Around the fountain was a thick forest. I could barely see the path that led into the very small clearing where the carved white stones had been installed around the natural spring. The fountain could only be viewed and appreciated best from the small bridge that curved around it and over the guided stream flowing from it.
From that bridge, the stonework gave the fountain the appearance of a carved granite eye, with the actual upwelling of water creating the dome of the “corona”. The lower lid of the carved eye was intentionally split, so that granite eye was forever weeping, and the stream flowed out from that point.
Attached to the railing of the bridge was a long bamboo rod and cup, so those on the bridge can draw a cup of the clear sharp water for themselves from the stream as it flowed under the bridge.
At least, that was the intent.
“Pay up! You have to pay up! Water isn’t free and there are maintenance costs to be paid!”
The sinewy old man shoved his open hand in my face to accentuate the command for money.
“Maintenance costs? What maintenance costs? Where is it listed that I am expected to pay you money, and what am I paying you money for?”
The old man withdrew his hand to lift his gray flat cap and scratched his balding head. He looked me up and down with surprise. “Because I told you to, you silly girl! And you are paying me money to maintain this fountain!” He pointed to a banner erected upon a shoddy wood arch at the departing end of the stone carved bridge.
“ZIEGLER” The banner held no other name nor information.
“You’re… Ziegler, I take it.”
“Aye, I am! And you owe me, lassy! Either you pay with cash or you owe your ass!”
“By what right, Mr. Ziegler? Fontana does not belong to you, nor to me, nor to anyone else. Not even to the stonewright who made the bridge or the decoration. Fontana was meant to be available to all who are able to access it. Merely be being here, I have right to be here. And whatever scam you are trying to pull can fuck off, right along with you.”
He lifted his two-tone gray tweed flat cap and scratched his even more balding head again. “Woman! Talk some sense into this lass before I get upset.” A blond woman came from under the wood arch up the wrong way of the bridge. She tried to pull me off the bridge while explaining that the Great Honorable Ziegler has worked very hard in maintaining the fountain and keeping it accessible, and that if I meant to take advantage of the pure waters of the fountain, the least I could do is show some gratitude by some means of support.
Her eyes were glued shut by dried blood that had caked around her swollen eyelids. She had a strange wound on her forehead, as if a great boil had swollen and burst. The cavity was draining white fluid down her face.
I pulled away from her. “Absolutely not!”
She reached for me again. Raising her voice a little higher and speaking a little faster, as I backed away from her, she further explained that the waters of this fountain were too powerful to be imbibed without preparation, and that the Mighty and Powerful Magus Ziegler had found a way to prepare the drinker. And for this selfless act, the least I could do for his stopping me from harming myself, is by some means of support.
I realized I was being herded away from the fountain. As I ducked under her arm to return to the crown of the bridge, I spat at her feet.
She was unable to pass the wetness.
As I turned back towards the fountain, I felt a sharp pain in my forehead. Two large hands had seized my head while something thin and pointed tried to force its way into my skull.
“That’s right! Hold the bitch just like that! I’ll have that egg, I will!” Zeigler was stabbing a long and sharp fingernail into my forehead. He did not so much as pierce the skin, but the attempt was still very painful.
I reached up and grabbed his hands. He cried out as if in pain. “Let go of me! Why do you abuse the elderly! I am just an old man preventing you from making my mistake!” The joints of his hands moved in impossible directions, making him as easy to hold as a greased snake and twice as dangerous. Every time he managed to work a hand free (which was often), he was assaulting my forehead again and again until I could get a new grip on him.
The entire time, the blond woman was exhorting me to remain calm and to remain still because the Incarnation of the Secret Chiefs, the Embodiment of Divinity, and the Enlightened Pure Soul named Zeigler was going to remove the organ that causes blindness when exposed to the pure waters of the fountain. All I had to do was allow him to temporarily blind me and then I will see everything like she does.
I could either work to free myself from the strong man’s grip, or play slick willy with Zeigler. As either option meant I was going to get a headache regardless, I bit my tongue to bear the pain and worked on freeing myself from the strong man.
I realized I was dreaming, and with the realization came a portion of lucidity. I called my feathercloak to myself tightly, transformed it into wings, and pushed everyone away from me with all the strength I could muster on such short notice.
Ziegler and his red and gray tweed flat cap went tumbling down the bridge towards the shoddy wood arch. The strong man fell down at my feet as if he had merely fainted. The blond woman tumbled down the other side of the bridge and fell off into the bare field surrounding the bridge and fountain.
I looked at the strong man. His eyes were also sealed shut from dried blood and the wound in his forehead was dry from age but still very swollen and red.
I turned to look at the blond woman but I did not see her. I realized what I had earlier thought were mounds of exposed rock was really the bodies of thousands of people. She moved, catching my attention.
“Master… I have strayed from your path! Forgive me! Quench my thirst that I may rejoin you in paradise!” She floundered among the bodies. As she moved, those under her reacted in pain as she stepped, crawled, and fell over them. Soon the entire mass of bodies surrounding the fountain was crying out for someone they held to be their savior.
“Useless. The whole lot of them!” Ziegler was standing beside me while the strong man was attempting to recover and stand. “This is what I am trying to save you from, girl! They have all drank from this fountain! Each and every one. And look! They all have suffered from it! Their sight has been taken from them!”
I looked back at the bodies. Every face that I could see had the same wounds. Eyes glued shut by dried blood, and a deep wound in their forehead where something was pulled away. I raised my hand to my own forehead where Ziegler had assaulted me. It was sore from his attempt, but there was no damage done.
Two strong hands clasped around my head again. Ziegler raised his blood red and bone white flat cap to rub the giant exposed eyeball that the crown of his head had become as he laughed and laughed. “They wanted to see wonders! The waters of this fountain washes away that which fouls sight and allows those who drink from it to see and see. But! Only if you can already see. Funny enough, you can’t get to the fountain unless you see. So you see… hehehe… the fountain itself is nothing special. It is a marker. By being here, you have already accomplished what you set out to do.”
“You took their sight. How did you trick them out of it?” Ziegler had already begun assaulting my forehead anew, but his strongman only had two hands. Again it became a game of capturing a greased snake. Only with more commentary.
“I didn’t trick them! They couldn’t deal with what they saw! They all came here thinking that the things they saw which scared them were lies and that the world was much more nicer and much more purer and that humanity can’t possibly be that inhumane! Hahaha! Not even children lie to themselves like that. So I offered to take it. I told them the waters were too strong and if I took away what blinded them, they would be purified. And each one yielded to me! Each one… except you! Hold still, lass!”
The strong man had lifted me off the ground by my head and I was losing my grip on Ziegler’s hands faster and faster. “I refuse to yield, and… OUCH YOU FUCKING BASTARD GET THE FUCK OFF AND WHY ARE YOU EVEN TRYING TO TAKE MINE ANY-FUCKING-WAY?!”
Ziegler stopped. He had climbed my body and was pinning my arms down with his legs as he tried to pry his thumb nails into my forehead. It hurt like all the chili I have regretted eating in my life all at once but he didn’t even manage to scrape enough skin cells for a culture sample. The ring of hair remaining on his head was in a circumambulating single line resembling giant eyelashes. The entire dome of his head was a great lidless bloodshot eye with a very dark iris. His own eyes had started to weep blood and he had to squint to look at me.
“I want to see wonders. I want to see everything. I drank from the fountain but all I could see was myself, and I could not bear to see that. The more I drank, the clearer I saw myself, and I did not want to see that. I never wanted to see that. I wanted to see wonders and the fountain only made me see my reflection in all things. But if I look with someone else’s eyes, I can see wonders again. Give me your eyes. Give me your sight. Let me see wonders. In return, I will hide you from yourself and you will never see how ugly you can be.”
“Dude. Read a fucking book. If you’re blind in the waking, there’s braille, audio books, and screen readers. Until you learn how to look past yourself, your self is all you are going to see, even through other people’s eyes! Face yourself!”
He noticed that I was staring at the deformation of his head. He pulled a leathery flat cap from a pocket and stretched it over his head. His own eyes started to clear.
He dug his nails into my eyes for purchase as he tried to bite through the skin of my forehead.
In return, I forced my wings out again with all the force I had been gathering during his speech. This time, I threw the strongman off of the bridge to join the blond woman. Ziegler fell towards his shoddy wooden arch but before he had landed I was on top of him.
“I’ve had quite enough of this bullshit.” I seized his arm and threw him into one of the shoddy supports. Yellowing paint (formerly white) shattered off the decaying surface to settle on and around us. Twisting the arm I still gripped, I smiled to hear him yelp with the surprise of feeling pain.
“Let me go! I can teach you things! There is more to the power we share than sight!”
“As a great and powerful wizard once enlightened me: No.” An instinct emanated from the ink black feather cloak. I knew where I had to take him, and how.
The first body parts I snatched off of him were his legs and feet so he couldn’t run. He shrieked when he saw his foot fly past his human face. He began to twist and fight back in earnest, but I was quicker this time. Soon I had dismembered him, joint by joint, until the only part of him that moved was the part I held, his head.
I pinched his nose for purchase, removed the leather cap and placed his head back in the cap so the human face was covered. Seeing the giant exposed eyeball did not bother me in the least. I looked around twice to see if there was anything I needed to take with me, nodded, then closed my eyes and willed myself into the Boneyard.
As I strutted through the mounds of burning bones, I called out to the Ravens. I was surprised to hear my voice caw and rasp as if I had spoken their language my entire waking life. I was greeted by Ravens and we conversed as flock mates as they asked what had I brought to them and who was I seeking.
A giant bird, taller than I am, settled on a mound of unburnt bones. A Ravenlord had arrived. It acknowledged my approach with a bobbing murmur.
«Hey [Old Man]! Remember when you said I should have come to you sooner regarding [Nathan]?» The Ravenlord bobbed its head again. «Well, here’s another asshole. If I brought him to the wrong spot, lemme know and I’ll take him from here but he’s done pissed me off like fuck.»
I surprised myself even further with the gross familiarity that I spoke with the Ravenlord. If the master of this place was offended, it was not demonstrating that. It clapped its beak and cocked its head sideways. «What did the [little bitch] do?»
Its reply settled my concerns about formality. «He tricked others into giving up their ability to see, and tried to crack my own skull open to steal mine!» I pointed at my very sore forehead and was concerned when I felt a raw wound. He had succeeded in breaking the skin, and I did not know how deeply.
«Aww, ain’t he a little fuck. Show us.»
I gripped the head by what was exposed of the vertebra and lifted him out of the leather cap. The giant iris moved wildly trying to focus on me as he screamed threats and obscenities to all within earshot.
The Ravenlord regarded him one way then another. With a dismissive clack it made a definitive gesture of disgust. «Eww. Not even good for eating. This one died a long time ago and should have decayed quickly. It continues by what it has chewed off of others. Throw it in the fire, and throw its cap in a different fire.»
I threw the head into a fire off to my left and threw the cap into a fire off to my right. My forehead started itching with pain immediately. The Ravenlord reached down and with its beck, pinched warm ash from a nearby fire. Somehow I knew what it means to do and offered my hand. It deposited the ash into my hand and told me to rub the ash on my forehead.
The pain ceased immediately and the ash mixed with the fluid seeping from the wound to create a poultice that started to flake off in soggy bits. I grabbed more ash and rubbed it on the wound further until the ash no longer mixed with anything and my forehead was smooth and unmarked.
«Poison. What it could not steal from you, it would attempt to render useless. Do not underestimate how deeply the spite and envy can harm you even though not a hand is lifted against you.»
The Ravenlord examined me and noted new markings and scars from the last time I was looked over thusly. It congratulated me on some things and brooded me on others.
«Your work is not yet complete. Return to the fountain and see to it that none of its traps remain.»
I nodded and bobbed before the Ravenlord. I croaked some farewells to some Ravens, and screeched some farewells to others. I took to flight and was immediately back on the bridge before the fountain.
Many of the bodies that had accumulated around the fountain were gone. Their flesh melted away as the waters from the spring washed away what was no longer bound by Ziegler. I saw that the small bridge was really the peak of a series of bridges and wood ledge paths that wound around a tall and narrow spire of granite. The carving around the spring itself remained unchanged. The fountain still had the imagery of being a weeping eye.
Without Ziegler around to maintain the illusion, I could see what was part of Fontana and what was his trap. The shoddy wooden arch fell apart the moment I laid a finger on it. A barely noticed breeze scattered the disintegrating slivers away from the fountain and into the unviewable valley below. The banner remained however and fell across the bridge. As I picked it up, I saw I had stepped on a pile of ash that was formed in the shape of a foot.
No, that’s not in the shape of a foot, that is a foot. All the body parts I had removed from Ziegler had burnt completely up so that only inert ash remained.
I stood as far away from the fountain as I could and held the banner over the railing. Willing fire to come from me, I incinerated the banner as I held it, allowing only the ashes to fall away from me into the valley below.
All this work made me thirsty. The bamboo cup shattered the moment I touched it. The splinters fell into the stream as it passed under the bridge, but I knew that the water itself would dissolve what remained and flush it far away from the fountain.
With the destruction of the cup, the water was now inaccessible to whoever stood here. I had a sense that if I were to jump into the stream, the waters would dissolve me too, and remove me from the dream and maybe even this life.
I wasn’t going to risk it.
Besides, perhaps not all of what Ziegler said was a lie. Perhaps the purpose of the fountain was not to bestow sight, but to be a marker that sight had been achieved. If you made it here, you had made it, period.
I watched the burbling “eye” of the fountain in peace and contemplation. Satisfied that all was as it should be, I turned and descended the bridge. In doing so, I left the dream.
Ziegler’s name and spelling was so consistent despite glancing at the banner dozens of times that I had to look it up after waking.
German and Jewish (Ashkenazic): occupational name for a tiler, from an agent derivative of Middle High German ziegel ‘roof tile’ (Old High German ziagal, from Latin tegula), German Ziegel. In the Middle Ages the term came to denote bricks as well as tiles, and so in some cases the term may have denoted a brickmaker or bricklayer rather than a tiler. (From Ancestry.com)
The bodies of his victims were the walls he made to restrict access. He tried to dam up the fountain and tried to chip away at my own head.
Good thing I don’t know any such named people in the Waking.