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Temptress by the River

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

“Come to the river’s edge and play with me.”

“Come to the river’s edge and play with me.”

The horror of being wanted.

Lenard,” a voiced whispered in my ears.

I stopped in my tracks and quickly looked around. I saw nothing but the woods to the side of the road and a glimpse of the river it hid.

The river whished and swirled, like it was speaking its own language. Maybe it was speaking to me, but grandma told me a long time ago to ignore it. It had nothing good to say, she said.

After a while, I started walking again. The stop was good, however. It gave me time to rest my feet (since I was carrying a huge load in my backpack). Still, I wanted to get moving. If I can get more distance between me and the town, that would be good.

Lenard, I want you,” the voice whispered again.

I stopped again. A lot of thoughts were now running through my head, and thanks to that messed-up head of mine, I couldn’t clearly figure things out. Was that a bully at school following me and trying to play a trick on me? Or was it the thing in the river my Grandma used to warn me about.

I wished my mind wasn’t so mixed up. I wouldn’t have to be dealing with this. For all that matters, I wouldn’t be on the road in the first place, running away from the hell I once called home.

If you haven’t figured it out. I’m not wanted there. All the people don’t think I’m too smart, and don’t think I’m good looking enough to be around them. They put me in classes with other dummies, and the bullies loved picking on me.

I don’t have much of a family, at least now I don’t. Nobody knew who my dad was. My mother was off somewhere with her true love, the bottle.

And grandma, my sweet grandma? She went to heaven last year. She was the only person who ever made me feel wanted -- as well as keeping me on a straight and narrow path. The only reason I stayed was because of a promise that I’d finish school. And that’s what I did.

I fulfilled that part of the bargain. And it was time to leave and find a place I can really call home.

“Lenard, I know what you want.”

I put my hands to my ears, hoping this would keep the voice from entering my head. As silly as it sounds, I felt that all I had to do was ignore it, and it will go away. But, that’s not how this one worked.

Originally published at

Originally published at

“Come to the river’s edge and play with me.”

Now, I was frightened. Grandma’s warning was coming true. She used to tell me the story of an evil spirit called a Rusalki who would lure lonely, young men to the river and take them with her to its depths. The spirit was supposed to be beautiful, and no man could ignore her, for she always knew what they wanted.

So, here I was, young and lonely. I was her favorite target.

I started to run as fast as I could. I really didn’t know where to go, so I headed down the road. But the Rusalki kept talking, despite my attempts not to listen.

“Where will you go?” she said. “Do you think the world is any different from that town?”

“Shut-up!” I yelled.

“My dear Lenard, I will never hurt you like those bullies. I won’t reject you like all those girls. I’ll love you unlike your mother, and I won’t abandon you, like your father.”

My lungs burned. My muscles ached from running away. Still, I kept my mind strong, trying to keep those words from getting to me.

“You’re a wise boy,” she continued. “So you must know: I’m not here to hurt you. “

I collapsed onto the road. I breathed long and hard, unable to move. I was not aware of my surrounding, but I could hear. The sloshing river sounded like it was a mile or so away. The road had turned away from its bank.

I recouped and looked around. The nearby woods were thick. The river could not be seen. I sat there for a while, and to my relief the voice was gone. But, the words still remained, bouncing around in that messed up head of mine.

I got up and started walking again. But, as I did so, I kept thinking about everything she said. She wanted me; there was no doubt about that. And everything she had to say to state her case was really getting the best of me.

Do I cross the bridge? Do I listen to the warnings of my grandma? Do I listen to the spirit?

I must have walked for an hour or so. I don’t know; it just seemed so long. I traveled around a bend in the road and could hear the river again. Not only that, I could see a bridge that connected to the other side of the river and to the road that led to the rest of the world.

“Lenard,” the Rusalki whispered.

Like I’ve done before I didn’t answer. But, I listened.

“Nobody will want you out there. But you’ll always be wanted here.”

Grandma always warned me about her: “She’ll trick you into believing her. She’ll know how to pull you in. And if you don’t see her for what she really is, you will never escape.”

“Nobody will make fun of you,” the Rusalki continued. “Nobody will call you a dummy.”

One thing about the Rusalki: she talked with a sweet melodic voice. It’s funny how I didn’t notice that before. Either way, her voice – which once frightened me – now calmed me down.

I walked onto the bridge. The other side was so close, yet so far. Still, I walked toward it. And, the Rusalki kept working her magic. Inside, I struggled.

Do I cross the bridge? Do I listen to the warnings of my grandma? Do I listen to the spirit?

Something caught my attention. There, in a tree branch hanging over the river, was the spirit. She was glowing and had an angelic face. She was beautiful (she looked like the girls in school who wouldn’t have given me the time of day).

From the opera

From the opera

She smiled and I felt it.

“Am I the evil spirit your grandma warned you about?” she said softly.

I shook my head and I really started to wonder if grandma got it wrong.

She pointed to the other side of the bridge and said: “Out there you will be a nobody like you were in the town.”

If I had been fighting her words before, I wasn’t at that point.

“And what’s there for me?” I managed to say.

She moved from the branch and floated up to me. And then she said: “An end to the misery you had.”

The word misery hit me hard. It was as if it stripped away any armor I had and exposed me. The tears began running down my cheeks.

“I will help you find a place you will always feel wanted.”

With that she embraced me, and I felt a sense of warmth and freedom I had never felt before. And then, I felt the shock of the cold water.

Once in the water, the Rusalki changed form. The bright eyes she had turned red. Her hair turned to razors. She hissed, showing her fangs and forked tongue. The Rusalki showed her true self as she pulled me under.

With whatever energy I had, I slipped out the pack and swam as hard and fast as I could to the surface. I broke the surface and let the river's flow take me. Still, the Rusalki - now angry -- pursued me.

I panicked and began kicking, but she had good grip on me. I tried to hold my breath, but my head felt like it was about to explode.

At that moment, I thought of grandma’s one advice for getting away: I had seen her true self. I also realized she had a hold of my backpack and was pulling me down from that.

With whatever energy I had, I slipped out the pack and swam as hard and fast as I could to the surface. I broke the surface and let the river's flow take me. Still, the Rusalki - now angry -- pursued me.

Finally, I made it to calmer waters and climbed onto the river bank, exhausted and cold.

I peered back and saw the Rusalki raise her head above the water. She reappeared as that beautiful, glowing angel I first saw. She smiled warmly.

“Lenard,” she whispered. “Please come back.”

It was too late; her magic words and appeal had no effect on me.

I got to my feet and stumbled up the bank. I never turned back to look at her. She tried to speak, but her voice was hollow and distant. It soon became a murmur before it was no louder than the river’s roar.

When I got to the road, I realized I really didn’t have anywhere to go. One way led to an unknown realm. The other led back to town. And as I pondered my decision, it got me thinking: I had been listening too much to what others were saying about me, and not enough to what those who cared had to say.

I decided at that moment, I had to return to the town where I experienced so much torment. Maybe I had to take a real hard look at who they really were, and then stop listening to them all together. They couldn’t hurt me. They couldn’t drag me down to their world, after all.

What a dummy I was for not seeing that.

© 2012 Dean Traylor

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