,” said Wirt with a tight voice.
Even with the interruption of the Task Curse altering the course of Wirt’s routine that day, today was a day much like all the others in Wirt’s thirty-six years. As per normal, Wirt woke in his bedroom, had a hearty breakfast to hold him for the upcoming workday outside, took some time to prepare evening supper beforehand, and spent the bulk of the daylight hours tending to his gardens. Typical.
Until some water splashed onto his hand.
As Wirt lifted the sideways bucket, the creek water left his hand sopping…dry?
Maybe not completely dry… but damn near almost perfectly dry. Wirt squinted. His hand didn’t have the typical gleam of a wet surface, nor was it as slick when he pressed the dry index finger of his other hand against it. Wirt thought he might have been suffering from heat stroke, so he splashed some water onto his face. The water succeeded in removing some sweat and dirt from Wirt’s complexion but still left his face almost completely dry.
Wirt swallowed the information.
“Dad…Dad do you see this...?” Wirt placed his hand in and out of the water testing over again, feeling the cool depths of the creek water and then the intense warmth of the spring sun taking his hand out. “It’s not our water… It’s from outside.”
He left the watering can, put his shoes back on, and followed the path up the creek to the source of the flow. The stem of the creek continued to grow smaller and smaller until it was nothing more than a branching of rills in the grass. Wirt followed the water around the fence line to the belly of the forest. The furthest Wirt could trace the water was an isolated seclusion of rills at the other side of the woods in a small clearing. The grasses became mosses in this area, and there was a puddle where the rills appeared to converge. Wirt stepped around the marsh, never having stood in that area before since it never stood out as anything more than just a small clearing of moss. But it held significance now. The water flowing from here wasn’t affected by him.
Wirt stood still and let the ground beneath his feet settle. He tried to slow his breathing to see if he could hear anything that sounded foreign to the usual sounds of his lands. He heard the ground squelch as it compressed under him, the sound of water trickling softly through the rills and then… chirping. It was weak, he may have been only imagining it, but it was promising.
“I think those are… I think those are birds, Dad…!” smiled Wirt as his heart began to drum against his chest. “This could be the place! Where the Ouroborics of our confines are weakest...!” … “I am being careful, Dad, man alive, there hasn’t been a single person to enter our borders since we arrived here! I feel sorrier for the birds we’re about to meet” … “Alright, alright. I’ll be vigilant.”
Wirt extended a long finger to prod the odd puddle, but a source of water from above his head reached his hand first. The rain welled on his skin as he would expect: adhering to itself creating a dome-like droplet.
“Oh, bullocks,” said Wirt looking up. More of his land’s water saturated the clearing making it nearly impossible to distinguish the water from the rills against the incoming rain. Normally Wirt would be grateful for rainfall as it would do the watering for his garden for him, but the potential of this evidence made him want to continue his investigation further. As the clearing thirstily drank the rainwater, Wirt digressed: It would be easier to trace the water source on a sunnier day. He took one last observation of the area to see if there was anything else that he could mull over this evening.
It was a mossy area with some small shrubs and a puddle. There wasn’t anything obvious that he could see.