Trigger Warning: Suicide
The Relevant Research:The River Runs Deep
This Week’s Prompt: 38. Drowning sensations—undersea—cities—ships—souls of the dead. Drowning is a horrible death.
Silver light settled around the bodies beneath the bridge, a ghostly corona around a corpse homage to the moon above. There was a total of ten identifiable bodies resting there, waiting. Gazing upward at me, pupils rolled back to reveal pallid with dots among the bloated flesh. All drowned.
“Could be a serial killer?” Dorothy next to me said as the various smarts started trying to figure out how to haul up this mass with damaging much.
“Could. Be the weirdest yet. I mean, I guess he could just drown them, but seems like people would have heard something.” I said, squatting down to look. “Can’t be group body disposal, though. The one at the bottom’s rotted quite a bit. What’s the underwater version of a maggot?”
“Funny. Anyway, if they were all dumped at once, they wouldn’t have rotted so weirdly.”
“Different drops then.” Dorothy said with a shrug.
“Yeah, but I’m not seeing any wounds. Look, no cuts, no lacerations on the top one. No blood at all.” I said, frowning and looking to either side of the bridge. “Plus, you’d think someone would have noticed, right? Like on a morning jog? River’s been clean most of the month.”
“Clean, but how many people look down into the rivers these days. Maybe he dead weighted them?” Dorothy said, shining her flash light towards the feet. Nope. Completely bare of rope.
“Suicides?” I ask, thinking for a moment.
“All in the same spot?”
“I mean, it would explain the lack of bonds or wounds. But your right…wouldn’t they see the bodies? And if they did, why would they…I mean, seems like a weirdly private mass suicide.”
“They’re not all cults, Jim.”
“Most, most are cults.”
“Could have been a pact?” Dorothy said, frowning sat the water. I shook my head.
“Pacts are smaller, usually. Plus, now that I think of it, if this was organized—a”
“The rot would all be the same.” Dorothy finished.
“Guess we’ll have to see what the guys find.” I said standing up. My knees audibly cracked. I slipped the flashlight into my jacket, and tipped my hat to the boys trying to figure out how to lift the bodies out without them disintegrating.
Suicide wasn’t exactly new to Windgift. There was a joke around the department, ever since the factories and railroads made the city big, that one in every two murders was really a suicide by criminal. But it had exploded lately, near the waterfront. This was the first pile but the concentration was the only thing that separated it from miles of river shore.
I wandered down the raised and fenced coast line. There was an occasional shimmering fish swimming up its waters. I wondered if they knew when people died here, if they started up and up to feed on the remains. If they were gathering for a feast. Wonder what kind of fish ate only the fingers and toes.
The bodies were ruled a suicide, with a probably corpse desecration by a surviving member or by the scum who’d set them up for it. Lawyers were watching their wills, vultures watching a limping cow to find it’s hunter. There was no revolutionary firebrand to collect, though. And if the wealth made its way to some singular cult leader, it did so through a venerable hydra of untraceable transfers and shells of human beings. It was an epidemic, a plague.
I looked at the pristine, perfect pale river. A disease that, by all efforts of our fine municipality, had no healers at the moment. Not enough. So they had, failing to cure the disease, put someone to stand out as to prevent the systems.
I sat at my chair atop the iron tower, watching the iron fences around the bridge from behind metal bars. The first guy ‘fell out the window’, so they built a railing. The second hung from the railing, so they added spikes. Next bit the wounds and leapt out. So they finally put in bars. And, premptively, they removed the rafters and anything that might serve such a purpose from the room.
I even got a nice new uniform that was a too elastic to hang anything from, and entirely lacking a belt. I hadn’t exactly been happy to receive the job. Even without the collapse rate, preventing self destruction wasn’t what I had signed up for. I mean, yeah, you always had to watch the occasional drunk. But this wasn’t the robber and gangster filled apocalypse I wanted to be the watchman against.
I had already shouted scripted warnings out onto the bridge three times that night. Once I had to use my tranquilizer for a fool who had nearly scaled the fence. It wasn’t lethal within four shots, and it made a loud cling on the third to signal for back up in case the shot had been self aimed. Hard, given the length, but there was no need to risk it.
As night began to rise and the clouds lost the little light that escaped them. It was another dark night, with stolen stars lining the streets and glittering in the river, giving it an outline of dull gold. Occasionally a thin veneer of oily waste rolled down its way, distorting the shape like a large serpent slithering just beneath the waters.
It was beneath one of these persistent blights on the face of the river that I first saw it, between those bars. A languid form, a second ripple working its way out of the oil drifting on the surface. It was a spiny thing, with a longing, flicking extension like a tail. I didn’t see it properly yet. It caught my eye as a strange disturbance and nothing more.
Following it there was a clatter of steps on the bridge. Bolting up, I saw someone leaning against the iron nailed planks. Her ear was pressed up against it, listening intently. I leaned over in my chair, impulsively reaching for my rifle and my megaphone.
She was staring straight ahead with this blank stare, focused. She took a step back, staring now at the barricade, almost stroking it.
“Get away from the barricade ma’am.” I shouted through the megaphone. I don’t know if she heard me, entranced by something invisible. She stepped back, and took off her shoes. Then her socks, then her gloves.
“Ma’am, step away from the fence!” I shouted a second time. No signs of her making a move but bizarre behavior on the bridge could not be tolerated. She started rapping a rhythm on the rough wood. I frowned, listening for a tune.
And I heard it. I heard it first in the rapping, but then in something else. A sound that wasn’t there before. A soothing melodic sounds, a melancholic sound coming from the river. Gripping my rifle, I turned out the window. And there I saw it, coated in oil. The head of a great dog, a scaly hide behind it. It swayed as it almost howled out a siren song above, calling to the woman. Calling to me, to join it in the river and be free.
I thank god the bars caught me before I did anything, that the railing spikes stabbed my leg shaking me out of it. I carefully lowered my long rifle down between the bars. Looking down the scope I fired a dart at the beast. It yelped but carried on.
I fired again, this time down the throat. It banged on a tooth and lead to a grimacing, ducking thing that still skulked near the surface, howling at me. The woman at the bridge was banging on the wooden barricade.
I fired the third time, the loud ding of the rifle matching the dart’s sinking into it’s right ear. It howled at me, and sunk beneath the waves. It was utterly gone when I looked for it. My darts floated on the empty water, and the woman, shaken by a fellow law officer, moved along.
I scribbled a note on the paper before leaving.
“Shoot singing river dogs on sight.”
I doubt anyone will take it seriously, but it now joins the one about beautiful lake women and swans. I fear, honestly, that our river has become sort of gathering place for things like that dog. Next time, I think, I’ll aim for the bloody eye.
If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.