We stood at the tip of the fork where wilted bur-reed vainly clung to sloping, silt gritted banks that converged around the loose rocks and sediments of the dry riverbed.
‘My brother always said rivers are like the veins of the Earth…’ The old man looked down at his bare forearms where thin wires of blue fought against deep purple blotches and sallow wrinkled skin… ‘Because so much life flows through them.’
It was the first time I’d seen it. His meekness; the mask slipping.
My firm grip steadied him as we began walking along the uneven, jagged ground.
‘We used to catch Carp here. He made rods for us.’
‘Sounds like a nice brother.’
The old man smiled, his teeth like a collection of the charcoal tinged stones underfoot. ‘He was…’ A somber look then washed over his face like the river that once flowed upon where we stood… ‘One day my line got snagged. He dove in to retrieve it. Never resurfaced.’
We continued on in silence, following the parched trail as it curved around until a small cluster of trees formed at one side. He nodded towards it, my constant hold helping him to summit the inclined bank.
Making our way through the trees, a firmness seemed to garner in his limbs, the enclosing canopy above adding an ominous presence, before we came upon a small clearing overgrown with vegetation and littered with large boulders.
‘This is it,’ he announced. ‘Looks different now.’
‘Point them out to me.’
As his frail finger indicated towards various spots around us, I unclipped a radio from my belt.
‘Four sites confirmed. Send Forensics to the first group of trees as you round the bend.’
He held out his bound arms towards me, handcuffs biting into the wrists.
‘Sorry. Not part of the deal.’
I led him towards the nearest boulder to rest upon while we awaited the arrival of the excavation team.
‘At least the families will have closure now,’ I say, moreso to myself. ‘Can I ask why you chose the girls?’
A small decrepit smile parted his lips as thin fingers were flexed out.
‘First one… It was the eyes. Beautiful green. The right side of emerald… The others. Like catching Carp… I enjoyed the hunt.’
I mused over the sinisterness of his tone, a sense of vulnerability in my isolation creeping in.
‘Your brother said the river gave so much life; yet you brought so much death to it,’ I said, trying to reset the balance.
The smile departed, the aura of menace eroding like the relic of the river we had just walked down. Bowing his head, I strained to hear his response…
‘I didn’t want him to be alone.’
Kris McGinnis is a Scottish writer of short and flash fiction with an eye for the more darker themes in life. He’s previously had flash pieces shown in the ‘Less Than 100 Words’ anthology and on Zeroflash.org
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