Salt in the Dark River

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There was a long crack in the windshield, like lightning eating up the glass. At one jagged junction, a bit of something black stuck up from the broken pane. Douglas watched it with detached horror. His body burned with adrenaline and his eyes stung of tears. In a moment, everything had changed.

Sticking out from the glass, waving in the wind- it was hair.

He checked the rearview. After swerving noisily a few times, the car had ended up on the side of road where the river snaked close to the shoulder. There were no other cars on the road, normal for this time of night. He put the car into park, turned the key and slowly got out. His legs felt uneven, his body unfit for walking, and he came around the front of the car expecting the worst.

A man lay on the ground ahead, his face buried in the dirt. “Are you okay,” Douglas called out. No answer. He asked again. This time the man moved his fingers. Douglas rushed to him and turned him on his side so he could breathe. He propped the man's head up in his lap.

“Hhhhh,” the man breathed.

“Relax. It's okay.”


Holding the man's head, he asked, “How?”

“Call.” His voice cut out painfully. Each word took tremendous effort. “Police.”

Douglas closed his eyes. After taking a quick shower at home, he had poured himself a drink to relax before he went back out to McSweeny's. If he called the police now...


“I...I already called them,” Douglas said. “We have to sit and wait for them. They told me to wait.” The man in his arms began to cough. Douglas asked what he needed.

“I'm thirsty.”

Douglas looked over his shoulder and saw how close they were to the edge of the river. The water churned past small, smoothed rocks. He tried to lay the man's head back down on the grass, but he couldn't find a way to do it that didn't cause the man to scream out in agony. Instead he carefully dragged him backward, grunting and sweating to the river, until his legs were submerged in it. With one hand he cradled the man's bleeding head from dipping into the river and with the other he scooped up cold water and fed it to him.

“It tastes like salt,” the man complained. It didn't make sense at all. Douglas tried it himself but tasted only water.

“It's a river,” he said, “it's fresh water.”

“It tastes like salt,” the man repeated. He took another sip, looked up at Douglas as he struggled to take a breath.


“When what?”

“When are they coming?”

Douglas paused. “Soon. Just try to relax.”

The man's gut rose and fell like waves. “You didn't do it,” he said.

Douglas scooped up more water in his palm. “Do what?”


His hand stopped. The man's wide eyes stared up at him accusingly. Douglas didn't appreciate the look. “Of course I called.”


“There's no point. They're already coming.” Douglas was starting to get annoyed. The two men locked eyes. They understood each other too well, together in that moment, their life-lines tangled like bad wires, the river gurgling and splashing into them, pushing past their bodies eternally, a moment stretched into lifetimes. Time was nothing. Life had stopped. The man took a great, deep breath, and with the night air loaded in his lungs, he opened his mouth to scream for help.

Douglas pushed the man's head underwater. The scream became bubbles in an ungiving torrent of frigid river. He wouldn't let this man ruin his life, this stranger who had no business walking along the side of the road at night. The unwelcome weight that hit his bumper and bounced off his windshield. The man who thrashed and swallowed the river with his eyes wide open, his eyes-

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