River People 4: Dry River

Previous chapters:

You can also listen to this story:

I’m sorry it took me so long to update; nobody in the hospital had a charger that matched my phone and in her condition I didn’t want to leave Kristy alone. The doctors say that the long time in the heat basically boiled her skin and some of her muscles and maybe even her brain are affected too. They say that she will survive, but they are still not sure whether Kristy will need a skin transplant.

I was nearly eight hours alone in that windowless room. The smell got worse by the minute and at some point the dark toilet water began to bubble. I thought that one of those things would jump out and kill me.

Instead only a hand came out; an adult-sized hand with slimy black skin.

It was the first time that I saw their skin from so close up; it is really perfectly smooth, like a black piece of polished metal covered in massage oil. Only it didn’t smell like massage oil; the smell that came from the toilet was clearly mud – and excrement.

The arm pushed out of the toilet; the hand touched the rim. I thought that the rest of the body would press out of the toilet any minute and was getting ready to defend myself – my shoes were the hardest object I could find.

Instead the arm straightened and stood up in the middle of the bowl; the fingers on the hand spread out wide the way a person would show the number five. Then the hand slowly circled from side to side for about ten seconds and, with a loud gulping sound, disappeared back in the toilet.

I stood for about ten minutes, sweating and with my heart beating to my throat, in front of that toilet.

Ten minutes; then loud steps on the corridor. A male voice screamed “They are here!” and the shots started. It must have been at least two machine guns firing; between the volleys I heard the men shouting for backup.

I cowered to the right of the door until it stopped. It could have been at most five minutes, but with the screams and shots it felt much longer than that. At the end there were at least forty small dents in the metal door.

There was more shouting, someone commanded the others to “clear the door” and something heavy was dragged along the corridor. Then the door was unlocked.

They stormed in with their guns pointing towards me.

The two young men stood around me silently, the barrels straight towards my head. I think I nearly peed myself when the older man walked into the room, grabbed my arm and pulled me up and out onto the corridor.

The man made me walk bare-footed through the large puddle of dark sticky liquid that was in front of the room. Drag marks from the liquid led around the corner to the left but the older man pulled me to the right. There was blood on the floor at the end of the corridor.

Two younger men with guns walked closely behind us. I told the older man that I won’t run away; as an answer he tightened his grip and walked faster.

The complex was huge and looked like a labyrinth made of bare cement blocks with the corridors and metal doors that seemed to branch to the sides every few meters. The doors were all either grey or dark green. There was no writing, but some of them had white plaques with small black numbers scribbled on them.

When we came down the corridor to the large door the older man stopped abruptly. One of the younger men stepped forward and entered a code; the door opened with a loud squeal. The outside world was pitch black.

Dark sky. Rain.

Several men with guns stood outside and two ambulances between them. One drove off when we stepped out of the building; the older man pushed me into the second one. A paramedic helped me inside, then the door was pushed shut from outside.

On the stretcher was a person covered in a blue plastic sheet and with a wet white mask on her face. I recognized the ring on her finger.


The paramedic sat with us in the back while the ambulance began to drive, but when I asked him questions he only shook his head. He pointed to the driver: dressed in all black.

After about ten minutes the car stopped; the driver got out without a word and a young woman in a paramedic uniform sat down on his seat instead.

She turned around.

“You alright?” she asked.

“Yeah,” said the paramedic. “But you better hurry.”

I didn’t dare to speak. I tried to stroke Kristy’s hand until the paramedic pushed my hands away.

The driver started the car. After a few seconds of driving she cursed loudly.

“I hate this place!”

In my memory most of the drive is a blur. I asked them questions but I didn’t even listen to their answers. All I could focus on was Kristy.

What I do remember is that the paramedics said that they are occasionally called out to the facility. They think the facility is owned by the military, but the driver is never allowed onto the grounds and the paramedic in the back can’t see much through the small windows. They are not allowed to speak about the people they pick up or the things they see or hear on the grounds.

It took us nearly forty minutes to get to the hospital.

The only information the paramedic had been given was that Kristy had been “exposed to heat.” The doctor told me that she must have been “in a dry sauna for at least five hours.”

They rolled her straight into the OR.

I stayed all of yesterday and today with Kristy, I just didn’t dare to leave her side. During the night I blocked the bathroom door with a chair, but one of the nurses must have taken it away while I was asleep.

Still I think we are okay now, the water in the toilet is still clear. I check it every few minutes.

Kristy’s face is still covered in moisturizing packages. The doctor says her face will be okay, but the skin on other parts of her body was essentially boiled; on Kristy’s legs part of the muscles had to be “shaved” off. Since the first operation she was wheeled twice back into the OR, once for part of her skin and once they operated on Kristy’s legs. The doctor says they might need to do more. He also says they can’t wake her up “because the pain would be unbearable.”

Occasionally, when the two nurses come to change Kristy’s bandages, pieces of skin rip right of her body. The flesh below looks white, like boiled chicken.

One of the nurses finally got a phone charger, somewhere from a kid at the other end of the ward. I called Kristy’s parents first and only then listened to my mailbox messages. Most were from concerned friends that saw our street under lockdown and then a few form neighbors that wanted to warn us that there is a gas leak on our street and that we are not allowed to come home.

And there was one more message. He sounded like the older man from the facility, a stiff, emotionless tone. He didn’t introduce himself; he said that they have paid a hotel room for us. No explanations, no apologies or sympathies for Kristy’s condition.

He just said that we won’t be able to enter our home “for the next weeks or months.”

One thought on “River People 4: Dry River

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.