The Riverboy

They say he drowned there around fifty years ago, and they say sometimes he comes back to the surface in search of companionship. They say so because they’ve seen it, and they’d be willing to swear on the good book that it was true. And for the last fifty years, kids kept disappearing, gone for days, and suddenly turning up dead in the river, looking like they’d been dead for weeks. Every time one body turned up, another kid seemed to go missing.
That’s what they say, anyway. And they blame it all on the Riverboy.

When I was eight years old, I was unusually brave for someone who was terrified of everything. I was a regular oxymoron, the bold coward, the pathetic hero. So it was natural that I would be afraid of being drowned by the Riverboy, but intrigued by the legend surrounding him. Mom always told me to stay away from the river, but it was a good place to play. During the day, there seemed nothing wrong with it. It moved too fast for skipping stones and too slow for makeshift rafts to be any fun. There used to be a swinging rope, but some grown ups complained it was dangerous and the parents of victims sobbed at the sight of it, so they had it taken down.

I never swam in the river, anyway, so that didn’t bother me much.
Kevin Pearsley and I used to play there. Sometimes we tried fishing. We never caught anything. Other times a police officer would come by to make sure we were okay, and we were always fine. Usually he asked us to go home anyway, or go to the park across the street because it was safer.

But the river was so much fun. There was something about it that made us want to go there. Maybe it was the way the waters sang, whispering over the rocks. Maybe it was the way it rippled in shapes unlike any other body of water I had ever seen. It was like another language. It was like art.

Once I thought it spelled out my name. There, in the shapes and curves of the waves, I saw it; “Bridget.” I asked Kevin if he noticed, but he didn’t. He never really saw what I saw. It said his name once, too.

It was June. I overheard Mom tell Dad another body turned up. Gracie Maydale this time. She was older than me by two years, so I never really knew her. Mom talked about moving. They had listed the house months ago, but I guess nobody wanted to move here. Dad said it was just the economy, whatever that meant. I thought it was the Riverboy’s fault.

Three days following Gracie’s death, I realized Kevin hadn’t called or come by or anything. He didn’t live very far, so I walked to his house and knocked on his big red door. His parents didn’t answer it, so I walked home.
“Mom?” I asked. “Have you talked to Mrs. Pearsley lately?”
“Oh, honey,” my mom replied in the voice she always used when there was bad news. I had heard it twice before; once, when she told me my guinea pig “ran away,” and again when she told me one of my old relatives that I never really knew had died. But this was different. This wasn’t a pet or a distant relative. This was Kevin. This was my best friend.
She told me he went missing three days ago. The same night Gracie’s body was found. How come they found Gracie, but not Kevin? Where had he gone?

There was only one place missing kids in my town were ever found.
The river.
The Riverboy’s river.

I waited for my parents to fall asleep, and even though I was more frightened than I had ever been, I found the bravery to run to the river in the black of night.

The streetlamps were dim, but they were enough. I flew past them, my sandaled feet hitting cold pavement. The farther I ran, the harder it was to make my legs move, like little weights jumped on with each passing yard. But I didn’t stop for anything.
When I reached the river, I stopped at the edge on a dime. The waters roared around me.

“Kevin!” I shrieked, cupping my hands around my mouth. The rushing water still drowned my voice. “KEVIN!” I tried again. “KEVIN PEARSLEY! You aren’t funny! Come out! Kevin!”
I heard a voice.
My best friend’s voice.
Kevin.

“Bridget?” he said.

It was so quiet, I thought it was impossible that I had heard it over the water. Yet it reached my ears clear as day, as if I had thought it myself, right there in my own head.
And then I saw him. Tiny Kevin Pearsley, standing stock-still in the middle of a rushing river. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he didn’t feel the water at all. And he was coming closer, hands outstretched, fighting the current effortlessly. His skin looked blue in the light of the moon, reflecting off the water.

“Kevin! What are you doing in there?”

“Bridget, it’s cold.”

“Where have you been for three days, you big dummy?” I cried.

“It’s cold,” he said again. His voice was monotone, and his eyes were dull, his face was expressionless. “It’s cold. Help me.”

He reached out his hand. I hesitated.

One more word, flat, emotionless. I didn’t even see his blue lips move. “Help.”

I reached down and grabbed his hands. It was like grabbing ice; he slipped, and he froze, and I shivered. I felt him come up out of the water, and for a moment I felt a sense of total victory. My heart rejoiced. I smiled.

But then I fell in. The water crashed around me, numbing my skin, filling my ears, my eyes, my lungs.

I watched Kevin float to the surface, drifting away from me, but as I sank deeper, I still felt icy hands gripping mine.

Kevin Pearsley’s body was found on the riverbank the next morning. Bridget Allan’s was gone.

I was Bridget Allan once.

I’m the Riverboy now. It was Kevin Pearsley before me. Gracie Maydale. Countless others. Like good children at the playground, we take turns. We share. We wait.

I’m still waiting.

RiverBoy

He’s waiting…

 

Little Miss Mad

Little Miss Mad

Short Story – The Floor Boy

FloorBoy2Phoebe Mason always had trouble sleeping. She was only a little girl, and, as was natural for little girls, she was prone to the nightmares that shook her from sleep in a 3 A.M. panic, leaving her defenseless in darkness, half-drowned in an ocean of sheets and sweat and tears. Even from infancy, she could scarcely get a wink without jolting upright and dropping open her mouth to scream for mommy.

To her father’s chagrin, she often demanded that her mother sleep with her so that she didn’t have to be alone. Every night for years, Phoebe’s mother spent the night with her, lulling her to sleep with sweet dreams in mind or soothing her when the nightmares shook her awake. But when Phoebe turned five, her father decided enough was enough.

“You’d think the kid would be able to make it through one night by now,” he had grumbled, walking past Phoebe’s bedroom, only to find her snuggled up with her mom.

Mrs. Mason was a patient woman, but her husband was right; it was time Phoebe learned to sleep on her own. As soon as Phoebe fell asleep that night, her mother slipped away, and the little girl was alone in the dark for the first time.

The Masons had moved into the house on Danby Drive only a few months before their daughter Phoebe was born. The house had not been lived in for years, and the last family before them had left suddenly. Mr. Mason had heard that they moved away because their young son went missing, but he thought it was unnecessary to mention it to his wife. Mrs. Mason, though patient and compassionate, had too many nervous tendencies, and to hear that a child went missing in this area would only worry her. Besides, it had been over a decade ago, and there were no such records since.

The first night Phoebe slept alone was the first night of anything unusual happening. She woke not from a nightmare but from the sound of something scratching from below. She did not jolt upright or gasp in terror. She didn’t even cry. She simply opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling, listening close to the scraping beneath her bed.

A muffled voice broke through the silence, and it wasn’t Phoebe’s.

“Hello?” it said. It sounded to Phoebe like a little boy.

“Hello?” Phoebe whispered back.

“Who are you?” it asked, after a pause.

“Who are you?” Phoebe retorted.

“Marcus,” said the voice cheerily.

“I’m Phoebe. Are you real?”

“I think so. I feel real. Are you real?”

“Yes! Of course I am! Where are you?”

“I’m in the floor,” said Marcus.

When Phoebe took too long to reply, he changed the topic: “Do you want to be best friends?”

“Okay,” said Phoebe, and thus began a most peculiar friendship between a little girl and the invisible boy that lives under her bed.

The next night, Phoebe insisted that she sleep alone, and this continued for several days. Mr. Mason was happier than he had ever been, particularly in the last five years, and Mrs. Mason, though she missed her bonding night times with her daughter, was relieved that the little girl was finally starting to develop a sense of independence. There were no concerns until both of the Mason parents woke in the middle of the night to the sound of their daughter’s violent laughter.

Mrs. Mason rushed into the bedroom to find Phoebe giggling to herself, hands covering her rosy cheeks in an attempt to stifle the noise.

“What’s so funny?” asked Mrs. Mason, trying and failing to feign happiness through her exhaustion.

“My friend is telling jokes,” Phoebe replied, still giggling a little.

Mrs. Mason glanced around for a phone or a walkie-talkie, finding nothing of the sort. “Your friend? What friend?”

“Marcus. He lives under my bed.”

A sudden look of understanding passed over Mrs. Mason’s face, and this time her smile was genuine. “Marcus?” she asked, and she bent over to peer under the bed. “Ah, very nice! Hello, Marcus!” her comment was directed at the dust bunnies, for she saw nothing unusual under the little girl’s bed.

“He’s not there, mommy,” Phoebe whined. “He’s all the way under the floor.”

“Ah, I see. So then what does he look like?”

Phoebe shrugged. Then she crossed her arms and pouted. “Mommy, go away. Marcus won’t talk with you around.”

“Of course not. But doesn’t Marcus know it’s bedtime?”

“…I guess.”

“Tell Marcus he should sleep, too. His mommy and daddy probably want him to go to bed as much as your mommy and daddy do.”

“But mom-my! Marcus doesn’t have a mommy and a daddy. He said they left him here a long time ago, so he doesn’t have to do what they want.”

“Well, then I’ll be his new mommy, and I want him to go to sleep. You sleep well now, all right, Phoebe, baby?”

Phoebe uncrossed her arms, placed them at her sides, and sighed deeply. “Okay, mommy.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Mrs. Mason left, shutting the door behind her, leaving Phoebe in the dark with her “imaginary friend.” A few moments of total silence passed, in which there was no scratching, no wind-blowing, no laughing, no jokes. In those moments, Phoebe was afraid that her mother had broken some spell by finding out about her friend, and now he must be gone forever. Or worse, Phoebe had ruined her own imagination by revealing it. She would have cried if Marcus hadn’t spoken up.

“Your mommy sounds nice,” he said. “She’s gonna be my mommy.”

He began scratching again, a quiet, persistent pattern of fingernails running against rough wood.

“She’s a nice mommy,” Phoebe concurred. “But I like talking to you better.”

“Someday you should help me up so she can be my mommy.” He scratched harder, the grainy sound of friction growing stronger.

Phoebe thought about this. “But I like it this way.”

“I don’t. I want her to be my mommy. Can you help me up?” Marcus was scratching madly now, hard and sharp against the wood, and the noise thundered through Phoebe’s ears until she could scarcely breathe.

Mrs. Mason couldn’t fall asleep that night. Instead, she lay completely and totally awake, scanning the ceiling, biting her fingernails. Something about that conversation had struck her oddly, and it was nagging at her.

At around 2:30 A.M., she could no longer contain herself, so she woke her husband by shaking his shoulder rather aggressively.

“What? What is it? What do you want?” asked Mr. Mason dazedly, still half-asleep.

“This house. Who lived here before us?”

“It was empty.”

“Come on, Jim. It’s an old house. Someone must’ve lived here.”

“Uh… I don’t know, twenty years ago some people lived here.”

“Why did they leave?”

“I didn’t want to tell you.”

“What is it? What happened here?”

“Their kid went missing. He was Phoebe’s age.”

Mrs. Mason had a sudden pounding of her heart, a sudden nagging feeling in her chest. Her head throbbed with every quickening step toward her daughter’s room. When she got there, she threw the door open and turned on the light only to find that the bed had been pushed against the wall crookedly, blankets strewn everywhere, and Phoebe was sitting on the floor clawing ravenously at the floorboards. There were tears in her eyes, and her fingernails bled, leaving crimson streaks on the wooden floors, but there was unbridled glee in her voice while she giggled to herself madly.

“What’s wrong, Phoebe? What’s going on?” Mrs. Mason repeated shrilly, trying to pull her daughter away from a slightly darkened spot on the floor. “You stop that! Stop this right now!”

But Phoebe was persistent, and the wood chipped away under her nails, creating little holes and crevasses in the floor. Only darkness lay beneath them, but it was an open darkness, like the space underneath a porch, filled with a vast and empty sort of black.

Mrs. Mason dragged Phoebe away but crawled closer to the spot. Gingerly, she dug her fingernails into the wood and pulled, scraping away at it. One of the boards was just faintly the wrong shape; its edges peeled in some places, leaving narrow gaps in others. It was wrong for the house, like it had never meant to be there. That was the one Phoebe had dug at, and eventually Mrs. Mason pulled the board loose. She instinctively brought her arm up to cover her face when she saw what lay below.

There lay the missing child.

There lay the body of a boy abandoned, ignored, forgotten.

A little corpse, a little mummified boy with empty, hollowed eyes, all blackened by time and rot, lying in the space below. He was covered in spider webs and dust and dead flies and everything that had ever made Mrs. Mason want to vomit. And he almost seemed alive, for his hands were facing upward, his fingernails were rubbed raw, and the petrified skin was embedded with wooden splinters that looked far too fresh.

Little Miss Mad

Little Miss Mad

A review of Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth movie graphic

A tree grows in a girl’s mind…

Pan’s Labyrinth (or, it’s original title, “El laberinto del fauno”) is a 2006 foreign fantasy/horror film directed by Guillermo del Toro, and it’s one of my favorite movies. Taking place in 1944, a few years after the Spanish Civil War, the film focuses in on a young girl fighting to cope with many changes and traumas that she has faced and is still facing as the story moves on. This dark fantasy also incorporates the reality of strife in post-Civil War Spain, tying it in with contrasting transitions.

The plot, with as few spoilers as I can manage, is as follows: A young girl named Ofelia moves in with her new stepfather, a ruthless military leader. In an overgrown, dilapidated labyrinth, she encounters a mythical creature – a Faun – who tells her that she is believed to be the princess of a forgotten world. However, she must prove that she is the princess by completing several tasks. But this is truly a dark fantasy, with realism tied in – a subplot involving Spanish rebels, the cruelty of Ofelia’s stepfather, and her mother’s declining health, all running parallel to Ofelia’s alternate world.

At first, it sounded fairly mild. I was lulled into a false sense of security by all this talk of princesses and fairies (although the dark coloration and lighting told me this was no lighthearted film). I admit, I was caught off-guard by the gruesome occurrences in both the reality and fantasy story lines. This really is a movie that can hold your attention, sometimes seizing it when you least expect it.

Pan's Bad Man

C’mon, help me find my contacts…

Full-bodied, detailed SFX makeup create fantastic creature designs, such as the Faun himself or perhaps the most terrifying antagonist, the Pale Man (both of whom are played by Doug Jones, who’s probably been in something else you’ve already seen). As the story progresses, most of the characters become more developed and fascinating, and you will either grow attached to them or hate them – either way, some emotion is invested, which is always a sign of a good character, protagonist and antagonist alike.

All in all, this movie has a captivating plot with subplots intertwined, all of which fall together at the end quite nicely. The final scene is fairly open-ended and can be interpreted to the watchers’ choosing – in short, it could either be a happy ending or a sad ending, depending on how you look at it. As a fantasy, it’s filled with beautiful images and modified versions of classic mythology. As a horror, it lacks the generic guts and gore that many horror fans seek, but it has plenty of little moments that will quench the blood thirst and several that will have you at the edge of your seat.

Little Miss Mad

Little Miss Mad

-@Little_Miss_Mad