The website io9.com posts a piece of concept art every Saturday challenging its viewers to write a piece of flash fiction based on that art. Stories must be less than eight hundred words. As of the time of this blog posting, there are forty-two images online. There may be more and I failed to uncover them by searching for the wrong terms, but eh. I think forty-two’s a plenty big pool to draw from. I’ve assigned each a number, with the newest being 42 and the oldest being 1. Through the end of the month, I’m going to generate a random number within that range (updated as they add more art, of course) and write a piece of flash fiction inspired by that piece of art (generating a new number should I pick an already used image.) Exciting, no?
This piece is entitled “Beneath the Waters of Holland Swamp,” inspired by the illustration “Go Fish” by Monica Langlois. I don’t own this image, I claim no rights to this image, and should Monica stumble across this post and demand that the image be removed, I will gladly do so. Also, you should go check out Monica’s website at: http://monicalanglois.com//.
Anyway, let’s begin!
The waters of Holland Swamp are cool and calm. The creatures that make their homes here, the insects and the fish and the frogs and the snakes and the mammals, go about their business heedless of anything but the desire to eat, to mate, to avoid the things that would eat them. For all the noise, the humming and pulsing of life, it is peaceful here. Things are as they should be.
We are content.
An annelid appears before us in the water. It wriggles helplessly, its flesh impaled on a hook tied to a string. Its writhings attract the attention of a catfish. The creature circles the worm, swims in place, considers it carefully. It darts forward, swallows the annelid whole, and attempts to dart away. But there is no escape. The hook is caught in its mouth, and the string pulls it back. In a single instant, the fish is yanked up and out of the water.
The humans have returned.
We reach out with our senses. The humans must be nearby if they are catching fish with hooks again. It has been years since they last ventured into our swamp, and we must have grown complacent indeed if they could slip in unnoticed and begin exerting their will in this place. We find it, a single heartbeat unlike all the others, a note of dissonance in our perfect song.
It is standing on our head.
Another annelid is lowered into the water before our very eyes, squirming in as much pain and fear as such a simple creature can feel. We feel for the catfish that was caught and find it atop our head as well, confused and frightened in a shallow body of water. The humans have imprisoned it, and now they seek to capture more.
This will not stand. It has been too long since they have last encountered us, and it would seem they have forgotten the lessons they learned at that time. We must teach them once more.
We reach out and take the worm in our hand. It is a small thing and it will not survive being crushed in our grip, but it would not have survived being eaten by a fish or impaled by metal either. We thank it for its sacrifice, and we pull on the string. The human pulls back, doubtless thinking they have caught another innocent fish. We begin to stand and we pull harder still, and soon we are standing up and out of the water and the human is dangling like an annelid from the pole they were using to fish.
The human is just a female larva. This is troubling. In the past we have simply taken the humans in our hands and crushed them, leaving their remains for the swamp to make use of. But killing human larvae always just brings more humans. We must take a different approach then to keep them from intruding in our swamp. We consider showing her the pain she inflicted upon the catfish and the worms, but humans weigh too much to hang from the hooks they use. The metal simply pulls right through their mouths, we have learned, even with larvae.
We try to think of the perfect thing to say to this little human. We pull her before our eyes and examine her closely. Her heart is pounding in her chest like a bird’s. Her eyes have gone wide. The air around her is acrid with the scent of human fear. Her mouth is open, but she is speechless.
“Hm.” Our voice is a low rumble that echoes through the air like a blast of thunder. The creatures of the swamp scatter. We snort. “Too small.”
We throw the human into the water. She will flounder, but she will remember how to swim, and she will make for the shore, for her village, for her home, and after she gets there, she will never come into our swamp again.