But Not A Drop to Drink
by Jeff Baker
(A Demeter’s Bar Story)
“Could it get any hotter?” somebody at the bar asked.
“Only if we all press together,” Paco said, sipping his beer.
About five of us were sitting at the bar at Demeter’s, mainly to be under one of the air conditioning vents and to get a look at Zack the bartender who was wearing a tank top and shorts. He’d tied his long red hair in a bun. It was the middle of summer and the sixth day in a row where afternoon temperatures hit over a hundred-and-three.
“Welcome to the drought,” Zack said.
“Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”
We sipped in silence for a few moments. Then, somebody broke the silence. It was an older man in a grey suit and a loosened tie.
“You know, a long time ago I knew a way of extracting water from the ground,” the man said. “I mean, really.” He took a sip of his drink and started in on his story.
My name is Gil Chester (the man said) and back in the early 70s I was working with a company out in the Arizona desert. We were doing a lot of scientific experimentation and one of our problems was water. The head of the project, and my boss, was a guy named Buddy Closter. He was about sixty and he was not afraid to think outside the box, a phrase I hadn’t heard back then.
Buddy called in a guy my Granddad back in Missouri would have described as a “Water Witcher.” He wasn’t some guy they’d found living in a shack with his burro, he was in his late forties, (I guessed) and actually nice-looking. Five-foot-eleven, lean, buff, tanned with silvery-black hair and a big toothy grin. Jake Ohmley had at least three degrees, including in Meteorology and something called “Applied Magnetics.” And he didn’t have a burro, he drove a shiny red Jeep.
I was in my twenties, just out of college and I couldn’t have been more nerdy. If I’d met Ohmley here at Demeter’s, I would have bought him a drink. But it was fifty years ago and I was stuffed in the closet and the only drink we were interested in there was water.
Ohmley demonstrated to all of us how the divining rod he’s brought with him would be “pulled down” by the presence of water and he assured us that it was a sound scientific principle and not magic. He also maintained that with a rod made of the right material and the proper use of electromagnetic fields it would be possible to “reverse the dowsing effect” and actually pull water up from the ground.
“Even in the desert?” one of the guys asked.
“There’s water everywhere, Ohmley said.
Buddy’s calling of Ohmley was not just an impulse. Over the next two days, a truck brought Ohmley’s equipment out to our camp along with a small crew to install it. When it was finished, it was as strange a sight as the desert had ever seen.
The set up was a long, thick pole made of some metal I didn’t recognize, propped up at an angle and hanging several yards over the desert floor like a huge fishing rod.
“This is a combination of alloys, most of which aren’t supposed to be blended together,” Ohmley said with a smile. “But they are.”
I stared as he pulled out a small, black case, about the size of a transistor radio, which he identified as a battery pack.
“It just takes a small bit of electrical current running through this rod to activate its potency, which will be demonstrated in a matter of moments,” Ohmley said.
He connected the battery pack to the end of the rod which was attached to the ground on a huge steel winch which was seemingly bolted to the desert floor. There was a crunching noise from the ground and the rod dipped downward as the hard desert floor cracked and a jet of water spurted upward, splattering against the metal rod.
We began rushing towards Ohmley, congratulating him, but he was staring upwards. A small clump of filmy clouds were suddenly roiling and swelling in the sky, the cloud growing progressively darker.
Ohmley had stepped back from the metal pole as he was staring upward, presumably to get a better view, but his and our distance from the rod and winch was actually very fortunate as in the next instant the cloud let out with a roar and emitted a swirl of rain which seemed directed at the rod. In another second there was a blue white streak of lightning and a brittle clap of thunder as the bolt hit the rod and we were thrown back away from it by a burst of force. And then the ground rumbled and a tower of water erupted from underneath the rod, leaving the small area underneath a small pond the size of a swimming pool.
Gil Chester finished his drink and set it down on the bar.
“The device was totally fried, we were all just lucky we weren’t fried along with it,” he said. “Buddy and the project were affiliated with a large corporation which saw they were losing money and pulled their funding and we went our separate ways. But I still think of Ohmley when I see it rain. Or when I see a tanned, greyish-haired man with a killer smile.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I hadn’t visited Demeter’s Bar, my gay watering hole where strange science fictional tales are told in a while, but the hot summer seemed to call for a tall cool one, a dark bar and a story about water——jsb.