Bewildering Stories

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Chapter 3: The River

part 3

by Tala Bar

Gaia began in issue 88.
Chapter 3 began in issue 97.
Chapter 3, part 2 concluded in issue 99.

The industrial zone had been left far behind them. Dar was relieved, feeling that was their hardest experience to date. She did not bother to think what was ahead of them. At least, they could go on with their mission more easily, never mind what that mission was supposed to be.

They found for the first time the remains of a road that had stretched along the riverbank. It was in shambles, like everything else they had met on their way. Great lumps of asphalt mixed with gravel were strewn everywhere, in some places half covered by water. The newly created mounds checkered the area, interspersed with the remains of an obviously flat land. Walking, and keeping their route by the watercourse, had become easier, even pleasant in places.

They walked on throughout that day, a pleasant, clear, early autumn day. They made only a few short stops without taking a long rest, which they left for the evening and night. The weather stayed dry throughout the night, the level ground and the safe distance from the water assured them of a comfortable sleep.

The next day was hot again. Heavy haze lay over the river, hiding its landscape and whatever lay behind it. By midday they felt sticky and exhausted, with the sweat pouring over their faces and bodies. There was no shade anywhere, and they made their midday stop right by the waterfront, in the hopeless idea of getting some cool air.

‘Still, Dar thought, ‘having fresh water is so much more important than fire, at least in this hot weather.’ She obviously avoided thinking about the coming winter.

They filled the pot with water and soaked a bar of dried fruit in it, trying to get it dissolved without fire. They reclined against the strewn lumps of asphalt and bits of concrete, both falling into a badly needed daytime nap. They woke refreshed when the sun inclined in the west, resuming their travelling until evening darkened almost into night.

As they munched their dried food, Dar begun for the first time wondering how long it was going to last. The land they had been passing, especially since leaving the farming area, was incredibly barren of all kinds of food. What were they going to do when it came to its end? She did not really want to think about it, delaying trying to solve the problem until it actually happened. They might encounter yet even greater hardships and danger, to worry about food…

She did not reveal her thoughts to Nim. For the time being, they were sitting comfortably, leaning at a boulder with what was a pleasant change from the pieces of iron, concrete and glass of the industrial area. Sipping cold water from the river to soften their food, Dar avoiding thinking it might still be too polluted for their health.

The next few days past in a similar way, although the weather turned more changeable. Sometimes light clouds partially covered the sun, making the air cooler during the day; when these were gone, it turned hot and hazy again. The nights were becoming colder, necessitating the warmer clothes they were lucky enough to have in their sacks. On days when the sky was clear and the haze lifted, they were able to see the view on the other side of the river.

“The river is widening,” Dar announced one evening. “Have you noticed?”

“I have,” Nim answered, not very interested. “Does it matter?”

“I don’t know,” the older woman reflected. She had an idea the river was turning into a lake, which stretched up to a range of mountains in the far distance.

“Is that important?” Nim repeated her question, turning to look at the physician, who had so naturally become her guide and mentor.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” Dar answered.

“We can go on as before,” Nim said, reasonably, “it’s still a shore, whether it’s a river or a lake.” She reflected for a moment. “We can walk all round the lake, if it is a lake...”

“You may be right,” Dar said, smiling at the girl. She was happy to realize Nim was beginning to have her own thoughts, and expressing them. She gazed toward the range of mountain on other side of the enlarged stretch of water, whose tops formed a new horizon.

They halted, as usual, when the sun was sinking, dropped their backpacks and stretched their weary bodies. Dar looked toward the sunset, lifting a hand to shade her eyes from being blinded by sunrays. A soft, silvery mist formed over the flickering water, the air filled with moving interchangeable pastel waves.

“Look, Dar,” she heard Nim’s voice by her side, full of wonder, “this area doesn’t seem to have been touched at all by the upheaval. Just like the wood!”

Dar turned. Looking at the girl, it seemed she was maturing right before her eyes. Her figure was erect, her gaze straight, and she was looking fearlessly forward with green eyes that looked very attractive, with jewel-like transparency. Her full mouth was slightly open in a kind of anticipation. She was a woman readying herself for an unknown future, excited but unafraid.

Averting her gaze, Dar turned to where Nim was pointing. They were standing on a narrow stretch of flat land along the shore. Flatter than anything she had seen since her escape from the devastated City. There was no upturned land here, no lumps of earth or concrete. Instead, green, soft grass blanketed the soil, dotted with tiny, star-like of blossoms in blue and yellow.

“Isn’t it so lovely!” Nim cried.

“But I don’t understand,” Dar mused. “On such a small, limited spot… You’re right, it is lovely. Let’s be careful not to spoil it.”

Proceed to chapter 4.

Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar

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