The White River Kappa
by Susan M. M.
2015 FanQ Award nominee for Best Supernatural Story (second place winner)
Sam and Dean Winchester sat in B. B. King's Blues Club on Beale Street, enjoying overpriced beers and cheeseburgers. Having just exorcised a pair of ghosts from Memphis' yellow fever epidemic of 1878, they had more than earned the beers and burgers. The beers were ice cold. The cheeseburgers were basted with BBQ sauce, topped with cheddar cheese and applewood smoked bacon with crispy fried onions on top.
Dean pulled some battered AAA maps out of his jacket pocket and laid them on the table. "Bobby says the Beast of Busco has been sighted in Indiana, west of Fort Wayne. Figure it would be better to head north to Illinois, Highway 51 to I-57 and then swing over to Indiana, or take I-40 to Nashville, then go up through Kentucky?"
"There's something closer," his younger brother Sam suggested.
"Oh?" Dean lifted his mug to his lips and drank some more beer.
"A kappa in Batesville, Arkansas. About a two-three hour drive from here."
"A kappa?" Dean repeated. "Aren't they those Japanese river critters? I thought they were harmless tricksters."
"Tricksters, yes, but not necessarily harmless." Sam ignored his own potato chips and reached over to steal one of Dean's French fries. "They're always fresh with women -- looking up ladies' kimonos, wandering fingers, stuff like that. But sometimes they're rapists. And it looks like that's what they've got in Batesville."
"Besides, this weekend is the annual Arkansas Scottish Festival, and we are way overdue for some R&R," Sam added.
"The what?" Dean asked. He slapped away Sam's hand as his brother reached for another fry.
"Arkansas Scottish Festival. Y'know, bagpipes, bounce castles, sheepdogs, shortbread." Sam took a deep breath. "Jessica's grandparents live there. We flew out at spring break a couple times to attend the festival and visit her family." Sam fell silent a moment. It was hard for him to speak of his late fiancée. "We need the R&R."
"Guys in skirts throwing telephone poles?" Dean scoffed.
"There's a NASCAR museum in town," Sam added, "and a Dairy Queen and a Baskin-Robbins."
"Now you're talking my language," Dean agreed.
From Memphis across the Mississippi River to West Memphis. From West Memphis onto Highway 64, through Wynne, Augusta, and Bald Knob. Then north on 167, up to Batesville, with the radio blaring at full volume all the way.
"Kappa are Japanese. Why would one be in Arkansas? Dean asked.
"Probably came with Nisei who were in internment camps during WWII," Sam suggested. "People bring their beliefs and superstitions with them when they immigrate."
Dean asked, "Does that mean there are leprechauns in Batesville?"
"Dumkopf, leprechauns are Irish, not Scottish."
"So what, Nessie's in the White River?" Dean asked sarcastically.
When they finally reached Batesville, it took them four tries before they could find a hotel with vacancies. The desk clerks explained apologetically that due to the Arkansas Scottish Festival, most of the hotel rooms in town had been reserved in advance. They wound up in an actual hotel, instead of their usual sleazy motel. They paid for their room with a stolen credit card, hit the vending machine for some sodas and candy bars, and went to bed.
They awoke, far earlier than they had intended to, to the sound of a bagpiper practicing in the hotel parking lot.
Swearing about the wake-up call, Dean showered and dressed. He put on blue jeans and a Graceland T-shirt he'd bought the day before. "I ain't wearing a skirt to this thing."
"It's a kilt, doofus, not a skirt. And what you're wearing is fine. Most people will be wearing blue jeans." Sam himself wore jeans and a Dr. Who T-shirt.
They went down to the hotel's breakfast lobby, and stared. Almost all the men were wearing the kilt. Some of the women wore kilted skirts. Others wore jeans or shorts with Celtic-themed T-shirts. One middle-aged woman was wearing RenFaire garb. They stared a second, then applied their attention to breakfast. Sam got raisin bran, scrambled eggs, an apple, and orange juice. Dean went to the pancake-in-a-minute machine.
"Wasn't that wonderful to wake up to a piper this morning?" an elderly woman asked. She wore a kilted skirt and sash in the yellow and black "loud" McLeod tartan.
"Yeah, wonderful," Dean lied. His father would have risen from the grave and washed his mouth out with soap if he'd told her what he really thought. His pancake fell out of the machine. He grabbed butter, syrup, and plasticware. He sat down beside his brother and took a bite, then spit it out.
"What's wrong?" Sam asked.
"The damn thing's rubber."
"Taste or texture?"
"Both." Dean got up and threw the pancake out, then got two blueberry muffins, coffee, sausage, and biscuits.
It took them ten minutes to drive from the hotel to Lyon College, and only a few minutes more to find a parking space.
"So what is it we're supposed to do here for R&R?" Dean asked. He glanced around. The campus was green and pretty, with lots of flowering trees and bushes.
"Well, the library has a book sale every year, timed to coincide with the festival."
"There's the clan tents," Sam offered.
"What, skirts aren't bad enough? We gotta wear white robes and hoods, too?" Dean retorted.
"Clan with a C, not Klan with a K."
"Athletics. Caber tossing, hammer throw, sh-."
Dean interrupted, "Hammers are for nailing things, not throwing."
"Sheaf toss," Sam finished under his breath. Louder, he continued, "Music."
"Bagpipes, music? Debatable."
They stopped at the information booth to get a program booklet. "How much?" Sam asked.
"They're free," the woman told them. She wore a pink T-shirt that said 'Lyon College ... where the bagpipes go on and on ... and on and on.'
"My favorite price," Dean told her.
Across the grassy meadow from the information tent was a large, red and white striped tent. They could hear a guitar and a rich, baritone voice coming from it.
"Oh, ye canna shove yer granny off the bus. Oh, ye canna shove yer granny off the bus."
Dean was surprised. The lyrics were stupid, but the tune was 'She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain When She Comes.'
Sam pointed to the building behind the information booth. "That's the science building. The door is usually unlocked. They've got clean bathrooms and a cold water fountain."
Dean nodded. One of the ladies at the hotel had gushed about how nice it was that the festival was on a college campus, because that meant real bathrooms instead of port-a-potties. She'd gone on about it a little too much at the breakfast table, in his opinion. Some things didn't need to be discussed at meals.
They continued walking north along the sidewalk, until they came to the clan tents. Clan Campbell was the first tent on the western side of the sidewalk, their traditional rival, Clan Donald, the first tent on the eastern side.
Sam stopped by Clan Campbell and signed the guest book. Dean glanced over his shoulder to see which name he was using, and tried not to flinch when he saw he'd written his real name.
"Good morning," a middle-aged clan tent volunteer greeted them. "Do you need any help finding your Scottish heritage?" He wore the kilt in the blue and green Campbell tartan, and a black T-shirt that said Jackson, TN CelticFest.
Sam shook his head. "Nope, already know it."
"Well, my membership's expired, but if I have anything left after I hit the vendors' tents, I might renew it," Sam said.
The clan tent volunteer just chuckled. "They're dangerous to the budget, aren't they?" He pushed a bowl of butterscotch candy closer to them, and both took a piece.
They stepped back onto the sidewalk. Dean glanced to his right.
Between the Clan Donald tent and the chapel were some girls dressed like sailors, dancing the hornpipe. A group of Irish dancers, none of them older than twelve, stood near the wooden stage, waiting their turn. They were too young to be interesting to him. He hoped they were too young to be interesting to the kappa.
"Dude, why'd you use your real name?" Dean whispered once they were out of earshot.
"I've been here before. People might remember me. Safest to use the name they know me by," Sam explained.
Two kids ran past them and nearly tripped them.
"Jean! Bobby! Look where you're going," their exasperated mother called after them. "Sorry," she said to the Winchesters, then continued after her offspring.
Dean turned to look at the kids, holding out some sort of booklet to the clan tent volunteer. "What's that all about?"
"Kids' passport books. They take 'em to the different tents, get 'em stamped, and then turn 'em in for a prize."
Dean looked at the corridor of tents, continuing down the length of the sidewalk. They all seemed much of a muchness to him. They all had flags, usually multiple flags: Old Glory, the blue and white St. Andrew's flag, the red and gold rampant lion banner, the Arkansas state flag, assorted clan banners. Most had bowls of candy or shortbread for the kids. They all had sign-in sheets, maps, pamphlets, and a chart of alternate spellings associated with each clan. Every single one had the same two books: So You're Going to Wear the Kilt and Black's Surnames of Scotland on the table. Some had tartan books or history books, too, but always those two books. There was some variation -- a toy Nessie or Scottish terrier here, a model castle there, the occasional bit of weaponry -- but as they walked down the sidewalk, Dean couldn't see much difference between the various clan tents.
The sidewalk ended, and so did the clan tents. The two brothers turned right to look at the vendors. The vendors' area sprawled in front of the chapel, and on either side of it.
Dean swore. "What is that?"
"George Washington," Sam replied.
Dean stared at a giant statue of Washington's head. It was easily five feet tall and two feet wide. A red plaid cloth cap was on top of the metal bust. "Why's he wearing a hat?"
"It's a tam o'shanter. They put it on him every year," Sam said. He dragged his brother from one vendor to another. The jewelry didn't interest either man. They looked at the T-shirts, with logos ranging from 'Celtic Woman: Goddess With An Attitude' to 'Pipers Do It With Amazing Grace' to 'Kilt Inspector.' Dean glanced at the kilts for sale, looked at the price, and whistled softly.
"Yeah, they're not cheap," Sam agreed.
Dean moved on to the weapons tent. There were several types of blades: claymores, baskethilt swords, daggers, dirks, skean dhu, and a Klingon bat'leth. He was disappointed to learn that none of them were sharp. They were only for show, and thus no use to a hunter. He glanced at the grassy area across from the chapel. His left eyebrow rose.
"Ducks. Why are there ducks over there?" Dean asked. He couldn't think of anything especially Scottish about ducks.
"For the sheepdogs," Sam said matter of factly.
"Huh?" Dean was surprised by the seeming non sequitar.
"They bring a flock of ducks for the sheepdogs to herd. It's easier than transporting a flock of sheep," Sam explained, "and herding just one sheep isn't that impressive."
They continued looking. There was a tent selling elaborately carved walking sticks, one selling scones and shortbread, and three more selling T-shirts. Sam was disappointed that there were no vendors with tapes, CDs, and books.
"Hey, you always got the library book sale," Dean pointed out. They walked past two more jewelry booths and one tent selling RenFaire and steampunk garb toward the British car show. Dean showed a little more interest, looking at a '63 Triumph and a '35 Morris Minor.
They continued down the other side of the chapel, past the fountain and the sundial.
"Why are we here instead of trying to figure out how to kill the kappa?" Dean asked.
"Because it's a beautiful spring day. The grass is green, the dogwood is blooming, the bagpipes are playing, and we're gonna make ourselves sick if we don't grab a little down time," Sam said.
"While we're grabbing down time, that thing could be raping another teenage girl."
"It's not stupid enough to try anything in broad daylight." Sam and Dean walked past a table where the College Republicans Club was selling little pamphlets with copies of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence for a dollar.
"So how are we gonna kill it? 'Cause if it's raping teenage girls, it needs killing," Dean said.
"I thought maybe you could wrestle it," Sam suggested.
"Wrestle it?" Dean repeated.
"According to the legends, they love sumo wrestling. If you can manhandle it into spilling the water on top of its head --"
"Spilling the water?"
Sam explained, "A kappa has a flat, hairless region on top of its head, called a sara. When it's away from its river or lake, the sara has to be filled with water. If it dries, or if it spills the water --"
"It dies?" Dean interrupted.
"Some legends say so. Most just say it loses its power if it loses the water." Sam pointed upward. "Look at the weathervane."
"A bagpiper instead of a rooster. Why am I not surprised," Dean muttered under his breath.
They walked past two more tables of student groups with fundraisers. The Gay Straight Alliance was selling friendship bracelets. The Concert Choir had a wading pool filled with rubber ducks, and a pile full of prizes that looked like they'd come from McDonald's Happy Meals.
"What else did you find out about kappas?" Dean asked.
"They're obsessive about politeness and paying debts."
"That don't make sense," Dean said. "Rape's about the most impolite thing you can do."
Dean continued, "It's one thing to give a girl a couple beers to get her to loosen up and more likely to say yes, but rape is something else."
Offended, Sam frowned at his brother. The candy is dandy but liquor is quicker attitude was only a step away from rape in his opinion. Before he could mention that to Dean, they reached the children's play area.
Dean pointed to the bounce castle and the inflatable slide. "That looks fun. Wish we weren't past the age and weight limit."
"Well, we could get your face painted, if you want. No age limit on that." Sam jerked his head toward the facepainting booth. Four children waited in line as a volunteer painted an ice cream cone on a three-year-old's cheek.
Dean reached out and made as if to slap his brother. Sam nimbly avoided the blow.
Dogs barked nearby. Dean looked to see if it was more sheepdogs, since he didn't hear any quacking. The sign, Rent a Puppy, took him by surprise. "Huh what?"
"Do you want to rent a puppy?" a perky volunteer called out. "Five dollars for fifteen minutes."
Sam smiled at the volunteer, a very pretty blonde, then turned to Dean. "The local humane society rents them as a fundraiser. They're trying to convince people to adopt them, of course."
"We couldn't do that." Dean had always wanted a dog, but his father had never allowed it. Travelling the way they did, from one exorcism to another, hunting down monsters, slaying demons, it just wasn't practical to have a dog. Dad had explained it to him. That didn't mean he hadn't longed for one with all his heart as a boy.
"We can't adopt," Sam agreed, "but if you want to rent one, I'll treat."
Dean hesitated, but Sam saw the yearning look in his brother's eyes. He walked up to the table, pulled out his wallet, and handed the pretty blonde a five dollar bill. She asked for his driver's license. Sam chose one of his fake IDs at random and handed it to her. Dean chose Charley, a black puppy, a Labrador retriever mix, and another volunteer (this one an equally pretty brunette) put a leash on him.
A few minutes later, Dean and Sam were on the grass, rubbing Charley's belly. A handsome middle-aged man with thick, curly white hair and a bushy white mustache walked past them. He wore a blue kilt and a white Jacobite shirt. Dean stared. The pattern on the back of the kilt, instead of the usual plaid, formed a white saltire on the blue background.
"That guy's got an X on his ass."
"That's a St. Andrew's cross, you dork," Sam told him.
Sam tapped his feet and clapped along with the Celtic rock band. Dean tried not to yawn, and mentally debated going back to the Rent a Puppy booth to play with Charley again, or maybe one of the other dogs. The band, consisting on a young man on the uilleann pipes, an older man on the electric guitar, a woman on a mandolin, and a long-haired person whose gender Dean couldn't determine on the drums, blasted out a rock version of "Willie's Gone to Melville Castle."
Dean sat through a hard rock version of "The Fields of Athenry" and a rendition of "The Naked Highwayman" that was very different from the way Fairport Convention did it. Finally, he'd had enough. AC/DC and Black Sabbath were music. This crap was ... crap. He tapped Sam's shoulder and tilted his head toward the exit of the red and white tent. With obvious reluctance, Sam followed him outside just as the band started playing a cover of Uncle Hamish and the Hooligans' "Warning."
"Did you want to go back to the vendors' tents?" Sam asked.
Dean shook his head. "Nothing there I want to buy. Let's blow this popsicle stand."
"We can't go yet," Sam protested. "We haven't even had any meat pies yet."
Meat pies, Dean was disappointed to find out, were tarts filled with ground beef, oatmeal, and spices. Too many spices, and way too much pepper. After finishing the "pie" and an overpriced Coke, he dragged his brother back to the car, and they drove to the local Ford dealership.
Mark Martin's Museum was located at the Martin Ford-Mercury dealership. Dean gazed with awe at the No. 6 Viagra Coca-Cola 600 win car, the '90 Folgers Thunderbird, the No. 60 Winn-Dixie Busch car, and the '89 Stroh's Thunderbird. He all but drooled over Mark Martin's 2005 IROC car that had won Martin's record fifth championship. Dean gave equal attention to the race helmets, firesuits, photographs, and newspaper articles on display.
"Now this, this is cool," Dean raved.
Sam liked cars, but he wasn't as passionate about them as Dean. After glancing around the small museum, he found a quiet corner, turned on his laptop, and hooked up into the Ford dealership's wi-fi so he could research kappa some more. He muttered to himself as he took notes. "Webbed hands and feet. Carapace."
At Dairy Queen, Dean asked between bites of his chili cheese dog, "Where do we go looking for this thing?"
Sam finished chewing a popcorn shrimp before answering, "Riverfront Park is the best place."
"I'll take you there after we finish lunch. We can check out the lay of the land." Sam glanced at his watch. He frowned. The parade of the clans and the massed bands should be right about now, and he wasn't there to see it.
When they finished eating, the waitress brought out two Chocolate Xtreme Blizzards. She turned one upside down to demonstrate how thick it was, then set it in front of Dean. She did the same for Sam's dessert. "Enjoy."
"That is so cool how they do that." Dean reached for a plastic spoon.
Riverfront Park was nice. Lots of nice playground equipment for the kids, very little litter on the ground. Sam and Dean tramped over the whole park, looking for areas that would be good for ambushes, or gopher holes where they might lose their footing in a fight.
They didn't see the two eldritch creatures watching them from the White River.
"You really think he'll come here?" Dean asked.
"Well, there's another park on the south side of the river, and there's a river walk," Sam said.
"Let's check 'em both out," Dean ordered.
After they had walked the 1.2 mile walking trail and checked out Kennedy Park, Sam and Dean headed for the Independence County sheriff's office.
"Hi, I'm Bill Ward. This is my partner, Bob Daisley," Dean lied. "We're with the National Enquirer. We were on our way to Miller county to check out the Fouke Monster, when we heard about an lizard-man attacking one of your southern belles. I know we can't print the victims' names in sexual assault cases, but police reports are public information, right? What can you legally tell us?"
"Didn't think you Enquirer folks bothered to do research. Thought you just made it all up," the desk sergeant replied.
"We research," Sam said in a defensive tone, as if his nonexistent journalistic integrity was offended.
"Can't talk about an ongoing case, and if I could, I wouldn't talk about it to some grocery store gossip sheet." The sergeant lowered his voice. "It true you folks pay for information?"
Dean nodded. He pulled out his wallet and put a hundred dollar bill on the counter.
The sergeant whispered, "She said it was a frog-man, not a lizard man. But she was higher than a kite, so no telling if it was some idiot in a Halloween mask or just the drugs making her see something that wasn't there."
"But she was actually assaulted?" Sam whispered.
"Yeah, but the hospital's rape testing equipment didn't work. She was attacked all right, poor girl, but the semen sample got so messed up in the testing, it didn't even come out human. Bad chemicals at the lab, most likely. But you didn't hear that from me." He reached out and slipped the Ben Franklin into his pocket. Then he raised his voice. "Shoo on out of here. We don't have time for the likes of you."
"Yes, sir," Sam muttered. Dean just winked.
They stopped at the local Walmart to buy some swimming trunks. They went back to the hotel to splash in the pool for a bit, then took a nap, knowing they'd be in for a long and busy night. When they woke, Sam spent a little time on his laptop before they went out to dinner. After pizza and soda at Mazzio's, they headed for the Batesville Riverwalk.
They waited. And waited.
"This might go better with some bait," Dean said, not for the first time.
"I told you, I am not putting on a calico dress and a floral bonnet like on Firefly."
Dean shrugged. "It'd look better on you than me."
From the river, two inhuman creatures, whose ancestors had come to Arkansas with the human immigrants, watched them.
Sam and Dean waited and watched. Children on their bikes rode home. Families got back in their cars and left the park. It was dark and empty. Still they waited; still they watched.
Around ten o'clock, they finally heard something.
"My mom is gonna kill me, Becky. If she finds out I was here after dark, after what happened to Naomi Bell --"
"She's not gonna find out unless you tell her, Hannah. And you're not stupid enough to 'fess up, are you?"
Sam and Dean peeked from their hiding spot. They smelled the marijuana before they saw the teenage girls.
"You wanna be one of us, you gotta prove you're worthy, Hannah. That you're not a little baby who goes running to mama at the first sign of trouble," Becky said. "So you come down here, where Naomi claims she met the frog-man, and show me you're not a wimp." She took another puff of her joint and blew out a foul-scented puff of smoke. "Probably Jimmy Thompson in a Halloween mask. Or just wishful thinking. She's such a crackhead she might have dreamed the whole thing."
"Little idiots. We're gonna need to go rescue them," Sam muttered.
"Not yet. They might be the bait we need," Dean whispered. "But keep an eye on 'em. Don't want them to get hurt just because they're stupid."
Sam sniffed. He smelled something over the marijuana. Something like dead fish.
A creature climbed out of the river. It was roughly humanoid in form, and about half Dean's height. It growled at the two young women. They turned to see what the noise was, saw the kappa, and screamed.
Sam and Dean rushed forward.
"Out of here," Sam ordered. "Get home and stay there."
"Move it, you idiots. We'll take care of this," Dean said.
The girls did not hesitate in obeying. They ran.
Dean stared at its scaly, reptilian green skin. He'd seen uglier creatures in his career as a monster hunter, but not many. Dean wrinkled his nose at its fishy smell. The webbing on its hands and feet was a lighter green, almost yellow-greenish. The body looked like a human-toad hybrid, as if Dolores Umbridge had spawned, but its mouth was a beak like a parrot's.
"I hear you like to wrestle." Dean attacked the kappa.
The kappa threw him to the ground. Dean kicked, knocking it off-balance, then scrambled to his feet. He circled warily. The kappa was stronger than he was, and he didn't want to give it another chance to knock him down.
Sam pulled out his cell phone and began playing the koto music he had downloaded from the Internet earlier. Startled by the traditional Japanese music, the kappa turned to face him.
"Konbanwa, kappa-san." Sam bowed.
The kappa bowed back.
Sam bowed again, deeper. The kappa took a step back from Dean and faced Sam. He bowed just as deeply.
"Konbanwa, kappa-san," Sam repeated, bowing a third time, very deeply.
Dean rushed back to the bushes where they'd been hidden before the girls came along.
"Konbanwa, gaijin-san," the kappa replied. It bowed again. The water spilled from its head.
Sam held his breath. According to Wikipedia, the kappa would now lose its power ... but Wikipedia wasn't always right.
The kappa howled angrily. Sam only knew the little Japanese he'd picked up from reading The Uncanny X-Men, but he was willing to guess from the tone that the kappa was swearing to make a sailor blush. It remained bent down, unable to rise.
Dean returned, a double-barreled shotgun in his hand. He pulled the trigger. A blast of rock salt struck the kappa in the chest. Dean fired again, and a silver bullet flew from the shotgun. The kappa fell lifeless to the ground.
"Throw the body in the river?" Sam asked.
Dean shook his head. "And risk the water reviving it? No way. Go get the axe from the trunk."
Sam went back to where the Impala was parked and fetched the axe.
Dean dismembered the kappa. They separated the head and the body, and surrounded each with a circle of salt before setting fire to the body parts.
Dean liberally sprinkled some salt over the burning, stinking corpse, shaking the blue container. "The way we go through this stuff, we ought to buy stock in Morton's."
Sam wrinkled his nose at the stench. "Smells like a cross between rotten fish and a dead skunk."
When at last the flames had died down, they salted and buried the ashes. They stamped out the fires, making sure they were completely out.
"Let's get back to the hotel. I need a shower," Sam said.
"Ditto," agreed Dean. They started heading back up to the car.
Hidden in the White River, two selkies watched as the Winchester brothers walked away from the river bank.
"I'm glad those nice young men got rid of that nasty kappa," Gruoch said. "He was giving all the uncanny and eldritch folk in Independence County a bad name."
"Very nice looking young men, too," Morag noted with lascivious smile. She stared at their backsides as they walked away, admiring the way Sam and Dean's rear ends filled their denim jeans.
"Morag! They're not even Presbyterian," Gruoch exclaimed.
 Good evening, Mr. Kappa.
 Good evening, Mr. Foreigner or Mr. Outsider