Treading softly, her bare feet trying to avoid crushing the tiny creatures she knew were there, she made her way down to where she could hear the rushing of water. The stream slipped over the rounded rocks, smoothing them by the very force of its motion. It called out in a burble, murmuring sounds over and over, daring to splash and then hide under sheltered banks. It looked so cool, the flashes of sunlight caught in the water’s sparkling net, she was drawn to dip her toes.
The mossy bank cushioned her as she stretched out one dusty foot. Tickling her toes, the droplets swarmed, sucking the dryness and leaving glistening patches. Inviting, entrancing her, she succumbed. With a two handed twist, she had wrenched off her dress and was in that water, shivering from the sudden shock of the change of temperature.
Her dark hair floated on the surface as she tried to open her eyes beneath. For a brief instant, all was dark and murky. The mud, disturbed by her entry, settled in slow folds, rippling on the bottom of the river. Her toes clenched at the uneven ground seeking purchase. She wavered, teetering, unbalanced, rocked by the motion she had set up.
Then, her sight cleared and the water brightened. Each reed was revealed in its sharp laurel frond. The tiny fish glimmered as they darted round her legs, snipping, nibbling and picking at her skin. A bubble of laughter popped from her nostrils. Joyous delight in the wonder of the riverbed, alive with creatures she had never seen before.
She stretched out a hand to capture a miniscule black dot as it warbled past her. It slipped through her questing fingers as cream through a sieve. She teased it for a little while longer until afraid of damaging it, she desisted. Marvelling at the new world that had opened up to her, she tentatively lifted one foot then another off the ground. She spread her arms and gave herself up to the strength of the stream.
Her body floated this way and that. The stream continued its course around, about and under her. Sometimes a rock protruded, she pushed away from it. Sometimes she was content to let the stream take her where it willed. Her skin wrinkled. The tiny fish surrounded her and released her. She sloughed her old self off, feeling it fall away from her as chains from a freed slave.
The water bore her onwards through white froth and spume, lighter, airier, unfettered, down to a wide sheltered pool. She darted between sticks, hid behind rushes, danced through the spray of rainbow coloured globules, laughing and singing. She belonged here. She dived deep, seeking the bottom. A cave revealed itself under the overhang of the bank. She swam closer. The walls were ribbed like an ancient mariner’s chest. The roof arched narrowly and squeezed itself into a fissure that trickled thin rays of sunlight. The darkness beyond sent shivers of fear through her. She retreated to a shallower area.
The seasons drifted ever onwards. She found a home for herself within the pool. The creatures all knew her and befriended her. She was not lost for company. The willows bent their heads to whisper secrets they had captured from the wind. The bright kingfishers gleamed brilliant blue and gave her eyes the flash of radiance that comes with true beauty. The rain spattered richness, adding minute particles of matter that was absorbed by her pool, changing them into food, fuel, life forms. She was content. She had no memory left of those distant harsh times. Nothing remained to remind her. Only the dark recesses of the cave gave her pause.
The wind whistled through the branches, it cackled and shrilled. She dived deep into the water, hoping it would be enough. There was a stirring in the mud at the bottom of her pool. Large cracks appear and the water seeped in, forcing the gaps wider and ever wider. Hot steam pillared up, bubbling and boiling as it did so. A phoenix flew out of the chasm that ripped her pool apart. It soared high, screaming with the agony of rebirth. Swooping low, it brushed the surface of the drained pool, charring the bodies of the creatures floundering there. Three times it circled, diving, squawking and singeing. It hurled itself against the sky glowing in the blue, ever fainter, a bright speck to join the dust of starlight.
She had huddled inside the cave. No fear caused her limbs to tremble. She gasped as her lungs adjusted. Her eyes, awash with sorrow for her companions, closed. The ground beneath her feet solidified, calcified. Faltering fingers gripped the dried walls. She steadied herself and breathed in deeply. Cautiously, she opened her eyes, daring herself to see the chaos that she was sure lay beyond.

A breeze played with the tendrils of her hair. Her hands rediscovered her changed body. She lifted her legs and wondered at the weight they now had. The grass tickled her toes and she moved on, clutching the stone. She did not look back, she did not need to. The way was clear.
The end

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