The River
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Action"
Originally featured on 02-04-2009
As part of our series "Bursting Into '09"

I stood knee deep in the stream and watched the water flow, looking for fish. I was too early. The water was yet too cold and the fish were nowhere to be found. I decided to take off the waders and sit to smoke. Being two miles from the road, it was finally quiet.

As I smoked, I saw something strange in the trunks of the trees. At first I thought it was an animal, maybe a coon, but it made a crying noise and stumbled like a little kid. As it came closer, the bit of reflection off the river told me it was a boy and he kept crying. He ran up to me and I took a few steps back as this was weird. He kept shrieking, like a dying thing. He got hold of my pants and I got a whiff of him. It was pure shit.

The kid had shit covering his hair and face and was wearing nothing but a diaper. He looked too old for that though. I told him to calm down, but he kept pulling on me. I asked his name and he told me Brad. I thought that was too much of a name for some shit covered kid in the woods. Must have run off from somewhere. He was crying too much to tell me much else. I tried to pull his hand, to get him to walk with me, but he wasn’t having it. I got hold of him, but he was rank and I couldn’t tolerate carrying him and breathing all that shit. It got on my face and I thought I would vomit. I told him he’d have to get clean.

I’d never washed a kid’s hair and he didn’t like river. Actually tried to bite me. The coldness and the flow of the river made a clouded mess of it. I tried to get him to hold his breath, but he didn’t. His cry was high, he choked on the water, and I thought I’d get him out as soon as I could. I scrubbed the yellowish shit from his hair. His skin started to shine out, reddish and very young. Reminded me of newborn pups.

He was clean enough and I just picked him up and started walking. I needed to get back to my truck and get him to town. He thrashed in my arms. Probably was about four I think, for what I know about my sister’s kids.

The whole thing started to bother me when I realized that people might think I took this kid and what if I couldn’t find somebody to take him. He got heavy and to pass the time and calm myself I started talking about fishing to the kid. Told him how to bait a line, how to cast, how to clean a fish. Must have been all the talking and maybe the walking, but he did stop crying. The truck seemed closer than I’d remembered.

I put him down for just a minute, so I could get the truck unlocked. Then I thought he might run, so I put him in the truck bed. He was full of words then. Asking me where we were going and where was his mom. Didn’t know his mom’s name though. Didn’t know where he was from.

I figured I’d just take him to the police station. Then we drove by a rest home on the outskirts of town and he starts yelling that he sees his mom. I figured he probably did, so I pulled over and picked him up again, as he had a tendency to leave me. He pointed to a woman landscaping the bushes. A tall thing, with gloves and gardening sheers. A big broad hat. He ran right up to her leg and started kissing it and pulling at her. She looked like she had never seen either of us before, but kept a smile on her face. She acted like he was just a friendly little boy who liked gardening women. I introduced myself and waited for her to do the same, but she didn’t, she kept smiling. She spoke to the child, asking him about why he didn’t have clothes and what he liked to do. He clawed at her trying to get into her arms. The woman’s eyes were blank and rolled a bit when she moved her head. I heard the cicadas starting up their noises and they held us there in that moment. I wanted her to initiate this, to own him. She didn’t. I was confused by it. Didn’t know what to believe.

Eventually, I thought we should go. I pretended like we’d just stopped to say hi, like we’d found a friendly woman working that morning, a small town hello. Because the boy loved flowers. He was getting more upset as she continued to pull away. She wanted me to take him, saw it in her eyes. I wanted to start driving down the road. I didn’t want to watch it anymore. I just picked him up and started walking away as he screamed and thrashed. She waved goodbye and didn’t say anything. I put my hand on the back of his head, trying to comfort him. He threw it back and I felt the yellow feces in my hand.

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