3LBE #20 masthead

No Signal

by Seth Cadin

 

Nothing was left moving after they ate. If you looked at it through the k-scope of wonders, you would first come up over the lander, where the legs dropped down. Itís a hungry trip, a long haul with a big pizza at the end, a place like this. They felt good and warm, fed up like birds.

If there were fifteen leagues left they could get to the depot by Kirnsday, somebody remarked.

It was a slow sort of thought. They were tired and happy. The lander pulsed, wobbled, on a pool of sappy marshmallow, which was rich, so they ate it slowly. Along these lines they went until somebody saw the buffalo.

The k-scope would drop here and show it gliding as it galloped, trailing debris. There’s just one, but it’s getting bigger too fast. It could be launching, somebody said. Like a ship, it could be —

It was there. In a quick sharp dip of its shaggy head, it ate the lander, belching back a purple cloud of fuel that put them all to sleep. Another rotation and they scrambled awake to find the lander’s legs jutting from the marshmallow, but nothing else — just a few dangling wires spitting thick golden sap. They collected it in broken rocks and started arguing about the new civilization.

A long time later the buffalo returned. They’d left out a pile of metal scraps on top of the old lander’s legs. Everyone agreed the old people should be allowed to hide in a dignified and comfortable location, but somebody slipped away. She wanted to see the buffalo again.

It was twice as big. She reached up with a shard of girder, offering. The buffalo breathed over her in a cloud of gritty lavender. Its tongue felt like a handful of rough weeds growing right into her palm.

But if I stay, it said, I’ll eat all your houses and bicycles and washing machines and flatware and silverware and toolkits and bootstraps and saddle-horns. I’ll eat your pens and pencils, I’ll eat your hinges, I’ll eat your curtain-rods. Nothing will be left but the meat.

We’re good at meat, she told it, let us worry about that.

I’d starve, it continued, patiently. Eventually I’d starve.

She stayed up all night in the workshop. The buffalo promised to wait by the mountain, which it blocked out even when sitting down at first. When it got hungry it dwindled until it was only the size of a tree. Two days, it said — maybe three.

They watched it, but not from close enough to have a conversation. It picked copper from between its teeth, chewing the pieces slowly. If it had not eaten the k-scope along with the lander all those years ago, you could have looked right into its mouth and seen the trail of sparks leading down its wide neck.

If it’s a ship, somebody said, we could go home. It’s only fair.

Sure, said the woman who was friends with the buffalo. She told them: It can swim between planets.

Everyone waited for her to explain, because it was a strange thing to say out of nowhere. But she continued on to the mountain. Out of the pack on her sledge, she took some ropes and a funny little engine with gears. She scaled her way up the buffalo’s leg, across the warm field of its back, over to its ragged ear. She whispered into it, clinging to a matted pleat of black fur.

She lowered the engine to the ground with the ropes, carefully, and the buffalo lifted one great hoof, carefully, nudging it toward the mountain.

As it rolled it went faster. When it reached the sloping roots of the scrabby trees, it barreled through them and into the rock, leaving a perfect round cave behind. Huge clumps of dirt flew out behind it until another mountain was growing in front of it, and the sound of the engine churning and whirring was impossible to hear.

The buffalo poked its shaggy head in, and saw thrusting snakes of gold and coal running all through the mountain. Yes, it said. But there won’t be enough left for you. To swim you home I’ll have to eat it all, and once I’m full I’ll have to sleep before I eat more. It takes a while to get there.

They learned how to make tools out of bone and waited, and told their children’s children that when the buffalo eats the mountain, we’ll go home.

 

 

Seth Cadin is from New York, but lives in California. His work can be found in the anthologies Bandersnatch and the upcoming Bewere the Night, both by Prime Books. He has one daughter, one partner, and sixteen pet mice.


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ISSUE #20

October 2010

FICTION

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