The Fifth World

The Old Black Rivers

By Giulianna Maria Lamanna

The People still tell tales about the hard black rivers, though no one now remembers a time when they still ran. Sometimes you can still trace the ghosts of them — a line of grass between old trees, a trail of crumbled gray rocks — and the youngsters graze while the elders shiver and shake their tails, remembering the old stories.

From a distance, they sounded like rushing rivers — or so the legends tell us. Anyone foolish enough to attempt a crossing, though, quickly discovered the truth of them: these rivers had no water, only flat black rock. And beasts roamed these rocks, beasts bigger than bears and faster than hawks and louder than thunder, with eyes as bright as the sun. The People learned to fear these beasts. They learned to pause and watch and listen — for these beasts killed without thought, without hesitation, not even stopping to eat those they struck down. And if you looked into the bright eyes of one such beast, they would hypnotize you, freezing you in place, dooming you to your death.

The legends say that, after a time, the People saw the beasts less and less often — which in a way made them more dangerous, as already-bold young bucks stopped fearing them — and when they did come, they moved more slowly. Then came the day when the People realized that no one had seen one at all in quite a long time. The hard black rivers broke up. Grass grew in the cracks. When one heard a rushing river, they could feel assured that water flowed nearby.

The old black riverbanks make for good grazing. Lots of grasses and clover and flowers grow there — and the thick woods on each side promise safety in case coywolves come prowling. The elders still put forward one slow and tentative hoof at a time, their ears up, just in case the beasts return. But my generation has no fear. The old black rivers, we know, now belong to us.