The clay sucked at my sneakers as I walked through waist-high grass the color of butter. Far ahead of me, the river shone brilliantly in every shade of gold. Between me and the shore, patches of molten red glowed at the base of the marsh grass, reflecting the blood-red sunset above, the only hint that the water had crept out of the river banks and amongst the grass.
I saw the river god a few yards ahead of me.
His body was cinder-black, elongated, vaguely human. He swayed back and forth in time to some inaudible music; like the marsh grasses in the wind. To the ground, straight again, to the ground.
He didn’t seem to notice my presence, but when I started towards him, he began to move. Not suddenly, but with the casual drifting of a leaf caught in a slow current.
I followed slowly, not able to run on water-logged ground, never taking my eyes off of him. Hidden pools of water forced me to choose my path carefully. Something about how the river god’s head tilted back and forth, loose and inhuman, made my stomach tighten with horror or disgust.
But still I followed.
My sneakers were slicked with red-gold clay now, up over the tops of them now. Every step I took buried my foot and sometimes my ankle in soft ground that more water than dirt. Nearby, a mourning dove called, sad and slow and deliberate, and I knew that I was going to lose the river god in the waters of the river.
“Stop!” I shouted. “Stop!”
You were not supposed to speak to the river god. I’d learned that as soon as I was old enough to talk. But I had to know.
Ahead of me, up to his waist in the river, black body becoming black reflection becoming black shadow, he stopped. Not entirely; he still swayed and flowed back and forth, a small craft held only by an anchor mired in the shore grasses.
“Why did you kill my brother?” I called, still making my way towards him. My voice carried far over the marsh; it sounded somehow haunting and forlorn; like just a cry of yet another wild bird. “He was trying to save the river, and you killed him.”
I was up to my thigh in water now, warm, brown water that smelled brackish and alive as it lapped around me. The sun was escaping over the horizon and leaving me alone in grasses that glowed with fire that never consumed them.
And the river god was gone. I had followed him through these marshes that smelled of rotten eggs and I had dared to speak to him, and I had followed him until, I, too, was up to my waist in water, and I had no answer from him.
Close by, a mourning dove wailed and sobbed, wailed and sobbed.
The tide pushed and sucked at me, back and forth, back and forth. The water was the same temperature as my body; I could no longer feel it. Swaying in the current, I felt my mouth full of the music of the river.
I lifted one of my hands from the water. My fingers were long, long, long, and black as the river at night.
Author’s Note: I like the marshes; the river near us has stretches of marshes that make house-building impossible and any life but bird and snakeys impossible.
image courtesy: slack12