A complement to my ‘Field Files’ series, these short stories explain what occurred along the river past the field that meanders near the woods. I can assure you that everything told within these pages is true and factual, based on my own recollection and knowledge of events. There are those, I know, who will be skeptical and will easily dismiss these tales as pure hokum and folderol, but rest assured, they happened. Before making your own hasty decision, I want to tell you about it. Here is my story.
It was a brisk late April morning when Andi and I ventured once again toward the Falls. Having experienced a few bizarre excursions of late I wondered if perhaps the river and the Falls held some strange and otherworldly allure, a confluence of dimensions, a time and space continuum, allowing us to witness such unexpected and extraordinary things.
Or, perhaps, like most days, it would be the same; a stroll near fast-moving twinkling water, the slant of early morning sun glinting in the shallows, the soft rustle of young aspen leaves fidgeting from a cool breeze. But one never really knew.
Before the Falls, we descended a small hill that overlooked a baseball field. The park stretched far to the river and, in right field, there was a 12-foot chain-link fence separating the park from the stream. I suppose that after too many baseball prodigies powered balls the distance, the fence was erected to reduce the retrieval of river-soaked Rawlings.
Here, we shuffled past the fence to water’s edge where, being early spring, the water was full and quick, thrashing and tumbling over boulders seen and unseen, a powerful thrust of nature.
Beyond the river lay woods still in winter’s lingering grip, pockets of snow in crevices of trees, only a handful of hickory revealing budding foliage.
I played a game with Andi. He’d root around piles of dead leaves on the field, dried crumbling husks gathered against the chain-links, mere shadows of their past verdancy, sniffing and snorting around for the first signs of field mice or chipmunks. I would return to the river, behind the fence, separating myself from Andi. He’d look up and wonder how he could reach me, perplexed by the barrier.
And that was when he paused. I knew that look. Something profound had spooked him. He stood still, crouched, tail tucked, eyes wide, looking beyond my shoulder. A soft whimper escaped him.
It was then I sensed some thing behind me, hovering near. With Andi quavering like the aspens, I slowly turned to face what frightened my dog.
I peered into the hideous face of death itself. A skeleton held sway, its bony hand reaching up to my throat, thrusting me back against the fence. Andi, clearly agitated, whimpered and wondered whether to flee or fang the intruder.
Pressed against the chain-link fence I stared into the terrible visage of my attacker, its fingers frigid around my neck. But its eyes. Its eyes.
I stared into them and deep within its dark and ancient sockets a tiny flame flickered, a last gasp ember signaling mortal despair. I was mesmerized. The faint flicker of light was far away, recessed deep within the skull, like a Magic eye book illusion, the flame, a small distant iris laced with all human frailty.
It stared at me, moving its repellent head forward, opening its gleaming mandibles and emitted a foul breath, as though carrion long forgotten had suddenly erupted in a noisome and ghastly stench, odorous fumes that permeated the air, fetid noxious smells that crept upon my goose-fleshed skin. And then it spoke.
“Be kind to your mother!” it decreed, and nothing more. Then, suddenly, it released me and, with a slight shudder, the skeleton fell backwards into the churning stream, collapsing into a pile of disassembled birch limbs quickly swept downstream, a single white branch catching on a twig of hickory before pinwheeling into the froth.
‘Be kind to your mother’, it had said as I stared at a wide-eyed Andi, rubbing my neck. What to make of that, I wondered. Have I not been there more to visit since my father died? What the hell did it all mean? Andi and I opted to return home—posthaste—negating our usual stroll to the Falls. We had had enough for the day.
Arriving home and after wiping Andi’s delicate paws, I paused and pondered at yet another chance encounter with…well, with a skeleton no less! Or was it a birch tree? Or, maybe, the bones of my father, telling me to dismiss Mum’s predilection for gossip amongst siblings, to simply indulge an old woman’s desire for family control.
Ensconced in relative comfort with Andi curled at my feet, I wondered what we had just seen. Was it really possible? Did we both see a skeleton rise from the depths of a stream? Did a cold boned specter really clasp my throat? Who’s to say? I simply know we returned safely. I thought whether to tell Julie my tale but I needed to ruminate. Was…was it somehow my dad commanding me to cut Mum some slack? I just didn’t know.
That evening, Julie and I ate dinner at the couch, watching some innocuous show. Occasionally, Andi peered up at me with his beautiful brown eyes, seeming to implore, “Can we walk somewhere else tomorrow?”
But I knew. The river still held more secrets. The Falls, tumbling and beguiling with ancient mysteries, beckoned.
Copyright, Paul Grignon – 2018 – All Rights Reserved.