Over at Strange Horizons, Kyri Freeman's short story "Out of Sombra Canyon" takes two biologists to a remote canyon, where they're tracking the rare Green Tailed Hummingbird. What they discover is much more disturbing than an endangered species.
What's interesting about "Out of Sombra Canyon" is the way it begins as a present-day story about two scientists whose relationship is getting rocky - and then takes a turn into something truly bizarre. And yet you never quite know for sure whether you've left reality behind or not. Here's how the story begins:
"Come on, Heather," you say, with that cold in your voice that makes my stomach clench every time. "Turn that damn thing off and let's go."
I type ". . . We'll be in the field with no Internet access for about six weeks. After that, watch this space for updates on the Green-Tailed Hummingbird!" into Facebook, hit "Share," shut things down fast, turn to look at you.
You're still the man I married. Still tall. Still blue-eyed. Standing there by the door with a worn-out duffel bag slung over your shoulder and a hole in the collar of your shirt.
"I have to update, Dave. The sponsors and the public . . ."
"Yeah." Not as cold now. "I just don't have time for that stuff. Let's go."
Your smile is the same as when we met.
You used to not hate social networking sites, or promoting our projects, or TV, or traffic, or whole chunks of the modern world, the way you do now. You used to be able to laugh at it.
I pick up my bags and follow you out the door.
* * *
You pull onto the 10 and head east into a pink and searing white-hot April desert sunrise. Something rattles in the truck's dashboard. After merging with the long-haul trucks and speeding SUVs, you reach over, put your hand on my knee. "Sorry, hon. Was I an asshole?"
It's not that you're being an asshole. It's . . .
"I'm kind of stressed that we'll get to Sombra Canyon and never see a bird. And the Conservancy wants their grant back and the Geographic deal falls through and we can't pay the mortgage and have to live in the truck. . . ." You're laughing as you say this.
But it's possible that we won't see a Green-Tailed Hummingbird.
Prosaic common name for a living jewel, Archilochus viridiens, a few ounces of iridescent black with streaming absinthe-green tail plumes on the male, green-shaded tail feathers on the female. For at least the last fifteen years, it hasn't been seen outside Sombra Canyon, in the southeastern California back country. It is rarely seen even there, and it is thought to be on extinction's razor edge.
That you might not see one, that you might fail to successfully mist-net and band several and do all the scholarship you've made your name at, bothers you, I know, more than the idea of us living out of the truck.
"We'll find them," I say.
Read the whole story at Strange Horizons.