Running Shoo – Episode 12

I used to daydream about flying. I imagined gliding about Footfall, visiting the fancy districts I’m not allowed into, spiralling all the way up one of the sky needles to touch the underside of the Foot, then wafting across to the North side to see Footfall Falls, the waterfall I’ve heard about but only experienced when the North Wind blows the spray across the town.

Funnily enough, I can see the falls from here. A glimpse of white ribbon under the floating mountain. This is not how I daydreamed my flight would go though, being hurled by an armoured monster to get me away from an unarmoured but more monstrous monster. It’s intense.

But I’m too tired from a night of being horribly threatened to windmill my arms or do anything dramatic. I just arrow through the air and think: okay, so this is happening now.

All my squishy inside bits feel like they are being squished down into my feet. The wind sucks the tears from my eyes and streaks them across my rippling cheeks. I want to vomit. Then sleep. A lot.

Beneath me, the road passes by, as does the grassy verge and, a little more slowly, the Muddle River Bridge. Then, at an even more gentle pace, the stone balustrade of the bridge with its famously inept carvings of animals. I miss the balustrade by a good few feet. Hern, thankfully (and worryingly) is a capable person-chucker. I find myself staring down at the churning white foam of the Muddle River.

And instead of flying, I am falling.

I guess I get to find out whether I can swim or not.

It hits me like a full bath that’s been fired out of a cannon. I say “Ooof!” in bubbles that roar around me in a world of bubbles. My ears fill with water with twin blip! sounds and it’s cold. Astonishingly cold. Wakes me up a bit, actually.

I open my eyes.

A veil of bubbles parts to reveal that the river is deep. Rocky slopes stretch up on either side of me, light needles downwards and the riverbed streams with long green weeds. It’s pocked with lumps of rock, various bits of junk and more than a few rusting suits of armour. At least one of them has a skull grinning out of it. I think I’ve discovered the secret to Hern’s ability to precisely throw people into the river: practice.

I’m sinking like I imagine a submarine might. Which is not good as I am not a submarine. Mondey said if I ever fall in the river I ought to:

1. keep my legs straight, point my toes and kick like I have fans on my feet and I’m trying to create a draught.

2. Cup my hands my move them in big arcs ahead of me like I’m parting tall grass.

3. Then get to the surface quickly, chop-chop.

I give it a go.

The current takes hold of me and spins me head-over-heels down the river at alarming speed. After a bit of faffing, I manage to right myself and start kicking my legs and swinging my arms like Mondey said. It doesn’t seem to be achieving anything.

Rocks, weeds and fish whoosh by me. Some rocks very close. Things move differently down here; you see them moving sluggishly in the distance, glance away, and then suddenly they’re rushing past you at a speed that suggests there’d be splatter had you’d hit them. I don’t like it.

My lungs are starting to hurt too.

A huge bubble, much bigger than me, undulates behind me. There is another up ahead. I kick and swipe and don’t get anywhere nearer the surface. My chest is really hurting now, it’s crying out for me to take a breath which I’m sure is a bad idea.

I panic.

My swimming technique goes to pot. I’m swinging my arms and frogging my legs randomly but the beautiful, glimmering surface I can see above me, so tantalisingly close, stays above me.

I think I might die down here.

Death by drowning is probably better than death by August Florend with his teeth and claws but I don’t want either. Yes, I understand my life was generally hard, cold and unpleasant but I still want more of it.

It’s not fair. It really isn’t because- bubble!

The big bubble that was ahead of me is directly in front of me. I squish into its surface and plop through. For a moment I’m in air instead of water. It’s warm. I take deep, grateful breaths. Oddly, it smells exactly like town. I get a nose-glimpse of the food stalls in the market, the fumes from the cars and I swear I can even hear the chatter.

I just have time to wonder about this before I hit the other side of the bubble and break through into the icy water, dragging a chain of smaller bubbles behind me.

I’m hurtling down the river again.

Some fish look at me, surprised, but I think that’s how fish normally look. Something large disappears under a rock, I glimpse some slender fingers sliding into the darkness under the stone. Don’t want to know what that was. I just miss colliding with a sudden wreck of a car which has a family of silver eels living inside it. I pass a part of the rocky bank, which has what look like windows in it, as my lungs start to demand attention.

There’s another big bubble caught in the current in front of me. With much kicking and flailing, I angle myself towards it and burst through.

Once again, if I closed my eyes and sniffed, I’d swear I was on the streets of Footfall. This time I’m getting the earthier, forest scent that blows out of the Pwca district. I take as many deep breaths as I can before I tumble out through the far side of the bubble.

How long I can keep this up for? Not for ever certainly, these big bubbles will run out eventually and if I miss one I’ll probably drown and- Net!

The weed-strung squares of some kind of rope-net thing are right in front of my face.

I slam into it.

Yes, it’s rope but it’s thick rope and solid. Practically a grate. Most of the precious breaths I just took are knocked out of me.

I clutch onto the solid net and desperately look around. It’s strung half of the way across the river bed and… yes! It goes all the way up to the surface! At last! A stroke of luck! I should just be able to clamber up it.

Maybe the universe isn’t trying to kill me after all.

Towards the top of the net, where the surface laps and foams, there is a lilac flash. Then a purple crackle and a jagged beam of neon pinkish energy starts juddering down the squares of the net to where I am clinging.

Ah yes, I think, strangely comforted, that’s about right.

The energy reaches my fingers and connects me to a lively world of screaming, fizzing and shaking.

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