The slope flattened
out and they emerged suddenly onto a wide black beach. Only it wasn't
an ordinary kind of beach.
exclaimed Kiet. 'And moving!'
and scooped up a handful of small furry balls. They gave off a distinctive
smell, sour and fishy.
on fur-snails,' Floy explained. 'We call them fussels. They live
all around the shore of the lake.'
to Ferren. 'I saw them before, when I came this way with Miffa,'
she told him. 'They're what the shore of the lake is made of.'
having difficulty standing upright. The fussels moved incessantly,
rolling slowly one over another. Some Residuals found themselves
rotating, others found their legs twisting at odd angles or drifting
apart. They had to keep lifting and replanting their feet in order
to stay in the same spot.
his head in astonishment. 'Why do they keep moving all the time?'
to the edge of the lake for water,' answered Floy. 'They travel
inland for nutrients.'
'How deep?' asked
Shanna. 'How many under my feet?'
off differing distances with his hands. 'In some places, only ten
deep. In other places, more than a hundred.'
cook them and eat them in a soup.' Zonda put in her own piece of
information. She turned hopefully to Floy. 'We can't eat them raw,
'No. But my people
will make a soup for us when we arrive. Not far now.'
Floy's idea of
not far involved another hour of walking. He led them along
the shoreline around endless branching arms of the lake. A dozen
times they made their way deep into valleys, a dozen times they
came back out along promontories. They walked like swaying drunks,
with arms outstretched for balance.
Day was breaking
by the time they came to the inlet where the Fusselfolk had their
settlement. It was more sheltered than other valleys, almost a ravine.
The shore reached back from the water in a long black V.
of the Fusselfolk were constructed in the centre of the V. They
were like tents slung between poles, but raised up off the ground.
There were at least fifty of them, all aligned in the same direction.
'We can't sleep
on the ground,' Floy explained. 'Or the fussels would carry us away
in the night. We could end up in the water.'
'So how do you
sleep?' asked Ferren.
We tie our hammocks between poles, then tents above the hammocks.
The poles go down into firm earth beneath the fussels.'
was silent and tranquil in the early light of dawn. Floy approached
a particular hammock and lifted the tent flap at one end. The material
of the tent was black and furry, obviously made from the coats of
. . . . .
rolled over and dropped suddenly out of the side of his tent. He
stretched his limbs and stood upright.
He had purple-stained
lips and oily skin. Like Floy, he wore anklets, bracelets and a
cap of black fur. Like Floy, he wore a long pointed stone on a string
around his neck.
He said nothing,
but took up a position facing the lake. For thirty seconds, he shook
himself all over as if getting rid of the kinks in his system.
'We call this
taking our bearings,' whispered Floy. 'I need to do it too.'
Floy stood beside
the Fusselfather and gave himself a similar shaking. Then they both
lifted the strings around their necks and dangled their long pointed
stones in front of their chests.
The stones swung
like pendulums before gradually settling to a stillness. Floy and
the Fusselfather shuffled and swayed in tiny movements, as though
adjusting themselves in accordance with their stones. Then they
too settled to a stillness.
'It must be because
the ground is always shifting under their feet,' whispered Miriael.
'They feel a need to set themselves straight.'
'Floy does it
every morning,' whispered Zonda.
extract ... next extract