12 October 2012

#fridayflash: driven

Her mother warned it looked like rain, which just made Pijika more determined to go. As she set off from the old dock at the end of the garden, the lake was smooth and undisturbed, a polished emerald mirror despite the heavy grey sky it lay under.

Pijika always rowed a figure eight shape, at first moving a little to the east, then crossing over the widest part of the lake, rowing right through its green heart. Then she'd cross behind the garden of her best friend Lailit's house and row through the lake's centre again to get home. The route meant that both of her arms would get an equal amount of exercise, and gave her some navigation practice for the school races.

The first two legs of her journey went well, although halfway across the lake the wind picked up and the water got uncomfortably choppy. Pijika rowed on. Every time she pulled the oars, she reminded herself that this too was part of practice.

The rowboat tipped more than she had prepared for when she turned it to cross back to home, and some water slopped into the boat before she could right it and continue rowing. Pijika told herself she didn't mind — after all, the rain was now heavy enough that her feet were already in an ankle-deep puddle.

When she reached the centre of the lake again, the waves were so high and choppy she couldn't row across them. Pijika shipped the oars, and concentrated on shifting her body weight with the rhythm of the waves to keep the boat upright. Storms never lasted long, she reminded herself. The lake wasn't so big that she couldn't let herself drift through the storm and then row home when the worst of the winds had passed.

Her inner ear noticed the tight circles the boat was turning in first. Her eyes confirmed that the rowboat was listing only to its port side, tracing a clockwise spiral stern-first. Pijika clenched the sides of the boat and reminded herself that a true whirlpool on something as small as a lake was impossible, then found herself having to hold the oars to the bottom of the boat with her feet seconds later, when the angle of the list threatened to lift them out. She reassured herself that the centrifugal force of a real whirlpool would have stuck the oars against the bottom.

The motion of the boat in the water seemed to be calming, and she ventured a glance towards the shore. To her horror, she had to look down to see where her house was as the boat slid by that part of the lake.

It wasn't a whirlpool. It was a waterspout.

But the lake's too small! And we don't get storms this bad here, not like this — Pijika clutched harder at the sides of the boat and tried to figure out how to make sure it stayed upright.

So long as she landed over water again, she'd be all right. She tried not to think about what would happen if the storm dropped her on land.

She was so high in the air now that her boat wasn't on water anymore. The waterspout was topped by a spiral of air, spinning her and everything else in it around and around, but travelling too. She was getting dizzy.

The muscles in her arms and shoulders were screaming with tension, but Pijika forced herself to hang on. Whenever the boat tried to shift out of an upright orientation, she would tilt her body the other way to counterbalance.

It seemed to go on forever. Pijika didn't let herself try to determine how long it had been. She just focused on keeping hold of the boat and keeping herself in a safe position.

The drop was sudden, but the direction was not entirely "down". It was as if a giant hand had flung her and the boat towards the horizon, but not so forcefully as to defy gravity. The boat hit the ground hard, sending Pijika headlong into the bow. At the last moment she wrapped her arms around her head, banging her forearms hard against the bow bench.

The boat skidded forward a few metres before coming completely to rest. Pijika tried to right herself, but the pain in her arms made it impossible to move them for a few seconds, and she couldn't rise without bracing herself. She let herself sob out the pain until it subsided a little.

When she did sit upright, the first thing she saw was the cyclone that had carried her away, twisting off into the distance. It took the storm with it. By the time Pijika was able to determine that her arms were only badly bruised, not broken, she was sitting in a sodden boat under a sky full of heavy, but not raining, clouds.

For the first time she took stock of where she was. The lake and any other feature she could recognise were gone. Her little boat sat in the middle of the biggest expanse of long grass Pijika had ever seen. It was pale gold in colour, being blown by the wind chasing the storm into waves that reminded her of the ocean on a blustery day. The land was gently rolling, but disturbingly empty of anything but the dead grass. Never had Pijika seen a landscape without a single tree visible.

She turned to look behind her. At the crest of the next hill, almost at the horizon, she could make out two grey buildings. The smaller one had a chimney, and Pijika could just make out some white smoke coming from it against the grey sky. The larger one stood some ways from the small building, but they seemed so of a piece that Pijika thought they must go together. The buildings seemed the only place she was likely to find any help.

Gingerly she let herself out of the boat, wincing as new bruises and scrapes became apparent. The clouds cracked open to reveal blue sky and a few rays of sunlight. Pijika turned a slow circle, wondering at the place she had landed in.

Her father was a prominent minister in the government. She had been the length and breadth of every province in her country, and knew it like she knew her own back garden.

She definitely wasn't in Oz anymore.

15 comments:

  1. Cool! Wonder where Pijika's adventure will lead her!

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    1. Not sure, but of course we know there's no place like home.

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  2. Oh wow, this looks like the start of a new serial! So if she isn't in Oz, is she in Kansas????

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    1. Haha, I had absolutely no intention of making this a serial, but maybe it can go into cold storage until there's time to make it one -- four out of four commenters expected it to be a first chapter.

      Yeah, she's supposed to be in Kansas. I got the idea from a wonderful painting I saw at MoMA. A friend of mine got a postcard copy of it -- I'll ask her who the artist is.

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  3. Wow what a fantastic first chapter. Loved the tension and action!

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    1. Thank you! Maybe it will be an actual first chapter someday.

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  4. I did think of The Wizard of Oz towards the end of the story, and the last line threw all that theory into reverse, as Oz is where she has come from. I'm looking forward to seeing what turns the story will take from here.

    I thought the second paragraph mentioning the equal exercise for both arms was a nice detail to add to the story too.

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    1. Thank you!

      Funny about the arms -- I just put that in because I realised during a late edit that someone rowing for athletic practice wouldn't want to row in a circle around the lake!

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  5. This was so weird! Likely part of the weirdness stemmed from how tired I am, but I imagined her both reliant on her ear and within some giant eardrum. The sense of imbalance is heady. Did not see the Oz stuff coming as it read like your own material - your own bit of personal absurdism.

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    1. I like the extended ear idea! Wish I'd thought of that. As it happens, I've been battling an inner ear/sinus infection for almost three weeks now, and wrote the story about three hours after disembarking from a plane, so my ears weren't great and I did have some vertigo. Cool.

      The influences I know about for this story are Oz (of course), a painting I saw a few days ago at MoMA, and a Dutch animated short film I saw about fifteen years ago. Who knows what else got in?

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  6. Actually this is one of the most engrossing stories I've read lately -- I flew through it, just having to know what would happen.

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  7. I loved the idea that she was in Oz and now finds herself where? It could be anywhere. ^_^ Nice story.

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    1. I've long maintained that the exotic for one person is the everyday for another. Glad you liked the story!

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  8. This is really clever, having someone sent to Kansas! Wonder what she'll make of the locals.

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