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Earth Descended: 1.05

by Ventomology

The afternoon sun beats down on Petro's arms. His armpits weep with sweat, and his nose is a deep, dark pink. The skin will probably peel tomorrow.

He's close to his destination. The oily stench of fish clouds the air, and Petro knows that the fish fields are about two and a half days from the village. Every time he turns around a tree-covered hill, he expects to find the place. The wide, black path curves around one last hillside, and Petro stops in his tracks.

Below him, woven into a valley of pines and strange, metal trees, are the fields. They look more like a quilt than the farmlands at home; the patches span an entire spectrum of pink, with deep blues, dark greens, and shiny metal boxes interspersed. Black rods and cables twist in and out of the fabric like a deranged top stitch.

Petro holds a kerchief over his nose as he descends and wishes the path had fewer switchbacks. The sooner he can get in and get out, the sooner he can see Ming again. And breathe.

By the time he makes it to the first of the fields, Petro is mostly accustomed to the smell. He ties the kerchief around his head, hoping to keep the fishy stench out at least a little, but more because he needs two hands, and having something over his nose makes him feel better. The usual sounds of the forest surround him—the pines rustle, and the birds chirp, and his footsteps beat a soft rhythm against the ground—but underneath it all thumps a wild, erratic beat.

The undead fish flap on the ground like a hundred children patting their legs as fast as they can. The sound cuts under everything else, but grows louder and louder the further Petro walks. He follows the path around a square of trees and then stops.

In front of him stretches a grid of pink salt fields. Some are pastel, others are deep magenta, and others are deep, dark blue. In the shallow waters, the undead fish flail and flop, their silvery scales sparkling in the sun. Their dead eyes all seem to rotate toward him, pinning Petro in place, though none of the fish stop flopping.

All Petro has to do now is grab a fish. He's made it. He only needs proof. Supposedly, the undead fish are easy to catch, but Petro's stomach sloshes at the thought of touching them. They must be slimy. And they stink. And he's not exactly excited about carrying a gross, dead-but-still-moving fish home.

With a gulp he heads for the closest salt patch. This one is only pastel pink, like sky in the first minute of sunset, and its surface wobbles with the fishes' constant splashing. There are certainly fields further in that are denser, so thick with fish that the water is hardly visible beneath their shiny scales and bony tails, but Petro figures he can catch something here. How fast can a dead fish move in shallow saltwater?

He drops his pack and peels off his boots, then his socks. As Petro tucks his socks delicately into his shoes, he tells himself that he isn't stalling. "You'll be fine," he mutters. "There's nothing to worry about. The fish are dead already. They're just preserved funny." He rolls his pants up to his knees with obsessive attention to the creases and the lengths.

When there's nothing left to do, he forces himself to stand. "Ming wouldn't hesitate," he says. He grimaces at the fish, groans, and steps into the salt field.

Petro is so glad he doesn't have any cuts on his feet. If he did, he'd probably be squawking in pain right now. The saltwater in the field is so thick with granules that he can feel them swirling between his toes, slowing the movement of the water from smooth to slushy. Thankful that no one is around to see his twisted, disgusted face, he wades in further, eyes tracking the fish as they keep flopping. They don't move to get away from him.

Petro sloshes up to a particularly big, mostly whole fish, and wrinkles his nose. Rubbing his hands together in reluctant anticipation, he watches it splash helplessly. Its dead eyes look right into his soul.

He grabs it by its tail and hauls it out of the water, and a rain of saltwater drips off its eerily dry scales. The thing feels more like a dead insect than a fish, though it is far more substantial. With the same eerie, unrelenting rhythm as before, the fish swings in Petro's grip, muscles spasming under his fingers so evenly that he could hold the thing up to a drum and it would keep time for him. Surprisingly, its skin is dry and cracked; the saltwater has drained out most of the moisture.

That's the only thing that convinces Petro that the fish is dead. It's far too dry to be alive. Adjusting his grip, he splashes back to the path, wincing when he pulls his feet out of the brine. He can already feel the coating of salt about to form, hardening against his skin as the water evaporates.

Rather than soak his socks in saltwater, Petro leaves his feet bare as he stuffs the fish into an empty section of his bag. The fish’s muscles keep flexing, beating against the fabric of his bag in that same steady beat. It’s going to be uncomfortable to carry around. And his bag is going to stink for weeks.

His feet are still damp, so Petro looks around once more. In the middle of this batch of salt fields is a strange metal cube that rises from the flatlands like a sacred alien monument. Spidery legs pour from its sides, and a great pipe rises from its roof, and the whole thing shines like a beacon in the afternoon sun.

If he were Ming, Petro would explore it. He stares at it one more moment, and then squishes down every curious instinct inside him. He isn’t Ming, and he isn’t going to poke his nose into strange metal boxes. He’s going home, where he’ll share his weird salted fish, and life will move on.

Everything is normal. Petro puts his shoes back on, ignoring the uncomfortable, sandy texture of the salt under his socks, and replaces his pack. The fish’s movement thuds dully against his back, softened by his tarp and sleeping bag. When he walks, his steps line up perfectly with the rhythm.

Something rustles in the trees, and Petro looks up, but it’s only a heron. The bird dives into the nearest salt field, and as it twists in the air, Petro does a double take.

The heron’s wing should not be attached to that body. It’s impossibly torn, hanging on by a thread, and the bird’s black feathers are marred by old, black-brown blood. Petro’s stomach turns, and he turns with it, not watching as the heron snaps up a fish.

He’s had enough of the undead for one day.

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641 Reviews

Points: 46598
Reviews: 641

Mon Oct 21, 2019 8:48 am
Panikos wrote a review...

Heya, Vent! Before we get started, I just want to say that I absolutely loved this chapter. It's definitely my favourite one so far.

Small Comments

The undead fish flap on the ground like a hundred children patting their legs as fast as they can.

This simile feels pretty obscure. It doesn't make me think 'aha, exactly!', because how often do a hundred children pat their legs quickly? I'm sure there's a better sound you could liken it to.

In front of him stretches a grid of pink salt fields. Some are pastel [pink], others are deep magenta, and others are deep, dark blue.

It feels incongruous to suggest that all of the salt fields are pink only to then say that some are dark blue. Lovely description though.

Petro is so glad he doesn't have any cuts on his feet. If he did, he'd probably be squawking in pain right now.

I kind of think that this description would be richer if he did have cuts on his feet, and he was actually hissing and spitting in pain. After all that walking, he's likely to be a bit blistered, right? And Lady Mysterio is right that the salt should aggravate his sunburn.

Their dead eyes

Its dead eyes

I'm probably just being finicky, but I didn't like that this description cropped up twice in such quick succession. You could easily substitute one for 'blank eyes' or 'glassy eyes' or something.

Overall Thoughts

The end of this chapter is so perfectly eerie, with the dead heron flying overhead! I love that Petro is clearly perturbed by it, but not in a nonplussed way. He treats the undead like an accepted fact of life, even if he is grossed out by it. I love that. It's so surreal and original and strange, the idea that all of these fish are preserved in saltwater, dead but still flapping around. This is the sort of richness of world-building that I was looking for, because it shows us how subtly this world deviates from our own. Your description was on point, as well - I could picture the scene and the colour, and how thick the water was with salt granules, and the sound of the fish flapping and slapping in the fields. It completely engrossed me from start to finish.

The metal box is clearly significant, but I'm glad you took the opportunity to demonstrate Petro's character by having him ignore it. Finally a character I can relate to! It's kind of refreshing to see a protagonist (albeit a joint one) who doesn't run headlong towards unexplained phenomena and risk launching themselves into danger. It makes him a lot more real, even if his passiveness could be a tricky think to temper as the story progresses. Still, you've got Ming to be a foil to him.

I am still itching to know the significance of this task and what he and Ming are being tested on, because it doesn't seem like they've been given hugely dangerous missions. Bringing back a dead fish is gross, but not that difficult. That said, I'm not actually sure how old Ming and Petro are, so if they're fairly young, maybe the expedition is about them demonstrating their independence out in the wilderness more than anything else. I can't wait to find out a little more.

So, overall, no complaints for this chapter. I loved reading it, and I think you kept the pacing and the description in perfect balance. I'm so fascinated by the world they're in, now more than ever. I can't wait for the next bit.

Keep writing! :D

Ventomology says...

I don't know what's up with my notifications, but I'm so sorry I didn't see your other reviews until today! It's good to know that I'm finally settling into something that works! I messed around with my chapter planning a lot as I wrote this chapter, so hopefully the pacing and world building will become more smooth.

And yes... repetition is a thing I have to refine. I got away with it in some other works, but I think I need a different approach here.

Thanks so much! I promise I'm getting to foxglove soon. I just had a project due today at uni.

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37 Reviews

Points: 215
Reviews: 37

Sat Oct 19, 2019 11:36 pm
LadyMysterio wrote a review...

Hey, let me start by saying that you are very good at describing things it really gives youa good "word' picture. I like how describe the colors or feelings of things like how fish muscles feel against his hand or the salt drying.

I noticed how you described how the sun was beating down on his arms, but when he got the fish you didn't mention anything about his arms stinging a bit. If the sun was beating down on his arms all day, they would probably be a bit sun burnt, so I would suggest adding something about his arms stinging slightly when grabbing the fish.

Again this is an assumption, so there's a chance his arms may not be sun burnt, depending on his time in the sun, but he seemed to have been in the sun for quite a long.

As I've said you describe things very well, it makes for a pleasant read.
Keep up the good work!

-Lady Mysterio.

Ventomology says...

Ooh yeah, should probably be more consistent about when things are painful. Thanks so much for the tip!

Oh gosh this is so far from a lemur. That's pitiful.
— Jack Hanna