“Joseph, where do you want to go, today?” I glanced in his direction to see him digging some worms from the ground to feed his gerbil. “Did you hear me?” I asked again. He looked up for a second before turning his attention back to the gerbil. I grabbed the gerbil and shoved it into his cage. Joseph blew a puff of air and stood up while staring at me with a twinkle in one of his blue eyes, which only meant trouble.
“I heard ya. I want to go to the forest behind Mrs. Jan’s house.” I grumbled before folding both hands over my chest. He knew the Deadly Forest scared me from the name to the rumors on ogres and ghosts crawling around always on the lookout for their next victim. Since a child, I frequently got nightmares of goblins, sinister witches and characters like the villains in Disney movies chasing me. Those nightmares were caused by rumors and fables circling in my village. Ever since then, I would get a snapshot of one of those them when someone mentioned the forest. I felt a shiver down my spine and goose bumps on my skin as the image of an evil creature like the one in “Scream” appeared in my head.
“It doesn’t have ghosts, Lucy. You are so childish to believe them.” He read my mind, which wasn’t anything out of normal. After a thirteen year friendship from kindergarten, I expected him to know some part of me by now.
“It is more childish to feed your poor gerbil some worms.” His eyes narrowed at my accusation. I let out a hearty chuckle and stood up beside him.
“If you aren’t childish, then come into the forest with me.” In his words, he was “testing” me, otherwise known as peer pressure. In his defense, it wasn’t peer pressure if I was conquering my “fears”. For me, it was more like going on a mission that would eventually give me a heart attack. After much thinking, I finally agreed, it was about time I “manned up,” according to Joseph. For me, it was more than that. I wanted to see if they were real to stop believing in them and grow up.
After a while, I stood there with hands on my knees looking at the deciduous forest. The trees were swaying to the wind’s howling. It looked like giant zombies with bare, prickly arms dancing to a strident tune. I laughed at the image inside my head before taking a few steps forward. I turned my head to look at Joseph before sarcastically muttering “the forest looks too beautiful to have any monsters inside.”
Joseph nodded his head before replying with a wink and a smirk on his face “let’s walk inside to see.”
The leaves crunched underneath our feet as we ran deeper. There seemed to be a spiritual rope pulling us inside like an overpowering magnet. As I looked around me, there wasn’t any anything, forget monsters, not even little critters jumping around. I merely assumed that some ogres ate them all, eagerly waiting for their next victims. Realization hit me that we, Joseph and I were the next victims. I tried skidding to a stop after that thought. Unfortunately, I couldn’t which caused me to hit my head with Joseph’s muscular back. Both of us tumbled on to the ground with Joseph covering my fall.
“Mhhm -Mhhm” I heard Joseph’s groans of pain. After a few tries, I succeeded in getting up and lent my hand to Joseph. He took it before yelling “why the hell did you stop so suddenly?”
“Because we are here. The place filled with monsters.” How could that not bother him?
“You have got to stop being paranoid. There are no monsters.” He groaned with an eye-roll.
“Wh-at about the rumors? How can you be so sure? They can come at night. ” My voice cracked. Some villagers told numerous stories of people dying of wild creatures tearing them to pieces. Some of them disappeared without a trace lingering behind. Others denied those myths, calling themselves “the intelligent”, stating some bears ate them for lunch.
“The only monster is the Child River. That’s figuratively, too!” He uttered those words with authority edged in his voice. I sighed before following behind him. There was a myth that no one could deny, one of the only rumors that Joseph believed in, the Child River, a river that grasped the hands of her victims pulling them underneath and suffocating their breath. It was said to be the most terrifying monster, no one could be saved if they met her, not even God’s favorite children. It was taken very seriously in my village even though many outsiders laughed at her name without knowing the story behind it. The ancestors of my village wrote warnings and fables on the ferociousness of the river. Even knowing about them, Curt, one of my village’s strongest warriors, jumped into the river. Sadly, his bravery took a wrong turn when he couldn’t fight the waves up against him. Since then, not a soul went a mile near that river except...us.
“What’s cooking in that pretty little head?” Joseph’s voice broke my thoughts. I knew he would get angry if I told him about Curt. I shook my head and stared at a group of small plants basking in the sunlight. Unlike the Oak trees, these plants were glued with many green leaves. They looked like they didn’t belong here just like us. I took a turn to find anything out of the ordinary. However, I couldn’t. There were millions of oak trees shedding their leaves looking like an army of tall candle sticks. Everything looked the same from every direction. That was when it hit me.
“Ohh! We forgot to make marks on the forest. We won’t know where we came from. Now, we will die in the middle of a stupid forest!” I groaned and smacked my head. Not only where we lost, but we were lost in a forest filled with head-snapping creatures. Joseph turned his head to me before chuckling. I raised an eyebrow at him. Did he turn in to a psychopath? The forest really did turn people in to freaks. Why was he laughing when we were lost? There was no sense in that.
“I had a compass with me. We came in a southeast direction into the forest. We have to head in a northwest direction.” I groaned in frustration. Why didn’t he tell me before I panicked?
“Why don’t we visit the river?” I ferociously shook my head like a rabid dog. That was a bad idea.
Looking from the way he was pinching his nose, he was a bit annoyed by my answer. “Why not? You have got to stop being a baby. You are eighteen years old, damn it! The villagers lied to us. There aren’t any wild creatures. I am sure the river isn’t even that dangerous.”
“I am not scared. I just don’t want to go.” I argued against him. He knew he touched a nerve with his accusation. I could feel the heat rise in my cheeks and my shoulders tense from his constant nagging.
“Fine, then prove it. Let’s go to the river.” He was doing it, again. I turned around and headed towards the direction of Mrs.Jan’s house. I am going anywhere except the river. I stomped my feet on the ground while walking away from him.
“No!” I shouted on the top of my lungs extending the “o.”
“You are going in the wrong direction.” Wonderful! I could only go home with him since he had the compass that would lead us out of this place. My loud groan echoed loudly probably making the whole world clear of my distaste.
“Only because you have the compass and we are leaving before dusk.” He grinned from ear to ear before skipping ahead of me. I prayed that we wouldn't find it before dusk, which was in a couple of hours. There wasn’t a force stronger than his own mind that could convey him, what a stubborn child! I kicked some leaves here and there as a way to empty my frustration.
“Are you done trampling the ground?” I ignored him. I felt drained from our continuous walking. I prayed that I could go home soon enough. I know we didn’t see any heart-wrenching animals in the daylight by some luck. But, I was sure they would hunt for us at night.
I was pulled out of my thoughts when I heard the sound of crashing waves. I felt my heartbeat accelerate in rhythm to the water’s roars. My feet walked aimlessly. The water had more power than my own mind drawing them like a siren. Before I could call his name, Joseph turned around to face me with his eyes widened and his mouth open, he was in shock. It was my stupidity when I ran forward to get a better glimpse of the river. It was more stupid of me to lean in to figure out what she was saying. Later on, I would figure out it was Joseph yelling at me to back up from the edge. I didn’t know why my mind wasn’t working; my excuse would have to be it was her fault. However, I knew deep down it was more than that. It was to prove I was brave enough to conquer monsters haunting my thoughts about this forest. I figured it was easier to fight the battles with them in the real world than inside my jumbled brain. I didn’t have a chance to fight those in the forest, since they never showed up, so why not the biggest one, the river. With that thought, the Child River swallowed me.
I was glad to swallow some air before it plunged me down. The fast moving currents took me on a ride of my life. It felt as if I was in a videogame playing a losing game. Just as there are obstacles in videogames, there was one a few meters away from me, a rock hanging from the surface.
So, I dived deeper.
I groaned inside my head for my awful mistake. It would take more strength to rise to the top. However, I kept fighting with the monster to let me live by swimming upwards. If I could swim to the top, then I would win the war against her by safely swimming from the bottom to the surface like a champion. I would be my own hero. Unexpectedly, a strong pressure turned me faced up with my back to the floor of the river.
Again, I tried as a surge of adrenaline pumped in my vines causing me to swim upwards to fight her. Unfortunately, it only lasted a couple of seconds before my body felt drained. I felt the pressure inside my chest begging me to find air. There was no way I could unless I went up. I laughed bitterly inside my head at my stupid, childish thoughts. I figured I could swim against the most feared river when I couldn’t even walk through the forest without getting scared of monsters hiding around. I was a stupid, scaredy-cat.
The inside of the river was quiet in comparison to the endless noise above. It grew quiet like my dying heartbeat. Soon enough, I surrendered and let myself fall to the floor of the river. Why waste the energy to die? Even Curt, the strongest warrior couldn’t swim against her, how could I? Somehow, I found resistance to close my eyes to catch a figure blocking my only light, not sure if it was a fish or my savior. I closed my eyes and prayed that it was a fish, it would be better than Joseph. If I lived, an unlikely chance, I could never handle the thought of him dying because of me. Plus, I needed him to tell about my story just like the one told of Curt’s mishap.
“Wake up…” I heard a voice in the distance. Who was that? I felt a hand on my back tilting me upwards. I wanted to say something, to do something, but I had no control. It felt worse than the river calling me. At least then, I knew what was happening, my eyes would not open up.
Few seconds later, I felt a deep pressure inside my chest. I tried to ignore it but felt suffocated. So, I let go and opened my eyes coughing out water. After gaining control of myself, I looked around to see Joseph and another man beside him. They looked at each other making eye contact before turning their attention back to me.
“You are dead, too?” I directed my question towards Joseph. He let out a sigh before shaking his head.
The stranger with unusual purple eyes noticed my confusion and replied to my question in a barely audible voice “no one here is dead.”
“Then…How? What?” I was beyond confused. I looked at my surroundings to give me a sign as to where we were. We were in an open area with sand and water. There were few people on the other side playing volleyball. This looked just like -
“We are at Lagoon Lake.” Joseph cut my thought. There was a Lagoon Lake in heaven, too?
“This isn’t heaven. We are on Earth and you are alive.” I must have voiced my thoughts out loud. The stranger seemed frustrated that I wouldn’t believe him. How could I when the last thing I remember was dying?
“What happened after I drowned?” The stranger ran his hands through his dark brown hair. I looked at him intently to notice a five o clock shadow and his naked chest rippled with muscles. Something about him was off. He looked like he wasn’t from here. Joseph turned his head to the stranger as if signaling him to explain. However, he never did. So, Joseph took the burden on himself and explained after my drowning.
“After you drowned, I started panicking as to what to do. I decided that I would jump in and try to save you. However, Curt here-” I guess that was the stranger’s name. He continued “ran through the woods to stop me. Instead, he jumped into the river.” That explained his wet pants. I don’t understand how he knew I was drowning?
“He jumped in and got you just in time.” Joseph finished with a loud deep breathe. I directed my attention towards Curt to see him looking intently at me.
“How did you know I was drowning? Were you watching us?” It was time to know the answers of the mysterious man.
“I guess, I should tell you about me, first.” His voice was husky with an emotion underneath. He continued with a sigh “I used to live in this town about thirty years ago. You could ask about me, if you want. I am sure there was a myth passed around. Sadly, that wasn’t a myth.” Realization dawned on me as the story of his death played in my mind. He was the Curt from the fables that everyone in my village used to speak about. I drew my attention back to him repressing the questions in my head. “One grave afternoon, I took an adventurous walk into this forest, just like you both, to prove to my challenger that I was almighty. I ran towards the river, leaned in to touch the water.” He took a sharp breathe before looking in to my chocolate eyes. “Then, it pulled me in. Yet again, capturing another soul.”
Before I could stop myself, I asked “how are you alive, like here?” I pointed to the ground. I must have hit my head on a wall in the water. All of this seemed so bizarre. It looked like Joseph was thinking the same since his eyebrows were knotted together and his mouth hung open. He had to hear or see it in order to believe it. Little did he know that some of the things we believe in couldn’t be seen.
“Well, I died and God gave me another chance to come back to Earth to be an angel.”
“An angel?” Joseph’s laughing surrounded me as Curt finished his sentence. I would have not believed it either if it wasn’t for the absence of a smile and dark eyes on Curt’s face.
“What are you an angel of?” I asked trying to distract him from Joseph’s immature behavior.
It worked since he drew his attention back to me and answered “angel of this river.” He elaborated, “an angel to protect humans from diving into this river.” As much as I wanted to refute his claim, a little voice in my head told me to believe him. It made sense. No one would be able to swim across this treacherous river if they were human.
“We are not silly to believe you- “ Joseph started talking.
“I believe him.” There was something that told me he was supernatural.
“Stop being childish, Lucy.” I ignored him and looked at Curt with sincerity. A small smile formed on his face as he looked at me.
“Thank you, Curt. You saved my life. You are an angel, for sure figuratively. If it is literally true, then I wouldn’t be surprised. I owe you my life.” I gave him a small smile after my sincere speech.
“It’s no problem. Just stay away from that river. Pay it forward by being angel to another.” He backed away before turning away. I wasn’t shocked to notice a tattoo on his back. I must have not noticed it since he never turned around. However, I was startled when I noticed the tattoo was animated and it started growing bigger in to the shape of wings.
“Did you -?” Joseph swallowed the rest of his question and let out a gasp as white wings formed from the tattoo. It was like a drawing coming to life. His wings were cemented with intricate design of swirls like those on top of ice cream cones and cravings edged in to the border. Curt started running in high speed with his wings spread out flapping for lift off. The scene reminded me of an airplane preparing for liftoff. I was surprised no one around the lake noticed him. I looked around the lake to find there wasn’t anybody here. Where did everyone go? I gave an annoyed look at Joseph as he shoved my shoulder. He pointed me at the sky. There was Curt up in the air with his ten feet wings around him. He waved and winked at us before he flew off into the direction of the sun.
“Bye, Angel!” I yelled at him while jumping in the air.
“I can’t believe he is a real angel.” Joseph’s eyebrows were up so high that they were hidden in his air and his eyes looked like omelets. The way his mouth was hanging open was funnier.
“I told you so.” I placed my hands on my waist with a pout on my face.
“Now, tell me, why did you get so close to the river?” He asked me.
“I wanted to conquer the monsters in my mind by being brave in real life. I thought if I wasn’t being a baby and being scared in real life, I would be tough enough to conquer the little and imaginative things I get scared of in my head. I realize it was stupid, though.” I pointed to my head as I finished off my little speech.
“I don’t think you were childish, Lucy. I have to agree you are brave. Who would jump in one of the feared rivers near our little town? Only you. I know you are even braver enough to conquer the fantasy monsters in your head.” He continued with sincerity in his eyes, “I guess there are angels and monsters in the world, figuratively or literally.” I grinned at Joseph for his astonishing conclusion.
“Thank you for believing in me. I am not scared of monsters anymore. Since I know angels exist, I know they will save me. On another note, I told you so! See, I am not childish to believe these things. ” He shook his head before walking ahead. I stopped to tease him and let him taste his own words. “That’s not the right direction.” He groaned before following me.