Science Fiction, Short Stories

Time Gone By – Part 1 – Science Fiction

This is a work of fiction.

It was a crisp July day and everybody was complaining that summer wasn’t acting very summery, but the cool air was perfect for the day ahead with my grandkids: Curly (Benjamin), Sammy (Samuel), Freckles (David), and Lydia. She was like me in that we were both girls, shared the same first name, and neither of us had a nickname. Unlike me, she was quiet, shy, and had dark brown skin. The boys didn’t like her much because she still had both of her biological parents, wouldn’t look them in the eye, and worst of all, called them by their full names if she dared to speak at all.
I put on my cowboy boots and the hat that went with them, and looked at the clock. I was ready, and right on time. I had loaded up my van the previous evening, so all I had to do was climb in, start the engine, and pull out of the garage.
The drive to pick up the kids took only twenty minutes, and soon, I was parking in front of their large, white house. I grabbed my purse and got out of the car. The grass looked like it could do with a good mow, but the garden was cheerful with flowers and I decided not to say anything to anyone about the state of the lawn.
I ascended the steps and pressed the bell.
Ding dong!
Ten seconds later, Stacey, my daughter, opened the door.
“Hi Mom. Only Lydia’s awake. Come on in. Would you like coffee?”
“If it’s already made, yes please.”
“Come and sit down and I’ll see if Chuck’s left you any.”
As I entered, I couldn’t help but cast a slightly critical eye around. Somebody’s winter coat still hung from a peg, and the floor could have done with a good clean. The place did smell nice, and I followed Stacey into the kitchen, where I found Lydia sitting at the table, eating a bowl of yogurt and fruit. I smiled and she smiled back, but didn’t speak.
Stacey walked over to the counter and looked at the coffee pot.
“Sorry Mom. He only left a splash.”
I could see that the stove needed to be cleaned; there was blackened stuff on the front burners.
“That’s okay,” I said.
There were no dishes in the sink, but I could smell the trash, although I couldn’t see it. I needed to stop judging her. Abe (Abraham), her first husband, had been the one to do most of the cleaning while she cooked. The boys had also had chores to do, and she and Chuck were probably still working things out about who did what.
“Would you like a strawberry yogurt? It’s only good until Thursday.”
“Sure, I’d love it if you’re sure one of the boys won’t.”
“They all claim to hate whatever food I offer. It’s been kind of hectic lately.” She put the yogurt down in front of me, along with a spoon. “Speaking of the boys, I’d better go and drag them out of bed.”
“They’re too big,” Lydia said softly.
“What?” Stacey said. Lydia didn’t answer, and Stacey shrugged.
I ddn’t know if Lydia would want me to repeat what she’d said, so I asked, “Where’s Chuck?”
“He’s doing his last minute packing. Be right back.” She dashed up the stairs and I heard her opening a door. “It’s time to get up! Grandma’s here.” I heard a lot of groaning, but no distinct words came from the boys.
“They don’t want to go,” Lydia said. She spooned the last of her breakfast into her mouth, took the bowl and spoon to the sink, and rinsed them.
I couldn’t think of how to respond to that, and then Chuck came down the stairs, carrying a huge suitcase as if it weighed nothing. His skin was the same color as Lydia’s, but unlike her, he towered six and a half feet tall, had strong, broad shoulders, a cheerful face, and could talk your ear off.
“Hello, Lydia,” he said.
I was pretty sure he meant me, but his daughter said, “Hi Daddy.”
“Good morning, Chuck,” I said. “How are you?”
“Great! I’d better go back up and help Stacey with the boys.” He put down the suitcase and ran up the stairs.
Ten minutes later, Stacey and Chuck came down again, trailed by the three boys. Curly’s hair was a tangled mess, Sammy’s shirt was on backwards, and Freckles’s jeans had a large hole at the knee, but at least they were awake and dressed.
Sammy yawned and said, “I’m hungry. What’s for breakfast?”
“There isn’t time,” Stacey said. “Grandma can take you to get something.”
“I want yogurt,” he said, spying the unopened container in front of me.
“Me too,” Freckles said.
“Me three,” Curly said.
“There’s only one left and there isn’t time,” Stacey said. “Chuck and I have to leave for the airport now.”
“Let’s get you loaded up,” Chuck said. He went into the living room. “Sammy, where’s your suitcase?”
“We have to find it,” Chuck said. Stacey went into the living room. “Look,” Chuck said. “Sammy’s isn’t here.”
“It was last night,” she said.
“Lydia, what did you do with my suitcase?” Sammy said. Lydia looked scared and didn’t say a word.
“Yeah, what?” Curly said. “You’re holding us up.”
Freckles said, “She doesn’t want to be without her daddy for three whole big fat weeks.”
“I want my suitcase!” Sammy yelled.
“Calm down,” Stacey said. “We’ll look for it.”
“She touched it,” Freckles said. “It’ll be all covered in gross girl germs!”
“Yuck,” Curly said. “You’ll have to, like, wash everything off.”
Lydia started to cry silently.
“Cry baby!” Freckles said.
“That’s enough,” I said, annoyed that Chuck and Stacey appeared to be more concerned with their luggage than with their kids. A flight could be rescheduled, but helping kids learn to get along couldn’t.
A few minutes later, Chuck came up from the basement, his expression not at all sunny.
“It’s in the utility room,” he said. “I don’t know what to do. It’s open and everything’s all over the floor.”
“Lydia did it!” Curly said.
“Lydia, did you mess with Sammy’s suitcase?” Stacey said.
She couldn’t possible believe that, could she?
Lydia was still crying and didn’t answer.
“Lydia?” Stacey said, her voice loud and impatient. “Tell the truth.”
Freckles burst out laughing.
“This isn’t funny,” Stacey said. “We’re going to miss our flight.”
“No, you’re not,” I said. “I’ll repack the suitcase, check the house over, take out the trash, and lock up. Freckles, did you play with Sammy’s suitcase?”
“Why are you accusing him?” Curly said.
“I’m not. I’m just asking him. Same with you and Sammy. Did anybody here play with the suitcase?”
Freckles said, “We all saw Lydia doing it.”
“So why not tell somebody at the time?” I said. “Why wait until now when it’s time to go?”
“Dunno,” Freckles said.
“Mom, are you sure?” Stacey said.
“Yes,” I said. It would be so much easier without them around, especially since they didn’t seem to notice that the boys were bullying Lydia.
“Bye boys,” Chuck said. He went over to Lydia and tried to pat her on the arm, but she skittered out of his reach. She didn’t like to be touched when she was upset, and Stacey had commented to me on more than one occasion that it drove her crazy when Lydia wouldn’t accept affection and she wondered if she might have something like autism.
“Bye Curly Sammy Freckles Lydia,” Stacey said in one breath. “Oh, and by, Mom!”
“Bye,” I said. “Have fun and don’t forget to buy postcards and souvenirs.”
“Bye,” Sammy said.
“Where are you going?” Freckles said.
“I think Sammy was saying goodbye to Chuck and your mom,” I said.
“No I was saying bye to Lydia,” Sammy said. “She messed up my suitcase so she can stay here all by herself.” He made a scary sound. Stacey and Chuck were too busy running to the car to notice.
“Nobody’s staying here alone,” I said. “Come on, let’s go and repack that suitcase.”
“It’s in the basement,” Freckles said. “There’s about a zillion monsters there ready to eat us up!”
Lydia backed away from the basement stairs.
“There aren’t any monsters, not there, and not in the whole wide world,” I said. “Let’s go.”
“You go, but we don’t want to,” Sammy said.
I decided to go downstairs and see who followed. I didn’t say anything, but walked toward the basement stairs. The boys stayed where they were. Lydia looked at me, at them, and then she got up and walked behind me.
The utility room was an absolute disaster. Sammy’s clothes had been unfolded and stewn all over the floor. A tube of toothpaste was missing its cap, and some of the clothes had toothpaste on them.
“I didn’t do it,” Lydia whispered.
“I know. Do you know who did?”
“If I tell, I’ll get in trouble.”
“Not if you tell me.”
Freckles, just like I’d guessed. Not only had he burst out laughing, practically giving himself away, but he liked to do wild things, most of which were silly, but harmless. It was a real shame that his humorous, playful side wasn’t coming out in a positive way with Lydia, who was far too serious for a little girl of eight.
“Thanks. Let’s get all this packed up.”
“There’s toothpaste on his clothes.”
“I’ll put those ones in his laundry bag and wash them when we get to my house. And don’t worry, I have lots of toothpaste.”
It took us quite a while, but eventually, I hauled the suitcase up the stairs and into the living room. Then the silence hit me. Lydia looked around and our eyes met. Where were the boys?

Part 2 will be posted on Friday, July 17.

Short Stories

The Dark Tide – Part 10

This is a work of fiction.

“Before we go,” my wife said, “why did that man want to kill me?”

I told her about the bicycle cart accident just as the mother bird had been landing.

“My daughter,” my wife said when I’d finished speaking, “would you please help me pull him out of this house?”

“Are you sure?” she said.

“Yes. He belongs with his wife and although he tried to kill me, I don’t want to leave him trapped here.”

I listened to the splashing and sounds of effort that my wife and daughter made, and soon, the head of the man who had cursed me broke the surface.

“Dad, can you lift Mom and me up, please?” I did. The young bird reached out and grasped the body of the man who had cursed me with the claws of her other foot, and then took firm hold of me. She took off, and flew us up out of the flood. As soon as we were over dry ground, she landed in a clearing.

“Thank you,” I said. She chirped and let go of me.

My daughter picked some berries, and we all ate, then the young sitting bird flew us to where the female Leader of Worship and the children were. I was spent, so I washed myself, dressed the wounds in my sides, and lay down.

When I awoke, it was the middle of the night. I heard a sound that was both familiar and strange to me. I had fallen asleep in a small shelter that my daughter’s love had built. I went outside, and saw my daughter sitting on the ground with a candle burning beside her. In her lap, there was a piece of paper, and in her hand, a pencil.

I didn’t look but asked, “What are you sketching?”

“I’m designing my wedding dress, and Mom said she’d make it.”

“When is your wedding?”

“It will be in the deep and dark of winter, back up at the mountain top. There will scarcely be any daylight, but the sun will shine from our hearts, and we will know the darkness not. On the way up the mountain, we will leave the man who once cursed you near where his wife died.”

“I miss your sketches,” I said, afraid I was going to break down and weep. “They were destroyed when I fell into the cascade.”

“When I fell from the cliff, I had a bag strapped to my back,” she said. “In it, I had clothes, food, and a large case. In the case, I had the originals of every sketch I’d ever made. Nothing was damaged, so I still have them now. I believe I gave you 287 of them, and I’ll copy them through the long days of summer, until you have them all again, and then I will make even more for you, for Mom, for my love, for the children and their mother, and for the child in me.”

She did. The summer passed us by in a frenzy of activity. I harvested fruits and vegetables, my daughter’s love caught meat, my daughter caught fish and sketched, and the female Leader of Worship took care of her children. Autumn came, leaves fell, and the air grew cold and fresh.

One day, there was a light fall of snow, and we all agreed that it was time.

The female Leader of Worship knew how to preserve bodies with leaves and roots, and I had made a coffin out of wood, and the man who had once cursed me had lain in it for the duration of the summer. Now it was time to lay him to rest. The young father bird took the coffin handles in his claws, and my daughter’s love climbed into the small wooden seat on his back, and most of our possessions were loaded into the bags that were strapped to the seat. The young sitting bird was outfitted with a large bicycle cart on her back, and in it were my wife, my daughter, the children, their mother, and I. We took off separately, lest my daughter’s love meet us, and the birds flew steadily during the day, stopping only to eat and drink, and landed at night. We slept in the bicycle cart, and my daughter’s love doubtless slept on the ground.

One frigid day, we arrived at the cleft in the mountain, and found the coffin containing the man who had once cursed me exactly where I’d asked the young father bird to leave it.

I grasped the handles on my side, and my wife and the female Leader of Worship took up those on theirs.

Once we had walked to the correct spot, we stopped, and put the coffin down.

My wife said, “Man who once cursed my husband and attempted to drown me and trap both of us forever, I have liberated you, and I have brought you here to be with your wife again. I forgive you.”

“I forgive you,” I said. “I call you neighbor.”

“Neighbor,” the female Leader of Worship whispered. “Be free.”

We left the coffin and went back to where my daughter was with the children.

“It is done,” I said. “Let’s go on up.”

It was strange to see the temple again. It stood so proudly on the highest point of the mountain, and although I wasn’t sure if I still believed in the gods, the place filled me with a kind of awe.

My wife and I went to our old house, and my daughter, the children, and the female Leader of Worship went to clean out the temple and make it ready. My daughter’s love stayed in another house on the other side of the temple.

Seven days later, a long, dark night gave way to a cold, clear morning, and the time was right.

I sat in the temple with my wife on my right, and watched with joy as my daughter, dressed simply in a pale yellow dress, marched up the aisle to the rhythm the children beat out on small drums. My wife and I added stamping feet to the glorious sounds. Just as my daughter reached the two pillars of stone, a man stepped into the space between them from where he’d been waiting in the hallway beyond.

The female Leader of Worship whispered the lines, and the children spoke them in high, clear voices.

Together, the children called the names of both my daughter and her love, and then said, “Do you love each otehr?”

“Yes, we do,” they answered as one.

“Do you want to be married forever, until death and beyond?”

“Yes, we do!”

The female Leader of Worship said, “In the light of the sun, in raindrops or fresh snow, in moonlight, in prosperity and in adversity, in all seasons, forever in time, you are married.” She spoke their names: Matthew and Felicity.

I got up and walked over to my newly made son-in-law.

“I am your father-in-law, Curtis,” I said.

My wife said, “I am your mother-in-law, Anna.”

“Thank you,” he said. “What may I call you?”

“Are your parents still living?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “but I still call them Mom and Dad in my thoughts, so you must have different names.” We nodded.

“Call us Ma and Da,” my wife said.

The female Leader of Worship walked over to us.

“I have an announcement to make,” she said. “From now on, I am a Leader of Worship no more. I will conduct only births, weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies of family and friends, but I will not perform rituals of the gods ever again. My name is Sophie. Call me mother, neighbor, and friend from now on. My children, please say your names.”

“Melody,” the female child said.

“Oliver,” the male child said.

We all cheered. Then we left the temple.

For most of the year, we live in the valley, just high enough not to be caught in spring floods, but each winter, the birds, who now have young of their own, come and fly us up to the mountain top. There, we play in the deep snow and dance in the sunshine of the place that will always be our home. After a few weeks, the birds fly us down again, long before the terrible storms that herald the coming of spring.

My daughter has six children now — three of each. We are as one family, and all the adults nurture all of the children and vice versa!

Of the gods, we think and hear very little. The temple is no longer a place of fear, but of time, becoming, and of life.

Part 1 of Time Gone By will be posted on Friday, July 3.

Short Stories

The Dark Tide – Part 9

This is a work of fiction.

It took longer than four hours to reach the place where the young sitting bird, the children, and my daughter’s love were, because we had to stop along the way for food and water.

My daughter ran ahead to warn her love that he mustn’t be seen or see the female Leader of Worship or me (his seeing the children had been necessary), and then my daughter and I left the female Leader of Worship covering her children in hugs and kisses, and went to where the two young birds were. The father bird was tiny.

“He hasn’t been getting enough protein,” my daughter said. “I think he must have been orphaned three or four days ago. If nobody had found him, he’d be dead now.”

The young sitting bird walked over to us.

“Hello,” I said. “I’m happy that you and the young father bird are well.”

She chirped softly. She sounded so much like her mother had, it made my heart ache.

“Young sitting bird,” my daughter said, “we’re loath to ask this of you, but we need your help. My mother’s spirit has been trapped in the river, and we . . .”

She looked at me and I said, “We’d like to rescue her spirit and put her body somewhere nice. Would you fly us there, please?”

She chirped softly, stood tall, and looked over her shoulder at her back.

My daughter strapped a small wooden seat to the young sitting bird’s back, although there were no bags attached, and my daughter and I climbed into it.

“We can’t go very high or fast,” my daughter said. “Young sitting bird, if you tire of flying or fear anything, you must make a sound and land.”

She chirped.

“Thank you,” I said.

She chirped again, and took off.

She flew slowly, and my daughter directed her toward the river.

We were passing above a clearing when the young bird made a terrible sound.

“What’s wrong?” my daughter and I said in unison. She held still in the air for a moment, and then she reached back with her right foot, and tore a grayish brown feather from her tail. She grasped it in her claws and pointed it at something on the ground. I looked, but didn’t see what had upset her. My daughter’s sharper sight allowed her to see it, and she gasped.

“What is it?” I said.

“A vampire snake,” she whispered. “Is it the same one?” The sitting bird made a two-tone sound. “Maybe,” my daughter said.

Without warning, the young bird dove toward the ground. My daughter and I both cried out in fright, and gripped the seat as tightly as we could.

As we got closer, the scene resolved into a grassy spot with a tiny stream flowing through it. A huge dark red snake lay with its head on the bank, but the rest of its body was in the water. The bird flew us down until we were about a house hight about the stream. The snake hissed, and I pressed myself hard against the back of the seat.

Was it long enough to reach us?

I heard a soft splash and looked into the water. A small snake was riggling in the stream by its mother’s tail.

The young bird dove straight down into the stream, and then she was carrying us aloft again, and I saw the young snake hanging suspended from her claws. Before I could catch my breath from the plunging descent and stunning rise, she spun herself around and zipped through the air as fast as wing and muscle could take her — and us.

She took us back to where the young father bird was, dropped the young snake a few step lengths in front of him, and he punched upon it. She looked at us over her shoulder and chirped apologetically, turned slowly this time, and flew us toward the river.

It was very hot, and I think the young bird was tired, for we flew very slowly along the river, looking for the place where the flood had surprised those living on the flat, fertile land.

A while later, the bird chirped softly and landed us.

“Do you need water?” I said. She did, and so did my daughter and I.

We took off again and continued along the river. I recognized some landmarks, and then I saw it. Up ahead, a wide grassy area extended on both sides of the river, the place where I’d built my house, and it was still submerged.

My daughter looked at it, turned to me, opened her mouth as if to speak, and then closed it, for what could she say? I nodded.

I pointed out the house into which the man who had cursed me had taken my wife, and the young bird brought us slowly toward it. The water had come right up to the roof, and I was grateful that I would not have to look at the face of the man who had cursed me, staring sightlessly from the barred window.

“How are we going to get in?” my daughter whispered. “I didn’t realize the water would be all the way up to the roof. I thought floods were . . . shallower.”

“The chimney,” I said. “I’m afraid this is going to make us all unhappy, but it’s the only way.”


“One of us has to be held in the young bird’s claws.”


“Since I can’t swim, it should be me, and I’ll lower you down and help you and your mother’s body up.”

“It hurts so much.”

“The pain will be nothing compared to the joy of knowing that her soul has been reborn. Let’s go. It won’t take long.”

I asked the bird to return to the bank and land, which she did. I stepped down, and looked into her eyes.

“Please hold me as still as you can and fly with us directly above the chimney of that house.” I pointed to it.

Soon, I knew what my daughter meant; it did hurt a great deal, and she wasn’t catching me but picking me up as tenderly as she could. I gritted and ground my teeth and bore it. Slowly, the young bird glided toward the chimney, and when we got there, I reached up, grasped my daughter, and lowered her down, until she took firm hold of the wood of the structure. Why hadn’t we thought to bring vine ropes? I opened my mouth to say that we should go back and get some when I heard a voice speaking from within the house.

“My daughter!”

“My mother!”

I tried to see into the chimney, but my daughter was in the way of my sight.

“Mom! How?”

“Oh, my daughter! How did you know?”

“My father brought me here to rescue your spirit. Mom, how?”

I tried to keep the pain from my voice as I said, “Let’s get everybody out of here and then we can talk.”

The bird chirped and settled me down onto the roof, which was bathed in about a finger’s depth of water. She let go of my flesh, and held only my clothes, and the torment in my sides abated somewhat.

“Mom, how?” my daughter said. There was no point in trying to insist that she wait for the story until after we were all safe.

“When I was a child, I used to dip my head into the bath water and hold my breath for as long as I possibly could. When the man grabbed me, I had no idea what he had against us, but when I realized that we were going into the water, I took a deep breath and didn’t move. I wasn’t strong enough to fight, and I hoped that my breath would hold out long enough. It wouldn’t have, except I got a little air when he hoisted me up the stairs. He wasn’t doing such a great job of keeping my head below the surface there, so I got some air. The water was rising, and I didn’t think I stood a chance, but then he stopped dragging me, and let go. I looked up and there was the chimney. With the last of my failing spirit, I kicked my feet and swam upward, until I popped into the chimney and took in a lungful of sweet, fresh air.”

“How come you stayed here?” she asked.

“If the flood had risen much more, I would have had to leave via the chimney, but I preferred to wait and see if the water went down. I’d much rather walk out of here through a wet house than go up and face a river I didn’t know or understand. The only problems would have been time and water.”

“What?” my daughter said.

“I was starting to get thirsty, but I had no intention of drinking water fouled by a dead man. Eventually, thirst would have driven me upward, but I was able to get into my bag, and my water bottle was clean, but now it’s empty.”

“Let’s get out of here,” I said.

Part 10, which is the last part, will be posted on Friday, June 26.

Short Stories

The Dark Tide – Part 8

This is a work of fiction.

I went to check on the female Leader of Worship. As soon as I removed the gag, she asked for water, which I provided.

Then she said, “What will you do with my Partner of Worship and me?”

“I will set you free once I have killed him.”

“May I watch him die?”

“If you are certain, then yes, you may accompany me.”

“May I help you kill him?”

“Yes, if you wish, but let there be no misunderstanding between us.” I told her of my plan. By then, the day was growing old, but I figured that there would be enough time before nightfall, and if not, moonlight would suffice.

She agreed to my plan, and I untied her carefully, lest I cause her skin to be abraded by the rough vines, and helped her to stand at her request.

She leaned against the tree and said, “Are you afraid?”

“Of killing him?” She nodded and I shook my head. “No. Are you?”

“Yes. I can’t help but feel what he cannot. But he left our children and the sitting bird and her eggs to die, and I must bear witness.”

“I have already seen fear in his eyes, so I know that he can feel it. He has done what he has done, and must pay for it with his life. I feel nothing for him. He has no heart. Let’s go. It’ll be over in a few minutes.”

I did not ask her if she wished to stay behind; to do so would have shown her gross disrespect, and she walked by my side to the clearing where he was bound in his canoe. She untied the canoe and together, we hauled it down the slope toward the river. He couldn’t speak, but he could look at us, and his gaze was filled with a mixture of anger and fear.

When we arrived at the river, she secured the canoe to a tree, and I untied him from it, but left him bound at the ankles and wrists. I stood him up and pushed him against a tree, where I held him.

His Partner of Worship faced him, looked him in the eye, and said, “You have betrayed our people and have led many to their deaths. You have left your children and the sitting bird and her eggs to perish. You have imprisoned me in a bicycle cart, and I have heard you push a young woman to her death. I know the dark tide, and it has your heart. You are a curse to all those you meet. You are a traitor, not only to humans, but to life itself. You have shown that you prefer death, so to death you must go, alone.” She looked at me.

“Would you tell him his fate?” I nodded.

“This is my judgment. All the wrongs that you have committed, all your crimes, both legal and moral, merit the sentence of death by drowning. As your lungs fill with water, instead of floating up to the stars, your spirit will be trapped for eternity in the void that is death. Unlike those above, you will never see another spirit again. Where you shall be, there will be no plants, no humans, no birds, and no other creatures of any kind that are, will be, or have ever been alive. Before we carry out the sentence, do you wish to speak? You have a hundred breaths to consider what you will say.” The female Leader of Worship counted off his breaths silently while I watched his face. I saw calculation in his eyes. What was he planning?

At ninety, she began to count with hand gestures, and she said “one hundred” out loud. I removed the gag.

“Your daughter was a lady of the low,” he said. “I never had the pleasure myself, but I know others who did. I am a faithful man, but I know what those who stray from their wives’ beds thought of her. They said that there was nothing in the world that she wouldn’t do. If you had any honor, which I’m sure you don’t, given what you fathered, you’d untie me, we’d each pick up a knife, and we’d see just who could kill the other.”

“If you weren’t a traitor to your people and to all life, then yes, probably, but I won’t allow you to goad me into killing you and thus freeing your spirit. I saw you thinking as your Partner of Worship counted your breaths.”

I looked at her, and she said, “Time.” I looked at the day, and figured that there was maybe half an hour left before the sun set.

“The time is right,” I said. Together, we tore off all of his clothes, and tossed them aside to be burned later, along with anything else that hadn’t been washed since he’d last touched it.

We dragged him as fast as we could to the water. I held him while she removed the vine ropes that bound his wrists, and he attempted to strike her, but she evaded the blow and laughed in his face. I untied his ankles, looked at her, and she pushed his head beneath the surface. He put up a struggle, but we held him, and soon, his efforts to come up for air weakened.

“How long?” she said.

I looked at te day and said, “Until sunset, so not long.”

“Good,” she said. “I’m almost spent.”

“Yes, so am I.”

We said nothing more as we waited for the sun to set, and when it did, we let go of him, and his body began to drift.

We didn’t wait for it to pass beyond our sight, but found matches in the canoe and burned everything of his that had been tainted by death.

Once that was done, we found blankets, and made up beds in the clearing where she’d been tied.

I’d just lain down when she said, “Your eyes are sad. Why is that?” I sat up.

“Because I was so sure that my daughter was alive, but alas, it was only a dream.”

“What happened?” I told her. “I did hear him calling for help, and I also heard somebody walking by where I was tied.”


“Yes, and the footsteps were light, as those of a small woman, and they walked in the direction of the clearing where my ex Partner of Worship was. So perhaps you did not dream it.”

“But why would she leave?”

“That, I know not, but maybe she will return, or maybe she won’t, but it’s highly probable that she is still alive out there somewhere.” She gestured in a circle at the deepening night all around us and smiled at me. “Rest deep,” she said, lay down, and closed her eyes. I said and did the same.

“My father!” I opened my eyes, and saw the female Leader of Worship rubbing hers and my daughter standing a few steps away. “Dad, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt you, and the young bird needed my help. I had to go with her and there wasn’t time to tell you. Oh Dad . . .” She gasped for spirit.

“Come and sit down,” I said. “Yesterday is history, and today is new.”

She walked over to a tree and collapsed on the ground at its base.

“Are you all right?” the female Leader of Worship said.

“I think so.”

“Let’s eat,” I said.

Once all three of us had been replenished and were sitting in the clearing, my daughter said, “The young sitting bird found a young father bird. He was newly hatched and his parents were nearby.” She shuddered. “I saw their bodies. They had both been drained by a vampire snake. I know vampire snakes are just creatures like us, only trying to live and feed their young, but oh, why do good creatures have to die that others might live?” She put her right index finger to her lips. “Don’t answer that. I know, but it was so hard for me to see that.” The female Leader of Worship and I nodded. “So when she found him, the young sitting bird came and found me where I was just starting to pick berries. I didn’t know what she wanted, and I feared for the life of my love and for those of the children. She flew us to him and I helped her with him. He wasn’t hurt, but I didn’t want to leave right away, because my love said that he’d heard a large animal nearby that would make good eating. That took until nightfall, and I didn’t want to leave until morning.”

“Do you think the young sitting bird will still fly us to go and rescue your mother’s spirit?”

“I don’t know, but all we can do is ask her. If she won’t, then maybe we can try by boat.”

The female Leader of Worship said, “I know I shouldn’t ask, but I’m afraid to stay here by myself.”

My daughter said, “Rescuing my mother’s spirit is something that my father and I must do alone, but we can take you to where your children are, but neither you nor Dad may meet my love until after. We’d better start out now. It was only a few minutes in the air, but it will take four hours or so on foot. Mom’s spirit has waited long enough.”

Short Stories

The Dark Tide – Part 7

This is a work of fiction.

As soon as I took the gag out of his mouth, the male Leader of Worship started screaming for help. Quickly, I gagged him again, and then I listened. I heard a distant voice. So did he. He smiled.

It took a few seconds before I could hear it properly. It sounded like a young woman. I did not want to hurt anybody, but I couldn’t allow my interrogation of the male Leader of Worship to be stopped. If she found us, which it sounded like she was about to do, I would tie her up and let her go when I could.

I grabbed a length of vine and hid behind a tree.

It wasn’t long before I heard her footsteps, which sounded oddly familiar.

A hand pushed some leaves aside, and then I saw a young woman with my daughter’s face. On trembling legs, I came out of my hiding place.

As soon as she saw me, she said, “My father.” She looked around and saw the male Leader of Worship in his canoe. “You!” She looked back at me and said, “Have you seen his Partner of Worship?”

“Yes. She’s tied up in another clearing. I was just about to interrogate him, but first, I . . . don’t understand how you . . . didn’t fall to your death.”

“Let’s go down to the river and talk.” I followed her nimble form as she navigated the complex path down to the water’s edge. When we got there, we leaned against trees on opposite sides of the path.

“My daughter, speak.” She smiled.

“It was terrifying. I was falling. I tried to grab the air but there was nothing. It was so bad, I don’t have the words for it. It wasn’t real, yet it was. There was a scream trapped in my spirit, and I could see rocks and branches flying by, but I couldn’t reach any of them to grab hold. Dad?”


“I was only a step’s length away from the ground, do you understand? No, don’t answer that, nobody can understand, me least of all. I was this close,” she demonstrated with her thumb and index finger, “when I heard a sound and felt something grabbing me. It hurt. It felt like I was being stabbed in both sides. I thought death would feel like a great blow or like nothing at all, but it was like there were spears being driven into me. I thought it would never end, and I hung there for centuries looking at a flat, gray rock just below me.” She slid down the tree and sat on the ground.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes. I kept staring at the rock that was supposed to kill me when I struck it, but I was bleeding, trying to scream, and still somehow alive. The ground inched closer and the pain in my sides was tremendous. Then I was on the ground, on my stomach on that flat rock. Whatever had stabbed me let go, and then I actually saw it. It was a huge grayish brown bird with a wooden seat strapped to its back, and there were bags suspended from each end of the seat. I thought I was dead and dreaming in the spirit world, but I was bleeding and feeling the pain in my sides. There were pools of my blood on either side of me and they were so incredibly red against the gray rock. I started to shiver and I didn’t think this was what death felt like. Do you have any food?” I reached into my pockets and pulled out handfuls of red berries. She saw them and squealed with delight.

After she’d eaten them, she said, “Thanks. The bird wasn’t moving, and I couldn’t, so I just lay there waiting to bleed to death on that flat, gray rock. I heard a sound and then the children I had sketched climbed out of one of the bags. They helped a young bird out, and soon, they were standing in my blood. ‘What’s that red stuff?’ the sister asked her brother. ‘Blood,’ he said. I feared that they might not recognize me and would walk away, so I said, ‘help.’ They did.” She smiled at me. The breeze played with our hair and birds sang in the trees.

“I know the birds and the children,” I said. “What happened? How did you find me? Where are they now?”

“The mother bird was dead. Saving me was her last act. The young bird climbed onto my back and put her wings against my sides and held pressure until the bleeding stopped. I was an egg and she kept me warm. Then the children brought me food and water. There wasn’t much preserved meat, and the young bird needed protein, so once I was able to get up, we found fish, insects, and worms for her. After a few days, I went for a long walk and was resting before going back, when I saw the man who’d offered me a ride. Dad?”


“I love him. There really wasn’t room for my mother in his little bicycle cart. He still feels bad about that. He’s a hunter, and he came back with me and caught meat for us. My father?”

“Yes, what is it, my daughter?”

“I have his child in me. You’ll be a grandpa!”

“Then you must eat these,” I said, and pulled the rest of the berries out of my pockets. She grinned, took them, and devoured them.

She wiped her face on a leaf, looked up at me, and said, “Where is my mother?”

I told her the truth. She cried until her tears ran out.

“We must return to where she was drowned. If we can find her, we can free her trapped spirit.” I nodded.

“Do you have more to tell me before I question the male Leader of Worship?” She shook her head. “Would you like to come with me?”


I showed her where to find more berries, and then I went to the clearing where the male Leader of Worship was still tied in his canoe.

“I’m going to make sure you don’t do any more screaming for help,” I said. I searched his canoe, and found food, blankets, and tools. Among them was a well-sharpened knife. “See this?” I held it up. He glared. “If you scream, I’m going to gag you, and then use this on your privates. I know how to stop the bleeding and just exactly which leaf to use to turn the wound to fire. So, my advice to you is that when I remove the gag, you start talking immediately.” I took out the gag, and he didn’t scream. “What I want to know is simple. Why?”

“I was getting bored.”

“Of what?”

“Of living up there on that mountain and running the temple. The birds were nice for a while, but then they just became chores, and the children became chores as soon as they were born.”

“Okay, so why didn’t you pack a bag and leave? You could have gone somewhere else and done whatever didn’t bore you. Why the dark tide?” He smiled.

“The gods showed me the way. I asked for a vision of what would make life more interesting, and they reminded me about an old legend the Leaders of Worship before us told to me and my Partner of Worship. A roiling cloud from the ground was exactly what was needed. All kinds of fun things would happen. I didn’t need the children or the sitting bird or the eggs, but my Partner of Worship was warm and comfy at night, so I took her with me. Can I have some berries?” I shook my head. “Why not?” I reintroduced him to the gag, and went to the berry bushes to talk to my daughter about going to rescue her mother’s spirit.

She wasn’t there. I walked among the bushes but there was no sign of her.

Had I dreamed the whole thing? It had all seemed so very real, but my dreams usually did. Had I truly fallen for my own mind’s desperate lie? I couldn’t remember waking up, but somewhere between talking to my daughter and interrogating the male Leader of Worship, I must have done so.

Previous Post Saturday, Short Stories

What Would You Choose? staying in a job you hated or… facing the unknown – The Choice (short fiction)

It’s Saturday night, and Rita is offered a choice: either stay in the job she hates but be able to pay the bills, or reply to Matt’s e-mail…

The Choice

Short story previously published in six parts on this blog, and when it was finished, I put it together on a page for your convenience.

Short Stories

The Dark Tide – Part 6

This is a work of fiction.

The canoe drifted toward the house, and I thought it was going to collide with it, but it skimmed past the corner of it and carried me downstream. I had nothing left in the world except the canoe, the clothes I wore, and my daughter’s sketches. If I could ever get free of the river, I could earn food, clothes, and tools, and as long I had the bag strapped to my chest, life was still worth living, even without my wife and daughter by my side.

As the current carried me along, I had the luxury of looking at my surroundings. On either side of the river, there was submerged flatland, and the detritus of daily lives uprooted could be seen floating at times: a wooden toy, boards, and even whole houses that must not have been anchored sufficiently. I also saw people paddling canoes similar to the one I was in. Whenever I did, I watched, and gradually, I copied them, until I achieved some ability to navigate. I had nothing of use with which to barter for food, so I did not approach any other boats.

When night fell, I stopped paddling, and let the canoe drift in the moonlight. I didn’t dare sleep, for fear of inadvertantly ramming another boat.

At first light, I started paddling again. The banks were steep and the river was quite narrow, and I noticed that the scenery was passing by at an increasing rate of speed. Ahead of me, there was a bend in the river, and I couldn’t see what lay beyond, but I could certainly hear it! I became anxious, but there was no way except forward, so I kept paddling.

I rounded the bend and all was chaos. The canoe plunged down a cascade, and somewhere between air and water, I was dumped out of it. After what seemed like an endless fall, I landed in water. I flailed and thrashed, terrified of losing my breath and having my soul trapped there forever. I tried to regain my canoe, but I couldn’t find it in the tumble and tumult of roaring water.

Everything fell calm. My head was above the surface, and I blinked and looked around. The river was broad and there were trees and bushes on the banks. To my right, very close, there was a canoe, and somebody was pulling themself into it. It wasn’t mine, but I hoped that whoever it belonged to would share. I threw myself in that direction, kicked with my legs, and gained the side of the boat. I grabbed hold of it and pulled myself in. I landed beside the owner, and then I saw her face. It was the female Leader of Worship. Soon, I was going to get some answers.

“Let’s get out of the river,” I said. She nodded. I took the paddles and navigated us toward the right bank. When we reached it, the canoe touched down and I stepped onto dry land, and with that, I regained all of my confidence and anger at what had happened. “Come with me, please,” I said. She climbed slowly out of the canoe, and followed me up higher, until we came to a clearing. A short time later, she was tied with vines to a tree. I found a small piece of wood that would serve well as a gag, popped it into her mouth when she opened it to cry out for help, put a leaf over it, and glued it in place with resin from a nearby evergreen. I checked that nothing was covering her nose, started to go look for berries, but then I thought I’d better check the river, in case there were others who had fallen into the cascade and who were now boatless. I couldn’t swim, but I could throw them strong vine ropes and pull them in.

As I neared the river, I saw a canoe with a man in it. It was the male Leader of Worship. Quickly, I ducked behind a tree. Had he seen me? I peered out. He’d reached the bank and was tying his canoe to a tree. He finished and stepped back into it, and I watched as he began to untie something. I took my chance. I sprinted to his canoe, jumped in on top of him, tied him up, and then gagged him. I unfastened his canoe and dragged it until I found a second clearing. I tied the canoe to a tree, and went in search of red berries.

Once I’d eaten, I went to the first clearing, where the female Leader of Worship was bound.

I removed the gag from her mouth and said, “Tell me why you left your children behind.”

“I didn’t,” she said. “Have you seen them?”

“Yes, but I believe they are dead, although I haven’t seen their bodies.” Tears streamed down her cheeks, and it was a while before she spoke again.

“My Partner of Worship asked me to pack clothes and food and he’d help the children and the sitting bird. He’d already put the bicycle cart onto the father bird’s back, so all I had to do was load it. I packed what we needed and called to him that I was ready.” She took a deep breath to replenish her courage. “He came but the children and the sitting bird weren’t with him. He put me in the storage area of the bicycle cart. I heard him lock it and sit down at the front of the bicycle cart, and order the father bird to take off, or he’d take me out and do things to me in front of the father bird’s eyes. The father bird took off. Do you understand what I’m saying?” I nodded. “He made him fly until he had no spirit left. He flew and he flew, and he didn’t stop until he had just enough left to land us safely. As soon as we touched the ground, he collapsed beneath the bicycle cart.”

“Would you like some berries and some water?” I said. She nodded.

After she’d eaten and drunk, she said, “He took the bicycle cart off of him, folded him up, and shoved him into it. He opened the storage space, and made sure I had a good look. ‘The children are dead,’ he said. ‘The sitting bird and her eggs are history.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. He smiled at me, and said, ‘I was bored.’ I didn’t understand, and I still don’t. I asked him to explain, but he hasn’t spoken to me since. May I sit down?” I loosened the vines, helped her to sit, and retied her. “I heard what happened to your daughter.”

The sketches! With shaking hands, I removed the bag from my chest. I opened it, took out the folder, and we both stared in horror at the mangled mass of paper.

“The river,” I whispered. “That soul-stealing river did this.” She nodded. “Who made my daughter draw sketches of your children?”

“I asked her to. My Partner of Worship admired them, but he had no part in commissioning them. I asked what she would like as payment, and she said that being allowed to hold them and to play with them was all she needed.”

“What happened to you when the flood came?”

“The gods told him that the river was going to overflow its banks, so when it started to rise, he put us in separate canoes and tied them together with vines. Everything was fine until we came to the waterfall. Somewhere on the way down, the canoes became separated and I ended up in his and he in mine.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“Are you going to let me live?”

“Before I determine that, I must speak with your Partner of Worship.”

“I know not where he is.”

“I do. He’s bound and gagged in his canoe in another clearing. But before I go, take breath! If what you have recounted is true, then the children, the mother bird, and one young bird are alive.”

“How can that be? They were left behind.”

“Yes, but so was I, and I found them. I packed the children and the young bird into the bags that were attached to the wooden seat, strapped the whole thing onto her back, and she flew us until we had to take shelter from that storm in the cleft of the mountain. I was the only one on the ground when she flew away, and I haven’t seen her, the children, or her young since. Now I shall leave you, and go interrogate your Partner of Worship. I’m afraid I must return the gag to your mouth, lest you call out and alert somebody that we are here.”

Short Stories

The Dark Tide – Part 5

This is a work of fiction.

The two men laughed as they drove the bicycle cart away, and I was left standing alone at the edge of the precipice. For a few seconds, I considered jumping off and joining my daughter, but my wife might still be alive, and I owed it to my daughter to find her mother, or at least to try.

I looked around, but didn’t see anything that had belonged to her. She must have either left it somewhere or she’d only had what she’d been carrying in the bag I’d glimpsed strapped to her back.

Had the male Leader of Worship truly given her a ride in his bicycle cart? I would likely never know the truth, but I hoped he’d just been talking out of his backside. I had to accept that he really had seen her drawings, given the fact that I’d found thirty-two of them in the temple. Had he commissioned them? If so, why? If not, then who had?

My mind bubbled and foamed with endless questions as I searched for food. At last I came to an abandoned shelter where I found some preserved food. Before consuming any of it, I went to the nearest occupied shelter and asked a young man if he knew who had lived there.

“There was a family there, but they left two days ago. They were going to try and find a place where they could raise crops. This place is quite safe, but barren.” I nodded sadly, doubting they’d managed to find such a place before the storm struck.

“Why did they leave food behind?”

“I think they might have left something in case others needed shelter.”

“Thank you. Do you have enough?”

“Yes, thank you.”

I stayed only until the weather cleared, which took it only a day and a night. In the morning, I rose early, packed half of the remaining food, made sure the shelter was clean, and closed the door. Then I began to walk.

For ten days, the weather was clear, and preserved food sustained me, although I longed for fresh fruit.

At midday on the eleventh, I consumed the last of my food and walked on.

On the fourteenth day, I found an empty bicycle cart. I searched for several hours, but found nobody to claim it, so I climbed in and looked in the storage area at the back. What I found stunned me. The storage area was filled with preserved food. Why had this cart been left? There was no one to ask, so I kept going down the mountain side.

The weather became warmer, and layer by layer, I shed my winter clothes like serpents shed their old skin.

On the forty-first day, I came to a flat place where bushes grew thickly in black earth. I yeled with delight when I saw plump red berries and pushed handfuls into my mouth as fast as I could. I ate them for myself, for the sweet refreshing taste, but also for my daughter, who would never enjoy them again.

As I walked, I noticed how flat the terrain was. When I paused to listen to my surroundings, I thought I heard the sound of water running. Yes, surely a place like this would offer a clear stream for drinking. I headed toward the sound, which grew in volume.

A while later, I emerged from a clump of bushes and looked upon a vast open space. It was carpeted in grass, and dotted here and there with houses. At the far side of it wasn’t the stream I’d been expecting, but a river. I could see people swimming and playing in it, as well as some others washing clothes, so I gathered that it was shallow for quite some way out.

I walked until I came to a deserted spot, took off all my clothes, and proceeded to wash them as thoroughly as I could. I hung them to dry, unstrapped the bag containing my daughter’s sketches, took out the folder, and laid it on the grass. I took the bag into the river and washed both it and myself. It didn’t take long for the sun to dry everything, and soon the bag of sketches was strapped again to my chest, and I was dressed in my lightest layer.

I walked around and enjoyed another meal of red berries, and then I offered to help a man build a house if he would let me use his tools to build mine.

Once his house was finished, he said that I could have his tools as payment, as he no longer needed them. I thanked him and began the construction of my own abode. Once it stood ready, I moved in. I found that there was no lack of work for me, and I throve. I earned meat and fish, delicious herbs and nourishing roots, and fine clothing, but all I wanted was to find my wife.

One day, I found her. I’d almost lost hope, but then there she was, eating the same red berries that I so enjoyed.

“My wife!” She popped a large berry into her mouth and turned to gaze at me. She was a little thin, but otherwise, she appeared to be just as she always had been.

“My husband,” she whispered. “I have been searching for you and our daughter. Have you seen her?” I couldn’t bear to tell my wife that our daughter had been pushed to her death, so I shook my head. That was the only time I can remember lying to her.

She joined me in our new house, and a few days passed in peace and comfort.

One morning, the river seemed louder than usual. I think that a few people noticed this, but nobody paid it any attention; we were all too much occupied with enjoying a clear, warm day. My wife stayed to wash our clothes, while I went in search of red berries. As I picked, I scarcely noticed the sound of the river, but when my sack was full and heavy upon my shoulders and I had turned towards home, I did perceive that the river sounded quite a lot louder than it should. I felt no fear as I walked down the hillside. No dread pitted my stomach, and no anxiety quickened my heart.

I walked down the steep path and stepped into water that was ankle-deep. As I stood there, the water crept up my calves and I saw people running in and out of houses, trying to prevent their possessions from being washed away by the rising river. I looked at the sky, and saw only blueness. Had it rained while I’d been away? But no, that was impossible. I stepped back up, out of the water, and looked frantically for my wife. I had a clear view of the whole area, and what I saw terrified me. The houses that were mere steps from the river’s edge appeared to be completely under water, and I saw clothing, branches, toys, and tools floating and being carried downstream by the current. My heart thundered against my daughter’s sketches. Where was my wife?

“My husband!” I looked left and there she was. Her arms were full of my tools, and she had a bag strapped to her back, which I guessed contained clothes and food.

“It’s dry up here,” I said. She came to me. Her legs were soaking wet, but her shirt was still dry. I breathed a sigh of relief. We could move to higher ground and rebuild our home. If others had lost their clothes and food, we could help them.

She put my tools down and groaned. “Are you all right?”

“Yes. I’m only tired and your tools are heavy.”

I heard sounds, and saw a man climbing up toward us.

“Hello,” I said. He didn’t answer, but ran up the slope as fast as he could. “Sir, it’s all right, you’ll be safe up here.” If he didn’t stop or turn, he was going to run right into my wife. He didn’t slow or change course, so I moved to pull my wife to safety, but he got there first, grabbed her, and then I saw his face. It was the man who had cursed me. He pushed her, and then both of them went rolling and tumbling down the precipitous incline, and straight into the rapidly rising flood. I couldn’t swim, and I had no boat. I went down after them. I was a tall man, and I intended to rescue her before the water came up over my head. What made that so much harder was that he was fast, and she was weighted down by the large bag that was still strapped to her back.

“Here, mister!” a boy’s high, piping voice called. I looked and saw him sitting in a canoe. He threw me a rope, which I caught, and then he jumped out of it and ran up the hillside. I called out my thanks, pulled it to me and got in. It was quite long and there were two paddles. I had no idea what I was doing, so I let the current carry me along. The man who had cursed me was just disappearing into a house, and he still had my wife. How long had her face been under? How long before the river filled her lungs and trapped her spirit forever? The current pulled the canoe closer to the house, and I looked into a window that was fitted with the kind of wooden bars to keep children inside or thieves out. As I watched, the door opened, and the man who had cursed me entered the room, dragging my wife’s still form behind him. The water was almost up to the roof. He came right up to the window, his eyes met mine, and his lips formed themselves into a grin.

Short Stories

The Dark Tide – Part 4

This is a work of fiction.

The bird flew through the clear air, and I looked far into the distance, and could see nothing but evergreens, snow, and blue sky. A frigid wind blew all around me, and I thought how good it was that the children and the young bird were tucked up safely in warm blankets in the bags hanging from the wooden seat upon which I sat. I’d had to tie my hat under my chin in order to keep it on my head. I’d doubled the straps that kept the bag containing my daughter’s sketches pinned to my breast. We’d already been aloft for three days, and I couldn’t take much more of the loneliness. The bird was right underneath the wooden seat, but we could not even look at each other as she flew, and the wind made conversation with the children impossible. I couldn’t hear them if they cried out, but the bird could, and she would land us and the children would emerge from the bag and I would tend to them. I longed to stop for a few hours and converse with them, but the threat of another storm made that unwise, and I would not risk all of our lives merely for a few minutes of companionship. Instead, I sat on the wooden seat and imagined every one of my daughter’s beautiful drawings, and when I came to the last one, I started from the beginning.

At night, I lit a fire and warmed preserved food, but soon we would run out, and I didn’t sleep well, worried as I was that we would be overtaken by a blinding white expanse of falling snow.

What I feared most happened on the morning of the fourth day out from the mountain top. We’d just taken off, when I saw a dark mass of clouds moving quickly across the sky. Blue turned to gray, and the clear air became dark and murky with impending doom. My heart thumped against the bag of sketches and I began to shiver deep inside my winter clothes. It wasn’t extremely cold, but there wasn’t enough shelter, and I wouldn’t be able to keep a fire going for very long. A few flakes began to fall, and I wondered how long the bird would wait before landing.

A few minutes later, I felt her slowing, and I gripped the sides of the wooden seat in preparation for a very wind-buffeted landing. Instead of making a descent, she launched herself upward, and I cried out in surprise. The wind tore my voice from me, and I coughed and then let out a strange laugh. My heart beat with stunning force against my sternum, and I was overcome with heat and dizziness as I looked down at the ground that was now disappearing. I leaned back in the wooden seat and tried to school my breathing into something resembling calm. The bird flew faster than she ever had, and the wind gusted ever more fiercely around me, snow began to pelt me, and I longed for the solid earth and the warmth of a bed by a fire in a well-built home.

The bird’s wild flight lasted for what seemed like an eternity, with the snow falling more thickly, and the wind trying harder and harder to unseat me. I gripped the wooden arms as tightly as I could, and hoped with all my soul and breath that she would land, but perhaps the storm had frightened her so badly that all she could do was fly until she ran out of energy, and then she would crash-land us all. It would be a quick death, but the plunge through the stormy air would be an endless torment of seconds turned to centuries by the fear of the deadly impact. Of the children and her young, I could hear nothing, and I willed the straps to hold out against the tearing force of the wind.

Suddenly, the bird began to descend, and I sighed with relief, even though I knew we would not be completely safe on the ground.

As we neared it, I saw that there was a cleft in the mountain side, and I could see several bicycle carts heading into it. As I watched, one pitched and struggled up over the precarious terrain, and I looked on in horror as it overturned. A few seconds later, a man got up and tried to right his vehicle. We were still descending, and the wind died down for a few moments, and I clearly heard the sound of a woman screaming for help.

I called to the bird, “Please, take us down so I can help them.” She made a mournful sound, and I saw the man finally lift the cart up. The bird likely knew, as I feared, that the woman lying where it had been had already been crushed beyond saving. The bird did move faster, and soon we were on the ground. It took me several seconds before I could pry my hands free of their grip on the wooden arms, but finally, I stepped down and stood on firm ground beside the bicycle cart. The children and young bird were safe for the time being, so I approached the woman, but the man moved in front of me. His chest was heaving from the exertion of righting the overturned bicycle cart, and his brow was beaded with perspiration. His eyes blazed with hatred and his expression was distorted by fear. He jabbed a thick, work-rough finger at me.

“Sir, is there anything I can do?” I asked, even though I was quite certain that there wasn’t, and even more sure that he would not want my help, but I had to offer.

He stood there for a moment, and then he said, “Curse you. Death to all yours. And you, live forever. In the names of all the gods!” His voice was rough, but his words were clear, and there was nothing I could do except back away.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something grayish brown, and realized that the bird had taken off. I looked around desparately, hoping I’d see the children, but they were still in the bag strapped to the wooden seat, which in turn was strapped to the bird who was now disappearing into the terrible sky.

A blow struck hard in my left side, and I fell to the snow. I lay and listened to the man groaning with grief and exhaustion as he lifted his wife into the bicycle cart. Once he’d gone, I got up and checked myself over. My side ached, but I still had my warm clothes, and most important of all, my daughter’s sketches. What I lacked were food and shelter, but the cleft in the mountain was near, and I began to walk toward it.

The hollow in the mountain was full of people, bags, and bicycle carts. There were also shelters that although hastily constructed, would see us through the storm. I saw cooking fires, and families were sitting together eating preserved food. I, on the other hand, had no food, and I was unwilling to ask anyone to share what little they had left.

I wandered around until I came to the other side of the hollow in the rock, where I stood at the edge of a precipice. I felt dizzy looking down into it, so I turned my head to the right, and saw my daughter. She was standing there looking down into the void. She saw me, and her face lit up with a smile that was more life-giving than a thousand wholesome meals, and more beautiful than all 319 of her sketches.

“My father,” she said. “I thought you . . . I thought . . . the dark tide . . .”

“It doesn’t exist. I was delayed, but I’m here now, and ever so happy to see you. Is your mother here?” She shook her head, and her smile dwindled.

“I was offered a ride in a bicycle cart, but there was no room for my mother. She kept going on foot. The storms have been so bad. I hope she found shelter.”

I heard a bicycle cart coming, and wondered if I was about to meet whomever had offered her a ride.

“That man. He was flying!” It was the man whose bicycle cart had overturned.

“Flying?” my daughter said. “Who’s that?” The bicycle cart came to a stop beside my daugher. In it sat the man who’d cursed me and the male Leader of Worship. The latter smiled at my daughter, who smiled uncertainly back.

“Is he your father?” he asked in a friendly voice. She nodded. “Shall I pay him then?”

“Pay me?” I said, my gaze moving from my daughter to the men in the bicycle cart.

“Your daughter draws very well,” the male Leader of Worship said, “and she’s also great company. I owe her a . . . debt of gratitude.” He smirked at me. What was he really saying?

“He flies,” the man who cursed me said. “He brings bad luck.”

“He won’t be flying anymore,” the male Leader of Worship said. He grinned broadly at me. “Look carefully at the cart.”

I did, my stomach knotted with dread of what I’d see. At the back, there was a storage area that was closed, but there was an object on the floor between the front and back seats. It was covered by a sheet, and I had no idea what it was at first, but then I saw a grayish brown feather at the bottom of the cart.

The male Leader of Worship looked me in the eye, nodded, and gave my daughter a violent shove, which sent her lurching sideways. She struggled for balance, but ran out of ground, and fell off the cliff.