The Strid

I’m here every day. It’s so beautiful, especially in spring when bluebells carpet the woods. Today wide ribbons of autumn mist hover above the ground, camouflaging legions of rabbits as they snatch an early morning feed before the visitors trickle in. I wander among them and they raise their heads, noses twitching, ears piercing the damp white swathes. Perhaps, like me, they are drawn by the distant echo of rushing water, drifting on the chilly air. As always I follow the sound until it fills my head, drowning out all conscious thought.

***

If only my mother had let me see the Strid I might have slept more easily. In my nightmares the monster sucked me into its greedy belly; churned, chewed and spat me out, limp and lifeless, many miles away. The odd snippet, passed between the women of the family, fuelled my imagination.

“I see it’s had another one,” my aunt would say, pulling in her chins and hoisting her bosom up to meet them.

Mam and grandma would shake their heads with meaningful nods in my direction and Aunt Bet would purse her lips. Later there’d be a whispered conversation in the kitchen and I’d hear exclamations of shock and horror with just an occasional detail.

“Nowt left but a navy slingback.”

Thrilled and terrified, I’d devour the image and magnify it during the hours of darkness.

***

Bolton Abbey was my mother’s favourite haunt and, even as a child, I felt the past as I gazed up at the graceful gothic arches of the old Priory. We ate our sandwiches in the shade of towering columns, watching children splash in the sparkling River Wharfe, placid now, its savage energies spent upstream.

The Strid lay between the Abbey and home. Aunt Bet would try to distract me with sweets or ‘I Spy’ as we passed but I wasn’t so easily fooled. Long before we reached the sign that lured innocent travellers off the road, I felt the pull.

“Please, please can we go in?” I begged.

Dad raised his eyebrows at Mam, she glared back, and Aunt Bet shoved the bag of humbugs under my nose. I realise now they didn’t trust themselves to protect me. I was a wilful child. Supposing I couldn’t be restrained?

At night it preyed on my mind. Its fingers clutched my ankles, pulling me down through dense yellow foam into roiling black depths. A galaxy of bubbles swirling around my head. Sunlight dancing close by but always out of reach. Lungs bursting. Struggling to breathe. Twisting and thrashing, resisting the force. Water invading. One last effort.

Ragged gasps grazed my throat as I fought for air. I’d stay awake, counting rosebuds on my wallpaper until I felt safe again.

I was seventeen when I first saw the Strid. It was my turn to choose the destination for a day out with my friends and, although school and boyfriends had pushed it to the back of my mind for a few years, I didn’t hesitate. The nightmares returned. My unsuspecting parents noticed the shadows under my eyes and thought a few hours in the fresh air would do me good. The knife shook as I cut my sandwiches.

I remember standing on the mossy rocks, calculating the distance to the other side and wondering what I’d been afraid of. It was just a river. The one I had paddled in; caught tiddlers with my hands. But narrower. And darker. And deeper.

***

The river is only treacherous when its power is underestimated and people don’t pay it proper respect. Like this lot coming across the grass. They’re about the same age I was. The boys are pushing each other around, showing off in front of the girls. They’re a handsome bunch on the brink of manhood but still fresh-faced and fearless. It looks like they’ve been drinking and I can hear the clink of bottles in their rucksacks. The girls are excited, jostling to walk nearest the one they want. They’re silly and reckless and they’d be better off downstream where they can play safely.

One girl lags behind, pretending to look for something in her bag as the others rush towards the river’s edge. A sudden gust blows spray onto the rocks and the thundering turbulence of too much water forced into too little space is deafening. The ground vibrates with the eternal filling of subterranean channels by surging currents. The girl shudders.

One of her friends turns round and yells through cupped hands, “Come on, Amy!”

The others join in and she smiles and nods, edging forwards.

They’re standing together on stones worn smooth by countless feet. They sway about, laughing, and someone bunches their fists. One potato, two. They’re going to jump across. Who’ll be first?

“Hurry up, Amy.”

She hangs back. They pull her into the circle and she looks round, her eyes darting, panicking. Seven potato more. Her right hand is knocked out and she hides it behind her, holding it safe. One by one the youngsters step back, letting out their breath.

It’s Amy. They point at the route she must take. It’s easy, they say – look. They take her bag and move away to give her room. She stares at the opposite bank and tenses.

I step through the cheering crowd and touch her arm. She shivers and half turns towards me, her eyes blank with terror.

“You don’t have to do this, Amy,” I say. “It’s your life.”

She hesitates and I wonder if she’s heard me. Her friends fall silent as she moves away from the edge and walks between them up the bank. She smiles at their puzzled expressions and pulls an apple from her pocket. Her lips move but only I can hear the words.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I say as I brush past.

Many years ago, when I was young and foolish, I wish someone had done the same for me.

Comments
  1. James says:

    Great ending

  2. glasslogic says:

    I enjoyed this. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Pete says:

    Excellent!

  4. Sue says:

    Thank you to everyone who has read my story in the last couple of days. I’d be interested to know how you found it, as I haven’t flagged it up for a long time!

  5. Great story hon, really enjoyed it :)

    xx

  6. inkblotts says:

    Great story! :) Loved the ending.

  7. Ciaran Lynch says:

    Very good Sue. Very good.

  8. skipmars says:

    The moment is caught, and hangs vividly in my mind. I often wonder how different the scene is on the canvas of the reader’s mind from that of the writer.

    The danger you paint runs at different levels. I think, life and death. I think, sexual encounters at too young an age. I think, foolish youth, sometimes misspent, and finding later the wherewithal of wisdom much later in life.

    In spite of the difference of culture and country, you weave threads of life common to all.

    Good work.

  9. skipmars says:

    We older folk have time to read — plus we draw from our bank acounts of years of reading and of experience. And, it doesn’t help to be a writer, too!

    Continued success with your writing. I’m starting mine a little later in life! But, with all those bank accounts available to me, of course!

    Skip Marsden (L. Stewart)

  10. Mark Brown says:

    I grew up in nearby Harrogate and had terror instilled in me about the dangers of the Strid from an early age. I loved this story as it brought it all back to me.

    • Sue says:

      Thank you, Mark! It’s a scary place. I’ve had a short murder/mystery story about the Strid published in this month’s Yorkshire Ridings Magazine if you’re still in the area. I feel a series coming on….

  11. Fawn says:

    Great story! I live in Ontario Canada, close to Niagara Falls. You describe exactly the feelings I’ve had since childhood about the Falls, a terrble fear that grips me at night, and yet an uncontrollable urge to go in. I think it’s the perfect balance of terror and beauty. Our natural instinct is to join nature and be one with it. I see plenty of foolhardy kids taking their chances at the Falls too, only no amount of wise words ever seems to discourage them, the just keep coming like lemmings. Thanks again!

  12. M.Collett says:

    So full of emotion after reading your story.
    I’ve come across this after google searching the Strid and was drawn towards the revealed snippet; “If only my mother had let me see the Strid, I might have slept more easily…”.

    I’ve never been to the Strid in person and it’s unlikely that I ever will, but my mind has been there many times in nightmares.
    Your vivid and compelling story has really touched me today and I would like to thank you for sharing it online.
    In August 1998 my Brother and his wife lost their lives in this river, they were on their honeymoon. I’ve never previously felt a strong enough urge to type in the Strid online, but today he has been in my mind constantly, I still miss him so much …I guess I was searching for an understanding. I certainly wasn’t expecting to get anything from a fictional story, and yet I have. I no longer feel the need to look now.
    It has to be said, your stark descriptiveness so precisely reflects my own inner images which have tormented my mind through the years. I’ve graphically seen them chewed up and spat out by that monster a thousand times, and as disconcerting as it is for me to read it here outside of my own thoughts, and based in the exact same place, your story has also left me with an odd peaceful feeling of comfort. I wasn’t expecting the twist at the end, and naturally it has brought forth to my mind images of my sister-in-law, as your character is female. All I can say is bless you Sue, your story has touched me immensely. I’d like to think the torturous images in my mind may now be replaced with the calmer, more beautiful and positive image that you have created here at the end of your story. Time will tell.
    Thank you so very much for sharing it.

    • Sue says:

      Thank you so much for reading my story and for telling me yours. I’m so sorry to hear about your family tragedy and am glad that my story brought some comfort. I never expected it to be read by someone with personal experience and your comments have touched me more than I can say. Perhaps one day you will visit the area yourself – it’s so very beautiful – and I hope, if you do, you will find the peace you seek.

      Best wishes and thank you again,
      Sue

  13. Loved it! I had never heard of the place until I read the Cracked.com article, but since then I have scoured the net for info…glad to have come across your story! Thank you for writing!

    • Sue says:

      Thank you very much for staying to read the story and leaving a comment – I’m glad you liked it. It has now had thousands of visits because of the article on Cracked! Serendipity!

  14. I’m researching The Strid out of personal interest and landed on your article (and yes, “Cracked” is where I first saw it). Good write, enjoyed the read!

  15. really good work… expressed nicely…
    My apologies if i come across as inconsiderate but i wanna know more about this strid as there is not much on the net about it…can you help me ..with its physical aspects ..on a more detailed and vivid scale?

  16. James says:

    I hung on every word; waiting for the ending. Beautifully written.

  17. Celeste White says:

    This was so good. i came looking for travel information and left totally entertained.

  18. skipmars says:

    In March of 2012 I read and commented on this extraordinary work. Today, for some reason, it popped up in my email, so I reread it.

    In my mind this time, the narrator is a ghost who saves the life of a young girl much like herself when she was not as lucky, and entered the Strid waters.

    The multi-layers I mentioned in 2012 are still as vividly recognized.

    Tell me, what’s become of the story re publishing? Have you added other stories of this ilk?

    • Sue says:

      Thank you for reading again, skipmars – that’s above and beyond! Yes, you have interpreted the story correctly, I’m happy to say. It was originally published in Yorkshire Ridings magazine in 2010 and another story featuring the Strid, murder/mystery this time, was published in 2012: http://www.yorkshireridingsmagazine.com/ezine/yrm/2012%2D06/#/76/
      I am currently working a series of stories based around the Strid and the Abbey.
      Many thanks again for your lovely comments and good luck with your own writing. Sue

      • skipmars says:

        Thank you, Sue. Ever see the movie, Ghost Story?

      • Sue says:

        No, was it any good?

      • skipmars says:

        About 4 — maybe 5 men who decades before were involved in the death of a woman who was never recovered by authorities, and who ruled her missing. The men attend a reunion, and one-by-one . . . well, I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

        Pretty tense at times.

        Don’t watch it alone.

  19. A story of captivating capabilities, and a surprise ending that gave my emotions a twist. I appreciate this piece.

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