Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sneak Peek 3: The Year Just Gone (2013)

Every year, C.M. Simpson gathers up the short stories, flash fiction and poetry she’s written, published, or prepared for publishing, and puts them into a single volume. This year, there are two volumes. The second volume consists of all the work produced, prepared for publication or published in 2013.

As C.M. explains at the beginning of each volume “poems and short stories form the playground I use to explore ways of putting words on paper to create different effects” and each volume contains a variety of styles and subjects, accompanied by what it was that inspired her at the time. Sometimes, the inspiration comes from experimenting with new ways of treating monsters familiar from myth or legend.

Written on December 14, 2013, for the December 10 entry for 365 Days of Flash Fiction, this piece once again returns to the themes of dragons, colonisation, and creatures of myth mingling in a science-fiction setting.

“If that damn thing buzzes us again, I’m going to shoot it up the arse and damn the consequences!”
It wouldn’t have been so bad if Hadigan had been referring to a blowfly and a slingshot, but he wasn’t . He was referring to a dragon, and a jeep-mounted harpoon. Why a harpoon and a jeep? Because it beat the heck out of sitting behind a catapult until your prey came to you—and the jeep had jet propelled rocket grapples for anchoring it to the ground, if we actually caught something.
Today, that looked likely. Running along the headland, on a strip of road, too narrow for the catapults, we’d seen the largest beyznou we could hope for. Massing at around two tonne, if we could harpoon that, and anchor the jeep deep enough not to get dragged out to sea, we wouldn’t have to hunt for another season. It was worth the risk.
And then dragon had arrived.
As well as proving to be an annoyance to us, it was probably going to spook the beyznou, and we needed something by the end of the day, or there wouldn’t be enough fuel for tomorrow and we’d be back to the farms until next year. Neither of us wanted that.
Nope. It was the beyznou or bust. The dragon sure as hell was making it look like bust. We watched the damned beast loop hard and come at us crossways.
“Sonuva—“ Hadigan began, and lined up the harpoon.
And that was when the beyznou turned and my gut went to water.
“Hadigan, get out of the truck,” I said, keeping my voice low.
The beyznou started to lift itself out of the water, its beady eyes fixed on us, and not the dragon coming straight at us. I jacked on the brakes, pulled the hand brake up, hard, and fired the first grapple into a nearby rockface.
“Get out of the truck!” I screamed, standing up in the driver’s seat and grabbing Hadigan by the arm, dragging him from behind the harpoon mount.
Hadigan came out of his seat, turning his head to give me a face full of invective, but taking one look at my face and glancing back at the beyznou. That monster had lifted half its body length out of the sea, undulating its full length as it dropped its jaw wide. And Hadigan was suddenly holding my arm and leaping with me over the edge of the jeep.
We braced to hit the ground running, hoping to make the other side of the outcrop I’d fired the grapple into, but we didn’t make it. The dragon stooped, catching us at the apex of our jump and lifting us as it flipped into a vertical climb.
The beyznou screamed, its voice bouncing eerily off rocks that exploded at its touch.
“Not a beyznou,” Hadigan said, gasping for breath.
“Siren,” I puffed back.
“And old,” Hadigan said, as the creature raised tentacles, flicking them towards us.
The dragon swerved, jinking sideways before tucking its wings to drop in a gut-wrenching dive. Hadigan wrapped an arm around my shoulders, pulling me hard against him, and I locked an arm around his waist. We then did our best to brace inside the cage of dragon claws, as it spiralled into another climb and dropped again.
Shards of slime-coated chitin whistled past us, trailing filaments stronger than the rope around our harpoon. If we could only have caught the siren, I thought, and heard its haunting scream once more. The dragon flew on. Dodging twice more, before gaining enough height that I found it hard to breathe. Hadigan wheezed beside me, but his grip on my shoulders eased.
By turning our heads, we could see the coastline change beneath us. The view improved as we descended, and Hadigan’s breathing eased, although we both grew tense when the creature skimmed wavetops and wheeled around the base of iron-coloured cliffs. We relaxed when it climbed once more, but the tension returned as it backwinged and came to rest inside a cave high up in the cliffs.
“Shoot it up the arse?” the dragon said, setting us carefully on the sun-warmed rock. “That’s hardly hospitable, is it?”
To his credit, Hadigan flushed beet red.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and my mouth dropped open in surprise. I’d never heard Hadigan apologise before, not even when he really needed to. I was also relieved that he had, and closed my mouth.
“Do you know how many days that siren had spent stalking you?” it asked.
Hadigan shook his head.
This time I managed to keep my mouth closed. Ten? That was… We’d been manning a catapult ten days ago. On the Far Arm.
“Is it the first?” Hadigan asked.
“Can we save them?”
“Your people don’t like to owe us debts.”
“But can you save them?”
“I will need help.”
“How many?”
“Five of my kind.”
Hadigan swallowed, and I slipped my hand into his, felt the dampness of his palm, felt the same hollow fear I heard in his voice, leant on him a little and felt him lean back.
“What would you ask?”
“Five pairs,” the dragon said, “to live among us.”
“As your slaves?” Hadigan’s voice was hoarse, with grief for our future, perhaps, but also with fear. No one knew what the dragons did with those they took.
“We do not keep slaves,” the dragon replied.
“As food then?” Hadigan’s voice was a bare thread of sound.
“Never that.” The dragon sounded ill.
“For what, then?”
“For that, we are bound to secrecy,” the dragon replied, and settled back on its haunches, waiting.
“How long?” Hadigan sounded weary.
“Now? Your people will have hours.”
I felt Hadigan’s hand tighten around mine, and looked up at him. We, of course, would be the first couple. I nodded. The sirens could devastate the settlement before enough help arrived. We both knew the dragons were the only chance they had.
“Go,” he said and, with a roar, the dragon took flight.
Other roars answered, the settlement’s salvation on its way. I pulled Hadigan over to a portion of the cave that gave us an ocean view. We would know when they returned. We would greet our kinfolk, comforting them in exile.

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