The River Monster
“Akil, I’m not playing! I don’t like this!” I complained, watching him step over a slippery rock with the red cooler and fishing rod in his hand. The cars drove by at top speed just above us on the interstate bridge as I nervously kept close to the banks of the river. The massive rocks crossed over to the center of the rushing water where the current picked up as Akil continued to walk up the stream. Using each rock as a stepping stone as he pointed.
“That’s where we gotta go!” he yelled.
This fool rolled his jeans up, exposing the bony ankles as he stepped barefoot into the water. The current of the river was moving so I know he saw the splash of water kicking up around his legs as he kept walking in the opposite direction until he came up on a massive boulder. The rock was long enough for him to set his things down and walk across it to get a good look at his spot.
“Right here! Come on!”
I looked back down at the water in disgust. Using what little light I had from the covered moon as I clutched my bag, hiked my leggings up and took a step. As soon as I felt the cold water trickle past my toes in the sandals, I squealed.
“Girl c’mon and stop all that playing!” Akil snapped like somebody’s old granddaddy. I tried to step on the next rock without my foot slipping into the rushing water. “Follow the same path I went! Don’t cut no corners!”
“If you don’t shut up and let me do this!”
“Well do it then!”
I jumped, landing on the rock before rolling my leggings up even further as I stepped into the water. The water practically came to my knees as I pushed past the current, taking his extended hand. His dreads were let loose, sticking wild in every direction as he looked around the river. I felt like a fool for even trying to wear leggings and a cropped shirt, thinking we were going to sit on a towel by the water and chill with some music, but noooo…
“Right there,” he pointed to another flat rock laying across the middle of the river. “Right there where the tree is hanging over on the other side, and then I’m done.”
“Okay but how are we getting over there?” I pressed, showing that we were surrounded by water all around us, not knowing how deep it was.
Akil took the chance to follow the faint view of stones trailing just above the running water that led to the final spot. How he was able to hold the cooler, fishing rod and his balance in one was incredible but I slowly followed. Almost slipping twice before running up on the rock with the extended branch from the other side of the river hovering just enough for me to grab on to. The lighting was better with part of the moon peeking from behind the clouds as I pulled out my large towel and sat it down on the rock. Kicked my shoes off, and tied my hair up in a bun while slipping my shirt and leggings off to reveal the colorful two piece swimsuit. My face was bare with dark spots along my jawline and forehead still visible, and my nails were taking a break from the acrylic. A bottle of wine from Jasmine’s pantry and two glasses from her cabinet, and I was set for the night. Akil got his fishing rod together as he slipped his shirt, and jeans off to stand in his black basketball shorts as he flung the fishing rod out, letting the string drop into the calmer part of the river where the current wasn’t as strong.
“This is the good life,” I sighed, slipping my fake Chanel shades on as I took a sip of my wine. I laid back on the towel like I was on the beach and closed my eyes. Enjoying the humidity and sound of running water. It was peaceful. The smell was heaven to my senses and–––
“DOING WHAT THE FUCK I WANT!” Akil shouted randomly as I snatched my shades up to my forehead to glare at his backside. “HATE ME ALL THE FUCK YOU WANT! REAL NIGGAS FUCK WITH ME AND I DON’T GIVE A FUCK WHO DON’T!”
He was bobbing to the imaginary Lil Wayne song in his head as he tucked the blunt behind his ear.
“Me and my brothers used to chase creeks, and follow them all the way until we got to a river or lake,” he said, more to himself but I listened, “it was always me, Avery, Antwon, and Nori. We all stayed around these houses where the creek would run along the back. Every day for that summer, we would grab a bucket, some knives and stomp our way through the water. All afternoon you would hear us moving around until we came up on this old nigga named Roger the neighbor. Now,” setting his fishing rod down, “this nigga was something else. I’m talking, lazy...don’t work. Don’t do shit but collect trash and toss it out in the water. We would watch him grab a trash bag full of shit to dump out into the water because he thing was? He didn’t wanna pay the trash people to come and two? All of this shit gon either sink to the bottom, fish gon eat it or sewers will eventually catch it.”
“So he was littering the water with his trash from home?” I asked, resting on my palms as I leaned back with my legs stretched out. Akil kept his back facing me as he continued to focus on fishing.
“Baby, I’m talking, this nigga had food, tissue, all types of nasty shit. Avery used to get so mad but what can we do? Nigga didn’t fuck with kids and we didn’t fuck with him but Avery’s grandmama? She told us to stay out the water from now on. We said, why we gotta stay out when its him that messing it up? You know what she said?”
“She said that the River Spirit is gonna get mad and won’t care who is dirtying up the water. If the River Spirit catches you in the water, he’s gonna drag you down and you won’t come up. None of us believed this but we were intrigued nonetheless. You tell a group of kids not to do something, we gon do it. So I said, River Spirits ain’t real. You know, challenge her on something. See what kind of info she gon give up,” tapping his head as I grinned, “she said, boy they’re real alright. All you gotta do is tap the water a few times and one will come up when you least expect it and snatch!” he clapped with his hand as my body flinched, “you right then and there and drag you into the water. You better stay out them waters if you know what’s good for you.”
Akil flung his rod back out into the water for a moment, letting silence drift between us.
“We never stayed out of the water and Roger the neighbor never stopped dumping his trash. She never warned him though. Avery said she used to just watch him from her back porch as he walked down the creek where the current would pick up and turn the bag upside down like this,” holding his hands out to shake, “and would shake the trash loose into the water. He would take one look at her, spit to the side and walk back to his house. What can she say? Old lady, barely move...this nigga twice her size with nothing better to do than to piss somebody off. Then one night? It was a real bad storm...I’m talking, the rain came down so hard, the creek was starting to swell up in size and water was getting pushed in to the backyards… Antwon and I stayed at a friend’s house at the time but it stormed like that for three days and two nights. On the third night, we came out to see what the damage was… News people all out and about talking about a flash flood but every house looked untouched. Everything looked good except for Roger the neighbor. His back door was open and it was a pile of trash just outside in his backyard but he was missing. We just assumed he went out to dump his trash in the water while it was still high...but days turned into weeks and no one heard or seen Roger since. People started picking through his house until relatives came up to lock everything up. Police came out tryna search for him...asking everyone when was the last time they seen him,” Akil said as his voice dropped to an eerie tone, “Avery’s grandmama told the police straight up, the River Spirit came and took him away. She said she knew it was gonna happen and she tried warning him. Course the cops ain’t believe her.”
“I wouldn’t either,” I said. “I would be looking sideways at her though.”
Akil tapped the side of his head as he looked at me with a smirk.
“Antwon and I wasn’t fool. Not one bit, but we couldn’t say nothing to Avery because that’s his mom-moms, you know? We can’t say we think she’s a killer. We ain’t tell Nori because he is just gonna snitch and tell Avery, but we had a plan. Twon and I broke into Roger’s house late one night. After everything was cleaned up and moved out. We thought we were gonna kick it on the couch for a lil bit, chill… Find some leftover shit to take with us but we heard a key go into the bolted lock like somebody was tryna pick through it.”
“Well how did yall get in?” I questioned.
“Antwon got us in from the side window. Nigga can buss a window open in broad daylight and nobody would notice a thing. That’s how quiet and good he is at this… So we running, tryna find the nearest closet or room to hide in when the door opened. I covered my mouth to keep from breathing hard because I heard the footsteps and all we could think was, the River Monster. That’s what we called it. The River Monster. Ain’t no fucking spirit coming out here, breaking into houses, and killing folks. It was that old lady and she was a monster.”
“I know yall was scared,” I laughed as Akil flung the rod forward with the string dropping into the water once more.
“Mannnnn, baby? We were petrified, but she didn’t come into the room where we were hiding. We didn’t hear any voices but we just heard the footsteps and the back door open and close. We waited in that hot ass closet for over an hour until Antwon shook my leg for me to wake up because I fell asleep. That’s how long we were in there for. I fell straight to sleep, but Antwon opened the closet door and motioned for me to follow him. We were gonna grab what we can grab and get the fuck on through the backway. Now that we’re outside with a handful of stuff, we heard voices...Twon and I duck down behind the stairs of the back door and look over to see Avery’s grandmama standing by the water with her hands on her hips. She’s talking to somebody, still got her lil night clothes on and shit but she’s over there talking to somebody. Houses don’t sit up on the river that close so she had to walk some ways to get there but when she did, she stayed put. We’re thinking, this is our chance to really see this River Monster. We drop everything like woosh!” bending his knees, “get rid of all that shit we don’t need because this is bigger than anything our lil minds have ever seen before. Just when we think we’re about to see something, the Grandmama walks closer to the water and somebody sticks their hand out to take her and pull her in. Twon and I couldn’t believe it! She wasn’t the River Spirit but she was just taken by one, so we’re booking. I’m talking, running as far as we can till we get up to the edge where she was at and see nothing. We can’t see shit, we can’t hear a damn thing… It’s pitch black in the waters but you can tell…”
Akil looked over his shoulder at me as his voice dropped to an impossible low tone.
“You can tell something or someone was watching us from the water… You didn’t have to see to know a face was staring right back at you….I leaned over, remembering what his grandmama said and tapped the water three times, splashing it around with my hand before something grabbed my arm and yanked me in.”
“Oh?!” I gasped with a laugh.
“Antwon screaming my name, kicking his shoes off, and ready to dive in while I’m fighting! Swinging at the air, kicking my feet, you not finna drag me in this water! I felt hands grabbing at my face, my arms, my legs and feet! I’m doing like this!” punching the air as Akil began fighting off the invisible monster, “swinging back to back before hearing Avery’s laughter. Avery popped up from the water like this,” dragging his hand down his face as he acted the story out, “and pointed at me with a laugh. Got’cho ass! Boi I got’cho scary behind! That’s when Antwon and I saw more heads coming up from the river laughing and carrying on. Neighbors and folks you see at the grocery store on a regular basis, teachers and shit… All in the water, half naked and shit. I said, what are yall? What is this, and baby? That’s when I met my first Water Spirit. That there, where Twon and I lived? That was a Water Town. Avery said, you wanna see what its like underwater? Mannn, you couldn’t tell me shit! I said, hell yeah!”
“You did not,” I laughed.
“Baby, they told me to hold my breath, count to three, and don’t open my eyes until I can breathe before pushing my head down in the water. My ears, my nose, my whole body filled up with water. I could feel it swimming around in my chest and shit...and that’s when I opened my eyes and saw the fins and scales...the lights...and how they fish underwater with nets…”
“Akil,” I laughed as I stood up to stretch. “You were not breathing underwater. I only heard of stories about Nymphs… never seen one before but I know yo dramatic storytelling ass did not breathe underwater so stop it.”
Akil turned to look back before putting his rod down and marching towards me as I smirked. Letting my hair down, I playfully combed through it with my hand as Akil stood in front of me with his face leaning in with a hard gaze into my eyes.
“You know who the fuck I am?” he questioned.
“Akil,” I replied with an attitude.
“Nah! I’m a mothafucka God!” he corrected before leaning in close to my ear. “I am Anansi! God of all knowledge and stories, baby. I’m more than a King, more than Akil. More than anything you’ll ever see in yo life. You are in the presence of a God!”
I stared him down, unmoved or fazed by his declaration but felt his warmth from his body as he stepped impossibly closer to me.
“And yet,” I said in a low voice as I raised my chin in the air, eyes staring ahead. Beyond his shoulder as his mouth remained inches from my neck like he knew he wanted to kiss me there… “here you stand before me… I can smell the blood pulsing throughout your body. I can hear your heart beat faster, and your mouth becoming dry… You are a God and yet I can tell I’m your weakness,” I said in a dangerously low voice, “last thing you would ever want a bitch like me to know….what your weakness is. We prey on niggas like you,” I said as my hand cupped the growing root between his legs before pushing him back altogether as he grinned.
I continued to finger through my hair as Akil looked me over, dark lips stretching into a sneaky trickster like smile.
“So you ain’t never seen a water spirit before?” he asked, changing the subject altogether as I laughed.
Akil walked towards the edge of the boulder before bending down to slap at the water a few times.
“Ain’t none out here, Akil.”
“How would you know if you ain’t never seen none before? I know a few in Atlanta,” he said, reaching his arm in the water to wave around. I stepped over his body to grab the fishing rod and began to reel the string in.
“Because I just know,” I popped back.
“Aye?!” Akil yelled out, cupping his mouth with his wet hand, “SKEEEEEEEE-EEEEET!”
“What are you doing?” I asked as he hopped back up and looked around.
“There they go?” he pointed. “Baby, look.”
I looked up ahead seeing a bright light blink before seeing two guys walking along the stones with a plastic bag. Both shirtless, and barefooted, they trailed the river, staring the water down like they were looking for something.
“Who that?!” one of them yelled out.
“Ahh,” sucking his teeth, “this crazy nigga here. Where you been at?”
I watched someone come walking down from the woods as they jumped onto a rock while another came walking from the top of the creek, as far as I could see. Their legs were immersed in the water, just at the knees as they walked with the current. Suddenly, we were surrounded by people as Akil slapped hands with one of the men who dared to have gold fronts in his mouth as he smiled at me. He wasn’t much to look at face wise or body wise but none of them were as they drew closer towards us.
“Darius, this is my lady, Tallulah,” Akil said as Darius grinned, showing off that gold plate in front of his teeth.
“I like that, Tallulah. We’re about to start this fish fry, you ate?”
“Yall live out here?” I asked, pointing towards the water as Akil shook his head.
“Nah,” he laughed. “Nah, there’s some apartments behind these trees,” he pointed towards the tall buildings where wooden balconies were stacked on top of each other. “We just happen to fish out here from time to time but nah… we don’t live in the water. I work at the airport.”
“Aye?! D?! Yolanda calling for you!” someone yelled as Darius turned around.
“Come on, we’re going back up to smoke and kick it.”
I quickly grabbed my bag, threw on my shirt and tried to follow behind them until I saw the water coming up to their waist. One bulky light skin man with dreads, and tattoos along his neck motioned for me to come, offering me a ride on his shoulders. Before Akil could trip, I was climbing this man like a tree, clinging to his shoulders as he shuffled through the water. Akil did a double take, looking back at me like I had all the nerve and then some but I laughed.
“Some niggas know how to treat a woman!” I retorted. “I told you I’on like water and you steady keep tryna take me further into it!”
“Yall catch anymore?!” Darius yelled out, holding out the small plastic bag. We came up on the wide opening of the river where I just knew the water would get deep but they kept their footing. Even Akil was holding up as I smiled at the girls hanging on the banks of the river in their night clothes like they were supposed to be in bed.
“She said we need more fish, Uncle!”
“Well go on and catch em! See them right there,” Darius pointed towards the kids, “we call them the Bayou Boys.”
I watched a group of kids, young boys stand at the edge of the rock to look into the water before they began stomping their feet together. Off beat at first before they finally found a rhythm while one of the boys dropped down, pounding his fist against the rock. I could feel the vibrations of the water moving to their feet as small bits of bubbles hit the surface of the dark water where fish was brought up and the ones standing nearby began catching them one by one. They weren’t big fish, probably could find them bigger at the market but they were fresh. The more they stomped against the rock, the more the fish hit the surface.
“Some of us came when Hurricane Katrina hit,” Darius explained. “Some went back home but alot of us ended up staying… You gon meet all types of Water Spirits… We’re low water people… Don’t do all the flashy shit, don’t walk around like we got a lot of money. I know some tribes got the money to home school em or put em in private schools. Nah, we don’t care. Yo ass going to school, and you catching that bus in the morning. The big fancy houses by the lakes, we don't have none of that. Most of us just tryna make it day by day. Barely be in the water much less around it but we like to have a good time. No matter where we’re at.”
“That’s all that matters,” I said as I gently stepped over the man’s head as he let me down. I looked up the makeshift trail they made that led up to the busy apartment building nearby where you could smell the weed, the fried fish and hear the music going. I slipped my leggings on, dried my feet off and followed the rest up through the woods, hearing Akil snap on the guy who let me sit on his shoulders, trying to check him a day later but the night went on into the wee hours of the morning.
I ended up sitting in Akil’s lap on the balcony with a aluminium foil plate in my hand holding two slabs of fried fish, fresh french fries and shrimp. He was smoking, careful not to blow directly into my hair as we listened to his friends talk and exchange stories about living in Atlanta. Everything was chill until the perfect opportunity came up when we heard a woman fussing at somebody in the kitchen. Darius sat up, pulling on his blunt to peek inside the sliding door before shaking his head.
“Ol lady?” Akil asked.
“Mannn,” he blew out as he studied the blunt between his fingers before reaching out to pass it back to Akil, “she’s been aggravating lately. Just stressing me and everybody else out. Remember I told you about my ex having twins on the way?”
“The one that used to be her best friend?” Akil questioned as my brows went up. Darius gave me a guilty smile as he shook his head.
“Don’t judge me too bad, Tallulah baby,” he said as I laughed, “I was young and wildn’ out’chea.”
“Your ex is having twins and your current can’t have a baby? Is that what it is?”
“You already know how you women do. We’ve been trying for the longest but I keep telling her it will happen on its own time. We don’t even have the means of affording a baby right now but she wants one. She went to the clinic but they just told her, she needs to see a real doctor. Who got money for that? Not me. She told me, I don’t know what its like to be surrounded by women that are having children and starting families and she’s the only one. I said, believe me? I do. I get it but shit will happen if it's meant to happen.”
“She’s tryna compete with these other girls out here,” Akil added as the two men began to talk politics and a woman’s body. I, on the other hand, smiled at the opportunity to get things moving.
“I may know somebody that can help,” I said in a low voice, “she won’t charge much of anything but she might be able to do something for you two if you’re interested.”
“She’s a doctor?”
“A different kind, yes,” I said, hoping he would catch my meaning. Jasmine’s energy took a shift and I noticed the little makeshift altar in her closet. She wasn’t the same girl from before and this might just prove me right.
Akil leaned forward to pass the blunt back to Darius as he took a slow pull on it in deep thought.
“I didn’t think they had that kind of stuff out here in Atlanta,” he finally said. “Voodoo?”
“Nah,” Akil stepped in with his hand gently cupping my hips to pull up against his thighs, “she’s straight from the motherland. Nothing watered down. You wanna hear her story?”
I smiled at Akil getting comfortable as a few others stepped back out onto the balcony to peep and listen. Even the woman in question was asked if she was interested in seeing someone for a second opinion, and she immediately agreed.
“Who is this girl you’re talking about?” Darius asked.