For a coin of such small denomination as to be nearly worthless despite its age, it was possible to cause water to flow, briefly, down a rock wall darkened with chemical stains on the lichened north side of an ancient building. Each worn disc, a flake of tarnished bronze or copper, was inserted into a vertical slit surrounded by a plaque of metal so corroded that only traces of its original ornamentation or inscription now remained.

We could hear the coin falling behind the wall, a downward, fading tinkle. A few minutes later, a subtle vibration would begin under our feet, then groans, and the rising gurgle of water, which would suddenly spurt forth, foaming, a cataract in miniature which gradually slowed over the next quarter-hour to a film of iridescent moisture oozing over slick stone, and eventually dried to leave lacelike encrustations of salts.

We wondered whether the edifice had once been a temple, if the rush of water was a lesser form of sacrifice—there were days when the water was dark, ruddy with iron oxides, warm as draining blood. Watching the swirling, ephemeral stream and listening to its liquid murmur soothed our desperate anguish, but we never dared drink that water, which was reputed to be poisonous; we could only slake our thirst on the blood of children we did not know. Sometimes we would let them watch the water, first.

©2006 F.J. Bergmann

"Waterfall" appeared on 21 Stars Review #4

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