Story Fragment: A side tale

I had writer’s block last week,  I worked a lot of overtime, and didn’t make time to be creative.  Even my weekly D&D adventure was a bit of a joke.  I’m at a point in the novel where I want to wrap up the story, get the Rhinos home, get Artur home, and then move onto other characters.  I also want to write a few short stories about Tana growing up and learning things from her parents.

So today I wrote about Tana going fishing…

 

[Finish this chapter. Send the Rhinos home. Get Artur back to his family. Do a reunion and a epilogue, then move back in time two months to the Cow tribe.]

[I have presently one or more short tales to tell about Tana growing up. I don’t know how to fit them into the book. There are events in different parts of the world that happen out of sequence with the main story and I need to get them in somehow. I do not wish to jump around like the Joyluck Club by Amy Tan, where you’re not certain when the events in the book are taking place until a few pages into a given chapter. Time jumps are fine if done properly.

In any case, this is a chapter about Tana learning about balancing her empathic gift against the human need to eat flesh]

Fishing

In the spring time, when the leaves were just beginning to open on the hardwoods, Artur took his four year old daughter out on Sunflower and they rode southeast over the hilly farmlands. The sun shined bright overhead, and slivers of both moons could be seen on the horizon as they ascended. The tulips and daffodils were up, and the dandelions had sprouted their first flowers. The grasses were green, and the warm, humid air was rich with faint pollen and the odor of dried manure spread on the fields.

The bald Artur looked regal in his crimson tunic and Frostbane strapped to his hip, and his bald daughter Tana wore a little blue dress with a profile of a pink pig sewn to the chest. Tied to the saddle were fishing rods and a small basket, for they headed for the river Hogwash about an hour’s ride away.

They cantered down the dirt road a while, taking in the sights and smells. Artur noticed a smoke plume to the northeast, and took to deliberately steering his horse as the observed it. “What do you smell, Sunflower?”

The horse whinnied. “Meat cooking. Unwashed human stink.”

“Hunters then, perhaps,” said Artur.

“Do we stink?” asked Tana.

Sunflower said, “Yes, but I like your stink.”

Tana leaned forward in the saddle and sniffed Sunflower’s mane. “I like your stink too! We stink! You stink!”

Artur chuckled at this, and after a while they turned south to meet the river. They ascended a small hill and then down a gentle slope to the edge of a mostly coniferous forest through which the river ran. A slight breeze blew a cloud of pollen from the new anthers, filling their nostrils with the scents of new growth.

They slowed to a walk and rode carefully into the forest. The bed of pine needles cushioned Sunflower’s footsteps, and they moved almost silently, with only the distant babble of the river disturbing the quiet. They approached a rocky bank on this wide river and dismounted. The river here was thirty yards across and moved slowly, and downstream a ways it narrowed and sped up around the rocks, making a pleasing tinkle of churning water and foam.

Artur took the gear off Sunflower’s saddle, and told her to forage close. The horse went upstream a little to nibble shoreline grasses and to drink.

“There are some delicious trout here,” said Artur to his daughter. He prepared his fishing pole, and the little girl tried clumsily to mimic her father and string her own pole. She quickly grew frustrated, “I can’t do it.”

Artur smiled. “I’ll do mine again.” He untied the string from his fishing rod and sat down with his daughter, carefully showing her how run the wound twine down the length of the rod. With a bit of effort, she managed to mimic her father’s motions, and installed the spool of twine on the rod, and threw a hollow walnut shell, and tied a hook to the end of the string.

“Well done Tana,” said her father.

“Now I can fish?”

“You need a worm.” Artur took out a little box filled with soil and earthworms, and offered his daughter a worm.

“It’s all slimey!”

“Yes they are.”

“It doesn’t like me holding it.”

“It’s best not to get into their minds, dear. Let it be.”

Artur showed his daughter how to hook a worm, and then, his arms around her, helped her cast the line into the river. “Now pull in the string slowly, so the fish chase the worm.” He worked with his daughter for several minutes, casting and retrieving, until she was comfortable doing it, and then he cast his own baited hook out, and the two waited for fish to strike.

It wasn’t long until Tana’s rod jerked suddenly, and she squealed. “Oh papa I got one!” Artur tossed his rod aside, and rushed to help his daughter as she panicked. “What do I do?”

“Press on the string real hard here. Use your thumb. There I’ll put mine on yours. See it splashing out there? You got a big one!”

Tana’s eyes went from excitement to bewilderment. “It hurts!”

“It does?”

“My mouth. I’m scared.”

Artur recognized this. Like every child with the Gift, she hadn’t learned stay out of the minds of the animals she focused on. “Tana listen to my voice. Sing along with me.”

Fish fillets for breakfast

Fish strew for supper

Fish nuggets for a snack

I’m grateful for fish

They make my belly fat

How about that?

He repeated the simple melody, and Tana sang with him as they pulled the thrashing trout to shore, where it flopped on the rocks for a bit, and then on the dirt, and then it lay still, it’s gills panting.

“Quickly now,” said Artur. “Hold it down so it doesn’t suffer.” Tana sat next to the fish, and pushed on it’s midsection with her little hands. She felt like she could not breathe, she felt terrified, as though she were thrust underwater for too long. Artur drew a long, thin little dagger from his belt, knelt down, and stuck it between the eyes of the fish, and then it stopped panting. Blood trickled around the wound as he withdrew the knife.

Tana stared in wonder. Her lungs ceased to ache. “I can’t hear it anymore. Oh…” and she began to cry. “We killed it.”

Tears welled up in Artur’s eyes as he empathized with his daughter. “Yes. To eat, one thing has to die so another can live.” Tana’s sobbing increased, and her father dropped the knife and put his arms around his little girl and kissed her bald scalp.

“I—I—I’m sorry little fish.”

“I’m sorry too,” said Artur. “Let’s be thankful for the fish. It died so we can eat.” He let go of his daughter, but stayed crouched behind her. Tana sniffled and wiped the tears with the back of her hand, and knelt forward, and kissed the fish. “Tha…Th..Thank you fish.” While Artur considered kissing a fish to be a bit absurd, nonetheless he did not berate his gentle daughter who then and there found her own way of honoring their prey.

He let her sniffle and stare at the fish for a minute, and then said, “Let’s make a fire and eat! Help me gather sticks.”

He set about picking up fallen pine branches, but his daughter did not come. She remained, hands on knees, staring at the dead fish. He considered his daughter’s disobedience, and didn’t correct her on account that she had never caught a fish before. He let his daughter grieve and set up a good pile for cooking, and put dried kindling beneath it. He ignited his tinder, and blew it into a flame, and before long the kindling began to crackle and roar with flame.

Artur then went and picked up the fish, drew out his knife, and began to descale the fish. He ignored his daughter’s grief, and tried to focus on the lesson. “Now the scales are off, we can remove its guts. Cut the belly here, and pull out the guts! Toss those in the water for the other fish. That was easy, wasn’t it?”

Artur took two branches and gave one to his daughter. “Now use your knife, and scrape it like this. There you go! Cut away from yourself like this so you don’t cut yourself.” Tana used a tiny knife and worked at making a skewer. The smell of the fire and work took her grief away, and before long Tana and Artur each had a piece of fish on a skewer, and they cooked it over the fire.

The odor of fresh fish invigorated Artur, and he sighed with contentment. His daughter studied hard, rotating her fish when her father rotated his. It didn’t take long to cook, and the two ate fish on a stick, and they were happy.

As they ate, they both felt an intelligent animal mind downstream, and they looked over and saw a brown bear approaching the water’s edge on the other side. It paid them no mind, and waded into the water a ways, and then scanned the water that spilled from around the rocks.

“Father what is he doing?”

“I think he’s fishing, Tana.”

“With no pole?”

“Oh they don’t need a pole. Watch and see.”

The bear studied the water for a few minutes, and then suddenly lunged in with it’s clawed paw, and pulled a fish up into its mouth, and returned to the shore to eat it. It tore apart the fish, and licked its lips, and then sat down to clean itself.

The fire popped, and the bear looked up in alarm, and stood on its hind legs. But after seeing that the humans were on the other side of the stream, it seemed satisfied there would be no problem, and went back to cleaning itself.

“Can we catch fish without poles?” asked Tana.

“Oh for sure, but its very hard. We can use spears, or swords, or our bare hands. Alan McDougal- do you remember him – he will sit in a river all day until he catches a fish with his hands.”

The bear finished cleaning itself, and wandered off into the forest. Artur said, “Let’s catch some fish for mother and your brothers, and we’ll take them home.”

The two put fresh worms on their hooks, and cast their lines, and in about an hour they caught three more trout. This time Artur held the fish down, and Tana stick the knife in their brains, and he helped her descale them, and to gut them. Artur cut long poles and put the fish on them, and built up the fire, and,they let the cut up fish cook in the smoke.

They washed up in the river, and Tana disrobed and waded in the water while her father stood guard. Tana found minnows and snails, and she picked up the snailed and studied them. The snails retreated into their shells, and she tried to coax them out. “Come out little snail!” she said. But they snails didn’t want to come out. Sunflower came to the stream to drink, and then waded in and splashed around with Tana for little bit.

After swimming, Tana got dressed and reclined with her father under a fat hemlock tree. Artur played jaunty tunes and then soft lullabies on his flute, and before long Tana grew sleepy and dozed off. The day waned on, but before sunset the fish was cooked, and Artur roused his daughter to finish the lesson. They packed the smoked fish into a sack, and tied the gear back on Sunflower’s saddle, and the two rode home.