He laid the corpse on the riverbed, his breath fogging up in the sharp dusk air. The sun had only just reached the sky, the edge of its fiery grasp skirting the mountains that rose up in protest against the deep and forgotten valley. Holding calloused hands to his mouth, he blew warmth into his palms and wiggled his fingers. They were numb.
He stared down into the girl’s face. Her eyes were gently closed, lips parted in the slightest manner, as if she was just awakening from a midday nap. His shadow rested over her figure. Squeezing shut his own eyes, he tried to conjure up some surge of emotion...excitement? Anger? Pity? But, like his fingers, his body was completely numb. He gave the smallest of pushes to the silhouette, which rolled down the muddy terrain and bobbed into the water with a barely audible splash.
This was his favorite time of day. Not many people were awake yet, and if they were, they were not foolish enough to go out in the four a.m. frost. In the valley, time ticked by much slower than back in the city. The lapping water measured the seconds, the minutes, the hours, that he passed there. Jars of sediment rattled on the sills of the boarded up windows in his house. It seemed that the river had to be with him everywhere he went. Encrusted under his nails, in small pouches that he stuffed in his pockets. There was something magnificent about the valley. Something terrible...but magnificent.
He settled against a decaying boulder, watching the body bob up and down. It rose and fell, swayed and steadied, with the quiet hum of the inky water. The river turned gray in his mind, dashes of yellow sparking up. He rubbed at his deep set eyes ferociously. The memory would not disappear.
Maybe that is why he loved the river. Everything, everything, disappeared eventually there. The pebbles turned to dust. The grass flattened out and floated away with the death of summertime. Flying leaves rustled under the paws of animals that would never make it into a children’s coloring book.
It had all happened three years ago. And nothing would go away. It was like yesterday. The sounds and the smells and the sights and the searing pain cut into his vision again and again.
He started to dig. The mud stuck itself between his fingers as he ripped through the ground. He had first come here the month after it happened. For once, he hoped something had not disappeared.
A bird screamed from a scraggly branch, interrupting his focus. He stared down at his hands. They were raw with the scrapes of stone and glass.
The watch clinked inside the shattered beer bottle. The top had been broken off the bottle, a gold chain dropped inside. They were one and the same, in his eyes...one and the same. The beer bottle had caused the end of time. The beer bottle had stopped the clock. Time went too quickly in the city. Much slower in the valley. And the beer bottle had not even belonged to his brother. It had been held by his brother’s fiance, right before she drove.
The windows had shattered. That’s the biggest thing he remembered. The windows had shattered and flown into his brother’s heart, sparkling like stars in the chaotic headlights. That was what he remembered next - the headlights. They illuminated the scene, provided a spotlight for the show. The last thing he remembered was the watch. The gold watch that crinkled up in the mess, just like the bones of his brother, peeking out of the bloody wreckage like a pop-up toy.
He looked at the corpse one more time. And then he left the valley.