This story is by Africa del Carmen and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The kid had his hand in the water, squatting next to the creek, he moved the water slowly.
His mother called him but he seemed to be hypnotized by the water, she was running as fast as she could but the distance seemed to get bigger with every step.
When she finally was in front of him, across the creek, she screamed his name again, he moved his ears as an animal would, one to one side, the other in the other direction.
He slowly looked up, then at her, his eyes were now two hollow circles, unnaturally round and with no eyelids, his ears still moving in different directions.
She screamed and fell down on his knees, the boy´s father crossed the creek, grabbed him, lifted and shook him.
His head fell all the way back, it was still attached to his body but his neck was like rubber, and his head moved as a rattle tied to a string.
That was what Sofía remembered most about her childhood, her best friend dying, but that was not what the members of the board of the university she was applying to, wanted to read in her essay.
Besides, she was always told that her mind played tricks on her, as a result of trauma.
He had drowned, that was it, end of story.
Her mind made everything else up.
Instead, she wrote a paper about the time she won a writing contest and went to Europe.
The story was family friendly, wholesome and full of details of her experience.
Yes, that´ll do.
When her acceptance letter arrived, she knew she had made the right decision with the essay.
Enclosed, was an invitation to a retreat, it was in a set of cabins in a small forest near the campus, it looked great!
The day came and there was a bonfire, food and music too, she grabbed a hot dog and sat on a log, she took a bite when a young man sat next to her.
She swallowed the half-chewed bite she had just taken and mumbled:
-“Are you enjoying the retreat?”-
He had olive skin and bright black eyes; he was wearing a cap backwards and a few black strands of dark hair fell on his forehead.
-“I would like to know more about your story, I think it´s pretty interesting, but there are some things I just don´t get”-
-“ Oh! ok, yes of course”-
-“The music is too loud, would you mind taking a walk?”-
-“Yeah, it´s ok”-
They had walked a little and she could still hear the noise of people laughing and the music, there were strings with light everywhere and he seemed nice so she started to relax… until she realized he was not supposed to know about the essay.
-“So, tell me more about your story”-
-“How do you know about that… did you read it…?”
-“No, not that story, the one you didn´t write”-
They were still walking, he smiled and looked at her.
She stopped walking, goosebumps ran all over her body, he was still looking at her, still smiling.
-“What?… I mean… ”-
-“You know which one Sofía”-
She opened her mouth but nothing came out.
“ I thought you´d be happy to see me but you don´t even recognize me”-
He was being very familiar with her but she hadn´t seen him around before, who is he?
She looked back and everybody was still there, but now she couldn´t hear a thing, not the voices, not the music, not even the crickets; nothing.
He took off the cap and ran his hand through his hair.
-“I actually don´t remember anything after one of them bit me…”- he said.
She walked two steps back but then she couldn´t move anymore.
-“I could see everything from above, like in a dream, but I couldn´t speak anymore… like you right now.”-
She could barely breath, she tried to scream but no sound came out of her mouth.
She recognized him now.
-“I got why my mom was screaming hysterically, they ate my eyes first so it was a pretty bad sight I guess, I wanted to tell you and my parents that I didn´t feel any pain but they ate my tongue too so… well…”-
She started shaking and still couldn´t move but a tear ran through her cheek, he wiped it gently.
“-My mom never recovered from that you know? She got in a state of shock and never spoke again, she didn´t live long after that and my dad hung himself the day after she died… I´m telling you because since you and your parents moved away almost right away, you probably didn´t know”-
She finally took a deep breath, like the one someone takes after almost drowning, she coughed and said in a low voice:
-“I´m sorry, I´m so sorry, I didn´t know that would happen!”-
-“Oh, I´m not blaming you! I was older, I should have known better! Well, I was nine but still, a little older than you”-
He laughed and put his cap back on.
-“Grandma told me not to ever listen to the water elves but I thought they were just stories! Everyone told me I imagined the whole thing!”-
-“So… you didn´t believe it was true but still refused to cross the creek with me, you let me go alone”-
-“We were kids! We were playing! You said you were the bravest and ran across the creek!”-
-“When the elves came, I tried to go back but they didn´t let me, they started screaming, I covered my ears but I could still hear them”-
She remembered how he covered his ears while the water was up to his waist as he tried to cross the creek, he reached out one hand to her but she turned around and ran.
-“I went to get help!”-
-“You should have at least tried to reach my hand!”-
She fell down crying and covered her face with her hands.
-“I saw how one of them crawled inside your ear and I panicked, there were so many of them!”-
He looked down at her for a while.
-“They let me out once a year you know?… I always waited there for someone to come and get me, but nobody ever came… I got stronger and then I could go anywhere I wanted… just on this day, the Day of the dead… I knew I´d find you someday, I looked for you everywhere.”-
She looked up, he held out his hand and she took it this time, he was dead cold.
“-I´m sorry, If there is anything I can do to help you I will, anything”-
“-There is something, but the day is almost over and we have to hurry, you need to take me out of the water, they threw what was left of me to the river, you need to take me out”-
-“… What?!… but… how?… I mean… back home?”-
She looked at him in disbelieve, how was she ever going to do that before the night was over?
He seemed to know what she was thinking as he said:
-“I told you, I can go wherever I want”-
He was still holding her hand, she felt dizzy and closed her eyes, when she opened them again, the creek was right in front of her, she looked at him and nodded, she walked to the creek and suddenly, a small hand came out of the water, she ran and took it, pulled the boy out of the water and carried him out of the creek, he was coughing but other than that, he looked exactly as she remembered him, he looked at her with big black eyes.
-“Thank you… I was there for so long…”-
She hugged him tightly as tears ran down her face.
– “I´m sorry! I´m so sorry!”-
He put his little hands on her face.
-“I need you to take me somewhere, they won´t let me go, you have to take me”-
-“Yes, I´ll take you anywhere”-
-“For them to let you take me, you have to stay with me, they´ll take your life too”-
Tears were still running down her face as she nodded.
He stood up and took her hand, she stood up too and wiped her face.
-“We´ll be okay, they can´t follow us where we are going”- he said smiling as he wiped his own tears.
They walked all the way to the cemetery and stood in front of a grave that read:
Luis Manuel Santos Medina
-“They´ll make one for you too, but for now, you can stay with me tonight, a great place is waiting for us; but we will be able to come back here every year on this day, we´ll have so much fun, you´ll see!”-
His eyes were now glowing, full of hope and happiness, she smiled and they both disappeared with the first ray of light.