Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Worlds within Worlds #3.4

The beach marks the mouth of a small stream that has cut itself a shallow channel through the collapsed steps of the cliff. It is not large, perhaps thirty paces in length and a dozen paces at its widest. Behind its low bulk the stream gathers in a small lagoon with a good growth of reeds about it. I take a moment to investigate the silted waters and quickly see that it contains a wealth of mudslumberers and murky brown scallifish; I even spot the telltale scrapes where a turtle has come to lay its round fruits in the wet earth.
'Sam! Sam! I got one!'
The distant voice sounds triumphant. I take a moment to tie a knot in the rope that holds my trousers to my waist, to remind me to return here to harvest this pool's wealth, then drop my bag in the reeds and creep to the cliff-side, where bushes hug the rock and I can hide to witness the next instalment of this ongoing japery.
The man on the beach is sitting back, resting his weight on his arms. One of his legs – the upwind one – is stretched out ahead of him, with the ankle swollen. His skin bears the marks of healing cuts, mainly on his hands and feet, though a few longer scratches across his back and chest tell a tale of missed balance among the healing pools that stretch between the sand and the sea. Nothing about him suggests any serious damage, except for the style of his face: his eyes wander from place to place and his jaw hangs loose in the chin – the look of a man haunted by bad memories that peck at him like the axe worries at the trunk of a tree.
'Sam, look! It's as long as my arm!'
The other man is coming closer now, ignoring the surf that batters at his legs. He slips before I can focus on his prize, slamming into the sharp rocks and breaking his stick. The fall seems to rouse the beach man from his fretting: 'Marc? Marc?'
When the other man stands, he copies him. He grabs his own spear from the sand and uses it as a crutch to lever himself to his feet. He manages a couple of short strides before halting.
The fisher man is smiling now. He has recovered what remains of his stick: 'I've still got it,' he shouts. 'We'll need something to cut it and gut it.' In triumph he raises his prize above his head, swinging it around its wooden tether.
I break cover without thought.
If the sight of my arrival shocks the sand man, I do not notice it. All my attention is focussed on the man walking towards the beach, and the Rappoe fish – still gasping and now enraged – that spins above his head.
'Drop it!' I shout. 'Throw it and run!'
My voice stuns the man still. I increase my speed, now dashing across the sandbar and into the surf. With its loss of momentum, the fish on the stick begins to flex and wrench its body against the wood; barely a hands-width separates its mouth from the man's wrist, and the tail is already within striking distance of his head.
'Idiot!' I scream. 'Drop it now!'
The fish seems to grin as it wriggles down and arches its tail back. In a fluid movement it puckers its spines free of their grooves along its flank and ... thwack ... empties its venoms into the inane grin that masks the man's face.
I am too late! I reach the man as he staggers, grasp the stick from his hand and pull the fish free of his face. In a single movement I hurl the triumphant Rappoe back into the waves, as far distant from me as I can manage, and reach for the man's collapsing frame.
Already he fits, foam swirling from his lips.

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