Short Stories

A Secret in the River

While writing this story, I listened to a song for inspiration.  The longing and desperation in the lyrics influenced the main character’s emotions and the imagery of the scenes.

A Secret in the River

It’s been three years since Kyle drowned in the river.  Every year since, the newspaper reminds us of the tragedy, warns us to stay away from the rising torrent of water that can rush us to our death.

In the year that he drowned, he was 15 years old.  I was 12.  It was the rainiest July I’d ever seen.  We used to camp out in a hidden spot by the river from sunup to sundown, making fishing poles from sticks and strings, digging up worms, and catching trout.  With pole in hand, he’d hopscotch along the moss-covered rocks toward the middle of the river until he couldn’t go any farther, and I’d hold my breath until he cast the line.  From his scouting days, Kyle knew how to build a fire, and we roasted the trout on stones pulled from the river bed.

Storms come up fast in these parts, and they say Kyle was swimming when bucketfuls of water poured down from the clouds.  They say he couldn’t get out of the water in time and that the current was too strong for someone his size.  I went to his funeral three days later, but there was no casket to bury or any ashes to spread.

After that, I stayed away from the river, but it thronged in the recesses of my mind.  One afternoon I went back, to the secret spot where Kyle and I had fished, and watched the bubbles and froth make detours around the rocks in the river.  When my chest began to tighten, I took off the way I’d come until I reached my room.  That was two years ago.

It’s the middle of the night when I wake to a thunderstorm that rattles my bedroom windows with each passing rumble.  Lightning flashes against the windowpane, and I see Kyle crouched on a river rock with tears streaming down his face, shouting as he hurled stones into the water.  I remember the sorrow on his face the day before he died, and how he wouldn’t smile, even for me.  I pull the bedcovers over my head.

Hours later, an eerie calm replaces the receding thunderheads.  Steam rises from the earth, and misty tendrils curl around objects unrecognizable in the fog.  The scene reminds me of the frothy river traveling around the rocks, and then I remember something else I had seen that day.  As I had turned to leave, a pile of ashes and stones from a recent fire had caught my eye.  I only now recall the thin curls of smoke that rose from the ashes.

It’s been three years since Kyle drowned in the river.  Or so they say.

Within minutes, I’m out of the house and tearing full speed into the woods that border the river.  I shout his name over and over as I run toward our fishing spot, dodging branches and tripping over roots.  In front of the river, I fall to my knees, breathless.

When my breathing eases, I raise my head.  Kyle, taller and stronger than I remember, is watching me from the other side of the river.  He gives me a sheepish smile and puts a finger over his lips.  Don’t tell.  I nod, and he slowly backs into the woods.  If I did tell, they’d probably say the woods are haunted or that the fog was too thick to see across the river.

A few days later, I go back to our secret fishing spot.  I don’t see Kyle, but propped against a tree along the riverbank, I find a new handmade fishing pole with my initials carved into it.

Copyright © 2012 Jennifer Howell

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