The Truth About the Black River
by Shannon Yarbrough
I was eleven years old when I told Sheriff Tate I pushed my best friend, Nixie Brooks, into the Black River. I knew he didn't believe me. That's why I told the same thing to the social worker, a policeman, the lawyer, and the lawyer's young assistant. The assistant was a nark. He told a reporter at the Gazette who wrote about me in the Sunday paper. The reporter wrote that I was evil and that I'd go to juvie. Maybe he was right.
After that, Tate had no choice but to let me show him where I pushed Nixie in. He'd have to get divers and a search and rescue team to drag the riverbed. He knew it would be a waste of time, but he couldn't take that chance, not after what the reporter wrote in the newspaper. If Nixie's body washed up downriver someday, Sheriff Tate would look like a fool. Something like that could cause him to lose the next election. So, he took me to the river.
There's something you should know about the Black River. You can't get to it from any road in town. Thick woods surround it. The woods are cut off by cornfields. Sheriff Tate had to park by the highway. We were still half a mile from the river. We'd have to walk the rest of the way.
"You promise not to run?" he asked. He opened the back door of his patrol car to let me out. "If you are thinking about running, I'm going to handcuff you to me."
"I promise," I said. I'd broken promises before.
We walked through the rows of thick dead corn. I asked Daddy once why farmers let the corn die. Daddy said the corn wasn't dying. The farmers were letting it dry out. I didn't believe him. The wind picked up and shook the brittle leaves. It sounded like a bed of nasty rattlesnakes.
As we walked toward the river, Sheriff Tate looked up and down the rows. I bet he was scared. Maybe he felt something watching us. It was nothing, but I didn't tell him that. No deer or crows ate this corn. No coyotes ever crossed this field. I was the only snake here.
"What were you kids doing back here all by yourselves," Tate asked when we had made it through the field and reached the woods.
"Just playing," I said.
Years ago, the river was much wider. The woods along the river were completely underwater. I told Nixie I bet those woods were full of all kinds of treasure from old steamboats that had sunk there back during the Civil War. It was the only way I could ever get her to follow me out there.
"It smells like dead bodies," Nixie said once.
"Yeah, I bet there's some of them buried in the swamp too," I said, just to scare her.
The woods are all cypress trees growing in wet, boggy soil. Spanish moss hangs in their boney limbs and blows in the wind like a witch's hair. I should have told Sheriff Tate to be careful where he steps, but I didn't. The mud is knee-deep in some places. I heard him curse behind me. I looked back, and one of his boots was covered in dark brown muck.
Black River is dark and silent in these parts. If you don't know where you are going, it will sneak up on you. When you reach the bluff, it's a thirty-foot drop so you could fall right in.
I got there first and spotted an old deer on the other side. It froze when it saw me. The hill was too steep for it to reach the water below. Any animal that could get near the river wouldn't drink from it anyway. When Tate caught up with me, the deer backed away and disappeared. Maybe it was scared, or maybe it was smart.
"Is this where you did it?" Tate asked
I didn't answer him. He knew I was lying again.
As soon as Nixie's mom called looking for her, I told Momma some truck picked her up when we were walking home from school. I said it was her dad, but the only truck her dad ever drove was for his work. He never drove that truck home. I didn't know that, so when Sheriff Tate asked me to describe the truck, he knew something wasn't right.
I told the social worker that Nixie once told me her dad touched her in ways he should only be touching her mom. Tate didn't believe me, but the social worker asked him why I would lie about a thing like that. They brought Nixie's dad in for questioning anyway. He was crying so much about Nixie that he couldn't believe it when Tate asked him if he'd ever abused his daughter.
"Are you lying to me again?" Sheriff asked as I just stood there looking down into the filthy water. I was searching for the truth.
I should have told him that everything I'd said was true. Why else would Nixie jump into the river? No one had believed her either. And now, no one believed me. I wasn't going to go to juvie for telling the truth.
I turned around to face him. I held up my hands as if to shrug my shoulders, and then I held my arms out wide the way Daddy does when he stretches and yawns at night. I leaned back the way Bubba does when he lets himself fall backward on his bed. I felt like an angel spreading its wings to fly. Only I wasn't flying.
Sheriff Tate ran toward me, but he tripped on the veiny root of a Cypress tree and stumbled forward. He rolled back, nearly falling over himself. One of his hands stretched over the edge, but it was too late. I was halfway down the last breadth of my escape. Looking up, I watched as the sheriff grew smaller and smaller.
I hit the water with a gentle swimming pool splash, and the sky grew dark above me. As the Black River found its way in, I thought about Nixie. Maybe I'd see her. Maybe I wouldn't. Maybe I'd sink. Maybe years from now, some kids would be searching the dry riverbed for treasure and find my bones instead. I could feel the slow waters carrying me south. Maybe I was dying, or maybe I was just drying out.
About the author
Author. Poet. Reader. Animal Lover. Blogger. Gardener. Southerner. Aspiring playwright.
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