Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Apocalypse River 004

This is one of those of those stories that I come back to as the mood takes me, so my progress is infrequent and irregular. The rest of it can be read here, if you want to start at the beginning or just refresh your memory.

The outer doors were open - old Belinda must have done that, anticipating the need to escape across the water - and Tammon was able to reach out and shove off them, increasing their speed a little. The boat rocked alarmingly, but didn't spill him out.

It was the largest of the boats in that boathouse, doubtless chosen so all the children could hide behind it, but it was barely enough to hold them. The children were huddled together in the middle of the boat, as low as they could get; driven there by a mixture of instinct and intelligent caution. Old Belinda was at the far end, which was now - mainly because of the way they were drifting - the front. Tammon and Shannan were at the back, closest to the boat house and the shore.

There was a loud crack behind them as one of the Forsters kicked open the smaller, shore-side door leading into the boathouse. The darkness inside made him hesitate, a massive silhouette tightly framed by the doorway. Then he caught sight of the boat and roared a command.

Other figures, equally large and solid, raced around the sides of the boathouse. Like the River People, no two of the Forsters looked quite alike. Most were tall, around six feet, and heavily muscled... but this one had four small, upswept horns on his forehead, and that one had two sets of vestigial arms hanging from its chest; this one was entirely covered in fur, and that one had a long tail that curled and lashed behind it. The one that had smashed his way into the boat house appeared to lack fingers entirely, having claws like knife-blades in their place.

He was the first to pursue them, hurling himself recklessly into the water. Another, the one with the horns, evidently heard the splash and followed his example, hopping down from the bank and wading out into the waters. On the shore behind him, the furry one leaned back and hurled a spear, which arched up and then dropped towards the boat with devastating precision.

Tammon felt Shannan move beside him. The movement was enough to rock the boat, but not to upset it - she had learned from his experience with the doors. She leaned towards the center, where the children crouched and lay, and as the spear came down her hands flashed out in a quick double slap. The first blow turned the point aside; the second caught the falling shaft as it spun around. She rotated the spear and laid it along the side of the boat.

One of the children whimpered softly.

Straightening slightly as Shannan settled back, Tammon looked again towards the shore. The knife-handed Forster had barely cleared the doors of the boat house before something pulled him under. His companions hadn't noticed his absence, yet. The other one, the one with the horns, was up to his shoulders in the water when his expression changed. He turned back towards the shore, but too late. Something had him, and the water around him was starting to change color.

Good, thought Tammon. That will keep the fish distracted. Nobody knew exactly what lived in the river these days - the streams and inlets, natural and artificial, were their own ecosystems, and havens for species seeking escape from the deeper waters. On its own, their boat - even metal - might attract some attention, some curiosity from something deeper in the water. Forster blood might draw everything nearby, though of course there were no guarantees.

Then something launched itself from the water. Faster than an arrow in flight, it impaled the Forster with the extra arms and dragged it into the river. Though he had seen it happen, Tammon was unsure just what had struck: a snake, a tentacle, a spearing fin from some heretofore unknown species of fish? He wasn't even sure it had been an animal. It might have been some underwater vine or weed, pulling in food so that remnants and scraps would filter down to the riverbed when the fish were done, and thereby nourish it. It was certainly nothing Tammon cared to investigate more closely...

And evidently the remaining pair of Forsters felt the same way. The one with the fur and the one with the tail turned and sped away, forsaking the river and making for the village, or maybe the forest beyond it.

"As much as you can, be still," said Tammon, directing his voice towards the children. Several were looking at him; three actually nodded. Good enough. He didn't want to explain; no telling if the things in the water could hear voices.

There was nothing left to do but cultivate patience. Even if they had brought oars, using such things would have been a risk. They were at the mercy of the current, now. Taking his own advice, Tammon settled back beside Shannan and tried to relax.

In the front of the boat, old Belinda was already asleep.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to leave comments; it lets me know that people are actually reading my blog. Interesting tangents and topic drift just add flavor. Linking to your own stuff is fine, as long as it's at least loosely relevant. Be civil, and have fun!