If I stand downstream, I can see their corpses. A waterlogged kitten floats down like a listless bag of flour. Next, comes a toad, its back legs missing. Finally, I see beetles. Huge throngs of black bug carcasses come rolling down the river and I watch them pass by with a sigh and shake of my head. If you have ever known a demon, you’d know that they often come in the form of children. And a foolish little girl squats on a hill some ways away. Her hands are wrapped around the neck of some poor, defenseless, animal and she’s smiling. Smiling before she dunks it into the water head first. Her eyes alight on bubbles, froth, and foam before there’s a sudden, gentle, silence that wafts up in the form of one monstrous bubble. Then she lets go and the river takes the corpse, wiping away her handiwork. Hiding her true nature from our parents and the world. But no matter what she does, she cannot hide it from me.
“I wish you would go away, Hana.” She says as I crest the hill, invading her little hiding spot. “You always watch me. And it’s not like I can’t feel your look of disgust.”
A blue creature wreathes and contorts in the heart of her cupped hands. It is crying, coal black beak opened, as it tries to slap her hands away with its wings.
“If you think what I do is wrong, why not tell someone? I’m sure Mama would believe you, but…” at her horrid joke, she cocks her head. “…how would you ever get the words out?”
“I-I-I—” I swallow my tongue. I stammer. “I’ll t-t-t-t-tell her!”
“Oh?” the little girl cocks her head to the opposite side. “What’s that, Hana? Why not just spit it out?” and the creature squawks as her hands strangle it. She squeezes and there’s a sprinkled crack that makes the poor creature cry more, cry more. Its wings hang uselessly now, as useless as my tongue, and it makes a dying protest as it feels the weight of its pain.
I point at the bird. I point at her. I fling my finger at the ground.
“What? Can’t you speak? Oh? The pretty birdie? Oh, tweet, tweet, tweet.” She sings. Crawling closer to the river, she is but a few steps away before she stretches out her arms. “You want me to drop it, hm? Drop it where, now? Go on, tell me, big sister.”
“T-t-t—the ground!” Stop it! I want to yell. Stop this, now! But when tempers rise, my throat and tongue are as useless as a bird without wings. My throat closes, my tongue becomes cotton in my mouth. Words twist and devolve in my throat and it is painful, painful to make a sentence. Painful to be heard like this—with broken words and halved sentences. Heat rushes to my cheeks and the moment I open my mouth, there’s just a gurgling sound. I am bereft. Inept.
And she drops the damned bird.
“Oh, don’t worry.” She says. “It can fly.”
But it cannot swim.
When it splashes, I am frozen. When bubbles riot on the surface, my stomach goes lopsided and my mouth waters. When my sister giggles, her voice like a million shards of glass breaking, I want to cry. Heat pounds behind my eyes and I cannot think.
Then, the bubbles stop. Then, my sister leans over the edge of the bloated silver river, and she chuckles. “Well, aren’t you a fighter?” for the little blue bird has surfaced. It peeps and squalls and I believe it is calling out to me as it thrashes its head and tries to get away from her. Tries to use the river’s current to find a safe place from this horrid four-foot monster.
But nothing stops a demon. Nothing stops my sister.
“Come closer you little shit.” She hisses and hurls her hands out. Grasping like a broken fishing pole, she splashes through the water with her hands but takes care not to fall in, not to get too close to the water’s edge. The bird scoots along and I pray the river’s current will take it and save it. But as she wanders closer, my heart sinks.
“D-d-don’t,” I swallow, “don’t go t-t-to far!”
“Shut up.” She snaps, reaching forward. Still reaching. Stretching out across the surface of the river as far as she can go. “I’ve almost got it.” And she snarls as she stretches and the creature scoots forward—just out of reach. Just out of her grasp.
But, “Come here!”
“Ume!” I screech.
When an ocean recedes, backing away from land, sand is left in its wake. It sparkles and glistens, winks in the summer sun like stars thrown across the night sky. We are like so many specks of sand scattered across a beach, my sister and I. And as my sister plunged head first into the river—her chubby hands still reaching for the bird—I began to wonder, would one be missed? One gritty piece of black staining the sand with its color? Would this little speck be missed?
It was a moment of clarity that passed as quickly as I could blink.
“Hana!” Ume screamed. “Hana—help!” for she could not swim.
I’d like to think that terror froze me, forced me to stay stuck in place with my hand to my throat and the other on my belly. I’d like to say that, yes, if I had been in my right mind—if that moment of clarity had been more than a mere moment, but a stretch of thoughts and actions and words—then I would have sprinted to the edge of the river and pulled her back to the shallow end. But, as the river current forced her away, I watched her hands peak through the surface with the bird still grasped between them. A dying song fought its way over the cry of my sister and the constant thrashing of the lake. A faded lullaby told me to watch and wait. Told me to let this speck of sand dribble and die in the water as the river pushed and pulled my sister away.
Downstream, her corpse snagged on a low hanging willow branch. Wide eyes told me that she fought the water, fought the current and the surge. But it was too much for her little body to handle. Floating there, her slimy body smacking the shallow edge of the water, the whites of her eyes gazed back at me; listless and eternal.