Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chapter 12 (begun)

The Journey Begins

When Johnny and Larissa emerged onto the deck sometime later, they got wet all over again.  This precipitation was something completely new to Johnny; it was as if someone had taken normal raindrops and shrunk them down, and just suspended them in the air.  It wasn’t exactly mist, and, if there were clouds, they weren’t obvious: the sky held the same abnormal sourceless light it always had.  The air was just full of tiny drops of water now.  “Less of a hig and more of a mizzle,” Roger announced brightly.  “All cleaned up then, eh?” Johnny and Larissa nodded.  “Excellent!” Roger replied.  “I’ll stow away the tub and we’ll be on our way.”

While Roger went below to dismantle the fiery columns that had created the bathing area, Johnny and Larissa stood and looked out over the water (or at least over the water plants).  All evidence of bird and insect life had disappeared, but the bright blue water snakes were in abundance, and the air was full of noises that sounded like frogs, although Johnny couldn’t actually see any.  When Roger reemerged, Johnny inquired about the snakes.

“What about ’em?” she asked.

“Are they dangerous?”

“Nah.  Some keep ’em as pets.  They can be quite affectionate, so I’ve heard.  If any climb aboard, just toss ’em back.  They don’t bite.”

“What about moccasins?”


“I thought swamps typically had water moccasins.” Roger continued to stare at him blankly.  “It’s a poisonous snake, lives in the water.” He looked over at Larissa for help.

“Agkistrodon piscivorus,” she supplied.

This was apparently unhelpful as far as Roger was concerned.

“Often called ‘cottonmouth’ due to the white lining of its mouth, which it exposes in its threat display,” the little girl added.

Roger nodded slowly.  “I ... see,” she said.  It was obvious that she didn’t.

Johnny jumped back in.  “Okay, so no moccasins.  What should we be worried about?”

Roger shrugged.  “Well, there be burrikits on the land, as I mentioned, and barracuda and serathodonts in the water.  And of course the muck monsters.  But it’s unlikely we’ll see any o’ those bastards.”

“Barracuda are saltwater fish,” Larissa pointed out.

Roger shook her head.  “No salt water here, me lassie.  In fact, the water’s quite potable, once you fish all the greenery out of it.  But if you fall into it, ye’ll find out quick enough about the barracuda.  So don’t fall in, eh?” Roger gave another big grin; Larissa just gazed back with wide eyes.

Johnny said, “So, what are these ... serathowhatsits?”

Roger took his shoulder and turned him so that the tall palm tree, only a shadow in the weird rain at this point, was at his back.  Any evidence of a far “shore” was now completely obscured, and it was just a vast expanse of the floating plants, blurry in the hanging raindrops.  “Look right there,” she said.

Johnny stared.  “I don’t see any...” He trailed off as he caught sight of a path being cut cleanly through the vegetation, just at the edge of the visibility the rain allowed.  There was obviously something swimming just underneath the surface.  From the size of the wake it left, it must be big.  The course it followed coiled back and forth sinuously, snakelike, but this was way too big to be a snake.  Suddenly a huge yellow fish with red stripes lept out of the water; in the instant it splashed back down, the snout of something like a dark blue crocodile shot up and snapped closed.  A stocky, scaly body was visible for a moment, followed by a thrashing tail.  In an instant it was all over and only a lazily spinning water lilly marked the passage of the great beast.  Johnny noticed that he had stopped breathing for a second.  He drew a shaky breath.

“Was that a ... what was that?”

“Serathodont.  That’s what ye were asking about, weren’t ye?”

“Yeah.” Johnny reached out and grabbed hold of the ship’s railing.  “Yep, that’s what I ... okay, just forget I asked.  For future reference, it’s probably better that I don’t know these things.”

Roger shrugged.  “Nothing to get fussed about.  They’re mean, but they’ll mostly stay out of our way.  Stay out of the water, and they’ll stay off the land.  Well, for the most part.  If the fishing gets too poor they do come out looking for easier meat, but that’s mighty rare.  Although I have seen ’em run down muskies afore ...”

Johnny’s brain was reeling.  “So they can ... run?”

Roger grinned again, and slapped him on the back.  “Mighty rare, me bucko!  Don’t be fretful.  Now, let’s get moving, eh?”

Johnny looked back toward the palm tree, but it was entirely out of sight now.  “I think we already are, aren’t we?”

Roger pshawed him.  “Jest driftin’ a bit.  I’ll go take the wheel and we’ll get to traversing good and proper.”

Johnny nodded.  “And, then we’ll go get this Aidan fellow?”

“Yes.  The Guide.”

“Right.  And then we’ll ... what?”

Roger’s smile was pervasive.  “And then we’ll get to finding it.”

“Oh, right.  Find ‘it.’ And what exactly was ‘it’ again?”

“Why, the Diamond Flame, a course.  Ain’t that why you come here?”

Johnny pondered the name.  It had an exotic ring to it, like a novel in an adventure series, or an action movie.  It sent shivers up his spine for no discernible reason.  Was that why he was here?  Was there any rhyme or reason to his being here at all?

“Honestly, Roger, I have no idea.  But if you say so, I’ll buy it.  I’d buy anything right about now.  I’m so far from where I was the last time I truly knew where I was that I’m just running on adrenaline and hope at this point.”

Roger looked at him with curiosity, her smile suspended for a moment.  “Not knowing where ye are is no big thing, me da’ always said.  Time and tide will carry ye to places ye’d never imagine.  Not knowing where ye’re going, on the other hand, now that is a problem.” Her touch on his shoulder was gentler this time.  “Ye’ve always got to know where ye’re going, else how’ll ye know when ye get there?”

And with those words, Roger moved aft to start up the great fan again and get them underway

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