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River’s Daughter

by Elizabeth Alexander

I’m perhaps as close to being alive now as I have ever been. I’ve never been afraid of death and when he came calling I grasped hold of his scythe arm, wrenched away his badge of office and screamed my defiance until, at last he cowered away into the night, leaving me lonely and forlorn; lifeless, yet living once more. Even with the battle won, it took me three more years to crawl my way back from the underworld. Three years of moving through sucking sludge and the fields of weeds that still hold the bones of other victims.

They wrapped their arms around me as I passed, calling me into their clammy embrace, but I cut them down, left them behind and crawled out to face the world.

I reached through the rippling, sun-dappled surface, grabbing at the river reeds with my free hand, and pulled myself out of the water while dragging my prize behind me.

I tried to stand and fell to my knees on the muddy bank, sloughing my lungs of the vile, fermented water, vomiting foul puddles into the sweet spring grass.

I gasped as I swallowed great mouthfuls from the welcome breeze, filling my lungs, my heart and my head with the dizzying purity of the freshly oxygenated air.

I felt it infuse each fibre of my being and watched entranced as my water-wrinkled, putrefied flesh gradually filled out and once more took its natural shape.

I struggled to my feet, unsteady as a newborn calf, took a deep breath, and tried once again, this time managing a few steps.

Leaning on the scythe for support, I tried a few more steps, steadier this time. Building up a rhythm, I began to move forward; the sharp end of the wooden shaft leaving pockmarks in the ground as I walked.

The house was further from the river than I recalled, but then I hadn’t been paying much attention that night.

I’d heard that other girls had gone missing, hadn’t really cared. It just meant more business for the rest of us and I needed the money to quench the fire raging in my veins.

When your car pulled up, I knew it was my lucky night. You took me home, offered me champagne to ease the cramps in my stomach and fed me chocolate while you whispered your fantasies in my ear.

You said you knew this life wasn’t for me, called me beautiful and promised to help me leave it behind. You promised to set me free.

I’d agreed when you asked me to walk with you under the stars, let you lead me across the lawn and down to the river.

You asked me if I found the night romantic and I let you pretend you were seducing me with your words instead of your wealth.

You kissed me by the water’s edge and gently coaxed me to lay down on the bank. Running one hand slowly along my thigh you moved in for another kiss and I saw the moonlight reflecting off your eyes, then nothing more for the longest time.

The house was drawing closer now, twenty feet or less. Perhaps If I seen it in daylight, I wouldn’t have been so easily impressed. That night it had seemed elegant, luxurious, and even a little decadent.

Now the Victorian expanse looked ominously foreboding, the gargoyles leering down from their perches, frozen in sunlight but daring unwary visitors to tarry after dark and explore the gothic splendours that awaited inside.

I bypassed the front and rounded the corner as the sun dipped below the tops of the trees.

I began to hurry, my makeshift staff thumping into the ground as I moved across the lawn and away from the house to where the mausoleum was waiting, already shrouded in shadows.

I raised my free hand and pounded on the door, the noise reverberating like hollow thunder, loud enough to raise the dead.

The door flew inwards and I saw you, blinking against the last rays of the sun. Before you could react, I swung the scythe up and across, severing your lying head.

“You bastard!” I screamed. “You said you’d save me — you said you’d set me free!”

As your body fell I flipped the scythe and buried the sharp wooden end into your heart.

Your flesh dried and collapsed before exploding into a tornado of dust and bone that whipped around the crypt until, finally, the air was still.

The dust swirled once more, then fell to the floor, forming two simple words:

I did.

Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth Alexander

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