PseudoPod 855: And The Water Said Kneel

And The Water Said Kneel

by V. Astor Solomon

The river claims her like a lover, like someone who needed her whole and open and honest. It feels like she’s supposed to expose her throat, to bow for the very water itself, or at least for the man who put her there.

She doesn’t want this though, she never has, not now and not ever. What she wanted was to kiss a man and have a nice time with him, maybe wake up in the morning to breakfast or just a cup of coffee and conversation. She wanted to walk away from an easy encounter with a little money in her pocket and go home so she can watch TV, or read.

What she got instead was sex in the woods, her back pressed into the ground as the stars lit up the night. His hand on her throat, and a blackout before she even realized he wouldn’t stop if she told him to.

And now the river surrounds her, envelops her, holds her down, keeps her under no matter how hard she pushes against the water. She’s not going to live through this, she knows that, and she can’t stop hating the man who put her here. More than that, she hates herself for letting him do this to her.

She knew there were risks, knew that there were people out there who don’t see her as a person, but this? She’d never encountered anything like this, she never thought death would wear tennis shoes and have wire framed glasses.

Her heart hammers in her chest, mixing with the sounds of water, and making it hard to process anything, her own thoughts included. Somehow though, she can hear a voice whisper to her, singing into her ears a lullaby, or maybe a calling. It’s not overwhelming, it’s not drowning out the sound of her struggle, but it’s distracting enough to make her fumble in her fear.

Easy, the water seems to say. Relax, let this happen.

She stops fighting, her mouth opening enough to let the water in. Fuck it, she thinks, she’s going to die here and that moment of strangeness was proof enough that the end was rushing up from the dark water to greet her with open arms. She’s going to die here and there’s no point in pretending someone’s going to fish her out while she’s still got breath in her lungs.

So, she waits for the choking, the final moments looking up into the night sky before darkness overtakes her once again. What she doesn’t expect is for the water to push her up until she’s breaking the surface. Her hands claw and grasp at the air as she sputters, her body trying to recover the oxygen it had been denied.

Everything is spinning and her eyes are wide but she’s breathing, she’s above the water and heading towards the shore, even though her limbs are heavy and it’s hard to move. The voice from before, that kind, fluid voice, pushes into her thoughts again.

It’s a kindness. It’s a gift.

The voice follows her long after she finds her way out of the river.

It’s been weeks since the night she thought she was going to die, but she still hears that sing-song tone. It whispers to her in the liminal hours of the night, putting her at ease and soothing away her nightmares when she wakes up alone, still gasping and clawing her blankets to try and find a way back to land.

The more she listens, the more she can’t help but put an image to the voice, a face with swamp green eyes and hair that is dark and heavy with the water it holds. The river feels like it’s calling to her, urging her to put her feet in the water, to trust that she can be safe.

There’s an odd comfort in the whole thing, even though the idea of going back to the river itself terrifies her. There’s still an impulse, a reminder, that let’s her think she can be safe, that she shouldn’t be afraid.

*He* should be, the water whispers, *He* should be trembling.

She doesn’t believe it, not really, but there’s an easy feeling to be had in thinking he has a reason to wake up in the night, drenched in a cold sweat, his mind filled with regrets, with the knowledge that someone out there wants his final moments to hurt.

She won’t do anything, she’s not that kind of woman, but she still savors the idea all the same.

The voice, the woman, the river, sometimes calls out to her from deep in the woods. The water says she’s beautiful and tells her she moves like a lily, like something that flows into and out of the world, like one of the river’s own disciples.

She can’t determine how this works, how she feels, or what it stirs in her, but she knows there’s pleasure in hearing the words, in knowing the river seems to think she’s worth praising. There’s joy in it, pride even, and it brings her a kind of quiet confidence she doesn’t entirely understand. Even as she navigates through the streets, weaving her way around people and traffic and the little cracks of the world, she does so without fear.

She doesn’t expect to see him again, far away and unobservant, but she hardly even trembles when she does. There’s no hammering in her heart, just something dark, something angry.

Her mouth curls into a smile, her fingers flexing as she almost walks up to him, almost casts aside any sensibilities in favor of a stray brick to his skull.

She listens though, as the river tells her to wait.

The nights when the moon is high and everything is still, it can feel like she’s drowning.

It’s not frightening though, not even for a moment. She embraces the overwhelm, welcoming the rush of water into her lungs. She feels the lightest touch of fingers against her skin, of hands pushing and pulling, encouraging her further and further down with the rushing of the water and the familiar voice that has been with her since she emerged from the depths.

Her hands follow the trail of phantom fingers, finding her own collarbone, her chest. She feels herself quiver at her own touch and knows it’s not just her laying in the darkness.

She feels the river move along her body, tracing breast and bone and skin, claiming her all over again.

She hasn’t gone back there yet, but she closes her eyes and feels the water on her body anyway, feels it pushing into her and putting her where it wants her to be, where she wants her to be. The river overtakes her again and again, but she welcomes it. This time she encourages the embrace of the tide.

Shuddering once more, she lets her own want win, lets the river do what it wishes with her. The hands that move along her body are not her own any longer, her whole self left in the care of something so much more powerful than she has ever been.

One hand wraps around her throat, the other moving down her chest and torso until it rests at her hip. Nails dig in sharp and hard for just a moment, before they flutter over her thigh and between her legs. She’s already aching for touch, for the feeling of water pooling around her, and it feels as if she’s far too much flesh and bone, too much of a person and not enough of a river in and of herself to get what she really needs.

The voice she has come to know so well sings and shushes her all at once, tells her she is good, she is claimed, she is the river’s own and there is nothing they can’t do together.

The hand moves against her, fingers coaxing out little gasps and shaking breaths as the other remains on her throat, intermittently tightening and releasing its hold as if the water was pulling her up and under all over again.

It’s hard for her to register much else beyond the pounding of her own blood in her ears and the hands on her. Her hands but not. She wants to sing out, to respond in kind to the river’s melodies, but all she can do is press the side of her face into a pillow and moan while the hand between her thighs keeps leaving her breathless and dizzy and wanting.

The woman who emerged from the water was not the woman who was tossed into it. She wasn’t sure about it at first but she knows now. There’s a different way she carries herself, a different way she walks and speaks and exists in the world.

There’s power in her footsteps, confidence in the way she looks at those around her and the world itself. There’s a knowing, an assurance, that says no one is allowed to catch her off guard, no predator gets to turn her into their prey ever again.

Not even the asshole who thought he could use her and dispose of her as if she were no better than an empty soda bottle to be cast off into the darkness when he was done.

The water knew what she deserved, it called her worthy of power and affection, and, as much as anything else, the river decided she deserved revenge.

She doesn’t know if he feels bad for what he did, if he’s scared the body would be found floating in the river, or if he’s reliving it somehow, remembering his hands on her throat, the feeling of squeezing the very breath from her body.

The idea leaves her shaking, leaves her hands twisting and curling at her sides and she almost, almost, starts screaming. Because he doesn’t deserve to revel, or fuck, even remember what he did do her. He deserves to feel the water in his lungs and the knowledge that he doesn’t get to make it out of this still breathing. Let him fear and fight for his survival, and more than that, let him know that, in the end, he still loses.

She decides, not for the first time, that one day she will find him. One day she will make him choke, sputter, and die with water in his lungs.

The river once again beckons, but this time she answers the call.

This time, she gets to her feet, slips on shoes and heads toward the woods, toward the place of her rebirth.

The songs were pointed this time, sweet and sharp, and sounding like blood and hunger. She knows what will be waiting for her at the water tonight, she knows why the river is calling.

Though she’s not trying to, her footsteps don’t make a sound. She’s quiet as the old dead, even as she gets close enough to touch. She’s almost on him, her hands can push him right into the water if that‘s what she chooses to do, and it would be a lie to say she didn’t consider it with every step.

She can’t stop thinking of how she could savor the satisfaction of shoving him hard into the water and watching him fight to get free. The image of his struggle, of his fear and surprise, almost makes her mouth water. She’s starving with the want to make him hurt, to make him bleed, and make him never do this to anyone else ever again. He does not get to make more women into corpses, or into hungry disciples of the river, prowling for revenge.

She doesn’t push, doesn’t pick up one of the stray bottles or broken bits that people have abandoned and use it to slice him open, to give his blood to the water. In fact, she doesn’t even say anything, just taps him on the shoulder, smiling slightly at him when he turns to face her.

His eyes are wide and startled, then shift into something almost amused, maybe even bored. He might have seen her come out from the water that night or witnessed her once or twice in passing. If she’s honest, she might have even been seen here tonight, picking her way through the woods to get to him.

Or it could be an act, a mask to keep him from looking weak.

It didn’t matter, not really. She knows he wasn’t going to come up to her until she did it first because doing so would have meant he had to face what he had done, even if it was just long enough to deny it.

“Hey, sunshine,” he says, trying to sound confident and faltering at the last syllable. “Listen I know things went bad–”

She puts her hand up, shaking her head. “Don’t give me an excuse, don’t you fucking dare.”

She feels surprisingly calm as she speaks, even though the sound of the water is filling her ears, her hands are trembling and she can see him trying to find a way to run and hide or maybe just kill her and make sure he does it right this time

In her heart of hearts, she is aware that his plan, whatever it is, won’t work. There is nothing on his side tonight, whereas she has the night sky and the river herself keeping watch.

Tonight is her night, and she gets to walk away whole and unburdened, the river will make sure of it.

He starts to try and speak again, this time with a placating tone as if he can try and lull her into a sense of forgiveness.

“Don’t,” she repeats, and before he can say anything else, she punches him square in the jaw, putting her weight into it and watching as he stumbles and hits the water, his face going from surprised, to hurt, to pissed all in a heartbeat.

He tries to get to his feet but the river keeps knocking him over, water soaking him through and weighing him down, making him clumsy and even more angry.

She watches from the water’s edge, her hands holding a length of broken pipe she spotted while he tries to get his feet under him and his body out of the water.

“Look,” he spits at her, trying to get closer. “I didn’t do a fucking thing you didn’t want me to. You didn’t say stop, so I didn’t. Just because shit happened, doesn’t mean you get to blame–”

She doesn’t let him say anything else, she simply raises the pipe and slams it against the side of his head, listening to the crack ring out, even above the voice that sings out in utter delight inside her mind.

She hits him twice more, once in the head and once against his spine, making him crash into some of the waiting rocks at the river’s edge. She thinks about continuing, just smashing him until he’s unrecognizable but she knows she won’t, even before the water speaks up once more.

No, the river says, gentle as rain and just as comforting. Let me help you, she sings. We will finish this together.

She sees something dark move underneath the water, long, lean, and uncertain in its form beyond that. Then a hand breaks the surface, wrapping scaled and slick fingers around his shoulder, as another reaches for his neck. They drag him away from the shore, dragging him along like a doll and making him fight if he wants to stay above the surface for any real length of time.

More hands rise from the depths, all sorts of shapes and colors and sizes. They claim parts of him, each one working to drag him further and further from her.

There’s something else in the water, something human-shaped but long, oil slick tendrils that reach out but don’t try to grab her or pull her close. She watches, waiting with a fierce curiosity to see what this is but holding no fear for whatever’s coming. When the woman rises, when she looks at her with mossy eyes and swamp grass hair, they both smile, then look to the struggling man in the center of the river.

Turning her palm up, she offers a hand to the other. She doesn’t have words, can’t say thank you, or I love you, or even, you’re beautiful.

She wants to though, she wants to offer that and so, so much more.

Let’s do it, the river-mistress sings as she takes hold of both her hands. Let us make an ending together.

Then there’s a kiss to her cheek, another to her mouth, and she’s guided with a gentle urgency towards the water and the man fighting in futility at the center of it all.

When they reach him, both lay their hands on his chest and on his throat, pushing down until the water obscures the details of his dying form and the surface of the river seems at peace once again.

Host Commentary

Episode 855 – March 3, 2023 – And The Water Said Kneel by V. Astor Solomon

Welcome to Pseudopod, the weekly horror podcast. I’m Alasdair, your host and this week’s story comes to us from V. Astor Solomon.

V. Astor Solomon is a queer, nonbinary, disabled, mixed-race author residing in lower Kentucky. Their stories are anything from sweet and a little strange, to deep and treading water, lost in the night and gasping for breath. Their work has been featured in various venues and anthologies and their website is where you can find social media and a bibliography.

Your narrator this week is our own Kitty Sarkozy so let the river carry you, because the stories it tells you, are true.

‘There is nothing on his side tonight.’ Is a perfect piece of writing. It’s precise, syllabic surgery that tells you so much about where the story is and where the lead has been and how aware she is of the world. There is usually something on his side, usually everything. He’s used to that, so used to it that he doesn’t view a survivor of his crimes as a threat, or even a target. There is nothing on his side tonight. Not even his pride.

The river runs deep and fast here and I love that Solomon lets us decide just what and who is in there. There’s a read of this story where the river is using the lead, taking an abuse victim and using her to satisfy its prey drive. There is another read that says the river is metaphorical, the endless, awful stream of victims making themselves known to the latest of their order. Not using her but working with her for both their aims. Not so much a predator as someone else, something else, who has finally been listened to, finally found someone who loves them and uses that love as a weapon to burn something rancid from the world. There is nothing on his side tonight and the current takes everyone. Even him. Graceful in its rage, articulate, compassionate and searing. Thank you all.

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PseudoPod is part of the Escape Artists Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and this episode is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.

PseudoPod will be back next week with Them Doghead Boys by Alex Jennings, hosted by Tonia Ransom and read by Halloween Bloodfrost.

And PseudoPod knows “For two billion years, the world knew peace. Only with the invention of gender—specifically males, those tail-fanners, horn-lockers, chest-pounders—did Earth begin its slide toward self-extinction. Perhaps this explains Edwin Hubble’s discovery that all known galaxies are moving away from Earth, as if we are a whole planet of arsenic. Hoffstetler comforts himself that, on this morning, all such self-contempt is worth it. Until Mihalkov can authorize the extraction.

About the Author

V. Astor Solomon

V. Astor Solomon

V. Astor Solomon is a queer, nonbinary, disabled, mixed-race author residing in lower Kentucky. Their stories are anything from sweet and a little strange, to deep and treading water, lost in the night and gasping for breath. Their work has been featured in various venues and anthologies and their website is where you can find social media and a bibliography.

Find more by V. Astor Solomon

V. Astor Solomon

About the Narrator

Kitty Sarkozy

Kitty Sarkozy

Kitty Sarkozy is a speculative fiction writer, actor and robot girlfriend. Kitty is an alumnus of Superstars Writing Seminar , a member of the Apex Writers Group, and the Horror Writer’s Association. Several large cats allow her to live with them in Marietta GA, She enjoys tending the extensive gardens, where she hides the bodies. For a list of her publications, acting credits or to engage her services on your next project go to

Find more by Kitty Sarkozy

Kitty Sarkozy