Monday, January 18, 2016

Lost in the Middle of Civilization

This is a very short story I wrote a couple of years ago based upon some kayaking imaginations. It is purely fictional but based on real geography close to my home. 

Kayaking was her new sport of choice. It consumed her spare time during the late spring, through the summer and into the late fall until the cold water forced her to stay on land. Kayla’s friends knew her for pushing her boundaries, trying new things when others were content with the status quo. Work at the office as an editor was non-stop demands and deadlines. She hated the constant stress and relied heavily on her times on the water to break away from her obligations. 

Today was no different. It was Friday, April third and the air had warmed up to the seventies even though the water was still barely in the sixties. She had finished work a little early, thanks to an errand that Zach, her boss, had let her run during work hours. A quick stop by the printer supply store and she was free for the weekend. This was her favorite time of year. The air was pleasant, the water was too chilly for swimming so it kept the sport boats away, and it was nice and clear. 

Kayla walked to the docks at the neighbor’s yard where she kept her kayak and untied all but one line. Hers was a simple ocean kayak that let her sit above the water -- easy to get in and off. She undid the rubber cover on her small storage compartment and slid her cell phone and an apple in for safekeeping. She placed her plastic water bottle in the middle cup holder and squatted on the dock. With one swoop, she lifted herself up and over onto the kayak. Straightening her baseball cap and her sunglasses, she grabbed her paddle and untied the dock line from the kayak handle. Her kayak slid away easily from the dock as she slipped her paddle through the water.

Out in the middle of the river, a few ducks squawked at her orange kayak as if they were in competition with it for the territory. The current was slow here and Kayla contemplated if she should go upstream where the stream widened, or downriver towards the Bay and some nice inlets. Deciding on the Bay direction, she maneuvered past some fishermen dangling their lines over the public docks. It was curious to her to see the long surf rods some of the folks used. What did they think they were going to catch? Tuna or some other exotic fish that just happened to travel the thousands of miles up the Chesapeake to the little Northeast River? 

Her kayak hugged the opposite side of the river, staying clear of the lines that some of the more impudent kids would hurl in her direction, by accident of course. She pretended not to notice by observing the wild arrowroot and cattails growing along the water’s edge on the opposite side. She knew that she might actually catch a glimpse of a beaver or a heron frozen in space among the drooping fronds. Sliding past the onlookers, she swung her kayak into the first inlet. 

The water was shallow here but the inlet was wide, almost as wide as the river. There were many boats that would try to motor into here, thinking they had found the ultimate fishing hole, only to find their prop churning up sandy mud within a few feet of the entrance. But this was perfect for Kayla’s kayak. She had seen a few kayaks and a couple canoes from time to time, but this was mostly her private getaway. River birches hung their budding branches over the water, some at crazy angles where previous floods had washed their roots half out of the ground. Blackberry and elderberry bushes draped their still naked branches over the washed out edges. The skunk cabbage sprouts were already unfurling their broad leaves, mixing in with the masses of wild daylily leaves. 

A few logs stuck their heads out of the water like some type of water monster just waiting to grab you as you passed, unaware of the massive tree spreading silently under the surface of the smooth water. The occasional scrape or bump on the bottom of her kayak always startled Kayla, at least for a second. Even though she knew the water and how shallow it was in most of the areas, there was always that nagging fear of the unknown. Maybe a water snake, or a rabid beaver or some homeless guy sneaking up on her. 

She laughed at herself, “Silly thoughts!” She knew better, but how else could you explain the sudden terror that came with the bump? Rounding the bend, she noticed a large sycamore tree had succumbed to the damp banks and fallen into the water, blocking her waterway. Cautiously, she came closer, exploring the possibilities of getting through. A loud trumpeting squawk that sounded like part rooster and part dinosaur blasted the silence, startling Kayla for a second. Immediately she recognized a large blue heron flapping his oversized wings to get away from her. The squawks echoed through the woods lining the creek.

Pressing in closer to the top of the tree, she found the main trunk was about eighteen inches under the water, leaving her plenty of room to slide over. Pushing aside a couple of branches, she maneuvered her short kayak over the tree and to the other side. It always felt a little weird to be cut off from civilization, but she knew getting back would be just as easy. She pulled the top from her water bottle and took a swig. There was something about being on the water that seemed to keep her thirsty. Placing it back in the holder, Kayla paddled slowly now up the creek. Trying to keep from making any noise was always her goal. She wanted to be able to see as much wildlife as possible before they sensed her.

Leaning back, she lifted her visor to look up at the treetops. Sure enough, there was a large osprey watching her float by. Some folks mistook some of these larger and older ospreys for eagles since the markings on their large bodies were similar. This osprey had brown wing feathers and a band of black by his eyes. A few seagulls passed overhead, silent in their pursuit of an easy catch. Leaning slightly forward, Kayla pulled her kayak out of the dappled shade into the full sunlight of an open area in the sharp bend of the creek. She laid her paddle across her lap and leaned back to open her storage compartment. Pulling out the apple, she left the cover leaning across the opening to close later. She pulled off her shirt and removed her hat to get some sun in her bathing suit. Although it was only April, she was sure the sun was bright enough to give her a little color. She leaned back and undid her hair to fall free.

“Now this is the life,” she said softly to herself as she sighed and closed her eyes after taking a bite out of her apple. The current was barely moving so her kayak gently drifted into the opposite bank, slowly turning to face directly into the sunlight. She could hear the sounds of life everywhere, from the water flowing over the rocks just downstream, to the crickets deep in the shade, to the occasional blue heron, to the sounds of cars from a road close by. No one could see her as she drifted into a peaceful nap for about ten minutes. 

Kayla opened her eyes to the bright sunlight, blinking them rapidly to come back to reality. What was that sound? Were her ears humming? Maybe it was a helicopter passing… In horror, Kayla realized as her eyes focused that there were hundreds of bees swarming above her kayak. There were a couple of bees sitting on the apple in her hand but thousands just three feet over her head. Startled and freaked by the unusualness, she threw her apple at them to scare them away. They only seemed to buzz louder. Who had ever heard of a hive of bees coming after a person? She waved her hands frantically around her head to swat away bees coming in closer. They were landing on the kayak around her feet. 

“No!” she shouted as she pulled her feet up, knocking her paddle into the water. She drew her legs up tightly to her stomach and realized she had to get out fast. Leaning heavily to one side, she threw herself into the cold water. The quick movements seemed to antagonize the bees and they swarmed all around her and the kayak. Screaming, she stumbled deeper into the water, splashing water over her head to scare them away. “Help. Help me!” she shouted hoping that someone might hear her. The stings of the bees were sharp around her face and neck as she scrambled along the rough edge of the stream, branches scratching her legs and arms as she ran. Slapping her face, she tried to stop any other bees from stinging her and to stop the pain of their stingers. She was not allergic but she did usually swell with bee stings.

The cold was making her shiver, but after a few minutes, she realized that the bees were leaving her alone. Looking back, she saw the kayak floating on its side, covered in thousands of bees. Her cell phone must have dropped when she jumped out in panic. Her pink shirt was floating along the shore, along with her water bottle but Kayla was too flustered to even think of going back to the area just yet. Looking at her shoulders, she realized she had a lot more bites than she had felt. The welts were pink with a whitish edge and there were at least twenty of them that she could see. Kayla knew that this was not good since her body was going to have to really fight to cope with all the toxins in the stings. She needed help.

“Can anyone hear me?” she shouted. Silence. Even the birds stopped and listened. Kayla rubbed her eyes and realized that they felt funny. They must be swelling from the bee stings she thought with dismay and alarm. Her lips were fat and her cheeks felt hot. She tried to warm herself in a sunny spot on the shoreline, hoping that the bees would leave and she could kayak home. Breathing slowly she tried to calm herself and think logically as her eyes swelled. Ok, I am not going blind, this is just swelling. Someone must be missing me.

Wait, I was supposed to meet up with Adam, she remembered with excitement. She had told her boyfriend specifically she was going out kayaking for an hour or so and then they were going to go out for drinks. He will wonder about where I am. This was one time that Kayla was glad that she was always punctual. It irritated Adam that she thought a few minutes late was not acceptable as he was more casual with his time. Certainly, he would think something was wrong since she was never late.

Kayla carefully tried to pry one eye open, not sure of what she could do. The water was too cold to swim in and she was afraid that would just make the situation worse. There was no way she could walk down the sides of the stream with the thick undergrowth. Her only recourse was to sit still and wait for help. She pulled a half-rotten log to her sandy spot where the sun was already leaving for the evening. At least she wouldn’t have to sit on the cold ground. Her bare arms were chilly so she hugged her legs to keep as much warmth as she could.

“Hello? Help! Can anyone hear me?” she would shout every few minutes. Her eyes were tightly swollen shut and she could not stop shivering. As the sun slowly set, the woods became quieter and she could hear the dead leaves rustling from the little animals and birds moving along the ground. 

How can this be? It’s like I am lost but right here in the middle of civilization? She thought to herself. Slowly, the seriousness of her predicament weighed on her and she started sobbing. Her shivering made her words garbled as she tried to shout for help. Anger spurred her on to yell as loud as she could. She cursed and screamed in long sentences in frustration. Cold and exhausted, she fell back onto her log and cried with her head on her knees. She felt sleepy and numb and realized she just wanted to go to sleep.

“Kaaaylaaa! Kaaaylaa.” Someone was calling her in a tunnel. They sounded funny. Why would they be calling her when she was sleeping? 

“Haaayy,” she said back. “I am lost. Where are you?” Her voice was squeaky and it was hard to suck in the air to breathe.

She heard water splashing and wondered why there would be water in the tunnel where she was sleeping. But wait, she was sitting. Her thoughts slowly drifted back to reality.

“Who’s there?” she called. “Help me!” with all the effort she could muster.

“Kayla! My God, what are you doing out here?” she could hear Adam’s voice coming closer. He must have come out in his kayak. He sounded so worried. She couldn’t answer, but tried to stand up. His kayak scraped on the rocks and she could hear the splash of his feet hitting the water almost seemingly in slow motion. She felt herself swaying and put her arms out to steady herself and felt the warmth of his arms around her.

“Adam. Adam, thank you,” she mumbled as her knees buckled. Before she could hit the ground, he grabbed her tightly and lifted her close. 

“What on earth happened to you?” he said almost to himself. “You’re freezing cold. Come on.” He set her down on his kayak. His was a fishing kayak with twice the room of hers. Reaching into his waterproof pouch, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. 

Kayla didn’t try to do anything anymore. She could hear Adam asking someone to meet him at the town docks, but there was nothing she could do. Her eyes wouldn’t open and everything was hurting on her skin with a fiery burn but she couldn’t feel her feet or her hands. Once again, she felt the warmth of Adam as he pulled her close as he climbed in to the kayak. His arms felt hard against her as he pulled the kayak through the water. It was a bumpy and rough ride.

“There were bees,” she mumbled.

“What did you say?” he paused in his paddling to put his head close to her face, pulling her hair back.

“Bees. They got me,” she tried to slur through her swollen lips and thick tongue.

“Shhh. Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay.” Adam kissed her gently and pulled even stronger on his paddle.

There were sirens in the distance. Were they for me? I’m not lost anymore. Adam came, her thoughts were broken and she wafted in an out of sleep, taking comfort in the bumping of Adam’s arms. 

Her arms ached and she sensed the flashing lights as she felt her people lifting her body from the kayak. “Adam!” she called. “Come with me!”

“Kayla, it’s all right. I will meet you at the hospital. Hang in there.”

Warm blankets wrapped her in warmth and kind voices reassured her as the sirens started blaring again. Nothing mattered anymore.