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William made me with water.
The first time I saw him, his hair was wet with perspiration and he hunched over with exhaustion. His breath was heavy and he slowly looked at me, examining my every inch. His mouth opened and a jumble of sounds fell from his lips. For a moment, he looked at me expectantly, but the moment passed and he released a sigh. With an air of disappointment, he raised his left hand and brought it swiftly across himself. Everything went black.
I nodded into existence the second time and William appeared stronger somehow. As the darkness faded, I leveled my eyes at his and he smiled. We were silent for a moment and I watched him stare at me. His eyes were filled with wonder, with pride.
“Can you understand me?” I swallowed the words and digested them, turning them over in my mind. Finally, I nodded.
“Can you speak?” he asked.
Before I could think, I replied.
“I’m not sure.” He gave a quick laugh, then leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands.
“This is amazing,” he said to himself, almost whispering.
There was a knock on the door and, as he turned at the sound, my world faded to blackness.
I returned sleepily, the darkness lifting like a fog. William stood over me, worry written in lines across his face.
“Are you all right?” he asked. I nodded. The lines cleared and he breathed a sigh of relief as he fell into his chair.
“I didn’t expect that to happen,” he said. He must have thought I was worried, for he sat forward. “But I’ve taken precautions so that it won’t happen again.”
“Thank you,” I said. He smiled again and his eyes drifted over me in dazed wonder.
“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered.
“Thank you,” I said.
“I’m William,” he said groggily.
“Thank you, William.”
I came into being quicker every time until it was as though a switch were flipped to make me live. William appeared less tired with every meeting and he was always excited to see me.
The seventeenth time I came into being, I was different. I looked down at myself to see arms and legs, a body. Like the way I learned to talk, I suddenly just knew that I was a woman. I looked up to see William trying not to stare at me. He faced away from me and held his hand over his eyes, but kept excitedly glancing at me to witness my reaction to this new form.
“What do you think?” he asked. Holding my left hand out and spreading my fingers, I looked through my watery palm at the room around me. I was still water, but I was also something different.
“It’s nice,” I finally said. He had now forgotten his shame completely and his hand dropped to his side. His pride radiated off of him and made me feel warm all over.
When he put me back in the bucket that day, my world did not go black. I slid into a dark gray and watched the room as the hours passed. William left and the room remained quiet throughout the night.
When William returned in the morning, I saw a sliver through the door as it opened and closed. Just beyond the door was a staircase that led upwards to a window. Through the window, I could only see green; he closed the door too quickly for me to get a good look.
He rolled up his sleeves, loosened his tie, and rubbed his hands together before holding them out towards the bucket.
I felt a wrenching, as though I were being torn. The world spun around me as I rose into the air and out of the bucket. William contorted his hands and directed my movement as I twisted and formed in midair. I could feel my arms and legs extending from my body, my fingers stretching and grasping. I could feel his magic coursing through me as I drifted slowly to the ground. It rushed through me, digging up every scrap of my consciousness and bringing it out. He meant to awaken me, but I had never even gone to sleep.
I sat on the floor breathing heavily, tired for the first time. He seemed to notice and he waited a moment before he spoke.
“Are you all right?” he asked, trying to hold back his excitement. I took a moment to regain myself, then nodded.
“I am fine.” Though I didn’t look at him, I could practically feel him smile with pride.
“Well?” he asked. I looked up at him to see an expression of anticipation.
“What?” I asked. Without words, he frantically gestured towards me and took a sharp breath in. For a moment, I was unsure what he was doing. Slowly, realization dawned on me and I looked down at myself.
I sat on the ground, my legs folded beneath me, my skin wet and warm.
Holding my hands before me again, I stared at them, wide-eyed. I had skin. I pinched myself to learn what it felt like and I tested my muscles.
I stood. I sat down again. I blinked and smiled and rolled my eyes. The feeling of having a body was pure ecstasy. There were so many new sensations. I could see William’s face. I could hear his heavy breath. I could feel the dampness of the dark room. And, somewhere in the back of my newly formed brain, I felt an urge, an irresistible desire. I wanted something. William moved between me and the door and the desire flared. I wanted outside. I tried to push past him, to get to the door, but he held his hands on my shoulders.
“You can’t go there,” he said. I looked at him pleadingly, then tried to force him off me.
“You must stay here,” he said, holding me in place. His brow was creased, his pride fading. I was not behaving as I should. Still, I wanted to be outside. I needed fresh air; I needed sun. I summoned all of my strength and shoved William aside, knocking him to the ground. I didn’t care about him anymore. My mind was focused on that wooden door and the outside world. I took the last steps and held the knob in my hand. Twisting it, I threw the door open and stood at the threshold.
The steps were lit in a zigzag, shadows forming in diagonals on the smooth wood. At the top, the window was open and, through it, I could see trees. A breeze rolled in and slid down the stairs to me, embracing me and sweeping through my hair. I looked up through the window at the patches of sky that shone through the leaves on the trees and was filled with a calm.
There was a sharp pain in my back and everything began to fade. Unable to stand, unable to move a muscle, I crumpled to the floor like a marionette with cut strings. From the ground, I watched my world fade to the dark gray and felt my body dissolve into water. William came and stood over me, shaking his head.
He cleaned up my remains and filled the bucket again. When he was through, he sighed, checked his watch, and left me alone.
As he closed the door behind him, I caught a glimpse of the window again. I reached out for it, but couldn’t move. I was restricted in nothingness, trapped in a disobedient body. Still, I pushed and reached. I stretched out my hands and extended my legs. I thrashed inside the bucket, exploded against my cage. The hours stretched on and I became wilder. I tore at my surroundings, striving to get out. Then the bucket tipped. I sloshed inside my prison and held still for a moment, almost afraid to proceed. But the moment passed and I was back at it. I beat against the bucket, urged towards the door. I splashed and a stem of water extended towards the outside world. I swirled and the bucket tipped a second time. I struck my confinement and it leaned further. With a final slam against the bucket, it fell to the ground. In silent exultation, I flowed along the ground, striving, pleading for the door. Momentum carried me halfway across the room, but I urged myself forward. I needed the sky. I needed to be outside. I poured myself into the thought of an arm, a hand extending towards the doorknob. I felt the magic that William had put into me and I called upon it. Slowly, a tendril emerged from the surface of the puddle in the middle of the floor. It reached up, curling and swaying, extending towards the door.
When William returned home that afternoon, he found the door to the basement open. Wet footsteps began halfway across the room and adventured up the stairs. By the far wall, an empty bucket lay overturned.