Writing in Public, Story #5, Scene 2
While Morgan checked on the horses, Eleri stamped out the last of the glowing embers in the campfire, kicking over the charred logs. She had to remind herself to take her time. Rushing meant carelessness. That was one of the things she had to learn cooking out on the road.
Morgan’s rifle butt banged against a birch as he returned. “Horses are good. I covered the wagon with branches to hide it. You ready?”
No, she wanted to say. This was the first chance anyone had to find the source of what was contaminating the water. No one had ever arrived as it happened. But this stream was too close to the town where she lived. What if they failed?
She’d seen what happened when anyone drank from a stream that fouled.
“Let’s go,” she said, her voice husky.
Before the fear made her change her mind.
They hiked down to the stream bed. She was glad for the full moon. This was a dangerous trip as it was with the light. The ground was uneven and twisted with roots and stones. Shrubs hid holes.
The stream sounded so normal to her. But as she drew near, the smell was wrong, off somehow.
“Do you smell anything different?” she asked.
“Just water,” Morgan said.
Her mother had the water magic on her side of the family, but it had skipped a generation. Eleri hadn’t known any of her grandparents, since they had died before she was born. Most of what she’d learned about her magic had been playing in the water, trying out things to see what she could do.
The stream was about six inches deep. Eleri did not touch the water, but she knew it would be ice cold.
“Hey.” Morgan pointed. “Did you see the water flash?”
Eleri got close to the edge. The rock wobbled under her foot as she knelt. She stared at the water for perhaps a minute.
Then she saw it.
A streak of silver, like one of those lantern flies. It lit up, then faded out a second later.
Was it alive?
She released her magic again, guiding across the surface of the water. She was aware that Morgan had stepped behind her, bracing her with his hands on her shoulders.
Her magic growled at her, wanting better water to play with. The silvery light was like dumping a bucket of waste into the stream. It mingled with the water, thinning out, spreading.
Not alive. But something else…
She stood, shaking out the ache in her knees. How long had she been kneeling there, trying to get a sense of the silvery light?
“Have you ever seen it flash like this?” she asked.
“No,” Morgan said. “But the Branch Creek up north…that was so bad it ran white, like milk.”
Branch Creek, Hunting Creek… Eleri tried to picture how they connected up. She wished she had a map of all the tributaries that connected to the Great River. The fouling appeared random, but she thought it might have a common source. But only the very wealthy could afford maps.
“I think it’s near,” she said.
There was only one way to go. They followed the stream uphill. Neither said anything, sweating in the chill night as they picked their way up the creek’s edge. The only sound out this late was their breathing and their footsteps, layered over the flowing water.
Then suddenly, the silver was gone.
Somehow, she’d missed it.
Her magic crawled across the stream again, this time more interested. The water was not fouled. The magic was a child, checking out all the lines of the stream, everything shiny and pretty. It liked the way the water flowed over the rocks, and the bits of twigs that floated along the edges. The current swirled around a tree root jutting out, dirt washed away by storms.
Her magic flowed with that current, spinning around with a leaf curled up like a hand.
Blackness rose up in front of her magic like a wall and then her world spun away like that leaf and into nothing.
- Posted in: Writing in Public