Fritz and the Mystery of the Waters

Once upon a time there was a little village all built on stilts. The general store, the school house, the tiny café, and the post office all sat in the middle, perched high in the air like a cluster of long-legged ostriches gossiping on the plains. Out to each side, a little row of houses stretched, connected in one long line by sturdy wooden bridges suspended twenty feet in the air.

If you happened by the village (Burgh, it was called) on a Tuesday or a Friday, you would be astonished by the apparent whimsy of its lofty location. Situated on an open plain, with nothing but dry, cracked mud underneath and blazing hot sun overhead, it seems an odd choice of construction.

If you arrived on a Sunday, however, you would understand because if you arrived on a Sunday, you would be arriving by boat. Every single Sunday at 1 a.m., the water came to Burgh. Not a gentle rain that slowly filled up the muddy plain. Not a gradually rising flow, like some river that overflowed its banks. The water came in one big rush from the north, slamming into the wooden stilts of Burgh’s houses with enough force to make the buildings tremble a bit, then hurrying past with undiminished power.

Each Sunday morning the citizens of Burgh looked out their windows at water as far as the eye could see. That is why Sunday was washing day. When everyone went to bed on Sunday night, the water would still be rushing along, but at precisely 11 p.m. each Sunday night, the flow stopped. By midnight the water was all gone.

Each Monday morning, the citizens of Burgh looked out their windows at mud as far as the eye could see. That was why Monday was collection day. Rope ladders were let down from the General store, and everyone who was tall enough and strong enough to slog through the mud climbed down and searched for valuable items that had washed into the vicinity. The children always eagerly awaited the day they were big enough to join the Collection. Everything from beautiful stones to rubber tires to old toasters could be found stuck in the Monday mud, and it was great fun to slip and slide along looking and even more fun to pry things up. They made the most satisfying sucking sound as the mud slowly let them go. By sundown Monday, the mud had always been completely dried by the baking sun. The hard earth would not part with any more treasures. The citizens of Burgh went home and washed up in water from the Sunday barrels.

This weekly cycle may seem strange to us, but to the citizens of Burgh it was as normal as your mother shaking you awake for school each morning. True, the rushing water could be a bit dangerous, but no one ever went down to the plains on any day except Monday, unless they were repairing the stilts, and it was very rare for anyone to be lost. In exchange for this slight risk, the flooding brought them fresh water for the barrels, nets full of fish to eat all week, and of course, the treasures in the mud.

So life went on in this regular fashion, and the people of Burgh lived unquestioningly on fish and what small vegetables they grew in the giant pots on their back porches, until Fritz came along. Fritz was like any other child of Burgh. He grew up running along the wooden bridges of the town, learning letters and numbers at the small school, drinking fish oil when his mother thought he was sick, carrying water from the Sunday barrels to his father’s garden pots, and dreaming of the day he could join the Collection. Only one thing made Fritz different. Curiosity. Fritz, unlike the rest of the citizens of Burgh, wanted to know why. Also where. And how. And if.

Why did the water come? And why only once a week?

Where did it come from? And where did it go to?

How did it come so quickly? And how did it disappear so quickly?

If we are here, are there people other places, too? And if the water always comes on time, is someone out there controlling it?

Fritz tried asking grownups these questions, but they always shushed him quickly.

“The water is there. That’s all you need to know,” said his mother.

“Don’t waste time on such talk. There’s work to be done,” said his father.

“The water is a fact of life, like the sun, and the mud,” said his teacher. “It’s not our job to understand them, just to use them as best we can.”

These non-answers were extremely non-satisfying to Fritz. And who could blame him?

As Fritz grew bigger, his questions grew, too. Eventually, he joined the Collection and began to find fascinating things. Screwdrivers, bits of broken glass, branches off of trees that he had never seen before, an odd rectangular box full of gears and other bits of metal. He studied these things. He drew pictures of them. He took them apart when he could. And mostly he wondered.

Then one Monday, Fritz found a very small item in the mud. It was a little toy, shaped like a cup, but stretched out a bit and with pointy ends. At first, Fritz had no idea what it was for. It was too small to be a hat. It couldn’t sit flat, so it didn’t make a very good cup. It was quite by accident that he finally solved the mystery. Fritz had been carrying the little toy around in his pocket, and one day when he went to fetch water from the Sunday barrels for his mother, the odd thing fell out of his pocket and right into the huge barrel. Fritz stared, fascinated. It floated. Fritz eagerly retrieved the Floater and took it home. (It’s real name, of course, was BOAT, but Fritz had never heard that word.)

Fritz loved to play with his new Floater. Whenever he was alone, he would find buckets or bowls and set the toy on the surface of the water. He learned that if he put small items in it, they too could float around. Slowly, an idea grew in his mind. If he could build a Floater that was big enough…could he float on the waters himself some Sunday?

Fritz started collecting wood that he found each Monday. He contributed his portion to the town, of course, but what he got to take home, he stored under his bed, waiting until there would be enough.

Finally, when the wood pile in his room made it nearly impossible to get in and out the door, Fritz began to build a boat.

TO BE CONTINUED

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