Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Joyriding - fiction

LadyShenna on photobucket

Mother always warned that nothing good happens after midnight that couldn’t happen before then. So often I wished I’d listened more closely to her and followed the rules, but I’ve never been much one for towing the line. This was one of those times.

Our prank was to start at Watkin’s Mill by the old cemetery out on a county road. No telephone poles or electric lines are out there to impede the view of the stars, so we considered it the perfect place to do some sky watching. We wanted to tease Emily a little while we are at it. She’s always so gullible about that sort of thing.

The night began with a simple drive. A few beers never hurt anyone, and Perry behind the wheel with a can between his thighs was nothing new. He was a good driver and claimed to pay even more attention if he was buzzed. That sort of excuse-making someone does after the fact. But he said, “his car, his rules.” It’s not far out to Watkin’s, so no designated driver seemed necessary.

His friend, Aaron, rode shotgun, so Emily and I were in the back seat. My usual car sickness meant nothing to Perry either, and I suffered through by looking directly at Emily as we joked around and laughed on the way out there. She had no idea what was in store.

I admit it was a bad idea but blame it on Aaron. His crush on Emily had gone on for awhile, unrequited, so I was coerced to bring her along. Perry came up with the idea of pranking her, he being the sort of jerk I’ve now come to know.

Emily probably didn't think much of him either. We’ll never know the truth.

Old Waktin's Mill was built out in the woods, as the stream that used to feed it cut through that rough country. The road there is hilly, all peaks and valleys. All the better to jump as we sailed along at top speed to get there. Statistically, the road conditions and bad driving should have been what got us.

We made it to the cemetery alive, though, with Emily none the wiser. She was spooked by the creepiness of the darkness and the boys teasing us about spooks and wraiths. Mr. Watkins' own spirit was said to fly through the trees, and he might even swoop down and touch your hair. I can’t say I was totally comfortable with it myself. But the graveyard was only a ruse meant to make us go to the mill, stupid kids running scared and tripping over tombstones.  

It was dark when we got out of the car at the mill, and both of us were so relieved to realize the group hadn’t arrived at the graveyard that we didn’t know how close we were to the stream’s edge. The mill used to run on water power, which was a lot more forceful back then. An actual river. The stream seemed so shallow now, so deceiving to the eye. An unbeknownst depth lurked there, though, and Emily’s yell accompanied the splash when she tumbled into the water. None of us realized Emily couldn’t swim.

It was so dark we couldn’t find her. Even the boys jumped in to search, dashing under the surface while I lay crying on the shore. 

The first responders and County Sheriff couldn’t see Emily either. The rescue workers later found her limp body snagged on a fallen tree when they searched further downstream, as if its wooden fingers almost caught her in their grasp and pulled her aside to be discovered. Those limbs assured her parents would have remains to visit at her graveside for years to come.

Emily's time of death was noted as 12:10, just past midnight. My mom was right.

*This post was prompted by The Woven Tale Press - midnight.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Different Kind of Earth Day

We didn’t care about things like SPF back then. When you’re brushing your teeth and spitting into a ditch in the morning, you don’t really think about slathering on sunscreen for the impending trip down a river in southern Missouri. It’s onto the junky retired school bus driven by the canoe outfitter’s scroungiest driver as you pop the first beer by 10 am.  

The girls’ weekend float trip -- our freedom on the river.
The kiss of the sun was not a gentle greeting of welcome. Its glare bore down on pale flesh and cooked the epidermis to a fine scorch. Soothing any blisters would happen later that night after stumbling to the filthy bathroom, complete with cobwebs in the corners, broken toilets, and overflowing feminine hygiene product dispensers. You were lucky to not step in someone else’s vomit or fall down on the inevitably wet and scummy concrete floor. Being very lucky meant someone else had enough forethought to bring aloe vera to soothe your over-baked body, aflame with the after effects of too many hours in the elements.  

You don’t know misery until you spend the night lying on top of a sleeping bag to seek a little relief from its slick, cool surface. A campground with that sunburn in a stuffy Midwestern July is the last place to find solace for crispy skin. Claustrophobia comes around midnight when the spinning tent walls start closing in. Funny how the front flap zipper was always more difficult to find on nights like that.

Only a gulp of fresh air upon flinging the vinyl opening to the side would quell the nausea. A freezing-cold soda in the cooler’s melted ice helped, too. Clutching a flashlight and willing the old batteries in it to illuminate the inky darkness outside, you’d look for the closest tree behind which you could squat to pee.  

Looking back, we were probably irresponsible. Such alcohol binges seem dangerous in hindsight. But, damn, we had fun.

Before gaining our sea legs, my partner and I went bank to bank while figuring out how to rudder the boat and steer it straight along with the current. We’d been canoeing many times before but with the luxury of a brother, boyfriend or someone else more skilled at the helm.  

Slapping paddles on the water’s surface to echo their smack against limestone cliffs never got old. Neither did banging the handles on the sides of the canoe to obliviously mock Indian chants. We proved it was possible to take the girl out of the city but not take the idiocy out of the girl. We sang as loud as possible and took dips in the water for bathroom breaks between beers. Red-eared sliders perched on submerged trees didn’t appear to mind as long as we kept our distance.

Walnut tree fronds sticking out of our swimsuit tops were meant to draw attention, no matter how ridiculous they actually looked. Short channels of tiny white caps capsized canoes when the people doing the paddling were too drunk to handle the miniature rapids. And the day always flew by too fast.

Sandwiches eaten at a sandbar meant our toes were nibbled by minnows if dangled in the shallows. We watched crawdads swim small tide pools, too afraid to touch their clipping claws, but almost touch and pull our hands away quickly. We’d brave the current to wade out into the swift moving water and almost be swept bodily downstream, with many butts bruised on the bed of slick rocks.

Before the end of the trip, everyone turned over their vessel - or “tumped,” as we called it - from some mishap or other. Two girls even sunk their boat, which is pretty hard to do floating such a shallow river. We were there for the laughs, no actual skills needed. The waterproof bag brought along never quite did its job.

Campfire smoke brings back traces of those days, although the smell never quite matches that of a summertime wood-burning fire pit ablaze more vividly than our parched skin. Other sensory memories stored deep in the recesses of my subconscious get stoked to the surface from time to time.

One is melted rubber from shoe soles being drug behind the pickup that delivered us back to the campsite. Creating a cloud in the gravel to follow us “home” was hilarious at the time. Our clothes were coated in dust, hair matted to our heads, and the best-tasting, yet disgusting, hot dogs ever cooked over a fire awaited us at our makeshift base. A couple bags of crushed potato chips, worse for the wear of a two-hour drive, and s’mores finished off a delicious post-float meal for our ravenous group.

A few extra six-packs might still be back in someone’s car at the end of the day, left by those ultra-planners who anticipated we’d drink everything else earlier. Well past saturation point, many of us still had the fortitude to stay up late. No one wanted to miss the usual retellings of “remember when.” Old war stories are always the best.

Especially the telling about being struck by lightning on the Niangua during the sudden onset of a thunder storm. The last place to be was in a metal canoe on the water. But that’s a tale for another day.

This bunch of longtime friends looked forward to such an adventure. Amy even found herself collapsed on a chaise lawn chair next to smoldering coals as sunrise woke her the next morning, but that story is also meant for a different time.

Some of the best memories of my young life, a budding adulthood, were born upon those river banks. I can’t help but cringe to think back to all the near misses and potentially broken limbs. We escaped fairly unscathed with most memories intact. If only I’d thought to indelibly capture every single frivolous moment in my mind, as those times could never be recreated.   

*Studio 30 Plus prompt - kiss of the sun from KG Waite's original post.

(image via photobucket - source linked) 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saying Goodbye - fiction

We had so much hope when we signed the final paperwork to purchase our home. My fingers were crossed that no major repairs would have to be made, the foundation would remain intact, and trees wouldn’t topple onto the roof. I’d no idea our marriage would be the first thing to fall apart.

Saying goodbye to the house was almost harder than bidding my husband farewell. It meant all hope was lost for a future there. A grand family room window positioned over the spacious back yard would never again host holiday gatherings while a carpet of snow covered the lawn and a crackling fireplace played as background music. No more Christmas Eves sitting around an eight-foot tree in front of that plate glass.

I look at the hole in the wall next to the window, the exact size of the back of my head, that's never been repaired. There would be no more blood to wipe off the wall or broken glass to clean up from the floor. No more 9-1-1 calls made in the middle of the night. Never again.

I loved this house and tried my best to make it a comfortable home. My husband had different plans that made our original dreams impossible. A distant memory now.

Because I had the courage to leave and would not withstand his brutality again. With a heavy sigh, I turned away from the picturesque window and walked back toward the door to leave. A final bittersweet but triumphant goodbye.

*This post was prompted by #GetYourWriteOn at Indie Chick Lit.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Back to Life

via Jake on Flickr
Winter finally takes its leave and exits at everyone's satisfaction, erasing the feeling of blue so common with aching cold bones. All creatures welcome the warming temperatures that envelope them in long-awaited comfort.

Smiles spread across the lips once used to blow warm breath across freezing fingers not buried in mittens. Layers of clothing are shed when the sun peaks out from clouds and greets gloomy creatures who not so long ago sang the blues and cursed its early setting.

The horizon meets a clear azure umbrella of sky to greet the wakening animals. Nature is renewed in the country, with a robin’s egg being laid in the nest and baby to hatch soon enough. She’d welcome her offspring as if they were royal.  

Deep brown soil hosts a stirring of plant life ready to spring upward and break through its crust. The bachelor’s-button flowers impatient to spread their cornflower blooms and wave across the grain field so long dormant over the season past.  

The slate of evening falls at last, and twilight’s periwinkle and pink hues crawl across the sky as if a Navy ship could set sail over the ocean-like waves. Midnight arrives.  

*The Woven Tale Press weekly prompt was blue, so I used all the shades of blue and associated words (those in bold) I could remember - just for fun!

(photo used w/permission)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cleo's Revenge - unedited

Who the hell was he, as a self-professed “dog person,” to smart off about her cat? He knew nothing about them, and a cat had never been known to like him either. Cats can sniff out the haters, you know. One particular torty she had used to get into the purse of anyone who came to visit, sniffed out their chewing gum or something, and pull things from within those confines. She’d warn her suitors how that little Tortoise Shell girl stole wallets. Some of them didn’t get the joke, which served as a good litmus test of their compatibility.

This particular feline-adverse fool had no cat sense. He watched the lovely calico go about her casual ways - lounging in a cozy ray of sunlight that crept in through a gap in the blinds - with no unnecessary hurry in her step. An aged cat leads a well-deserved life of luxury, but his scornful look proved he didn't approve. 

Cleopatra’s long orange, brown and tan hair and white stripe running the length of her nose, mixed with that look of intent longing when hungry, bore into her owner’s soul. She swooned as the cat wound in a figure-eight around her ankles.

The woman’s last boyfriend didn’t also experience the same attraction to Cleopatra. He had a cute face but a cold and ugly heart. If Cleo couldn’t chip away at his icy soul with her saucer-like eyes, then nothing could reach him. He was a lost cause.

Proof came when he asked why she was so lazy. Lazy? Cats are increasingly sedentary as they age. Cleopatra’s sore old bones and instinct tell her to nap throughout the day if no one is home.

Unless another kitty companion is with them, no other conceivable activity is worth their effort.  Especially not the expectations of an otherwise disinterested human who provides no sustenance, under-chin scratches or catnip. Someone like him simply doesn’t matter in the leonine world.

Cleopatra tried to warm up to him by bumping her head on his shoulder and rubbing her cheek against his shoe as he sat on her owner’s couch. She meant to leave her mark on him, just a little oil from her skin to make sure he knew it was her house and he was only a guest.  The disgust in his glare dripped off his face and onto her shiny coat, almost tainting its beautiful sheen. She felt dirty with his disdain and retreated to a corner to groom and rid herself of his condescension.  

He questioned her owner, “Why does it just sit there?” She huffed in reply and spat, “It? Her name is Cleopatra. You could at least say her.”

Ignoring the answer, he further inquired, “Why doesn’t it run around like a normal cat? It should pounce when you try to play with it.” Lip curled with displeasure, his unspoken hatred was obvious.  

Cleo was aghast to be left in that beast’s care when her owner went out of town for a whole week and left the cat at his apartment. He had grudgingly agreed to care for her but made no promises to scoop the litter box or pay her any attention whatsoever.

The jerk had no tolerance for a grimalkin such as her. He’d stomp in her direction and say, “Scat! Get out of here, cat!” He clapped his hands and shooed her away. He had no idea his downfall was imminent. She had plans for his undoing.

Her owner arrived on Friday afternoon to find Cleopatra cowering under the dining room table. After rising slowly to her mistress’s call of, “Here, kitty kitty,” wise Cleo limped slowly to the woman’s side and emitted a pitiful, ”Rorrrwl” in greeting before releasing a heavy breath and sinking back down on the carpet. The woman quickly scooped her from the floor for closer examination. Another pathetic and seemingly painful mewl elicited exactly the reaction she’d hoped.

The woman gasped, “Oh, you poor thing! What has he done to you?” She cradled the old cat gently in her left arm as she crafted a Dear John letter to her boyfriend with the other hand. It read:

“I don’t know exactly what happened to Cleopatra, but you’ll remain forever unforgiven in my heart. You are truly a monster, and I never want to see you again!”

Upon returning home, he was at a loss for what could have caused such a mysterious breakup.  He was perturbed at the ingratitude, having read the angry note just before he found the small brown gift Cleopatra left him on his pillow.   

(This was the initial version of a Studio 30+ prompt with a much shorter word limit.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Along the Big Muddy

The first remarkable sight was a multitude of tiny amphibian carcasses smashed flat and turning gray on the pavement of the bridge. Apparently the frogs all swam for their lives and wound up here, albeit higher ground, only to be run over by cars prior to travel over the river having ceased. State authorities closed the thoroughfare when the Great Flood of 1993 became bad enough to threaten traffic on the old cantilevered truss bridge on that stretch of Missouri Highway 41. 

Farmers' fields were swallowed by the raging currents and crops decimated by the rising water level. It was a record-breaking amount of rainfall, an incredible deluge, and the flood level reached a peak not seen in 50-odd years according to locals. A spot of dry ground could scarcely be found in any direction looking from the overhanging northern shore of the Missouri River.

A frightened buck swam the river for all it was worth, instinct directing the animal farther away from its human enemy but only to an inevitable death among the depths. Mature deer in those parts might fall to a hunter's rifle in November but not drown in June. Onlookers gasped to watch the wide-eyed animal make such a rigorous effort leading to its own ultimate demise. 

Breached levees meant water eventually reached all the way to the platform. No entry, no egress. Cars were rerouted from the short passageway with no ferry access or service available, some trips lengthening to 50 miles. Resident numbers in surrounding communities was relatively small but affected nonetheless. That stretch of road was a fraction of the 30,000 square miles flooded that season, yet anyone without a boat and a vehicle parked on the other side doubled or tripled the daily commute.

The summer months drifted into fall, with the rainfall being span similarly long, with lives changed for the time being. People rallied to fill sandbags in hopes to keep the tide at bay. Everyone was warned to vaccinate against tetanus if slogging through the murky flood waters, and Anhueser Busch sent in canned water to drink during the boil order, as the potability of submerged wells couldn’t be trusted. Their fortification efforts were thwarted.    

photos by James McCray
The Mighty Missouri pulled similar tricks in the past, and people who lived anywhere near the river bottoms knew to expect the unexpected. Other vivid mishaps in the not-too-distant past lived in the memories of those who resided there for any length of time. Farmers braved the floodplain and rolled the dice every planting season, at Mother Nature’s mercy, and just waited for the channel to pour from its banks and obliterate months of their work. Their livelihoods submerged.

Other tragedies befell those shores before. The current’s force took swimmers in its powerful grasp, pulled children to their deaths despite signs warning of the powerful undertow and swimming being prohibited. Bodily remains were never found, likely swept away to the ocean in tiny fragments, prefaced by a parental torrential downpour of tears.

Another 20 years passed before tragedy struck a visitor to the area. Upon stopping for the night, a paddler succumbed to a heart attack following a leg of the Missouri River 340 race, which commemorates the Lewis & Clark Expedition, in the summer of 2013. Exhaustion and heat were the least of the man’s physical challenges at the end of his life journey just after dropping out of the contest. Another death along the river's banks.  

When looking nature in the eye, humanity’s comparative insignificance is obvious. No personal strength can match that severity. Natural forces overwhelm mere people, as if they were tiny, four-limbed creatures that can meld into the roads’ asphalt on passageways they've built across the great plains and water traversing the planet.   

*This post was prompted by the word RIGOROUS at The Woven Tale Press.