Thursday, February 12, 2015

Satyrday, a Fable. Wednesday, parts 5 & 6.

     Derin was taken by the water as though he were a leaf. He fought to the surface for air against the long tendrils of river wrapping themselves around his legs, pulling him under. The tendrils snaked after him, never let him go. He tumbled in the though, a shell, a tiny pebble.
     His body no longer felt the water's coldness. He felt no pain at all. As he relaxed, he felt a deep peace envelop him. He ceased fighting, let himself be taken by the current, and he drifted, weightless, just conscious enough to see the strange rock swim toward him. The water blurred his vision, but he made out the rock's elongated shape, tapering away at the end, covered with white weeds at the other. As it approached, the boy saw it wasn't a rock at all. Her hair streamed in the water, fanning out behind her, over her shoulders, and he followed the sleek curve of her body until, at the hips, she became a fish, covered with grey scales, honing down to the final finned flare as she dissolved into water.
     Vera darted under him, her long arms stroking in front of her, and he tightened his legs around her as she swam between them. He felt her scales under his thighs. He reached down, held her shoulders with both hands, and she surged toward the surface.
     The dark skin of water grew closer and broke around his head in a crown of spray. Together, they left the surface of river and rose into the air. Vera arched her back, and using her hands to scatter the surface, dove again into the river. Derin caught a glimpse of spray, of the shore toward which they headed, and he gasped, coughing deeply, before the silver-grey water closed around him. Again Vera broke the surface, allowing Derin time to breathe, and together they swam toward land.
     The rush of wind and water on his face drew him awake. Under him, the nymph rolled and twisted around snags, rocks, dangerous stretches of current. He tightened his thighs, locked his ankles as she bucked beneath him. The water flashed from his back as though it could no longer harm him.
     In the air, into the water they rocked. Tall firs loomed from the muddy banks, the sky hung low over the river. When they reached water shallow enough for Derin to stand in, Vera rolled, throwing the boy on his side. For a moment, Derin floundered, but then his foot hit bottom. Splashing, coughing, he staggered the few remaining feet to shore and fell on his knees in the mud. Behind him, he heard a rasp coarse as rock ground against sand, and when he turned he saw the fox drag herself from the water, gasping. She came and lay beside him, looked at him once with her large grey eyes before she closed them, and the boy reached out and ran his hand the length of her soiled sodden fur, in wonder, in disappointment. When Matthew found him, Derin was alone. The fox, after resting, had left him on the bank, but Derin was not thinking of the solid ground beneath him. He stared at the river's roiling surface, remembering the leaps from the water, the wild bucking of the nymph under him, the touch of her smooth scales against his skin. He was in an undiscovered country, trying to follow the course of a map which has not yet been drawn.

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     Vera battled her way upriver in search of fish. The water pulled at her, surging over her body as if she were a stone or a log blocking its natural course. She was exhausted. Her arms ached with the strain of swimming and her hips were bruised from carrying Derin to land. Her hair swirled in the currents, now hazing her sight, now swept backwards off her shoulders so she felt the rush of water fresh on her face. At times her struggle seemed useless, as though she were being inexorably swept downstream against all her best efforts. But she kept swimming, flexing her sinuous tail, flicking the great caudal fin in the icy water.
     It was a crazy idea, but it just might work. They would take some convincing, for fish were stubborn and proud, inclined to silence, but they would not be frightened by the owl. Vera doubted they even knew of him. In the Deadwood Forest there was no water, and fish were the only animals who had no place in the owl's plans.
     Ahead of her, in the shallows of a spot where the river bent and left in its wake a small pool of less turbulent water, she saw the torpedolike shapes of fish. They hung in the pool as if suspended by strings, barely moving their fins. Under them, on the sand of the river's bottomm were hundreds of shellfish, lobsters in their mottled green armor, the fluted shells of scallops, a colony of mussels, shiny and blue-black, studded with limpets and barnacles, attached to one another by golden byssus threads. They were silent under the dark canopy of swordfish and blues, sea bass, halibut, the square slatelike tail-whipped forms of skate.
     Vera hurried toward them, wanting the quiet of their undisturbed water. If I can rest for a minute, she thought, I'll be fine again. But the sight of this strange half-fish swimming toward them threw the fish into confusion. They panicked. Swordfish swept to the water's surface and leapt, arching, flinging spray toward the clouds, slapping the water with their tails as they fell. Other fish swam upstream, fighting the current. The shellfish scattered across the bottom, mussels and scallops clattering like waterlogged castanets. The calm Vera had expected turned into a turbulent series of cross-currents, a slap in the face.
     She called to them, worried she'd lost them all. She gasped for breath; her words were bubbles of sound only she could hear, for the fish were too far away, frantically trying to escape her.
     She darted upstream but she couldn't catch them. This river was their home, and they were built for swimming, their sleek long forms adapted perfectly to the water. Vera let her arms drop, and felt the water take her. She twisted until she was headed downstream, then floated in the current, resting. When she was close to the shallows where the fish had been, she came alive again and swam there, letting herself sink almost to the bottom. She couldn't remember ever having been so tired.
     Vera crossed her eyes and opened them only after she felt the water push against her, crowding her. On the sand below, the shellfish had gathered, the lobsters' claws waving up at her like ominous underwater plants. She could see the scallops' twin rows of tiny blue eyes watching as they barely opened their shells. Above her, the bluefish and swordfish, halibut and skate had returned, and for a minute she was the one who was frightened, surrounded. They stared at her, their cold round eyes unnervingly lidless. What were they thinking? The lobsters peered up from under their horned ridge of chiton, antennae quivering in the slightly moving water.
     "I didn't mean to frighten you before," Vera said. "I'm sorry."
     The fish said nothing. Streams of bubbles filtered from their mouths as they waited for her to speak again.
     "I'm a sea nymph," Vera explained, and suddenly felt ridiculous, riding this water, trapped between skate and lobster. "Listen," she said. "I've come to help. I know why the river's so wild, why the current is stronger and the water colder."
     She remembered seeing great schools of fish lying on the bottom of a pond, irradiated by the full moon's glow upon the water's skin, their scales shining like silver. She had seen fish surge to the surface and break through, throwing themselves toward the moon, splashing the silver drops of water into the air in homage, desperate longing. "The moon's been wrenched from the sky," she said. "Stolen. She's held captive on land, miles to the west."
     A bluefish with cold ded eyes interrupted her. "In this ruver there are no directions but upstream and down."
     "There are creatures whose lives are not so simple," she said. "A great horned owl who lives in a place called the Deadwood Forest had kidnapped the moon. Without her, the world's gone crazy. There aren't any tides. The river's running wild."
     "You can say that again," a swordfish said. "It's worth your life to get caught in the current these days."
     "I need your help," Vera said. "Or you'll never again have the moon's gold shadow cast upon this water. I have no idea what will happen to the river if she isn't rescued."
     She was sure of it. A startled, frightened look shone from the fishes' eyes. They eddied in the water, looking at one another. Their tails twitched. Under them, all the scallops and mussels snapped open and shut. Vera saw a school of shrimp, translucent, almost impossible to find in the dimness, their pairs of legs jerking spastically.
     The water around her began to churn and Vera was afraid they would all burst loose again, flying in different directions, upstream and down, the only life they knew.
     "Please," she said. "Come with me. Help me."
     The water calmed again, and Vera felt the force of all those eyes upon her, but now they were not so indifferent or cold. They pleaded with her in return, as she had pleaded with them.
     "What would you have us do?" a swordfish asked.
     "I have two friends who do not swim," Vera began.
     "We have no friends who do not swim," the swordfish said, his eyes wild with confusion and distrust.
     "Listen to me," Vera said, losing patience. "We're going to rescue the moon. There isn't tom for quibbling."
     "Why don't you swim them across?" a skate asked.
     "Because teh water's too cold," Vera said. "They'd freeze. They're warm-blooded creatures."
     "And why don't you find someone else?"
     "There is no one else," she said firmly.

                                                         *                         *                        *

     Here are some lines to take out of context:

—"he tightened his thighs, locked his ankles as she bucked beneath him"
—"she came and laid down beside him"

     Just because I could.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Satyrday, a Fable. Wednesday, parts 3 & 4.

     The ax fell through the air and bit deeply into the fallen fir. Matthew wrenched it loose, swung it back over his head, and down again. A wedge of wood bigger than the boy's foot jumped from the v-shaped cut. Derin scraped resin into the earthenware pot, added some water, and put it over the flames. The amber resin bubbled and boiled down into a darkened syrup. Off the fire, it thickened still more.
     Together, the two carried the logs Matthew had cut until there were seven of them side by side near the riverbank in a small declivity level with the water. Vera watched as Matthew lashed the logs together with the leathery vines she had found lying on the ground while Derin was off on his own search to the south. "I didn't have to climb a tree," she said. "They were waiting for me." "Lucky for you," Derin said. The satyr wound the vines until the logs were as tight as he could make them, and then Derin caulked the spaces between them with the resiny tar.
     At last, the tar hardened and, when Matthew splashed water between the logs, it stayed in glistening ponds.
     "Looks watertight to me," Vera said. "Let's go."
     Matthew looked out over the river, and shrugged. "It's the best we can do," he said. He gathered together the belongings he'd flung from the pack, dismantled his makeshift ax and placed the head back in its sheath.
     The river was even rougher than it had been that morning. As the day moved toward its zenith, the water rose in higher and higher waves which crested and broke as the river swept from north to south. "It's a tidal river," Vera said, "salty as the sea. It cuts across the whole land connecting the ocean's halves. But there aren't any tides since the moon's been gone. Why is it so rough?"
     They maneuvered the heavy raft until a corner of it dipped into the water. The river met the obstacle and flew apart into spume, drenching the three. Matthew and the boy shouldered their packs, and the satyr told Derin and Vera to board the raft and stay together in the center. When they were ready, he heaved at it. It budged an inch and stuck fast.
     "It's digging into the bank," Matthew yelled, trying to make himself heard above the river's noise. "Get off there. Help me push."
     Even with the three of them, it was difficult. The harder they shoved, the deeper the firs sank into the mud at the river's edge. "We'll have to pick it up," Derin screamed.
     "Be careful of your backs," Vera said.
     Derin and Matthew braced themselves and pulled upwards on the raft. The mud didn't want to let go. "At least it's holding together," Matthew said.
     "What?" Derin yelled, cupping a hand behind his ear. The satyr shook his head and waved a hand.
     They pulled again, and the bank began to relinquish its grasp. From where Derin stood, he could hear the pops and sucks as the logs ripped loose from the mud. Suddenly, Derin felt the resistance lessen, and with and enormous slap, the raft came free and Matthew and the boy fell forward as the water tugged at the raft's corner, pulling it into the current. "Quick!" Matthew screamed. "We'll lose it." Derin was on his knees in the mud, the raft several feet in front of him, gaining ground. "Jump," Matthew said. "Both of you."
     In a graceful arc, Vera leapt to the raft and hunkered down in the middle. Derin scrambled to his feet, thrashed through the water and threw himself onto the closest loge. His legs scissored, he pulled, and he crawled to the middle and turned to look back at Matthew.
     With a groan which seemed to come from the timber's interior, the raft gave up its hold on the land. For a moment, Derin didn't know what was happening. He and Vera lay flat, trying to balance the logs, but they tipped landward in a precarious slant. Matthew clung to the far corner, his legs in the water, trying to climb the slippery logs to where the others were. Derin crawled away from the satyr to equalize the weight, and hung with his hands to the edge jutting over the water. "Grab my leg," he screamed and he felt his body being stretched as the satyr pulled himself toward the raft's center.
     Spray flashed above them, drenching them with brine. The raft took off like a frightened animal. It reared and plunged, rising to the crest of a wave and plummeting to the trough beneath. Derin hung on; he grabbed the ropes which bound the raft together, wedged one foot under some vines at the other end. "Don't do that!" Matthew screamed. "If this thing turns over, you won't get loose." The boy jerked his leg free and began to slide. As the raft pitched forward, covered with icy water, there was little to hold him.
     For the boy, the ride was exhilarating. The wild torrent required every ounce of his energy, and his concentration was taxed to the fullest. He felt equal to the river's demands as the raft was tossed into the air and thudded down again on the back of a cresting wave.
     The boy looked behind him. Vera lay played on the logs, her eyes glazed. Her white fur was saturated with water. The satyr had assumed the same position; all three of them clung to the raft, trying to burrow into the crevices between the logs as the land sped by in a dizzying rush. The river took the raft, spinning it so Derin alternately saw the water rushing at him and before* him. He had lost all sense of direction.
     They were enveloped in mist, the land dropped away, and the exhilaration the boy felt changed to fear. He was swirling in a vortex whose only coordinates were noise and cold. Waves towered above them and crashed, trying to wrench them free. The roaring in his ears grew so loud he could no longer hear his own screams. A cold and brutal wind howled around him, attempting to rip the shirt from his back.
     When the edge of the raft hit the rock, the log which took the blow splintered. For a moment, the whole raft stood almost on end, and then feel back with a mighty crash, sending a wall of water upstream. It met the oncoming waves, and the two waters thundered into the sky and splashed down, inundating the raft. Derin saw the splintered log tossed skyward where the wind hit and threw it like a matchstick. Something slapped his leg; he saw a vine unraveling, whipping through the air.
     "Matthew!" he screamed. Matthew looked at him oddly, but the expression in his eyes was frozen there, as if he stared into a dead face. Then the boy noticed how far away Matthew was, and what he had feared had already happened. Matthew clung to a few logs which pitched forward, upended, and disappeared. He thought he heard a scream, but he couldn't tell if it was a voice or the commotion of the river. He looked behind him, but Vera was gone as well. Was that a paw he saw sticking from the water? It could be foam, or a skinned stick. It could be anything.
     And then the small solidity beneath him disappeared. The logs tore apart, the vine washed away, and the pitch ripped from end to end. Derin was flung into the air like so much flotsam, his pack lopsided on his back, unbalancing him, and he fell ten feet from the crest of a wave into the valley of water which lay beneath him, beckoning with its furious icy arms.

                                                           *                      *                      *

     Matthew clambered to shore, bone-tired, nearly frozen, his brain dulled by the cold. Twice he had been thrown by the water towards submerged rocks, but he had lunged to safety. Blindly, he let himself be taken by the current until he had a clear sense of its direction, and then he struck out toward the shore they had set from not much earlier.
     His pack felt unnaturally heavy on his back. He threw himself on the bank, panting, and attempted to calm himself, but waves of hysteria rose in him, threatening to engulf him as the river had the raft. Shaking, he stood up, shaded his eyes with his hand, and looked out over the turbulent water. He saw the rocks, the rearing waves, but not a trace of his friends. He stopped himself from yelling their names, knowing it would only be wasted breath.
     How far downstream had he been taken? Here too, firs rose from the riverbank so it seemed to the satyr he'd never left the land. But he knew he'd been swept further south. Still wobbly, he took off downriver. Maybe Vera and Derin had been washed ashore as well. He tried to be hopeful, but there was no reason for hope. Matthew knew how cold the water was, how it robbed him of breath, paralyzed his hands and feet. The river had two levels. A deadly calm, a slow suck downward, like gravity, lay under the furious rushing surface. In that lower stratum a body had no buoyancy, little hope of escape. The boy might be held in that calm now, or else he'd been dashed on the rocks. And where was Vera? Was her magic not enough in the face of this raging river?
     He began to walk more slowly, as these thoughts sapped what little energy he had left. Across from him, the opposite shore appeared and disappeared through the mists the river flung into the air. Matthew stopped, shaded his eyes again, and looked. In the middle of the water, he thought he saw Derin's body rise and fall with the waves. Was it really the boy or only a log, a floating branch? He thought again of the temperature of the water, and realized that if it were Derin's body, it would be dead.
     He stopped walking, he stopped looking, he stood on the riverbank, barely breathing. He knelt on the bank, raked his hands through the gravely mud. Without thinking of the dirt, without thinking of anything but the boy, he put his face in his palms and howled.

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* I'm pretty sure the word should be "behind", but "before" is written on the paper. Is this a mistake, or intentional? No idea.

     Well, as always, more = later! (hope later would come soon)