The Need to Think

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Set your story on (or in) a winding river.... view prompt

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Fiction Contemporary

He was scared out of his mind. He’d been smugly thinking how it’d been clever for him to delay maturation, to keep looking female, to sneak around and catch more flies. There would be time for mating, next year. Now the flat-backed lizard was hurling down the side of a boulder, into a rushing river, about to die.

It was a long fall. After the initial terror, he began to think. Maybe he could propel himself with his tail enough to claw onto the side of the boulder. Maybe there was a weed or a twig angling out of the rock’s cracks that he could land on. Maybe—

The cold splash was worse than winter at midnight. He felt his limbs, which automatically thrashed in the roiling water, begin to slow and stiffen. His mind turned sluggish, his main asset fading into unconsciousness. Maybe… if I grabbed something… He raked his claws against anything, above and below, and they caught on a branch. He bobbed to the surface, his narrow chest frantically expanding and contracting with each breath. He was alive. For now. If he could stay awake, he could figure out what to do next.

The water rushed along, battering him against jutting boulders and rough foliage beneath the current. After a while the river calmed, still swift but not white rapids, and he balanced himself on the middle of the branch, sunning to get feeling back into his limbs. He looked around, despairing when he saw both banks well off, too far for him to swim to. He could try paddling towards one from atop the branch, but the idea sounded sillier than the males with their colorful scales fighting over fly territory. His only hope was to wait until the river petered to nothing.

His tongue flitted out, licking his eyeballs clean. What to do? Usually he spent his days hiding, sunning, sleeping, sneaking around other males so they didn’t pick up his scent and catching flies. He couldn’t hide, but he figured he blended in well enough with the branch, his scales not yet blue and orange. He couldn’t sleep, or he could sleep forever, he thought darkly. There were no flies this far down the river, and the sun competed too much with the brisk spray to be incredibly useful. Maybe he could…think? He was always a little different than his fellow lizard, relied on brain rather than brawn. He brought his lower legs closer to his body, entrenching his claws further into the bark. He could think. He’d thought before. He just needed to think about what he wanted to think.

I’m thinking. Words are in my brain. I am… hungry. I wish there were flies. I’m good at catching flies because I look female. It’s a choice. One more year of drab brown, I told myself. Every year. Why did I do that?

He didn’t like thinking. Why did he think it would be a good idea? He should’ve known it was infinitely better to act without thought. But it was too late. The water began picking up speed, and so did his mind, completely out of his control.

Maybe because I’m a glutton. Flies are delicious. Mmm. It’s easier this way. Am I a slacker? Oh my God. Do I sleaze my way through life? What if my scales don’t come in bright, and I can’t compete for territory? Stop. Stop thinking. Stop. Thinking.

The water rushed on either side of him, and soon he was fully enveloped, plummeting down and down and down. So much water pounded against his flat back he was sure it would split his belly open from the pressure, but then he was floating up, and felt air against his scales. All he could do was breathe, thoughts forgotten. His legs had stiffened, clutching tight onto the branch, and he had no choice but to trust his frozen muscles. He waited for his insides to incubate enough to control them. Until then, he was trapped in his body.

I’m not that worried about bold colors. I could pull it off. What is it anyways, other than a superficial hyper fixation? Stupid lizards. There’s enough space on the boulder for everybody. No need to hog it all up, make decent lizard folk sneak around. So unfair.

He paused. His back had warmed enough for him to wiggle a little, and he did. He was onto something; he felt it like a pair of eyes preying for him up above. He looked up, to be safe, then to either side of the river. The banks seemed to be closing in, the water much calmer before. Little ripples refracted the sunlight, distorting the color of his brown scales.

Even if my scales came in horrible, I know how to sneak around. I’d survive. Who knows if I’ll ever make it back anyways? Damn. What if I never see a lizard again? What if they only live upriver?

His limbs had unstiffened, and he shifted his legs a little. He’d miss it, hiding and making fun of the others in his head. For a second, he thought of going back, but dismissed the thought. The current was on his side travelling downstream. Without it, it might take him the rest of his life to get back to where he’d once been. He’d find new hiding places, new people to make fun of.

The branch bumped into the pebbly shoreline, swaying with the current. He couldn’t believe he’d survived. He got off quickly, noticing the spot of blue in his tail only when he was safe between a tree’s roots.

I guess it’s time. Can’t pretend forever. Probably shouldn’t have for so long. Won’t ever get laid. What’s that?

A different bug, slender and lined with legs undulating beneath its exoskeleton, crossed in front of the lizard’s view. With a dart of his tongue, the lizard caught it and crunched down, then swallowed.

Delicious. And it was so dumb, just walking in front of me. No competition. That’s what I’m talking about.

With a swipe of his tail, he hastened up the tree to see what else was new. What was a measly boulder to a whole patch of trees, after all?

June 13, 2021 21:14

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