by Tonya L. Turknett
Sheriff Ridley chewed his lip as he drove Johnny and Randall to Creal Springs. Waving at each car they passed along the way, Johnny noticed that Ridley chewed faster as they neared the river. The old man was nervous.
Johnny let the wind from the open windows blow his hair from his face and closed his eyes. Behind the drawn curtains of his eyes, set in darkness, there was a pair of glowing eyes to meet him. At first only one pair, and then there were many.
Drawing in a ragged breath, Johnny pushed his head out the window. Johnny could sense it coming and his heart sputtered. What would the sheriff or Randall do to stop it? Shoot it? That was hardly going to stop what hunted them.
“You can stay behind me, son, if you want.” Ridley noticed Johnny growing uneasy.
The crunch of the gravelly road they veered down was oddly soothing to Johnny. They were close now. The smell of the muddy river filled him with a desire to feel the sandy bottom beneath his feet once more. Randall’s old pickup was parked at the end of the lane.
Johnny felt like he would come out of his skin. Nothing seemed to fit right as if he were outgrowing himself in this singular moment.
“That’s alright, I’ll be alright,” Johnny said and moved to put both hands on the door. He leaned out further. Through the trees, he thought he saw a low wisp of fog hanging over the water.
The dust swallowed Sheriff Ridley’s car as he pulled alongside Randall’s pickup. Johnny was out the door and with long swift strides he made his way to the edge of the water. He was being drawn by some unseen force.
“So where’d ya see this thing, Randall?” He watched Johnny with worried eyes.
“Down there.” Randall stepped in front of the sheriff and swaggered up alongside Johnny. “I was up the river a ways, maybe a mile or so.”
The sheriff motioned toward the flat-bottomed, canvas-colored boat. “We’ll take the boat and have a look.”
“I’ll drag it up, sheriff. Be right back.” Randall stepped off into the trees that held the banks of the Moon River in place. Johnny, barely breathing, waited for Randall to call for help.
Johnny, expecting to see the manifestation of the evil that sought him, reluctantly followed. “Boy? You see anything?”
“I think we’ll find a regular old water snake down there.”
“I’m telling you the t-truth, sir.”
“I believe that, son. I believe that you are telling the truth as you see it. That’s what scares me.”
“That snake was as real as that river, sheriff.”
“You know why they call this the Moon River, son?” Sheriff Ridley asked. Knowing the boy did not have the answer he said, “’Cause if you’re ever here at night, you can see the moon in the water no matter what part of the river you’re travellin’. That reflection looks real too but it ain’t.”
Johnny was trapped between the urge to flee and the longing to embrace what he now knew to be his destiny. He raged and he paced, picking up rocks and tossing them into the water. A crow squawked in one of the corn fields that filled the river bottom and Johnny started. The road disappeared into the heat on the horizon. He could run off into that heat and disappear forever; only the sheriff and his deputy prevented him from doing just that.
“Sheriff!” The call that Johnny had been expecting finally came.
“I got my pistol, son, it’ll be fine.”
Johnny wanted to laugh out loud but didn’t tell them he thought the sheriff’s pistol useless.
* * *
The three of them had been on the river twenty minutes when a thick white fog descended on them. “I can’t see anything. We’ll have to turn back,” Randall said, as afraid of getting lost as he was of finding the snake, “it’s too thick.”
Randall gunned the motor, spinning the boat around. Sweat soaked his shirt and ran down both his temples. Randall’s eyes darted from the front of the boat to Johnny and back again. He twisted the throttle with white-knuckled panic.
“Deputy, keep your wits about you. We can only go back the way we came. If we have to, we’ll tie off the boat and walk out.”
The motor only sputtered and choked in response to Randall’s pleas. The boat refused to go further. “I think we’re hung up on something.”
“Turn the motor off. Where’s your paddles?”
“I don’t use no paddle, I just use this pole to push along when I need to.”
“Give it to me.” The sheriff grabbed the pole, which was as long as the boat, and prodded the water trying to feel if the boat was hitting something. The pole pushed through the water and the fog with no resistance. “Just spin us around again. We’re bound to come out somewhere.”
“It’s c-coming.” Johnny whispered.
“What’d you say, boy?”
“It’s him. It’s the snake.”
“You kiddin’ me? Boy, I think all this nonsense is starting to take its toll on you. Sometimes when people grow up the way you have, they get out of sorts. It’s nothing to worry over.”
“I think he’s right, Sheriff.” Randall sat with his elbows propped on his knees, barely making eye contact with the sheriff or Johnny. “I felt weird before when I saw it. I should’ve known not to come back here.”
“You two gone loony on me?”
“I’m tellin’ you, Sheriff, I got a bad feeling.” Randall dropped his head into his hands afraid to look into the fog.
“You’re just scared ’cause you think we’re lost. I grew up with this river and it’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Sheriff Ridley pulled at the pole and then pushed. No matter which direction he tried, he could not maneuver the boat more than two feet in any direction. “How can we be stuck? There’s nothing here.”
Stabbing at the fog, Ridley nearly toppled into the water when he realized that something was pushing back. He nervously pulled the pole toward him, but whatever had the other end would not surrender it. “I think the pole’s stuck in somethin’.”
Johnny sat stone faced watching the fog brighten to a brilliant white. Realizing that it was the demon that manipulated the fog, he moved to the floor of the boat and slid himself under the seat. Curled into a fetal position, he pulled his knees to his chest so tightly that he could hear them groan.
A sharp thud against the side of the boat announced the demon’s presence. Johnny could feel the snake slither beneath him, its overwhelming size obvious from the rasping of its thick body against the bottom of the boat.
Sheriff Ridley’s red handkerchief wiped frantically at the wet fear that issued from his forehead. He grabbed the side of the boat and peered over the side. In the muddy brown water that stared back at him was a dark mass.
“Looks like we’re stuck on top of a log.” Ridley tasted blood in his mouth as he chewed his ragged lip. He knew that no such log existed only a moment ago.
“It ain’t no log, Sheriff.” Randall, rising to his feet, took the pole in hand and jabbed the end into the water. His eyes brightened when he felt it stab. “I think I hit it!”
The water boiled, jostling the boat. Randall stumbled, clawing the air as he went over. Ridley stopped short of jumping in to help his deputy as he watched a huge shiny coil roll alongside them. His head bobbing just above the surface, Randall gasped as his eyes grew wild with terror.
The massive head of the wicked serpent rose to meet them. Sheriff Ridley’s face flushed white as the head hovered above him. Larger now than what Johnny had described, he could only breath empty words. The wide terrible grin, the unearthly eyes paralyzed him.
Sheriff Ridley did the only thing a sheriff can do when left with no way out. He took out his pistol and fired off two shots at the serpent. Randall and the snake disappeared. He turned to see Johnny clasping his hands over his ears. “Son?”
Ridley reached down and shook Johnny. “Boy!”
Johnny sobbed and rolled from side to side beneath the seat.
“Get up, boy.” Ridley fumbled with the trolling motor, trying desperately to get it to run. “Come on!”
The motor refused to cooperate but Johnny knew that it made no difference — they were trapped. The fog began to spill into the boat pulling it down little by little. As the water filled the hull, Johnny was forced to abandon his hiding place and crawl onto the forward seat. Sheriff Ridley unloaded the other four bullets from his pistol and then, infuriated, threw the gun into the river. “We might as well jump! We’re just sittin’ ducks here!”
Bewildered horror washed over Johnny. He saw the sharp tip of the viper’s tail as it rose from the fog, waving in the air as if taking aim. The sheriff pushed Johnny away. “Get down!”
Before Johnny could protest, the sheriff’s chest was pierced through. Ridley turned to see Johnny, his eyes full of hell and death, holding a heart in the palm of his hand. “Now do you believe me, sheriff?”
The sheriff’s skin blackened, surprise and grief sweeping over him. White necrotic flesh appeared on his arms and spread slowly, eating away at him until his humanness vanished.
“Johnneee.” The hiss of the demon beckoned him. Johnny shivered as the fog swirled around him. He struggled to breathe as it filled his nostrils. His lungs burned as the fog pushed deeper inside him. Black energy flowed through his veins, now pulsing with a new, dark power.
He was baptized in the black water of Moon River before climbing aboard his hell train.
Copyright © 2012 by Tonya L. Turknett