Jilted River: Just a fairy tale?
They ring with warbling birdsong. They swim with hazy gossamer wisps, floating under the sun dappled canopy. A waterfall beckons from the north, and it drops down, down, down to the river in the hollow bowl. See the rock face to the west? That is the other half of what used to be one big mountain. They call it the Warbler’s Rock, now. Cerulean Warblers are thick in the trees, and that rock bounces their little voices around just like a concert hall. It’s the best amphitheater in the Appalachians. And they call it the Hollows because . . . ?
Because the Jilted River gutted the earth, and left it standing empty.
They say that she has been there for one hundred years, the bitter wench. They say that she will capture you, and keep you. They say that the river was happy once. It laughed and sang, just like the birds. That was before she stole it and kept it for herself. She haunts the forest and the water. Her face is poetry, her voice is silver. Her head is wreathed in flowers and bells. She will draw you in, if she can. But, just ask any of the old women on this mountain, and they will tell you the whole tale. She is poisonous: a spider on a web. Wander into those trees, and you may never come back.
It’s a story, Trystan said to herself, just a story. She used to tell it and retell it to her girlfriends, because Mom taught it to her so well. And Wagner, her twin brother, used to tell it even better. He made up a song, even. She loved to listen to him sing it. That was back when he sang, of course. Back before things got so crazy last summer. Back before the accident.
Poor Wagner, Trystan thought to herself. Her brother was hit hardest of all. He barely even spoke anymore. As for her dad, he just found ways to work harder and harder at his forest ranger job. He even picked up his banjo again and started playing it nonstop, just to fill his extra time. She knew that he didn’t want to think about it, either. Trystan gazed out the window, watching the trees go by. She didn’t like where the Jeep was headed, but a hiker was stranded out there again. Today, there was work to do.
Warbler’s Rock crested over the treeline, as they wound their way up the mountain. Dad stopped the Jeep at the overlook. From the back seat, Trystan saw her brother close his eyes, as if he wanted to disappear. She sighed, trying not to shake; trying not to cry, not this time. She would be brave, and look straight down into the Hollows. She did not believe in fairies.
“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,” she said to herself. “But no one should ever go into them.”