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Davis, Jerry - Down In The Canyon

By Annette Harrison,2014-06-11 23:22
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Davis, Jerry - Down In The Canyon

     DOWN IN THE CANYON

     ? 1997 by Jerry J. Davis

     Jason didn't understand most of what his parents told him,

     except the part where he should never go near the canyon where the

     mists came out. "Never ever go near there," his father said. "If

     you fall in we wouldn't be able to get you out." He told Jason

     there were monsters down there, and that if the fall didn't kill

     him, the monsters certainly would.

     Jason had seen the canyon twice, once when the worker robots

     were building the fence, and once after the fence had been torn

     down. Everyone seemed upset that the fence had been wrecked. It

     happened during the night, and there were large claw marks in the

     brown dirt all around the twisted metal. Jason's father said that

     whatever had done it was very strong, and probably very large.

     The canyon cut across the brown landscape, running from the

     distant hills all the way to the sea, passing the edge of the

     settlement on the East side. The settlement had been placed beside

     the canyon because of the mists. Jason's computer told him that

     the mist was made up of tiny droplets of water, and this water

     helped the settlement's plants grow.

     The plants were everywhere, surrounding Jason's home and

     lining the roads and filling every little spot in between. "Earth

     plants," they were called. "From the homeworld." Jason liked to

     walk among them, especially the trees, and wonder what it was like

     to be on Earth.

     The other kids were usually out playing among the trees, or

     out at the edge where the robots were doing the new planting.

     Bradley Rosewald was there, as was Frederick Turney and his sister

     Stephanie. They were the three that were of about Jason's age.

     Stephanie, who was tanned and dark-haired like her brother, was

     pinching her nose in distaste. "It smells here," she complained.

     "That stuff is pooo-cheee."

     "Dad says it smells a lot worse when they pull it out of the

     ocean," Frederick said. "Before they take the salt out of it."

     "Why do they have to put it in the ground?" Jason asked,

     watching as a large autonomic tractor laced the soil with the

     green, odorous slime.

     "It gives the plants something to eat," Bradley Rosewald

     said.

     "To eat?"

     "Of course. Don't you know anything, Jason? This soil is

     sterile, it has no nutrients in it."

     "Oh." Jason decided he'd ask his computer what "nutrients"

     were when he got home. "How did the soil get sterile?"

     Bradley rolled his eyes. He was the oldest of the four, with

     bright blond hair and a freckled face. His eyes were a shining

     blue. "What a question," he said, and didn't bother to answer.

     As they watched the robotic equipment toiling in the endless

     brown dirt, a mist drifted in from the East, mingling with the

     plants and blocking the sunlight. The temperature dropped a bit

     and Jason felt his jacket warm up to compensate. He still felt a

     chill, though --- he knew perfectly well where the mist was coming

     from.

     "Hey," Bradley said. "Let's go peek over the edge."

     Frederick was all for it. "Yeah, let's see if we can see the

     monsters." He and Bradley stood up, and took several steps toward

     the East. Stephanie stood up, looking unsure. Jason was transfixed

     with horror.

     The two boys stopped, turning around. "You coming?" Bradley

     said.

     "I can't go there!" Jason said. "My parents told me never to

     go there!"

     "We've been there thousands of times," Frederick said.

     "There's nothing to it."

     "We throw rocks down there," Stephanie said. Her voice was

     quiet, her eyes on Jason. "You won't tell, will you?"

     "You throw rocks?"

     "Yeah," Frederick said. "Once we heard this long, mean growl.

     Grrrrrrr! Like that."

     "What's wrong? You're too precious to your mommy and daddy?

     You're so special 'cause you 'naturally born?'" Bradley was laying

     the sarcasm on thick. "I think you're afraid. You're afraid 'cause

     you're still experiencing your birth trauma."

     "I am not!"

     "You are too. Natural babies have birth trauma, that's why

     they're cowards. Dittos like us aren't afraid of anything."

     Bradley turned away. "Come on, Frederick."

     Frederick motioned for his sister to follow, then turned and

     walked off after Bradley. Stephanie looked after them, then turned

     back to Jason. "Please don't tell."

     "I'm not afraid," Jason lied. "It's just that my parents told

     me never to go there."

     "Me too." She gave him a deep, meaningful look which Jason

     didn't understand, then turned and trotted to catch up to the

     others. Jason saw her fading into the mist and his feet took on a

     life of their own, one foot stepping in front of the other,

     carrying him after her even as the rest of him yearned for the

     safety of home.

     There were pine trees, there were walnut trees. There were

     apple trees. There was a field of corn. He caught up to them and

     followed without a word, staring at Stephanie's back and the

     strands of her hair as it bounced with each step. They came to a

     clearing and the mist grew thick as paste. This was as close as

     he'd ever been; about fifty meters beyond was a edge that dropped

     down into mystery and nightmares. The last time he was here it had

     been with his father, and that had been scary enough.

     They walked about a half dozen meters through the mist and

     then Bradley motioned for them to stop. "Listen," he whispered,

     and was still. Jason listened, expecting to hear a monster's

     growl. Instead he heard a low rumbling sound, a noise so deep and

     hard that it seemed to come up from the ground itself.

     "It's louder this time," Frederick whispered.

     "What is it?" Jason asked. "Is it the monster?"

     "No, you dunce. It's water."

     "Water?"

     "Of course, water. There's a river down there. Don't you know

     anything?"

     All Jason knew about the canyon was that he was supposed to

     stay away from it. But it stood to reason that if water mist came

     drifting out of it, then there must be water down there.

     "The water's warm," Frederick said. "It goes through a place

     where the ground is really hot. My father took me there once,

     because he works in the power plant up in the hills."

     "It's geothermal," Stephanie said. She pronounced the word

     very carefully.

     They continued deeper into the mist, and the rumbling of the

     water grew much louder. When they came across the ruins of the

     fence, Jason knew they were a mere meter or two from the edge. He

     was so scared he was shaking, but he was determined not to show

     it.

     The ground under their feet was soft and wet from the heavy

     mist. Frederick dug a porous rock out of the mud and tossed it out

     into the void. That was the end of it --- it simply vanished. They

     listened to hear if a monster growled, but there was only the

     rumble of the water.

     Bradley bravely made his way over the bent posts and strewn

     metal cables of the fence and to the edge itself. He crouched

     there, peering over. The mist was so thick that Jason could barely

     see him, and occasional drifts made him disappear altogether.

     After a moment, Frederick joined him.

     "This is crazy," Jason whispered. Stephanie, who was standing

     very close to him, said nothing. He felt her hand suddenly grab

     his, and she took a few steps forward. He followed, each step a

     thing of torture. At any moment he expected some horrible creature

     to leap out at them from the mist, something with red eyes, gaping

     mouth and razor sharp claws.

     On the other side of the ruined fence was a large, damp rock

     and just beyond a section of ground that had sunk down a half

     meter. Two meters beyond that was the edge. Jason and Stephanie

     sat down on the rock, their feet on the sunken shelf, and threw

     pebbles into the canyon.

     "My dad's computer has pictures of plants and stuff from down

     there," Frederick said. "They're native plants, way different from

     the trees."

     "Primitive," Stephanie said. "Dad says they're just learning

     to come out of the water."

     "They're all gooey looking, like jelly. The leaves are

     black."

     "My dad has pictures of them too," Bradley said, making it

     sound like it was all old news to him. "He's got pictures of some

     of the monsters, too."

     "The big ones?" Frederick said. "With the long teeth?"

     "Yeah."

     "Mean looking?"

     "Yeah."

     Jason seized upon an idea that would get them away from the

     canyon. "I've never seen pictures of the monsters," he said. "My

     mom told me they would only give me nightmares."

     "What a baby," Bradley said.

     "I'd like to see them. Can we go look at them?" Jason heard

     the pleading tone in his own voice, and knew his reasoning was

     obvious. He was surprised when Bradley missed the opportunity to

     insult him. Instead, Bradley backed away from the edge and stood

     up.

     "Yeah, okay," he said. There was a hint of relief in his

     voice, like he too had been waiting for an excuse to get away from

     the canyon.

     Their feet still on the sunken shelf of dirt, Jason and

     Stephanie stood up. When they did, Jason felt the ground begin to

     sink away from him. For a split second he had a chance to turn and

     leap away, but he saw Stephanie lose her balance and fall forward.

     He tried to grab her, and in doing so lost his chance.

     Jason remembered hearing Bradley and Frederick's yells

     receding above, and the feeling of falling. He and Stephanie were

     still on a flat section of ground but that ground was sliding down

     into the canyon. The falling sensation ended for a moment and then

     he was face-first in the mud, and still they were sliding. The

     only thought going through his mind was a kind of wonder, thinking

     with certainty that he was now going to die.

     It seemed to go on and on. Jason had plenty of time to

     reflect on what was happening. The section of dirt slowed a bit

     and hit something, which split it into sections and made it

     disintegrate. Still they continued downward, rolling now, mingling

     with the damp soil. They crashed through some dark, slippery

     branches and plunged tumbling into warm water.

     Dirt was still coming down on top of Jason while he was

     underwater, but then the current carried him away from the slide.

     He was thrashing and kicking, not knowing which way was up, not

     knowing how to swim. Never in his life had Jason been in water

     deeper than a bathtub. He had no idea what to do.

     His knees scraped rock and he pushed up, breaking surface. He

     gasped for breath and looked around in terror. He could see

     clearly --- the mist was above him. It hung like a ceiling several

     meters over the water, and below that the air was crystal clear.

     He could see black plants, water, and boulders. He grabbed

     desperately at the boulder near him before the current could pull

     him away, and crawled on top of it. It was rounded and smooth,

     very unlike the porous and abrasive rocks he was used to --- it

     stuck out like a little island about seven meters from the West

     bank. Jason sat, hugging his knees, not knowing what to do. He

     couldn't believe he was still alive.

     Then he realized he was alone. "Stephanie!" he shouted.

     A ghostly imitation of his voice called back: ". . .

     Stephanie . . . Stephanie . . . Stephanie . . ." It was his echo,

     but he'd never heard one before. It scared him and kept him

     silent, thinking that the monsters were mimicking him. Indeed, far

     across the water, near the opposite bank, Jason could see long

     dark shapes moving against the current. The sight made him

     shudder, and he remembered what his father had told him: "If the

     fall into the canyon doesn't kill you, the monsters certainly

     will."

     He looked around frantically, wanting to get away from the

     water and up onto the bank. It didn't look possible, as the rocks

     didn't lead to it, and the water looked deep. He glanced back

     toward where he'd fallen in, and only saw dark rubbery plants.

     Despite his fears, he called out Stephanie's name once again.

     Again the echoes came back to haunt him. There was no reply, and

     she was nowhere in sight.

     There was a loud splash, and Jason turned to see a long black

     figure in the water next to the rock. Five times as long as Jason

     was tall, it slid through the water with an eerie undulating

     movement, two bulging eyes protruding from the water each the size

     of a grown man's fist. The eyes were black on black, with no hint

     of pupil. It came edging against the current toward the rock where

     Jason was huddled. Jason screamed and leaped headlong away from

     it, jumping as far as he could toward shore. He floundered in the

     water, splashing, keeping his head above the surface. The current

     helped, carrying him closer. He managed to catch hold of a rubbery

     plant and pull himself to the bank, scrambling out of the water.

     Tiny, multi-legged animals skittered away from him, and a couple

     odd-looking things with spring-loaded tails launched themselves