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Dark Tidings

The river bends back.

By Kerry WilliamsPublished 3 years ago 13 min read

Jessica sat, drinking her Pabst Blue Ribbon, and thinking about how much the little town of Podduck had changed in recent years. Aside from the constant gossip and rumors, and all the other stupid stuff that usually went on at family reunions, she suddenly had an epiphany. Family reunions suck. This one was certainly turning out to be a complete suck-fest. Hardly anyone she wanted to see, had shown up. None of her friends were here, not even her favorite cousin, and everyone who had shown up was... gross.

She pulled out her phone and checked for missed calls and then sighed, slipping it back into her back jeans pocket. Sighing pitifully, she looked around at all the semi-familiar faces, most of them changed ever-so-slightly since the last time she'd seen them. Ugh. Why was she ever here? She thought, but she knew why.

She knew why her family had annual family reunions and it wasn't that they didn't want to lose touch with their loved ones. No, it was something more visceral than that. They wanted to bitch and complain about each other, trade secrets and gossip, spread more rumors... Jess shook her head. Maybe her point of view was totally skewed by her own personal experiences, and the fact that she was able to get away, finally. And she couldn't deny knowing all too well, this was where she'd grown up. For a time, she'd been the same way. She'd bought into the whole missing persons thing as well. The whole nine yards. She scoffed at the notion, realizing she was making excuses for them, yet again. Disgusting.

Podduck was probably the most boring place you could live in the great US of A. Nothing happened here. Absolutely nothing. The topics of discussion today were: Aunt Mildred's apple pie having a dragonfly baked into the middle of it, Jess's cousin George being passed through to fourth grade after only two attempts, her uncle Jack's auto repair shop having finally gotten a customer from all fifty states, after only 42 years in operation...

No, the reasons for these annual reunions, while limited in scope, was simply to help stave off the boredom. With nothing else to do, what could you do? Jess knew her mother had started preparations a full month ago, buying and cataloging all the supplies she would need to cook up an entire banquet of down-home foods that, most everyone else in her extended family, would avoid. From the looks of it, the reunion was right on course for overflowing the twin 55-gallon trash cans, which were currently swarming with yellow jackets, and halfway filled with discarded food.

"Hey, you wanna go down to the river?" Jack asked, giving her a sly sideways grin. Jess picked her chin up and then nodded. She needed to get away. If she had to listen to one more person talk about grandma Esther's bunions or how her cousin found a pimple on the end of his pecker and thought he'd contracted AIDS, she thought she might die. Jess drained her can, smashed it against the table, and then tossed it into the bucket her dad had brought for recyclables.

"Let's go," she said, getting up and following her little brother away from the gathering.

Jack was named after their uncle Jack, not their father Jerry. Just another instance of weird downhome practices that never made much sense. He was still in highschool, young, dumb, and highly impressionable. Jessica had to keep reminding herself that she had a level of responsibility now that she was older and more mature. The days of running around, leading her little brother into instances of climactic trouble, were over.

"You see Garth?" Jack asked as they walked to the edge of the clearing.

"No," Jess said, spinning around and looking back at the gathering. In the dusky tree shaded light, she could still see the reunion in progress. The long wooden tables were topped with a hundred different dishes. Multiple bright blue and white coolers were strategically placed, filled with Pabst Blue Ribbon and ice. Jessica watched as someone laughed loudly and someone else fell off their chair and landed on their back. She scanned the crowd quickly, but didn't notice her uncle.

"He sniffed Aunt June's hand and she almost lost it," Jack laughed.

Jess burst out laughing as well. Uncle Garth had this weird uncontrollable reflex of sniffing everything he touched. Everyone called it his "fetish", but as far as Jess knew, fetishes had to be sexual, and she didn't think there was anything sexual about Uncle Garth, least of all, him sniffing things. Maybe she was desensitized to the whole thing, due to having been babysat by her uncle for so many years... She looked at Jack after calming down and gave him a knowing smile.

As they moved off the cleared ground, they made their way deeper into the forest, through the underbrush of fallen logs and waist high snagging vines. A few moments later, they were on soft rich earth, coated with a thick layer of leaves and grass, and the occasional mushroom or shelf fungus. They headed away from their parents' house, and deeper into the forest.

"So, you get a chance to try Mi-mi's apple gelatin?" Jack asked.

"Are you kidding me?" Jessica responded, stomping on a downed branch and snapping it in half with a loud crack. "What did she hide in it this time?"

"Slivered almonds and zucchini squash," Jack replied. Jess made a retching sound and the two of them shared another chuckle between them.

"So, what's happening with you?" Jack asked, glancing at her, but looking at the forest floor just as much.

"Not much," she said with a wry smile. "I got a dog. Gravy-Train is his name and he's a big boxer mix breed mutt. He's, my pillow, and he's fat."

Jack laughed and then told Jessica how he'd gotten really good grades this semester, how he was trying out for the football team, how he'd asked a lot of girls to prom, and none of them said yes, and when he thought all hope was lost, Amy Hashst had come and asked him to go with her. Amy. The best-looking girl in the whole school district.

"Wow," Jessica said, not wanting to deflate his ego, especially with something as sensitive as going to prom. Jessica was a lot more learned and worldly, now that she'd moved away. The world was a much bigger pond than little old Podduck, current population... 722.

"When we get back, can you grab me a drink?" Jack asked her quickly, the word's fumbled out of his mouth quickly.

"Blue Ribbon?" Jessica asked him, narrowing her eyes.

"Come on. I'm sixteen," he said unconvincingly.

"And I'm twenty-three," Jess replied. "It's gross. You know the only reason why I even drink the stuff is... number one, dad insists on buying nothing else. Two, if there is anything else, mom will insist we drink that. He knows that, I know that. We're on the same page. I can't handle these family reunions without getting a little shit faced. You... you can handle it."

Jessica half listened as Jack put forth his arguing points, insisting he was old enough, if not legally, then "morally", to get a little buzzed, and that he would keep everything confidential, just between the two of them.

"I'll think about it," Jessica said at last, hoping her little brother would drop it, and he did, but not because she'd successfully staved off his questioning. The sound of rushing water and splashing against rocks could be heard in the distance and they both knew they'd arrived at their destination. The black river.

The black river wasn't actually named the black river. That's just what Jessica and her friends had named the swift moving body of water during their frequent visits when she was a child. As she and Jack approached the bank, she could see the waterline was much higher than she last remembered it. The width of the river had grown as well.

"Has it been raining?" Jessica asked Jack.

"A little," Jack replied.

Jessica turned right and followed the edge of the river bank upstream, Jack following closely behind, until they came to a short waterfall which was now so obese with running water, the river had split into no less than six sections and carved new deep chasms into the earth on each side.

"This is crazy," Jessica said as she carefully stepped over one deep cut in the earth and found stability on a large rock the size of a table top.

"Cool," Jack said, following close behind. "Maybe we'll find the body of Marcia Malloy!"

"Marcia Malloy is not dead," Jessica countered, intent on educating her little brother on the many unknown truths of their childhood home.

"Yes, she is. Mom and Dad-"

"Don't know the truth," Jessica said, reaching out and grabbing hold of a low hanging tree branch to steady herself. Most of the leaves sheared off in her hand, but she held on anyway. "Marcia Malloy got the hell out of town as soon as she could. She left, and then everyone thought she was dead, but she wasn't. She came back three years later."

"But... that was when her mom and gram-maw died, right?"

"Yeah. That's all part of it. When Marcia came back, she did the same damn thing she always did. She didn't tell anyone anything. She just showed up, out of the blue, and well... her mother probably thought she was a ghost or something. Both her mom and her grandmother died."

"Oh damn," Jack said, his mouth falling open. "She scared 'em to death."

"Well, knowing how people are in Po-dunk, they were probably overweight, high blood pressure, probably died of heart attacks or something like that."

"So... can I ask you a question?" Jack murmured.

"What's up?"

Before he could respond, the rock underneath their feet shifted, and fell forward. Jessica flailed her arms for one moment and reached out, grabbed the backside of the rock, slapping her hand flat against the cold slimy surface, and struggled with all her strength to hold on. Jack fell to his knees, slid down the face of the rock, and at the last moment, grabbed hold of Jessica's outstretched leg. He grabbed and pulled and took her shoe off in the process.

"No!" Jessica shouted, but there was no stopping it. She watched her shoe tumble over the edge and didn't even bother looking for the possibility of it floating downstream. She had more important things to do.

"Climb up!" Jessica told Jack, reaching up with her other hand and grabbing the back edge of the rock. "Climb up, grab the edge, and then jump off. Make sure you make it to the bank!"

"I can't... hold on!" Jack said all of the sudden, and Jessica, surprised at her younger brother's lack of strength turned her head towards him, to shout words of encouragement and hope, only to have her heart freeze in her chest. Black ropy tendrils of absolute darkness were climbing up out of the water.

"Move!" Jessica screamed as if her life depended on it. Jack, reflexively scrambled for purchase, his legs flailed over the edge, and then his right sneaker caught on something solid and he lurched forward. Jessica let go with her right hand and grabbed the back of his shirt, twisted her hand in it, and pulled with all her might. Jack flopped down on the rock next to her and started to smile.

"MOVE!" Jessica shouted into his face, pushing him upwards and away.

"Okay! Jeez!" Jack yelped, scrambling up the rock and balancing on the upper edge. Jessica inched up the rock, pulling herself up behind Jack as he jumped over the fissure and landed hard, sinking both his feet up to the knee in soft black muck. "Oh.... shit," Jack muttered, slowly pulling his first foot up, and then struggling to get the second one free. Jessica stood there, glancing back and forth between Jack and the swirling darkness that was the black river.

"Come on," Jessica said urgently, checking for any sign of the tendrils that had gone after Jack. "We've gotta go."

"I'm trying," Jack said and he yanked his foot from the muck and then spun around, plopping onto his ass.

"What are you doing!" Jessica shouted.

"Getting my shoe!" Jack said in a pissy tone as he leaned forward and stuck his arm way down in the hole his leg had just come out of. A moment later he pulled his high-priced sneaker out with a loud sucking sound, and then complained, trying to wipe the mud from the outside of it. "Oh man. It got on the inside..."

The rock shifted underneath Jessica's feet, pitching forward. "Oh Shit!" Jessica shouted and she jumped as best she could, forward, to the side. It was more like a flailing falling motion in the general direction of safety, more than an actual jump. For a split second she thought she might make it, and then she plummeted downward. Her feet missed the edge of the crevasse in front of her. Her knees slammed into wet earth and it collapsed under her weight, tumbling into the icy water below, right along with her.

"Aaack!" Jessica shouted, whipping her arms out in front of her and grabbing anything, everything, nothing... "Help!" She shouted, dragging huge arm loads of soft earth into the gorge, against her chest. The smell of earthy decay was so strong it made her gag. She kicked, trying to find something to brace her feet against, but the other side of the deep cut in the earth was too far away. Something touched her foot. A tree root perhaps? A vine or... it wrapped around her ankle. Before she could shout the word "No!" it yanked her into the darkness.

Jessica fought against the icy cold and the absolute black that was trying to envelop her. What she suspected was a tendril of, whatever it was, tightened and yanked again, pulling her down. She reflexively shouted and icy cold water filled her mouth. She clamped it shut and kicked, and then jerked her knee upwards. The tendril fought back, pulling tight and then, like a fishing line tied around her ankle, started reeling her towards the deep.

Jessica felt something rip her from the depths and a moment later she was on the bank, retching muddy water out of her lungs. Jack lay on his back, his pants around his knees... his entire body covered in muck.

"What the he-ughck!?" Jessica coughed, and then gagged.

"Saving... your... ass," Jack panted. He pointed to her wrist and made a grasping motion. Jessica looked down and saw his belt wrapped around her wrist, cinched tight, cutting off the circulation. She took it off and tossed it on the ground beside him.

As one, they got up and headed back, not saying a word to each other. As they neared the gathering, they veered off course, heading around to the front of the house, where the hose was.

"We almost became the next "missing persons", huh?" Jack said, turning the spigot on.

Jessica shook her head and then suddenly she wanted to shout at Jack, to tell him he didn't know what he was talking about, that the whole "missing persons" thing everyone always talked about, was nothing more than gossip about those few who were able to make something of themselves and finally get away from Po-dunk USA... Now, she wasn't so sure.

Jack gave her a sly smile so she sprayed him in the face with the hose and then acted as if she'd done it on accident.

Later on, Jessica made up an excuse and decided to leave before the night time festivities started. She didn't say a word about what she'd seen, or what she'd thought she'd seen. She wasn't too sure what had happened and as she drove through the night back to her home in the neighboring city, she tried to put the thought of swirling black water and reaching tendrils of darkness, out of her mind.

Like a zombie, Jessica arrived home, dropped her keys on the kitchen table, and put a scoop of food in her dog's bowl. He was so happy to see her, but she was so exhausted, all she could do was plop down on the couch and let him hug and slobber all over her until he was satisfied, she wasn't leaving again. She didn't even bother undressing or going to bed, instead, she fell asleep right then and there.

When Jessica wok the next morning, she groaned at the light streaming through her windows, directly into her eyes. It was late, but it was Saturday. No worries. She grabbed her phone out of her back pocket and discovered it was dead. She plugged it in to charge, only to find it had water in the charge port. She left it on the counter to dry out for a while, and made herself breakfast.

Around noon she decided to try charging her phone again and this time, the little lightning bolt showed up on the screen. She left it there to charge while she relaxed, did some house cleaning, and finally, when it was around dinner time, she decided to turn it on. The day had been so relaxing, so peaceful, so... perfect.

Her phone chimed telling her she had missed a call, and a text, and another text, and another. Suddenly it was as if her phone wouldn't stop beeping. She opened her messages and screamed.

The texts were from her mother;

Jess, is Jack with you?

This isn't funny

Jess! Answer the phone!

Please tell me Jack is with you!



Jack and Amy had a fight

She left

He went looking for her

Down by the river


urban legend

About the Creator

Kerry Williams

It's been ten days

The longest days. Dry, stinking, greasy days

I've been trying something new

The angels in white linens keep checking in

Is there anything you need?




Thank you sir.

I sit


Tyler? Is that you?


I am... Cornelius.

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