RESIDENT DUTIES • by Kevin Shamel

That’s exactly what I said! There was an accident.

Look at you. I don’t want to hear your story yet. Not until you hear mine. Our stories are similar, if not the same. You sit and drink. Listen to my story.

My accident occurred on a date with a girl I barely knew.

Reyna flew planes. She wanted to take me to a log cabin for the weekend. We took-off in her little two-seater on a Friday morning. We came down hard two hours later, not far from here.

We were flying along, talking and flirting, when the engine started screaming and gave out. Reyna did what she could — fought walls of wind and gravity and tried to keep us up. She soothed the plane with gentle words like baby, and sugar.

Reyna began screaming as we plowed into treetops. She stopped abruptly when we smashed into the mountainside.

My date was dead and I was dying. I was worse-off than you were when you came stumbling in here — broken arms, a piece of metal in my thigh. One eye was punctured, the other bruised and scratched. I most likely had some internal injuries, because within a day my abdomen had purple and green splotches all over it. I couldn’t do anything with Reyna — had to leave her where she lay.

I stayed beside the bulk of the wreckage, thinking someone would find me. I had water for the first two days.

On the third morning of writhing by the wreckage, I knew I’d die if I didn’t find water.

I was on the side of a mountain. I figured I’d find water nearby.

I didn’t. Not even snow. I could see snow on a higher peak, so I knew there was runoff somewhere nearby. I struggled along the top edge of a scraggly forest, searching for a stream, a spring, or a puddle. I fell and furthered my injuries.

I gave up on finding water. I tripped around dying. That’s when I stumbled into this valley. Just like you did.

I can’t tell you how I managed to find it. I remember looming walls of rock, dazzling sunlight, and then the unmistakable smell of water. It was long minutes after I’d drank my fill that I took a look around. Just like you did.

What did you notice first?

I noticed that tree right there, the palm made of amber, jade, and emeralds. Then its partner trees and lovely bushes — gemstone sculptures, all. I noticed their fire in the sunlight. I realized they aren’t real.

Then the chunk of metal popped out of my leg, my eyes healed and I could see straight again. I watched the bruises on my body disappear and flexed my arms — they were stronger than they’d ever been.

Do you know where you are?

I didn’t, either.

Zi had to tell me. You’ll meet Zi soon. Pay attention to him. Drink in his words like the sweet, sweet water you just gulped down. He knows everything. Have you ever heard the story of Gilgamesh? Yeah, no doubt you haven’t. I hadn’t, and I was born a thousand years before you.

Zi will tell you the story. He’ll tell you lots of stories. Believe them.

You know, about how you arrived here, I think I’d rather not hear. I’m going back into the world now and I want it all to be a surprise.

Zi lives in that cave up there. Do you see it? Yeah, in the mountain of gold. Well, he’s a pretty important guy, Ziusudra is. This is his garden. At least, he’s its keeper. And now you’re his assistant.

You get my job.

It’s part of the rules of the Garden — which you will learn in great detail. Here’s the exact quote, “When a mortal human partakes in the Water of Life and is thereby granted immortality, said human must reside in the Garden until another mortal of his or her race comes to relieve him or her of the resident duties accumulated with ingestion of the Water.”

Zi will explain it all. I just wanted you to hear my story — maybe acclimate you a little. The last assistant garden-keeper took off as soon as I told him that I drank from the fountain, and it had healed me. He just smiled and ran out of the valley. Zi said he was a pretty good guy — he’d just been here for a long time. More than two thousand years. He arrived after an accident, too.

This garden is great, greater than you think, but I can’t imagine another thousand years here. I’m glad you came along when you did.

Well, I’ve got to get going. Got some immortality to exploit, and a whole new world to explore. Good luck, man. Remember — listen to Ziusudra. He knows a lot about water. And it’s all about water. It really is.

Kevin Shamel says: “Ziusudra is the biblical Noah. In the oldest Flood tale, Ziusudra survives the flood with his family. Later he’s made Keeper of the Garden of the Gods, and if legend can be believed, lives there still. Gilgamesh met Zi in the Garden when he sought eternal life from the Fountain of Youth.”

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