by Mariah Montoya
In Lauceville, a forbidden river ran on the edge of town, on the other side of the forest grove where the old dump lay abandoned. Time, wind, and rebellious teenagers opened the mouth of the dump into part of the bank, so that the river was thick with trash—garbage sacks, chip bags, plastic, cardboard boxes, cereal containers, cigarette butts, broken glass…all spilling into the slow-moving water. The river churned and grumbled and sucked until it spilled out nearly a hundred stories about children eaten alive, people pulled under, fingers of garbage reeling in the river’s prey to drown.
“There’s something in that river all right,” the men at Little Star said.
The barman would laugh and say, nervously, “Garbage man.”
When the old people disappeared, usually around the ages of seventy or eighty, the garbage in that river was always to blame, which despite its grimy, slimy nature crackled with alluring charm to anyone who ventured there, a phantom sparkle, a plastic cup bobbing in the muddy water that said with a high, transparent voice, “Drink within me!” If you were the unfortunate old man or woman hearing this miracle, you would strip off your suspenders or pantyhose and dive your frail body into the muck to drink from the little plastic cup.
As Lauceville aged, the ages got younger. Now it was the fifty-year-olds setting down their black coffees and drifting like ghosts to the river, ignoring the town’s signs—DANGER: FORBIDDEN AREA AHEAD—floating past the teenagers in their dump-truck hideouts to the mouth of the river, stepping in as if a welcome mat invited them, finally, home. Any teenager who witnessed this extravagant event would watch through the cracks of their hideaways, open-mouthed, as their aunts and uncles simply swept away with the garbage, not floating, just sinking until the tips of their heads disappeared and the river swallowed them whole. And over the years, the ages in Lauceville got younger and younger, until the teenagers themselves were feeding themselves into the muck, and then the children could only think to follow their idols, brave the barbed-wire fences and march to the bank, jump into the filth, join the world.
Then they were all down there, that whole town. Squirming, solid lives under the river that was once forbidden. The women, decorating themselves with plastic bags and soggy crumpled papers, would talk of Lauceville, that dangerous place, the place of monsters and trash, where children were eaten alive. The community would have to tell these underwater stories, lest someone decided to rise back out of the muddy river and rejoin the empty shell of home.