This month, the Muse Wars– a monthly fiction writing challenge for bloggers. Check out all details on the Muse Wars here, and feel free to join in- you’ve got until the end of the month to write a short story based on this photo, and add your post to the linky list.
Something In The Water
It must be something in the water, she concluded. It had to be… there was no other explanation for it.
“There’s an underground spring,” the previous owner had said, crisp and distasteful of the dust and untended garden of weeds in her spotless, laundered two piece suit; “it’s safe to drink, if you have it tested every six months. It supplies all the water for the house and garden. I’ve never known it to run dry, but there’s a mains connection, just in case…”
Elsie had paid little attention, her mind on other things, bigger issues than a well–working water supply… she had a house full of dust and cobwebs to clear, years worth of unmoved sediment that needed to be cleaned and sorted out before she could take up residence in this dilapidated, ancient cottage with its overflowing and undisciplined country garden.
Her son came to help her, spending a week in the freshly painted spare room, and much of his time atop a ladder changing light fixtures, clearing gutterings and lopping trees while his mother– able and energetic, surely, but nowhere near as fit as she once was, now she was in her late sixties– scrubbed and mopped and dusted the inside of the house, setting straight years of neglect and abandonment. Elsie’s daughter hadn’t come, of course– she was busy, always busy, too busy. Forty years ago Elsie had known her daughter better than anyone else in the world… now, she barely recognized her voice on the phone. If it wasn’t for the fact that her daughter had launched into an immediate diatribe on how Elsie was far too old to be moving into a house that needed so much work, and was so far away, and that anything could happen to an old woman like her out there all alone, an hours drive from the suburbs; Elsie may not have known the hard female voice belonged to her own child. In fact, it sounded much like the clipped, brittle tones of the woman who’d just sold her this old cottage.
The effect of the fresh air, a change of scenery and the hard work of clearing the house and property was an immediate balm on Elsie’s soul, quite as she had imagined it would be. She felt lighter, younger, more energetic than she had in years. She ate fruits and raw vegetables, and except for the ritual of her early morning cup of Earl Gray; drank nothing but glass after glass of water from the kitchen tap, sourced from the underground spring the previous owner had spoken of. It was delicious, clear and pure; and, assuming the supply was as plentiful as she had been assured, she was soon using it to irrigate a burgeoning veggie garden, and nurse the neglected cottage’s rose bushes, snap dragons, daisies and agapanthas back to health.
It was two weeks after her son left her to her own devices with a slightly concerned, “You’ll be OK out here, mum?” that was nothing like the patronizing enquiries of his sister that Elsie begin to notice the woman who stared back at her in the mirror every morning changing, gradually, but continually; so slowly it teased at the fringes of her mind and made her wonder if she was seeing what she thought she saw, or if she had, in fact, gone mad out here in this little cottage, miles from the closest town.
Elsie watched as the wrinkles in her skin smoothed, as it’s paper texture regained elasticity and sun spots that had been part of her landscape for years disappear. Her teeth seemed to refill their own cavities, settle deeper back into her gums; the varicose veins on her legs popped themselves back smooth underneath her skin.
And her garden… it begin to grow. Roses seemed to unfurl overnight, transforming from sticks to healthy bushes laden with blood red blooms. Potatoes planted as spuds just the week before were now four feet of green growth from the soil. A pumpkin vine her son had hacked back to nothing but a small green stump now ran it’s tendrils and broad leaves across the knee–high grass and entangled the bottom of the clothesline; the garden beds underneath the cottage windows were an unruly cloud of color with bees dipping in and out of dozens of flowers, the paths the foliage grew next to usable and, eventually, unable to be seen at all.
Elsie observed this daily with an agitated distraction, her garden appearing to grow the moment her back was turned. Odd, she decided, certainly odd; but it paled magnificently in comparison to what she was observing on her own body– a change with every breath, a de-manifestation of natural cell growth with every heartbeat. A total reversal of the aging process.
As difficult as she found it to believe herself, Elsie was actually growing younger.
Her hair grew long and lustrous, touching her lower back for the first time in her life; and as it grew it seemed to streak itself with pigment the same way the grey had originally snuck in twenty years ago– within a month it was it’s former raven glory, thick and flaxen. Elsie’s breasts seemed to turn into her body until they were pert and uplifted, the skin on her stomach appeared to shrink until it was smooth and tight. She found herself amazed at her sudden boundless, ferocious energy, the sex drive she’d lost when her husband left ten years ago returned. She spent her days spent alone and content, barely noticing time passing or her garden growing up around the house like a jungle.
It must be in the water, she thought, so comfortable with that concept, so at peace for the first time in years that she never thought to question it, never wondered what would happen if she continued to become younger, and younger….
And the garden grew and grew.
It fell with her son, the onus of proof, the responsibility of proving Elsie still alive at all; and of course he had the paperwork, a copy of the land deed his mother had acquired just a few months ago.
A deed that proved nothing, nothing at all, except what they already knew… there was a block of land here, a property in his mother’s name that looked as though it once had a building on it but now contained just overgrowth and rotted ruins. The ruins of a cottage, choked and molested by foliage, that looked like it had been there for years…
And not a single inhabitant in sight.