When Reverend Willard spotted the basket drift down the glassy slick of the Nestucca River, he knew it was a message from God. What might lie within could only be one thing.
“Helen! Beatrice! Joan!”
Garbed in black and white habits that flapped like capes behind them, the sisters ran to the river’s edge, shocked to a halt when they saw Reverend Willard standing hip-deep in water cradling a wadded blanket.
“In all of heaven’s stars,” Beatrice said.
Joan made the St. Mary’s cross, temple to heart.
Reverend Willard waded from the river feeling as though a golden ray of angelic light had touched down upon him. “He is a miracle, an omen of good fortune.”
Joan tapped lightly at his shoulder. “Reverend, look.” She pointed upriver.
Two more baskets twirled in the water. Like stones on ice.
The opened window was an invitation to steal. Darkness crooned with wicked taunts and brushed against the ear of the baby. Promises of dreadful things. The baby cried, but its mother, in the deepest of sleep, failed to hear its laborious pleas.
Not the little, green man with sharp yellow teeth and rot under his fingernails. He skipped in a blurred flash across a Bermuda of manicured lawn and up through the window. The baby’s room smelled of baby powder and warm milk. Soft light spun animal shapes at the ceiling.
The green man peered over the white-polished rails. The baby’s gaze fixed on him, a hiccup of silence before its cries escalated into a wail—he was not mommy.
The green man slid stunted, brawny hands beneath its soft, kicking body. Warmth infiltrated him, and for a moment, he wanted the baby for himself. But tonight wasn’t about what he’d lost so long ago. Tonight was about retribution.
The baby flailed its arms spastically when he pulled it from its cradle. Outside, the winds churned with sylphs, seekers of pure souls. They wanted the baby too, and they wrapped their ethereal mist around the green man with a cold-death constriction.
“Let the baby go,” they thundered around him.
The green man choked and waggled his back against their fierce raid. “Never—”
The sylphs, determined to get the baby, circled around and smothered him with clouds of gaseous charcoal.
But time slowed for the green man. He clutched the baby tight to his middle and zipped through the dark of the neighborhood in a blur of motion. He steered clear of underpass tunnels, truss bridges, and woodlands, the ovinniks of the pastures and the guyascutus of the hillsides.
Beneath the pulp mill, in a dugout by the river, he secreted the baby. Broken glass crunched beneath his feet. The wide-eyed baby fell silent at the new angles of light and sound overhead. He placed it down next to two other babies fidgeting beneath fleece blankets in baskets made of braided reeds. A silent tear toppled from his eye as he remembered the day when the sylphs had taken his little one. His wetted cheeks detected a cold current drift into the cove.
Relentless the sylphs were, consumed with their need to gorge on immaculate souls. They swooped down into the green man’s hideaway.
“We want what is ours. Give us the babies, now!”
Putrid mist strangled him again. The babies whimpered and cried out. The green man crouched over them. “I won’t let you take them!”
Before the sylphs could collect themselves into a riotous gale of vengeance, the green man fluctuated time again, shuffling the babies into a cart and sprinting from the mill in a streak of action. The burn of ice from the sylphs’ breath slashed into his neck and face, and the sting of their sharp claws raked down his backside. Bloody scratches formed over the babies’ cheeks and forehead as he rushed through their frost-laden forms.
Ahead, the black-mirrored river coiled with cold darkness. The decision arising in his mind was a risky one, but the only one he could think of—one drop of water could trap a sylph beneath its crystal-etched surface indefinitely. Lightning broke across the sky. Rain would follow, potentially chasing the sylphs away, but not soon enough.
With one more strained dash, the green man sprinted for the bank of the riverbed and pushed each of the baskets in. The sylphs raged bloodshed on him, shredding at his clothes and tearing through his flesh. But they could not take his soul, and the green man smiled at this as he watched the baskets bob in the water, barely upright and in the hands of the universe.
AUTHOR BIO: Erin Cole is a writer of dark and strange fiction. She has work in over 50 publications, placed in the Writer’s Digest 80th Annual Writing Competition, the 2009 Kay Snow Competition, and is the author of Grave Echoes and Of the Night. See more of her work at www.erincolewrites.com