Thursday, November 21, 2013

Doleful Creatures: 45,000 Words In

Chapter Sixty-One: Upstream Side 

Jarrod flew, clinging to the bit of rock in his claws. The rock was lighter than he dared hope, filled as it was with bubbles of air left over from when the basaltic rock cooled long ago. 

“Fly far from the creek, kind Jarrod,” the man in the rock said, speaking from the bit in Jarrod’s feet. “The creek I will see afore long; I desire to go further afield.” 

“Pardon my indulgence,” Jarrod said. “Trust me a bit further as we follow the creek. I have things on its shoreline to show you. We at least travel upstream, where you are not likely to follow.” 

They flew northeast, where the canyon opened up a bit after the narrows at man in the rock. Here the creek split in two, one branch continuing northeast and the beaver lodges, the other to the northwest and the lake where Nimble and her kind found home. Here and there, rapids and waterfalls, as the creek descended out of the box canyon. 

Below, the creek wound through a narrow valley, a tumble of rock really from the mouth of the canyon. Soon the canyon widened and its bottom flattened into a gentle U-shape. Tiny ponds and lakes appeared, linked by the creek as if on a grey-blue rope. Jarrod descended and flew low over the creek, whistling and grunting in a mix of magpie and beaver tongues.

A young beaver mending a portion of a dam heard Jarrod’s calls and slapped the water with his tail. From holes and bushes and out of the nearby wood, beaver faces emerged, peering first at the water, then at the sky. 

Jarrod started a gentle glide down to the pond shore, then the starlings were upon him. Several flew at his face while others came from behind, raking his eyes and wings with their bony feet. Jarrod folded his wings and dropped, avoiding a third barrage, opening his wings just in time to stop himself from falling into the water. 

“Kill!” the starlings screamed. “Kill!” 

Jarrod surged back into the sky. 

Below, the surface of the pond roiled. Beavers leaped from the water and their dam, fleeing with their youngsters into the wood as the water surged and boiled. A whirlpool formed near its center, occasionally gouting spouts of foam and water and mud. A terrible head on a long neck, dripping mud and scum from the bottom of the pond, shot out of the whirlpool and bolted into the sky. 

The starlings screamed with joy. “The Lady! The Lady emerges to fight with us!” 

In a whirl, clouds of starlings shot from the sky and from the strees and seemingly from holes in the ground to fly in a twisting knot around the Lady’s leering, toothed head. 

“Jarrod!” the Lady screamed. Spittle dropped from her mouth and caused the surface of the pond to smoke. “Jarrod! Once you were mine, and you will be mine again. And to the beavers” – she lowered her head to shout into the wood – “if you desire to help this one, so be it. But remember the massacre. For if you help him today, you will wish for the blessings of that day, when so many died!” She roared and the trees in the full gust of her breath withered, their leaves turning to dust before they hit the ground. 

“Oh,” the man in the rock said. “This I have seen. This I have seen before.” 

“Fight!” the Lady bellowed. 

In a single cloud, the starlings barreled through the air to Jarrod, alone in the sky. 

“Fly higher, fly higher,” Jarrod said to himself, pumping his torn wings. He flew away from the pond, seeking a rising thermal as Nimble the hawk had shown him. This early in the day, one might be hard to find, but he had to look . . . there! He felt the wind bearing him up. The starlings, too, would find the rising air and follow, he knew, but perhaps they were not used to flying so high. He shifted his grasp on the bit of rock in his claws. 

“Jarrod,” the man in the rock said, “you must descend. Fly over the water. Fly back to her.” 

Jarrod flew higher, his heart thumping. 

“Jarrod,” the man in the rock said, “how long have we known each other?” 

“A long time.” 

“And do we call each other friend?” 

“Yes . . . friend,” Jarrod said, slowing his flight. Below, the starlings’ screams approached. 

“Descend. Fly over the water. And when I tell you, drop me.” 

“But what –“ 

“I have seen it before,” the man in the rock said. “I know what is to be done. But be cautious. This will be only a temporary stop to her. She will find you again, and soon. In the meantime, fly to your friends.” 

“The crows,” Jarrod said. The starlings screamed. The starlings screamed. 

“No, to the hawks,” the man in the rock said. “The crows are noble birds, but the hawks; but Nimble. She will know what to do. In a way, she has already told you.” 

Jarrod swallowed, then folded his wings. 

He dropped like a stone, still carrying the rock in his feet.

He fell through the cloud of starlings, knocking several from their flight. His fall was too fast for them to do anything but dodge. Below them, he spread his wings again, righted himself, then folded his wings again, aiming for the roiling pond and the leering head staring up at him, mouth agape, withering breath bellowing a putrid heat into the clouding sky. 

Over the whistle of the wind, he heard the Lady’s familiar voice. 

“Ah, you are coming after all, once again into my embrace,” she said, licking her lips with a slimy tongue. “Sweet Jarrod, so full of fear and guilt. You have grown more bitter these past few weeks, but we will make you sweet once again.” Tentacles shot out of the pond and beat upon the water, sending waves over the muddy shores and into the wood where the beavers had fled. Other tentacles smashed the lodges, uprooted trees and flattened the dam, sending brown water boiling downstream. 

But as Jarrod dropped, the smile faded on the Lady’s lips, the shine in her eyes dimmed a little. There was something. Something. Something she could not follow. Something wrong. Something wrong. 

“Now, Jarrod,” the man in the rock said. “Drop me. Drop me before the water is gone.” 

Jarrod released the stone. 

It fell and landed in the water with a plop so tiny among the waves and flailing tentacles that it could not be heard. 

The water was black and full of clinging ichors, but to an eye that could see through rock, such obstructions were of little consequence. The man in the rock tumbled through the water, falling closer and closer to the sucking hole through which the Lady was forcing her body. He fell between her and the rock the flailing and churning had exposed, and during an undulation, slipped into the darkness below. 

The Lady paid no mind. She continued to stare into the sky, wide-eyed, as Jarrod flew away, higher and further, and as her starlings quivered at her wails of despair.

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