5 WHAT IS THAT?
“It sure is different living beside a forest than in a city,” Teplan said. “And this is the first time we won’t be living beside each other.”
“Yeah, it’s already been weird not having you guys beside us in the townhouses,” Terah said. “But knowing our moms, we’ll be out here all the time.”
Teplan and Terah leisurely made their way along a narrow dirt path and through the woodsy smell. Sunrays dotted the forest floor, piercing the canopy above. Mature trees and small bushes filled the balmy space around them as they walked through the well-treed forest. An opening in the trees ahead of them revealed a river.
“So, that took about half an hour to get here. Not bad timing!” Teplan said, looking at his watch.
They approached the river’s edge and surveyed it up and down, the way one would upon approaching a river. The edge of the river met the land in gentle stretches of sand in some areas and tall reeds in others. On either side, trees stood guard for a couple hundred feet in either direction as the river lay silently below.
“Um . . . so, this is my first time at this river, but I’m guessing it’s not supposed to look like this. Is it?”
“Yeah, no! The river did not look like this a couple of weeks ago when my parents and I came. What’s going on? It’s barely moving and looks like someone has poured barrels of black paint in it,” Teplan replied, analyzing the river. “It’s just all messed up,” he said as he picked up a flat stone and readied himself amongst the rocky shore. He threw the rock sidearm, as he has always done at every opportunity, expecting it to skip along the surface. “That didn’t even make it half way!” he exclaimed as the stone sunk into the eerily slow moving water. He stood up, dug his heel into the muddy ground, and chucked another one. It, too, sank rather than skip along the surface. “Did you see that?” he pointed as a small ripple appeared.
He scanned the bottom of the silent river as if he were peering into an open sewer below. “Why does the river look so dark?” Teplan asked as he picked up some more stones. “It is not supposed to look like that.”
“No, something is not right here,” Terah said, looking around. “And it’s so quiet, too. I haven’t seen any birds or even flies or bugs!”
“Yeah, you’re right. I can’t hear anything,” Terah said, folding her arms across her chest. “It’s actually kind of creepy.”
Both took a couple steps back and stared perplexedly at the revolting river.
“Let’s walk upstream to see if it’s any different.” Teplan furrowed his eyebrows.
Terah pulled her hair into a ponytail. “Yeah, that is NOT what we’re going to be doing . . . Uh-uh. This is how we end up getting into some sort of trouble. Besides, we need to get back soon.”
“Come on,” Teplan encouraged. “We don’t even have to go too far. Let’s just walk up river a little bit.”
“I really don’t want to Tep. I know you; if I say yes, you’re going to make us walk all over the place looking for something. Like when we camped last year and we went for a walk and I said we should go back to camp and you said it would be okay if we walked a bit farther and we did and we ended up getting lost and having to shout to our parents for two hours until they finally found us!”
“Yeah, that walk didn’t work out too well . . .”
“No, it sure didn’t.”
“Well, what about the river?” Teplan continued. “Don’t you think we should check things out even just a little bit? I mean, there’s something wrong with the river and we’re here now. Why don’t we just walk upstream a bit and just see? Maybe the river is fine up around that bend. If it’s fine up there, then we’ll go home, okay?”
“Ugh. Okay. But I don’t like this,” Terah protested as she stomped her foot. “And, if we get in trouble, I’m going to be so mad at you.”
“Well, there’ll be no need for the being-mad-thing because we’ll be home in no time,” Teplan replied as he moved first along the narrow path that ran beside the river. Terah followed. Their feet landed with a gentle bounce on the soft dirt path that wound its way alongside the river. The quiet water moved past them like a pool of oil floating in a bowl of dirty water. The soft ground beneath their feet soon became unforgiving and their boots sucked from their heels with each step. The lush green of the forest faded to a dull brown-grey, like a picture drawn with charcoal.
“How weird — this ground is getting so soft,” Terah remarked, looking at the mud underfoot. “It feels like I’m walking on a mattress instead of on dirt.”
Pointing at the river, Teplan sputtered, “Uh, what is that?”