Pole goes in the water. Pole jabs the bottom. Push the pole away and pull it out at the same time. Go forward. Turning is harder, but goes the same way. That’s what Pop always told me before he died on a ferrying run gone bad. He was gone now, so the ferry was mine.
It was a shitty raft, moved by a long pole. It took a lot of raw strength and quick thinking. Pop had been saving up for a real boat, but he lost his money when he went underwater. All I had was what the Spirits let return: his raft, his pole, and his teachings.
I almost brained an otter when I stopped paying attention, and quickly stopped. It looked up at me and chirped. “Go.” I shooed. “Git.” I bit down on the pipe leaf in my mouth, and the sweet flavor calmed me as the otter swam away. It had weird marks on its head, and its tail was black-tipped. I narrowed my eyes at it. Weird critters meant weirdness if a person was careless. I looked around and checked my compass. All was clear in the direction I needed to go, at least for now. That could change quickly.
Absently, I looked at the people I was giving a ride. Not one of them looked like they didn’t struggle like anyone else in Icesog. Maybe they struggled more. Wasn’t my business, though. I looked back at my surroundings and continued on, until I heard a splash. I stopped the raft and looked back. “What was that?” I demanded. They looked nervous suddenly. My eyes looked around. They dropped the anchor. I walked over and began to pull it up. Something wasn’t right.
I wasn’t willing to go down like Pop, so I steered us on a limited line to a nearby island and unloaded the lot onto it. It tipped a bit, but the raft was shaking now, and no longer safe. I ordered the idiots to shift around so I could get on, and they shifted… just enough to make it impossible for me to get on without tipping it all the way.
“Git to yer left, old lady.” I grunted. “Boy, to your right.”
They moved the wrong way. “Other way!”
They kept going. The raft was shaking bad.
I stuck my pole into the water and tried to keep stable with it as I searched for some place I could go. These fares were shit, and if they made no move to save me, I’d stop trying to save them. They were on the only island, and they seemed to be trying to sink it on purpose!
I glared at them, and the raft started to shift under my feet. I pushed it, and the anchor gave just enough for me to avoid tipping right off. Again, I tried to pull the rope. It resisted. I gave it a huge pull and it shifted. That was the hard part. I pulled it up and stared at a stone sculpture. It seemed to stare back at me. I felt ready to puke. The water continued to shift under my raft. I had no kid back home or anyone to get the raft if the spirits took it back home. The shifting became more violent, and my passengers began to laugh as I struggled. The heavy stone thing was all that kept me from being safe. I tried to kick it off, but it stuck. Finally, I grabbed my knife and cut the anchor off. I could find something else heavy to use some other time. The rope snaked into the water as I dropped the stone, and I poled fast.
Bump! Bump! Something pounded at the back of my raft real hard, trying to knock me down. I felt tugging at my pole, and fog rolled in. The floating islands became spooky, moving shadows. Even Pop couldn’t have handled this.
I was sure I was gonna die.
The pounding and grabbing and bumping kept on, and I finally just dropped onto my raft, just to keep on it instead of falling in with whatever was under the water. “Help!” I screamed as I left the passengers behind. They were still laughing, but even harder. One of their little ones fell into the water and was laughing so hard he went under, and none of them tried to help him.I spotted something as I laid on my raft and held on. It was an empty, silver-foil envelope with a stamp in it.
Those idiots were taking bad drugs while on a raft, in unhappy waters! No wonder they didn’t care. Suddenly, it smacked me. They were the bad fares, the ones that travelled to Icesog to die on drugs in the duke’s patrolled waters, so family back home could get money. Anger made my belly hot, and as something lifted its huge head in front of my raft, I swung my pole at it. It fell, and a bump from the back sent me forward over it.
They wanted to die? They could die. I wasn’t going to be part of their stupid plan, though. I had a home to get to, and maybe even some warm food.
I began poling faster. There were no animals or anything ahead of me, and it looked like the islands were closing in ahead. “Wait!” I called out. It was stupid, but hell, maybe the spirits would let me through! Before I knew it, I zipped through and they closed behind and around me. I was trapped, but hopefully, if the islands’ roots were long enough, I wasn’t going to end up as bait for whatever monster had been chasing me. I clambered onto one of the islands that had a tree on it and held tight to the trunk as I gripped my pole and knife.
Stupidly, I looked around for any sign of the swamp spirits that either just saved me, or just doomed me.
Some time later, I woke up. Real land was nearby, as well as my house. My raft was pulled onto shore, and the local innkeeper was scolding me to wake up and get down. My legs let out under me, and I fell into the shallow marsh water. I was laughing too hard to breathe, and she had to haul me out of the icy muck.