The assignment was to write about a trip to the river. I approached the task with a completely blank mind. This was the slightly odd result...
"Gosh, its hot," said David. Sweat glistened on his forehead and dripped off the point of his chin. He took a tissue out of his pocket and wiped his face with it.
"Didnt you blow your nose on that tissue just a couple of minutes ago?" asked Nathan.
"Yes," said David, "but its so hot that the snot dried to a crisp almost instantly. Thats the only good thing about this weather tissues become reusable rather than disposable!"
"Why dont we go down to the river and cool off by having a swim," suggested Nathan.
"Good idea," said David. "Ill get my togs and meet you there."
* * * *
The river flowed sluggishly as if the heat had sapped its energy and it simply couldnt be bothered to make the effort any more. "It looks a lot shallower than normal," said David.
"Yes," agreed Nathan. "I think at least half the river must have evaporated over the last couple of days."
"Never mind," said David. "Its still deep enough to swim and splash around in. I"ll race you to the other side."
"Im not racing," said Nathan. "That takes far too much energy. I"ll swim slowly across and Ill meet you under the willow tree."
"OK." agreed David. He breathed in deeply and then dived down and swam underwater in the vague direction of the willow tree. The water was murky and he couldnt see very far, but the river was not particularly wide and he was confident that he wouldnt veer too far off his course. Because the river was so much shallower than normal, he could actually see the bottom of it. Hed never been able to do that before. He saw clumps of weed wrapped around some spiky looking rocks. Here and there he caught glimpses of rubbish that people had discarded broken plates from a long forgotten picnic, several umbrellas, a single, lonely shoe, the inevitable supermarket trolley. And over there, not far from the willow tree, something that looked like a very old and curiously shaped bottle. How fascinating!
He surfaced, took a quick gulp of air and then dived down and grabbed hold of the bottle. Holding it tightly in one hand, he swam rather lopsidedly over to the willow tree where Nathan was waiting for him.
"What have you got there?" asked Nathan.
"Its a bottle," said David. "Or perhaps its a jar. Take a look." He handed it to Nathan.
"Whats the difference between a bottle and a jar?" asked Nathan.
"Bottles have narrow tops," said David, "and you store liquids in them. A narrow top makes it easier to pour the liquid out without spilling it. Jars have much wider tops and you put solid stuff in them, stuff that you can scoop out."
"Cant you keep liquid in a jar?" asked Nathan.
"Yes, you can," said David, "but you might splash your shoes when you decant it. Wide tops dont pour very well."
"Where does a bottle end and a jar begin?" asked Nathan, intrigued.
David shrugged. "It changes, depending on how solid your liquid happens to be," he said.
"Thats a dumb thing to say," said Nathan.
"No it isnt," said David. "Today is so hot that pretty much anything that can melt will have turned into a liquid. Therefore today a lot of jars will be bottles because they are full of liquid. Tomorrow it might be really, really cold and so tomorrow many of todays bottles will turn into jars because the stuff in them will have frozen solid."
"Oh," said Nathan, "I see. That makes sense."
The bottle David had found was obviously very old. It lacked the elegant lines and rounded edges of more modern containers. It was probably a jar because it had a very wide top with a huge cork in it. At some time in its life the cork had been sealed in place with wax, but over the years the wax had cracked and broken away and now very little trace of it remained. The glass was translucent rather than transparent. It had a pale green tinge and while both David and Nathan could definitely see that there was something inside it, they couldnt make out any details.
"I wonder what that thing in there is," said Nathan. "Do you think it might be valuable?"
David gave Nathan a scornful look. "I doubt it," he said. "This bottle looks like a pickle jar to me, so its probably got a one hundred year old pickled cucumber in it, or maybe an egg."
"Well, take the cork out and lets see what weve got," said Nathan.
"OK," said David. He wiggled the cork back and forth and eventually it popped out. He peered down into the jar. "Well, well," he said. "I think this is a bottle with a message in it. I can see something yellow that looks as if it might be a note."
"Well take it out and read it," said Nathan impatiently.
David reached into the jar and took the note out. It was folded in half so he unfolded it and read it. Then he showed it to Nathan. "Hmmm," he said. "I think someone might have been living in here."
The note said, GONE FOR LUNCH. BACK IN AN HOUR
"That doesnt tell us anything," said Nathan. "Since we dont know when this person actually went to lunch, we have no idea at all when the hour will be up. So goodness only knows when hell be back!"
The words on the note blurred and faded away. Other words floated into view. I DONT KNOW WHEN HELL BE BACK EITHER, said the note. HE WENT FOR LUNCH TEN YEARS AGO AND I HAVENT SEEN HIM SINCE.
"A lot of hours have gone by since then," said Nathan. "You must be quite worried about him."
I THINK HES HAVING AN AFFAIR WITH ANOTHER BOTTLE, said the note. A RATHER ELEGANT ONE CAME FLOATING BY. IT HAD A LONG, NARROW AND VERY SEXY NECK. ITS BODY HAD CURVES IN ALL THE RIGHT PLACES. NOT CHUNKY LIKE THIS ONE IS. AS SOON AS HE SAW IT HE WENT FOR LUNCH. I HOPE HES NOT BEEN EATING ALL THIS TIME. IF HE HAS, HELL BE FAR TOO FAT TO GET BACK IN HERE WHEN HE RETURNS.
"If he returns at all," said David. "Who is he anyway?"
HES A GENIE, said the note. IF HED BEEN HERE WHEN YOU OPENED THE BOTTLE HE WOULD HAVE TRIED TO GIVE YOU THREE WISHES.
"What do you mean by tried?" asked Nathan.
HE HAD A BIT OF A CRISIS ABOUT FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, said the note. HE KEPT ALL HIS WISHES IN THE FRIDGE BUT WE HAD A POWER CUT AND THEY WENT BAD. WE HAD TO THROW THEM ALL AWAY.
"Well thats no good to anyone," said David. "This really is a pretty useless bottle, isnt it?" He didnt wait for an answer, he just dropped the note back into the jar and tossed the jar into the river.
"Perhaps you should have put the cork back in before you did that," said Nathan.
"Why?" asked David.
Water started to flow into the jar. OH NO, said the note. THE ROOF IS LEAKING. The jar filled up with water and sank down to the bottom of the river. The note wriggled frantically for a few seconds. Then it went limp and still. An errant current washed it out of the jar. It rose to the surface and floated away downstream. It was completely blank. It said nothing at all.
"Thats why," said Nathan.