Monday, 10 February 2014

River Girl

I wrote this beginning years and years ago and have never taken it any further than what is here. I re-read it every now and then, hoping that the rest of the story will emerge. So far, no luck. But one day, I'm sure. Michael and the River Girl will come back and tell me what happens next...

River Girl

Late. It was too late. The air was thick with starlight.  The wind, blowing up from the river, carried the scent of silt and sleeping creatures.
What was it doing? A human boy sitting alone on the shore. Chin resting on his knees. Lips turned downwards. Eyes glazed.
The river girl shifted position, bending the bulrushes away gently, creeping catlike over the marshy ground. Her bare feet slurped in the weed-tangled water.
It was a young boy too. Younger than those that came out on warm summer evenings drinking from cans and yelling and throwing darts of smoking red into the river where they died with a hiss.
Late. Too late for a human boy to be sitting on the bank.
The river girl hunched down, squatting amongst the long grass and rushes. Night would grow colder, prowlers would come. Dark prowlers.
The river girl twisted as she heard a noise on the opposite bank. Her long ears twitched, swivelling slightly to catch the sound. An otter maybe, night fishing, or a fish trying to reach the stars. They longed to fly. They jumped for the stars at night.
Turning her attention back to the human boy, the river girl made her decision. Tonight was not a good night to be on the bank alone. She crept forward softly, she was the whispering of the wind through the grass, the sound of breezes snagging against the bristled heads of the bulrushes. The human boy was an arm span away. Sitting on the bank. His shoes shone in the moonlight. Wind ruffled his hair and tugged the collar of his shirt. Yes, he would be cold and the prowlers would find him straight away.
‘Boy,’ she hissed.
The boy’s head jerked up, his eyes widening with fear. She could see the river dancing in them. It was a good sign. The river liked him.
            ‘Boy,’ she repeated.
            Now he was scrambling up, his shining shoes churning up the mud. He was older than she had first thought, but still young. Besides, once she had decided something there was no retracing her thoughts.  She moved out of the tall grasses. A thin shadow in the night.
            ‘Come,’ she said, she held out her hand, ‘come, boy.’
            He turned towards her, she saw his surprise: his mouth dropping open, his eyes wide. He stumbled back. He slipped on the mud-slicked bank. His cry flew out of his mouth like a bird as he fell, and was cut off by the splash he made into the river. The river girl started forward, her hand still held out, and then she dove, slipping beneath the surface of the water, sliding into it like a slither of moonlight. She left no footprints on the bank, no ripples on the water, only the sound of the wind through the reeds.

            Michael didn’t know where he was going as he left the wedding party. He didn’t particularly care. He just wanted out. He climbed the fence at the back of the hotel and landed on the springy wild grass of the field with relief. Behind him he could hear the music pounding from the sweating disco room, but out here it was cold. The moaning of the night air suited him better. Earlier, he and dad had walked this way, kicking at the skeleton dandelion heads and watching the seeds swirling away. He could see the cows huddled together in the far corner. The sky above was clear, the stars bright. It was a night for things to happen.
            Michael stomped across the field, deliberately ignoring the meandering path they’d made earlier and instead heading towards the sound of water. In the moonlight he could see the tall shapes of the bulrushes that bowed and shook by the river. The earth here was dank and damp. It stank of cow dung and slid beneath his feet. He sat on the bank and stared down at the glassy river. He did not care if his suit got covered in foul oozing mud. It was a fitting end to the day. A day when everything had seemed wrong.
            He sat for long moments watching the river. It was hypnotic. It drained his thoughts and carried them away with its current. Goodbye Amanda, goodbye Ben, goodbye dad.
            Slowly, as his head emptied of the buzzing angriness that he had been carrying around all day, he came to hear other things. The rustle of the bulrushes, the light popping of the mud beneath him as air bubbles let out gasps of surprise, movement of nightime creatures on the opposite bank plopping into the river. He felt his heartbeat steadying, the dampness from the ground seeping in through his thin trousers, the air tickling his neck.
And then he heard it, a strange whispery voice, fragmented, like droplets of water:
            He looked up, startled. Someone had followed him. Ben. But no, Ben would never whisper at him from the shadows he would hurl himself onto Michael shouting ‘I got you Mikey! Now swing me round! Swing me round!’
            It came again, louder, closer. Michael jumped up, slipping on the muddy bank. He must be hearing things, the wind through the grass. He should be heading back now, they would miss him. He turned from the river and a shadow caught his eye.
            ‘Come, boy,’ the shadow extended a hand, dark green eyes glinted at him in the starlight, enveloped in darkness.
            Michael heard himself cry out as he stumbled backwards. His heart was in his throat, his feet gave out beneath him, he tried to grab something, but there was nothing but air, and then there was nothing but water. Icy, mud filled water in his mouth, up his nose, cloying at his eyes. He thrashed, weeds twisted about him, held him down, the current caught him and pulled him on. He could see nothing, could hear only his heart and the roaring of his fear.
            And then, something beneath his arms, holding him, steadying him and slowing everything down. He relaxed, his limbs drifted around him. The mud cleared from the water like gravy granules dissolving.  His lungs were burning, his head dizzy, but the water was letting him go, he was rising. His head broke the surface and he gasped for air.
            ‘Come, boy’ said the same distorted voice, but whoever it was remained behind him, hands gripping him firmly beneath his arms. ‘We not stay here. They come. Take deep breath.’
            Before he could argue, before he could really breathe again, he was under once more, into the world of murky water and shadows.

            The river girl pulled him along easily. She was strong when she wanted to be. Strong as a river current. She rose often to let him grope for air, waiting as he spluttered and coughed at the moon and then she dove again. He struggled a little at first, but she had held him fast. He did not understand the danger he had been in.

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