© by Gary L Morton
(2,200 words)

People say the floods are a dream or hallucination of mine. Yet the swollen lands darkly whisper, allowing me no peace while I’m locked away.

Tonight I'm out and back on the river road.  I see the gate ahead … its fog pillars swamped in visions of lake-bottom corpses.

I shouldn't have told the doctor about the body parts floating in the inkblots. If I had kept quiet he wouldn't have turned dead-fish pale. Staying out of town would've been smart. Then I might've been okay. Guess I got disturbed then, really chilled out … and not by the floods, but by someone I buried in them.

I remember a scarlet membrane over the moon. A morbid eye in a sky of shimmering twilight … and I should've recognized destiny.

It was my usual stroll down the river trail; insects and melancholy in the air … the springtime river gushing over the rapids, licking up off stones in monstrous tongues of glistening spray … swollen and sliding on the break-walls like the gleaming scales of a sea monster. Its roar that of some hungry thing about to break loose on the town.

I wandered around the bend and the water rose higher there. The river seemed untamed, like it could snatch me quick like the head of a giant cobra. But it didn't frighten me. I knew the river relied on me for many of its meals. In a sense I was its priest and keeper.

Then I saw the gate – illumined in ghostly white like the moon had beamed it into existence. Drawn closer I saw beyond to shining pools of water and endless islands of stones and packed mud. Gnarled trees clutched the slime and reached into the trails of fog blowing in the sky. Wisps spread like extended strands to encircle the moon in a strangler's grip.  I found it a chilly place and ancient, like glacial melt had released the remains of a few centuries of doom.

Jerry appeared, though I couldn't quite believe it. He staggered near a withered oak tree, holding a bottle of cheap sherry. Features decayed, his face puffed like a toadstool … the top of his head split, with brains, maggots and algae sponging out.

Since Jerry drowned years back, he looked better than I expected. Anything more than bones would have amazed me … and he was animated … letting loose with howls of laughter like he was crazy and not drunk or dead.

He wagged a finger on his fat ulcerated hand, gesturing for me to follow. Moonlight fell on his face like a pale spotlight, making him over as a being of supernatural ugliness. He stumbled on a winding course through the mud and water. Like a flag his ragged clothes streamed back in my memory. I saw myself on the day he died. I stood there smiling as I bet Jerry that he couldn't swim out to the buoy and back. Laying fifty on his ten, I watched as he stripped and dove in. He didn't flounder long before he choked and went under. For once, he got enough to drink.

I got caught in some bushes and was pulling out thorns when Jerry crested the rise we were on. He crashed into the brush on the far side and I hurried to the top figuring he'd fooled me and led me into the floods to die lost. At the top I found myself looking down at a canal; its waters blacker than the bottom end of the sky. The reflection of the moon floated like a body in darkness by a break wall … and Jerry leaned into it, pulling a pearly jug out of the water. He took a slug of that moonshine and another corpse appeared. This one dressed in black.

I knew it had to be Steve. Some guys wear black leather jackets until they're pretty beat up, but Steve's had gathered a patina of slimy fish scales. Steve's muffled voice touched me with unwanted reflections. I remembered his last day and telling him he had to stand up and fight. But he didn't win. He got beat up by Al, knocked cold by the water … and there I was holding Steve's wrist and lying. “There's no pulse. You killed him, Al! We better dump him in the river and never say another word about this!”

Steve took a long guzzle of moonshine and shrugged his muddy shoulders. I heard him speak my name and a number of grim words. Then Jerry laughed and they were off along the break wall like two old pals on a Friday night.

I followed them back to the river through surroundings that grew spookier by the step; bushes and trees were flattened like dinosaurs had stamped through them. There were treacherous areas of quicksand, shifting fog and hideous things scuttling in rancid mud. The night had dimmed and the river roared deafeningly beneath the long smear of pus mist had made of the moon. We were nearing a burst dam, the torrent climbing the jagged remains like a huge froth-edged wheel. Jerry and Steve strolled up so close I thought they'd get washed away, but they sipped moonshine, and like magic there were three of them.

Jim's tangled black hair shone green and he wore gray rags coated with tiny pebbles. His exposed flesh had a dark and scarred appearance like he'd been chewed by pike. The three of them followed a gravel path that led away from the river, and as I admired the misty black blood haloing Jim’s exhalations, I recalled his fate. We were up on the dam that sunny day, looking down from a pier at the racing water. “You can do it,” I was saying. “It's an easy dive then ride the current at an angle to the shore. And Jim dived, his body bouncing off rocks as it washed away in frothing rapids. I had made that dive myself, only I had gone farther out to the third pier where the water was deeper than the two feet Jim had splashed into. Guess I should've told him about that.

The night wore on and time passed in splashing floodwaters. Faces and memories, all of them attached to bloated corpses, swirled up from sediments in my mind. Jerry marshaled a gruesome parade of victims and my guilt began to morph to terror. There were tourists, ice fishermen, boaters, skidooers, lock keepers, game wardens and more that had found the bottom with help from me. The river reared and spit forth the dead with wretched efficiency and the moon became the eye of my conscience, revealing me as a hideous servant of the abominable. Grotesque faces swam like fish in cloudy waters. I covered my eyes and shivered as I contemplated the extent of my arrogance. Then I wasn't sure what was happening any more. We were walking up a hillside and never seemed to reach the top. I wanted to scream but all I could manage was a croak. I knew I had forgotten something … something too horrible to remember.

An old house stood on the hilltop. Charred by a fire it leaned on its foundation. Years of the floods had turned it to rot, mold and living decay. A crumbled tomb, it was a marker on some unspeakable evil. Chilled to the bone I turned to the river, seeing a vast sheet of rippled glass.

Wind gathered, pushing Jerry and his gang of the drowned up the hill. They stopped and waited in the sodden front garden as Jerry walked up the steps and took the knocker. Thunder rolled. A sound of ships breaking on rocks, and high on the charred walls an eerie light glowed in a salt-crystal window.

The house awoke and beams fanned the sky from gaping holes in the roof. It towered like a nightmare and I stumbled back fearing it would collapse and bury me in rot. My back brushed a tree and I sank to my knees, staring at the house like it was the face of a demon. I sensed that doom would arrive if the front door opened, and I tried to will it permanently shut. But it defied me and creaked slowly on its hinges.

Jerry bowed and took something from an emerging starfish hand. I saw it and gasped. They all turned and stared down the hillside at me. But that battered crowd of monsters didn't frighten me like the thing in Jerry's hands did. He held a little girl's doll and in my soul, it was a voodoo doll.

Stuttering a frightened sentence, I rose and stumbled toward the river. Tripping I bashed my knee on the slippery stones. Thick mud clung to me, stinging my eyes and nostrils. Spitting out some foul ooze I struggled with my heart and lungs.

The riverbank trees touched the sky with a thorny net and reached over me like crooked claws. A scummy patch in the main current belched up gas, breaking the water into mirrored fragments. Blood red stains spread quickly on the surface. I tried to catch my breath. My lungs were on fire; waves leapt up and pounded the rocks on the shore. I leaned against an oak tree, trying to believe my eyes; it was a gushing river of blood.

Fear came at my back like a hurricane and I saw a moldering rope flying from a tree limb. My thoughts took refuge in the past … a summer day with breeze-touched emerald grass. The river drifted with a soft current of opaque blue jade; its banks moist and black. The girl kicked out over the water on the rope and landed back on the bank like a little white dove. I hadn't planned evil for her. I wanted her to be my friend, but she pinched her face, got nasty and called me an ugly, creepy man. Then she screamed, telling me not to touch her.

I waited for her to leave then seized her … said I wanted to talk, but she struggled and bit me so I gouged her eyes out and hung her up in the tree with the rope. Her body swung over the bank for a while, the tree limb creaking …then I took my hatchet and slit her like a fish, taking her heart before I chopped her up and threw the pieces in the river.

Of course, I got lucky as always. The police charged old Johnson with the murder and I sort of blotted the whole thing out of my mind.

Now she was coming down the hill. Night rose like a cloak of grief. The wind still blew and the river remained wild. I felt exposed, the victim of some eternal nightmare, and I wanted to leap into the river and find the mercy of the rocks. I couldn't bear the thought of her touching me.

She moved through Medusa tentacles of fog and I saw her clearly. She carried her doll and a bloodstained hatchet. Her yellowed dress was in tatters and there were lines of fish scales where her body parts had grown together. Starfish formed her hands, thick water snakes made up her arms. Bluish green tinged her hair and as the wind lifted it from her face; I saw leeches in her eyes. Her heart had not been replaced, only a pulsing hole remained and it needed to be filled.

The chill wind tore chunks of rotten wood and shingles from the house and showered them down. The air stank of stagnant water and gas. Near the bottom of the hill she began to lurch this way and that, blindly slicing the air with her hatchet. Her black lips were moving and I knew she was calling for me, for my heart.

My legs were frozen. I cringed and wept … wept because I couldn't move to throw myself into a river of blood. She went from tree to tree in search of my flesh. Tears streamed down my cheeks until I became sure the floods were fed by tears. Icy shivers and her cold blade touched me, and then I felt a noose tighten on my neck. I choked up blood and felt my flesh splitting, the warmth of my heart slipping from my breast. After that, the riverbank sucked me down and washed me out with the floods.

They found me in town, weeping and raving, cut up bad. Rope burns scarred my neck, a deep gouge bled on my chest. They said my brain had surrendered to madness, that I was a danger to myself.  But I know better; evil and insanity are alike – both are corruption and waters of the same flood.

I hear the waters whispering … blood and tides rolling in. It is destiny that I can't escape. I belong to the dead of the river and I am food for the river. Here I see Jerry waiting, and I must go. Tonight she'll have me, they'll all have me … but I'll return with the floods. And it won't be some madness in my head, because I'll likely only have half a head, and less than half a heart.


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