Follow the River Home

A Horror Postcard Story

I’d seen that cougar on the high line ridge not two hours ago. Now, it crept in the underbrush too close by but it yet stayed low. I’d hiked these paths in my youth, but I knew not this valley or these trees. Fear of the beast had turned me round and I wasn’t sure which way to go. There were stories of folks lost in this undergrowth—cold, starved, or even murdered dead—but the wisdom of a whispering wind said, “Follow the river home.”

I startled and searched for the voice but caught no one in sight. Instead, there was a rustle of brush ahead as something turned down the slope toward the water below. I was ready to call after it, but a knock of stumbled wood caused me to look back up the path. That old mother lion was darting across behind me no more than a jog away. She was getting bolder yet—perhaps readying her strike. So, I ran on behind that thing ahead, calling for its name. Again, a whisper came and said, “Follow the river home.”

My gran and gramp would tell tales of the good folks who made the forest home—old country myths of shrunken men that suddenly seemed real. I wondered if shrunken shriveled folk would lead me on and out towards a road. I wonder if the mother lion would go hungry when these little folk would coax the hikers out of sight. Was I just a token in their old game—just a piece on the board? But I washed away these thoughts when I saw a young girl in jeans and torn shirt who stood upon the water impossibly and called, “Follow the river home.”

I ran for the shore, but the great old lion thought the same. I slid out of her range into a shell of thorns leaning over the stream. The mother lion missed me, that much I know but little more, for I must admit, I shut my eyes and muffled my cries and waited for her bite. Yet I only heard her run off the bank and across the other shore. When I peaked out to see, there was no beast or ghost near me. I was again alone among the trees. So, I crawled out of the thorns, plucked them from my arms, then started to hike along the shore. I kept the advice and whispered, “Follow the river home.”

The girl on the water had been pale as the print on her posters still up about the town. She was a high-schooler out for a hike with some fellow she liked but who wanted to own her more. The boy got away from court unscathed, but he was run out of town—for whatever worth that had. We all knew the tale, but I hadn’t been sure it was quite her until I saw her cross ahead once more. She waved me forward, but I heard a roar and crackle of a lion running—seeming to sprint and cut me off from my deliverance. The ghost gave a look of worry and said, “Follow the river home.”

Well, the lion was nearly upon me—cutting down from a hill beside me—and the shore I had walked was turning to cliffs that squeezed the river white. The ghost beckoned me in—staring fearfully behind—and so I dove into the swift then heard the old cat swipe at the girl. From there it was worse, for waters turned me and threw me from rock to stone. The shores were vertical, green-slicked granite that slipped from my fingers again, and then, once more. I was too tired to fight when I came to rest upon a dam. I whispered a blessing for the beavers that saved me but then saw it was made of hands. They were torn and knitted amongst the swelling faces of terrified, blue-fleshed men. This was a dam of flesh and bone that I was pressed upon! Then up from the stream, striding confidently for me, was the ghost with hellfire eyes. She leaned down upon me and I could see the bruised impression of a hand forever on her neck. She gripped me tightly to press me under while whispering softly, “Follow the river home.”

By Rory

A beaten old postcard with the same text as below.

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