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Rated: E · Short Story · Fantasy · #1881340
What could be making that rumbling sound?
{{size:3.5}center}The Passage
Bertie Williams
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I remember it was Noni that noticed it first.

"Mama . . . Mama what is that shaking?"

At first Mama didn't pay her no mind.  She was busy cutting the meat off a Bison bone and putting it into a pot to make stew.

Noni was persistent, pulling at mother's skirt.

At last Mama looked down at Noni in exasperation and said, "what?"

"That," the six year old girl said, "don't you feel it?"

Mama quickly removed her buckskin shoes and planted her feet on the floor.  She dropped the Bison leg on the counter and told us to stay inside while she went to the barn.

I watched through the window as Papa joined Mama in the barn and they both lugged a huge copper chest across the front yard and up the stairs to our door.  Papa opened the door and they shoved the heavy trunk inside.

Noni and I watched as Mama began to take dishes and glass objects from the cupboards and wrap them in old skins and rags to bury them deep within the copper chest.

"Alma," my mother said to me, "go and fetch the pictures of Grandmother and Grandfather from the wall.  Also, the two from the wall in the bedroom."

I dashed off.  I didn't know what was going on, and, I had felt nothing through the floor with shoes or without.  I shook my head while Noni stood in fearful, wide-eyed wonder.

"Do you think they will stay to the path?"

I heard Mama ask Papa this question and a mixture of fear and hope filled her face.

"They always do . . ."

Jordan flung open the door.  He lay a brace of fresh killed birds across the wooden kitchen table and began to help immediately with packing away the precious items Mama treasured.

"Alma, pluck the birds.  Noni, you help."

I sat down at the table, loosened the rawhide strings that held the birds to the brace and pulled one out.  It was a fine fat bird, it's brown and gold tail feathers trailing off the edge of the table.

I began to pull the feathers off the breast first, and the table became a field of white down, as if it had suddenly snowed inside.

Noni scooped the feathers up and pushed them into a cloth sack.  I jumped down off my stool to fetch another sack for the longer feathers and I felt it.

A soft vibration much like the rumble of Bison herds I had experienced on the plains when we hunted.

"What is that," I asked, "Bison?"

"No," my brother Jordan answered.  "Not Bison . . . if you finish your bird pluckin' maybe Papa and me will take you to see what it is tomorrow."

The mystery deepened with each passing hour as the rumble became more pronounced.

The birds had been plucked, cleaned and roasted and we sat down to eat.  Neither my parents, nor my fifteen year old brother seemed alarmed by the shaking earth, so I ate my fowl and bread and said nothing more about it.

Noni fell asleep at the table, her little brown haired head tilting to one side.  Her rosebud mouth opened in utter relaxation.  Mama picked her up and took her to the loft where we all slept.  She returned and washed and dried our dinner plates, wrapping them as she had everything else that was breakable and put them in the copper chest.  Then, Papa and Jordan pushed the chest up against the log wall of our kitchen.

"What is it, Jordan?  What's making that rumble?"  For now, one could definitely feel the shake and rattle of the earth beneath one's feet.

"Something . . . magnificent.  Something hard to explain.  You have to see it, tomorrow."

"Go to bed," Mama said.

I stood for a few more moments watching Papa sharpen his hunting knife and Jordan fletch some arrows, then yawning I climbed the ladder to the loft and in the soft and fragrant hay I fell off to sleep.

***

Dawn had just opened wide the horizon when our rooster's crows woke me.  Now, the whole house shuddered and dust from the clay joined eaves drifted down, released by the heavy vibration that was audible now.

"Alma?  It's good that you are awake.  Wash your face and clean your mouth.  Come and have your breakfast.  I'm going to wake Noni in a minute to do the same."

I sat up and yawned, stretching to waken my bones and rolled over, letting my feet dangle for a moment over the edge of the loft.  Mama and Papa and Jordan were busy packing our haversacks with sandwiches and gourds of water. 

"Where we going?" I asked from the loft.

"You'll see, if you ever get your sleepy legs moving," Jordan said.

I climbed down the ladder and went to the washroom.  I relieved myself, washed my face and hands and cleaned my mouth.  The vibration was so pronounced that it was a constant thudding through the walls which resounded in my body.

I returned to the loft and put on my shirt and overalls.  I watched Mama climb the ladder and shake Noni awake.  Noni protested, cranky at the early rise and Mama shushed her, wiping her face and hands with a warm, soapy rag.

I left the loft and hurried to the closet to put on my stockings and shoes.  In between the constant rumble there were deep resonant thuds that shook our cabin as if it were an unruly child.

"I'll saddle Champion," Jordan said and disappeared into the early morning darkness outside.

Noise accompanied the vibration and thuds now, a bellowing that I had never heard on the plains before.  It was low or screechy, sometimes long and drawn out, sometimes short and deeply voiced.

I began to be afraid.  Wherever my parents were planning to take us, I didn't want to be too near whatever was making those unnerving howls.

"Okay, he's saddled and ready.  You want to move that chest under the oak?"

Mama nodded and Jordan and Papa dragged the heavy chest out of the door.

"Sit," Mama said, "eat your porridge and bread."

Noni yawned and rubbed her eyes and whined a bit, but Mama fed her so she quieted down.

Jordan and Papa joined us and wolfed down a bowl of porridge, tearing off chunks of bread to eat on the  mysterious journey.

We headed west toward our hunting grounds.  Every step we took brought us closer to the sounds of roars and thuds of something bigger than any Bison I had ever seen.  I was fearful.  What could be any bigger than a Bison?  Jordan lifted first myself then Noni onto Champion's back.  He was a fine, big black stallion with room for Mama too.  She held onto Noni who cuddled into her embrace and promptly fell back to sleep.

The ride took almost an hour.  Papa and Jordan leading Champion with us three on his back.  We reached a ridge just as the sun was rising a few inches above the long flat horizon.  The golden-red rays of the sun glinted off of the shiny scales of the biggest animals I had ever seen.  The ridge we sat upon was at least sixty feet above the plain and still some of the beast's heads towered above us.  Other families had joined the throng and a good amount of people watched and pointed at the entourage slowly walking across the plain and out to the east.

They were so beautiful.  Brightly colored scales flickered in the morning sun as if the beasts were lit from within.  Reds of all shades, blues and greens, iridescent wings folded and flexed, folded and flexed.

"What are they?"

"Dragons," Jordan answered, "this is their migratory path.  They only march once every dozen years.  I hardly remember the first time I saw them, I was but two years old.  They cross the plains on foot to save their strength for the long flight across the Frozen Barrens."

I saw a fine red dragon with shining black stripes pass by.  Between its legs a smaller version  of itself trotted along.  Each step thudded the earth as it ran, vibrating the ridge we sat on and shaking loosened dirt down into the valley.  The dust rose as the sun did, a constant cloud of dun colored mist.

We heard the flap of giant wings and the wind of the beast's flight pushed us back from the ridge's edge.  We watched as a magnificent white dragon landed in the midst of the heard.  The other's trumpeted in what I supposed was a greeting and some of them bowed their heads.  The white one stood regally watching the others pass, then crossed the plain toward the ridge.

I grew terribly frightened and Noni began to whimper.  Papa patted my head and Mama picked Noni up.  The dragon approached us, bowing its head as it drew closer.  When he reached the ridge's edge he stopped and spread enormous wings wide.  He raised himself to his fullest height and then bowed down again.

"It's going to eat us!"  I yelled at the top of my voice and my elders all laughed.

"I will not eat thee, little human."

I tripped backward and landed hard on my hind end. 

"You . . . you can talk?"

Papa turned about and hoisted me to my feet. 

"Of course he can talk.  Some folks claim it was dragon-kind that taught man the art of speech."

I watched Papa extend a hand and lay it on the white dragons snout.  The beast closed his eyes and rumbled softly in appreciation.

"This will be our last passage."  The dragon said.  Its voice was deep, like the grumble of thunder on an over-hot day.

Papa frowned," why?  What has happened, my dear friend?"

"We are hunted more and more by armies of knights and dare devils bent on our total annihilation.  We will go far to the east where the mountains are so high no human may cross them."

My father turned to me and said, "watch, Alma, for this is the only time you will see this."

The dragon dipped his head and lay his long pointed chin on the ground before us.  People applauded as Papa climbed aboard the dragon's neck and the huge white beast took off into the sky.

We watched him dip and swirl, and Papa waving as we oo'd and aah'd.  Then ever so gently he landed in the valley and returned Papa to the ridge.

My amazement was complete.  My father spoke with dragons, even rode one and now with a catch in his throat and a fond pat on the dragons head he said "goodbye".

I looked out across the plain; from horizon to horizon the beasts lumbered onward. Heading east toward their spawning grounds.  Only, this time they would gather the eggs their females laid into their mouths in order to fly the rest of the journey far from this world of men.

"They are beasts out of their time." Papa said, while Mama opened the wrapped sandwiches and handed them out.  Jordan squatted down to pat a smaller dragon's head as it nosed its snout onto the plateau.  He took a large chunk of Bison and dangled it in front of its nose.  It opened its mouth and took the piece, then turned and continued its journey.

I could hardly believe that something so huge, so deadly looking could be so gentle and intelligent.

We stayed until early evening when at last only stragglers wandered across the plain.  Sadly, Papa pronounced that we return home.

"We will never see them again?"

"I'm afraid not."  Papa said, "you heard what The White said, they are being hunted and must leave or all will die.  I wondered why they never came to the village anymore.  I suppose it was just too dangerous for them to be seen outright."

We walked home slowly, contemplating the fate of these marvelous beings we had spent an entire day with.

"How come The White spoke to you, Papa?"  I asked from Champions back.

"Oh . . . many years ago when I was younger than Jordan, I helped him avoid a trap that some hunters had laid for him.  I never liked the idea that folks hunted creatures that could talk and reason as if they were dumb field stock.  The White never forgot that and in times when famine struck our settlement, he brought slaughtered Bison from many miles away and lay them in the village square.  You know, I always say, one good turn deserves another."

I marveled at this news.  A secret long kept and now revealed.  A pity I would not get to know these beings better.  I would have loved to climb aboard one's back and soar as Papa had into the pale, blue, morning sky.

We reached our cabin and saw that the copper chest lay unharmed under the oak tree,but that it had moved with the vibrations several feet over.  We opened the door to find that every cabinet had opened and anything that may have been left inside would have crashed to its destruction.  Clay dust from the building's seams coated every surface and one of the roof logs lay slantwise across the kitchen.  The rumble in the ground was softly fading away.

I watched my brother and father replace the roof beam that day dreaming of what the world must have been like with dragons living nearby.  I would never see them again as long as I lived.  But, I had seen them once and that was a day I would never forget.



Word count 2267
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