Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a scholar. A computer plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a bathhouse in the future. The story is about dreams.
Zanter trudged down the street, feeling the weight of the day. The dirt and noise of the city were heavy on his spirit. It seemed to take forever until finally he reached an ancient building and mounted the few stairs to the front portal.
Zanter glided through the opening and greeted the owner briefly before proceeding to the changing area, where he divested himself of clothing and put his belongings into a small pod anchored to the wall. Then he padded barefoot down a narrow passage to the center of the building. As he passed through the ultrasonic shower and into the bathing area, he was awed anew at the sight. The space was glorious and ancient with high pillars, soaring ceilings and sculptures and frescoes of merpeople and sealife. The ceiling could be opened to the stars by a series of louvered panels.
He had once asked about the history of the building and was told that it had been a bathhouse for thousands of years. It was originally built over natural hot springs to take advantage of the minerals and warmth they exuded. The current owner was descended from the last several owners, each taking over in turn. Some things had changed. There were no longer religious rituals required of the bathers. There were showers and saunas in chambers off the large central pool. Computers controlled all the portals, pods, and louvered panels. The processes for regulating the temperature, monitoring bacterial and mineral levels, and filtering and recycling the water were now automated. And yet, the concept of the place remained the same – healing and renewal.
As he slipped into the pool, the humidity and warmth began to work their magic on him. His sinuses and pores opened, his muscles relaxed, and he felt his spirit lift. Given the ubiquitous nature of pools and bathhouses like this one, Zanter thought, “Perhaps we were once sea creatures after all. And the water takes us home.”
As he floated in the water, he closed his eyes, letting his thoughts drift. He reminded himself he did not come here just to wash dirt and sweat from his body. Simple cleansing could be accomplished in the privacy of his domicile. Here he could swim and float and when he left, he would feel completely different than he did after bathing at home.
He had been drifting for awhile with his eyes closed, and when he opened them he was surprised to find that the pool was dark. He stood up in the water and looked around. He listened carefully for the splash or low conversation from other bathers and heard nothing but lapping water in the pool, splashing water from the shower chamber. He spoke quietly, knowing the water would carry the sound, “Hello? Is anyone else here?”
No one answered. He lowered himself back into the water. Briefly he felt panic begin to rise. “What if he was alone in the building? What if he was locked in? What if he could not get out? Where was the owner?”
And then he felt the pull of the water, warmly, gently caressing him, urging him to relax. He succumbed to the motion and started floating again. This time with his eyes open. He allowed the thoughts to tumble and spill away again. As he looked up at the ceiling he noticed that the panels had been retracted and he could see the night sky above with its myriad stars. The view fascinated him and pulled his musings further into the ancient questions that have ever tugged at human minds. The questions of philosophers and religious scholars like him. “Who am I really? How did I get here? Is there something or someone out there that made this world I see? Why?”
And as he pondered these things, he felt himself expand, absorbing everything in his path, until the whole city, the whole continent, then the whole planet were inside him. He continued to move outward, taking in everything until his awareness encompassed all he could imagine. He felt the water surround him and envelop him. And he was water, indistinguishable from everything else. Absorbing it all, encircling it all. He was enjoying the feeling. So incredible. So beautiful…
Then as if a drain had been unplugged he started swirling rapidly, growing smaller and pulling back down to his body that had seemed so far away. He ebbed like the tide away from the shore and too quickly found himself back to his normal state. So small. So insignificant.
Vaguely he heard a voice nearby and opened his eyes. He was in the pool at the bath house. The lights were on. He sat up out of the water. Across the pool two bathers were engaged in low conversation. He must have been dreaming…
With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php
And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.
What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.