When The River No Longer Runs

When the morning broke through the window of Alan Robin’s bedroom, he rolled to escape the bright light as it ran across him. It was early, perhaps just after seven, and he felt as though he’d only just fallen into peaceful slumber. Whilst it was easy to escape the warm and empty sun, it was not as simple escaping the realisation that the weekend was over and the working week had begun. With the bitter taste of sleep still languishing deadly on his tongue, Alan pulled himself upright and with a jolt, stepped out of bed.

It wasn’t long before he left the house, with just a small flask of coffee for breakfast. The world was slowly waking too, cars starting up in the distance, and the faint sound of the Thameslink trains as they whooshed from those outer commuter towns, past his own Mill Hill Broadway station, and onwards into the city. There would be no train for him today, for this week’s focus was simply to deliver leaflets to the houses near his own home. He knew that if he was quick about it, he could be home in time for lunch and with the weather set to stay sunny he allowed himself to be hopeful.

The rows of mock Tudor housing were typical of the area and Alan had been lucky enough to inherit his own home after the death of his parents. He enjoyed living so close to the Silkstream, a stretch of small water that ran like a ghost through the bush and bramble. The tall grass hid most of the banks, but in these early mornings, when the town was quiet, you could hear the flowing water as it whistled its way along. There was no music sweeter to Alan, for the sound of the Silkstream was the sound of a reflective peace.

On that particular morning, on his way to the first houses, Alan decided to take a small detour past the stream. As he approached it, he took great care to take in the various turns, in lefts and rights, as it cascaded, flowed, ran and walked. The sun had started to warm his back when he noticed, sat there on the bank, what appeared to be a small child. She was holding a stick, long and dark, and running it through the water, making small ripples with its wooden end. She was no more than eight or nine years old, dressed not in school uniform, but instead in a pale frock. Her auburn hair fell upon her shoulders and she appeared to be laughing.

Alan stood still. He found children to be rather alien, not having any of his own and having no friends nearby with children either. He couldn’t be sure if this was mischief he was seeing. Could she be trying to do something to the banks perhaps? Was she trying to harm the small creatures that lived along the stream - the frogs, the small birds or even the occasional cat that lapped at its surface? There was little for him to go on, for all she seemed to be enjoying was the patter of the stick upon the surface and her laugh was like that of a violin, piercing and sweet.

Lunch, the only word that came to Alan. He had to be back in time for lunch and so he turned away from the stream, away from the girl, and went on his way, though he couldn’t shake the thought that she was up to no good and all day, as he delivered his pointless leaflets, sliding them through letterboxes, he conjured her image and it plagued him.

The morning slid into the afternoon and the world no longer had that peace and quiet. It was now a bustle, with bodies and cars making their way to errands in loud corners of the borough. Alan made his way from door to door, occasionally watching as the leaflets came sliding back out - but that was not for him to worry about. His part of the deal had been upheld, and as midday drew near, he completed his round.

He turned homeward, and began to walk, his mind filled with images of soft white bread, butter, a slice of the weekend’s roast beef, and a long layer of mustard. These were the sandwiches that brightened his day, left him smiling in front of the television as he dozed off into the later afternoon. His pace quickened, drawn by the image of lunch and as he crossed into the park, where the stream cut its way, he was struck by the sweetest sound of silence.

But, he thought, that couldn’t be right? It shouldn’t be silent.

Moving carefully, he headed towards the nearest bank and as the stream came into view, he saw that it had stopped. Alan looked around, first in the distance towards the rows of suburban houses, and then much closer, to the bank, to the reeds, the stone and finally the water itself. It was then that his eyes were drawn to that spot, that very spot, where this morning the girl had sat. All that was left was her stick, which had been forced into the ground. She was gone, nowhere to be seen and the river was cold when he dipped his fingers in.

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