Yubash tried again, swimming directly into the stream, trying never to let it hit her on her side. She felt the water's force and every time its direction shifted she turned straight into it. Little by little she made headway upstream. At one point she found a scooped-out place in the rock that caught the water coming down and held on to it for a moment. She rested there and when she was ready again she renewed her progress. She found more such hollow places and used them all. When the stream finally leveled out at the top of the cascade she shot into it, catching a spark of sunlight on her tail with the last splash. Below, Shaggyback sat on his haunches in the middle of the stream and curled his lips.
Upstream Yubash met with new impressions--the sound of stone against wood, traces of smoke resting on the surface of the water--but she didn't make much of these. The days of travel and her encounter with Shaggyback had spent much of her strength. She no longer reflected on the purpose of her journey or what must happen when it ended. She only knew that she had come this far and now she must finish it.
She saw the shore dwellers ahead holding out their nets and leaped to clear the last of the shallows between herself and them. As she landed in the pool just in front of them she could see their feet shuffling and waiting. Before coming to the surface again she breathed deeply one last time, saw the way sunlight bounced off pebbles in the water and broke into a thousand reflections. For the last time she tasted and smelled everything that the river carried inside it. And then with a final burst of energy she leaped again, into the net of the nearest of the shore people.
The fibers of it closed around her, as did the shouts of excitement that erupted from these people. She could no longer breathe and her mouth gaped open. Her body went into spasms as she felt herself lifted up. She continued to convulse, and several hands grabbed and held her so that her spine wouldn't break. She wondered how long this unbearable ache of suffocation would last. The answer came when they held her up over the water and she saw the knife above her. She didn't have to watch it very long, for it came down quickly. Her head jerked backward as the blade sliced through her throat. Only after a moment passed did she feel the pain of it. As someone turned her over she saw her blood falling into the river. The knife came down again on her other side, and then she felt nothing.
© 1996, 2000 ruth pettis