Adam pulled the bleeding body to The Fountain. He groaned and strained against the dead weight of the blonde woman. The woman’s heels dragged parallel lines through the dusty sand, her bare feet covered by seeping blisters and calluses.
She had been away from the fountain far too long.
Adam’s title appointed to him by the Counsel was Chief of Reclamations. A thankless job. He rescued those who had committed suicide, one heavy body after another, several bodies a day, an untold number over the years, and he never once was thanked. In fact, more often than not he had been spit on or physically threatened. But he had a job to do, so he did it daily and he did it well. Having a job was a good thing. It gave him purpose. If he did not have anything to occupy his time, he knew, he could end up very much like the blonde currently digging her dying heels in the sand. He, too, had thought about bashing in his own head with one of the greenish rocks littering the desert. He had thought about it many times at night when sleep would not come. A simple crack of skull, and all would be done.
Blessed darkness. Blessed silence. Blessed peace.
But he knew if he weren’t around, another Chief of Reclamations would be appointed. He would be pulled back to The Fountain, revived, and left with nothing but regret and the prospect of terminal unemployment. He knew full well that The Counsel refused to appoint vacancies to the Suicidals no matter how small the labor pool became. He would be pulled back into the world of the living, left without purpose, left without employment, left with nothing but his mind and the tortured thoughts bred from a forced immortality.
His work saddened him sometimes. Life after life tossed away, only to be retrieved, but still the life was gone. There was no glimmer of light left in the survivors’ eyes. They lived without spark, without fire. They were hollow and quiet—the spent shells of human beings. When he had time, he sometimes wandered among those who had been reclaimed. They wandered on the outskirts, beyond the crowded shores of The Fountain. He would strike up conversations with the less bitter survivors. They always confided the only thing keeping them going was looking for another way—any way—out. But there were none. The Counsel kept them all safe.
Whether they wanted that safety or not.
Adam paused to catch his breath and looked down at the blonde woman. Her face and mostly bare body was covered by dust and weeping sores. The skin was lined by wrinkles. She appeared mummified by the ravages of time, disease, and—most of all in Adam’s opinion—sadness.
He sighed, and began pulling her again. He was close to the fountain now. The air was filled by the smell of metallic moisture oozing up from a hidden spot deep beneath the surface of the world—the last wet place on Earth. The ever-present hungry crowd drinking from the fountain parted to make way for Adam. They understood Adam’s appointment by the Counsel gave him privileged access to the life-sustaining waters. They had seen some of the punishments for defying the Counsel. New tortures were created for dissenters and publicly displayed. The variety and pure sadism of punishments were a terrifying prospect in a world without death, where any body could be revived no matter how much the body suffered.
Breathing heavily, Adam stepped backwards into the fountain, pulling the blonde woman in with him.
She floated like a log. He waded in, pulling her, until the water was up to his neck. Adam held her with the palms of his hands; one hand under her neck, the other beneath the small of her back. He felt the familiar force pull her under and he let the force take her down, while keeping his hands on her. He could feel vibrations in his hands. It was tiring and unpleasant no matter how often he let the waters use him this way. Revival took strength. Adam felt like his own life was leaving him through the palms of his hands. He ducked under the surface of the water and fought against instinct.
No matter how many times he did this, it never felt natural. He took in a breath of the water and pushed it in and out from his lungs. Once breathing the water, his strength returned to him and he let the currents surround him and the woman he carried. He held her tight against his ribs. He felt her wrinkled skin smooth, her body began to shake and shiver.
Adam opened his eyes. Through the murk, he saw bubbles pour forth from her mouth and nose. Her crushed skull reformed. He saw her eyes open wide and recognized her terror and shock. He had seen those emotions countless times before.
But looking into her green eyes, he saw something else in her. Something he had never seen before. Something he could not define. Not quite a flame, but perhaps a spark?
Once back on shore, once recovered, Evelyn cursed Adam. She screamed at him, kicked at him, spit at him. She ran up to him and clawed at him. His body still retaining some of the waters of The Fountain, he could not feel her scratches.
“Why are you smiling!” she screamed at Adam.
He had no clue.
She stalked off, and Adam followed, unable to take his eyes off the way she moved.
He knew he was leaving his post behind—perhaps he would face torture before The Counsel filled his position—but Adam no longer cared.
He had found something else worth living for.