Chapter Seventy-Four: The Waters Rise
Starlings chased rabbits and moles into their holes. They grabbed at mice and shrews and voles, carrying some up into the sky to toss back and forth as they squealed.
Where the Lady slithered, tendrils shot into the ground, seeking those that burrowed. Where the Lady slithered, tendrils shot into the air, seeking those that flew. Her color darkened as the fear and panic spread.
And deeper she probed.
She felt the strength lying there, somewhere underground.
The tendrils probed and searched.
She would find it.
This and That cowered in the truck. As it was a human machine, the Lady and the starlings ignored it. Even when its engine turned over and the truck began to back out of the clearing.
“That’s a close thing,” That said, jerking at the rods that turned the steering wheel.
“Where are we going?” This asked from the floor.
“Away, away for now. Perhaps back to the shepherd’s shack. That would be best, until the Lady is gone.”
“Is she going?” This asked. “For a long time, the box canyon has been hers. Now she is here.”
“Doomed, doomed,” That whistled to himself.
Father Marmot did not see the truck leave. He was the first the tendrils took. As he wandered the wood, he nurtured his hatred. Hatred of Jarrod and Aloysius who had brought the beavers down from the canyon. So industrious, they were. Already felling trees and packing mud, he saw. Treacherous creatures. And dangerous, he knew. He remembered from the last time.
Tendrils stopped up his ears, closed his eyes. Time, he felt, like molasses on his skin. He imagined the sun rose and set, rose and set, rose and set. He felt the tendrils caress him, feed his hatred, bring him stores of rumors and talk and imagined actions to feed the bubbling mudpot of anger inside his soul.
The Lady gorged on his hatred, and grew. She snared other marmots, who went into holes to brood and drown as water from the creek poured into their tunnels. She found others, and others. And grew and grew.
She sensed Jarrod and Aloysius. Not far. Not far. First the appetizers, she thought. Then the feast.
Her starlings fled.
Her starlings fled.
And the sky grew dark with sparrows.
On the edge of the clearing, the magpie and the badger.
The magpie rode the badger, perched on its low back, claws digging in as the badger ran. She turned to meet them and slithered through mud where once there had been dry ground.
The magpie had in its claw, braced on the badger’s back, a bit of rock.
The badger climbed a tree, the magpie hopping from branch to branch. They fled the water that carried the flotsam of the forest floor in eddies and whirlpools inching up the tree trunks, up the sides of the hills.
She splashed through the water and coiled ‘round the tree the two had climbed.
“Oh, I taste the both of you, both of you through this tree,” she hissed. The tree shed its leaves. Its branches grew brittle. Aloysius grabbed a branch and it snapped off in his hand, where moments ago the branch had been green. “Let me come, and we will sup together.”
From Jarrod: silence.
From Aloysius: the same.
Her tendrils reached them, but hesitated. Where they had always found channels, or cracks, or breaks or tears or leaks, there was nothing but feathers. Nothing but fur.
And the sky was full of sparrows.
A hammer blow, they fell. And they too, were silent save the ruffling of their wings.
The Lady screamed as they pierced her skin with their tiny claws, jabbed at her with tens of thousands of beaks.
And the waters rose.
This and That abandoned the truck, its engine flooded with water. They swam through the flood, found a tree, and climbed.
The Lady squeezed the tree, which creaked under the strain. Then she fell. She fell with a great splash in the water and lay still. The sparrows swarmed around her, diving in and out of the water in their speed, wrapping her in a coil of bone and feather.
Silence from Jarrod and Aloysius.
Silence from the sparrows.
A great gust of wind scattered the swirling birds which fled to the four corners.
Bits of wood and pumice and plant and stuff bobbed in the water.
Sparrows and the Lady gone.
Aloysius collapsed in tree fork, muttered. He gave Jarrod a nod. The bird hopped over, landed on the badger’s back, folded its wings and tucked its head down.
Both creatures slept.