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eli sclar


by Eli Sclar

There has been a mistake. The gods have been neglectful, as where once lay the calm, gentle river on the outskirts of our town now lies the river Lethe. Most of us believe the transformation, likely brought on by a faulty levee or dam that allowed the sacred waters to seep from the underworld, occurred overnight; yet even of this theory, no one is certain.

Only when a young boy fishing along the bank with his grandfather decided to jump in did the unearthly effects of the water become apparent. Upon rubbing his eyes, the boy no longer remembered his grandfather, nor who he himself was. Naturally, when news of the phenomenon spread there were skeptics, but a single dive into the waters was all that was needed to reassure onlookers of the river’s authenticity.

The story has reached all corners of our town and even further beyond. From a second-floor window, one could clearly see all along the riverside, which in those first few days was almost always overflowing with men and women eager to forget their troubles and slip away into calm serenity. In they go into the muddy waters of the Lethe and out they return, dazed, stumbling, and reincarnated. Yet it is a reincarnation uncelebrated, for where are they to return? They most certainly do not know, and even if a loved one managed to find them, what good would that do? And so men drift aimlessly throughout the town, free of previous difficulties, yes, yet burdened now with much larger ones.

Our townsfolk recognize this and, despite that fact, still regularly witness their neighbors march themselves towards the banks. Some managed to choose a direction and start walking, although a few, finding the day hot and themselves parched, decide to take a drink of water and, having drunk anew from the river Lethe, are once again completely oblivious. Initially, a meeting was held by those who renounced the waters, and it was decided that a very respected man, a teacher from the local high school, would become our leader. The first action he decided upon, however, proved to be his last. He, alongside some of our other prominent men, went to the banks of the river. There they had tried to steer some of the men and women towards the center of town, where a makeshift shelter was to be constructed. But they had miscalculated; those who went into the river did not recognize the men and ran from them. One, ankles deep in the water, having her arm grabbed by our leader, out of fear and ignorance pushed him into the water’s depths. Similar fates befell the others.

Since then, we have all simply resigned. What else are we to do? The men and women still wander around our once quiet town, quite aimlessly. That minority which avoided the waters have learned to go about their own business, ignoring those confused faces that may be met in the streets or countryside.


One cloudless day, I was looking out my window, truly without seeing anything. I was deep in thought, consumed by my work, and had been sitting at my desk for several hours. It was just when my thoughts came to a lull that I noticed something unusual. A young woman with wet straw-colored hair, no older than myself, was roaming around in the street below. Usually, I would no longer take any notice of such a scene, but something particular struck me about this woman. I had almost blurted something out, anything to get her attention, but was stopped.

Around the corner, in the shade of another house, there was a boy practicing violin. I stood there, my head outside my open window, and listened. There the boy lingered, his back towards me, quite carelessly and erratically drawing his bow over the strings. What followed closely mimicked an animal being strangled. Every few seconds he would stop, realize that his playing didn’t quite resemble the sheet music in front of him, and would start all over, making the same errors. The boy was so engrossed in his study that he failed to see the woman staring at him fifteen feet away. She was frozen, listening intently at every wrong note, at every mistroke of the bow. Despite this, he did not seem discouraged and just played on. I tried to get back to work, but would only manage five minutes at a time before losing my concentration. Getting up from my desk, I would once again look out the window, and each time I would find that woman still there. 

An hour must have passed, before anything remotely musical came along. It was a simple melody, at first played painstakingly slow but soon enough at an acceptable tempo. It wasn’t beautiful or particularly clever, but there it was, the beginner’s first phrase. Upon hearing it, I rushed towards my window. There, still in the street below, was the woman. She looked paler than before, and it almost seemed as if there were tears in her eyes. Confused tears, no doubt, but tears nonetheless. The boy continued to play his one phrase again and again, with her standing just out of his sight. After taking in the scene for a moment more, I regained my senses and closed the window.


We sent out a messenger for help long ago. He hasn’t returned. While we gave up on those unfortunate souls that frequent the cobblestones of our streets, life quickly became unbearable for us. Our humble town is seated within the heartland of our country, miles and miles from any important trading route or harbour. What need had we for walls, what enemy would bother with us? We could never have known that the tragedy would worsen. We failed to see that those pilgrims who dove into the waters were forever unable to share news of their fates with others. Of course, the story of the river Lethe had become known, yet only our town saw firsthand its devastating effects. The rest only heard hearsay. Those strangers who traveled to our river following a dream could not journey back home. Suddenly, as I suspect, men and women from all over – perhaps in some places only a few, in others a noticeable amount – had gone missing, without any other explanation than the rumors of the miraculous river. A few days go by, and their loved ones wait patiently for their son or husband, daughter or wife to return, only to bide their time in vain. The doubters, who scoff at the very idea of the river Lethe, are soon haunted by doubts, and the regretful youth, ashamed at his own fancy and starved for cause, soon finds one. All are bound toward our town.

We were overwhelmed with our families, friends, and neighbors succumbing to the waters, and in our clouded judgment, could not foresee any further pilgrims. Newcomers began to trickle in, and we hardly noticed. Yet the same circumstance which had brought them, brought more to us. They were found creeping through the forest, traveling through unbeaten paths, trampling through our fields; they were quite easy to distinguish, for the purpose in their eyes contrasted starkly with the bewildered gaze of those taken by the river. We had already been experiencing some difficulty with our own soaked citizens: they had long exhausted any food to be found in our small town and, as demonstrated with the makeshift shelter, the prospect of meaningful aid was entirely futile. But as this second influx trickled in, our humble supplies were utterly dwarfed. By the time that we recognized the growing issue, these pilgrims, like locusts, utterly devastated our crops.

News spread slowly, through pockets of us at a time, and soon another emergency meeting was called. The lesson had been learned that direct contact with the men and women of the river was fruitless. There were simply far too many of them and far too few of us. Broken, indifferent, and lost, the congregants at first were quiet. Yet as the evening went on, long lost tempers began to flare, and it was decided that perhaps walls, constructed around the entire perimeter of our town, would at least help mitigate our problem. And as the logistics for such a project were discussed, I kept silent. Their words began to fade, and I could feel my tired mind racing elsewhere, as it has recently been inclined to do. For when we had a city, we lacked defenses, comforted by the thought of pastoral peace. Yet now, after our illusion of reality was shattered, what good would walls do us now? We have already lost before we began. The effects of the gods’ mistake extend far beyond us now. The river Lethe is sure to flood behind any wall’s cracks anyhow, eking out to the rest of the world and drawing them towards us. What of our town then? How on earth could we possibly persevere?

A careless mistake, like the flow of a river, can never be reversed.



Eli Sclar is based in San Diego, California and a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara. His influences span from Kafka and Gogol to Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. He is currently authoring a book on philosophy and religion during the French Revolution.

Philosophy Note:

At some stage in our lives, we have all wished that a memory or two would disappear. Yet our memory is who we are, in our entirety. What we forget or remember is not in our hands, and when placed so, would bear the risk of unravelling us all. Could our aversion to strife lead to deeper strife?