Short Stories

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River ©

It felt like I had been walking for hours when I came to the bridge; a single arch over a river. Resting, I looked at the water. My fingers picked at some white flakes of paint on the rusty railings at the edge of the road.

The water was so clear that I could see every stone and plant. I watched a long green tangled beard of weeds. It appeared, in the ripples, to be struggling against the flow, trying to swim away.

A noise made me turn my head. Rounding the bend were two boys in a canoe. Black and battered with miss-matched oars the canoe was only just able to make the turn. The boys were young, maybe twelve. The front boy was blond and bulky, the second was much smaller. The scene was familiar, but I couldn’t say why. I turned back to the water.

A splash brought my head around again. The boat was gone in its place was a young man further down the river towards me. My hands held the railing tighter. The young man wore black suit trousers and leather shoes that were soaking up the river water. Lifting a foot out of the water he shook it violently and appeared to swear to himself before continuing downstream. To my surprise, once again, the canoe rounded the bend up stream.

A car passed behind me and drew my attention. When I looked back there was an older man below me, the young man half way down the river and a canoe just nosing round the bend. The old man was almost at the arch, he looked up. I looked down into my own face, a touch of grey in the beard. My hands stayed gripped to the railings but it felt like I fell forwards into darkness.

I sat at the end of my friend’s canoe, my paddle clicking off loose stones on the river bed. We would soon be round the bend. Looking down into the water I poked and flicked the rocks under the surface with my paddle. A mist of mud kicked up and drifted away. I felt the river’s cold through the bottom of the boat. The noise of a car on the road above made me look up, a man in a suit was standing on the river side of the railings.

The rain had left deep puddles at the edges of the roads. The pavement was crowded. So far I had done well to avoid getting wet. My suit was new, for my new job. Startled by a sneeze I stepped back; ankle deep. The water soaked into my trouser leg. It got in over the top of my shoe and dribbled down my sock.

Looking up I saw a figure on the bridge above me, his head was turned away - distracted. I paused for a moment before going under the bridge; something about the man above was familiar. His knuckles were turning white gripping the railing. I looked at my own hands. A life of gentle work and nothing to show for it. The man looked down, I looked up into my own face and stepped forward into the darkness.

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