Monday, April 26, 2010
(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.
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.
"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.)