The original title of this piece was “Short Attention Span Theater” and the document is still saved under that title. I should probably change that, but before I do, here’s some unrelated news. I am waiting to hear back about a piece of flash fiction that I submitted to “Every Day Fiction” (http://www.everydayfiction.com/) and I’m work shopping a short story via the Critters online review site (http://www.critters.org/). Critters is a lot of fun. If you write science fiction and are hungry for feedback, give it a try. Squirrel! Seriously, here’s a cute squirrel. Better enjoy it, before it vanishes.
Persephone lifted the net with her left hand and watched the water. Her first cast came back empty, her second snared two plastic bottles and the third a wad of cloth that turned out to be a dirty, but intact t-shirt.
“I thought you said, if it moved, it was a rat?” Persephone threw the balled up shirt into the bilge.
“You need to learn the difference between floating and moving.” Clara grabbed Persephone’s net before she could toss it at another bobbing object. “Be patient.”
“Sweet!” Clive interrupted. “Old Sol logo and everything. Bet it predates the metal riots.”
“Can I get the net back,” Persephone muttered. “I mean so I can continue to help improve your brother’s wardrobe?”
“Shh,” Arch said. “You feel that?”
It was a tap on the hull. A big tap. The boat rocked from the impact, but slowly stilled. Clive stopped smiling, put the t-shirt down and reached for his bag.
“Like I said, there’s a lot of stuff in the water.” Although Clara didn’t sound quite so sure this time.
Clive pulled a flashlight out of his bag and turned it on. The beam made a milk-white streak in the mist and painted a pale circle on the surface of the lagoon. Persephone could make out a few inorganic angles and curves. Clive moved the beam over the pile of floating garbage and was rewarded with a flash of red eye shine.
“Rat!” Clive shouted.
“Rats!” Clara corrected. There were multiple pairs of eyes now. “That’s a lot.” She flung Persephone’s net towards the cluster. She missed, swore and hauled the dripping net back into the boat. “Get me closer!”
Clive lunged towards the oars and nearly bobbled the flashlight. The garbage pile dimmed into an indistinct grey mass.
“Damn it, Clive! Light!”
“Do you want me to row or hold the flashlight?” Clive shouted.
Arch solved the problem by grabbing the torch. He swept the beam out over the water. Clive hauled on the oars.
“Poles at the ready! We’re nearly there!” Clara shouted.
They were nudging the loose pack edges of the garbage pile. The boat pushed aside small debris, but jerked every time it hit something larger. There was one particularly big thump, a knock on the bottom that made the small craft heel to port. Clara swore and grabbed for the gunwale. Clive struck something with the left oar and pushed off, tipping them back. The boat nudged to a stop and Arch steadied the flashlight.
“They’re coming out of the water.” Arch said.
The rats were and quickly, scraggly little black bodies shining in the flashlight beam, swarming over the island of loose plastic.
Persephone grabbed a boat pole and tried to slip the loop over the nearest rat. Clara had been right. It was awkward with one hand, but probably wouldn’t have been much better with two. The things were nimble and not inclined to walk into a noose. Her target sidestepped and scampered out of range of the flashlight. Clara wasn’t having much luck with the net either. She could get it over the animals, but the creatures simply dropped into the crevices between the floating debris and popped back up again once they were safely out of the net.
Persephone was trying another pass with her pole when the light went out inducing a stream of profanity from Clara.
“Shh,” Arch said. “Loud noises. Lights. No wonder they’re running. I killed the light to get them to calm down. Net them when the stampede stops.”
“If I can see them,” Clara grumbled. Though it wasn’t entirely dark out. The alleyways let in light from the barrel fires. It was a dim orange light, but enough to make out movement. Persephone could hear the scratching of tiny feet on plastic and the occasional splash, details she hadn’t noticed with the flashlight on. She readied her pole and flailed at one of the moving blobs. She hit something and managed to pull back on the rope with her splinted arm.
“I think I got one!” She shouted. There was definitely something small and alive twitching on the end of her boat pole. Unfortunately, there was also something large and alive in the water. It knocked against the hull, nearly tipping Persephone overboard. She swayed half-in, half-out of the boat, but managed to keep her grip on the pole. Arch grabbed her collar and they both crashed down between the seats. Something black and slick groped over the gunwale and retracted. Seconds later there were five more tendrils gently snaking over the side.
“What the hell are they?” Clive didn’t wait for an answer. He swung an oar at the things.
“No!” Persephone shouted, but Clive had already chopped the nearest one. The boat shook, rocked by dozens of grasping arms and the water seethed with countless more.
“What they are is poisonous. Other than that, I don’t know. Anyone have a rope and a grapnel? We need to get off this boat and I don’t fancy a swim.” Persephone rolled off Arch, got to her knees and reached for the back seat. It did double duty as the lid for a storage compartment. “You have anything useful stashed in here?”
The tube fish were engaged in a tug-of-war with the boat, giving Clara and Persephone time to pull out two life vests, a roll of duct tape, an anchor and a flare gun. Arch grabbed the gun and aimed at the water.
“Is that a good –“ Persephone’s question was cut off by the pop, hiss and splash of the flare. It burned as it sank lighting up the murky water, but other than the garbage there wasn’t anything to see out there. The tentacles had vanished.
“Take that you bastards!’ Clive shouted.
“Umm…less shouting, more rowing?” Persephone suggested. Clive grabbed up both oars and sculled them towards the nearest alley. Persephone untied the rope from the anchor weight.
“We’re good. They’re gone. What are you doing?” Arch asked.
“Getting prepared.” Persephone picked up a life vest.
“For what?” Arch asked.
“That.” Persephone tossed the vest overboard. It floated astern where it was grabbed and dragged down by a tentacle. Clive rowed faster Persephone tied the roll of duct take onto the anchor rope.
“Is it the movement? Should we try to sit still?” Clara suggested. Clive snorted and worked even harder on the oars.
“They probably feel vibrations, but I think smell’s more important.” Persephone said.
“They track the smell of plastic?” Arch tapped the polycarbonate hull.
“No. Me,” Persephone said. “They got my scent during the break in. I touched the net. That probably brought them running when I used it. I touched the life vest. Hell, I even had my feet in the water when they came and pulled down Japeth’s apartment. Smelled me all the way from center city.”
“You sure?” Arch asked.
“What else could it be?” Persephone’s question was punctuated by a loud scrabbling from the bilge. Clara grabbed the remaining life vest, Clive readied an oar and Persephone prepared to sling her makeshift grapnel at a nearby building. Arch flipped on the flashlight and aimed it down into the boat.
“Rat, maybe?” The rodent was still attached to the boat pole, but had managed to drag itself under the center bench. It was now trying to chew its way out of the noose that Persephone had looped around its chest. Arch picked up the pole, whisking the animal through the air.
“Hey. Careful with my rat,” Persephone protested.
“Just trying something.” Arch dangled the squirming animal near Clara. “Deploy operation rat decoy.”
Clara hesitated for a moment, but then her face brightened and she held up the life vest. Initially, the panicked animal just snapped at it, but quickly decided that clinging to something was better than hanging in mid air. It sunk its nails in and tried to run. Arch let the thing scurry over the orange fabric for a couple of seconds than pulled it back. Clara threw the now rat-pocked vest as far as she could. It landed with a splash and an eruption of tentacles. During the apparent feeding frenzy, the group made their escape.