The Bottle

I lie in the tall, green grass, feeling the cool morning dew brush against my skin. Eyes closed, the warm heat of the midday sun washes over me like a soothing bath. A faint trickle accompanies me from a winding river to one side. A dark shadow crawls over me and my eyes flicker open, glaring at the sky in protest. The invading cloud storms across, engulfing the sun. I sit up with a huff and raising a fist in the air, curse the fluffy intruder. It seems to do the trick though as a few seconds later the cloud passes, spitting out the sun as it drifts lazily away. I thank the fleeing sunshine blotter as the rays hit my skin, healing my stiffened bones. I yawn loudly and rub my sleep-encrusted eyes. With a low groan I attempt to stand but my aching legs protest and I flop back onto the grass, not caring. I giggle childishly and roll over onto my side. I overbalance slightly and nearly topple over the bank into the icy water. That would certainly wake me up. I feel drunk on the sun and refuse to sober up. Lying on my side I watch the dark blue water ripple past. Something glints on the surface and I pull myself up into a seated position, intrigued. The sun glints off it for a second time and I narrow my eyes, trying to discern its identity. It’s a large glass bottle bobbing along with the current. I jump to my feet, all tiredness pushed from my mind. There is something inside the bottle. I hastily grab my rucksack and my tattered, well read paperback copy of ‘The Beach’ and jog after the mysterious bottle. Drawing alongside I glimpse a closer look and discover a folded piece of paper stuffed inside. The river begins to pick up more speed, the current sucking the bottle into a series of mini rapids. In my frenzied haste I slip on a wet patch of grass and crash to the ground. I emerge a moment later, spluttering dirt and grass. The bottle has disappeared. I let loose a series of profanities and pummel the earth in clenched fists like a stubborn toddler in a supermarket aisle. I roll onto my back, red faced and breathing hard.

I limp down the dusty path that skirts along the river. I am in a foul mood, not helped by the fact that the sun has fucked off. I feel a faint raindrop fleck my cheek and I stop and look up at the sky. My face twists into a ball of rage and I scan the floor around me for something to throw. My mouth drops open. A long log juts out onto the grassy verge, half submerged in the rushing waters. The glass bottles knocks against it, buffeted by the flowing stream. I drop my bag and book and clamber carefully onto the log. I am halfway across the slippery log with an arm outstretched towards the trapped bottle when there is a tremendous snap and the next thing I now I am suddenly underwater, being dragged along by the fast current. Kicking out my legs I break the surface and gasp as the air returns to my lungs. The bottle zips past and my hand shoots out automatically. I manage to curl my fingers around its neck just in time to stop it being swept further down river. I register the low tree branch too late, my attention still focused on the captured bottle. It smacks into my forehead with a dull thud and I slip beneath the water once more. Darkness consumes me and I pass out. My body becomes limp and I float to the surface, face down. The rushing river guides my body downstream like a piece of forgotten flotsam.

I wake with a deep gargle as I cough up water from my battered lungs. I roll onto my side and take in deep lungfulls of air. The long grass beneath me brushes my face and tickles the inside of my nostrils.

‘Take it easy now.’

I roll over onto my back once more and shield my eyes as the bright, afternoon sunlight blinds me. It is a harsh white and gives me a searing headache. I peer between the gaps in my fingers and can just make two dark shapes towering over me.

‘Can you hear me?’ One of them says and moves closer.

My eyelids flicker open and shut several times. The closer of the two shapes slowly materializes above me. It is a young man with curly, sandy coloured hair and freckles. I frown at him and heave myself up into a seated position. Standing behind the freckled man is an old woman with silvery hair and large gold earrings.

‘What happened?’ I croak, my lungs still heavy with river water.

‘You fell in the river love. Must have banged your head.’

I put a hand to my forehead and trace a finger along the raised bump of skin. I wince as I brush the tender flesh.

‘Lucky I was passing by and saw you?’ The freckled man says.

‘Thank you so much.’ I say, my words choking in my lungs as the full weight of my near death experience hits me.

‘Lets give him some room dear. He needs time to process this.’ The old woman says, leading the freckled man away.

I smile at her gratefully, appreciating the sentiment. Taking a deep breath I bow my head between my legs and try to re center my thoughts.

‘Oh and by the way, you were holding this when we fished you out.’

The freckled man produces the bottle and hands it to me.

‘Must hold some importance to you. Had to prize it free from your fingers.’

Stunned, I take the bottle and turn it over in my hands, inspecting the piece of paper still trapped inside. I try fishing it out with my fingers but to no avail. Scanning the floor I find a thin twig and try again. Success. I hook the paper on the end and lever it carefully out.

‘What is it?’ The old woman says, intrigued.

‘I don’t know.’ I reply and unfold it delicately, making sure not to tear it.

I suddenly burst into laughter and collapse onto the ground. The freckled man and old woman exchange puzzled looks. The freckled man picks the piece of paper from the floor and turns it over.

‘I don’t get it.’ He says and hands it to the woman.

Written on the paper in an untidy scrawl are the words ‘Drink Me’. She shakes her head, not understanding either and glances back down at me. I have stopped laughing now and lie on my back, staring at the sky with a wide grin across my face. I just nearly died for a piece of paper with an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ reference on it. I close my eyes and breathe in, amused at the absurdity of my day at the river.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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