There’s something wrong with Tommy. I’ve been noticing it for a while now, but I’m not sure how to tell my husband. How do you tell your spouse, your partner, that the kid you brought back from the river, might not actually be your kid at all? I know he’s noticed too, how could he not, but he just pretends it isn’t happening. I tried that at first, but I can’t pretend anymore. It’s becoming so obvious now, others will start to notice too. Then what?

It started on a camping trip. We go every year like clockwork, each July over the long holiday weekend. We started the tradition when we got married, and kept it up after Charlotte and Tommy were both born. We pack up the Subaru, the kids, and the dog and we head to Red River for four days in nature. We’ve always camped near the water, just at the tree line where it’s nice and cool. The kids had always been so good about exercising caution, listening to us about never going into the river alone.

Until last year.  

It happened so fast, which sounds cliché but it’s still true. Char and Tommy were standing on the bank, skipping rocks across the water, when the dirt gave way. Charlotte managed to catch herself on a root and pulled herself back up to solid ground, but Tommy plunged right into the water. My husband moved quickly, drove in after him without a second though

Fifty-two seconds. That’s how long Tommy was under water before his dad found him. He got him by his t-shirt and hauled him back to shore, both of them gasping for air but ultimately okay. We went to the hospital just to make sure, because dry drowning is a serious thing, and we weren’t taking risks. They declared him well and sent us on our way; we promptly packed up and went home. The fun of the weekend was no longer there, not after a scare like that.

I started to notice things a few weeks later. Unusual things, things that I had never seen Tommy do before. Several times I’d go to make his bed, and find that everything was soaking wet right down to the mattress. It didn’t smell like urine, but a slightly fishy odor, like river water. A few times there was even mud smeared across the sheets. I saw him once standing in front of the fridge, a chair pulled over that he’d climbed up on to access the freezer. He was eating frozen crab cakes, right out of the bag.

We chalked these things up to just strange quirks, though it drove me crazy trying to figure out how his bed kept getting soaked in the night. It eventually went from the bed though, to just about any surface he sat on, and that made things even stranger. It’s like he’s just dump all of the time, like he’s exuding it from his very skin. I know that sounds crazy, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

He used to detest bath time, but now we have to force him out of the tub when the water goes cold. Charlotte says she’s seen him in the bathroom at night, well after we’ve all gone to bed, staring at himself in the mirror and touching his face. Like he’s surprised to see his own reflection and just can’t believe that it’s him.

He hasn’t grown either. He was five when he fell into the river, and his sixth birthday just crept by. He hasn’t grown an inch, nor gained any substantial weight. He hasn’t been ill either. Not even when the flu was spreading like wildfire through the school, he somehow managed to keep ahead of it. Normally he’s sick two or three times a year, but not this time.

His pediatrician says he’s just a bit behind his peers, and not to worry. That he’ll gain weight and hit a growth spurt, but I know that isn’t true. He’ll be the same next year as he is right now, I just know it in my heart as his mother. What will happen then? Will they call CPS on us for child neglect, despite the fact that Tommy eats three square meals a day plus snacks? Will they think we’re suppressing him somehow? He still acts happy, though I have caught him a few times just watching the three of us. Staring with narrowed eyes, studying us. When he notices I’m watching he gives me this smile, that I can only describe as sinister.

Whatever my husband pulled out of the river that day…it isn’t our son. This isn’t Tommy. His father can keep on pretending, but I can’t anymore. I won’t. Tommy drowned in that river in those fifty-two seconds, and something took his place. The only thing is that I don’t know what this other Tommy is, or what it wants with our family. All I know is that if it stays here, if we keep up this charade, that we have to do something before people start to ask questions. Why isn’t he aging? Why is he so wet all the time? Why have his eyes changed color from a vibrant blue to a murky, green-brown sort of color?

What about our daughter? We have to think of her and her safety. I’ve thought before that maybe the right thing is to just…get rid of it. But I love it. Somehow, despite whatever kind of monster it is, I love it. It’s not Tommy, but it is at the same time. So, we have to find a way to live with it, at least for now, and keep it hidden. Perhaps eventually we will return it to the river, when we feel ready to let Tommy go for good.

 For now, we live with it. This creature from the bottom of the river.

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