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22nd April
posted by amber


Peering down into the water where the morning sun fashioned wheels of light, Della saw through the surface distraction to the prize beneath. A fat fish, moving stealthily after smaller fish, unaware that he was to become prey instead of predator.

Her hand slipped into the water without making a ripple and moved as gently as the pushing current. Near, nearer, then touching, slick as liquid, caressing the fish until he was mesmerized by her glissading fingers. By the time the fish realized the hypnotic motion had become a terminal grasp, he was half-comatose.

She drew him from the water, drops flashing in the sun as they shed from his scales. She held him aloft, admiring his rainbow hues and the round swell of his belly. Her mouth watered.

A sound in the bushes on the far side of the stream startled her. No one in her tribe would move so incautiously and neither would a large cat or wolf announce its stalking presence that way. To walk through the greenery making such a rustle, clattering carelessly among the rocks, and now hooting to each other loudly enough to be heard above the roar of the stream as it emptied over the waterfall above this pool, to be so stupid was the sign of the Others.

Too clumsy to catch their own fish as Della had just done, too lazy to chase game until it tired, too disorganized to plan a hunt, the Others used a different strategy to obtain food. They stole it.

Most days they ambled down to the creek later than this. Most days they weren’t awake in their group of straw huts until the sun had been in the sky long enough to dry the night’s dew from the leaves. Most days she made sure she wasn’t at the creek when they arrived.

The creek flowed deep in a gorge and the best fishing was here, where circular pools, like a string of beads, followed one below the other, hollows in the dark grey rock round as berries. To reach this deep part of the river’s cleft, Della had scrambled down a narrow path. One way in, one way out.

Now the Others blocked the way. They hadn’t seen her yet, but when they did, they would take her fish and worse. Women from her tribe caught alone by the Others frequently didn’t return home. If they did, they’d been beaten and raped.

Della’s husband had been the son of her tribe’s leader, and he had spoken out when none of the others had done so, insisting that they should leave this area now that the Others had come. Everyone else had been afraid, wanting only to stay in the place where they knew what to hunt and what to eat, where to find shelter, where the medicinal plants grew.

Della’s husband had been killed by the Others when he stood up to try to protect their food cache, and this was seen by the tribe not as a vindication of his viewpoint but a repudiation. If the Others had come from the unknown area, much worse was to be found there if the tribe were to venture upstream or downstream away from their familiar territory.

Crouching down and ripping at the raw fish with her teeth, Della had reached a decision. People in the tribe feared her now, and she would not get another husband there. Everyone was growing more and more weak from lack of food. She didn’t want to wait to die.

She could not climb out of the canyon without the Others seeing her. She could not hope to explore the unknown territory in higher country above, but she could easily travel to the lower country below.

She slipped into the water. The first few waterfalls she knew were not too high – as a girl, she’d often plunged over them, laughing, into the crystal pools.

The waterfalls below were unknown, but they beckoned like cups of sky, waiting for her to soar into them.

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story.

The first words of this story come to me from Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece, Suttree.

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