Washington Horror Blog

SEMI-FICTIONAL CHRONICLE of the EVIL THAT INFECTS WASHINGTON, D.C. To read Prologue and Character Guide, please see www.washingtonhorrorblog.com, updated 6/6//2017. Follow Washington Water Woman on Twitter @HorrorDC ....

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Other River

Atticus Hawk pushed his kayak out from the dock of Bladensburg Waterfront Park. It was cloudy and chilly, but he was probably only going to get in a few more weekends before winter really set in, so he was glad it was not raining. The Anacostia was a filthy little river, and everybody knew it, but it was peaceful, and if you flipped your kayak, the water was only about five feet deep. He would see egrets, herons, mallards, flocks of gulls, and turtle nuclear families (mother/father/baby on a log). And the trees were nice. And there were no power boats or cruise ships or yachts. (And boating on the Potomac also seemed dangerous in some other way he could never quite put his finger on.) It was tiresome to be reminded by the Anacostia Watershed Society that donations would help pay for more wetlands restoration, but coming here was now a habit, so he let the Combined Federal Campaign take $10/month out of his Justice Department paycheck. As he rounded the first bend, he was surprised to see two brown pelicans near the shore. Hmmm, maybe the wetlands restoration is really working.

"Oh, God!" It was a human head in the water, which was bad enough, but then it turned around with its dead eyes staring right at Hawk, who screamed loudly. Then a hand came out of the water and waved at him, and Hawk screamed again.

"Please stop screaming," said Charles Wu in a smooth, British, Hong Kong accent that did not sound like a dead zombie. (Wu was over six feet tall, so the water came up to his neck--that's why only his head was visible.)

"You scared the hell out of me!" protested Hawk.

"Yes, I'm sorry about that! I'm doing underwater power-walking: it aerobicizes every muscle in the body."

"Buddy, this river is full of decades of toxic pollution--you shouldn't be in it!" exclaimed Hawk.

"Oh, I am fortunate enough to possess an unusually vibrant immune system," answered Wu. (And astronomical levels of chi.) "And the wet suit keeps out most of it. You know, you can get really close to the wildlife like this!" (Hawk just shook his head in amazement.) "It is getting colder, though. I'll probably try some paddle surfing in November."

"Okey-dokey," said Hawk, who politely waved goodbye and paddled ahead. ("Whack job.") Soon Hawk was paddling past the small pier of the National Arboretum, where three row boats and a canoe were tethered. A small group of people all dressed in white were conducting a ceremony. (The presider was Becky Hartley, who put on pet weddings to raise money for Sebastian L'Arche's animal-whispering and demon-fighting services.) At the center of the group was a pair of pot-bellied pigs; one was in a white tuxedo, and the other had a white veil stretching from her head to her pigtail. ("Whack jobs.") Then Hawk noticed television reporter Holly Gonightly standing twenty feet to the left, talking to the camera. ("That girl does good stories, but she is too-fat-for-television.")

Hawk paddled on, his mind now completely forgetting everything that stressed him out about being the Justice Department's torture expert. He paddled past Kingman Island, where five canoes had been pulled up onto the swampy shore. He could (barely) see several men in green camouflage outfits walking in single file down the center of the narrow island. (It was the Hunter-Gather Society.) Hawk saw the leader throw up his arms to halt his followers. (It was Glenn Michael Beckmann.) Then the leader motioned his followers to fan out to his right and left. Hawk stopped paddling when he saw them all raise rifles to their shoulders. (They were bb guns.) Hawk tried to figure out what they were aiming at, and then he saw it: the osprey nesting platform built by the schoolchildren. ("Oh, my God! There's an osprey there!") (It wasn't actually an osprey, but Hawk knew it was an osprey nesting platform built by schoolchildren, and he was too far away to see what it really was.) Then an arrow came out of nowhere and whizzed past the huge bird, which bolted the nest and flew away. (It was The Warrior who had shot the warning arrow to scare away the bald eagle.) The Hunter-Gatherer society cursed loudly and turned to see who had shot the arrow from nearby Heritage Island, but all they could see was marsh. (The Warrior was lying flat on his stomach now.) The leader signalled his followers to cross the inlet and search Heritage Island for the interloper, but none of them wanted to get wet. As Hawk saw them turning around to head back to their canoes, he realized he better make himself scarce. (He didn't even have his cellphone with him, let alone a weapon!)

Hawk paddled quickly forward, trying to get to the Anacostia Park Boat Ramp where there might be other people. (He didn't know the Hunter-Gatherer Society was only using bb guns today.) His heart was pounding until he saw a group of people putting in two large canoes. ("Good, strength in numbers.") He thought about asking if any of them had a cellphone, but then he wasn't really sure you could call 911 about men hunting on Kingman Island. ("Is it even illegal?") He decided to let the matter drop, since the bird had gotten away and the hunters were not going after the mystery guy. He smiled and waved at the group now in their canoes--all women! ("Now it's my lucky day!") But he found something about the group strange. For one thing, they all had the exact same color hair, except for two older women with white hair: it was a natural auburn color, and they all had it exactly the same. And none of them waved back--in fact they all seemed to be deliberately turning their faces away from him so he could not see them at all. ("What the --? They're not Muslims with face veils on! They're not Amish. They can't even look at me?") He gave up and paddled quickly past them. ("Whack jobs.") Then it occurred to him that they might be mates for that bunch of hunters back on Kingman Island.

But that's not what they were at all. The two white-haired women whispered reassuringly to their younger selves, and they relaxed as the man's kayak receded. It was always a little nerve-wracking when they all went out together as one group, but sometimes they just really wanted to do something together. The eldest was 70, and she was the original. Every ten years on her birthday, she woke up with a new clone in her bed, and that clone never again aged. The first clone was still ten years old, the second clone was still twenty years old, and so on. They were all the same and yet different. The older ones could understand anybody younger, but the younger ones were still in awe of the older ones. Their mother blamed it all on "Ardua of the Potomac", but she had never given a real explanation of it--not even on her death bed at 99. All she had ever told them was to stick with the Anacostia River, no matter what people said about it, and stay away from the Potomac.

But Ardua of the Potomac was a grand old demon now, and she could stretch her tentacles into the Anacostia whenever she felt like it. (Of course, that wasn't very often because to her it was scarcely more than a stream or creek, and going that way was just going further from the humanity she liked to feed on in Washington!)

Back at the osprey nesting platform, the bald eagle had returned, and she was going to be there awhile.

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