Davis, Jerry – Down In The Canyon


Š 1997 by Jerry J. Davis Jason didn’t understand most of what his parents told him, except the part where he should never go near the canyon where the mists came out. “Never ever go near there,” his father said. “If you fall in we wouldn’t be able to get you out.” He told Jason there were monsters down there, and that if the fall didn’t kill him, the monsters certainly would.

Jason had seen the canyon twice, once when the worker robots were building the fence, and once after the fence had been torn down. Everyone seemed upset that the fence had been wrecked. It happened during the night, and there were large claw marks in the brown dirt all around the twisted metal. Jason’s father said that whatever had done it was very strong, and probably very large.

The canyon cut across the brown landscape, running from the distant hills all the way to the sea, passing the edge of the settlement on the East side. The settlement had been placed beside the canyon because of the mists. Jason’s computer told him that the mist was made up of tiny droplets of water, and this water helped the settlement’s plants grow.

The plants were everywhere, surrounding Jason’s home and lining the roads and filling every little spot in between. “Earth plants,” they were called. “From the homeworld.” Jason liked to walk among them, especially the trees, and wonder what it was like to be on Earth.

The other kids were usually out playing among the trees, or out at the edge where the robots were doing the new planting.

Bradley Rosewald was there, as was Frederick Turney and his sister Stephanie. They were the three that were of about Jason’s age.

Stephanie, who was tanned and dark-haired like her brother, was pinching her nose in distaste. “It smells here,” she complained.

“That stuff is pooo-cheee.”

“Dad says it smells a lot worse when they pull it out of the ocean,” Frederick said. “Before they take the salt out of it.”

“Why do they have to put it in the ground?” Jason asked, watching as a large autonomic tractor laced the soil with the green, odorous slime.

“It gives the plants something to eat,” Bradley Rosewald said.

“To eat?”

“Of course. Don’t you know anything, Jason? This soil is sterile, it has no nutrients in it.”

“Oh.” Jason decided he’d ask his computer what “nutrients”

were when he got home. “How did the soil get sterile?”

Bradley rolled his eyes. He was the oldest of the four, with bright blond hair and a freckled face. His eyes were a shining blue. “What a question,” he said, and didn’t bother to answer.

As they watched the robotic equipment toiling in the endless brown dirt, a mist drifted in from the East, mingling with the plants and blocking the sunlight. The temperature dropped a bit and Jason felt his jacket warm up to compensate. He still felt a chill, though – he knew perfectly well where the mist was coming from.

“Hey,” Bradley said. “Let’s go peek over the edge.”

Frederick was all for it. “Yeah, let’s see if we can see the monsters.” He and Bradley stood up, and took several steps toward the East. Stephanie stood up, looking unsure. Jason was transfixed with horror.

The two boys stopped, turning around. “You coming?” Bradley said.

“I can’t go there!” Jason said. “My parents told me never to go there!”

“We’ve been there thousands of times,” Frederick said.

“There’s nothing to it.”

“We throw rocks down there,” Stephanie said. Her voice was quiet, her eyes on Jason. “You won’t tell, will you?”

“You throw rocks?”

“Yeah,” Frederick said. “Once we heard this long, mean growl.

Grrrrrrr! Like that.”

“What’s wrong? You’re too precious to your mommy and daddy?

You’re so special ‘cause you ‘naturally born?’” Bradley was laying the sarcasm on thick. “I think you’re afraid. You’re afraid ‘cause you’re still experiencing your birth trauma.”

“I am not!”

“You are too. Natural babies have birth trauma, that’s why they’re cowards. Dittos like us aren’t afraid of anything.”

Bradley turned away. “Come on, Frederick.”

Frederick motioned for his sister to follow, then turned and walked off after Bradley. Stephanie looked after them, then turned back to Jason. “Please don’t tell.”

“I’m not afraid,” Jason lied. “It’s just that my parents told me never to go there.”

“Me too.” She gave him a deep, meaningful look which Jason didn’t understand, then turned and trotted to catch up to the others. Jason saw her fading into the mist and his feet took on a life of their own, one foot stepping in front of the other, carrying him after her even as the rest of him yearned for the safety of home.

There were pine trees, there were walnut trees. There were apple trees. There was a field of corn. He caught up to them and followed without a word, staring at Stephanie’s back and the strands of her hair as it bounced with each step. They came to a clearing and the mist grew thick as paste. This was as close as he’d ever been; about fifty meters beyond was a edge that dropped down into mystery and nightmares. The last time he was here it had been with his father, and that had been scary enough.

They walked about a half dozen meters through the mist and then Bradley motioned for them to stop. “Listen,” he whispered, and was still. Jason listened, expecting to hear a monster’s growl. Instead he heard a low rumbling sound, a noise so deep and hard that it seemed to come up from the ground itself.

“It’s louder this time,” Frederick whispered.

“What is it?” Jason asked. “Is it the monster?”

“No, you dunce. It’s water.”


“Of course, water. There’s a river down there. Don’t you know anything?”

All Jason knew about the canyon was that he was supposed to stay away from it. But it stood to reason that if water mist came drifting out of it, then there must be water down there.

“The water’s warm,” Frederick said. “It goes through a place where the ground is really hot. My father took me there once, because he works in the power plant up in the hills.”

“It’s geothermal,” Stephanie said. She pronounced the word very carefully.

They continued deeper into the mist, and the rumbling of the water grew much louder. When they came across the ruins of the fence, Jason knew they were a mere meter or two from the edge. He was so scared he was shaking, but he was determined not to show it.

The ground under their feet was soft and wet from the heavy mist. Frederick dug a porous rock out of the mud and tossed it out into the void. That was the end of it – it simply vanished. They listened to hear if a monster growled, but there was only the rumble of the water.

Bradley bravely made his way over the bent posts and strewn metal cables of the fence and to the edge itself. He crouched there, peering over. The mist was so thick that Jason could barely see him, and occasional drifts made him disappear altogether.

After a moment, Frederick joined him.

“This is crazy,” Jason whispered. Stephanie, who was standing very close to him, said nothing. He felt her hand suddenly grab his, and she took a few steps forward. He followed, each step a thing of torture. At any moment he expected some horrible creature to leap out at them from the mist, something with red eyes, gaping mouth and razor sharp claws.

On the other side of the ruined fence was a large, damp rock and just beyond a section of ground that had sunk down a half meter. Two meters beyond that was the edge. Jason and Stephanie sat down on the rock, their feet on the sunken shelf, and threw pebbles into the canyon.

“My dad’s computer has pictures of plants and stuff from down there,” Frederick said. “They’re native plants, way different from the trees.”

“Primitive,” Stephanie said. “Dad says they’re just learning to come out of the water.”

“They’re all gooey looking, like jelly. The leaves are black.”

“My dad has pictures of them too,” Bradley said, making it sound like it was all old news to him. “He’s got pictures of some of the monsters, too.”

“The big ones?” Frederick said. “With the long teeth?”


“Mean looking?”


Jason seized upon an idea that would get them away from the canyon. “I’ve never seen pictures of the monsters,” he said. “My mom told me they would only give me nightmares.”

“What a baby,” Bradley said.

“I’d like to see them. Can we go look at them?” Jason heard the pleading tone in his own voice, and knew his reasoning was obvious. He was surprised when Bradley missed the opportunity to insult him. Instead, Bradley backed away from the edge and stood up.

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