Flash Fiction Faction: Crocodile River

Wrote most of this on Thursday but didn’t get around to editing it down until today. I think it might be slightly over the 100-1,000 word limit, but see if the extra words are worth it!

Quill Shiv’s entry on her site is here. I’ll be spending this weekend cathcing up on everyone else’s work! The prompt she set is just below, music this time, and I hope I captured some of what it inspired in me.

Other flash fiction entries are on here. Or please click on the link above.

Crocodile River

Elayne’s fingers were sticky as she sucked the last of the blue juice from her skin and threw the drained croom-fruit into the river. Clustered crocodiles watched her from the banks, their cunning eyes impassive at her excitement. She rolled back onto the cushion and savoured the sweet spread of ecstasy already taking hold, the bud of joy building in her stomach, filling her chest and her head, pushing aside all the jagged cares and upsets. Worry was soon a distant memory. She floated. She was a bubble of water filled by sunlight and the universe was suffused with a purplish light, throbbing with hypnotic pulses clustering inside her clammy heat. She stretched her full length in the cushioned punt, her body rising lighter and higher. After an era of drifting she stretched her hand up and saw a face loom above her. It glowed like the sun and had a red arrow in its skull.

For a moment she thought it was God, and began laughing, until he struck her sharply around the face. The shock didn’t clear her head, but the buzz became jagged, her eyes filled with tears. No gods here.

“Hamble’s girl?” Elayne was pulled to her feet. She groaned, he shook her. “Elayne?”

She could only manage a gracious smile in response, because her tongue was currently speaking to the crocodiles, who were telling her their secrets in return. She laughed a little. Another slap to her cheek. Distantly, she pushed the man away, wobbling on the shallow boat.

“She’s out of it..she’s a dribble-head.” The big man shook her. Elayne heard muffled speech from far away. The big man said, “You know her?” There was someone behind him.

“Yeah, that’s Elayne. She was Hamble’s girl. Her dad’s the mayor, remember? She used to hide at the back of the house during Summervast parties. She’s grown up now, though. Hamble had a picture of her.” The voice was older and briefly she saw shards of blood rise upward in the purpling sky. Colour bloomed around the name.

Hamble.

Come back to me.

The memory of him jarred her more awake, and she stumbled reluctantly from her stupor. Hamble had not approved of the fruit’s delicious properties, not until she’d trickled juice into her mouth as they made love, shared the taste with him, and the experience had changed him forever. They’d rocked together in bliss for hours, wanting nothing and no one else.

They spent many nights like that until the Kalmarian battlefields decided they wanted Hamble’s blood. He had followed the call to war months ago. He had been part of a charge that was cut down by enemy guns. And that had been that.

She recognised the two men now, half remembered them both from the parties and social events her father hosted, and she wasn’t past caring what they’d do to her if they decided they could get away with it. Her father would ask too many questions if she arrived home like this. For a start, he thought she was doing needlework with her sister.

“Don’t take me home,” Elayne found her voice as they bundled her into their larger craft; she leaned against ragged sacking peopled by beer and guns. She noticed the lazy crocodiles had shifted away, sensing bigger predators were in their river. She suddenly hated the beasts for their practical cowardice. She said, “Take me to the Temple, I can find my way back later.”

“No we’re dropping you at your father’s. I can’t believe you’re taking that stuff, and the Mayor’s daughter, too.” the larger man, Sol, said angrily.

“And where did you get it?” The smaller, wirier man sneered. She thought he was called Jal or Jak or something. She hadn’t seen him around much before, but also recognised him from her father’s parties.

“Just take me to the Temple,” she said. Her tongue was hurting now, she’d come off the high too soon and now her cheeks stung hotly from Sol’s slaps.

“No, we’re taking you home. Your dad’ll be pleased to know we’ve found you.” Sol chuckled to himself. “Yeah, he’ll be thrilled we’ve turned you in.”

Elly said, “My dad won’t be pleased to hear you hit me. You think he wants to hear about this from you? He’ll send you off with an arrow in your backside.”

“You could have been tripping for hours and been eaten by crocs. Murdered. Drowned. He’ll be glad we got you back.” Sol seemed certain.

“Don’t count on it, Sol. You’re just another village boy.” Elly said.

Sol raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I am. This should get his attention, though. You’ll go home, sleep it off, and stop taking that stuff.”

“Have you ever tried it?” she asked.

He laughed. “I’m not eating that crap. It’ll burn out my brain, like with yours.”

“It hasn’t done me any harm,” she pulled herself up. “You sure you never want to try any?”

Sol lunged at her. The little guy got between them, “Now hold on, you really never tried it?”

“You’ve tried it, Jakki?” Sol’s skin flushed. His imagination was getting pushed to its limits, she thought.

“In our unit, yeah. How else do you get through your first tour, right? You’ll find out when you go next year.” Jakki sniggered. She saw that the man was a little older than she’d thought. His eyes were quick, feral. Dangerous.

“Then you’re as bad as her.” Sol shoved Jakki aside.

Jakki said, “Look, I agree we should drop her with her dad. Unless you had another kind of party in mind?”

“She’s the Mayor’s daughter.” Sold said. He was afraid, she noticed that. She kissed his fear.

But then he looked at her and licked his lips, and Elayne shuddered.

Crocodile shapes crawled past her eyes. Grinning. Cunning. An idea struck.

“I know where to find more croomes. You could sell them, you know they’re valuable. I’ll show you in return for your silence, and taking me to the Temple.” She gauged their reactions. Some hope lifted at their thoughtful glares.

“You know where to get it?” Jakki raised his eyebrows.

Elayne leaned forward with a grin. “I can show you the croome tree itself.”

“Just tell us where it is, girl,” Jakki said, his eyes darting eagerly.

“Then you let me go to the Temple.”

“You tell us first.” Sol said.

“No.” She grimaced as Sol went to slap her again. She wriggled back on the sacking, dislodging their guns and sending beer gourds rolling and spilling yellow liquid.

“Tell us.”

“No.” Elayne shrugged. “Then just take me home to father. You’ll never know, then. You’ll never earn all that money.”

Sol glanced from her to Jakki, and he clenched his meaty fists and said. “How much money can we make?”

Jakki patted him on the shoulder. “Lots. Enough to buy our way to another moon if we want. Now say you’ll try it so we can go and find it.”

“Swear to the goddess you’ll take me home.” Elayne said.

Sol winced. No one was stupid enough to break a promise made in Her name. Elayne waited expectantly.

Finally he said. “You show us, and then we take you to the Temple. You’re coming with us.”

She swallowed back her fear at that proposal. But perhaps the crocodiles wanted her to see their fate. Stiffly, Elayne nodded. “You promise you’ll take me back to the Temple once I’ve shown you?”

Sol growled, “Yeah, I promise. In the name of Our Honored Lady Seceta, I promise, that when we have the fruit I will take you to the temple.”

“Good man,” Jakki thwacked him affectionately on the shoulder and beamed at Elayne. “Good girl. Now, where do we go?”

Elayne pulled herself to her feet. She said sweetly. “It’s easy. We follow the river until we reach the Mouth of the Gorgon. The croome trees are a few miles up there.”

“The Mouth of the Gorgon?” Sol started swearing at her. “You mad bitch.”

Jakki laughed, and Elayne didn’t like the sound of it. “That’s priceless. OK, Mayor’s daughter, Hamble’s girl, you think we can get there and back by the morning?”

Elayne felt a twinge of fear, but nodded. She hadn’t been out there to pick up any fresh fruit since Hamble’s death and her private stocks were dwindling. Perhaps these two could replenish the supply. If they all made it back. She rubbed the sore mark on her face where Sol had hit her. She shivered under Jakki’s wandering eyes. Yes, it‘s possible that this trip would solve a lot of problems. She smiled at them both.

“Of course we can.”

She didn’t want to prepare them too well, and so didn’t ask if they knew the truth about the Mouth and the inhabitants of the Gorgon’s river. Would she be spared this time? She pondered that question as the boat chugged upriver.

*****


Flash Fiction Faction: Crocodile River

Flash Fiction Faction: The Shriek Hunters

The prompt this week from Quill Shiv’s blog is a simple picture.

I think a photograph like this is both useful and tougher, as I hate to do the most obvious choice, and did try out a couple of other ideas. However, this is the one that grabbed me.

So, I hope you enjoy reading The Shriek Hunters! Comments and observations are all gratefully received.

Quill’s entry can be found here and the idea is to read everyone else’s and comment while leaving a link to your own effort, too. 

Bridge Pilings from Quill Shiv

The Red Breasted Shriek comes to the glade once every five years to lay its eggs. The rest of the time it lives in the mountains, very far from here. The creature is a beautiful sight, made more precious by its sheer rarity. Once its infants are grown and gone, a clever hunter can steal its nest. Few have the patience to wait that long.

My father and I started our long trek into the secret part of the forest where it is usually seen. The glade is silent and green as we reach it two force-marched days later and set up our small, unobtrusive camp. The more we blend in, the better. Hunting the nest is very dangerous. The Shriek won’t leave it until the last possible moment. When it’s done with it, there might not be much left, so we have to be fast. We gather supplies from the forest and make a sturdy, dry shelter from bushes and woven bark, and then we wait.

After a week of sitting in the bushes, letting the forest’s smell become one with our own stink, we spot it. A deep growl alerts us and then it lands with a smooth splash in the centre of the watery glade. It’s long and elegant, moving like a demented cat, but about the size of three of the baron’s bulls if you stacked the poor things on top of each other. Now we really wait.

Our muscles ache and right now I need to urinate, but there’s no more time to think of that. If it sees us, it will shred us to pieces. It’s fat with eggs, and its leathery wings flutter happily as it slides forwards into the puddle of water, nosing through the filth. Pale nostrils at the tip of its snout flare and close, and it nips with its narrow beak and yanks out one of the huge, slow moving forest crabs that live in the murk. We listen to it chomping, spiny crab legs splinter as it sucks out the meat.

My father presses a hand on my shoulder and gives the slightest nudge with his head. I follow the signal and see another Shriek circling above the glade, and now its shadow is passing over our Shriek. I have never seen two together. The creatures lives up to their name, our one rises up fast from its meal and hurls herself into the air, wings flapping, the most awful noise bursting from its blazing red throat and belly. I cover my ears and stare up as the two creatures fight. Father pulls me back as fire heats the air in the glade, the bigger invader swooping low over our heads. The two Shrieks tussle in the sky; we’re forced to back off from our hiding place as the tops of the bushes catch the fire.

Father drags me deeper into the shelter of the thick trees.  We burrow down, watching the fight play out. If we have to run away now, we’ll never get close to the nest again.

The fight lasts a while. It goes distant and quiet. I am almost asleep when father nudges me again. One of the Shrieks has returned. I think it’s ours, but it’s hard to be sure. It seems to have dispatched its rival and resumes rapidly gorging on the fat crabs. One of the crabs scuttled past me, deep into the forest, but there are surprisingly few escapees. The Shriek eats for a bit longer, then settles down in the mud for a nap. Father and I very carefully make our way back to our smouldering hiding place. The damp bushes didn’t burn for long.

I nestle down again, wrapping the old blanket around me, and father checks the supplies, and as it grows dark we gnaw on the tough Smoked Squirrel Jerky that mother prepared for emergencies. The Shriek still hasn’t noticed us, as night cloaks the glade its diamond-bright eyes are all that’s visible. Soon all I hear is the lap of water against the Shriek’s flank, and my father’s heavy breathing as he dozes, too. I sleep soundly.

The next morning I’m woken by a harsh vomiting sound. The Shriek is backed up like a cat, throwing up into the shallow pond water. The smell is indescribable; an unholy mix of rotten eggs, latrines and sour milk. I gag, covering my nose with the pine scented rags we’d brought just for this. It barely helps. Dad’s eyes are streaming, mine too, but we both want to see what the Shriek will produce.

The Shriek vomits up glutinous blobs that settle below its head in the water. It yaks up more and more, turning the remains of the crab and who knows what else it’s eaten into glistening, honey coloured gel. It seems to take a very long time. When its done, it blasts the shimmering mass with red hot flame and for the second year running I lose my eyebrows.

Dad is shaking as he pats my shoulder, and I know exactly why. He’s happy. This is the biggest nest we’ve ever seen. The Shriek has vomited up a prize taller than three men, an artifact of indescribable worth. I imagine my mother’s face when she sees it, sees the wealth we will gather once this beauty is sold at the Secret Market. I grin to myself. This is going to be a great year.

But we’re going to need a bigger sack…

Flash Fiction Faction: The Shriek Hunters