The fountain was not running today. The gushing, arching centerpiece of the little man-made pond was now a concrete slab supporting an ugly metal claw that more closely resembled a spider dead on its back than anything that could ever be beautiful.
Grunting, David pushed himself up off the grate. No point in staring at the pond without the fountain running; and his continued gaze, no matter how intent, would not bring it to life. Maintenance? Cutbacks on water usage? He worried briefly that the fountain might not be back on for some time. He came out to the little pond for lunch every day. Off to one side of campus, it was hardly a crowded area and those few that did stumble upon him ended up sprawled off on their own, not bothering him past the initial concern of invasion. They just became part of the background.
David zipped his lunchbox back up and set off to the Arts and Sciences building. Once again he mused on the oddity of a mathematics class held in the Arts and Sciences building and wondered who had thought to arrange the class that way.
It was during these more homework-intensive evenings that David was glad his roommate had moved out a couple weeks earlier. Not that David felt any animosity toward his former roommate, in-fact he had been quite fond of the guy, David was just grateful for the quiet concentration afforded him by his empty dorm room. The rest of the floor was also quiet enough to garner few complaints. Whenever the noise level grew intrusive or spilled into the hall, he had talked to the troublesome party and resolved the issue with a pleasant ease. David was baffled as to how anyone could be as courteous as his dorm.
Once again, lunch was a peanut butter sandwich (a childhood meal David had never grown weary of) and once again he had found the fountain dry. David ate through a frown, scarcely tasting his sandwich and not bothering to unpack his bag of potato chips. He was suddenly resentful of everyone else in the area. It was their fault that the fountain was not working, this he knew with absolute certainty.
Wednesday came and the fountain remained inert. Lifeless. None of the pond’s other regulars seemed to notice. Unconscious cretins, never bothering with the finer points in life, always looking for their next meal ticket; always taking, never giving. Locusts, all of them.
David sighed, wishing the fountain would start up and take his thoughts somewhere happier. As it stood, he would have to do the heavy lifting, himself. He closed his eyes and imposed a measure of will over himself. He pushed the stench of corrupted humanity from his nose, barred the desolate silence from his ears, and steadied his breathing. His fractured mind coalesced.
David opened his eyes, balancing act intact.
Classes after lunch had been a labored blur. Each moment melded into the next and none of them held any distinctiveness, they all weighed heavily on his mind with thoughts of the fountain. After class he could not manage to stomach a bowl of Ramen noodles, so great was his distress. He buried himself in homework, driving all unassociated thoughts from his mind, but was less than his usually-pleasant self when speaking with a noisy hall mate that evening.
David needed a shower after his outburst. A long shower. Hot water hitting him in steady steam to wash away all of the unpleasantness. Maybe he would even fill the room with steam, really indulge.
David nearly sobbed when he found the fountain to be inert the next day.
He stumbled halfway to his usual seat before falling into the short stretch of rocks that separated sidewalk from murky shallows. Harsh, stinging tears sheathed his eyes. His hands unclenched and his palms dug into his face, hoping to stem the tide. His lunchbox and hatchet fell to the ground at his feet.
David choked on tears, purposeless and alone, his delicate delusions shattered.
For half an hour he cried before a groan that was not his reached his ears. Few of the rotting creatures shambled near the pond, the stench of lifeless flesh did not suggest a good meal. Still, the creatures were not blindingly intelligent and some would wander over despite the slim pickings advertised.
David stood up, hatchet in hand, walked unsteadily toward the damned soul and put it out of its misery—an act of pure empathy if David had ever known one. The lifeless husk’s stench would add to the already formidable veil of death draped over the area, an emphatic “nothing to see here” sign. David considered how much longer such protection would be necessary and if the disease was transmitted only by bite or if it was an airborne pathogen activated by death, bite or not. He wondered if he would retain some shred of sentience.