River People 1: River Children

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I thought it was just water. Just muddy water, deep enough that the tallest person would not be able to touch bottom and surface at the same time. Our house is about forty steps away – enough to keep the smell away, but not enough to avoid the yearly flood from drowning our garden.

We lived here for four years and we always liked that river despite the smell and lack of life. I heard once that flowing water keeps witches away, maybe that’s part of it. And of course it’s nice to have free water for the garden.

The summer we moved in I tried to swim in the river, but while the air was burning the water was cold as if it had just come off a glacier. I always thought that was strange. I’ve been to the river’s spring though – a waterfall that comes right out of a nearby mountain. Back at the spring the water is clear.

Last year our neighbor Tayler, a gentle older bachelorette, said that she had seen beavers or rats swimming in the river. At the time it seemed like a good explanation for the ripped off leaves and dug out vegetables in the gardens. Since then Kristy doesn’t go near the river.

Mostly we used to ignore it. We proudly showed “our river” to visitors and else a glance and a smile were the highlights of our interaction with it.

Now things have changed.

Kristy saw the children first. It was about 3pm, but the thick clouds and heavy rain made the day look like a night.

She ran into my home office.

“There is someone in our garden!”

I turned my head and despite the dark I saw them straight away. Their bodies were dark but shiny. They looked smooth or even slippery, as if they had bathed in motor oil. Their tiny hands were digging in our vegetable patch.

“Should I call the police?” Kristy asked.

“It’s just kids,” I said.

I felt uneasy when I went downstairs. It was just surreal to see three naked kids in our garden, and that in the middle of a storm.

I slid the back door open. The smell made me retch; without a thought I bent forward and cleared my throat. It smelled like a fusion of old sweat and mud.

Hissing.

I looked up just in time to see them retreat backwards. Their eyes were focused on me; their mouths were stretched open but I couldn’t see any teeth, just thick lips that reflected light in a dark blue.

They walked backwards into the water. They didn’t swim away; they just walked and disappeared below the surface. Until the last moment their eyes were focused on me.

We played it off as a crazy prank. We didn’t know what else to do.

Two hours later they were back. Only this time they weren’t digging in the garden.

Kristy and I were preparing dinner in the kitchen. I went back to the living room to get a large plate and froze the moment I saw them behind the large windows. One had its hand on the glass, the other two crouched behind the first.

They stared at me, then, when I took another step, the two crouching creatures rushed back to the river. The one with its hand on the window kept staring at me with its large yellowish eyes. I called Kristy; only then it ran off, backwards again. Kristy too saw it step back into the water.

Kristy suggested that we should call the police. I told her they would laugh and check us for drugs.

We made sure that all the doors and windows were locked and the roller blinds shut. Still it took us long to fall asleep. Kristy didn’t even know that I had a knife at the side of my mattress.

In the morning the sun was bright. I opened the shutters and slowly walked into the garden. Some of the vegetables and salads were gone, but most plots looked untouched. I thought about walking closer to the river but decided against it. Then I turned to walk back inside.

Our whole back wall was caked in small spots of mud. Most of it seemed to be near our bedroom window.

I rushed back inside, just in time to hear Kristy scream.

There was mud all over our downstairs bathroom.

The day was hot. In the late afternoon the sky began to fill with gray blots. Around 5:30pm, without warning, the rain began to hammer on the roof, porch and garden.

We had placed stones on the toilet in the downstairs bathroom and locked the door from outside. My eyes stayed on the garden.

Around 6:30pm I saw movement at the far end of our neighbor’s backyard.

At 6:49 we heard a loud clonk from the downstairs bathroom. We ran towards the bathroom – she with a shovel, I with a baseball bat. Kristy unlocked the door, I forcefully pushed it open and swung the bat inside the empty room. The stones were lying next to the toilet.

Then we heard the noise upstairs. Kristy tried to pull the bathroom door shut, but it refused to close. I was half-way up the stairs and, when I heard her calling, came back down. When I tried it the door shut easily. We locked it again.

On the way upstairs Kristy called the police. She gave our address and hectically explained the situation to the operator. She stayed close behind me while I made my way to the upstairs bathroom, bat in hand.

“There are creatures in our house,” said Kristy.

I spotted the open door of the upstairs bathroom.

“They are about the size of ten year old children.”

I saw the puddle of mud and water on the floor.

“They have dark and shiny skin and I think they are naked.”

I raised the bat higher and stepped towards the door.

“I think they came from the river.”

I saw the mud on the wall.

“We need to get out,” whispered Kristy.

The mud led all the way up to the ceiling.

Kristy pulled my arm.

I took another step.

“We need to get out!” screamed Kristy.

I spotted the small, dark hand at the top of the doorframe.

Kristy pulled me back just the moment the creature jumped off the ceiling. It missed me by a few inches.

I swung the bat towards the bulbous head; the creature jumped back into the bathroom.

Kristy pulled me back.

“He says we need to get out. They know these things.”

We rushed back towards and down the stairs. I grabbed my laptop off the dining table, Kristy grabbed the keys.

On the way out I heard scratching from the right, from inside the guest bathroom.

I stumbled over a piece of wood on the floor. When I looked up I saw the hole at the top of the bathroom door. There was a yellow eye behind it.

Despite the heavy rain the car too was full of mud. I checked below the car, but there was nothing.

Kristy unlocked the door and jumped in the passenger seat, I took the driver’s side. She handed me the key; then screamed. One of the creatures sat on the roof.

I quickly turned the ignition and drove out of the driveway; I didn’t even check for traffic. When we drove off the creature still sat on the roof.

We are at a motel now. The police say we can’t go back. They don’t want to tell us more.

Kristy says she hasn’t seen our neighbor Tayler in at least a week. We called the other neighbors to warn them. I think some listened, but most thought we were insane.

We pulled the curtains shut, but I can still hear the rain splashing on the asphalt outside the motel. I still don’t know what they are, but I just hope that they can’t get that far away from the river.

I know Tayler would have believed us. But she didn’t pick up the phone.


Update: River Men

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  1. Pingback: The »River People« series | Anton Scheller

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