He had dreamed of the lady in the water again. Lady? Yes, show respect. She was older than him, but not impossibly so. Grave and yet not forbidding. Would she talk to him? She had looked at him soberly as he drove his goats down the dusty bank of the dream river – and then suddenly he had arrived again in the waking land of heat and flies and bad smells. Just himself of course – the goats were dream goats, perhaps the ghosts of his herd, slaughtered long ago in the war.
The nurse had woken him to give him his medicine. It was early morning, and the tent where they had brought him two days ago was cool. But not for long. With an effort he reached for the enamel cup beside his cot and took another sip. The water was warm and tasted of metal.
Exhausted by the effort, he closed his eyes. Already he was sleepy again. It was the medicine, or the Virus, or the hundred little diseases the Virus had spawned throughout his wasted body.
She had been wearing fur. Why? Because it had been cool in the dream. Cool, and the water had sparkled. He had longed to jump in, but her presence had stopped him, her silence. The time was not yet.
He drifted into an uncomfortably doze. His eyes closed, he was vaguely aware of people clustered around him, their low voices the murmur of wind in the leaves. His knees hurt, and his breath rasped and grated. “Not long,” he heard the young doctor say. Not long for what? He was hot, and his throat was very dry.
And suddenly he was by the river. And there was the lady, standing with her back to him, her fur coat floating in the cool water, the cool pleasant water. But still he hesitated on the bank. Then, she turned and gestured to him to come, a languid summons that could not be refused.
He hesitated, then moved to the edge of the river bank, and put his foot in the slow-moving flow. It was cool and delicious as the breeze at sunset of a sweltering day. He stepped into the water, now up to his knees, his waist, and began to walk across the sandy bottom. His body no longer hurt, and he was cool at last. The murmurs of the doctors became the murmurs of the river as the lady reached out to take his hand. “Come,” she said in a low voice, and together they walked out to where the river ran into dreams deep and far away.
Chris Atack has published two near-future SF novels as well as short stories and poems in various literary mags. He is a keen sailor, cross-country skier and serves as coxswain with the Canadian Auxiliary Coast Guard. Chris lives near Montreal, Canada, with his wife and their cat Maggie (aka the Iron Kitten). You can find more of his work here.