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Fiction #361
(published December 20, 2007)
Below the Falls
by Timmy Waldron
After many uneasy hours in bed, Barley Rainns sat up. He blinked twice, to make sure his eyes were open. He couldn't see. Barley reached into the darkness. His hand flopped around atop the dresser until finding his night gown. Partially dressed, fully blind, he stepped carefully towards the door; taking special care not to wake his wife. A brief pause in the hallway let his eyes adjust to the window boxed moonlight. Once outside the house, he stretched, he groaned, he harvested a glob of phlegm, and expectorated. Limber and loose, Barley set out for a walk down the road to the Delaware River. It had been calling to him of late.

Barley sat down with a creak in his bones. At seventy five he had a great deal of life in front of him, but he had to admit most of it was behind him. He pulled on his flask. Thoughts of the Judge came easily at this hour. His day in court would soon be upon him. The mere thought sent an electrical shock up his curved spine. Barley shot up onto his feet, spring loaded by the wooden clack of the gavel. His eyes darted about; sweat ran in raindrops from his forehead. The clack of the gavel picked up tempo as it echoed through the thick cluster of trees along the bank. He looked across the Delaware River to the Pennsylvania shore.

Court is in session

"It doesn't look that far," Barley told himself. He could make it, God, how he wanted to test himself against this river. The Delaware looked to be a pushover. There wasn't much white water; just little ripples peaked above the surface. In dry years the river bottom could be seen for a hundred feet before disappearing in the middle. You could almost walk it, he thought to himself. The gavel pounded; he'd beat the river, he knew it to be.

Barley closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and then stripped off his night gown. He waded into the river. The cold water rushed over his feet as he stepped into the shallows. It was deceptive, the Delaware River. Tame to the eye, but just below the surface was something much different.

How many have you killed, Barley?

Barley moved further, the water reached his waist; already the current was almost too much for him. Something cold and fleshy grabbed him by the ankle. He lost his footing and fell under. Barley caught himself for a moment, gasped once for air, and then went under again. The river moved fast, much faster than he anticipated. He thought he knew something about this river, something about how it worked, but maybe the river had a few secrets that it kept from him. Six miles up river, before Scudder's falls, the Delaware River had a steep drop in elevation and faster flow in this area.

Each will give an account of himself to me

Barley scrambled to get a footing. The round river rocks were forgiving on the bottoms of his feet, but he caught the toes of his left foot on one of the bigger rocks. The bones shattered with the collision. Barley felt a tremendous roar run through his body, but only managed an audible whimper.

The Judge whistled from the shore and kept time with the clack, clack, clack of his gavel. Barley heard his music and swam away from the hollow sound. The fleshy river clung to his legs. He had to fight for every inch. Although Barley had move closer to the Pennsylvania shore the Delaware had taken him at least two miles down river. In the closing distance he could make out the red glowing letters of the famous "Trenton Makes the World Takes" bridge. Barley would be under it in no time. His pace slowed, and his breath became shallow. The river's grip tightened. The old man began to worry, Trenton was close.

I've killed so many

The waters around the city were where the Judge could be heard loudest. The clack of his gavel echoed and his whistle turned to a hum. The rock formations on the river's floor caused whirlpools; they had taken most of the lives lost to the river. Barley knew this; his fear overtook the ache in his muscles. Barley kicked at the grip of the river and swam hard toward Pennsylvania. The bank was thick with trees, trees that dangled their limbs just over the water. Barley smiled, they were almost over him. He reached for a branch, but missed and slipped under the water. When he broke the surface, Barley found himself a good thirty feet back towards the middle of the river. The Judge's laugh rolled along the surface of the water, with a clack, clack, clack, following each boisterous chuckle. The maelstrom teased him by taking him back to the shore, almost close enough to touch land before pulling him away. Barley made strong hard strides with his arms and kicked with a renewed energy, broken toes be damned. The paddling did nothing. Barley was under water again. The old man sank into the darkness of the murky Delaware. He stopped struggling, the river had him.

How faithfully have you served?

With eyes open in the blackness, Barley caught sight of something; a white spot appeared in nothingness of the river. He lost it for a moment, and then found the thing twice as big as before. It was almost on him. His chest tightened, his lungs called for air, and his heart beat fast and heavy. The clack, clack, clack of the Judge's gavel boomed with base under the water.

The great white thing came at him completely unaffected by the maelstrom. It bushed him when it swam by. The sea monster made another pass and this time it struck Barley hard. He rolled down its back, and franticly attempted to grab hold of its smooth rubbery skin. The body of the beast thinned as it passed him. Barley was able to lock his arms around it. He held on for life as white beast pulled him at a fantastic rate through the water. The thrust of its tail became too much for Barley, he felt himself break the surface of the water. The tail flung him as if he was a flapjack on a spatula. Barley was air born for a moment. Then with immaculate relief and agonizing pain he crashed into the arms of a mighty riverbank tree.

No matter, all who sit before the Great White Throne will someday burn in the Lake of Fire

For a moment Barley remained still in the tree. He looked out over the river towards the New Jersey bank. A white whale crested the river's surface; it arched its back for the dive, and then let its tail stand high in the air. Barley stupidly waved to the whale as it slowly sank below the surface. On the opposite shore the Judge dropped his gavel and walked into the thick woods.

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