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The Man and the River

Therese Pieczynski has published stories in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine and the anthology Imagination Fully Dilated: Science Fiction, The Literated Artwork of Alan M. Clark. Most recently her novelette "Strange Attraction" was chosen by Nancy Kress to accompany her novella "Annabel Lee" as part of the Stellar Guild series published by Arc Manor. The two stories will appear as a stand-alone volume in October 2013.

Once upon a time in a far kingdom, there lived a man who fell in love with a river and so he married it.
One day, as he sat happily in the river, he glimpsed something. It moved swiftly beneath the surface, dark and strong. As it swam by, he grabbed it by the tail and it pulled him pleasantly through the water. The landscape was beautiful, the water refreshing, the day warm. But eventually, he grew tired.
"My friend," he said, "Please take me to shore."
Without warning the creature turned and bit the man's hand off. When the man screamed, it slapped his body with its great tail until blood dripped from the man's groin. Then it took the man to shore.
Three men had built a fire near the shore and sat around its light talking quietly. The man scrambled onto land. He ran to them and showed them how he'd been maimed. One of the men, who was very wise, shrugged his shoulders and said, "You have met the alligator. It is of the river."
"Alligator? I did not marry an alligator! I married the river!"
"But the alligator is of the river, and so, in a way, when you married the river, you also married the alligator."
The next day, as the man sat quietly in the river, the alligator swam to him and offered its tail. Warily, he took hold of it in his one hand. And when he grew tired of swimming in the river, he said nothing. Eventually, long after dark, the alligator took him safely to shore.
The man felt deeply disturbed as he sat on the riverbank. Every time he entered the river and the alligator offered its tail, he would not know whether it would return him safely to shore or whether it would maim him. He told himself that he would never again enter the water.
That night he looked out over his love. The full moon reflected on her surface, silvery and bright. The water was beautiful, smooth and polished as a mirror. The crickets started their music. Tears came to his eyes. It was hard to love the river but fear the alligator.
Later, in his dreams, the river came to him in her woman's form. She had dressed in a gown of water and stars and her dark hair billowed behind her like the cusp of night. She held out her arms and beckoned to him. Her voice sounded like a brook moving over small stones. "Come back to me."
He awoke and knew that he must decide. Did he leave his true love because of his fear, or did he accept the fear and return to the river? And then he realized that she still stood before him in her woman's form. He reached for her with his one hand.
The man returned to the river, though forever after, he was more wary of the things that came up from her currents' depths.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Author Comments

The man's love for the river is the love you initially have for any creative endeavor. However, the more you engage your creativity, the more you dip into the subconscious. From its swift darkness comes uncomfortable things. Things that hurt when you see them for what they are. You may marry the river naively, but you can't maintain that naiveté. Once you've met the "alligator," it takes a conscious commitment to re-enter the water.

- Therese Pieczynski
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