Sharptooth: 9

So what happened over the past 7 days is this: Work-work and mother-work were more important than writing work. Also, I had a pop-up holiday market (the only one for 2021 holiday season) for Larksome Goods. Also: sleeping matters. It really does. So I worked, and I mothered, and I worked, and I slept, and I didn’t write much. And then when I sat down to write yesterday, to make up for the lost days, I fidgeted and stalled and procrastinated and didn’t write. Today? same thing. It has taken 12 hours to manage writing 1200 words. This is not a good sign, now, is it. But I’m not a quitter, and I’m not ready to quit, even though I’ll acknowledge that hitting 50,000 words total by midnight on Tuesday is looking unlikely. We’ll see.

Back to it….

Repeat: If this isn’t your thing, please come back on 12/1.

Not sure what this is all about? Quick refresher: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Bang out a 50,000 word (shitty) first draft in a month. It’s my 4th attempt. This time I’m free-writing in Word, copying and pasting here when I get a chunk finished, to put some pressure on myself to get this thing done. There will be typos and inconsistencies. Aiming for young adult genre, with my 18-year-old daughter as my test reader.

Need to get caught up? Here are the previous entries:


9

In the relatively short time it takes them to reach the landing, the drizzle turns into a cold, hard rain, and the wind picks up sharply.

“This one’s looking nasty, isn’t it,” the man says, gazing at the darkening sky.

“It’s November,” she says. “Things always turn nasty in November. Just not always so quickly.”

Their plan, mapped out weeks ago, was to survey the privacy of this particular part of the river, to see whether they could meet here, exchange goods, get on or off the boat, all without being seen. This was to be a test run, but she hadn’t accounted for the weather. Anyone nearby would have already sought shelter, so there is no way of knowing whether there would otherwise be witnesses.

But this line of thought is now unimportant.

They will not, she realizes, make it back to the edge of the woods by nightfall. They will not even make it back to their day camp. The boat will offer warmth and more shelter than they would otherwise find before the storm sets in.

They stop under a tree, not far from where the boat is tethered. The few remaining leaves provide little cover, but it is the best option while they make a new plan.

“I think you might be stuck with us,” she says, resigning herself to the situation.

He looks at her, and she registers an expression that is something between annoyance and amusement.

“You up for an adventure?” he says to the boy. “Think you can sleep for a night away from solid ground?”

When he was younger, the boy had asked to stay in the boat, ride with the man and see the world as he saw it. She’d responded in a way she now regretted, telling the child that the river was dangerous, casting the people and creatures he might meet as ominous threats. The river was a lawless place between lands, she’d said. He was young and imaginative, and he believed her. It wasn’t wholly untrue, still.

But now she needs him to draw on his sense of adventure, before they are completely soaked and catch a chill.

The boy looks at the boat bobbing on the water. He has been aboard before, but not recently and never for a whole night. The steep, rocky bank drops into deep water, deeper than the boy is used to.

“It will be warm on the boat,” she says, encouragingly. “And you’ll remember it when you go inside. Think we can give it a try?”

“OK,” the boy says.

“OK!” the man, echoes.

It is she, though, who dreads what’s next. She has full confidence that the boat is sturdy, that the man’s skillful handling has secured it well. Intellectually, she knows there is no danger, accepts that memory, not fact, is at the root of this particular anxiety.

The man boards first, lifts the boy from the rocks onto the deck, then extends a hand to her. Her feet feel like stones.

“Hand me the bag,” he says, “it’ll make things easier.” She shrugs it from her shoulders and holds it out to him awkwardly. He gives the pack to the boy and tells him to put it in the cabin. When the boy is gone, he reaches out again to help her climb aboard. “If you’re going to make it all the way back home,” he says in a low voice, “you’re going to have to make peace with the river.”

Slowly, she takes his hands, lets one foot leave the ground, then lets the other meet it on the deck. They are standing together like this, waiting for her to regain steadiness, when the boy rockets back to them.

“It’s warm in there! Come on!” he yells, and the three of them make their way to shelter.


Stacks of newspapers, bound in twine, line one side of the room. Across from them is a small berth, covered in a pile of blankets and pillows. She is struck, again, by the lack of mementos. There is almost nothing personal in the cabin to identify the space as belonging to this particular man. But it is both comfortable and somehow comforting in its coziness.

She wonders, as she has from their first meeting, where else he sleeps and how long he stays in any one place as he makes his stops up and down the river. Though they have gotten to know one another well enough, he is still selective about the details he shares. The gaps, she knows, are intentional.

He gestures to bed, tells her to set down her things and make herself at home. He chuckles as he says this, acknowledging her uneasiness on the water.

The boat rocks in the wind, and by instinct she presses her back and hands into the cabin wall to steady herself. She does not enjoy the feeling of unpredictability.

The man steps out to the galley and rummages for food.  “I’m running low on provisions,” he calls back to them, “but I think there’s enough for tonight.”

The boy is perched on his knees next to her, face pressed to the window as he watches for lightning strikes. Storms thrill him, she knows. Soon he will ask her for a familiar story about them, and she hopes this will capture his full attention. She leans her head toward his ear and whispers, “Helen is our secret, remember?” The boy nods without looking at her. “We’ll save her story for when we are alone again, OK?” He nods again, and the sky lights up in response.

“Hope this will do,” the man says, crouching through the opening and carrying a platter of smoked fish, bread, and apples. He sets the platter on one of the stacks of newspapers and starts slicing an apple into the palm of his hand. “The bread’s a day or two old, so it might be a bit dry.”

“We have honey!” the boy says, remembering the treasure.

“We do,” she says, feeling queasy at the thought of food. “How about getting it out for us,” she adds, forcing a smile as she nods toward her pack.

The boy moves nimbly through the tight quarters and unties the string, expecting to find the package at the top, where he’d seen her put it. But the contents of the bag have shifted from her fall, and he has to dig around, feeling for the familiar shape. His fingers finally touch paper, and he reaches in with his other hand because the package is too large and heavy to manage otherwise.

He pulls the parcel from the bag and with great excitement starts peeling away the paper.

She realizes, too late, that it is not the honey he is unwrapping.

“What are these?” they boy asks, rubbing his hand on the dark, engraved front cover of a book.

Before she can answer, the man whistles. “Those,” he says, “aren’t supposed to exist on this side of the river.” He kneels down for closer inspection. “Those,” he says, looking at Katharine, “aren’t supposed to exist anywhere.”


Total word count as of 11/24/21: 10,450/50,000 (bird by bird…)

6 thoughts on “Sharptooth: 9

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