Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | October 24, 2009

Water-crystals

Bailey Island, ME. June 20, 2009.

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At the edge of the sea, where the black rocks rise jagged like giant’s teeth, that is where the water-crystals grow.

Ria climbs carefully down the black rocks, her bare toes finding hidden ridges and creases. Thump, thump — she hears the heartbeat of sea beating against stone. It is the sound and its vibration that feeds the baby crystals, says Old Alma. They form like dewdrops, but with delicate skin like a soft berry and a center that bursts with the power of the sea.

This is the first time Ria has come out here alone, and the first time that she has dared cross the black rocks.

Old Alma always collected the water-crystals herself. She’d go out with a bucket and return six hours later with piles of strange grasses, roots, nuts, and berries. But the water-crystals were always the most beautiful, and the rarest. People would travel from all corners of the world to buy them, but Alma wouldn’t always sell her precious crystals, and she never said where she found them.

But Ria had found the secret last night.

It had been two weeks since Old Alma went out hunting crystals. Two weeks since she’d cooked her own meal or even gotten out of bed. Ria took care of her as best she could, even though the neighbors whispered that this was the end. Death was waiting for the old witch.

There has to be a cure somewhere in all these notebooks and recipes, Ria had thought. While Old Alma slept, she searched through page after page – until she found the scrawled note in a torn off corner tucked behind a jar of black currant jam.

At the edge of the sea, where the black rocks rise jagged like giant’s teeth, that is where the water-crystals grow.

Now Ria lowers herself to the flat stone at the base of the cliff, where each crash of a wave splatters her with stinging salt tears.

She can see the water-crystals–just a few steps closer to the angry sea, full of ripe crystals that haven’t been plucked since last time Old Alma came this way.

Ria tries to imagine the old woman climbing down — and back up! — the cliff, and shudders. The next wave sends a slick of water across the rock, freezing Ria’s toes. She slips and slides as she inches forwards, steadying herself with her arms straight out like a bird’s wings.

Finally, she is close enough to touch them. Her small hand reaches out, catches the closest water-crystal. She has never touched one before. It’s warm! she thinks with surprise.

Warm like a living creature, not a plant. Quickly but carefully, she slides one clump of crystals into a pouch. Then the next, and the next.

There is only one crystal left, hanging over the tumbling surf, seeming to sing with the rising breeze.

I need your strength to get me home, Ria thinks, and swallows it, feeling warmth and a strange buzzing strength fill her belly.

Suddenly, the sea seems tame as a muddy fish pond. The jagged black cliff might as well be a hill of soft dirt. Ria laughs at the sky and runs, hugging her precious pouch to her chest.

This is the magic everyone wants, and she has it. Old Alma never needs to know–Ria will run to the next town, the next country even–she has the energy. All she has to do is keep one water-crystal to help her come back. She’ll become the richest person in the world; she’ll live in a palace full of all the wonders her mind can imagine.

She reaches the road and peeks inside her pouch, thinking, maybe I’ll have just one more. One more won’t hurt right now, will it?

But the pouch is empty. At the bottom, the cloth is damp and glowing slightly, like something was there, but it escaped.

Always treat magic with respect, child, respect and fear. Old Alma says. You can’t control it. It controls you.

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