Lee shuffles across the city street. His breath comes in pants and gasps. A cab swerves to avoid him, and the smell of scorched tires fills his nose. Viv steps out of the cab. She pays the driver with a fresh bottled water, and the car burns rubber back into traffic.
“Have a drink. You look thirsty,” Viv says, reaching into her backpack. She fishes out another water and hands it to Lee.
“Are you loco? You can’t flash water around like that in the city. People here will kill for water,” he says.
Viv pulls out a bottle for herself, opens it, and sips.
Lee opens his and drinks half the bottle. “And where did you get these, anyway? These things cost a fortune.”
“You’re welcome, Lee.” She smiles. “And I found these in the cellar of that cult that burned down – that “Honor Our Thamanin Elders’ Law” cult. I snuck into the cellar last night after the investigators left.”
“You really are loco,” he says. They stroll along the sidewalk in the hot sun. He leans over Viv and sniffs. He wrinkles his nose, then finishes his bottle.
“I still smell like foam, I know.” She laughs. “In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a drought. They used foam on the fire, and the cellar was full of it. And I didn’t want to waste this bottled water rinsing it off.”
“It’s just that this heat really increases the smell. Once we get inside, I’m sure it won’t be as bad.” He winks. “You want to have lunch at the HOTEL building? They have a nice restaurant, plus it’s right here. I just want to get in the shade.”
“Sure.” She takes another sip. “This water has a funny chemical taste, but water is water, right?”
Two hooded figures jump from the alley beside the HOTEL, grab Lee and Viv, and pull them through the HOTEL door. They sedate the couple with concentrated clove oil. The figures draw the couples’ blood and check their vital signs. After an hour they revive them with concentrated anise oil and put them in a tank.
“Hello children of Noah,” a voice says.
Viv blinks awake. She lies naked, floating in water. Lee and another man float naked on either side of her.
“You have drunk of the water of Thamanin,” the voice continues. “Now you will be tested. Your faith will decide if you are to become the first full descendants of the Elders.”
Viv squints at the man beside her, salt stinging her eyes. “Aren’t you my cab driver from the morning? Or yesterday? I don’t know what day it is,” Viv asks.
The man squirms in the tank, opens his mouth, and chokes on the saltwater. “My name is Amin,” he sputters. “I did not mean to steal the water. You gave it to me.”
“Yes. I’m the one who stole it. I’m sorry,” Viv whispers before closing her eyes.
Lee clenches his hands and squirts water out of his fists.
“Do not do that. Leave the water in the tank, please,” the voice instructs. “You are endangering your status as potential descendants of the Elders.”
Lee continues his water-squirting.
“Stop it. Stop your sinning,” the voice pleads.
The figures enter the room and inject Lee, Viv, and Amin with a clear, stinging liquid. “You are amphibians now.” They chant in unison. The amphibians drift to sleep. The figures cut deep on both sides of the amphibians’ chests. Red clouds billow in the tank, and the figures rub the wounds with a sticky gel. They install a bubble machine and filter in the tank.
The trio wakes. “You are fish now,” the figures chant in unison. They inject them again, sprinkle fish food in the tank, and leave the room. After several days, the fish jump and flop out of the tank, and slowly the room fills with water. They gasp and squirm on the floor, and as the water rises, they filter the oxygen from the saltwater and breathe. The fish swim in slow-motion – drugged, awkward, and heavy. Their bodies bloat, their skin scales underwater, and their hair billows out from their heads. A chute opens in the wall, and tadpoles and guppies pop out.
A monitor on the ceiling switches on. Figures with globes on their heads appear on the screen.
“Hello children of Noah. You have passed the test. You are honored to be the first full descendants of the Elders of Thamanin, and have fulfilled the beginning of the prophesied water Rapture. We have much to teach you, as you have much to teach us.”
“Why did you cut us and put us in a fucking aquarium?” Viv yells at the monitor.
The globe-heads whisper to themselves. “The gilled swim freely and the un-gilled drown,” one of them replies. “Remain calm and we will join you in celebration in your new aqueous environment.”
Lee submerges, fills his mouth with water, then breaches the surface and spits a water stream at the monitor. Wires pop and spark, and the screen goes black. A bright yellow flame explodes from the back of the monitor and scorches the ceiling. An hour later the ceiling is ablaze, and the room starts to drain.
Someone pounds on the outside of the door. “Heretic – enemy of Noah!” a voice cries out. “You have sinned against the Elders of Thamanin, and rejected the water Rapture.” Then a scream, and the sound of something heavy shoved against the door.
Lee swims in circles. “The water is receding. Soon we will walk on dry land again,” he says.
“Walk? We can’t live on dry land now! We’re fish!” Viv cries.
The three jump back into the tank and watch the outside water drain away.
“We’ll just have to wait for a second Rapture,” Amin says. “The Rapture will return, and when it does, it will be dry. But this time we must not reject it. We just gotta have faith.”
“Amen,” they say in unison.