What Pegman Saw – The Great Fish

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Tulum, Mexico.

WPS - The Great Fish 180505

Playa Maya, © Tulum, Mexico

Notes

The name Itzamatul is used by indigenous people of Mayan descent. It means ‘one who has the grace of the sky’.

A ‘bacha’ is a marijuana cigarette, a joint.

The great fish

Mingling smells of diesel and fish reassured Itzamatul as he manhandled his small boat into the sea. This was his place. He lit a bacha and inhaled deeply. Waves slapped the sides of the boat as it puttered along the silver path laid by the moon.

Itzamatul threw baited lines over the stern. Whenever he felt a struggling fish, he pulled it in and tossed it into a bucket. The spirits of his forefathers were with him.

Storm-clouds were massing on the horizon – but wait! What was this?

One line was so taut it was tilting the boat. Itzamatul hauled on it and rejoiced to see a great silver fish.

“Set brother fish free,” said his forefathers.

“It will sell for a fine price!” he protested, but they were implacable.

Sighing, he severed the line and the fish swam free. The storm-driven waters rose and bore Itzamatul safe to shore.

Friday Fictioneers – The Storm

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - The Storm 180418

PHOTO PROMPT © Douglas M. MacIlroy

The storm

Sunrise gave the distant hills sharp outlines.

Gaffer Lawrence shook his head.

“Gonna rain buckets,” he said.

The heaven was lacquered blue at noon. The pigs lay still in their pen, panting. The farmer tasted the air, whistled up his dogs and brought his stock under cover.

The horizon steamed. Clouds came out of nowhere. The light faded and the darkness was stifling. Sounds were distorted, submarine. The sweet smell of the cattle cloyed.

Then, as flames of pink lightning flickered on the hills, the first heavy drops fell.

By midnight, the bridge down the valley had been swept away.

Friday Fictioneers – For those in peril on the sea

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - For those in peril on the sea 180214

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

For those in peril on the sea

“Please don’t go, Tom.”

“I must. The lads are depending on this catch.”

Everything was smothered in snow, after the worst storm for years. Mary sat by the fire, snug at home, fidgeting with her cell phone.

At sea, the wind howled, blasting spray which froze onto the boat’s superstructure. Tom, at the helm, was relying on instruments; visibility was almost nil. Although strong and fit, he was exhausted by the continuous struggle against the elements.

Mary breathed a prayer for Tom’s safety. A log shifted in the grate, sending sparks heavenward.

Her phone rang.

“Hi, Darling. We’ve made port!”

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 9

Here is Part 9 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”. This is the final episode!

If you are new to this story, you can find the earlier parts here.

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 1

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 2

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 3

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 4

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 5

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 6

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 7

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 8

I very much hope you enjoy it!

The Bridefarer's Choice - Part 9 - storm 180129

The Bridefarer - Part 1 171127

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 9

The work on fortifying the Six Villages is too slow. Try as I might, I’ve failed to persuade the citizens of Red Bay to complete their defences against the Danes. When Lord Robert summons me to his High Hall, I feel more than a little apprehensive. He is not a compassionate man.

“My Lord!”

I kneel before him.

“Arise, Thane Diarmid.”

Lord Robert has a beardless face, short brown hair, and a tall but stooping frame. If it wasn’t for his eyes, you would think him a holy man or a scribe. Those cold eyes, the eyes of a man who is not sentimental about the value of life, are resting thoughtfully on me.

“Tell me about Red Bay, Thane.” His voice is soft like the crackle of a fire on the hearth.

“My Lord, the work goes well. Both the ditch and the earth bank have been completed. We have stakes in place on the bank on the seaward side.”

Lord Robert’s mouth tightens as he interrupts.

“Roderick tells me that the Danes would overrun the place easily. He tells me that you need stakes on the bank around the entire perimeter. Why has that not been done?”

“My Lord, the Village Elder tells me he cannot obtain sufficient timber.”

“Thane Diarmid, there is ample timber in Peak Town. If the Village Elder cannot obtain it, replace him with somebody who will.”

“Very good, my Lord.” My heart sinks. The last thing I want is to become involved in a political struggle within the Six Villages.

“Perhaps you feel that your status as my Thane is not taken seriously?”

“No, my Lord, – that is, I don’t feel that.”

“I have heard unpleasant tales told of your bride, how she is a selkie, how she swims in the sea.” There was a look of distaste on his face. “That will not help you win respect. Respect must be earned, Thane. Get your house in order.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

I look to him, wondering what he will ask next.

“That is all, Thane. You may leave.”

I feel my ears burning red. My blood runs fiery in my veins. Criticism always hurts more when it’s justified.

“Thank you, my Lord.”

Roderick steps out of the hall with me.

“Thane Diarmid!”

He grasps my elbow, halting me. His face is unconcerned and placatory.

“No ill-will I hope, Thane.”

I shake off his hold on me.

“You were asked by our Lord to report. You reported. You were right. Red Bay’s defences are pitiful, and, as Lord Robert pointed out, that’s my fault.”

Roderick purses his lips.

“He’s a hard man, Diarmid. He was made Lord when he was seventeen years old. And if you think being a Thane is tough, I can tell you, being a lord is ten times tougher. He had to learn fast and brutally. His own sister tried to have him assassinated – can you imagine?”

“I’ve never heard that. What happened to her?”

Roderick shrugs. “Dead, of course.”

*       *       *

I ride straight from Lord Robert’s High Hall to Red Bay. I ride faster than is wise, at a pace that tires even Mavra, and go straight to Taras’s house.

“Greetings, Thane Diarmid. Enter, be seated and be welcome.” His quick little tongue makes the conventional greeting sound insincere. His quick little eyes dart over me, scanning me, trying to gauge whether my visit can be turned to his advantage.

“Elder Sean has told me there is no suitable timber available to complete our defences. What say you?”

Smooth as a snake, Taras says, “I’m sure the Elder must have reason for saying so.”

“Lord Robert tells me there is ample timber in Peak Town.”

“That may be so, Thane, but that is two days away. We don’t have the money to have that timber brought here.”

“I have the authority to replace the Village Elder, if I deem him unsuitable. Surely you can think of a way we could acquire suitable timber?”

“Let me see.” He makes a show of thinking, and I control my impatience. “Well, of course, the timber for the defences need not be seasoned. We’re not worried by warping. Michael has a copse less than a mile away. If that were felled…he’d want recompense of course.”

“One gold piece from me, another from you and the village will provide the labour to cut and move the stakes. And you will replace Elder Sean as Village Elder.” Taras looks at me.

“You are quick to spend my gold, Thane.”

“Not so quick as the Danes will be to loot it, if they come before our defence is complete.”

“Ah yes. The Danes. Very well, Thane. Let it be as you say. I shall speak to Michael immediately. We’ll have the defences finished within a fortnight.”

“A week, Elder, a week. The defences will be finished within a week.”

“Very well, Thane.”

Sean scowls when I tell him that I’m replacing him with Taras. I can see that he’d like to pay me back, but doesn’t have the nerve to say anything to my face.

Then he says, “Danes, Danes, Danes. What proof is there that these Danes will come raiding anyway?”

I look him straight in the eyes.

“There is no proof at all. But they have come to the west of our country, and there is nothing to stop them from coming here in their longships. And if they do come, Sean, then we lose everything.”

I draw my sword and Sean flinches and backs away. I point the blade at his heart.

“Where do you think this blade came from, Sean? I didn’t go to Denmark for it. I took it from a Danish warrior after I’d killed him.”

I raise the blade until the point tickles his Adam’s apple.

“I expect you to give your full support to Elder Taras. Will you do that?”

He nods, very carefully.

“Say it!”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, I’ll support Taras.”

“And?”

“Yes, I’ll support Elder Taras, Thane.”

Slowly I lower the blade. “See that you do.”

I turn away. I imagine I hear him whisper, “Seal-shagger,” but he wouldn’t dare. Would he?

My path back to where I’ve tethered Mavra takes me past Mairin’s cottage. I look at her door as I pass, just as she comes outside. She jumps, startled. I move to greet her, but she presses one hand to her lips, and raises the other, palm outward, to tell me not to approach her.

“Mairin?”

“Oh no, Diarmid. Oh no! Don’t say anything, don’t greet me.“

I stop, look at her. She is weeping. My heart yearns for her, to hold her, to comfort her. But I may not.

Silently, I go on my way. The image of her weeping face, the sound of her sweet voice so full of sadness, will not leave me. I shall carry them to my grave.

Mavra is tired and the journey to Closeharbour is slow. Freya is heavy with our child and has gone to my mother. My cottage is cold. I eat some stale bread, swallow a beaker of wine and sleep like a dead man.

Next day dawns fiery red.

“I’ll not be venturing out in the boat today,” observes my father when I call to collect Freya. It certainly looks as though we can expect a storm.

As Freya and I walk back to my cottage, I try to make her understand how much it matters that she behaves like a thane’s wife.

“You want me to slave in your house, and stay out of the sea?”

I take a deep breath. “Yes. That’s what you must do.”

“I suppose that’s what Mairin would do?” There is a sneer in her voice. The image of Mairin’s weeping face returns, vividly.

“That, and a lot more besides.”

Freya looks at me. “You saw her yesterday, didn’t you?”

“Ay, we met. In the street. A greeting, no more.”

“If I thought there was anything more, I would kill her, Diarmid!”

“Och, don’t make foolish threats. She’s worth ten of you.”

“So that’s what you think of me.” Her face flames with anger, and she strikes me across the face, there, in the street, where the neighbours can see everything. I grab her arm.

“Ow. Let go. You’re hurting.”

“Ay. I shall hurt you a good deal more if you don’t start to behave yourself properly.”

I march her back to my parents’ house.

“Mother. Talk some sense into this woman. I canna do it.”

Mother and Freya exchange glances.

“Sit down, Freya,” says my mother. Freya looks at her briefly, then sits.

“Now, Diarmid, away you go about your business. When you come home tonight, there’ll be a fire on your hearth and hot food on your table.”

How she’ll accomplish that I have no idea, but I feel sure she will.

I go to the harbour, to our smaller boat.

“Oldest?”

Our wise woman, the Oldest, is calling me from the jetty.

“Diarmid. Beware of the sea. Don’t put out today. There is a storm coming.”

I wave impatiently. “I’ll be fine. I’m not going far.”

I bend to the oars. The sea is calm and the boat is sound. I have a net. I’ll row about half a mile up the coast, staying close to the shore. I’ll see any storm clouds in plenty of time to put ashore if it looks as though it will be too rough.

By mid-morning I’m in position. I cast the net. Immediately it starts to fill. Why there are dozens of fish! Perhaps my luck is changing! I pull in the net, stow the fish, and cast again. Another haul. I count thirty large fish.

I think of Mairin and Freya. I was a fool to marry Freya. And then, as clearly as though I had the Sight, I remember Freya this morning. I can see her in my mind’s eye taking my father’s largest knife, the one he uses for gutting fish, with its wickedly sharp blade. She had dropped it into her basket, thinking I hadn’t noticed…

Swiftly I empty the net and stow the catch.

What does she want with that knife? Why, she told me herself! ‘If I thought there was anything between you and Mairin, I would kill her!’

The wind gusts in my face as I seize the oars. Red Bay is only another mile up the coast. I’ll be quicker rowing there than going home and taking the long road overland. I must get to Mairin, protect her from my wife. I groan. My wife! What have I done? Why did I not choose Mairin?

The light is fading fast. Black clouds are racing across the sky. Lightning flickers on the horizon. The waves are tossing the boat from side to side. Never mind. I’ve been out in worse than this, and I’ve covered half the distance already.

I glance out to sea. About three hundred yards away is a great wave, and the wind is so strong it’s blowing the top off it. I row on as hard as I can, glancing left every few seconds, watching that monster. As it nears me, I hear the strengthening wind, and then that’s all I hear, the wind screaming and the rush of surf. I jam the starboard oar into the water, and pivot my craft to face the sea.

We rise, and rise. The boat tilts backward until I think we’ll topple over. The water is black, full of bubbles like the last exhalation of a drowning man.

I remember my words to the Oldest, all those months ago before I set out on my bridefaring. “All men die,” I had said. “I do not fear death.”

I don’t want to die. I want to reach Mairin, do what I can to make amends.

We crest the wave and the boat tumbles forward. The waves behind the monster are big, but not killers. I swivel the vessel, and row with all my might. The wind is so strong, it feels as though it is dragging the air from my lungs. The spray stings fiercely, and I can hardly see. I look over my shoulder. I’m hardly making any progress. Perhaps I’d better turn and run before the wind? I probably won’t make the harbour, but I might avoid breaking up.

The boat starts to rise. I’m closer to the rocks than I thought and the waves are surging up like sea-serpents from the abyss. If I can’t somehow get some sea-room I shall be smashed to pieces. I row furiously straight out to sea.

A savagely hissing bolt of lightning blinds me, and the thunder deafens me even above the noise of the wind. The vessel pitches about. It’s filling with water, but there’s no time to bale. Just keep hauling at the oars. “Mairin!” I cry, in despair, and the boat is tossed ashore, and I am tossed out of it.

*       *       *

And so, just as I began this tale, it falls to me, the Oldest in Closeharbour, to end it. I huddle near my fire; my only comfort.

The night Diarmid was lost, his wife Freya, gave birth to a boy, a bairn with red-gold hair. She nursed him for a few months, then she came to me. She gave me a package for safe-keeping.

Her wee bairn was wrapped snugly for travel. She saw me notice, and said, “Yes, I’m going to Mairin. She will be mother to the child. My duty is done. I can please myself what I do now.” She told me more besides, but I’m not going to share that, except to say I have never seen a more powerful passion than the one she felt for Diarmid.

She rode to Red Bay on her palfrey, and left the babe with Mairin. She and Mairin walked together to the place where Diarmid had been lost. Freya dressed for swimming, then set off straight out to sea; the selkie returning to her own underwater realm. She was never seen again.

I don’t have many more days left to enjoy the warmth of the fire, but that matters not. Mairin has the Sight, and she will be the Oldest for Closeharbour when I have gone.

An infant starts to wail. It doesn’t matter; Mairin will take care of him. I shall just close my eyes and doze …

 

 

Lunch in a storm

Greece in July is always hot and dry, right?

Think again.

We’ve just been lunching at the Καφέ Κεντρικών in Ναύπλιο, watching the rain lash down. The only place I have seen more intense rain was in Singapore, in the rainy season. In Singapore, it was at least warm. Here, I started to wish I’d brought a cardigan.

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The waiters are very good at dealing with the rain. We were sitting under large awnings, and there were canvas gutters between the awnings of each table. The rain ran down the awnings, along the gutters and poured down in cascades outside the covered area. We felt well protected from the elements.

Unfortunately, there is a slope on the beautiful, marble square. It leads towards the café. The square is large and collects rainwater rapidly. I was lunching with my feet in 5 millimetres of fast-flowing water. Although I wouldn’t choose to eat lunch like that every day, as a holiday treat it was rather special!

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This wasn’t even the first storm of the day. The first had been at about 2 a.m. Zeus was banging off lightning bolts in all directions, one of them seeming to strike the Old Citadel directly above us. We waited for a chunk of masonry to plunge through our roof. When it failed to materialise, we reckoned that perhaps we weren’t quite as well loved by the gods as we’d thought (for, those whom the gods love, die young). We would probably live to fight another day. We ignored the lightning, and went back to sleep.

In the late morning, we walked up over the hill past the Old Citadel. Zeus appeared to have spared that, too. There is a very picturesque path around the headland of the peninsular. We strolled along beside the sea, intoxicated by the sweet, spicy scent of pine trees and cactus fruit. The water was calm, the small waves making a chuckling noise as they broke in pools and chambers worn in the rocks by the eddies of a thousand years. All was calm.

Then we looked the few miles across the Gulf of Argos, and the clouds hinted at what was in store for us.

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Still, it’s bright now. The sun keeps pretending that it would like to shine, and objects once again have shadows. Perhaps a siesta would be good; it was a large lunch (I have never eaten four fried eggs at a single sitting before) with twice as much beer as we’d intended…

In the moment – Storm at Sea

Sailors in a storm have no choice other than to live in the moment. A brief lapse of attention brings disaster. Most of the time, we don’t need mindfulness to survive. But it is good to practise mindfulness in our daily life; it will always take us towards a place of emotional calm; and one day, when life’s difficulties batter us, it may make all the difference.

Stormy sea 170321 (2)

The small boat flees before the wind

As the storm wrestles the ocean into a swell,

Throwing it through darkness across leagues.

Like a puma, a wave advances silently,

Gathers speed,

And flings itself with a roar upon its prey.

The sailors steer direct towards each wave,

Accept the fury and the peril,

Use the water’s strength to lift them clear.

The voice of the murderous surf deafens them.

It bellows of southern tempests where the ocean rears into cliffs

As solid and more perilous than a rock face.

It shouts of the calving of glaciers into the sea,

The surge of the sea when a million tons of ice plunge into it.

It whispers of Krakatoa, and breathes the name of Atlantis.

The small boat reaches harbour.

Behind the breakwater

Vessels great and small

Are safe.

Survivor

survivor-blog-170211When Diane set off in bright sunshine to camp in the mountains and experience the wildness of nature, she gave no thought to the wickedness of man. A happy, successful student, she meant to enjoy to the full her last week of freedom before starting a career. But the power of nature almost overwhelmed her; and the malice of man was worse…


Mrs Reeves looked doubtfully at the computer screen where, courtesy of Skype, she could see her daughter, Diane.
“I’m still not happy with this idea of you hiking off into the woods on your own for a week. It’s bad enough you’re in America all those miles away without thinking of you unprotected and defenceless.”
Diane sighed. “Mum, it’s one of the reasons I came over here, remember? There’s no real wilderness left in England, and I want to go somewhere where it’s just me and nature. It’s not really dangerous, you know.”
“You’re an attractive young woman, Diane. I wish you’d let Howard go with you. He could take care of you.”
Diane covered a smile. Bookish musicologist Howard, six foot four and a scant ten stone, wouldn’t even be able to keep up with her, never mind look after her. She loved him for who he was, and she jolly well didn’t need a protector anyway. Besides, Howard was in LA at a conference.
“I’ll be fine, Mum.”
“Just phone me every night, Diane. I’ll be worried sick.”
“Okay, Mum. Provided my cell phone has a signal. You look after yourself, too. Love you!” Diane broke the connection. She shook out her wavy, auburn hair, and her face gradually cleared. Six years of university study had been fulfilled with the award of a PhD; in two weeks time she would start her career with a merchant bank in the City. For the next seven days she would be freer than she had ever been, probably freer than she would ever be again.
She hardly noticed the fifteen kilograms of her pack when she set off the next morning. The gentle air buoyed her up. The sun made the distant peaks seem close. She breathed deeply, and exulted in the sense of freedom as she set off from the hotel along the Storm Valley Trail. A man in the car park looked up from his pick-up, and grinned at her. He was wearing a camouflage jacket and trousers, and a hint of ginger hair showed under his military-style cap. Diane wondered whether he was a hunter; her guidebook had warned her to be cautious when she entered wooded areas.
She walked steadily, with no sense of haste. After an hour she paused to remove her jacket, and have a drink. The day was warming up. The river flowed broad and strong beside her. As she sat completely still and gazing at the water, she saw a flash of blue. A kingfisher dived and reappeared with a small shiny fish in its beak. “Oh, wow!” she exclaimed, under her breath, and watched as the bird flew upstream with its catch.
Diane walked on. She could smell the warm grass, the damp riverbank, and her own sweat. Sometimes she passed grazing cattle, and even at a distance she could detect their sharp, sweet scent. The riverbank was alive with the buzz of insects.
At midday she sat down in the shade of a tree. The knobbly bark massaged her back, and the grass was soft beneath her. The triple-decker club sandwich had looked intimidatingly large when the hotel had delivered her packed lunch; now it seemed an ideal size. Diane devoured buttered wholegrain bread stuffed with mayonnaise, salad, turkey and small crunchy pieces of salty, smoky bacon.
Satisfied, she sat quietly and thought of Howard. No good imagining him out here in the countryside; you would never catch him more than a hundred metres from civilization. So she thought of him instead in the Conference Centre in LA, arguing animatedly about the music of Geminiani and the significance of a recently discovered manuscript in Dublin. She loved his passionate enthusiasm; she loved to hear him perform. Mentally, she conjured up the sound of a recorder consort, with Howard playing a virtuoso sopranino part. She chuckled.
Still, there were miles to be covered before she could camp up for the evening. She smeared on more suncream, put on her hat and pack, and set off again.
By five o’clock she had arrived at her intended destination and pitched her tent. She sat late that night, and savoured the stars. There was no moon, and yet the sky was ablaze. Mingled with the familiar twinkling crystals were swirls of faint light like milt in a rock pool, the whole forming a great arch across the sky. Diane had never seen the Milky Way so clearly before, and she was filled with awe and delight.
She woke early, five o’clock. She was a little stiff from sleeping on the ground, but her sleeping bag felt luxurious.
“Oh, bother!” Suddenly she remembered that she hadn’t called her mother as she’d promised. She reached out of bed for her cell phone. Wait a minute. What time is it in London? One o’clock. That’s okay. She dialled, but there was no reply and she was transferred to voicemail.
“Hi, Mum! It’s only me. Just letting you know I’m alright – sorry I didn’t call yesterday. Bye!”
The second morning’s walking was harder. The path became rough, and climbed slowly but persistently. The river on her right was noisy and fast, the brown water breaking over boulders, churned to froth, a cappuccino river. A precipitous rocky slope rose on her left keeping her close to the water; she couldn’t avoid the tumultuous noise of the rapids. She looked wistfully across the river, at the grassy meadow on the other side and the woodland beyond. Could she somehow cross? No, the torrent would wash her away in a second. And what was that at the edge of the trees? It looked like a human figure; but when she looked again it had merged into the background as though camouflaged.
She felt a sense of relief as she crested a slope and saw that the land in front of her opened out. She lost no time in walking away from the river to a place where she was less battered by its sound. Lunch was a frugal meal. Bread, cheese and an apple. She filled a one litre water bottle from the stream and dosed it with a chlorine tablet.
Clouds were gathering, and the wind was rising. She checked the weather forecast on her cell phone. The storm that had been due to strike sixty miles south of her had changed course; she was going to have the worst of it. ‘Still,’ she thought, ‘provided I pitch up properly I shouldn’t have any problems. The tent’s advertised to stand up to Force 10 winds.’ She walked on.
That evening she stopped early. The sky was solid grey, and the air was gusty. She chose a small raised plateau well above the river as her campsite. There was just time to heat her meal before the storm broke. As she ate, she sat at the entrance to the tent looking through the lashing rain. This time she had no doubt. There was a man in camouflage on the far bank, and he had pitched camp about fifty metres from the river. Was it the man she’d seen in the car park? She shook her head. Whoever he was, and however irritating it was that he should encroach on her solitude, he was on the far side of a fast, deep stream. He was no threat. She was peacefully asleep in bed before nine o’clock.
The crash of thunder woke her abruptly. She lay still, heart pounding, not sure what had disturbed her. The rain was still hammering on the walls of the tent, which were bellying out to one side like sails. They flapped and clattered in the gale.
“Ouch!”
The tent was lit brighter than day for an instant, and within a heartbeat came the crash of thunder. Diane buried her head in her sleeping bag. It didn’t help. The flashes of lightning were so bright that she could see them with her head under cover and her eyes closed. It was like being on a battlefield.
The quilted sleeping bag muffled Diane’s laughter.
“I wanted adventure,” she said to herself, “and it looks like I’ve got my wish. Ow!” LA would have been more comfortable and definitely safer…
The electrical storm gradually receded, but the rain continued relentlessly. Diane dozed.
It was broad daylight when she woke and the rain had stopped. She looked at her watch. 06:15. Should she go on, or go back? She took a biscuit from her pack.
“Breakfast in bed!”
The sleeping bag was surprisingly comfortable, and after her disturbed night, Diane was tempted to go back to sleep. But the wind had dropped, and the light coming in through the wall of the tent was golden. It would be a shame to waste a beautiful morning. She levered herself up onto one elbow.
“That’s odd.” She could feel vibration through her elbow, vibration that was intensifying. She began to feel a pressure in her ears, which became a rumble, which became a roar. She scrambled out of the bag, unzipped the tent door, looked out and gasped.
The whole mountainside seemed to be moving, rocks, mud, trees, cascading helter-skelter.
A fir tree that had stood a hundred feet high drifted past her, canted at a ludicrous angle like the mast of a stricken sailing vessel. She looked uphill. The edge of the mudslide wasn’t approaching her any more closely, and the flow seemed to be slackening. Just to be on the safe side, though, she grabbed her protective jacket and boots and moved away from the avalanche. She glanced again up the slope, wondering uneasily whether the area directly above her was stable.
When all movement had stopped, Diane packed up her kit. Time to go home. She looked more closely at the mudslide, to see whether it would be possible to cross it. She shook her head. No. It would be far too hazardous. She looked up to the top of the landslip. There was solid rock up there, but it was at least a thousand feet higher than where she was standing. She could see new streamlets spurting out of the scar left by the landslide. It didn’t look like an easy passage; it might well be impassable.
It was starting to seem as though she would have to follow the original route, up to a point where she could cross the river and then hike down the far side. She glanced across to the far bank. The river, in spate from all the rain, had been dammed by the mud and debris. It was pooling, and rapidly spreading and deepening. She saw the man again. He wasn’t looking at the pool, or the landslip.
“He’s looking at me!” realised Diane. And the man made a lewd gesture.
Suddenly the route across the top of the landslip seemed a great deal more attractive.
As quickly as she could, Diane shouldered her pack and set off diagonally up the mountainside, away from the fallen hillside. The ground was very wet. Every careful step squeezed water out, little runnels that trickled downhill. Sometimes the soil slid backwards under her tread. Her boots became turgid with mud. She turned upstream, at an angle to the fall line, trying to find solid ground that would not be likely to slip. Reaching a line of rocks, she followed them up into the trees.
Once inside the woodland and out of sight of the stalker, she breathed more easily. She took out her map and identified the plateau where she’d camped. She estimated how far she’d come, and in what direction, and marked the place on the map. So, if she was right about the exact location of the apex of the mudslide, she needed to travel north-north-west and climb steeply.
The woods were dense, and there were no visible landmarks. There were many obstacles that stopped her from following a straight path. It was exhausting work. Almost, Diane turned round to follow her original route, but her fear of the stalker was too strong. She paused at midday. As she sat down on a rock, she remembered her mother and pulled out her cell phone. There was no signal. The battery was nearly spent, too. With a sigh, she zipped it up again in her pocket. She ate a few biscuits, and drank some water, pulling a face at the taste of chlorine.
Although the day was bright, under the canopy of the wood it was twilight. Diane felt tired. Surely she should be close to the mudslide? Or had she climbed too high? She wished she could see a landmark, or preferably two, and take compass bearings. Never mind. Moping wasn’t going to take her home. She slogged on.
After another hour the light ahead brightened.
“The trees must be thinning out, thank goodness,” she muttered.
Not knowing whether she was above the unstable ground or not, she went forward cautiously. She could see rock ahead; that was a good sign.
Suddenly, her breath caught in her throat. Surely that was a figure there, just outside the wooded area? She slipped behind the trunk of the closest tree and peeped round it. Not a hundred metres away stood a man in camouflage, looking into the wood. Hardly daring to breathe she backed away, keeping the tree between her and the stalker. When she had placed another hundred metres between herself and the man she paused. There was no sign of anything but trees, no sound of anything but the wind in the canopy and a single bird singing.
She trotted, at a measured pace she knew she could maintain for hours if necessary. The stalker must know the mountain very well, she reasoned, and he must be fit and fast to have overtaken her. She tried not to think of him. The rising sense of panic interfered with the rhythm of her running and her breathing. She reached the south-eastern edge of the wood. No sign of him. She looked over the valley. Was that a place where she could cross?
Now she ran like a sprinter, heedless of the risk of falling. If she could just cross the river and reach the woods opposite without being seen, she had a chance. She skidded on scree as she neared the stream, almost sliding into the torrent. She climbed onto a rock. It was wet and slippery. The water looked very close and fierce, a lion waiting to pounce and devour her. She stepped onto the next rock, and nearly slithered off. Another step, and another.
With a yell of defiance, she made it to the penultimate boulder. Even as she tensed to spring over the last gap she heard a shout from behind. Her legs weakened, the jump fell short and her feet slipped back off the rock. She hurled her upper body forward, winding herself, bruising her chest and gashing her face, but falling clear of the water.
Desperately, she hauled herself to her feet, struggling to breathe. Her vision flickered and greyed, and she fought to stay conscious. The stalker was close to the water’s edge, he was at the water’s edge, he was on the first rock. At last Diane forced some air into her lungs, and her sight cleared a little. Bending down, she grabbed a large stone.
“Stop!” she croaked. “Stop, or I’ll throw this at you!”
The man laughed, and took another pace. Diane hurled the rock. The man swayed to one side and the projectile missed. The man snarled. Diane bent down, grabbed another missile. The man was only metres away. She hurled it, fiercely, and it struck him full in the face. He wobbled, but advanced relentlessly. Diane bent to gather another stone as the man took the final pace over the torrent. Blood was streaming down his face as he lurched across.
Diane hit him in the face with the rock, as hard as she could. She pushed him, toppling him back into the stream. His head caught a boulder, and then he was whirled away in the spate.
Diane shrank back, horrified. She wondered whether to run downstream and try to help the man. But he couldn’t have survived the rapids? Could he? Perhaps it had been her final blow that had killed him. Certainly she had caused his death.
She sat down a little away from the stream, still gulping in air, still dizzy. She ached in every part. She rubbed her face where it stung, and was amazed at how much blood there was on her hand when she took it away. After a few minutes, she stood up and walked unsteadily down the path by the stream. She looked intently at the torrent, dreading that she would see the man’s corpse, and dreading that she wouldn’t see it, that he would be waiting for her downstream, waiting for revenge. She wept as she walked.
It was only a mile downstream to the site of the landslide. The pool had already overtopped the dam and was carving itself a new channel. Even as she watched, debris from the mudslide toppled into the water draining from the lake, and the flow speeded up. Floating face down in the lake, a figure in combat fatigues spun gently in an eddy.
Diane wondered about her cell phone. Would she have a signal here? With clumsy fingers she pulled it out. Thank goodness. There was a signal. She dialled the emergency services, described where she was.
“And there’s a man here,” she told them. “He’s in the river. I think he must be dead. He must have fallen in. He’s not moving.”
They were very quick.
Within an hour, Diane was seated in a helicopter. Beside her, on the floor, lay the corpse of the man in fatigues, a wisp of red hair, dark with mud, across his brow. Water trickled from his clothing and spread like a bloodstain across the floor.


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