The following story was translated to English and it is one of the twenty contained in the book Historias del vórtice (Stories of the vortex) by Jesús A. Ávila García. The book is currently only available in Spanish. More information about the book can be found at: https://jessav.com/libros/
I still remember the first time I saw the sand clan arriving. I was five years old and I was playing with other children when I heard drums in the distance. We thought it was some kind of game or a special ceremony from our small village. I call it small, even though there are more than five hundred of us living here. When we heard the sounds, my friends pretended to play invisible drums. I started dancing around so that my blue dress would wave in the wind following the rhythm of the sounds that were louder and louder. We laughed at the unexpected party of rhythms.
It was my mother. The uneasiness in her voice when she said my name made me stop laughing. I saw her running towards me and took me in her arms tightly. She held my hand and led me almost running to our house at the top of the mountain. The other parents did the same with their children. My father and most of the adults were outside looking down the mountain. They told me not to leave the house. I tried to see what was happening through the window, but my height would not allow it. I opened the entrance door a little so I could see. All I could hear was the sound of the drums rising incessantly. Soon, the entrance of the village was filled with men in strange clothes that looked like brown dresses. Later that same day, someone explained to me that they were called tunics. The drummers were at the front of the group. There were so many of them that they filled the central path to the mountain where almost all of our houses are. The slope is very steep and from our door I could see everything that was happening.
The drums fell silent and a very big man walked to the front. He looked like a giant to me. His hair was black and so long that it almost reached his waist. When he spoke, his voice was very deep and loud. I stepped back in fear when I heard him for the first time.
“We are the sand clan. Who is your leader?”
No one from our village spoke. The man looked around waiting. He repeated the question, almost shouting.
“Who is your leader?”
I held my breath when my father stepped forward. The man looked at him with such intensity that I thought he could hurt him just with his eyes.
“We don’t have a leader here. We agree on everything in consensus.”
At that time, I didn’t know what a consensus was. Now I know that all adults must agree before any decision is made. The giant said:
“That makes things easier. My name is Pesók. The desert decided that our water well should dry up and we don’t have enough food anymore. Rumor has it that you are very good farmers, so every three months we will come for food.”
For a few seconds no one said a thing. It’s something I don’t like about the people I live with. All adults are very quiet and only talk when necessary. The children are much more talkative. It seems that as the kids grow up, they become more shy. I am happy here, although sometimes I wish more people were like me. One of our neighbors talked:
“Excuse me, Pesók. We don’t have enough food for everyone. We have enough for our families, but not enough to give away to outsiders.”
The big man turned to face the neighbor who had spoken. His face did not change, but his voice was even louder:
“I don’t think you are understanding. It’s not a request, it’s a demand. Either you give us food every three months, starting today, or you will suffer the consequences.”
Right after the threat was made, Pesók quickly pulled something out of the bag on his back. I’d never seen anything like that before. Someone explained to me later that it was a whip. It had three points at the end with a small knife attached to each one. The neighbor spoke in a nervous voice:
“There is no need for violence. We can reach an agreement to…”
Everything happened so fast that I didn’t know what had happened until the man started screaming. Pesók had used the whip and hit the neighbor directly on the shoulder, causing the arm to instantly fall apart in a pool of water. I hadn’t mentioned that. All of our clan can transform into water. The clothes we wear also turn into liquid if they are colored in any shade of blue. We don’t know the reason. That’s why we all wear clothes of those colors. It doesn’t hurt us to transform if we do it willingly. If it is forced on us, we feel an intense pain. When we have an injury that would make another person bleed, our bodies transform that wound into water. After a few minutes the water rejoins us, although it still hurts for several hours. We would only die if we are beheaded. Being the water clan is much more literal than people may think.
Despite being very young, I remember that day I felt fear and anger. I noticed how my father clenched his fists, but did nothing else. No one spoke and I could only hear some quite sobs. The giant spoke again:
“We will be waiting at the entrance of the village. Bring the food quickly. We don’t have all day.
Many of the sand clan drew out whips like their leader. I am sure that to this day everyone in the village is frightened just by the sight of those weapons.
Ten years have passed. The first months were very difficult. Some days my parents gave me very little to eat and they didn’t eat anything at all. We had to increase our farming fields. In the end, the sand clan was right about our ability to grow crops. It took time, but we managed to have enough food. It was thanks to everyone’s work, although I would like to emphasize that my father and I had the most helpful ideas.
Ever since I was a child, I like to explore the surroundings of the mountain. I had to do it when my mother wasn’t looking because she didn’t like me to wander away from the village. Sometimes my friends would accompany me while we played. I must confess that at the age of fifteen I still like to play with small children. I prefer to be with them because they laugh, unlike adults or even villagers my age. There are two games that are my favorites. One of them is called “Guess Who?” One player turns around and the others transform into water. The goal is to guess which puddle belongs to which person. I’m very good at that game. The others had to work very hard to try and guess. I can see little details that others don’t notice, like the subtle color of the water or the variations in the size of the puddles. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s like I can feel the person inside the water. The other game is called “Find Me” and it’s just what it sounds like. One player closes his or her eyes for some time and then must look for the others. That’s much harder when those you’re looking for can turn into water and pass through small cracks.
A year ago, it was while playing that game that I found a cave, when I was hiding in a crack in the walls of the village. I noticed it was a wide tunnel, so I returned to my human form and continued walking with curiosity, for there was a light at the end. The tunnel ended up in a valley surrounded by mountains and a small spring that flowed from one side. It was a beautiful and peaceful place. I explored it to try to find another entrance and there was none. It was totally isolated. I went back to show it to the adults in the village because it seemed like an ideal place to have more crops. Also, since the place was hidden, the sand clan would not discover it.
The crack to access the hidden valley was large enough so that seeds could pass along with our water selves. In less than a month we had crops almost as big as those in the main fields. The quality of the food was excellent thanks to my father’s idea. As a tribute to our new food source, we planted some small blue flowers right in the center of the fields. After watering them I was going to go back to work, but my father kept looking at them. I saw him extending his arm and a drop of water fell from his hand. It was a part of him that he decided to give the flowers. I didn’t understand why he did it. The following day he told me it was a little experiment. We went back to the hidden crops to continue working and found something amazing. The blue flowers had a brighter color and were way bigger than the day before. It seems that the water in our bodies can make the plants grow much larger and faster than normal. We cannot give a lot of water individually or we would be incomplete. Each of us put one or two drops into the spring and within a few days the crops were almost fully grown and tasted delicious. This is how we have managed to survive up to this day, as well as meeting the quota required by the sand clan.
Since we can’t get the food out of the secret valley, we eat it right there. We have breakfast and lunch at our homes, in case someone from the sand clan is spying on us. They usually come to collect the food either in the morning or in the afternoon. Dinner, which is my favorite meal, is eaten together around the secret crops. I always sit next to the flowers my father planted. I like that at night people are less shy. Maybe because they know that no one else is watching us in that safe place.
I finished my dinner and lay down to look at the sky. I relaxed and let my body become water. We don’t know how, but we can still see even if we become liquid. Actually, I think we see even better than in human form. It’s as if our ability to see expands throughout our body instead of just being in our eyes. The night was clear and the stars could be seen clearly. Since I was a child, I’ve enjoyed trying to count them, even though I’ve never been able to do so. When it’s barely dark, you have to really pay attention to find one star. Little by little, more appear until no matter where you look, your sight is saturated with stars. I returned to being human and observed the people around me. Almost all of them transformed into water to look at the sky as I had done before. I like to see the sky reflected in them. It seems as if the villagers are stars themselves.
I stood up. People were very quiet. My father looked at me and knew what I wanted to do. He smiled and began clapping his hands slowly. Some of the villagers looked at him curiously. I began to turn, waving my dress like I did as a child. I’ve rehearsed dance steps inside our house or on the outskirts of the village every chance I got. I moved my arms and legs in time with the claps, suddenly changing direction. I imitated the flow of a river with my arms. I jumped and became water for an instant. Before I fell to the ground, I became human again and raised my arms. I spun around on one foot. I repeated the same water jump several times, striking different poses as I fell to the ground. My father followed with his clapping, who was soon joined by my mother and others. I raised my arms and made my hands turn into water creating an arc above me. I returned them to my body and took a few steps crossing one leg in front of the other. All my surroundings seemed to disappear as I danced with a smile on my face. I noticed that everyone was following the rhythm with their palms. I completely transformed myself into water and made my body form figures like a fountain, and then I returned to my human form and moved my arms and legs as gracefully as I could. I danced until I couldn’t do it anymore. I jumped one last time and stayed in water form as I fell to the ground. Slowly, I made my body become human and bowed. I was breathing hard due to the effort I’d put into it. A sudden cheer made me blush, although this almost never happens. People came up to congratulate me and told me they could never do something like that. I am not surprised. My village is full of noble but way too shy people. I think this is one of the reasons why we don’t have a leader. No one would want to be the center of attention or take responsibility for everyone.
Last night was pleasant so this morning I’m in a very good mood. I got up earlier than usual and went down the steep slope of the main street, at its end you can see the big gap where a lake stood many years ago. They say that the mountain we live in was a large river that ended in a lake. The stories tell that the first villagers were born of that water and that’s why nowadays there is no river nor lake. I walked to the edge and sat down with my feet hanging out. I like to imagine the hole is filled with water that comes from the top of the mountain. I stayed there for a while and then I walked back to the village.
I spent the rest of the morning doing favors. A door from an elderly woman fell out of place and she was having trouble moving it. I checked it and there was a piece that was buried in the ground. I don’t have the strength to pull it out so I dug under it and the door was no longer stuck.
I walked around and saw a couple who wanted to clean their house, but their four children were restless, running all around. I took them to the main road and played with them until their parents called them back.
Later, a small girl was crying because her dress had ripped on one side. The tear was barely visible, but the little girl was suffering as if the garment was in pieces. I knelt down beside her and tore my dress just like hers. I told her that we could impose a new fashion among the women of the village. It took her a while to stop crying but she finally smiled at me. That same day, other girls did the same thing with their dresses.
“What would we do without you, Mizu.”
I liked hearing that. I may not be shy like the others and sometimes I feel out of place, but I know they are good and noble people. I help daily as much as I can to make my village a better place.
I was teaching a girl how to spin her dress when I heard the drums. Our reactions are automatic. We tell the children to go home and hide while the adults stand at their doors. There was confusion among the village since it was not time for the sand clan to come for their food. They were four weeks early. I ran to stand next to my parents. My mother hugged me and my father stood in front of us.
This time, Pesók and his men had the whips in their hands as they entered the village. When they were on the main street, the drums stopped beating. The leader’s voice echoed throughout the mountain:
“During the last few visits, I have noticed that the people here are not as thin as they used to be. They seem to be very well fed. In fact, they look much better than we do.”
The silence was so deep that I thought Pesók could hear my heartbeat. My parents stared at the man, who continued:
“I hope you are aware that any kind of deception will put me in a bad mood. Perhaps you need a reminder of who is in charge here.”
Pesók looked around and fixed his gaze on a girl who had not been hiding in her house. I saw the malevolent smile appear on the giant’s face as he took a step towards her. The little girl’s father moved quickly to stand between the giant and his daughter. I heard the sound of the whip. The villager’s head turned to water immediately followed by the rest of his body. The liquid was opaque, not having the slight glow that normally surrounds our transformed bodies. When the water suddenly evaporated, we all knew what had happened. The man had died. Although I felt like screaming, I could not make a sound. I felt my body moving automatically towards Pesók. My father grabbed my right wrist tightly and my mother did the same. I could not believe that everyone was silent and did nothing. He had killed one of our own. Someone we had shared meals and memories with.
“Let this be a lesson to all of you.”
The men of the sand clan withdrew. Some were laughing, which made me feel more hateful towards them. If it weren’t for my parents, I would have already gone to try to avenge the dead man. I could die, but I didn’t care. I just felt an uncontrollable urge to do something.
My parents didn’t let me go until our enemies were far away. The girl who had lost her father began sobbing and that triggered a response in all of us. People were hugging each other or crying. I started crying and screaming so hard that it felt like my head was going to explode. I fell to the ground and my mother knelt down next to me. She stroked my hair as she had done since I was a child. My father was standing still, looking towards the place where the sand clan had gone.
Night fell and we all walked in silence to the secret crops. We ate without talking. I thought about dancing a little to lift our spirits, but I didn’t feel like it and I think the rest of the people just wanted to honor our deceased friend with silence.
The following morning the mood was not fully recovered, but it had improved considerably. The children were playing and laughing as usual and it seemed to me that this helped to uplift the general state of mind. I wanted to help them now more than ever. I passed several times in front of the house where the girl lost a father and the woman a husband. Although I could not give them back their loved one, I wanted to make them feel better. I helped the woman make some food and I was teaching the little girl some dance steps. We went outside to practice and other villagers came to watch. Some children wanted to learn and I gladly taught them what I knew.
It was nighttime and the children wanted me to continue teaching them. They had lost the shyness to dance in front of the adults. Seeing all the little ones following my steps around the flowers my father planted put me in a very good mood. I didn’t forget what happened to our villager. I never will. However, my father taught me that strength is also found within people who care about making others feel better. At first, people looked at us seriously, but as the children danced, they begam to smile. Some villagers even applauded following the rhythm of our movements. I was getting lost in the rhythm and movements, when one of the walls exploded. Rocks flew through the air hitting some villagers while others screamed in fear. There was a second explosion and I told everyone nearby to lie down and turn into water to avoid the rocks falling all around us. I saw some stones falling on people, forcing their bodies to transform into water. A large boulder damaged the soil around my father’s flowers, but fortunately they remained unharmed. I felt a slight relief that made me feel guilty for caring more about that than caring about the people who were being hurt.
After the roar, everything was silent. All I could hear were a few groans of pain along the secret valley. I heard footsteps from where the wall had exploded. I became human and stood up. Several people did the same as we looked towards the same place. My heart skipped a bit when Pesók and his men entered. I must have made expression of fear very noticeable, because my father pulled me towards him and embraced me. I looked for my mother who had an injured leg. We helped her to her feet as the leader of the sand clan came to the center. He looked around and although his face remained unchanged, I felt a mixture of joy and anger in his eyes.
“I don’t like to repeat myself. From now on you will give us twice as much food, it seems you have a lot to spare. I warned you that cheating put me in a bad mood.”
All the members of the sand clan drew their whips and attacked whoever was around them. I was paralyzed. My father held my arm tightly. Even if I had been free, I would not have known what to do. Screams were heard from all directions as I waited for the moment when it was my family’s turn to be hurt. Pesók gave an order and his followers put away their whips.
“I hope you will be more careful next time you think you can trick us.”
The man walked towards the wall that had exploded. As he passed by my father’s flowers he stopped and I knew what was going to happen. He stepped on them with his huge boot and destroyed them completely. I felt an uncontrollable urge to run to him and hit him as hard as I could. Maybe I could turn into water so he couldn’t touch me. As if reading my mind, my father squeezed my arm even more. They left our valley and silence fell over us once again. I heard phrases from people saying that we were doomed. There was no way out.
We walked in silence to our village. When I got home and tried to sleep, I made the decision that the next day I would talk to my father and the rest of the village. We cannot continue to be slaves of the sand clan. There are many of us and although we don’t use weapons, we could face them if we worked together. I fell asleep rehearsing in my mind what I would say.
In the morning, people’s spirits were very low. Everywhere I looked there were people with injuries. I knew that when talking to large groups in the village, the people tended to hide and reject any change I could suggest, so I decided to talk to the villagers as I helped them during the day. Every time I mentioned the sand clan their faces changed immediately. The same situation repeated over and over again with the people I was trying to convince. I explained there are many of us, that we could do something to fight back and not have out food stolen. Most of them gave me the same answer about the risk, the whips, our friend who was killed. It was as if they were so afraid of being hurt again that they would rather die of hunger. I got tired of hearing variations of the same phrase:
“I appreciate you and everything you do for us. You make our life more tolerable but I don’t want to risk my family’s life in a plan that we don’t know will work.”
Days passed and I kept trying to convince them. My father seemed to consider it for a moment and then gave me the same response about the safety of the villagers. I didn’t want to question them about whether they trusted me or not, it would be like putting them against the wall and I didn’t want to intimidate them anymore. I just wanted them to wake up and realize what we could accomplish if we stood together.
After a month the lack of food was easy to notice. The rations we were taking were getting smaller in order to meet the quota of the sand clan. I watched the children play, with less energy each day. I didn’t give up talking to the villagers, using the state we were all in as an example.
One morning I was encouraging the children to play with me when we heard the drums. It bothers me to see us programmed to react to those sounds. The children ran into their homes. The adults stood restless by the doors, watching the bottom of the mountain where the bad people would appear. Everything was silent except for the beat of the drums. I walked to the door because I knew my mother would be worried if I wasn’t with them. Being completely honest, it hurts me to accept that the sand clan scares me. Not because of what they can do to me, but because of what they can do to my family and the rest of the village.
I clenched my fists when I saw Pesók smiling as he looked at the condition of our people. You could tell he was proud of how thin we were getting. When he was in the center of the village, he said with his powerful voice:
“Wow! You are in better shape than before. I no longer see fatties.”
My breathing accelerated as I heard laughter from his men, who were making comments while pointing at some villagers. My father held my arm tightly while looking at the invaders. The chosen villagers took the food to the center of the village for Pesók to inspect. No one wanted that job so they took turns among the grownups to do it. My parents opposed to me doing it, because they were afraid I would do something rash. I don’t blame them.
The man from the sand inspected the sacks of food. He took grains with his huge hand and smelled or tasted them. When the inspection was over, he said:
“Good quality, although it could be better. I think you can still donate. So, next month you will deliver even more food.”
I couldn’t believe it. Can’t he see the state we’re in? It seemed as if he wasn’t going to be satisfied until we looked like skeletons. His men picked up the food and walked away from the mountain.
I had turned my arm into water to get away from my father and screamed almost without realizing it. My mother called my name in a trembling voice, but I ignored her.
I cried again as I walked steadily towards Pesók, who had already turned his head in my direction and was looking across the mountain slope. I ignored the warnings of my family and other members of the village. I no longer cared about anything. I just wanted to show this man that not all of us agreed with the mistreatment he had given us over the years. I didn’t want to die, but if it made others realize the hell we were living in, at least it would help somehow. I walked with firm steps so that my trembling legs could not be noticed.
Some men from the sand clan approached me, but their leader waved and they let me through. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do. I just felt the need to face him. When I was by his side, I had to raise my head because of the great difference in height. He looked at me with cold eyes and hoping that my voice wouldn’t tremble, I told him:
“I don’t know who you think you are. You can’t demand more of us. We have already given you everything you have asked for and we barely have enough to eat. If it weren’t for us your stupid clan would be already dead. If you are so useless and not able to obtain food by yourselves, you should be grateful for what we give you.”
An absolute silence fell down the valley. I was breathing so hard that I felt it could be heard all over the mountain. I suddenly felt an awful pain and it took me a moment to realize that the giant had grabbed me by the hair. Cries of surprise and horror were heard among the villagers. I could barely keep my eyes open. Pesók was pulling me back and forth without saying a word. I knew I had overdone it and I didn’t care. I felt satisfied because at least I told him the truth directly to his face. I didn’t make a sound because I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of hearing me cry in pain.
When I saw that several of the children had left their homes to see what was happening, I screamed as hard as I could:
“We can beat them! Wake up, please!”
I turned into water briefly and managed to get my hair loose. I ran as fast as I could, but I felt the knives of the whip hit my legs. For a moment I felt nothing until I fell to the ground and the pain came so suddenly that I couldn’t hold back a scream. I heard sobs in different parts of the village which made me draw strength and ignore the suffering.
I pushed myself with my arms and transformed into water towards Pesók. I only reached his knees so I moved through his body and his clothes to climb up the torso. I reached his face and compacted as much as I could to cut off his breath. Pesók was trying to get rid of me but his hands passed through my liquid body. Parts of me were entering his nose and mouth. I didn’t mind losing pieces of my body as long as I could hurt him. I had never tried to hurt anyone this way and it felt strangely natural, despite being a peaceful race according to the stories the elders tell us.
The giant was moving violently, and even though I was using all my strength, I was losing my grip. He moved his head so fast that I fell to the ground. I involuntarily became human and rolled on the ground. Pesók was on his knees and coughing hard. I remained serious on the outside, but inside I was happy. It was the first time that the leader of the sand clan was vulnerable. Like a regular person who could get hurt.
One of his men took out his whip and ran towards me. At that moment two children turned into water and tried to do the same thing I did. Their bodies were small and they couldn’t reach their faces. Even so, they managed to stop the enemy from attacking me. Several members of the sand clan took steps backwards when some adults approached them. Other children had already imitated their friends and were trying to attack the enemies.
Pesók, who was still coughing, grabbed me by the neck. I could barely breathe or concentrate enough to become water. At that moment something was activated in my mind and in the minds of the other villagers. It was as if we were connected. Without speaking we knew what we had to do. At the top of the village I saw my father nodding as everyone looked at each other. He started running followed by my mother and the other villagers. On the main road, they turned into water and came down the slope like a small wave. From the houses came men, women and children who turned into water and joined the others. The wave grew little by little. Those of the sand clan watched in disbelief as a wave formed and grew larger, they didn’t know what to do. People kept coming out and joining the liquid group. The enemies were carried away without being able to avoid it. Some would stick their heads out to breathe, but some of the water people would rise up and pull them back down.
The giant kept squeezing my neck and he didn’t realize what was happening. By the time he looked up you could hear the sound of water running at high speed towards us. The wave hit us hard and I immediately dissolved to become a part of it. I could feel all the villagers and the enemies losing their consciousness one by one. We reached the end of the road to the gap where the lake had been. We occupied almost all that space while we continued to sink the enemies. In a few minutes we felt them stop moving. Pesók lasted the longest but drowned in the end. The feeling of strength and achievement washed over us. The lake we formed was shaking and swirling in a celebratory way. Finally, we discovered what we were capable of. Finally, we are free.
The story was translated to English and it is one of the twenty tales contained in the book Historias del vórtice (Stories of the vortex) by Jesús A. Ávila García. The book is currently only available in Spanish. More information about the book can be found at: https://jessav.com/libros/
This story has an original musical instrumental theme. You can listen to it on YouTube: