I paddle out, breathing evenly in the early dawn, mist rising from the water. The whole place is quiet and still and silent except for Grandfather. He tells me to hug the shore. The oars are light in my hands. I’ve been practicing since the ice melted. My arms are strong.
Grandfather points and I aim for the spot, a place where the marsh grass bends. The current pushes against the boat, making me work hard, and soon I’m sweating, arms aching.
The breeze waves the grass at either side of us. It’s close enough to touch but I keep my hands on the paddle, breathe deep the mud and brine. I lean and dig into the water, pulling the boat into the narrow inlet. Grandfather is silent behind me and I don’t ask where we’re going even though I want to. I just keep paddling until there’s no more water and we run aground. >>oars?<<
Grandfather gets out first, his feet sinking into the mud as he climbs up. He turns back to give me a hand and I let him. The wind is cooler above the water and the sky is bluer, immense over the long marsh, up above the fir trees, and all the way to the distant smoke rising from our chimney.
A tug on my hand makes me pay attention and I follow Grandfather across the spongy ground to the trees that mark the forest. There, a path leads up the steep incline, thick with cedar, oak and pine and beech. Rocks have been thrown into the mix in haphazard fashion, offering handholds and ledges.
Soon I long for the breeze.
Sweat trickles down my neck. My breath comes hard. I’m glad when the ground levels off and we come to the road above the river. It’s an old road, doesn’t lead anywhere anymore – or so I’ve been told – and I wonder why Grandfather has brought me this way.
Suddenly he stops, listening.
A second later I hear it, too, a jingling sound, and then we both see him coming, this man with bells and a box strapped to his back. He wears a patchwork jacket and a tall hat but it’s the box on his back that tells me who he is: a tinker.
We don’t see them very often anymore; they’re a dying breed according to Grandfather. Who needs a tinker when there’s a whole town just down river or a super hub an hour away?
His face brightens at the sight of us, a big grin widening his mouth, brown eyes twinkling. He opens his jacket wide and the lining glitters with who knows what: jewelry, utensils, knives, watches, trinkets. He starts to pull the box off his back but Grandfather puts a hand up.
“We don’t need any pots or books,” he says.
“Something else then?” the tinker tilts his head expectantly, takes a step closer.
“Do you see anything you like, Cammi?” Grandfather asks me. >>This is the first clue as to our narrator's gender. Having nothing else to go on, I'd assumed a boy. Then again, the only clue it's a girl here is the "i".<<
I start to shake my head but Grandfather says, “Something to take with you when you go,” and I understand he wants to buy me something, a going away present. It isn’t like him but I think maybe he’s feeling sentimental so I take a step closer, looking hard at what the tinker’s got.
An old watch catches my eye, the sort that opens and closes and sits in your pocket. I point and the peddler hands it over for me to look at. The bottom side is smooth and worn as if rubbed; the top is engraved with a design I cannot cipher. Flat, pearly gems mark the edge, flush with the metal, glimmering. I can hear the clock ticking inside.
“How much?” I ask, intrigued.
“We’ll take it,” Grandfather says.
He shoos me away, negotiating in whispers with the peddler, which worries me a little. But I like the watch. I like how it feels in my hand and the faint ticking sound it makes. It has a little chain to attach to your belt.
Grandfather joins me, and the tinker waves goodbye, his bells jangling as he goes back the way he came. We head back down and we’re almost to the boat when I ask, “Did you know he was going to be there?”
Grandfather smiles. But he doesn’t answer.
A week later I leave for the academy, the watch in my pocket and Grandfather reminding me not to trust CGE – the company that’s paying for my education. I resist the urge to roll my eyes.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my grandfather, more than anyone. More than the father I don’t remember, and more than my mother who thought nothing of leaving me to chase her dream. But he’s old fashioned like a lot of old people. Always thinking things were better when he was a kid, and that ‘the worlds have devolved and all that was good is slowly leaking away.’ I think he’s being a little dramatic, or maybe just remembering wrong. ‘You forget, Cammi, I’ve been around a long time,’ he reminds me. Which is true; he has. He was around when Cedar made first contact (although he maintains it was CGE who made first contact) and he was there at The Vote, the first one, when Cedar joined the AP – the Association of Planets. ‘A day of infamy,’ Grandfather likes to say dramatically.
“Then why are you letting me go?” I asked him the last time he went on about CGE.
“Because I don’t want to lose you,” he answered.
“You can’t lose me, Grandfather,” I said, hugging, him. “No matter what.”
He waves at me now, and I blink back tears, missing him already. It will be three long years before I see him again.
>>As you can see from the lack of red ink, the storytelling is fine. You did make the reader wait a long time for a few scraps of science fiction, though. Everything about this, so far, says fantasy -- the pacing, the setting, the characters, the low-tension beginning. I have to assume this is the truth of this world, and it will make any high-tech-ness that follows feel like a veneer.
Maybe that's what you want. The story will have to come back here, too, for dramatic completeness... though you've already kinda shot that tension in the foot by telling us when she'll see Grandfather again.
The story doesn't have a grip on me yet, since you introduced Grandfather and promptly took him away, and there's no tension yet... but bravo on the writing.<<