Clive chomped away at the soggy marsh grass, water dripping out of his mouth and down his long neck. He put his head down again, pulling up the young shoots, grinding them slowly and swallowing thoughtfully. His friend, Arthur, moved down the waterway ahead of him, his long body partially submerged below the dark water. In the distance, he heard the loud cries of a hunt, and stopped chewing for a moment to listen. Assured that the danger was far off, he lumbered slowly downstream. Clive turned four this year and was glad to be alone with Arthur. Arthur had been the first thing that Clive saw when he peered out from under his mother, several days after being born. Once allowed outside the nest, Arthur and Clive wrestled in the shadows of their mothers’ legs, eliciting nips of correction when they became too much. Finally, this year, they had been allowed to venture out alone together. That morning, Clive’s mother held him tight as he squirmed, quietly reminding him again of the large predators that lurked in the forest over the hills and the monsters that trolled the deep water.
Clive closed his eyes and sighed. The sun felt warm on his back and the cool river water passed through his legs. He was mostly agnostic about what was on the other side of the hills. The older kids told scary stories at night about a pit that trapped the curious, eventually pulling them below the surface where they suffocated to death. He shivered a bit at the thought. His mother brushed aside these tall tales and told him he was too young to go over there anyway. He was fine with that. Clive was content with her and Arthur and the river. He reached into the shallow water for another bite and paused, eye to eye with a lizard, roughly the size and texture of his own tongue. Frightened, the lizard scurried back into the rocks and Clive resumed chewing.
From the other side of the hill, Clive heard an unfamiliar, screaming sound and raised his head. Clumps of half chewed grass dropped out of his mouth, plopping messily into the water below. Along the river, other long necks rose, turning towards the strange noise. Clive swam forward into the deep water, momentarily forgetting his mother’s warning. The sound was not from over the hills, but from a small, bright speck in the sky above. Shooting across the sky, the speck grew larger as it came closer, and the sound grew louder. Arthur swam towards Clive. Gracefully moving up onto the bank, they exited the river and rambled toward home. The scream grew louder, and the ball was now directly over the hill. It seemed to be chasing them as the two boys ran faster toward their mothers. Clive’s ears hurt and his tail began to burn. Clive paused for a second to look back and stumbled over a large boulder. As he fell to the ground, the heat and noise became unbearable. He realized then that this was the end. He was mostly fine with that, he thought, but oh, Arthur, to never see you again.