The River's Whisper

The river was dirty and murky. It always had been. You could dump a vat of waste into it, and nothing would change. It'd still be the same dirty, toxic toilet bowl it always had been.

No one drinks the water—if you do, your children might end up with some strange deformity. Maybe even a super power, if you're lucky enough.

Polluted by greed, filled with trash, and fouled by innumerable unidentified bodies that would never again be recovered, the river was a black stain across the already-tarnished conscience of this damned city.

And now it would disguise the blackest mark against my own soul, the very worst of my many sins.

It was early in the morning, when the sky was still awash in the deep midnight hue that would soon give way to the pale light of dawn. But for now, the only light was the harsh, flickering glow of a street lamp a few yards to the south. The only sounds were the far-off noise of the city and the constant lapping of the filthy river against its banks.

I pulled back the blue tarp covering the bed of my rusty truck, revealing a tangle of pale limbs and mouse brown hair nestled among a bed of grease-covered beach towels. The hem of her black leather miniskirt was hiked up her thigh to reveal her lacy red lingerie, and her chemical-streaked hair was knotted. She was so composed when I first saw her in the dim light of the bar, so different.

The girl had fine legs, but some warped guilt compelled me, tugged at me, to preserve the poor whore's last shred of modesty. I tugged futilely at the stubborn fabric. It shifted a few inches.

Damn bitch had it coming.

The feeling of her cool, clammy skin against my hand made me shudder. Her ruby red fingertips brushed against my arm as I pulled away. Her touch had given me shivers of pleasure—now it was only disgust, revulsion that prickled goosebumps along my arm. I leaned back to wipe the sweat from my brow.

It was an unnaturally warm night, a sweltering summer night without the benefit of even a quiet breeze to relieve the stifling humidity that swathed me with sticky moisture. During the day, the punishing sun glared down on this maze of concrete, baking its poor occupants against the miles of blacktop. The cover of night did not bring relief. The heat lingered in the concrete.

This place was hell in the summer. It was enough to drive anyone insane.

Even here, surrounded by long-empty factories and warehouses where nature had slowly begun to reclaim what the city had once taken from it, the heat was inescapable. Everywhere, the rebellious grasses that stubbornly survived between huge slabs of concrete were still. Behind me, the river continued to throw itself against the dock.

I looked down at my unfortunate victim.

She was such a pretty girl—she had the sort of natural beauty that didn't require make-up or product to mask some unseemly imperfection. It was a finely-made face, like a painting, with blue eyes and a button nose. Her face still had the delicate curves of youth, and her eyes—wide in death—seemed to hold an endearing innocence that was not there when she was alive.

But she was still a whore with just a miniskirt, neon green tube top, and three inch heels—a Barbie plaything. Just another painted face, like the rest of the plastic sluts that populated the derelict street corners of the ghettos. I didn't kill her. I saved her. I redeemed her.

She deserved to rot among the backstabbers and pimps who used her for her body. I was different.

Nonetheless, her vacant eyes were filled with unspoken accusations.

Around her neck, I could still see the purple bruises where I choked the life out of her. I caressed the lines my fingers left across her long, pale neck. Hours before, she had moaned theatrically as I stroked her delicately. Now, she didn't stir, only stared.

You deserve this, I told her. Her glazed eyes offered no answer, because they were empty, dead. They taunted me.

Anger swelled inside of me; rage lapped against the edges of my vision. It flooded my reason and pulled me under. I felt my first crack against the dead girl's face. She crumpled further into the filthy towels I had used to swaddle her body. Her nose was crooked now, and her angelic face was marred by my destructive anger. She awoke such violence in me, such passion.

I stole the breath from her lungs and the beauty from her face.

I was shaking as I buried my face in my hands. I could still smell the scent of her cheap perfume lingering against my skin. I pulled them away sharply and wiped them against my khaki pant leg.

I had to cleanse myself of this. I was Pilate, trying to wash the blood from my hands. But she just a whore, and I'm the savior. Don't worry, baby, I'll baptize you in this murky river.

Under the street lamp, her eyes glistened wetly, like tears. The guilt returned.

I'll lay you to rest, I promised. I'll see you off onto this river Styx—just don't look at me like that.

I pulled her body from the back of my truck, holding her close to me. It was like it was before, her bosom pressed suggestively against mine, but she did not whisper against my ear now. Her warm breath no longer fanned across my face. It had smelled like sweet wine.

What I wouldn't give for a drink, to drown myself in that sweet numbness.

The weight of her body pulled at me, and I struggled to shoulder the burden. She was heavier than when I had tossed her carelessly onto the hotel room bed. Her moist skin tugged at my arms until I cradled her in a bridal carry. It was a strangely intimate embrace.

I'll give you away, I whispered, I'll take care of you. Just don't haunt me for what I've done.

I carried her to the edge of the water. The river was black, black as tar, except for the flashes of white where it crashed and gave way to the crumbling concrete pillars of the rotting dock. Floating beneath my feet was a half-empty plastic bottle with a faded label and a green sneaker bloated with filthy water. Crumpled newspapers and other scum bobbed along nearby.

This wasn't a place for a human, even if she was a whore. I clutched her against me with an urgency I never would have allowed myself to show when she was alive.

I could no longer stand the feel of her in my arms, though. I let her go, and her body tumbled into the inky water. It splashed, coating my shoes and pants with scum.

My arms felt empty and cold. But it was too late, too late. I bent over reaching one hand toward the water, but she was sinking fast, her pale body growing fainter and fainter as she fell into the bowels of the river. Her face stared up at me with a fearful expression; her wide eyes were no longer peaceful. Her hair bent to the will of the current, swaying back and forth. Her hands were stretched above her, reaching for me, too.

Something about it captured me. I felt some force dragging me down, too. Like the river was calling to me to join her in that deep black nothing.

I clamored back, clinging to the dock's wooden slats. I closed my eyes, but I could still see her face, her eyes.

Nothing felt whole. I shivered, despite the heat, and wrapped my arms around myself. The whore was gone, but her image, her smell, and her smile lingered in my mind. I couldn't escape it, and I didn't even know her name.

Gone, dead, and can't return. What have you done to me? What about you tempted me to that violent indulgence?

Nervously, I crawled toward the water's edge again. My heart thumped against my chest, the rush of blood almost in time with the river's steady pulse. As I looked at the water's face, though, I could not see her. The body was gone, swallowed by the depths. I couldn't even see my own form in the water, only blackness.

Perhaps that was my reflection.

The sweat was pooling along my brow, and one bead trailed along my temple, tracing the same line that her kisses once followed. I felt dirty, unclean, because I let her touch me, because I killed her. How dare she tempt me.

I needed to be clean. Her body was no longer in my truck, but her presence lingered inside of me. I couldn't be rid of her.

The night's cloak tightened around me, I wanted to scream again, but my breath was stolen from me. It was too heavy, and I choked on the thick air. The river gurgled behind me, laughing at me.

I ran to my truck, opening the door with a shaky hand. It roared to life, and the noise from the idling engine masked the sound of the river. I threw it into gear and ripped it toward the city. I'd have to ditch the truck, my clothes. I may even have to leave the city if the police ever came looking for her. I would have to escape.

The whole time, the river's voice trailed behind me:

You may hide your sins, but you can never be clean.


Written for the Review Game's July Writing Challenge Contest