School was out for the summer; Battle was out of his mind. Most kids get pumped for the absence of homework, the nearing of summer camps, and the prospect of sleeping in. But Battle was not most kids. He found most homework to be easy and wouldn’t have minded continuing with it if he had too.
He didn’t love summer camps; they were a tad too structured. Two years ago during arts and crafts activity at a camp called Tremendous Town, Battle finished his work early, got bored, and fed his pastels to some not-so-picky pigeons to the chagrin of camp counselors. Let’s just say the day remains in camp lore as the day the birds “painted the Town.”
And to Battle, sleeping in meant missing out. After all, who can sleep when all the birds are ready to have someone chuck them their worms? That’s how Battle thought, anyway.
Battle grabbed his gear and made his way to the backyard before anyone in his family stirred, and just as the Sun itself was waking up. Today Battle planned to hike northwest as far as he could go, then turn around at lunch to come home. But as it so often happens in Battle’s big backyard, his plans would go awry.
He did manage to make it over the stepping stones of Culvert’s Creek, past the Great Oaks of Center Wood and down into the The Ole Valley. It was at the base of the valley Battle noticed a tiny brook he had never before encountered. As clever and rational as Battle could be, curiosity made him abandon all inhibitions. When Battle discovered something new, his reaction was akin to a pirate happening upon a buried treasure he didn’t know existed. So Battle would joyfully cackle and start digging for more. Today this tiny treasure of a brook would lead him to a trove of natural wonder.
Within a mere few hundred paces, Battle encroached the great, unknown site. Through some thick limbs and brush ahead, he could descry a light forcing its way through any opening and spilling throughout the forest around him. After a few hacks with his hands to eschew the branches, a glorious site lay before him. The beacons of light that had beckoned Battle to the scene were coming from the sun’s reflection off a magnificent, glistening pool. The pool was so beautiful that you’d hesitate to try and swim in it and disturb its picturesque nature. Battle looked down and saw where the pool gently spilled over to feed the brook he’d discovered. The pool settled itself at the base of several hills that made their way up from The Ole Valley. Within these hills were carved some dark, cavernous pits that were dripping with water. Perhaps this is where the pool’s source of water originated. It was definitely the source of the interesting figure Battle would soon meet, perched just above the pool and nestled into the darkness of the rocks, as if only a shadow spoke.
“Hello down there,” said a friendly yet somewhat nervous voice.
“Hello,” said Battle. “I’m Battle. Will you come down so I can meet you?”
“I’d rather not, boy. I don’t feel like being near the water today.”
“Not ready? What are you waiting for? It’s so beautiful. I think I’ll have a swim right now.”
“Oh no, don’t, don’t! You mustn’t. It’s obvious you know nothing about the Pool of Morphoo. It’s been here ever since I was born. It’s been said that great treasure lies within, but also legends of people and creatures going in and submerging themselves but never coming back up. Any wise one who passes by steers clear. It is a treacherous oasis. A Siren song. I doubt I should ever enter it. Neither should you.”
Battle stood puzzled for a minute, inspecting the pool and wondering if it was indeed dangerous. He wasn’t surprised to hear about legends. The Woods were full of them. It was hard to know what legends were false and true, unless you experienced them for yourself. Battle’s bravery and curiosity often caused him to go against his better judgment. In fact, the talk of a legend that was able to be tested was quite tempting to him. He stepped forward and stopped at the pool’s edge.
“Hey, hey, what are you doing?” said the voice from the cavern.
Battle looked up. “I think I’ll have a go at that treasure.”
For some reason, Battle’s proclamation was enough to get the voice in the dark to come out into the light. It came down from the rock wall and positioned itself at the edge of the pool as well. The creature was almost Battle’s size. His body was slender and sleek. Oddly, the newcomer’s features did not seem to make him fit for land, Battle thought. And what was quickly apparent was it was very interested in the pool.
Battle observed as the slender thing performed a number of odd tasks, which together appeared to be a kind of routine. It started with the creature dipping what we may call feet (though they didn’t seem to be feet) into the water. Next, it splashed some water to its face, licking some of the liquid and shaking his head. “Still just not quite right,” it mumbled. Then, it took a long, thin stick, which was quite dark and moist, as if it had spent a lot of time in the water. The creature dipped the stick down a ways, then withdrew it, then shook its head once more. “This is not good. Too quick. Much worse than I thought.”
“What are you doing?” Battle asked.
“I’m just…Oh, I don’t know. This pool…it used to be even more beautiful—when it was higher. That was many, many years ago. Over time, it has been draining, draining down the little brook I suppose you came upon to help you find the pool. And it seems in recent times the draining has quickened—” the creature paused and frowned, as though the magnitude of his words had suddenly struck him upon their delivery—”and, anyway, I know I can’t go in, even if I’d like to.”
“But you could just go in right now, who cares?” Battle exclaimed, becoming more incredulous at the creature’s reservations.
The creature shook his head. “Ahh, but you don’t understand. I’ve observed this pool my whole life. Some days I find it to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed, and I have little doubt it contains a marvelous treasure within. Other days I fear the pool so much I can’t even look at it. But really, it’s so mysterious because I know something will happen to me if I enter it.” He said these last words with a hint of wonder and fear, it seemed to Battle.
Meanwhile, one couldn’t help but notice that the pool was shrinking. The rustling of the brook descending from the pool had now become more audible, and a considerable amount of clay on the banks revealed itself. The creature once more took the stick and plumbed the water, and once more withdrew it muttering to itself something about things being even worse.
Battle wanted to help. For a split second he considered pushing the beast into the water. But what if the pool did swallow things up? Battle didn’t want to kill anyone. Then he had another idea; this one felt worth sharing.
“Why don’t you wait until the pool drains completely? If there is treasure, you can just go in and grab it. If there is no treasure, at least you didn’t risk going in the pool to search for something that was never there.” Battle thought this made sense, but the creature did not.
“I’ve consulted every sage who has passed by here. They are sure that if the pool runs dry, any treasure that might be there will be lost. At least, that has been their understanding of other pools in other places from other tales. So there is my dilemma. Enter this dreaded oasis for a speculative treasure and risk never surfacing again, or allow the pool to dry up, likely leaving no treasure (if it ever was there in the first place) and forever regretting my choice.”
Battle listened to the beast while staring down at his own feet upon the bank. The water just beneath him continued to disappear, finding its way into the brook, which was now rushing down the hill. Battle looked up at the creature, who was obviously troubled by the circumstance, yet remained obstinate. Battle was growing impatient. He couldn’t believe the two of them would stare at and talk about this gorgeous pool all afternoon yet neither one jump in, especially with the prospect of treasure. What in the world could they be missing out on?!
Once again the creature bellied up to the bank, this time barely able to reach down far enough to touch the water. It sat up, sighing deeply, with its head remaining drooped. Battle thought the creature was preparing to cry, but he didn’t really know what such an act would look like from such a strange beast.
Battle wondered what it would be like to have the pool drain completely while the creature stood there, likely sobbing and babbling something about things being as bad they were expected to be. As the boy thought this, he grew angry and felt as though he couldn’t tolerate his own quiescence. He looked up at the creature, now appearing almost catatonic, staring at the soil and lost in its thoughts. Once more, Battle looked down at the bank beneath him. He kicked off his shoes. And he stepped into the water…
Sting. The burning sensation was immediate. Battle howled as the hot pain ran through his toes, sole, and ankle. The creature shot up to see Battle rolling back onto the bank, grasping his foot. Battle grimaced and inspected his ruddy foot with the weird skin-burn feeling setting in. And as if his choice was not injurious enough, it seemed to cause the pool to withdraw at its most rapid rate yet and signal its imminent demise.
Battle composed himself, holding his foot and looking up at the creature. The creature stood stoically, a look of shock on its face. Yet the look was not one of disturbance…but of revelation. And his expression changed more with each passing moment, as if rich recollections and thoughts were flooding his mind unceasingly. He caught Battle’s eyes, and spoke with tranquility.
“Many years ago, when I was very young, a boy about the same age as you came bounding through the forest and discovered my pool. I stayed in my cave and observed him from my perch. The boy appeared spellbound by the pool, allured by its beauty. It was a hot summer day, like this one, and the boy removed his shoes and shirt to go for a swim. He climbed up on that boulder right there and bent over to dive. Suddenly—out of nowhere—a hawk darted by, squawking loudly and causing the boy to fall awkwardly off the rock. The boy landed right by the bank and his foot submerged, just like yours. He yelped in pain from what appeared to be a bad burn from the water. He cried for a little while and rubbed his leg, until he finally calmed down, put his clothes back on and left the pool never to be seen again.”
“Yeah? So what does it mean?” inquired Battle.
“I’m not sure. But I know most who’ve come to the pool don’t attempt to go in. The two boys who have, they’ve been burned, yet graciously spared. Yet the Pool of Morphoo, though I’ve feared it, has always been kind to me.”
And with that, the creature slid down the bank into the water, and disappeared.
There were no screams or signs of the creature resurfacing, just simply the odd sounds of water running back up the brook and refilling the shallow pool. Battle sat still for almost an hour, observing the brook diminish and the pool replenish. Finally, the transfer ceased and once more the water filled the pool to its brim, even splashing some of its contents over the bank. The pool sparkled and glistened magnificently in the sun. Battle put on his shoes, stood up and went home.