Monday, April 26, 2010

The Run

(The Earth's north magnetic pole, stable for tens of thousands of years, breaks from its slow drift and violently races south. Some can sense the chaos brewing deep within the planet. For others, it's already too late.)

By a small, freshwater stream, the father gave the fishing rod back to his little girl. She was impatient, but cute.

Tropical sun pressed on their skin like physical weight. They shared zinc oxide noses and floppy white hats. The nearby resort and the Mexican Pacific hid behind tropical trees and spiky underbrush. But they could hear the bustle. The laughing and hollow whack of tennis balls.

The hotel staff provided the rod and generic bait. The little girl begged and begged. She wanted to hold one of the beautiful rainbow fish in her hand.

Unfortunately, she only caught snags and badly knotted the powder-pink fishing reel. The father re-spooled the reel and added a new piece of bait. Definitely not the kind of fishing he'd choose to be doing.

Flip-flops and painted toenails edged up to the water again.

She smiled back at her father. Nervous.

He had told her to watch out for piranha.

"Go ahead," he said. "Give it a good throw."

She pressed the button and stiffened herself for the big toss. With a chop, she slammed the rig down into the middle of the stream with a gurgling splash. Any remaining fish would be scattered.

"Excellent, honey!" he said. "Excellent!"

The girl hopped a little giddy dance.

Birds played in the bushes and glided over the riffles to snatch bugs. The girl couldn't stop mending and pulling the line. Sandpipers pierced sand with thin, curved beaks.

The fishing line snapped up from the water. Tight.

Rainbow spray drifted through the sunlight.


"Are you hung up on something?" he said.

But the line wiggled and zipped upstream.

"Fish, Daddy!"

A heavy splash rained drops. The thing was BIG.

Her excitement turned to fear. "W, what do I--"

The line wrenched her off balance.

He reached, and for a second, he snagged her wrist, but it slipped through.
Another tug partially spun her around, and she careened into the water.

He jumped in, groping, pulling out her choking face.

She still had the rod. It slashed wildly in her hand.

"Stand up!" he said. "Stand up!"

Her feet skated on the slimy rocks and couldn't get them to stick. He scooped her with his arm and grabbed the pole. The force fighting on the other end shocked him.

The rod snapped in two.

He hauled back on the reel, and line stripped off the spool.

Twenty yards upstream, a huge fish broke water and sailed in a cloud of water diamonds.

It landed on the bank and flopped, big and heavy.

The father couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"Is that a salmon?" he said. But he knew it was.

It didn't make sense. Salmon stayed in cold water. They never ventured south of California. Alaska, Washington, Oregon. Not tropical. Never tropical.

Cries arose from downstream. Shouting. Words he couldn't make out.

Then, something thumped him in the foot.

His daughter, up to her knees, yelped.

Another wriggly hit.

Then another.

"What on Earth?" he said.

Then, he saw the wave.

Hundreds of salmon. Thousands. They swam frantically, some leapfrogging others, some bouncing off rocks and leaving smears of blood. Some slapped into the forest.

He twisted and carried his daughter toward shore, but an airborne fish plowed into his elbows at the last moment and made him drop her too roughly on the bank. She landed hard on her butt.

As her face contorted and she began to cry, slippery weight divided his legs and another leaping salmon crashed into his chest. He was knocked down.

Tossed in the writhing mass, he was tumbled and pushed upstream.

There didn't seem to be water anymore. Just fish.

When he felt ground, he crawled and spit slime and scales. He finally broke out and scrambled up onto dry ground. Panting, he watched the creek, boiling and clogging with gasping mouths and flesh.

Desperate and confused, the fish were already dying. An entire population driven to where they should never be, and overcome by the vicious heat.

(This chapter is a selection from my novel Earthtide. Scenes like this one serve as a backdrop as Ulrich and Nami battle an ancient force about to spark the next great wave of evolution and depose the reign of humans.)


JaneyV said...

OMG Jason this is so exciting. I love the juxtaposition between the father's boredom (his encouragement of his daughter's efforts was very sweet) at the beginning and the panic of the salmon at the end. Wonderful build-up!

I also want to say that I like the title Run. I'm a sucker for a title that can be read on lots of different levels.

Earthtide sounds like a brilliant ride Jason!

Laurel said...

Crap! My palms are sweating! Amazingly cool concept and I love the "be careful what you wish for" vibe when the father thinks that this is not the kind of fishing he would like to be doing.

This is surprising on so many levels, but mostly the scene. I doubt it would occur to anyone to imagine how frightening it would be to get caught in an inrushing tide of salmon trying to home upstream. It's a phenomenon we're familiar with but certainly wouldn't have imagined being caught up in.

Bernita said...

That is some scary piece.

SzélsőFa said...

wow, i was sitting at the edge of my seat. this is so gripping, jason!
and there is a thing about the poles switching. it might come with phenomenons like this one here.

Oddyoddyo13 said...

This was so gross! Ugh! Fish! Very well written though.

Tabitha Bird said...

Oh wow Jason. Powerful. though now I know why I hate fishing LOL :)
Gosh I'd love to read that book of yours.

Anonymous said...

JaneyV, so glad that you found it compelling! This novel is growing quite nicely for me. I think it will have many juicy and memorable concepts in it.

Laurel, I'm very heartened to hear your reaction! I think that I can bring all sorts of intense, but scientifically believable elements to this story. My inner science nerd is going to have fun teaming up with the dramatist.

Bernita, just think lox.

Szelsofa, I'm hoping the timeliness of many of these issues will help propel this novel. The drift of the magnetic poles is indeed increasing!

Oddyoddyo13, yeah, if you don't like fish, this scene is a total nightmare.

Tabitha, I'm going to really try to buckle down so you'll get that chance. :)

the walking man said...

Got my attention with this one. Every sentence just unfolded faster and faster to the point when the first fish broke the water I was as hooked into the scene as if it were my little girl I was trying to save.

downward spiral said...

very nice!!!!

downward spiral said...

not sure why i'm .said...

too lazy to switch to my other gmail account.

anne frasier

Terri said...

Gripping - the pace and build here is excellent. And you always find just the right words. "Hollow whack of tennis balls" - Yes.

Anonymous said...

Walking Man, excellent! I've done a lot of work in writing to pace a scene and use the language and sentence sructure to mirror the action in the words.

Anne, very cool! That's for letting me know. :) (At first I thought, wow, "." looks a lot like Anne Frasier.)

Terri, thank you! I really heard that tennis ball whack when I was imagining the scene.

Martha@A Sense of Humor is Essential said...

This post reminds of something I recently read in the National Geographic edition on water about how filling up a dam, (forget if it's the Yellow or Yangtze River), has altered the Earth's tilt by inch.
The Genius of water.
Thank you, Jason.

RustyNeurons said...

A beautiful buid up. I would love to read the rest when it comes out :)

Anonymous said...

Martha, an incredible thought. That much weight. Changing the planet.

RustyNeurons, I'd love to have you read it!

Aniket Thakkar said...

I love it on so many levels! You obviously took good care of writing, pacing,etc. But I am a sucker for detailed descriptions (Love The Day of the Jackal, for that very reason) and you've used your experience in fishing superbly. When can we expect this book? The Clock is supposed to come before this one, right?