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SHORT STORY: “Propagation”


It was different this time. Genuine. He could feel it crystallizing inside him, building on itself, threatening to overflow. This was no farce; he knew he’d finally found what he’d sought for so long.

Andrew opened his eyes.

He aimed his flashlight toward the steady drip from the stalactite and gaped. This tiny source of water he’d just drunk from seemed to pump new life into the dark cave. And his soul.

He’d always imagined a bottomless pool—or pools—sparkling with brilliance, reaching for him, pulling him in with supernatural power. Many times, he’d even found some resembling that mental image, filling his heart with hope that his long search had ended. Ultimately, though, no amount of his human will could alter the reality that each source he’d found was superficial. Dead.

Until now.

The simplicity of it all stunned him: that the true source—the source of truth—would be found in a single drip from one stalactite. Had he realized that at the outset, his search might not have been so long and painful. But none of that mattered now. Regardless of how he’d reached this point, the important thing was that he’d finally arrived.

His body trembled.

He thought back to the beginning, recalling how so many had scoffed at him and his quest, and he couldn’t help but feel vindicated. Come on, they would say. Don’t you know the story about the water in the cave is just a fairy tale to get kids’ imaginations running? Well, it had gotten one kid’s imagination running, helping him to dream of something in this world greater than himself. And in the end, that childlike wonder Andrew had retained into adulthood led him to search the network of caves in which this source of living water was supposedly hidden.

And find it.

He drew a breath and realized that the cave somehow seemed warmer now than when he’d entered. He still sensed the cool air surrounding him, but it was as if he were immune, as if it couldn’t penetrate his bodily barriers and affect his inner being.

He played his flashlight around the cave, and it appeared—well, brighter wasn’t exactly the word—more in focus. He could decipher greater detail of the stalactites reaching down from the ceiling like spikes, surrounding the one from which he’d drunk. Every element in that cave worked together, all serving that precious one that dripped new life into the cave. Now that Andrew’s eyes were open, he could understand and appreciate the brilliance of the setup. It made perfect sense to him.

Everything did.

Wild emotions and thoughts coursed through his mind and his spirit. He had to figure out what to do next.

Because he was the only one in the entire world who knew of this water and its potent effects, shouldn’t he tell someone about it? Shouldn’t he tell everyone? But what if others wouldn’t want the water? What if they wouldn’t believe what it had done for him? What if after ridiculing the legend for so long their hearts would be too hardened to be filled?

After careful consideration, he pushed those troubling thoughts aside, knowing the transformation inside him was real and needed to be shared with others, no matter how they reacted. What kind of a person would he be if he kept something so glorious to himself?

Confident in his decision, he extracted a small jug from his backpack. Barely able to grip it in his shaky hands, he twisted off the cap and positioned the jug beneath the drip.




With each drop in his jug, his heart pumped new hope through his veins.

He knew a lot of people, and he couldn’t wait to share the good news.

* * * * *

The following day, Andrew visited his brother, Tom, where he worked. He could think of no one else he would rather share the water with first.

Without knocking, he thrust aside Tom’s office door. He found Tom sitting behind his desk, facing a computer. He snapped his head toward Andrew.

“Hey,” he said, “what brings you …” He trailed off, pausing to look Andrew up and down.

Andrew stood silent, trying to contain his excitement.

“Something’s different about you.”

Andrew’s lips shot up into a grin. “I found it, Tom. I finally found it!”

Tom raised his eyebrows and his mouth toyed with a grin of its own. “What?”

“The water.”

Tom’s face flattened.

“Aren’t you excited? I’ve been trying to find this my whole life. And now I have. Aren’t you happy for me? And don’t you want some, too?”

Andrew stepped forward and extended his hand, palm open, across the desk. On it rested a plastic vial containing the water.

Tom rotated his eyes toward it, but he made no move for it. “What is it?”

“Good question. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer. I can’t tell you what it is and have it make sense. It only makes sense after you drink it. So does everything else. Believe me when I say it’s the best thing you’ll ever do. Get ready for a new perspective.”

Tom didn’t reply.

“What’s the matter? Haven’t you heard about what it can do?”

“Sure. But you do realize that legend is just that¾a legend. Right?”

“Wrong. No legend here. Only truth.”

“But how do you know? Like you said, you’ve wanted this your entire life. Now you think you have it. Powerful thing, the mind.”

“No way, Tom. This is really it.”

Andrew pushed the vial closer to Tom, but he stepped back as if it scared him. He stumbled over his own chair and nearly plummeted to the ground. After a few awkward flails, he thrust his arms to his sides and managed to regain his balance.

His face tight and his nostrils flared, he said, “Don’t force that stuff on me.”

Andrew frowned. “But it’s a good thing. You want it. Trust me.”

“You don’t know what I want. Only I do. And I don’t want some poison that may end up giving me cancer. I don’t know anything about that stuff. Where’d you get it anyway?”

“In the caves, where it was supposed to be.”

“So it’s just some random water from some dirty cave. No, thanks.”

“You don’t understand—”

“No, you don’t understand. I don’t want it, okay? If you want to think it made some difference for you, that’s your business. But I don’t need it.”

Andrew’s hand began to shake, and the vial fell. It struck Tom’s desk, bounced, flipped twice in the air, struck the desk again, and plummeted over the edge. It danced a couple times upon hitting the floor, then came to rest. A white vial highlighted by the deep brown carpet beneath it.

Andrew didn’t bother to retrieve the vial; instead, he just stared at Tom. His worst fear that people wouldn’t accept the water had already come to fruition, and in the person of his own flesh and blood. If he couldn’t convince Tom of the water’s genuine origin, how could he possibly do so for anyone else?

Stop it, he thought. So what if Tom won’t listen? I can’t let that stop me from giving the water to anyone else who might need it.

Which, of course, was everyone—whether they believed it or not.

* * * * *

Andrew’s best friend, John, was next. Surely he would drink the water.

“I don’t know,” he said. “How do you know it’s not toxic in some way?”

Andrew tried to convince him that the water wasn’t toxic—that it was, in fact, the opposite.

“I just don’t know,” John continued to say.

And so it went. Andrew visited friend after friend, person after person, but no one would even consider drinking the water. They were all too scared about what it might to do to them.

But why? Couldn’t they see what it had done for him, what it continued to do? No, they couldn’t. Something had sealed their eyes shut.

So what was Andrew to do? Hope was rapidly evaporating. Was he not trying hard enough? Should he simply bind those he knew to a chair and dump the water down their throats?

No. This was something that couldn’t be forced. If people didn’t want to drink the water, he could do nothing further. Knowing that, though, was he to abandon all hope that eventually some would come to their senses and realize they were only rejecting a chance at experiencing the same incredible changes currently gushing through Andrew’s being? He was beginning to think so.

Until he received an unexpected knock on his door that night.

Nick, the town sheriff, wanted to talk. Andrew knew him fairly well, it being small town, but clearly this was not a friendly visit.

Standing in the front doorway of Andrew’s house, Nick glanced around over his shoulder. He turned back to Andrew and whispered, “I heard what you found, it’s all over the town. Most of them think you’re crazy, but I know you’re not a liar. Plus, I can see that look on your face. There’s something special about the water, but I don’t know if it’s exactly what you say.”

“Just believe.”

Nick asked more questions, staying a few minutes longer. He continued to glance back, searching. Ultimately, though, Andrew failed to convince him to drink the water. He left Andrew’s house no different from when he’d arrived.

But Andrew was different, now instilled with a smidgen of hope that some people might change their minds about the water. If he was being sought with specific questions, what he offered must have spoken to someone.

So he sat back and waited for more to come.

And waited …

And waited …

* * * * *

A week later, he had another visitor.

He opened his front door to see Tom. He stepped inside and shut the door behind him. A massive smile ruled his face.

His eyes were wide open.

Andrew’s heart surged in his chest. “You drank it!”

Tom nodded. “Don’t know why, but I picked that vial up off the floor and put it on my desk. I kept meaning to trash it, but never did. Just couldn’t stop thinking about the change I’d seen in you after you drank it. And, I know this is weird, but I almost felt that vial staring at me. Finally, the feeling got to me too much, and I drank it. Now I know.”

Andrew hugged his brother, and he sensed a new, stronger bond.

Tom pulled away. “Got any more of that stuff?”

“You only need to drink it once, bro.”

“I know. I want some for my friends.”


Andrew scurried to fetch Tom some extra vials; he returned with two handfuls. “That enough?”

“If not, I’ll come back for more. Got a lot of people I need to tell about this. I just hope they’ll listen.”

“Funny you say that, because I’ve been thinking a lot about it. I’ve decided that your obligation is simply to tell people. If you do that, you’ve done your part. The rest is out of your hands.”

Tom nodded. He opened the door to leave …

But someone stood there, blocking his way. Nick. Andrew wondered why he was hanging around outside his house without having rung the doorbell.

Nick first looked at Andrew, then at Tom, and finally at the vial in Tom’s hand. Nick’s eyes widened. He took another look at the two of them.

And stretched out his hand, palm open.