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Contemporary Adventure

Isobel stood at the mouth of a vast desert.


She could hear the waves of the Oasis lapping gently against the shore behind her, and she turned her head away from home. Worth it, she thought, soaking in the sight of the dunes before her. Worth everything.


And she’d given everything to be here-- her crown, her family-- everything just to look upon the earth and see nothing but possibility, feel everything but lack of breath and lack of time. She had no water, no resources, and no sense of smell, but she had her memories of home, and she had a blissful, glorious eternity.


“What would you give,” the woman bedecked in gold had asked her, “to live forever?”


Isobel took a moment to think, weigh her options, consider her assets. “Anything,” was her breathy reply.


The golden woman’s eyebrows twitched.


In the end, Isobel gave her sense of smell to the woman to be here, now, staring at endlessness.


“Why do you want my smell?” she’d asked.


“I deal in experiences.” The woman shrugged. “If someone wants to buy it, I gotta have it. That’s just good business.”


It seemed like a small price to pay. Besides, she’d already smelled all the things worth smelling: a dewdrop poised on a petal smelled precarious and anxious, a breathy laugh held hints of nutmeg and fear, a crown teetering on the edge of a pillow was eager, flowing, the essence of a springtime goodbye.


Beauty wafted in and out, but Isobel wanted permanence. She wanted to escape the ebb and flow, hold a blossom forever, step out of time.


Then the woman in gold had appeared, offering her just that.

No trick, no catch, just eternity and the precious moments that last forever: rosy skin, cherry tinted perfume pressed faintly against a mother’s wrist.


Goodbye Oasis, goodbye crown, goodbye mother, goodbye fear and forgetting and loss. Hello, everything.


Isobel began to walk.


Sand slipped between her laces and feet and chafed, and Isobel had never been happier. A wind picked up, sending small granules swirling against her cheeks and stinging her nose and clinging to the wetness of her eyes, and Isobel began to cry, but the tears were happy. She was mercifully, eternally relieved. She breathed in sand and soot and whatever else lay tucked into the crevices of the earth, but she was alive, and now that would never change.


All her life, Isobel had lived in the Oasis. Perfect, it had been called, a sanctuary for the dreamers. But all Isobel felt was trapped. There were too many people pressing in, every room packed and brimming with hopefuls. The salt-licked air smelled like coughs and perspiration and work-- backbreaking, heart-wrenching work. If this is what it meant to dream, Isobel wanted none of it. She just wanted to breathe.


Cherry blossom perfume became putrid, her mother’s rattling cough, vile. I want none of this, Isobel thought. I want Forever.

Forever was sand and it was dusk; it was tundras and it was awakeness. Forever was rocks poking through shoes and the irritation of pebbles scraping skin. Forever was imperfect and painful and predictable and everything.


Isobel walked on.


Her throat began to rub with dryness. Forever must not protect against dehydration. Still, Isobel continued to walk.


Her throat burned more and more until one day, about two years into Isobel’s journey, she came across a well.


It was the first well she had ever seen— she’d yet to find one in the desert, and in the Oasis, water flowed clean and pure through the streets. Everyone and everything was endlessly damp and sticky, but that wasn’t the type of endlessness Isobel sought. Anyway, it precluded the need for wells. This well was short and wide and surrounded by a small circle of rocks barricading it against the rolling dunes outside.


Isobel rushed to the parapet, threw her dusty jacket aside, and took deep, throaty gulps from the stagnant pit of water.


“You’re welcome,” said a voice behind her. Isobel swiveled her head, face dripping with brownish water. “That’s my well, you know.”

A woman with dark hair and darker eyes gazed down at her, arms crossed.


“I didn’t know,” stammered Isobel. The woman’s gaze didn’t waver. Then she snorted.


“Not like you care,” she said as she spread herself across one of the rocks at the perimeter.


“No.” Isobel snickered apologetically.


“Well, drink up,” the woman shifted onto her back and closed her eyes. “You’re obviously thirsty.”


Isobel took long, grateful gulps until her chest stopped burning and her tongue grew sore from swallowing. Isobel introduced herself. “I’m Isobel.”


Then it was the woman’s turn: “I’m Alba.”


The two sat in companionable silence. It didn’t last very long. Alba twitched. She sat back on her haunches, mirroring the now-crouching Isobel.


“You smell like cherries,” Alba said.


“I wouldn’t know.” Isobel moved to her discarded jacket and began unceremoniously beating sand out of the pockets. “I gave up my sense of smell.”


Alba’s brow twitched. She looked at Isobel’s head as if she could see the diadem still glittering there. “You’re from the Oasis.” She leaned forward. “Tell me about it.”


And that’s how it began.


Alba had never left the desert and was mesmerized by the idea of water, endless and twinkling, sweat that lingered instead of wicking out into the air.


So Isobel told her stories. She told her about sunsets and the colors that glanced off the water. She described distance and how it was measured in moments and goals instead of footsteps that lingered in the sand, permanent, everlasting.


There were no footprints in the Oasis—they were all covered by water; impossible to make a mark, impossible not to try. It was an eternity of doing and failing and working and striving. It was wonderful and cloying and backbreaking and soul crushing.


It was all the colors of the dawn glancing off the flowing water and meshing into an amalgamation of reds and blues and golds until it mixed and became brownish and dun. Its reflection became the desert. The mirror was the water; everything was covered in it. Everything reflected the light and the colors, and everything became dun.


The pair passed nearly three years sitting by the edge of that well, telling stories. Alba grew older; Isobel never changed.


One day, Isobel asked Alba a question that had been weighing on her from the first day they met. “How do you know what cherry blossoms smell like?” she asked, for there were no cherry trees in the desert.


Alba smiled and tilted her head. “One day, about five years ago now, a woman dressed entirely in shimmering gold asked me if I wanted to make a deal—to go somewhere other. She smelled strange and sweet, and when I asked what it was, she told me they were cherry blossoms. I didn’t smell them again until I met you. It’s faint, but it’s there.”


For once, Isobel sat still. She couldn’t move. Alba was offered a deal, but she said no.


“What about you,” Alba continued, “what is it with the cherry blossoms?”


“My mother,” Isobel cleared her throat. “My mother wore cherry blossom perfume.”


Alba stilled. Isobel had never mentioned her mother. “And did you wear it?”


“No, never. It must have lingered.” Isobel’s brows twitched, but she refused to let them furrow. She wanted to rub her wrists raw and press them to her cheek just to smell that smell, breathe in the sweet blossom scent and feel like she was at home again. Isobel restrained herself.


Each woman held her breath, waiting for something, anything to happen, to intervene. To take this moment and flip it back into wistful smiles. Isobel got what she’d wanted in the desert, though: nothing came unless she went looking for it. Even the moments lasted forever.


Isobel thought back to her home and tried to remember. She’d been recounting the Oasis to Alba for years, but she hadn’t stopped to think, to feel. She squeezed her eyes shut and thought, searching her mind in vain for the twinkle of her mother’s eyes, the grating of her laugh, the cherries of her perfume.


Nothing—it had slipped away without Isobel noticing. Her mother hadn’t had Forever—she was already gone—but Isobel had Forever, so somehow, her mother did too. But now she’d lost her.


Isobel twitched. This was a new kind of gone: the gone of the forgotten, the gone of the alone. She wanted to smell her cherry blossoms. “Let’s go.”


“What?”


“Let’s go, back to the Oasis.”


Alba smiled. “I’ve been waiting for you to ask.”


Already, small lines were appearing at the corner of Alba’s eyes, and her kinked, ebony hair was white at its roots. “What about Forever?” she asked Isobel.


Isobel shook her head. “There is no forever without remembering.” She paused, then added, “I don’t want to forget you. I don’t want to be forgotten.”


It had been a long time since Isobel wandered into the well, and the pair made their best approximation of the direction from which she had come.


And then they walked.


Two years at first, then three, Alba steadily moving slower while Isobel’s hurried pace remained the same, impatient. By now, the women had out-walked Isobel’s original distance and were beginning to wonder whether they could make it to the Oasis without the notorious woman in gold.


And then she appeared, younger and shinier than before.

But she only appeared to Isobel. Alba rested under the shade of a Baobab tree they’d discovered earlier that day.


“Change your mind?” The woman asked Isobel. “I wouldn’t want an unsatisfied customer.”


Isobel twitched. “We want to go to the Oasis.”


The golden woman snickered. “Already? Huh. I thought you’d want to stay for longer than five years.”


Isobel felt it like a slap, the realization dawning, the air being sucked out of her lungs. “You knew we’ve been wandering around, searching for the Oasis for the last three years.” Her eyes widened. “You knew and you did nothing?” Isobel’s incredulous voice wavered.


A creeping smile overtook the woman’s golden face.


“Are you ready to make a deal?”


“You didn’t sell me Forever, did you,” Isobel asked. She could barely believe it. Now the woman was grinning.


“I sold you Forever. I gave you twelve years. I thought you would it least make it through ten of them.”


Isobel was aghast. “That’s disgusting.”


The woman in gold’s eyebrow twitched. “That’s just good business. No one wants to live forever.”


“Here’s my offer,” the golden woman continued. “A life for a life. You or Alba give me one of yours, and the other gets to go to the Oasis.” Isobel stared. “Everything you’ll need is there,” the woman gestured to a rock behind Isobel.


“And if I don’t?” The woman in gold shrugged.


“I’ll be back in three hours to collect,” she said. Isobel turned to look at the rock, and when she glanced back, the woman in gold was gone. She swiveled back to the grubby rock, throat constricting.


Before her sat a knife and a bottle. Each item was slightly tarnished and quickly rusting. Every time Isobel blinked, the objects had a thicker layer of reddish-brown crust. Three hours to decide.


Isobel’s hands betrayed her and reached for the broken objects.


Just in case, she told herself. In case of what?


Isobel missed home. She wanted to remember. She wanted to be remembered.


The items fit snugly into her jacket pocket.


A dry bottle, to hold a damp spirit. A brittle knife, to cut through soggy flesh. A weak conscience, to get to the world beyond. These were the tools of survival. These were the weapons of Forever.


Isobel found Alba reclining on a settee of sand, back pressed softly into smooth Baobab bark. Her limbs were propped purposefully at her sides to keep her chest aloft.


Alba turned to Isobel, her smile brightening in invitation.


“Sit with me,” she grinned, and Isobel wished she could remember the smell of cherry blossoms.





April 09, 2021 15:52

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9 comments

Michael Boquet
18:59 Apr 09, 2021

Wow, this is a really cool story. Isobel giving up her sense of smell and then tying the cherry blossoms throughout the story was genius. The whole piece has the relatable yet mystical feel of a good fairy tale. My only thought is, I don't think your years match up all the way through. It takes Isobel 2 years to reach the well, then, then she spends 3 with Alba. Then they walk for another 3. But then the enchantress is surprised Isobel only made it 5 years, out of a total of 12 (when it's been 8 altogether by my count). Perhaps I'm missing ...

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Amarah Friedman
16:01 Apr 10, 2021

Thank you for your feedback! I'm glad it feels like a fairy tale-- it's my happy adaptation of the little mermaid (but, you know, the gritty one). I see what you're saying about the years... in my mind, the woman in gold knew they'd been searching for the Oasis for those last three years, so they only "lasted" 5. That didn't come through, though. I'll fix it! Thanks again :D

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Radhika Diksha
06:22 Apr 14, 2021

Your descriptions are onpoint. Youe xplain the details with beauty and perfection. I loved the whole vibe of a fairy tale and metaphors. Nice work. I would suggest you something. Try to make the story a bit shotter because sometimes long fairytales become tedious. Short with full packed plot, grabs attention. Its just my opinion, nothing else. But your story was great, relaxing and soothing. And the meaning of the story and human nature blended well. Keep writing.

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Amarah Friedman
15:22 Apr 14, 2021

Thank you! I'll definitely keep that in mind. I adore fairy tales.

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Radhika Diksha
17:10 Apr 12, 2021

New story out would love your feedback.

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Amarah Friedman
20:25 Apr 12, 2021

Sure! I'll take a look at it.

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Writer Maniac
03:22 Apr 12, 2021

This story was beautifully written. Your descriptive language and imagery added richness to the story that made me feel dizzy, in a good way, of course. It had a very Arabian nights feel to it, along with the easy flow of a fairy tale. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the world you have created. Well done!

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Amarah Friedman
16:14 Apr 12, 2021

Thank you! Grab a glass of water-- the of the desert will do that to you... So glad you enjoyed reading! :D

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Writer Maniac
17:15 Apr 12, 2021

😂😂 I will

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