She hauled up and quit on me just outside Rhemus Station. The harder I kicked, the louder she wailed. If I’d known she’d put up such a fuss I’d have walked the whole way from our dig site. Rinky had followed us, I knew he’d keep her company, maybe lead her back to her herd. I gave her a pat and walked away. From time to time, I still hear that odd trumpet sound. Without protection, I doubt she survived the night.
I beckoned with the two-handed wave described to us and it fluttered across the water toward me. I picked just two of its eyes, the others I ignored. I’d heard they took offense if you couldn’t focus. As it landed, just beyond my reach, it began to retch producing a viscous soup that spread like an oil-slick. The smell rose and I breathed it deeply—truffles. Its sick smelled like black truffles.
The natives use the bark for food, shelter, fuel, and if pulverized and left to rot in a shallow, swampy ditch, turns to an intoxicant which they slurp in revelrous glee. Their twilight dancing, a chaotic riot, ends only when the last of them concuss themselves against the trunks of the trees. Because of their lack of depth perception the locals can’t climb, leaving the heights for us to safely bed.
I hold as still as I can. The pollen, its tendency to burrow into my nostrils, has me on the edge of a constant sneeze. I choke it down and capture the shot. To its left I catch a flash of movement, low in the brush, the tips of the tracker’s ears barely topping the grass. But all of this specimen’s eyes are trained on me. I prepare to witness a predatory scene few, if any, have ever seen.
The line is deep and although I haul back, the weight at the end gives only in spurts. I keep at it. I see a flash of white, turned pale blue, and then a rush and splash as it surfaces. The hook tears at the side of its throat, snared, not a valid catch. I can only hope the damage done won’t leave it mortally wounded.
This is not the way we came in. But the map has brought us to this cove and this gaping maw, our egress from this hell-scape world. I see ripples at the edges. Is it quivering? With provisions exhausted we have no choice but to venture in—out? Through?