River Water, by Eikka – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
River Water, by Eikka.
Capalaba, Qld, Australia, Jaffa Books, May 2016, trade paperback, $9.00 (122 pages), Kindle $2.99.
This is a happy nature novella, like Bambi by Felix Salten – not! (Not that Bambi is very happy.)
Flix is a pregnant young vixen, happily mated to Bracken, a strong but not very bright tod. This is fine with her. She doesn’t love him as much as she feels that she can relax with him as the protector of her and her (and his) kits. This is a great relief after her own orphaned and very insecure childhood.
“His brain wasn’t talon-sharp, if that wasn’t obvious from his idea that shrubberies could spontaneously attack, but that was fine by her. She knew he’d sooner let his bones collapse than let anyone get a strand of fur on her, and she’d given him a litter of magnificent kits growing inside her body alongside a growing feeling of being protected than she’d had in a very long time.” (p. 8)
Unfortunately for her, Bracken is immediately killed while she is out hunting. She does not grieve for him as much as she’s panic-stricken at being without a protector once again. Even worse now that she has a wombful of growing kits to also care for.
Flix is so desperate for a new protector that when she comes across a lone stoat, even younger and more naïve than she is, she grabs him for the job. He takes some persuading at first –
“The stoat blinked open his eyes, and reacted just as expected, twisting, scratching, biting, kicking. Flix, feeling disturbed but making sure she remained calm, called out as clearly as she could.
‘Okay, stop! I’m not going to hurt you! I know you’re lost and I know you’re alone – but that’s why I’m here! I want to help you! But please, I need you to stop!’
The stoat began to slow his struggling, but whether this was because he believed what she was saying or just getting tired, Flix didn’t know – she just continued speaking regardless.
‘Are you listening to me? Are…? Look, what’s your name? Mine’s Flix. What’s yours? Mmm?’
He just stared at her. She asked the question again. ‘What’s your name?’
‘…You’re a fox” the stoat breathed out.
‘Yes, I know,’ Flix said, ‘but there’s nothing I can do about that. And anyway, I’m not an ordinary fox… I’m a good fox.’
‘G… Good fox?’
‘Yes,’ she said, astonished at what she was saying; the amount of animals she’d torn the fur off, she was akin to a good fox as much as a stick insect was to a vicious destroyer of nature. ‘Ground squirrels, tree squirrels – good foxes, bad foxes. So you don’t have to be afraid. Just tell me your name.’
The stoat stared for a while longer, before sliding out the word ‘Nezzick’.
‘Nezzick,’ Flix repeated. ‘Brilliant name. Now… You know I’m here to help you, don’t you? … Just say yes or no.’
He didn’t say anything.” (pgs. 11-12)
Flix, with Nezzick, travels back to her childhome home in the forest. She is sure that, with Nezzick’s help to catch food for her and her soon-to-be-born kits, life will be much happier for her. She meets many of her childhood acquaintances: Reffaw the river otter, Manneran the beaver and his mate Cirrie, and Krissy the squirrel. They are not all as delighted to see her again as she’d expected.
“Cirrie turned her head so quickly she hit her forehead on the trunk.
‘Flix! Hello and welcome back!’
‘Thank you!’ she said, beaming. ‘And I’m not alone; I’ve come with this little one: Nezzick!’
‘Right!’ Flix said, ‘Nezzick, we’ll leave you here to slow down and catch some sleep for a bit, and me and Reffaw will go off and have a chat. Okay?’
Nezzick nodded. ‘Excellent… Now, Reffaw?’
Reffaw, looking as stern as he’s ever been, led the way back east.
‘Why did you come back, Flix?’ the otter demanded the moment the dam was well behind them.
Flix told him the story as quickly as she could. Reffaw glared throughout, but made no threat to interrupt.
When she finished, Reffaw said, ‘So you came back here… because I’m here.’
‘Is that a bad thing?’ Flix asked.
Reffaw sighed, ‘Flix,’ (she groaned – he was preparing himself to rant) ‘Forgive me if I’m wrong, but what you’re saying is that you came back to a place that was – to use a term I recall was a favourite of yours – ‘infested with the subsistence of evil’ – simply because you wanted to be around those you knew at some point in your life on the off-chance that they may agree to spend good time collecting food for you and your offspring.’” (p. 25)
Flix is made to realize that the herbivores of her old home are not delighted at having a predator return to their neighbourhood, and bringing another predator with her. She tries to explain to Nezzick.
“‘Good,’ she said, resting down to his level, ‘So how were the beavers? They didn’t give you a hard time?’
‘They weren’t fun.’ Nezzick said. This time, Flix did twitch a smile.
‘Yes, I’m sorry I left you with them; I know they’re usually about as entertaining as banging your head against a cliff.’
Nezzick tittered. ‘They’re idiots.’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that,’ Flix said, ‘It’s just it’d probably be better if they left their cleverness nicely in their brains. Instead of rambling to the ends of the earth all the whole bloody time.’ Nezzick tittered again, and Flix grew a smile; but it turned out more solemn than warm.
‘Well, I’m glad you’re not too unhappy,’ she said, placing her paw on his, ‘because there’s a rather strange favour I need from you.’
‘Could you stop hunting for a while?’” (p. 30)
River Water (cover by Penny Virsu) grows more depressing from there. It is humorous at first, in the style of British (or Australian) snarkiness. Raw nature isn’t pretty or happy. Life’s a bitch and then you die.
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