Artist: Mario Duarte

When the River Monsters Come

"The world is filled with monsters," my mother said on her death bed. "In the old days, back when our river town was prosperous, my great, great, great Grandfather Thomas, the riverboat captain, had a beautiful daughter, Lily. She fell in love with Andres, a poor sailor. Thomas rejected their union, and had Andres chained and thrown overboard.
"Ever since his murder, the family has been cursed with madness and visions. Marco, I have this funny little feeling that something terrible is about to happen" were my mother's last words.
Afterwards, as I walked along the river walk, in tears, the curse, mind-numbing fever, the illness found me. Out of the river, in the twilight, the river monsters came reeking of putrid fishy water, their eyes aflame, their skin riddled with oozing sores.
Some of them were riverboat gamblers with snapping turtle heads in ruffled shirts accompanied by ladies in long dresses with delicate straps over their crayfish shoulders. One hitched her hem and kicked high uncovering a cracked shell beneath her garter belt.
Others were fishermen with seaweed draped over their yellow bibs, and coats with hoods that darkened their overtaxed gills and drooping fish tails.
Out of the rear, shuffled Thomas, I recognized him from an old photograph, his face encrusted with broken mussel shells, who tipped his skipper's cap to me. Andres, I recognized him too, followed in a raggedy sailor's suit, still in chains, with twitching albino white alligator arms and stubby bleeding fingers.
One by one the river monsters walked out of the choppy waves, climbed over the gray shoreline rocks, leaving behind footprints of stinking water. Only a white seagull flapping off the shore, squawked a warning.
As they approached the river walk, the hair on my arms and on the back of my neck raised. I felt like howling. In an uncontrollable urge, I ripped my shirt, and followed them.
A young man, like me, but with a scaly face and curling snake tongue carried a head with a face like mine in his hands. He kept wiping green slime from the nose over his dark pea coat sleeve. Suddenly, I remembered a time I ran to my mother, darting between cars at a stop sign downtown, my feet soaked from sloshy snow. How tenderly she reached down and wiped my nose, my face blushing, tingling.
In those days, I was not alone. I had a family, love.
Feeling faint, I tumbled onto the river walk, and the whole world slanted into darkness, and then nothingness. For a moment, there was no longer a gargling river, or fishy air, no oozing scabs, or crying seagulls, no hot sweat cupped in the palms of my hands.
When I stood up, I was no longer afraid, or alone. My illness no longer a burden. My curse, a blessing. I felt changed, stronger, better. As my claws scraped across the river walk, my fangs drooled with salvia, and I felt nothing but hunger, an ache for you, something the wind and the waves cannot refuse.
Can you hear me at your window? I am already behind you. Now closer. Listen: your heart deep inside of you is a river overflowing with monsters.

About the Author

Mario Duarte is a Mexican-American writer and a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. His poems and short stories have appeared in 2River Review, Abstract Elephant, American Writers Review, Aaduna, Bilingual/Borderless, Digging Through the Fat, Emerald City, Lunch Ticket, Pank, Plainsongs, Red Ogre Review, Rigorous, Sky Island Journal, Write Launch, Typishly, and Zone 3. New work is forthcoming in Journal X and Native Skin.