The dreams of Naiads keep the city up at night. They are fitful in the lowering waters, the river slowly drying. They scratch their alabaster nails along retaining walls, just below the mold and moss. Occasionally, they scale concrete, wrap their fingers round the bars, and wail as if the city might redeem them.
The dreams of Naiads are replete with ancient worshippers at marble shrines. Long ago, there were cults to serve the river women, oracles with prophecies. Disciples knelt beside the river bank and offered lambs for drowning, locks of children’s hair. In return, the Naiads bestowed gifts. Sterile wives grew fertile, maidens found protection, young girls garnered a necessary strength. Naiad water was a cure and remedy for myriad harsh ailments.
Naiads are much older than the city, which was built up to embrace them. No one remembers this but Naiads. The city has forgotten. There are no oracles. Sterile wives pay obeisance to doctors. Maidens open up their thighs, and young girls buy their strength at drugstore counters. The river’s scurvy waters now cause the skin lesions they once cured. And the dreams of Naiads turn to vengeance.
The dreams of Naiads come barbed with jealousy and harm. Naiads have elastic arms. They reach up through the shadows to claim the handsome and unwary. They clasp tightly those they covet. Water fills the lungs, and the river bottom is a cemetery of discarded playthings in the shape of bones.
At night, they infiltrate the city fountains. Following ancient channels only they remember, they surface in the splashing pools beside statues of Poseidon. If the pools are filled with coins, the Naiads gather them like weaponry. They close their luminescent eyes and put copper pennies on the lids. When the coins grow hot and molten, the Naiads hiss at passing revelers, snake their tongues at arm-linked couples, and flick enchanted droplets that wither what they touch.
Winter comes, and the city drains its fountains. They fill with snow and ice. It does not stop the Naiads. They turn their naked skin to furnaces, their blue-green hair to fire. They climb the river walls more often, hanging from the bars. The moon in winter moves them to a frenzy. The city warns its citizens. The fountains and the river are abandoned, but for Naiads.
The dreams of Naiads slip to tendrils. They snake their way through water pipes and drains. They emerge from kitchen faucets. Naiads claim the bathtubs and the cooking pots and sinks. They push steam into the houses, coat the window panes with condensation, infuse the air with briny musk.
The dreams of Naiads make the city restless. Old wives wander barefoot to the river in the snow. Young mothers wrap frozen fingers through the iron. Girls stare down at their reflections, and, in the water, Naiads dress their hair, plait it into braids, and beckon. Soon the city will be empty, culled of everything but Naiad dreams.
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here