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
"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
"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
The two boys stopped, turning around. "You coming?" Bradley
"I can't go there!" Jason said. "My parents told me never to
"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."
"Of course, water. There's a river down there. Don't you know
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
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
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
"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
"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?"
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
"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
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
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