The Creek | A Short Story

I recently realized that I like to use my short stories not only to explore themes and character, but also to experiment with different narrative techniques.  So I thought it would be fun to do a story written from the second person point of view.  Hope you enjoy it!  Any constructive criticism would be much appreciated.

There was a No Trespassing sign on the field; but you would always play there anyway.  You would spend hours there on the lazy summer afternoons, chasing your brothers through the grass; and when you were tired, you would sit under the trees by the creek and make little stick boats, and set them in the water to watch them float away.  You always used to wonder where they were going.  You would tell your brothers stories about the little boats that journeyed down the creek and down the river and all the way to the roaring sea.

When you were ten, some neighbors moved into the empty lot across the creek.  They had five kids; the oldest boy was about your age, or a little older.  The first day you saw them was an afternoon at the beginning of summer, when the spring hadn’t yet given way to the heat, and warm winds sent the remnant scent of jasmine blossoms winding about your head.  Your toes dipped in the rushing water as you sat beneath the trees.  You were making boats – your youngest brother was just learning the use of a pocketknife – when there was a noise,and you looked up to see a face peeking through the bushes on the far side.  It was a clean face.  Yours was smudged with dirt, and sweat trickled down your brow, and you wondered what kind of city child this could be.

He asked you what you were doing.  You told him you were making boats; and then the youngest brother told him they would float down the creek and down the river to the sea.  His eyes lit up as if at a strange and wonderful magic, and he asked you how to make them.  You told him to cross the creek, and you would show him, but he couldn’t; his mother would be angry if he got wet.  And because you understood the wrath of a mother as well as the next, you told him to sit on the rock where he was, and you would show him that way.

And so you taught him to make little boats and send them on their journey to the sea.  And he taught you about cities – how big they were, and how wonderful and full of lights and people.  And how dangerous they could be, and how lonely.  One by one he brought his siblings to meet you, and they stared at you wide-eyed; until you told them the story of the boats, and their brother made them one, and they sent it on its journey down the creek and down the river to the roaring sea.

The years passed, just like the creek and the boats you sent down it every summer.  You were sixteen; your brothers were thirteen and ten, and the younger was now cynical enough to point out that the boats probably broke up on the rocks before they even left your property.  But you still made the boats that summer.  You sat under the trees and dangled your toes in the cool water, and the boy sat across the creek.  And now you talked about your schoolwork, and you insulted Greek philosophers and modern painters with equal lazy expertise, while your brothers added their uncomprehendingly decided opinions.

The day you grew up was toward the end of the summer.  The chilly mornings were just beginning to assert their presence, even while the sultry heat stubbornly held sway.  The creek tickling your feet was just a little cooler than it had been a week ago.  You and the boy across the creek were wondering about the position the Pythagorean theorem held in the scheme of the universe, and your youngest brother was musing over whether the principles applied to building boats; the other was more concerned with transforming a fallen branch into a spear.  The boy’s youngest sister was seven now.  She sat above him on the bank, twisting flowers into ropes and looping them around her neck, and using them to decorate the stacks of rocks she had assembled on the ground before her.

Only she wasn’t.  You looked up to set a boat in the water, and she was gone.  You gave a cry, and the boy looked up and asked where she was; but neither of you knew.  Your brothers leaped across the creek to look around.  She was nowhere near, in any of the trees or bushes or the stones of the creek.  The stacks of rocks looked strangely lonesome, surrounded by the abandoned flowers.  You all called her name, but there was no answer.

Then the elder of your brothers cried out.  Just down the creek, a yellow flower lay bright among the rocks.  You crossed the creek, soaking the hem of your dress (your brothers were already dripping) and the four of you set off downstream to look for her.

You talked as you went, wondering where she could have gone, or why.  At first you tried looking in the bushes near the water, but they were so thick that even she couldn’t have wandered into them.  Flowers appeared at intervals along the creek, dropped haphazardly among the stones or on the leaf-strewn bank at your feet; though you also saw little chains hung like offerings or decorations on bushes or low-hanging branches.  You walked for some time, though no one knew how long, before the youngest brother realized you had left the property.

You came to a place where the rocks almost filled the creek.  The water hurried and bounced around them, chattering in joyous – or maybe it was mocking – laughter.  Your youngest brother asked if the boats wouldn’t get caught here and smashed.  The boy said that they might; but the braver ones would make it through.  “Some will always make it through.”  You could see a pink flower caught in a crevice, the water waving it back and forth like the wind.

The creek widened after that.  Soon the rocks no longer provided a crossing; soon after, you would have had to swim to get to the other side.  There were flowers here too, whole clusters of them, caught in swirling eddies by the shore.  You were hot and sweaty now.  You and the boy splashed water on your hands and faces.  Your brothers jumped in and did the same thing much more effectively; they soaked you nearly as much as themselves.  But you told the boy not to worry – he’d be dry by the time you all got home.

And by now you were wondering when that would be.  You had never been this far.  You still called his sister’s name at times, but she still didn’t answer, and you couldn’t see the sun through the trees anymore.  But there was nothing to do now but keep going.

The trees started to get thicker, and the bank got higher.  Soon you all had to scramble to the top of the bank; but then you had to scramble back down, when the trees set themselves almost intentionally in your way.  You climbed out onto the rocks over the water – it was a stream now.  Your brothers led the way, balancing carefully – or not – as they stepped between the stones, or jumped the wider gaps.  The boy followed them, and held out his hand to help you across the gaps.  Water rushed by, flowing around the boulders and pebbles indiscriminately, intent on its destination.  And against all odds, the flowers kept appearing – stuck underwater between two rocks, or lying (still fresh) on top of the bigger ones.  More than once it made the navigation easier.

The stream kept getting wider and wider, faster and faster.  The trees on the bank got farther apart until you could walk there again.  Where you stepped back onto the bank a wreath of flowers hung from a bush; your brother set it around your neck, and you strode wearily forward like a dripping queen.  And finally, you saw the end of the stream.

It met the river in a thundering watery embrace.  The river was so wide you could barely see across it as it rushed past like the speed of the planets.  It was a deep, glittering green under the branches of the trees that stretched out to see their reflections in its mirror.  A hawk cried in the sky above, and fish flitted past in the shallows below, and all of your stomachs flipped with a sudden, inexplicable joy.

Out in the middle of the creek, just before it emptied into the river, a stone stood taller than the rest, like a sentinel.  And she sat atop it, quietly winding her flowers about something in her hand.  You called her name in joy and relief; she turned and waved, and motioned for you to come and join her.  You scrambled down and made your way out over the rocks to where she sat.  And then you saw what she had in her hand.

It was one of the boats.  It was covered with flowers – they waved from the mast like a sail, and hung behind as a rudder, and one small white one jutted from the top like a flag.  “It was the only one I found,” she explained.  “I helped it get here; but I wanted to get it ready to go on to the sea.”  You asked her why she had left.  “I was chasing the boats,” she said.  Then she climbed down the rocks and set the boat in the water.  She smiled back at you, and then she let it go.
The boat floated in the current until it reached the river.  It wobbled then, caught between two forces, and almost capsized, but it righted and made its way downstream, gaining speed as it went.  You watched until it became little more than a bright colored speck, and then it rounded a corner and you couldn’t see it any more.  And then, because the sun was making its own way to the horizon, you turned back.  Your brothers swam to the shore, and the boy helped you and his sister back across the stones.  And you looked out at the river one more time before you started home.

You made boats again the day after, but this time you didn’t wonder where they would travel.  Now you wondered whether they were strong enough to escape the rocks, and brave enough to leave the creek for the mighty river.  And you tied a flower around them, just in case.

Do you remember, Grandma?

Join the conversation!