“We aren’t going to get back to the cave before dark if we don’t leave soon,” Michelle said uneasily.
It wasn’t that she objected to sleeping out on the beach – okay, she did object to sleeping out on the beach. She absolutely objected to sleeping out on the beach. One of the inevitable rainstorms or the fog was going to roll in overnight and she was going to get wet, again. She didn’t want to deal with that.
Most of the group was in some stage of an afternoon nap, after far more food than they were used to. Few, if any, were awake yet.
“Do we have to?” Noah asked lazily. “I’m with – whatshername. We could just live here for the rest of our lives. Fish. Water. What’s not to love?”
“Oh, that’s it. Up you get, lazybones, before you eat so much fish you turn into one.”
“I wonder if that can happen,” he said, not moving. Michelle got to her feet and tugged unsuccessfully at his arm.
“Up. What can I bribe you with?”
“Nothing. Well. You could penalize me and not bring me more food.”
“Right. Good idea.”
“I was kidding,” he said mournfully.
He met her frustrated gaze and smiled.
“Come on, Michelle. Lighten up. We haven’t died from a night sleeping rough yet, and everyone’s tired.”
“Does anyone want to come back with me to the cave tonight?” Michelle asked. “Because sleeping on the beach is not something I’m doing today.”
She’d done enough of it in her lifetime for a lifetime. She could live with sleeping under cover for the rest of forever. And yet, when no one stirred, Michelle found herself sitting next to Noah with a sigh. Was this peer pressure? It felt like peer pressure.
They woke to cold and fog and giant frogs. Michelle became aware of this because one of them was nuzzling her face. It was sticky.
It licked her. That was a sensation she wouldn’t forget for a while.
Michelle blinked her eyes open and took in the scene. The sleeping group had been invaded in the night by – frogs was as good a word as any – large, damp-looking animals, with huge powerful hind legs and big limpid eyes. They reminded her for a dizzying moment of her alien visitor with the camera, except that had been more blue and these were a nice calm green with stripes of grey along their sides. Each one had a slightly different pattern of spots and stripes. They were sitting, lying, and crouching around the group of sleeping humans. Hers was the most inquisitive. It licked her face again.
“Guys? Guys,” said Michelle, voice rising. “We might have a situation.”
They did have a situation, but it didn’t end up being such a bad one. One piercing scream (Kitty) and the horse-sized beasts scattered, hopping variously along the beach and back into the water.
Michelle sat up and rubbed sleep and frog spit from her eyes. There was a sea serpent out in the water there, writhing around.
“I think it drove them in here,” she said, thinking aloud. “Hunting them. I guess now we know what the sea serpents eat.”
“Great. I’m honestly more concerned about what I’m eating,” said Caleb. “Let’s get going so we can get some stuff done today.”
Michelle refrained from snapping that she’d wanted to do that yesterday. Just because she had frog spit in her hair because they all wanted to act like they were having a beach party-
She didn’t speak to anyone on the walk back to the cave, even though Andy tried to talk to her. She just wasn’t in the mood. It might be that she wasn’t as thrilled at sharing her space with a ton of guys and girls as she’d thought she’d be. It might just be the giant frogs that they were lucky weren’t carnivorous. It could be a lot of things.
The sun was just rising, and she had to shade her eyes against it as they walked. They left the sea serpent and the giant frogs behind them. Slowly the cave bluff came into view, sloping gently up out of the sand. It was easy to miss from a distance, unless you were watching for it. Michelle led the way, over the narrow ledge that defined the path into the cave, and swept a hand out to encompass it.
“Welcome home, everyone.”
Suddenly, everything was busy. Conversation on the walk had split them up into groups – Noah, Dev, and Kitty in the cave, making everything tidy and sorting out beds for everyone. An additional shelter with further privacy was set aside for later, with Andy’s mental addendum to use the piece of the shuttle to build it. Michelle was taking Caleb and Zack out to the ocean to show them fishing techniques and bring in some lunch. That left Andy with Sam and Louisa and a discussion of tool creation and use.
“I think we should find some clay,” Sam was saying. “People used to make water carrying jugs out of clay.”
“I think we can do a little better than that,” said Andy. “The water skin’s okay.”
“Ain’t nothing wrong with it,” said Louisa, “But it ain’t what I’d call ideal, neither.”
Andy nodded in acknowledgement of that.
“Ideal would be all of everyone having one of their own, for starters,” Andy said. “And a water barrel at the cave.”
“What would we make a water barrel out of?”
“Trunk of one of these trees,” Andy said promptly. “They’re thick enough. Burn out the inside, maybe? People used to do that. What I really want is a nice long saw, though.
“What do people make cement out of?” Sam asked. “That seems more modern, somehow.”
“You need really high temperatures for modern cements, but, heh, old fashioned ones? Likes the romans used? Lime, sand, gravel, volcanic ash optional… it’s possible. Not a fast project, we’d have to figure it out. And find lime.”
Andy was beginning to get better at distinguishing between fast projects and slow projects.
“Why not just carve the wood?” asked Louisa. “Keep it simple.”
“Mostly because it behaves more like soft stone than hard wood, except for how it burns. Have I told you my theory?”
“Not this one, anyway,” said Sam. Maybe Andy had been explaining a lot of theories as they walked. Still, Sam and Louisa had wanted to see the river, hadn’t they?
“I think it’s like a coral. Organic, but grows rocky shells.”
The first thing they did was indulge in their turn for baths. Following Sam’s lead they rubbed mud from the river’s edge all over, including in their hair, and then just walked right in to rinse it off. Andy thought it had something to recommend it compared to washing in the ocean with sand. A lot of things to recommend it, actually, she wouldn’t spend the next week feeling salt everywhere. Andy and Louisa spent some time talking hair, and Sam borrowed Andy’s pocket knife and Andy’s hands to get her haircut more even.
“You know how we were going around and sharing our feelings last night?” Louisa asked. “What I really want? Change of clothes. These are f***ing rank.”
“What are our options?” Sam asked. “Fish skin, seaweed, grass?”
“I noticed someone did something interesting to wrap the handle of one of your knives,” said Andy. “Any idea what that was made of?”
“Just green gunk Kitty found,” said Sam.
“I definitely need to talk to her,” said Andy, sliding back into her damp shirt. It would dry on her, it always did. “Anything you two want to do while we’re here, or shall we just refill the water and head back?”
“Um… food,” said Sam. “Let’s get some food.”
“Right,” said Andy. “Let’s do a mess of those green floats Noah likes, balance out the fish they’ll be bringing back. Grab any driftwood you see, we’ll want that for the fire when we start smoking the fish.”
Hunting the floating translucent green marbles was fun. You waded up to your knees in the warm river waters, feet down in the cool brown muck of the bottom, and the green globes floated in swaths around your feet, caught by the river eddies. The sky overhead was a warm blue with a few fleeting clouds, and the river delta swept out in front of them in a broad mad swath of black trees full of green plants and darting fish and bigger things.
It was Sam who started making it a competition, laughing and splashing her new rivals. They were filling a pair of carrybags Andy had brought for whatever they came across, which probably wouldn’t come to that much per person. She wasn’t the only one whose captured marble – and they were slippery, too – went into her mouth, not a bag.
“Are these actually food?” Louisa asked. “Or are they just something to trick our bellies with?”
“They’re probably mostly water,” said Andy. “But that’s okay, you know? So’s lettuce.”
“Never liked lettuce,” was Louisa’s reply, but it didn’t stop her from popping two into her mouth.
They walked back through the dunes, thanks to a bit of (very clever, if Andy might say so) work of Andy’s with string and angles and pacing. It cut quite a bit of time off the walk from the cave to the part of the river where the river started tasting sweet instead of salty. A thick bag of future salad banged an uneven tattoo on Andy’s back as she walked, her skin sandals slapping the sand. The other two girls still only had the cheap sneakers they’d landed in, much the worse for wear. Sam’s were knotted by the laces and carried around her neck.
“You two want shoes like mine?” Andy asked. “I’ve been saving fish skins the past few days, so we’ve got the materials.”
“Sure,” said Sam. “This sand’s hot.”
Louisa shrugged, and ‘shoes for everyone’ went on Andy’s mental list along with a huge number of other things.