Another photo prompt from Sue Vincent, this time an absolutely gorgeous shot of a snowy staircase leading through a stone arch. And yet my mind, as it so often does, has wandered somewhere unexpected…
By The River
The snow was crisp, the kind that crunched underfoot, footsteps left clear as though stepping in wet concrete. I smiled to myself as I headed under the stone archway, a few flakes drifting down from the evergreens above to sit like crystals on my hair and jacket before the alchemy of sun turned them to water once more.
This was the place, I was sure of it. The locals were surprisingly taciturn on the subject, despite their initial friendliness, but I’d gleaned enough information to figure it out. The stone arch, the high steps leading down to the rushing river, tumbled with stones and tree branches, treacherous at the best of times.
But especially if you were a child. A child wearing trainers unsuitable for heavy snow, jacket undone to be found, several days later, tangled in tree roots further downstream, sodden and empty. My smile disappeared as I emerged from under the arch and stood at the top of the stairs, the final step terminating at the edge of the river.
The water wasn’t frozen, moving too fast for winter to catch, though there were tumbles of frosty snow against some of the rocks, more of it lining the steps with slippery treachery. The last step was placed almost at the edge of the river, overlooking a dark pool within a half circle of rocks, like a shimmering mirror for the sky above.
I started down the stairs, careful not to step too quickly, my hands out for balance. A few steps from the bottom I paused and crouched down, bringing up the camera around my neck to shoot a few shots, capturing the mountains rising brown beyond the river, one crowned with stones like shattered teeth, lurching and dark against the pale sky.
Then I turned to the pool, adjusting the camera focus as I looked through the lens. I frowned, squinting. There was something in the water. Something that glittered as the wintry light slanted across the pool. I moved carefully down another step, mindful of the fact that, although the pool looked shallow enough, the pure waters meant it could be far deeper than it looked.
I guess the boy hadn’t realised. He wasn’t from the area, visiting with his family. The locals hadn’t said much about them either, though the lady at the general store had clasped her hands together, whispering with watery eyes that ‘it was unfair, really, they were nice people’, before folding her lips tight, her glance darting to the doorway as though someone was there. I thanked her, storing the information for later, returning to my hotel room to type up the memory while it was still strong, wanting to capture her voice.
And now I was here. Where the boy had gone missing, or at least according to the official report. He’d come out alone for some reason, wandering down to the riverbank where he’d fallen in, unused to the slippery stones and deep rushing currents. ‘Death by misadventure.’ Three small words to describe a family destroyed. My job was to try and make sense of it all, to write a story that could, somehow, encompass their pain.
I looked back up the stone stairs, the snowy steps trodden down with footsteps from all the people who had been up and down in recent days, searching the river for signs. Then I noticed something odd. A purple shimmer was hanging in the air, like a summer mirage rippling against the wintry backdrop. I stared, frowning, wondering if my eyes were playing tricks on me. Then it started to move, sliding down the stone steps towards me. All at once there was a buzzing in my mind, a feel as though the ice hanging from the trees was now sliding down my spine, my muscles tensing to hold me in place when all I wanted to do was run. The trees seemed to be curving in around me, the river rising like a glass bowl to cover me and all at once I was in the water, the shock so fierce it blew the breath from me. I struggled, frantic, turning in the depths as my heavy clothing pulled me down towards the ominous glitter at the bottom of the pool, the rocks like hooded shadows circling above and, spreading across the water like an oil stain, the purple shimmer, locking me away from the surface. I opened my mouth in a silent scream and water rushed in, choking me, silver bubbles the last thing I saw before everything went black.
I was choking, gasping, my lungs on fire. Someone or something was hitting me, hard blows between my shoulder blades, my hair in cold strands across my face. I gurgled then water spewed from me, letting in air, the world coming to life around me as I gulped. I could hear voices
‘the river has fed already this season’
‘it’s getting’ greedy, it should not take another’
‘hush yourself, she’s coming round’
I opened my eyes to see boots in front of me. Then they became knees and I managed to turn my head to see a man wearing a flat cap kneeling next to me, whiskey brown eyes creased at the corners.
‘You all right, lass?’
I tried to speak but my throat was raw, so I nodded instead. He had dark curling hair peeking out from the edges of the cap and was probably no older than I was, yet he was speaking to me as though I were a child.
‘Help her sit up.’
This was another voice, then an arm was under my shoulder and I was pushed into a sitting position. My chest hurt, my throat was on fire and I was shivering uncontrollably.
But I was alive.
To be continued…
To read more responses to the prompt, or add one of your own, visit Sue’s blog 🙂