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(4) River of Ghosts

THE RIVER, BREAKING THROUGH THE trees. During the summer, it was a party hotspot, the shores littered with red plastic cups and glass bottles. During the winter, it became a frozen wasteland, still and silent. It marked out the border of Hains all down the east side, a swerving snake that separated the town from the empty land beyond. For Bethanie and Dylan, the river was the edge of their world.

That particular day, the river was churning, water sloshing over stones like white ghosts trying to escape the current. The wind was whipping past furiously, shaking the trees and creating a din that – combined with the noise of the water – was loud enough to drown out all else.

Dylan yelled, “What are we doing here?”

Bethanie looked at him puzzled. “What?” she yelled back.

“I said, what are we doing here?!”

Bethanie pointed at her ear and shook her head. I can’t hear you, she mouthed. Or maybe she spoke it. Dylan couldn’t tell.

There was an incline to their left. Bethanie grabbed him by the arm and dragged the both of them up. Once they got to a certain height, the sound of the river began to fade away and Dylan found he could hear himself think again.

“That’s better,” Bethanie said.

“What’s the plan?” Dylan asked, simultaneously taking a photo of the thrashing river. Like with the wind at the graveyard, there was a sense that world was slightly more awake than usual, as if some supernatural force had come along and possessed it.

“Patience,” Bethanie said with a smile.

They continued on, weaving their way up the hill. Dylan took a few more photos. In one, Bethanie was looking out over the river, the wind lifting her hair from shoulders so it appeared to be floating. In another, she was nothing but a silhouette headed for an abundance of light spilling in through the trees. He felt particularly attached to the second. New Territory, he decided he’d name it.

When the ground finally levelled out, he realised they were by the falls – the spot up-river where the water made its grand leap to lower ground. Today the water seemed positively determined to fly off the edge and keep flying, up into the sky. But the laws of Physics didn’t stop existing just to make Halloween wishes come true. Gravity took hold each time, and the water obediently fell. He imagined he could hear its sighs as it gave up on flight again and again and again. He lifted his camera and – snap.

Ahead of him, Bethanie veered to the right, away from the river. He followed with a slight frown pinching together his eyebrows. “Where are we going? The river is back that way.”

Bethanie gave him a look – something along the lines of, shut up and keep walking.

“We’re nearly there,” she said.

Soon enough, he could see water through the trees – a smaller and calmer stream ending in a quaint pond. Upon seeing his questioning gaze, Bethanie said, “It’s an off-shoot of the main river.” And then, as they got closer: “Welcome to Hains’ wishing pond!”

They stopped. There was nothing special about the pond that Dylan could see. Just more of the same – water bound by nature to the earth. He did however find it odd that it was so still when no more than a hundred metres back, the same river was a writhing, gushing mess.

Bethanie led him up to the edge. She reached into her pocket and produced some coins, handing one to Dylan and keeping one for herself. “Now make a wish.”

He paused. Dylan understood the process of using a wishing well. What he didn’t understand was why they’d come here – why they’d made the trek for one simple wish.

“How many people know about this?” he asked.

“Only the few that have ventured this way in the summer or during a party. It’s not very well known.”

“Does it work?”

Bethanie gave him a strange look. Then she faced the pond and closed her eyes. A moment later, she threw the coin. It landed in the water with a tiny plop. Through the ripples, Dylan watched it sink to the bottom.

“What did you wish for?”

“You know the rules. If I tell you it won’t come true. It’s your turn.”

Dylan sighed and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he threw the coin. It landed like Bethanie’s, sinking through the crystalline water. It was only a small wish, but Dylan had felt weirdly compelled to test the pond. Something about the way Bethanie had looked at him when he asked if it worked was bothering him.

“Come on,” she said. “We have lots to do.”

With a last look at the pond, he joined her in making the walk back. Not long after, the sun came out, streaming in between the foliage. He took a photo of Bethanie, half in light, half in shadow. Then the sun retreated once more behind the clouds.

He didn’t say anything, but his wish had just been granted.

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