What lived in the whispering water?
|996 word entry for the January "WEIRD TALES CONTEST" prompt: whispering water
The water rippled, slowed around the bend, stilled into glass, stopped chuckling as it fractured the reflection of Amelia’s face in a broken mirror. “Ugh. That’s not me.” She scrambled back up the steep bank, slipped, began sliding. Her hands grasped at clutches of thick wet grass.
For a moment the knotted up growth held, then slowly released her but not before the sharp edged blades sliced, cutting her fingers. Blood made holding on no longer a possibility. She went into freefall. “No.”
Dirt and rocks at the edge of the bank tumbled into splashing, widening circles, pushed in by her scrambling feet. Dangling tree branches brushing their ends into and stirring the water caught her. Their limbs tangled with hers. “Just in time. I can’t swim.”
She hung there, her weight dipping her slowly into the water’s chill. Sharp broken thorns tore at Amelia’s skin and clothes. “Stop it. Help me.”
Was it her wild imagination? Two cavernous hollows in the trunk before her seemed to gleam at her frantic fight for survival as if they were two wet dripping tear filled eyes. “Someone save me.”
Once, twice her head went under. Something smooth and rubbery clutched at her feet. Pure terror made her lunge up, hands churning the water into angry, bubbling foam. Ameilia vomited out a lung full of murky river wave rising from the bottom. Somehow, she forced out a wordless, helpless scream.
She kicked at the tangled mass of tentacled roots pulling her down. Heart thudding in her chest, her lips formed a silent prayer, “Please. I’ll do anything. Please. Let me go.”
There was time for one last breath. Amazingly, everything seemed to hover for a moment and stay still. Her glance took in a second tree with wet glowing eyes further away from the first. The image reflected in them was that which she’d seen when first peering into the river’s depths.
“I think she is dead. Snagged her on my fishing line.” Amelia floated face up a mile from where she’d fallen in. Twigs and leaf's in her hair had turned her into the image of some kind of lost nature river imp. Blood from her wounds painted the water around her into spreading woven threads.
“Naw. Wouldn’t be free bleeding like that. Give me a hand.” It took both the older grizzled, gray haired gent and his younger, fascinated companion to wedge Amelia up on river rocks. Here the water was only a gentle whisper where it pooled into swirls offering leaping trout.
Fingers of green slime slid out of the edge of Amelia’s mouth. “We got to get her to throw up. Get some air in there. You give her mouth to mouth. I’ll push her chest.” Together the pair of men knelt over the young woman getting into the rhythm of giving the Heimlich maneuver.
The kiss of life brought Amelia’s tongue licking between her lips. Her eyes opened, deep blue where before they were black. “I’m not dead?” she murmured. Amelia reached up, wrapped her arms around the young man, pressed her face up and kissed him, this time for real.
“Yuck.” Tendrils of green slime dripped from both mouths.
“Love at first bite.” The old guy barked, rubbing his pot belly while he laughed. “Looks lively enough to me. What’s your name, girl. Tell us your story. Camps up yonder. Got a warm blanket and maybe some over sized clothes. Name’s Andrew Vice. This here’s Charlie. Nephew. Caught himself a mermaid shed her fins.”
“I am of the tree,” Amelia found herself whispering. She glanced down into the water, listening, nodded as the water whispered and chuckled back.
“Not quite yourself yet, are ye, girl?” Andrew pulled at his whiskers. She had delightful wet curves, yet, what she wore transformed her not into a mermaid. Her skin where it clung looked more like bark.
Charlie took off his cold weather vest, pockets filled with fishing gear and wrapped Amelia up. “Have you warm in a jiffy.” Clammy, crusty pieces of skin flaked off where his hand brushed her.
Her knuckles cracked like twigs as she pushed against him. “Turning you into a wooden statue, she is,” Andrew’s voice turned wistful. “If I were young like you, I wouldn’t be just standing there.”
“I feel rooted like a tree,” Charlie shook his head, embarrassed at his public display where the girl and his limbs entwined. He shook himself off her. His eyes caught his reflection in hers, The fissures and lines in his face shocked him.
“Easy lad. Maybe, I’d best leave you two alone. Is that it?” Andrew cut the fishing line from where it tangled around the woman’s body.
“Come to me by the water near my trees,” Amelia whispered, danced like a young willow before Charlie, beckoning, leading him on. Mesmerized, Andrew followed. Green leaves brushed around the pair and they were gone.
“Caught him like a fish out of water. Never seen a lass work the magic so fast.” From around the bend, he heard the whisper of the stream wind in and out of river bank roots. There was a kind of music to the sound, lulling and teasing a yawn from Andrew’s lips. HIs eyes grew heavy. He eased to the ground and slept.
“Uncle are you there?” Charlie burst from the undergrowth, eyes mad with disbelief, hair disheveled and filled with bark, clothing a mess.
“I don’t know what happened. She was a willowy pure ecstasy. I closed my eyes. When I opened them she was gone. I was entangled in the supple limbs of a young tree. It was all I could do to break free.”
Andrew rubbed his eyes. For a moment, his nephew looked like part of the foliage around them before jerking into full view.
“Sounds fishy, son. Never mind. This watered down tale will get better with time. For fishermen, the one that got away always does .”