Sunday, December 12, 2010

Maili’s Story – The River (part III)

Maili lifted his head, a feral fire burning in his eyes. All he had ever known in his short life was the metallic smell of the cages, the incessant glare of the false suns, and the iron scent of blood. His only relief and hope through his living nightmare had been the stories his mother crooned to him as he shivered at her side, stories of hunting along the shores of prey filled lakes, of sleeping beneath stars, stories of sun kissed summers and ice covered winters, stories of hope, love and of freedom. His fitful sleeps had been filled with visions that his mothers songs had brought to life, visions of a life far away from the cages, a life of danger but also of joy. Then in a twist of fate Maili and his mother, along with several of the others, had been snatched from the cages. Not by the chemical smelling white skinned devils that daily took his brethren from their steel prisons leaving the others shivering in fear together, paralysed by the screams of the dying and the stench of blood and offal. No, these were different; clumsier, silent and nervous and their skins were a patchwork of greens and browns, their scent spoke of stale sweat, smoke, fear, excitement and of anger. Fear and terror had pushed the memory of the following events from Maili’s mind; his next recollection had been of waking in the cold, autumn frost kissed ditch, of hunger and the unsuccessful hunt which had led to the terrifying encounter with the monstrous form from the rivers depths.

Now dragged from his sparse retreat, he lay in front of these two loathsome creatures, whose first words had dismissed him as bait. Emotion that he’d never before experienced coursed through his frail, undernourished body. He’d felt fear and love before, even hopelessness in his short life, but this emotion burnt inside like molten rocks; rage. Rage at being torn from his mother, rage that he’d gained his freedom only for freedom to be much worse than the cages, rage that his mother’s songs had been lies; there was nothing good about the outside, rage that the first words since beginning upon this terrifying journey addressed him as bait. “Bait?” he screamed at the two before him, “bait?” he spat out with all the rage and frustration that had built up inside of him. “I am Maili, son of Ciqala, from the Clan beside the lake, and I am no bait no I am a hunter and I will die here defying you both before you hurl my soul to that monster within the river”.

Faced with the creature's wrath in front of him Bree edged backwards, what had been a limp, almost lifeless, creature had transformed before him into a flame eyed beast and doubt filled Bree’s young mind. He glanced up at Finna for reassurance, her features took him back almost as much as the creatures rage, for the first time since his sister had been taken there was a twinkle of something nearing amusement in her eyes. “Can you walk, Maili son of Ciqala? If so then follow us, if you wish to eat that is”. With this Finna turned and fluently disappeared into the tall rushes that edged the river bank, Bree, after glancing once more at Maili scurried after her, swiftly disappearing into the rushes. Maili stood rooted to the spot, confusion and surprise now smothering the rage. As the rage left him so did what little strength it had given him and his body began to tremble. Had these two just been a vision whilst he slept?, if real how could they have disappeared so quietly without a trace to show? or if real what new dangers did they offer to him? As his doubt held him back Bree’s head once more appeared in front of him, “come on, it’s not far”. This time Bree waited until Maili took faltering steps towards him, he could see that the creature was all but finished and wondered where it had got the inner strength from to defy them moments before. Bree eased alongside the creature gently supporting its frail, bony frame. Together they followed the old water vole track through the rushes. Sometimes pushing, sometimes gently dragging, Bree gradually eased his new found charge along the narrow, semi tunneled pathway. Maili took scant notice of his surroundings or companion, too tired to care or resist anymore, he could no more than drag one foot at a time in front of each other, without the solid form of the one beside him he’d have sunk to the floor, an open invitation for any passing beast to render and feast upon, although his burnt out body would have offered no more than the scantest morsel for anything larger than a rat.

Half stumbling, half dragged the forlorn creature was coerced into a rough, high water formed, bowl under the roots of a bank side tree. His vision now swimming as consciousness drifts away he collapses to the floor, his last recollection before blackness takes over were the softly spoken words “ah food…..”

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Maili’s Story – The River (part II)

            Darkness descended upon the river, here far from the lights of human dwellings and with no moon a million stars could be seen brightly twinkling in the sky on this cloudless night.

            There was little sign of the surface disturbance that the pike had caused whilst seizing its prey from the depths. The ripples had dispersed and had been smoothed away by the rivers flow, the tench had bolted to the thickest parts of the far reed bed only to emerge cautiously their greed overcoming caution, the roach had careered madly downstream using the waters speed to aid their panicked escape and now clustered tightly together ignoring the last fall of cold smitten insects upon the river’s surface and of the perch there was no sign at all. Only a solitary feather, held by surface tension against the fallen willows trunk showed that there had been a moorhen there moments before.

From the tangled roots of the willow two fearful eyes peered out at the surface of the water. Maili could not comprehend what had happened when, with smooth, silent, strokes he was closing in upon the bird a feeling of dread enveloped him causing him to float paralysed with fear on the water’s surface, before his eyes the river exploded from below and all he glimpsed was the mottled flank of something huge. The initial wave had thrown him against the roots of the willow where instinct had one again kicked in making him scramble and push his small body as far into the root ball as it would go. Here he stayed as darkness settled its cloak upon the river, fearful almost to breath lest the leviathan from the depths should come tearing through the roots to rend his flesh.

The pale rays of the autumnal sun slowly drove away the darkness and chill of the night air. Jack Frost’s carpet of white powder was slowly melting away in all but the deeper holes where the sun had yet to kiss warmly. The last of the night’s predators had finally slinked away to their dark abodes, cursing the loss of the night’s mantle and the advantage that it gave to them. The rooks, after much noisy ceremony, took raucous flight and headed away from their parliament in the hope of finding easy pickings left by the night hunters.

Along the river bank it would yet be some hours before the sun warmed the sufficiently for the many grounded insects to take lazy flight. Under the surface the solid tench slowly made their way back to cover of the reed beds to wait for the sun to be high enough to bask in, the perch returned to hover in their look out station prepared to rush upon unwary victims that were small enough to fit in their over sized mouths.

Finna the otter bitch climbed onto the old willow trunk noiselessly from the water followed by her one remaining cub, Bree. Now eight months old Bree could sense and share in his mother’s shame, rage and deep calling for the fire of revenge as they gazed down upon the pikes retreat. It had been four turns of the moon since the family of three had entered the river at this very point to chase the glittering shoals of sleek roach that looked so enticing upon the river’s surface. But terror had struck lightening fast and would be hunters were now nothing more than prey. Now just the two of them remained, Bree’s sister lost to the sudden rush and gaping maw of the colossal monster from beneath the willow’s trunk, her name not uttered as was their tradition. It was the first time that Finna had returned here not trusting in Bree’s youthful playfulness to overcome the need for stealth until now. Last evening they had watched the drama unfurl from the far bank the unknown Cailean entering the water just a length from their hiding spot, unaware of the watchers. They took in all of the action, the bird’s doomed move to the river, the Cailean’s clumsy approach and the erupting pike’s strike. Now Bree moved swiftly to Maili’s spot of refuge dragging the half comatose and wretched creature before the burning eyes of his mother. Maili looked up fearfully as Finna uttered the first words that another creature spoke to him since being parted so ruthlessly from his mother; “ah we have the bait for the trap”…..

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Maili’s Story – The River (part I)

As Maili lowered his head and drifted into semi conciseness once more, the smell of the autumnal air brought forth more memories from his past, not the pain and terror of the cages but of a brush with death that proved ,at the time, no less terrifying for the then young cub;

The late evening’s autumnal sun, dappled by the browning leaves of bank side willow trees, tipped the ripples of the river’s surface with its watery bronze light. The mild autumn air had not yet succumbed to the icy fingers of Jack Frost, although if anyone had been there to taste twilight’s breath they would have been sure that old Jack would soon be dusting the ground and what few lingering leaves remained with his softly shimmering carpet of white, translucent powder. With daylight rapidly retreating many of the riverside creatures were making hasty retreats to safe havens away from the night eyed vision and keen noses of the nocturnal predators presently to be stirring. Soon, even the raucous calls of the rooks would be subdued by the encroaching dusk as they welcomed the last of the parliament to their sanctuary, high in the distant chestnut trees.

The smooth surface of the river belied its depth and strength as at this point in its journey it now began to widen and meander seeking the sea to which it was forever drawn. As it left the forested hills and spread onto the flat pastureland below, the river, fed by countless mountain streams and tributaries, had acquired immense and unrelenting volume and power. Only the inner banks of the meanders provided enough footholds to allow aquatic vegetation to grow dense enough to provide a place of shelter, or of ambush, for the river’s many inhabitants. Felled by high winds when its root system became exposed during the massive rain storms of some ten years ago, the great trunk of an ancient willow cut across the apex of one of the meanders. The trunk’s anchor to the abrupt bank side was now decayed and it would not be many more seasons before the river, heavy during flood, would take what remained of it to the sea. But for now the dead willow providing asylum for all manner of the river’s inhabitants, from startled shoals of fry to innumerable invertebrates, from resting water fowl to stealthy assassins, all sheltering from the river and from each other. The barren river bed and its outer curves, where the racing water made it naught but impossible for even the most tenacious of plant life to grasp a hold, were inhospitable areas ignored by all but the strongest and most determined of creatures. These underwater deserts offered little relief to the small, unwary or feeble, with only the occasional smoothed rock outcrop, bank side eddy or discarded piece of man made debris providing the smallest of oasis’s for those creatures ill-fated enough to be swept from stronger cover.

 Shoals of sleek roach kissed at the surface, taking unfortunate insects which had succumbed to the faltering evening temperature, their silver flanks, touched with a hint of gold, flashing like mirrors catching the waning sun from afar as they rolled over with their catch. Several dark olive green tench, just a little more visible than specters in the more gloomy light near the river bed, shouldered aside the thinning reads as they cruised unhurriedly out of cover to scour over the mud and detritus of the river bed. Powerful enough to ignore the rivers current they slowly made their way back and forth disturbing clouds of silt as they rummaged, nose down and powerful tail up, searching for the wealth of food just below the mud’s surface from small crustaceans and  invertebrates to decaying seeds and berries dropped from trees overhanging the river’s edge. A shoal of small perch crashed through the few lifeless remaining branches of the fallen willow intent on nothing but the swarm of fry they’d surprised moments earlier. Their sergeant major’s stripes giving them the perfect camouflage whilst they hovered in the reeds in the failing light awaiting their prey to show themselves a little to far from cover. In a few seconds the rout was over and the perch headed back to take station in the reeds near the surface, hidden once more from untrained or unwary eyes. But not all the eyes that watched this tableau of underwater events were untrained, or unwary for that matter.

From within a dark hollow, formed by the arch of the fallen willow tree’s vast trunk, a pair of forward facing eyes pierced the deepening gloom. With no light entering the cave the twenty pound plus fish remained invisible and undetected to the river’s residents. Able to hold her station with only the smallest of rotating fin movements, her eyes followed the tench cruising the silt towards the far bank. To far away for the lunge, they’d be deep in the rushes before she was half the distance to them, no point on wasting energy there then. The dancing roach knew well enough to keep away from that gloomy hollow; in the past several unwary members of the shoal had already disappeared in a sudden, explosive mass of bubbles and blood with none of them truly aware of what had struck. She knew that it would be some time yet before the roach shoal became complacent enough to drift into striking range once more. Her gaze fell upon the shoal of perch hovering overhead, confident that their own stripped camouflage was making them invisible to all. She dismissed them, being too small yet to make the sudden rush of effort profitable. The river seemed devoid of any prey close enough to make her sudden, assassin like, burst of terror worthwhile. Still having not fully regained her weight after the spawning season, the river had not been over fruitful this summer, maybe she’d move on further upstream where abundant vegetation provided more opportunity for the ambush. She waited seemingly unmoving, with no sign of the growing hunger inside which was driving her on, maybe the perch shoal may well become less, she continued her vigil.

Maili’s eyes followed the bird from across the wide river as it settled down to roost, thinking itself unobserved within the decayed roots of the willow. It had been several turns of the moon since the day that he’d been dragged from the cages along with others of his kind and thrown into this mad, unfamiliar world. The screams of his mother still reverberated within his ears as she fought to protect him, the unknown smells of beer, cigarettes and diesel, whilst the thundering of the metal monster and the excited chattering of the unwashed, dark clad humans, had assailed his senses and then he’d been falling. When he came to there was no sign of his mother, or of any of the others. It was just him, cold and afraid. He’d stayed motionless for an age, petrified by events that he could never understand. Finally, hunger drove him forth from the roadside ditch and instinct took over and led him to the river. He’d lived for days now on snails, insects and worms, too inexperienced and perhaps to small to be able to provide himself with enough food to survive the coming winter. He’d never known anything but the cage before this moment, but the hunting songs that his mother had crooned to him and an instinct from deep within pushed him on. He’d stopped in awe at his first sight of the river, so vast, foreboding and alive, but it brought forth from depths he never knew existed a feeling that this is where he needed to be if he was to survive at all.

Instinct gave Maili patience; instead of blindly floundering across the river in a mad rush to seize his prey, he weighed his options. The river was far to swift for him to swim directly to the fallen willow, instinct once again pushed him, this time further upstream to allow the river to work with, instead of against, him. He entered the water for the first time in his short life, at first the river pulled at him, dragging him under to take his breath from him. He burst back to the surface spluttering and cursing, and then struck out, it may have been his first time immersed in water but now he became part of the flow instead of at odds with the current, the river welcomed one of its own.

The shoal of roach sped for the rushes as Maili’s shadow passed overhead and as he angled nearer the willow the perch backed further into cover, this time not trusting to their camouflage to protect them from this new, strange, intruder on the surface. The moorhen felt disquieted and, leaving her roost in the willow, slid into perceived safety of the eddying water along side its trunk. Maili caught the movement of the bird and slid underneath the surface as he neared the tree, hunger giving him the focus and strength to close upon the unwary bird.

From the hollow below she moved slowly but purposely forward and upwards, the faded light and mottled skin tones now making her invisible to anything from above. Her prey’s limbs slowly pushed the water aside sending her a beacon as clear as the brightest of lights for her to home in on. Slowly she rose from the depths, her muscles tensing for the final burst forward, all her senses locked onto the swimmer above. She plunged forward, backward facing teeth grasping her prey as she exploded through the river’s surface, and then she was gone, the ripples already spreading and thinning, an oily stain dispersing and pulled away by the river…..

Monday, March 1, 2010

Maili's story - Memories

From underneath the stunted gorse bushes which bordered the stony beach a pair of slightly clouded eyes peered out trying to focus upon the movement just on the waters edge. Alert for the moment, should he look to fight or edge back further under cover to avoid detection? Tense seconds passed, his breathing slowing to the barest minimum required to draw oxygen into his old, tired body. For all that he could remember his life had been thus, caught between the need to fight or flight, a constant battle in a land that he still could not bring himself to call home even though his whole waking life had been spent here. The flock of oystercatchers burst as one into the air wheeling away to feed upon the sandbanks in the distant estuary, satisfied that nothing else was encroaching on his resting place, Maili lowered his weary head to his paws and drifted back to his fitful sleep in the pale evenings sun, his mind drifting back to the horrors of his youth and the beginning of the journey which had finally brought him to this place of peace. His feet kicked involuntary as the memories of journey drifted across his mind, memories of great sadness, fear, pain but also of the joy of finally belonging and of knowing that he’d reached the journeys’ end.

He started again, but not because of any noise in the still surrounding air, but because he’d thought he could hear the lullabys that Ciqala, his mother, had crooned to him during the terror of the cages. This was his earliest memory, of blinding light from the overhead false Suns, the soothing warbling of Ciqala as she calmed him from the screams of the ones that had been taken from the cages, never to be seen again. There was never darkness, just the false Suns’ glare and the iron smell of blood seeping from a place out of their sight and comprehension. Once again Maili lowered his head allowing the visions that his mother’s song brought forth wash over him, for the time being chasing the memories of the cages away.