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       Eldnium, p.26

           Enoch Pyle, Jr
 
Several kilometers later, a figure appeared in the distance. It was a shadowy thing, moving and scurrying about some kind of contraption—a large wooden box on wheels. Landon watched closely as he drew nearer, and when the figure had finished messing with the thing, there was a loud POP, and something shot out over the water, spreading itself into a wide, flat sort of thing before splashing into the water.

  A fishing net, Landon thought. He must be human.

  Sure enough, Landon was soon close enough to make out a scruffy old man casting and retrieving his fishing net, stuffing any catch he found into a little wooden wagon.

  “Hello!” Landon called.

  The man turned, flashed Landon a smile, and said, “Hiyo!”

  Landon was now close enough to stretch out his hand. The man looked at it, unsure of what Landon wanted. He said, “Pardon, tyke. Yous have to catch your own fish.”

  “Oh, no,” Landon apologized. “That’s not what I meant. It’s just…it’s just a silly custom where I’m from.” He drew his hand away. “My name is Landon.”

  “Hiyo, Landon,” the man smiled. “I’m Ah’ni. What brings yous way out here?”

  “I’m looking for something. I’m not sure what, exactly, but if I could start by finding the nearest village, I could certainly use some food and water for my travels.” Landon tried to smile sheepishly. With nothing to barter, he thought it might be difficult to procure supplies without turning on a little charm.

  “Yous a long way from the village,” Ah’ni said. “But if yous pull mine wagon for meh, I’ll get yous there in one piece.”

  “Oh, of course,” Landon agreed. “I’d be happy to do whatever I can to repay you for your helpfulness.”

  “Jus’ pull’n the wagon’s fine,” the old man snorted. “But yous have to wait un’il I gots my fish’n in.”

  “Certainly. Anything I can do to help?”

  “Jus’ grab any fish that plop outta the wagon and set ‘em back in theres for me.” The old man wiped his nose on his sleeve and carried on pulling in the net.

  Landon did more than help wrangle feisty fish. When the next net was pulled in, he helped collect from it the half dozen fish that were caught. They were slimy things, covered in black and gray swirls, and each had a pair of antennae, something Landon had never seen on a fish. And as they worked at grappling with the greasy things, Landon noticed webs of skin between the old man’s fingers…something he’d never seen on a man.

  This went on until sundown, and finally the old man said, “A’ight. We best be mov’n.” And they collected the net and stuffed it into the firing machine, which the old man pulled on his own.

  Landon grabbed the handle of the wagon and followed the old man into the jungle.

  Ah’ni’s Story

 
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