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First 500 Words—River’s Edge
River’s Edgereleased on
August 10, 2018. It is a stand-alone science-fiction short story about first
contact and colonisation.
When my mother told me to run, I ran. I ran all the
way to the river and then stopped—because the river was a frightening place,
and forbidden by the raiders who came to take their annual toll of settlers.
Faced with the choice of being taken, or taking my chances in the river, I took
a step back, and hoped that somewhere, across the river I’d find help.
I stood at the edge of the river, both feet
firmly planted amidst the sweet meadow grass, the toes of my boots scant inches
from the water. What would it be like, I wondered, to take that one step more?
Behind me bugles
rang, and I glanced back, trying to see through the cover of the trees, trying
to gauge if I really had a choice about the river, or if I was honestly
thinking of facing the fate roaring through the foliage towards me. I turned.
Perhaps that fate wouldn’t be as bad as I’d heard. Perhaps…
One look at the
bestial features of the rider mounted on the giant boar, and I knew otherwise.
The elders had been sugar-coating the truth for years; the only reason our
colony had survived was because we paid a tribute in human lives—and I wasn’t
going to be a part of it. Whatever the stories were that surrounded the river,
none of them promised the horror I read on that face.
It was worth the
And maybe I would
find salvation downstream. Maybe there would be someone I could ask for help.
Our ancestors might not have chosen to land here, but we had no choice about
staying, Confederation and Alliance rules, or no. My mother had given me the
chance to reach the river. I would not disrespect her by wasting it.
The rider drew her
beast to a skidding halt, the tip of her spear bare inches from my chest.
child?” she asked, and I licked my lips. “Come back with me. I have a better
use for that tongue.”
I was sure she
did, even though I couldn’t think what. The boar was not the only one with
fangs that curled over its lip. The creature mounted on its back looked
carnivorous. I took a step back, not intending it to be my last on dry land—but
I’d forgotten how deliberately I’d stood on the river’s edge, my heels in line
with its bank, and my foot struck nothing.
I had time for one
startled shriek, throwing my arms out for balance as my sole found the water’s
surface and plunged through, and then I was falling. Coarse laughter followed
me down, and I watched as they turned their mounts parallel to the bank. They
looked odd as rippling shadows blending into the trees, and I hoped the stories
weren’t entirely true.
Giant fish that
could swallow a man whole, eels able to strip the flesh from a cow in seconds,
amphibious lizards that paralysed with a bite so their young could eat living
flesh until they were large enough to hunt it on their own, these were the
nightmares that ran through my head as I flailed my way to the surface. The
surface—where the riders were waiting.
The first spear
thrust came as a surprise, and I turned, feeling the blade graze my back, as I noticed
the rope trailing behind. I didn’t wait for a second shaft to come flying in my
direction, but dove away from the bank, pushing myself under the surface and
hoping they wouldn’t try for me until I came up for air.