Deep in the country, the grown-ups have little else to do at night but play dominoes and tell rum-soaked stories by the firelight outside Miss Betsy’s little shack of a grocery shop. Bobo Dread and five other red-eyed farmers are gathered around the table set up outside, laughing and arguing jokingly with spliffs hanging out the sides of their mouths. They each take turns slamming the little white bricks down onto the table top.
The smell of ganja fills the air. Draw too close and the smoke will make you cough and your eyes sting and turn red at the rims. Before you can worry about your asthma acting up again, Paulie beckons to you from behind Miss Betsy’s shop. Paulie’s a local and one year older than you. Nineteen and brave and athletic, Paulie is everything you aren’t but he doesn’t seem to mind the differences. He’s been your friend ever since your parents decided to plop down in this Rastafarian village in the middle of bum-freaking nowhere two years ago.
You both drop down low and creep into the shop through the back door. Paulie grabs a bottle of rum and hurries outside beckoning for you to follow. You both sneak off into the wood-line and down the footpath, toward the river. Down by the river, you take turns taking a swig straight from the bottle. The first gulp goes down like acid. You cough. Tears spring forth. Snot plugs up your nose. A slow fire begins to burn in your belly.
Deep in the woods, the voices of the villagers can’t reach you. Pale moonlight shines down through the ghostly treetops. The sound of rushing water melds with the seething song of crickets. Dead leaves and branches make a crunching noise underfoot as you and Paulie make your way to the river’s edge. You both sit on the river bank, content and slightly buzzed from the rum worming its way into your bones. You’re content to listen to Paulie speak in hushed tones.
“Yeah man,” he says. “I think I would like to go to America. Not to live there but just to see what it’s like, you know?”
“I think that’s a great—”
There’s a really loud splash, a little bit down river. You peer into the semi dark, straining to get a look at whatever it was. The crickets have gone silent. There’s no sound save for the leaves fluttering in the breeze and the gurgling of the river water. You know enough about Jamaican ecology to know that there shouldn’t be anything big enough to make that kind of sound in the river.
“What do you think that was?” You ask.
Paulie shrugs. He’s trying to peer into the semi-darkness too and seems uneasy. He stands after a few moments.
“Come on,” he says nervously, “let’s get out of here.”
You hear him but you don’t move from the spot where you’re seated. You can’t. Your eyes are fixed on the water and you’re sitting there frozen in disbelief. A shadow is rising up out of the wet. First the head, then the naked torso of a beautiful woman. She is dark, almost melting away into the darkness of the night. Her black hair is long, twists about her shoulders and back in wet, snaky tendrils. Her eyes are inky and magnetic. She looks right at you and she bares her teeth. Spiky, inhuman teeth.
“Rahtid!” Paulie croaks, lapsing into the local dialect.
Rooted to the ground, you whimper. You want to run but you can’t. The strength has gone out of your body. You can only sit there trembling, the sound of your heart hammering away in your ribcage drowning out the sound of the rushing water.
Paulie drops the rum bottle, grabs you by the shoulders, and yanks you to your feet. He takes your hand and half drags you along as he runs away from the creature coming up out of the river. You struggle to keep up. You can barely catch your breath. You hear the slosh-slosh of wet footsteps behind you. Your heads whips around briefly, but you see nothing there.
You and Paulie arrive at your house.
“Hurry up!” He urges as your trembling fingers fumble with the keys.
The door opens. Paulie ushers you inside and shuts the door firmly. Moments later, there’s a thud against the door. Then nothing. You and Paulie wait in silence. You’re bent down, wheezing and struggling to catch your breath. When you finally catch your breath you look to your friend.
“Shhh!” He hisses.
He unlocks the door and cautiously opens it to look outside. He recoils, slams the door shut, and secures the deadbolt. He’s gone pale and his eyes are wild and scared.
“Rahtid!” He hisses, pacing back and forth in front of the door. “A duppy dat!”
“English, Paulie!” You plead.
He stops pacing long enough to wave a hand at her frantically. “You know! Riva Muma, yeah?”
You’ve heard of Riva Muma, the spirit that haunts the rivers of Jamaica. She lies in wait below the surface, waiting for unsuspecting victims to approach. Then she drags them under and drowns them.
“That’s just a myth!” You splutter.
Besides, who’s ever heard of Riva Muma coming out of the river?
Paulie stops pacing again but before he can set you straight, there’s another thump on the door. You hear that sloshing sound of something wet moving around outside.
You can’t keep the rising panic out of your voice. “What does it want?”
“Only Jah know!” Paulie snorted. “Just don’t open this door, you hear?”
There’s another thump on the door. Then another. Then another. Each thump is louder and more forceful than the one before.
Your voice dissolves into a panicked whimper. “Paulie, what do we do?”
— To Be Continued (By Someone Else)
This piece was written in response to Chuck Wendig’s “Scary Story” Flash Fiction Challenge.
*Riva Muma (River Mumma) is a mermaid spirit from Jamaican folklore.