There was a river in Robin’s backyard.
There hadn’t been one the day before, but that morning, when she woke up, there was a river.
It had rained all night. Hard, pounding rain, up until she’d fallen asleep. Lightning too. Very close. Probably right outside at least once.
All that water, it had to go somewhere, and right now, it was going right through Robin’s backyard. It was still raining. Not as hard as the night before, but it showed no signs of stopping, and so the river wasn’t going away.
She watched it flow across her backyard, into the yard of the neighbors, and further on and on. Robin walked along the edge, letting her sandaled feet dip into the water every now and then. She was soaked already, from head to toe, so she didn’t see the harm in her feet getting a little wetter.
She walked out of her yard and into the neighbors. It was an apartment complex, so nobody was really too serious about where someone’s yard ended and another began, yet Robin still found herself hesitating as she left the area that was officially her yard. Technically ‘her parent’s yard’ she supposed. She wondered if they would approve of her going off around the place. It was summer vacation, and both her fathers were at work, so there was nobody to ask if it was ok unless she wanted to call their office. But the receptionist at her parents’ office was a very intense woman. She scared Robin a bit, even though Robin was already 13. Her dad, Chris, had assured her that Mrs. Arlington was a perfectly nice lady, but Robin wasn’t convinced of that at all. So she shrugged and reasoned that it was probably fine to just go. Her parents were always telling her she should play outside more anyway, and here she was, playing outside.
Robin followed the flow of the river, small though it was, across the yard of her neighbors, and then their neighbors. At first, her plan was just to follow it to the edge of the property. Along the low grassy area behind the apartment building, to the edge of the thicket that bordered the complex to the South. Sometimes, she would jump across the rushing water, but that was getting harder and harder as she kept going. By the time she reached the treeline, she couldn’t leap over without making a splash at the water’s edge on that side, and it was still getting wider.
On its way to the woods, Robin’s river had been joined by a dozen other trickles from around the property. The currents of muddy water crashing together to form miniature rapids.
Robin looked into the woods, straining to see how far it went in, but she couldn’t see the end of it through the underbrush. The new river snaked along the forest floor, splitting apart, rejoining, on and on, always getting wider.
Robin had planned to stop here, but she really wanted to keep going, to find out where the water was flowing to.
It had to be going somewhere right?
It was still morning she thought, so she had plenty of time to get back before her parents came home. They didn’t have to know she’d left the property.
So Robin kept going, into the woods, along the banks of what she decided was definitely a real stream, rather than a fake river.
It was still getting wider as she followed it between the trees, but she didn’t fully realize until she started to see the small islands in the water. A rock here and there at first, but then ones large enough to have trees growing on them. The water still looked very shallow, not much deeper than her ankles, but she had stopped trying to jump it a ways back. The trees put the new width into perspective. She wondered if this could be an actual, not at all fake, river. She wasn’t sure what separated a large stream from a small river exactly, but she was beginning to think that this was the latter.
Had there always been a river this close to her house? She’d never known about it. She hadn’t seen it on Google Maps when she’d zoomed out from her house to space for fun. And yet: here was a river.
There was no way she would reach the end of this river today.
As Robin was considering turning around, she saw something leap out of the water, and then disappear just as quickly. She saw another splash, but this time she saw the glimmer of light catching on silver scales. There were fish in her river. Not fish like Robin had ever seen though, great fat fish with long whiskers and fins as big as birds wings. Their jumping soon became longer, fluttering flights. Robin watched them leap and jump, snapping their wide mouths at buzzing insects, making their way downriver. Robin followed, wondering if her dad, Mark, knew there were fish back here. He liked to fish, and He’d taken Robin a few times. Robin hadn’t enjoyed it as much.
Just as she was thinking about fishing, and if maybe the strange looking fish were ok to eat, she saw a dark shape move over her. She ducked, looking up at the overcast sky, and she could see bird even stranger than the fish, with a neck as long as a heron’s, but with four great seagull wings and legs like an eagle. It’s cry was musical, like a mockingbird’s, but with a cadence that made it sound like someone had autotuned a mockingbird.
She was so preoccupied looking at the birds, she almost walked right into the river when it bent in front of her. When she looked down from the sky, she saw the first people she’d seen since leaving the apartment complex. A half-dozen fishermen were sitting on the bank opposite her, lines cast out to luring the leaping fish. They were small men. Really small. As small as Robin was, with long, narrow faces and pointed ears. Occasionally, when one would get a bite, the fishermen would shout “Ho, Ho!” and begin pulling the fish in as if he’d hooked some kind of sea monster. The others would smile and laugh and cheer, and Robin noticed that their teeth were as pointed as their ears. Their clothing seemed old, like out of some movie, and Robin was trying to get a better look at them when one of the fishermen spotted her.
“Ho, Ho!” he called, “Fine day for a bit of fishing, eh?”
Robin looked up at the gray, overcast sky. It was still raining.
“But it’s still raining,” Robin called back a bit confused.
The little man looked up and nodded, “So it is.”
He said it as if he had only just noticed.
“Good luck that is. Fishing when it’s raining,” Said another of the little fishermen sagely.
“True, true,” agreed a third, “That’s a fact.”
“I’ve never heard that,” Her dad, Mark, never went fishing when it rained.
“Quite so,” said a fourth fisherman, “It’s a secret. We never tell anyone.”
“But,” Robin wasn’t sure what to say, “You just told me?”
“Told you what?” Said the fisherman who’d spoken first.
“That it’s good luck.”
“What is?” said the second one.
“Fishing when it rains.”
“Is it?” the third one looked puzzled.
“I’ve never heard that,” said a fisherman who hadn’t spoken until now.
“What brings you down the river today?” said the first fisherman, as if the rest of the conversation hadn’t just happened.
“I…I was exploring I guess,” Robin managed, still very confused by the little men.
“Exploring!?” the strange men cried out delighted.
“Well then,” one of them shouted, though Robin couldn’t tell which, “We shall be IMploring you to join us for lunch!”
Quick as deer, the fishermen began a mad scramble on the river’s edge, disappearing into the bushes, and emerging in a collection of small boats. They paddled furiously for Robin’s side of the river, with looks of manic hunger in their eyes.
Robin ran. She didn’t want to wait and find out if the lunch they were talking about was her. Plowing through the brush upriver, which seemed thicker than when she’d came that way before. She heard the laughing and hollering of the fishermen behind her, their boats scrapping on the branches and rocks as they came ashore.
Robin tried to go faster, pushing herself, straining her legs to pump faster, her hands to pull branches aside quicker. Soon, cuts and scratches covered her arms and her legs beneath the knees. Still she heard the cries of the sharp-toothed men, drawing closer and closer. They would be upon her in no time.
She stopped, looking at the brush around her. She could hear the little men coming. Something under a downed tree caught her eye. She leap to it, reaching under it, her hand closing around a weapon.
She brought up her sword, prepared to face the wicked creatures.
“Robin? What are you doing?” Chris asked behind her.
Robin jumped, turning to see her father standing beside the small trickle that was Robin’s river about twenty feet back, at the edge of the apartment complex’s property. She tried to hide the sword shaped stick behind her back.
“Nothing,” she said, with as much confidence as she could muster.
Her dad stepped carefully over a small patch of thorns and looked past her to the stick half hidden behind her.
“Nothing?” he asked again smiling.
Robin took out the stick, and looking down on her feet explained, “I was gonna fight some weird goblin fishermen who were hunting me for their lunch.”
“With that?” Chris asked.
“It’s magic,” she said, “The sword looks just like a normal stick unless you’re pure of heart and destined to wield it.”
“Ah, of course,” Chris smiled, then he looked around. After a moment, he picked up a different stick, “You need any help fighting goblins?”
“No. But you can if you want,” Robin said beaming.