In the quicksand of Dona, he waits. Saer sees nothing, though, as he tiptoes close by. Still, Saer searches the sand. He’s heard about the monster. Today, the creature made things personal.
Saer stares up to the grey marsh tree where rope-like strings hang from it. The ropes would entice anyone to climb up its limbs, and temptation for a child is difficult to ignore. Hands clasped into fists at Saer’s side, the marsh tree is the only one he’s ever seen. Gods, laugh, it’s almost as if the Creator placed it beside Quickie on purpose.
Saer’s fear is trampled by rage.
He knows what his grandson wanted: Just a look at Quickie. One evening, when they’d stared up to the golden starred lights, his grandson had told him his plan to climb the marsh tree to see the monster. The child said he’d be safe from the beast. The grandfather did what any grandfather would have done—he told Ron not to do it. But as little boys are prone to do, he discarded his grandfather’s advice and did what he wanted. Or, that’s what Ron’s stricken, shaking friend Astrid said when she returned and told the people in Gerstar what happened to Ron. Still, Ron’s only six-years-old and should be allowed to make some mistakes—
No! Shaking his head, Saer won’t believe it—not yet.
“Where are you, Quicky?” Saer shouts. The old man stomps his feet on the river bank as he unpacks his forty-five-pound salamander shark from his bag. It was Saer’s prized catch, the one that would feed him and his son’s family for the next month. His son was always a quitter when he faced obstacles. So, of course, he’d begged him not to come.
Saer shakes his head. Is that fair? Jacob wept when he asked him not to risk his life because he was convinced Ron, his only child, was dead. After all, no one had ever survived a taking.
Saer huffs, swears, and hisses between breaths. Saer is an old man, with more life behind him than in front of him. He came anyway. Old men and little boys are both the same. Stubborn. And yes, right now, fish are in short supply. Still, his grandson meant more to him than a full belly. They would find other ways to feed themselves.
“Quicky!” the man barks.
Red dots move in the sand. If Saer blinked, he wouldn’t have seen them. But Saer’s determined, and that makes his mind sharp. And there’s something else—something, no one else knows. He heard a word said today that he’s never heard before. The phlegm-filled gargled voice croaked one word, trade, and it was said when no one else was around. And before Saer knew his grandson had been taken.
Is it a trap? Does Quickie want to turn him into his dessert? Or does the monster really want a trade? More importantly, if the beast can talk to people, why has Saer never heard of this before? Was it even Quickie? Or is he an old man who now hears voices? “There are no guarantees,” Saer whispers to the mud.
The hairs on Saer’s arms stand up from the northern wind. His feet sink into the mud, and sniffing once, he catches the increasing stench of rotting food.
Saer squints at the spot and watches the red dots circle. Moving in closer, Saer swings the shark across his shoulder. One black dot flutters back and forth, up and down. Then the white-bearded, white-haired man runs with the fish across his shoulder and jumps into the sand with the heels of his boots slamming down on a gel-like round form.
The serpent screeches! His thirteen tentacles rise up, and then the rippled, suction-cupped arms shake as if they’ve been jarred by a hard object. Something from ol’ Quickie is flung high into the air and lands on to the muddy, moss-laden embankment.
“Here!” Saer says. “Take this! You wanted it!” Then Saer heaves and swings the shark at Quicky. A tentacle rises up and snaps the fish up in one sweeping motion. Saer jumps from one of Quickie’s arms to another, riding the limbs as if they were marbles on the floor. The grandfather shifts, lurches, and then finds the steadiness of his feet, only to lose them again when he leans to the right. Swaying, Saer moves closer to the quicksand’s edge, and then he jumps and dives next to whatever Quickie had thrown.
Ron lies on the embankment. Black webbed saliva drenches the child’s still body. The six-year old’s chest rises and falls.
Saer hears a hissing from behind him. The red dotted with black pupil eye stares at the grandfather and the boy. One of the thirteen tentacles holds the shark. Then, Quicky recoils his limbs and slinks backward before he sinks beneath the sand.
The grandfather doesn’t see this, though. His skin pricking with excitement, he runs towards Gerstar with his grandson in his arms.