We tumbled down the hill, all three of us, down toward the giant white thing. It was like an elongated cube, with rounded corners and a spout on one end. From far away, it looked like a five gallon spring water bottle, complete with the spigot.
Standing up, I got my bearings and headed towards it. It was enormous, at least six to ten feet tall, and slightly opaque. Up close, it still seemed to be exactly what we’d expected from up above, a giant plastic spring water container. I put my eye up to it and looked inside.
“There’s goldfish in there?”
“In where?” following my lead, she placed her eye against the side of the thick plastic and looked inside, “They’re giant!”
We both continued to look into the container, watching as the giant orange fish gently swam around.
“That’s not very sanitary.” Said a voice from above. Bobby, my partner, had climbed up onto the top of the container and was peering inside, “why would they keep fish in there? There’s a bunch of stuff on the bottom too.”
The base of the container was made of glass, and had what seemed to be an entire freshwater coral reef attached to it, however it was only on the edges, the center seemed to be made of a different material.
Suddenly, the container shifted.
“I’m going to get off, it’s pretty unstable” he shouted and proceeded to throw himself from the top of the container, catching himself in a barrel roll on the ground.
The container moved slightly, and then seemed to resettle. Round balls the size of my watermelons oozed out from underneath it, slowly making their path to all settle in the same place at the base of a toadstool down the hill. Running up to them, I plunged my hand into one and confirmed my suspicions.
“Berries!” I shouted, tearing out a piece I held it out to the others, allowing the thick reddish blue juice to seep out of my hand.
We all went to the base of the container. Apart from this strange white container, everything had seemed quite normal up until now. We’d been walking through the woods, and then had slipped and tumbled down a hill. Thing seemed much bigger down here, as though we’d stumbled into an ancient forest, but everything felt natural except for this container.
Curiosity overtook us and we went to the edge of the container to investigate. The container was indeed sitting on berries, some of which had been squished when the container had shifted, others sat perfectly intact, their smooth round edges peeking out from under the container like a beautifully crafted stone wall. Sitting a couple feet high, the pile had required that the berries be placed in a perfect order so that their soft skins could hold up the weight of this container filled with water, and so that they didn’t topple over. It was miraculous really.
Gingerly, I poked one of them with a stick, the tiny hole oozed the same sort of reddish blue berry blood. I watched in rapt amazement as it dripped down beyond the ground we were standing on and disappeared.
“It’s a wall of berries, and it continues below us.” Looking into the hole that the berry goo had dripped into, I felt very small. Strange noises came from below, maybe the dripping of water, a sort of clicking sound.
“What’s that? I hear something” she declared, shifting her head like an owl, trying to pinpoint the location from where the sound came.
“I think it’s from down here,” I pointed, standing up. The noises were getting louder. Definitely not the dripping of water, but rather the scuttling of many feet, and a faint squeaking, as though many tiny mice were all talking to one another.
Out of the exact spot where the berries had dripped a head appeared, shiny and black with long pincers and multi-faceted eyes, it’s spindly legs appeared behind it. An ant, the size of a small dog, followed by another and another. With squeals, they poured out of the hole in the ground, and quickly covered the wall with their bodies, forming a living shield. A few of the ants went to collect the berries that had fallen under the toadstool, and finding the one with the spot I’d ripped out, they all stopped.
“Do you think..” I put my hand over her beautiful mouth, hushing her before more words could pour out. We stood there, the three of us, not moving as the ants looked around and through us, trying to find the berry culprit. Finding nothing, they returned to their work, gingerly clearing up all of the soil underneath the toadstool that had been touched by the berry juice. Once every last stain, was erased they all seemed to sigh collectively and we watched as their bodied slowly clicked together like the pieces of a puzzle around the berries.
Bobby broke the drawn out silence.
“I don’t think we exist here, they walked right through me.” He took a hand from behind his back and held it out to us, “And they didn’t find these!”
Before I could understand what had transpired, we were all juicing the berries onto the soil underneath the toadstool. We took the large chunks and spread them thickly into the dirt, pushing down with all of our might, trying to help gravity.
“How did I…?”
“You froze. He showed the berries and then you were just standing there, unresponsive.”
“And why are we..?”
“Well we decided that if we don’t really exist in this world, we might as well make happen what the ants were trying to prevent. Worst thing happens, we climb back up that hill we fell down.”
“But what if…”
“Don’t. Just don’t. There’s no way to know what’s right and what isn’t, but I had a dream about this once, and I feel like this is what we should do.”
“And the ants?”
“What about them? Do you seem them anywhere?”
We both looked backwards at the water container and around the base, covering the beautiful wall of berries was a shimmering aura. Seemingly, the ants had become a glowing field around the berries, holding them all in place.
After we’d pulled the last bits out of a berry the size of a large spherical watermelon, we threw the skin onto the top of the toadstool, and sat back and listened. Through the forest, heavy footsteps came towards us, and we ran. Cowering against the base of the tree, we stared at the water container in front of us. A combination of fear and excitement poured into my stomach, sweat began to form under my armpits and I swallowed heavily.
Big booted feet turned the corner and came to a stop in front of the water jug. A large man, with a white beard bent down and stared at the jug, each of his fingers were about the height of my body, and yet the container seemed perfectly proportioned to him.
He then reached towards toadstool, and ripped it out of the ground. Seeing the berry parts, he grumbled something under his breath. Very carefully, he replaced the toadstool to it’s original location and then gave the water jug a pat. The field of ant bodies undulated slightly, sending a ripple down into the ground, but they did not break. He sat back on his heels, observing the scene. Each one of his breaths was ten times the length of mine, and his deep grumbling sounded like thunder.
“IIITTT ISSS TIMMMEE.” The big voice sighed. He opened the spigot of the water container and washed the pieces of mushroom off of his hands. Then, he stuck his hand underneath the container and pulled out a handful of berries. He took this handful and emptied the juice from it into the rock that sat underneath the toadstool. The ground began to move, and he reached over and picked up a huge carpet of needles, grass and leaves, and threw it to the side, revealing a square hole in which sat a wooden ladder. Slowly he climbed down the giant ladder into the hole, leaving stains on the wood where his hands were still covered in berry juice.
We ran over to the hole and peered inside; into a well-lit, huge circular cave. A crucified stone Jesus hung on one wall and a lounge chair made of stone sat in the other. Through the middle a river of water flowed, and the cave smelled like an ancient fire.
We watched as he reached up and touched the forehead of this stone Jesus with his berry covered hands, and then stared at him, as though waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, he let out a low whistle, and the ants began breaking apart, carrying the berries from the underside of the water container to this square block of stone that had sat under the toadstool. Once the pile reached the height of my armpits, they began to stack themselves on top of the pile.
“It’s the cross” she murmured. “It’s the cross.”
She stood there, transfixed, staring at the spot on the ground, and then she froze.
Seeing my look, Bobby walked over and put his arms around me.
“She’s ok.” He said. “You did the same thing. She’ll come out of it.”
“It’s the cross!” I shouted, and he looked at me expectantly
“You know how we saw the Jesus in there, and it seems to be hanging on the wall of the cavern? Its cross is buried. This is the cross. They must be trying to use the berries on it somehow.”
I threw a pebble in the direction of the ants and it hit one in the head. As they’d done when they discovered the berry before, they all stopped what they were doing and moved in unison, looking for the intruder. Then, slowly, one by one, they walked in the direction from which the rock had come. I watched as they walked right through her frozen body, looking confused.
When enough ants had cleared away, we moved some of the slightly squished berries out of the way and looked at the rock underneath. It was disintegrating.
When she came to, we were again ripping open berries, occasionally throwing rocks to move the ants out of the way. Without opposable thumbs, breaking the skins of the berries was not easy. Getting any in their mouths caused a sudden deflation of the abdomen and a seeming sudden death, so they were attempting, quite unsuccessfully, to use the weight of their little bodies to pop the berries.