We used to make our way to the river when we were young. Grabbing mother’s keys while she slow-cooked the lamb stew. Running through the cracks of the suburbs we would hold our conversation until we arrived at our destination. Strumming our fingers over the bricks and railings. Other kids used to be so harsh, throwing berries as we would run past their houses. All those houses were brought down in the nineties. Snapping our swords from the trees we swiped and chopped our way to the river. He would scream “Excalibur!” and raise his sword in triumph, slashing the nettles in delight. He would scream so much I had to grab him. Hold him close to me tighter and tighter. Squeezing until all the noise bubbled away. I was his medicine for the blues. We carried on walking beside the river, kicking pebbles from the side. Sometimes he would talk about how the other kids called him names when I wasn’t around. I pushed my sword as deep as it would go into the murky mud in the river, churning up my face with thoughts on those kids. I would tell him to do the same. He gave a gap toothed smile and his eyes glinted. It was the glint of ice-cream sundaes and that first peel of the Christmas wrapping around his presents.
We had found a possible new base. A small cave beside a stream. We had spent several hours following the rocks and unknown signs. Holding our shoes up as we let the water lap at our ankles. Stevie wanted to catch a crayfish with a loose netting he had stolen from his neighbours shed and a sharpened stick. Excalibur. We stood on either side of the entrance, ears cupped to make us hear better. A tapping came from the darkness, perhaps water dripping over the ground. Then a scraping and clicking sound appeared.
‘It’s a crayfish.’ Stevie said, raising his spear. He threw the net over to me. I clutched it eagerly.
‘What if it’s something bigger?’ I had asked, knowing that we would just run away. Sometimes I worried that Stevie could not understand the dangers we were always scorned about at school. I felt a fear he would be too brave.
We twisted to the entrance and was blinded by a growing light coming towards us. Stevie dropped the spear infront of me. Frozen. I raised my hand to block out the light.
Children, do not be alarmed. A voice called out strangely clear. Yet I could not hear it through my ears. It spoke over the world. The whistling of branches in the wind, the water passing down the stream, they all drifted away. It reminded me of the headphones I would use at night. I would press the padding over my ears and all sound would disappear until I pressed play.
I shouted to Stevie but he could not hear me. I could not hear my own voice.
Stay still darlings, I will not harm you.
Light fading, I caught the shape of the thing the voice belonged to. A long one-armed creature loosely made of what seemed to be fish bones and jelly-like flesh. Translucent skin stretched smooth over the angular face. Long mouth with small black pebble eyes. It stretched out from the cave. It’s long jutting nose aiming towards Stevie.
I couldn’t move my body. Other kids would have ran away. Wailing in terror that the creatures they saw on late night television were real. I was just numb to it all. Distant to my own body. The creature was almost atop Stevie now.
‘Wh-what are you?’ I asked, barely loud enough for myself to hear.
It turned slowly to face me, shark-like nose almost stroking Stevie’s frozen cheek. It’s face seemed circular with lips so thin like a line cut through clay. Yet behind those lips, like a kid ashamed to show their braces when speaking, it hid its teeth.
God. It replied. Placing the white webbed fingers around Stevie’s skull; it spoke to him and him alone.