Twilight had become a purple band. Escorting the setting sun. Kurjak's full face slowly rose above a horizon wide range of foothills abutting the east border of the Pampas. The gas giant's gray, banded disk and faint ring cast long shadows across a broad, wide slash of arroyo snaking through the terrain. It's dry bed joined by side canyons leading into the hills.
A slim bodied, white and brown canid explorer had pitched a sun bleached lean-to atop a low bluff overlooking the reddish bottom of the Bitter Arroyo. The upper reaches of an arid watershed of vein like channels that eventually merged into the great Tempest river further north. The river scow had taken Duenner from his home village of Ibizia upstream to that remote outlet lying before the Vremenski foothills. Three days spent traveling southwards. Following the drainage and traversing the area, collecting rock samples for the university in Kupina.
Instead of turning in, the tall eared canid sat atop his bedroll with a red tinted flashlight, puzzling over a map notation regarding the 'night river' flowing within a drainage canyon studded with 'desert spear vines'. A copy from an aerial survey made fifty years ago.
The hound's long snout gazed across the terrain. From his experience, steady water was absent during the dry season, save for the occasional thunderstorm in the foothills funneling brief surges of water through the side canyons and transforming the Bitter into a short lived, bellowing flood of grinding rock and muddy debris.
Spear vines were unlikely to be found growing in the erratic web of eroded channels crisscrossing the interior of the Pampas. Springs perhaps.
Duenner glanced down at the contour map before him. Inked whorls detailing the Bitter and it's various side canyons. One drew his attention. A side drainage with a gently rising, moderately meandering sandy bottom that ran for several kilometers eastwards. Ending at an embankment of stone and rock shelves that forked into a myriad of side channels. Branching arteries of a large, arid watershed.
The mapped location of the abrupt rise had a surveyor's note, 'Artesian?' and drawn arrow pointing to a dotted line demarcating a plane of discontinuity running north and south along the map. Tilted, metamorphic bedrock abutted against horizontal bands of sedimentary rock. That feature, cut open by canyons lay exposed.
The sight hound spied the mouth of that mapped canyon in the dim distance. A short hike across the Bitter's dry bottom. He shut off the lamp light, folded the map and placed it under his bedroll. He then crawled out from under the lean-to, rummaged in his travois for a small sack pack. After threading his pelted arms through the loops, he arose, long thin tail wagging slowly.
His path took him on a steep descent down the channel wall of the arroyo. Slow progress down the crumbly ferric stained sandstone, crawling backwards like a crab. Reaching the bottom, he hiked across a broad sweep of gravel studded channel that was slashed by deeper channels looking like huge claw marks. Small, half buried stones cast long shadows like cage bars.
High above, lay a hovering stationary line of feathered cloud running like a linear brush stroke across a lit night sky. The cloud outlining where a steady wind sloped down from the mountains. Promising clear weather and warm night breezes here and in the foothills.
A pampas Dactyl flew out over a bluff. A generic name for a class of spike beaked, wing fingered flying creatures who resembled the extinct flying reptilian fossils native to a remote world far far away. Banking it's long span membraned wings, the Dactyl traced a lazy corkscrewed path across a sky washed out, except for the brightest of stars, by Kurjak's disk.
He reached his goal. Hiking into the canyon's shadowed mouth. Wider than it was tall. The tops edges lit by Kurjak outlining the horizontal, layered sedimentary bands with dark lines. Duenner's unshod, padded feet felt the Arroyo's roughness transition into a smoother pathway of sand and tiny pea sized gravel.
Canid eyes adjusted to the contrast of bright night and cast shadow. Picking out Spear vines that lined both sides of the dry stream bank. Marching in dual parade up the canyon. Dark, woody root clusters hugging the rocky walls and sending long, leafy stems upwards like cage bars. Tendrils anchored the climbing vines into the horizontal layered rock.
He went up to a cluster, clawed fingers gripping a long leaf shaped like a flattened spear point. It smelt of leafy alkaloid and venting moisture. There was none of the waxy, water saving coating or fuzzy white reflective hairs that arid flora possessed. Spears were most comfortable in wet grasslands and forest understorey northwards. Yet, managed to grow in some parts of the Pampas. Preferably by the Tempest river or where shallow ground water lay in reach for a plant that drew water like a thirsty drunk to avoid drying out in the hot climate.
Duenner continued his hike up the center of the canyon's dry bed. The Spear vine lined walls narrowed till the canyon was as wide as it was tall. Several meters. Kurjak's beams striking the top third of the canyon walls. Embedded within the dark depths, Duenner eased his way upstream. Padded feet quietly treading atop smooth sands. He noted the floor had few of the large erratics one would find in a seasonal channel.
There was water here, he thought to himself, how much lay beneath these sands?
At an angled bend in the canyon who's rocky face caught most of the slanted night light, he paused by a spear vine cluster along the shadow side of the channel to drop his sack pack. He slowly sat atop it. Legs bent like a feral creature, forearms resting in front. Long tail draped and twitching. Reflected light from the lit side of the canyon setting his retinas aglow in yellow. The dog's long ears swiveled slowly, listening. Faint rustle of wind rubbing it's invisible flanks against the canyon walls. He caught sight of black specks hip hopping across the sands towards the center of the dry stream bed.
Sticktails. Tiny, spring legged external skeletoned creatures as small as one's finger claw. Picking through wind blown debris on the sands for food. He spotted a hand sized Scuttler slowly crawling along the far side of the channel. The ten legged invertebrate with a well known nasty bite, hunted by touch. Waiting for careless Sticktails to blunder by.
* * *
Slow breath through nostrils. A half lidded, meditative stare. A patient vigil. Shadows and slanted light slowly upending towards vertical as Kurjak climbed higher in sky. The weather spoke of no change. The night air turned dryer and chillier. The Spears had gone dormant earlier in the night.
* * *
Kurjak reached Zenith, shining down onto the sandy channel bed. In the center of the sandy channel downstream from where he sat was a linear patch of dark brown that hadn't been there before. It seemed to slowly elongate. His tail curled, ears perked watching it grow. He looked upstream, spying another growing line of brown. He leaned forwards, crawling upon four limbs to the center of channel. Muzzle bending down, nostrils twitching.
Moisture and rising damp.
The brown patches merged, becoming a dark banded strip under the lit face of Kurjak. Glistening pearls of water bled up from the center. The dark band grew wider.
Duenner stood up, backing away slowly. Reaching back to his sack pack, he shook loose sand off it and threaded the pack back onto his shoulders.
A man like figure with canid features strolled down the canyon who's sandy bottom became browner and wetter by the light of the gas giant shining down on her fourth moon. By the time he neared the canyon's mouth, the damp sands had transformed into an ankle deep stream of slow flowing water.
He quietly waded out of the canyon mouth onto the Bitter Arroyo. Striding easily over water spreading out like a fan upon the rocky red sands. The emerging damp delta was too small to whet the appetite of the Bitter. It's progress halted and sank into the vaster dry channel.
Duenner turned and glanced back, fang studded mouth grinning at a delightful mystery revealed.
A seasonal drainage canyon fed underneath year round by a large spring. Hidden by day beneath the deep sands. Water level confined in the depths by the greedy suction from a capillary network of spear vine roots. Only at night, when the vines slept and the biological cage door opened, did the river rise up to meet the night sky...
(c) 2012 Sirius Dogfire ("SiriusDF"). May not be reprinted, reposted, or redistributed without permission. First appeared in the Februrary 16,2012 Thursday Prompt series hosted on FurAffinity by Poetigress.
Duenner, a canid hybrid living on the planetary moon of Kopno, explores a side canyon and clears up a little mystery.
A short story that first appeared on the Furaffinity Thursday prompt series hosted by poetigress.