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Family reunions for me were never a bore. Most of my cousins were my age and they were absolutely crazy. They did what they wanted and never took no for answer, even if I disagreed completely. Their parents had given up on them a very long time ago and had simply resigned to keeping them out of jail. Like they’d ever get caught. Sure, they got a bit rowdy at times and we’d ended up running from the cops more than once but I honestly wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Out of all of them, I was the one with the strictest parents and the best grades. It’s sort of sad to say, but I almost envied them and their free, hippie lifestyles. I say almost because in the back of my mind I knew they were headed down a long dark path to the bottom while I was working my way up to a high paying job and a house with a pool (it might be a kiddie pool but it doesn’t really matter). I never really understood why they kept me around, especially since they considered me so serious, maybe it was because I usually kept them out of trouble.
I didn’t care, anyway, especially when we were too busy drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. The reunion had been over for a few hours already and most of them had left, except for Christie and Lia, who had stayed behind to keep me company while Edgar came back from the store. Out of the bunch, they were probably the craziest but also the ones that liked me the most.
“Have you ever wondered,” Lia breathed out thoughtfully, “if all that shit our mothers used to scare us with was real?”
“It’s not real and you know it.” I laughed and grabbed another beer can. “How many times have you sneaked back home through the river?”
The grin she gave was absolutely devilish and we all burst out laughing.
“I know, but I wonder sometimes.” She took another drag before she looked at the two of us. “Sometimes I think I hear her crying.”
Christie laughed while I rolled my eyes. Lia’s house was right next to the river and at night, when all the noise of the town had died down you could hear it rushing by outside. It was said that a very long time ago a very beautiful woman fell in love with the mayor’s son. He fell in love, too, but she was from a poor family and he was not so, like a bad drama, they carried their relationship on in secret. He bought her a house, it was small but very nice and the river was right outside, which the woman loved. As their fake marriage progressed, the woman became pregnant and was quick to share the news, much to the man’s displeasure. He became distant and stopped visiting her; he never dropped by, not even when the baby was born.
The woman was furious, I would be too, and she stomped into town with the baby swaddled up in her arms. She was determined to stomp up to his large townhouse and demand that he acknowledge his son. She had just reached the town square when she heard the bells signaling the beginning of mass so, since she was a religious woman, she stopped in to pray before she unleashed all her rage on the man. I don’t understand why she decided to stop, she could have saved herself so much pain if she had never seen the wedding taking place that day.
The man, the father of her child, was standing before the altar with the richest lady in town, getting married. Rage filled the woman and she stormed off, her baby crying as her movements became rougher and rougher. She couldn’t stand it, the thought of having to raise a child that had been fathered by such a heartless demon man. Her house was just up ahead and the river called out to her and in her fury she thought she could rid her child of his father by washing him. If he was clean he would only belong to her.
Once she came back to her senses and realized that she had drowned her son, she killed herself as well and let her body float down the river where the horrified townspeople had to fish her out. It’s said that they couldn’t bury her because her death had been unholy, and because of that she was trapped on earth, searching for her dead baby.
Our mothers used to scare us with that constantly in an effort to make us come home before sunset since she only appears, crying, at night. That story used to terrify me as a kid because they’d never specified what she’d do to you if she caught you. Would she eat you? Take you away? Drown you?
“Get it together, it’s probably just a donkey.” Christie took Lia’s cigarette.
“No, it’s not, shut up,” she snapped before she polished off her beer.
We had just begun to talk again when we heard a scratch at the window. For a second I thought it was one of Lia’s boyfriends coming to serenade her but as we grew quiet, the scratching intensified.
“Wrong room!” I called out, trying to keep my voice steady.
There were a few more scratches but they were different. We’d scratched that same mosquito netting a few years ago to scare my aunt and our fingers had not made a sound as strong as the one we were hearing now. It sounded like talons being dragged down over the thin wire mesh. Christie grabbed my hand as Lia stood up and reached for the curtains. We were drunk and our minds were beginning to terrify us, especially since we’d just spent a few minutes remembering old legends. Was the devil knocking on our window?
“Maybe it’s an owl.” Lia backed off when the scratching ceased only to jump when we heard the same noise coming from the next room.
There was a moment of silence before we all stood up and walked over in unison, making sure to flip on all the lights we passed. The room next door was rarely used and as soon as we opened the door, the terrible scratching stopped only to pop up again in the front hallway. I don’t even know why we followed it, but Lia led the way and Christie grabbed my hand as the scratches went from the window to the door. They didn’t sound like nails or fingers and I felt the desperate urge to climb into my bed and pray, maybe that would send the devil away.
“Hand me that broom.” Lia pointed at a long broom leaning against the wall next to me and I wordlessly handed it to her before I backed up a few steps. I don’t know how she managed to be so brave, maybe it was the alcohol, but she opened the door with the broom held high and poked her head out menacingly only to scowl and slam the door again. “You’re such a prick, Edgar!”
I relaxed almost instantly when I heard the obnoxious laughter of my older cousin coming from outside.
“Come on! Don’t tell me you were actually scared.” He knocked on the door again and Lia opened it. He was standing there with a grocery bag and a metal fork he’d probably swiped from the kitchen. “At least you don’t hold a grudge.”
He laughed again and handed me the bag, which contained a big bottle of tequila, the cheap kind because he wanted to get drunk fast and sleep in tomorrow. “Pour me a cup.”
I frowned at him and gave it back before I made my way back to the room. Lia had already set up the shot glasses and pretty soon we were drinking them down like water, which was a very bad idea. Edgar was in the mood for craziness and once the bottle was half way empty and we were all having trouble standing up straight he decided to present us with his grand idea.
“So, you know how you guys were talking about the crying lady, how about we go out there and look for her, maybe we’ll finally be able to get the full story out of grandpa.”
Our grandfather had seen her once, or at least we’d heard he had. He didn’t really like to talk about it and no one had ever been able to pry the story out of him.
We answered in unison and he sat back down with a frown before he continued to drink with us. It took a while, but eventually Christie was down for the count. She’d curled up with a pillow and fell asleep right as we polished off the bottle. It was nearly four o’clock and we were starting to debate on whether we should go to bed, go see if there was anything left over from dinner, or go take a drunken drive around the empty streets (keep in mind we were totally gone at this point). We were babbling by this time and we were absolutely down for anything, anything at all.
Edgar noticed and took advantage.
“Come on you guys! Let’s go look for her! It’ll be an awesome story tomorrow.”
“We could scare the children!” Lia was laughing and I joined her.
“We could write a book!”
This went on for a while but the point is that we agreed to a very stupid, stupid idea. Edgar grabbed the broom Lia had threatened him with earlier and led us out to the front door, making sure to leave it just a tiny bit open, and down to the path that led to the river. It had been raining quite a bit over the past few days so the ground was muddy and we took quite a few tumbles. After a particularly nasty one that left my head spinning I wanted to stay there, and slowly crawl my way back to the house so I could sleep the alcohol off, but Lia didn’t let me. She grabbed my arm and we both stumbled after Edgar who was already yelling out into the night, his words slurred.
“C’mon, Lady! I’m waitin’ fer you.” He brandished the broom up above his head. “I’m here to help you find yer baby.”
A cold breeze swept through us and I shivered. Something had happened and my fuzzy brain was having trouble understanding it. The sound of the river magnified for a terrible second before it died down again. Edgar was still screaming and brandishing his broom while Lia was squeezing my hand, her unfocused eyes scared as they looked around. She knew this was a bad idea but she wasn’t going to admit it, especially since she’d agreed so enthusiastically just moments before. I was already moving my feet, pulling them out of the sticky mud so I could walk back to the house. The breeze had died down and I jumped when Lia’s nails dug into my arm.
I turned around and saw Edgar fall, his broom forgotten next to him as he scrambled towards us. His movements were desperate and he kept looking around, as if the lady had finally appeared. He was still on the ground, panting and crawling before something I couldn’t see picked him up by the back of his shirt and stood him up. His eyes were wide and terrified and I struggled to stomp past the mud and reach the grass where I would be able to run back home. My heart was in my throat and it almost exploded when something heavy knocked me down onto the ground.
I thought it was Lia and that both she and Edgar had concocted this terrible prank to scare me out of my wits but I could hear Lia screaming somewhere ahead of me. I opened my eyes and saw the night sky above me before something flickered in my vision. It looked like a thin black scarf, like the ones the old ladies wore to church on their heads. The scarf hit me in the face and I recoiled violently. It was soaked with cold water.
“You taste familiar.” The voice was raspy and slightly nasal, barely above a whisper and as it spoke I had the disgusting sensation of a tongue on my cheek. It left a slimy trail down my face and I retched.
I screamed and opened my eyes to see a white, bloated face with dead fish eyes staring at me. The teeth in the woman’s gaping mouth were yellow and had moss growing in between them. She reeked of dirty river and her cold hands were pushing me down even as I struggled. Somewhere in my addled mind I had the good sense to start praying which only made her talk again.
“He never helped me, so why would He help you?”
She stared down at me again and cocked her head to the side in a very grotesque manner. I could hear the squish of her swollen skin as well as the crack of her brittle bones.
“You don’t have children for me?”
The way she said it made me glad that I didn’t have any kids because I was sure that she would have killed me to take them. Had she asked my grandfather the same thing?
The thought struck me suddenly and I shook my head violently while I mouthed a silent no, too scared to actually speak. She was beginning to drip on me, the river water seeping out of her clothes and her skin as she leaned in closer, the foul smell of her mouth making me gag.
“Then I’ll have to take you.” Her cold, brittle nails had just started digging into my skin, preparing to tear it off and devour me when a broom handle went straight through her. She didn’t dissolve like I would have liked but she did wail out in outrage, which gave me enough of a chance to scramble back far enough for Lia to pick me up. Edgar was already running and we stumbled blindly after him. My heart was threatening to explode as the wailing behind me escalated, crying out for her child, for me.
I dared a look behind me and I saw her black silhouette standing at the edge of the river bank, unable to step foot into the grassy path that would take us back home. Her white skin was still leaking water and her eyes were crying black tears, her hands were stretched out toward me and I turned away just in time to see Edgar drop the broom and push open the door. We all fell in and laid there in a shivering pile, unable to sleep, or talk until the sun rose.
I prayed for most of the night, completely shaken and terrified. No wonder my grandpa had never wanted to talk about his own encounter. Besides being purely terrified, I also had this dreadful feeling that my grandpa had given that woman one of his kids so she would let him go. I don’t see how he could have gotten away otherwise, I barely did and that was mostly because I had been close to the path.
I went home that same day and I tried my absolute hardest to forget all about that night but I just couldn’t forget what the woman had said. Had my grandpa really traded one of his children for his life? It was a horrible thought and it only magnified when I walked in on my mom flipping through a very old picture book, her hands running softly over the old Polaroids, her eyes a bit misty as she remembered the olden days. I sat down next to her and watched as she paused, her eyes lingering on a picture of a tiny boy with curly hair. It was her brother, Lionel, who had gone missing during a flood in the sixties.
My stomach dropped to my knees and all I heard for a horrifying second was that raspy, nasally, watery voice speaking down at me. “You taste familiar.”
I never went back to my cousin’s house after that and I never looked at my grandpa the same way ever again.
Credit To – NeonBee