Monday, July 08, 2013
Worlds within Worlds #7.2
The crab needs a new home. Its current shell clasps it as tight as the membranes hold me. I have been watching it for a while now as it scrambles around its rough wall, checking the quality and size of potential dwellings with its great blue claw. None pass muster.
Closer to me a snail glides across its redweed frond. It is an admirable beast with a strong grey foot and bright-striped stalks for its eyes. Its shell is large enough to attract its own vegetation – a miniature forest of viridian greenthreads, complete with a tiny anemone. I know this snail: its flesh is tart-sweet on the tongue, but fiddly to prepare – it carries within it a spear whose poison can separate a man from his flesh within a hundred heartbeats.
Clearly the crab doesn't care. It needs a new home. Already it is scuttling across the rock face towards me, to confront this welcome visitor to our pool. It even leaps at one point, launching itself across a fissure. When it lands, its old home drags it backwards, downwards towards the sands that lie in deep shadows beneath us, almost at the limit of my improving sight. It takes some nifty claw-work, and a savaged anemone in the wrong place at the wrong time, before the crab finds a firm footing and continues its hunt.
A thought occurs to me: helping the crab could help me. The frond on which the snail grazes almost touches my tight membrane – I remember stories told by my brothers about snails just like this one: how it likes to feed on new-formed flesh, of how it will glide over the face and slowly puncture through membranes to send a man's Vital Breath screaming in agony to a new healing pool.
I can twist in my tightness, send ripples of pressure to push the frond towards the rock wall and the approaching crab.
I watch the red leaf recede.
I watch the red leaf slowly rebound back towards me. Still the snail glides along its processional path, oblivious to the movements beneath its great, grey foot. Does it know that I'm here?
It stops. Slowly, it detaches the base of its head from the frond and lifts up its body. Slowly, it waves its head through the water, as if sniffing for opportunities. Striped stalks retract, then one bulb extends towards me. It is no more than two hands from my face. The other eye also grows, its direction a sure and true copy of its twin.
It knows that I'm here.
A bole of fear leaches into my throat. If there was air in my lungs, I would bellow!
A heart thud passes, then another. Somehow, I've managed to keep my body still. Slowly, the distance between the snail and my face grows – three hands, now four. And a finger. The snail's frond is a branch in watery gale; it has no choice but to sway.
It takes an effort to wrench my stare from the flesh grazer. I look to see where the crab has gone. A shock of relief gallops through my limbs when I finally spot its frantic semaphores. It clings to the rock-face, close to where the frond should collide. All the crab needs to do is wait ...
It doesn't wait! It can see its new house, and is eager to start the eviction. It leaps from the rock, its many legs splayed like a net.
It misses the leaf!
How could the bloody thing miss?
The old home, I realise. The crab has let weeds grow across the shell and, like a hand through water, the weeds push against the crab's eager speed. It passes within a pincer's tip of the snails trail, and plummets down, and down to places where my unbelieving eyes can barely make out its form. When it hits the sand, a great flurry of grains erupts: a flash of teeth, a slash of spines ...
At least I now know that I share my healing pool with a rappoe fish. I must remember not to step on the sand when the time comes to seek air.
And now the snail starts to swing back towards me. I have a choice: to struggle in the hope of dislodging it from its frond, to head down to the jaws hidden in the sand; or to remain still, hoping that the beast loses interest in me.
I remember the pain of its spear in my flesh.
I twist and tumble in my tight membranes. I stretch and collapse, I try to roll myself into its path, hoping to crush it between my back and the rock. I yell, expelling piss-tainted fluids from my new lungs!
My final roll swivels my face directly into the snail's path. I stare, mouth open, as it rears once again and flares its sticky foot wide. When it extrudes the lethal thorn from the depths of its flesh, I cannot close my eyes. A cold shock shivers in my blood. Three fingers of water separate me from agony; two fingers ...
A golden spear plunges towards me ... from above? Wide it is, and long – as long as my hand – and swift! Down it comes, straight and true ... straight for the killer as it feathers onto my face!
And then the beak is gone, leaving behind nothing more than a froth of bubbles and a stump of a redweed frond, raggedly torn.
My eyes need no prompting to roll back in their sockets as I faint.