The Quest of Anodos (a short story)

desert_by_scorpio_empireThere was once a young man named Anodos. He found himself wandering through a sweltering desert with nothing but sagebrush and vultures as his companions. Naturally, our vagabond grew quite thirsty in his ramble under the sun.

As he strayed deeper into this rocky, lifeless land, he came upon a large house. Rushing forward, he hoped to at least receive some water, perhaps even a full meal. He knocked on the door and was greeted by a well-groomed, clean shaved young man. Explaining his thirst, the host excitedly received Anodos and brought him to a laboratory downstairs.

The host began to explain the various properties of water. Bringing him to a microscope, he expounded upon the unique combination of two hydrogen atoms for every oxygen atom to create the liquid known as water. As he continued his lecture, a second resident of the home entered the room and vehemently declared that the first host was neglecting to inform the thirsty vagabond of water’s most important properties: cohesion and adhesion. He elaborated upon this for some time while a third man entered the room and began arguing with the first about what would happen if they could split the hydrogen and oxygen atoms from one another. He ecstatically proclaimed water’s fullest potential would be seen in this “reimagined” state, confidently hypothesizing water existed in such a pure state in its earliest days.

Anodos, seeing a cup on a nearby ledge, dashed to it, only to find one drop of water in it. Ignoring the noise of the arguing behind him, he carefully drained the drop into his open mouth. Though he succeeded, he found no abatement from his thirst.

A fourth man quietly walked up to Anodos with compassion in his eyes. “Are you thirsty?” he asked quietly. Seeing Anodos nod desperately, this fourth man replied, “Bring your cup and follow me to that corner.” Anodos quickly complied.

When they reached a desk in the corner, the fourth man opened a drawer in which were housed several empty containers of varying sizes as well as some papers. The man pulled out the papers, which contained mathematical charts, spreading them across the desk. Receiving Anodos’ cup and pulling out a ruler, he began taking detailed measurements of the cup.

“What are you doing?” asked Anodos, attempting to mask his growing impatience and frustration.

“If we calculate the exact dimensions of this cup, I can assist you with determining its precise volume. That in turn will reveal how much water it will take to fill this,” replied the man calmly while methodically noting each measurement on a scrap piece of paper.

“And then what?” asked Anodos hopefully.

“Believe it or not,” replied the fourth host with an excited glimmer in his eyes, “with the assistance of these charts, which are the fruit of years of my hard labor, I can tell you approximately how many water molecules will be in your cup if it were full!”

At this, Anodos turned around and began walking away when he saw somebody else walking with a cup in his hands. Maybe he has water, thought Anodos. So, he followed the man into an adjacent room that appeared to be a small library. Turning around, this fifth man asked him, “How can I help you, brother?”

“I’m looking for water,” Anodos replied desperately.

“Look no further, my friend,” replied the fifth man who directed Anodos to sit down. He then went to the shelves and pulled down several books, placing them on the small table in front of them. Anodos stared at him curiously. “Truly, the only way to fully appreciate and understand water,” the man said, “is not by studying it under a microscope or counting the molecules.” Seeing Anodos nod, the fifth man continued, “We need to study the history of water, its sociological context, and the nuances of the various words for water in several ancient cultures.” Seeing the surprised look of Anodos, the fifth man continued, “I know, it is shocking that the other people here do not understand that. How many of them have actually asked, ‘What did the containers of water look like two thousand years ago?’ Without such knowledge, we can never fully understand or appreciate water.”

Quickly, Anodos arose and fled from the room. There must be someone here who knows where I can find some actual water, he decided. A sixth man walked past him, giddy with a strange happiness. He then began singing, “I’m going to drink up, drink up, until it overflows!” while staggering like a drunkard. Following him, Anodos decided whatever kind of cocktail this man was serving must be better than the others. He entered into a room where empty cups, glasses, and goblets littered the floor and furniture. Several people in the room were taking imaginary shots from empty glasses while falling on the floor in giddy laughing spells. One of them began a tune about becoming drunk with the intoxicating water while the others joined him in the strange reverie. Anodos thought for a moment that he would join them, perhaps delusion about having water would be better than dying while feeling thirst. But he could not do that in good conscience, so he once again left the room.

He searched countless rooms in what seemed to be an infinite home, being offered hundreds of theories and ideas about water, but no actual drink. At last he came upon an ornate door that appeared quite ancient. It towered above him with intricate carvings that seemed to present an epic story that he could not quite understand.

After knocking, a clean-shaved elderly man of short stature with hardly any hair opened the door and invited Anodos into his quarters. “I’m looking for water!” blurted Anodos. Smiling, the elderly man replied, “You’re certainly not the first to come here with such an admirable desire. I am the master of this entire house, so you are lucky to have found me.” Gesturing into the nearly endless depths of the room, he said “We have scores of wells here. Take from whichever one you like.”

Anodos eagerly ran to the first well and began working the lever to pull up the bucket. After a minute, the bucket arose and Anodos’ heart sank. It was dry as a bone. “There’s no water!” he cried.

“Oh?” asked the old man. “You’re right, that well is dry. Try a couple of the ones a little further back.”

Desperately, Anodos rushed past several closer ones and began working the rope for a further well. This bucket, though, came up dry also. Panicked, Anodos rushed from well to well, finding each to be dry.

“They’re all dry!” Anodos cried to the short, bald man.

“No, no, they’re not,” he replied, his face turning red while stomping his foot on the ground with each word. “My wells are deep and ancient. Our fathers have been drinking water from them for generations. If you can’t see the water then it is because you have not been properly indoctrinated about water. Come, I will teach you,” he said slamming a chair onto the ground next to him.

Instead, Anodos fled toward the ornately carved entry, which he noticed on his way out had rot and fungi growing all along the base. I have to escape this place, he decided. Retracing his steps, he exited the home and found himself, once again, in the blistering heat of the sun. I will die even sooner out here, he thought, but at least it will be free from those madmen.

He searched for a shade tree, but not finding one, he walked along a dusty path leading away from the madhouse. After some time of walking along the path, Anodos sat down and wept dry tears. He then heard footsteps. Looking up he saw a young lady walking toward him.

“Are you ok?” she asked him. He looked at her with surprise. With her shimmering olive skin and red and blue robes, she was absolutely captivating. She wore a covering over her head that kept the sun off of her face and she appeared quite accustomed to traversing the harsh, desert climate. He suddenly became self-conscious, realizing how dirty his clothes, skin, and hair were. But looking into her eyes, he felt compassion and not judgment.

Uncertain of what to say, Anodos suddenly blurted, “Did you know that water is composed of two hydrogen atoms for every oxygen atom and has amazing cohesive properties?!”

She gently replied, “What is it that you want, Anodos?”

“Water!” he cried.

Reaching inside her robe, she pulled out a tiny flask and handed it to Anodos. Much to his surprise, it contained some water, which he eagerly drank.

“It is not much,” she admitted, “but if you follow me to my father’s house you will find unsearchable depths of water.”

Helping him to his feet, Anodos asked her, “Who are you?”

“A queen,” she replied. “Come along,” she beckoned as she continued her journey down the path. He quickly followed her as she explained, “My son is celebrating his royal marriage. There is a feast and all are invited. He has asked me to search the byways, the dry places, the deserts, the caves, the mountains, the valleys, the meadows, and every place in between for guests. I entreat everyone I see along these paths, and I will not rest until the house is full. I will leave no stone unturned, no place unsearched, and no path untread in my search for the tired, the weak, the hungry, the thirsty, the lonely, the abused, and the oppressed.”

Feeling renewed life coursing through him, Anodos quickly trotted behind this mysterious queen. Curious, he asked, “In your journey to find guests, what if you run out of water flasks?”

Shaking her head as if having a hard time understanding Anodos’ question, she replied, “It cannot happen. My son has bestowed upon me an infinite flow of water that will never run dry.”

“Then could I have another flask?” asked Anodos, noting how wonderful the first one made him feel and thinking a second would assist even more.

“Look there,” said the queen, pointing to a castle ahead of them as they came over the crest of a hill. “That is my father’s house. Knock on the door, tell them the queen summoned you, and they will receive you. Once inside, they will bathe you, anoint you with oil, dress you in a white wedding garment, and present you to my son’s servants. They in turn will bring you to the banquet table where you will be fed a foretaste of the great feast. But the feast of feasts will not be served until I have brought all who will accept the invitation.”

Anodos rushed forward, and to his joy, found everything to be exactly as the queen explained.


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