It was a warm spring afternoon in an alpine village. The birds twittered along, pecking at this and that. The wildflowers tossed their heads toward the sun while their stems danced in the breeze. A small girl chased dandelion seeds across the foothills, hoping to catch a wispy fairy. Little Eloi pranced across the grassy knolls in the awkward canter of youth. The little wisps spiraled merrily out of each tightening fist. She giggled at the jovial game and grabbed more gregariously. Finding her lack of coordination and the playful elusion of the seeds hilarious, she entertained herself in this way for nearly a mile, rolling across the foothills after the little fluffs.
Although she was content with the game for now, she did very much want to catch one; for dandelion seeds are really wish-granting fairies. If she caught one, she could whisper her secret desire to the fairy, and then send it back on the breeze, where it would fly away to make her dream come true. She grasped more desperately at the seeds, feeling the urgency of her wish well up inside her. She widened her eyes in hopes to see better to retrieve the seeds, but the bruises around her lids pushed them back down with a painful wince. More determined by the opposition of her eyes, she pushed on after the panacea pixies. Only three little seeds remained from the once numerous pack. She hoped she would catch all three. A wish for mother. A wish for herself. A wish for the bruises.
The breeze dropped, and the wishes pirouetted above the edge of the riverbank, slowly descending towards a broken child with desperate dreams. One seed brushed against her cheek, a gentle kiss for the innocent youth. She quickly slapped her hand across her cheek to seal the flighty spindles in her grasp. She felt its delicate fingers intertwine with hers. At last she felt the exuberance of success; now she would be free! Delicately sliding her hand down her cheek, she cupped the little fluff in her hand. She didn’t want to hurt the fairy, so she carefully closed her fist around it, trying not to crush her hard-earned prize. She looked down at her temporary cage, cupping the seed like the treasure it was. Slowly she opened her fist, her breath wavering with anticipation. Finger by finger she carefully released her hand. First the pinky. Nothing. Next the ring finger. Nothing. Then the middle finger. Hope. Then the pointer finger. Loss. She took a second take. It was true. Her palm was empty. She spread her digits. She lifted her hand up to check both sides. Through the spaces between her fingers she saw the last fairy tantalizing her from the opposite riverbank with one last twirl before it disappeared into the breeze.
Consigned to her failure, she sat down at the edge of the river to regroup. A wave of sleepiness washed over her with the therapeutic sound of the rushing waters. The chase had made her weary, and the thought of returning home made her wearier. The river sparkled with clear mountain water, and her sticky feet longed to be released from their cotton prisons. She popped off her shoes and peeled off her moist socks. Edging closer to the bank, she slid her little feet into the river. The current was particularly strong that day, and her feet pulsed with the heartbeat of the river. The waves massaged her heels and tickled her toes. The grassy tendrils beneath her planted palms seemed to push her up, lulling her closer to the aquatic edge. The sun sparkled across the waves, promising untold treasure to any child who crossed the rippling veil.
The river’s pulse comforted Eloi, perhaps because a river is a force that passes through and never returns. She wished to be like the bobbing branches who had their beginnings washed away until each grain was refined into a smoother, purer form of itself. Perhaps the river could strip her past away too. Perhaps it could give her new life and a new home. Perhaps it could cultivate her as it did every dirty blade of grass that enters its domain. It could carry her to new horizons ahead. It would only propel her forward, never to divert its course back to the beginning.
What power the river had; even in the face of mountainous obstacles, it had carved out a life for itself over time. Eloi admired the river, longing to be a part of it. She herself was small and inconsequential in the sight of others, much like the river must have been at some point. As she provoked the water with her delicate digits, her reflection rippled below, a nymph-like tantalization with all the promises of tomorrow. She stared into her reflection and the rhythmic ripples, submitting her consciousness to the sprightly stream.
As her image echoed through the ripples, the waves pulled this feature and that. It distorted her image into all sorts of whimsical creatures, delighting the child into a fit of giggles as she splashed around. Each ripple brought a new image patterned off the original with a unique alteration. How funny she looked with an elongated forehead! How her nostrils flared! Amidst the frivolous little game, a dark shadow penetrated the ripples, distorting the little girl’s image into a man with hollow eyes grinning up at her. The giggles transformed into horrified shrieks as she looked around, searching for the owner of the reflection. He was not behind this shoulder. Nor that one. The far tree? The near tree? Any of the trees? Every hair on her body stood on end. She dared not breathe too heavily nor allow her heart to beat too quickly in fear of detection.
Had he followed her? Was he here? What would he do today? Her heart dropped. Every once jovial forest noise became a harbinger of his coming. The rustle in the bushes was a slap that knocked the breath out of her. The twittering of the birds turned to shrieking and yelling. Her lungs were not free to expand to their full capacity and dared only consume the minimum amount of air needed to maintain basic functionality. Any trace of vitality in her body or soul was an offense to him that would be beaten out. She shriveled inward, blocking out the shrill echoes of the dark forest that closed around her. Each second beat with her heavy pulse through her pricked up ears. What now? Trepidation shook her frame as each vibration of the earth sent shivers up her spine.
Slowly, the heavy pulsing subsided into a subtle tick, dropping from her head, back into her chest. The paralysis slowly washed away as life once again rushed into her little limbs and oxygen more fully filled her lungs. She took a few careful breaths to test her freedom. She didn’t think he was present. Slowly, she opened up, carefully inspecting every quivering blade of grass or waving branch. After sufficient inspection, she determined that she was alone. She sighed with hearty relief. After a few free breaths, she heard a sudden snap of a twig. Her flight instinct kicked in, and she bounced up with wild fright.
Her wet little feet hit the slick grass and instead propelled her backwards, into the arms of the stream. She hit the water very slowly, totally aware of herself falling, yet unable to control her body, as if in a dream. She felt the backwards momentum and the river rising to grasp her. She wanted to jump back to the bank, but her body would not respond. The initial splash was almost playful, like a penny flipped into a fountain for good luck. But as the little penny plunged into the depths, the wild currents forced themselves into every pore and orifice of her fleshy figure. She held her mouth shut, but panic quickly forced her lips open and set the air free to fly away in a stream of bubbles. The river’s dark sinews enveloped her, dragging her along its rocky bed.
She thrashed her scratched arms towards the light with a desperate desire to survive. After breaking the heavy surface, her head emerged spewing filthy water from her throat and coughing oxygen back into her tiny lungs. As she flailed about, the river once again forced its soggy fingers down her infantile esophagus and thrust her deep into its abyss. She fought the waves and once again resurfaced only to have her chest slammed against a rock, discharging bloody water from her lungs. She gasped for breath, causing sharp pangs in her deflated lungs. Desperate and broken though she was, the river could not stop, continuing towards a sharp curve. As she spun, the river flung her fleshy sack wildly against the sharp rocks, cracking her rib cage with a muffled snap. It knocked the wind out of her and hurt too much to scream. She flailed frantically. But no amount of flailing could turn the course of the river or its contents. It held her tightly in its grip, tossing her to and fro, stripping away the murky yesterday.
As the currents buffeted her from one bank to the next in their sick little game, Eloi knew there was nothing more to be done. Her bloody arms and shattered torso could fight the rushing waters no longer. Her strength was gone, her body broken. She stopped struggling and rode the river’s course. She wasn’t desperate anymore. She wasn’t hopeful anymore. She was consigned. And for once, she actually felt peaceful. Had not the river always been her friend? Perhaps it would refine her and take her to that better world after all. The river’s embrace tightened around her and pulled her towards its expiration. She closed her eyes and entrusted herself to the sublime.
Later that week, in a village downstream, little Pierre was feeding the ducks by the river. As he tossed the corn in lazy piles, the ducks were touchier than usual, observing him from a distance and avoiding their usual perches by the submerged logs and overhanging willow tree. Curious Pierre went to investigate what creature had claimed another’s home. He pushed past the willow’s hanging leaves, and stepped onto the fallen log. Tangled in its watery branches, he saw a purple mermaid peacefully napping. He called over his father who saw no mermaid. He did, however, see a mangled corpse, bruised by more than just a river.
Sarah Beth is a costume designer who has worked in theatre for the past seven years. She loves telling stories through many mediums, whether it be through the cut of the sleeve or words on a page. She has worked in several states and theatres, including teaching the costume technology courses at Oklahoma State University. She also worked as a costumer with a touring group that traveled within the USA and internationally to South Africa and Zimbabwe.