Friday, 20 January 2017

Calamities Happen When You Try To Skate Across An Ocean

It's day twenty of my writing challenge.  The twentieth prompt from thinkwritten says this:

20. Missed Connections: If you go to Craigslist, there is a “Missed Connections” section where you can find some interesting story lines to inspire your writing.

Alnmouth, July 2016

And if I don't go to Craigslist ...

Yes.  I'm rebelling.

Before Christmas I was sitting in the Lit & Phil Library in Newcastle, browsing Writers' Forum magazine.  It's a decent publication and I'll be glad to browse it regularly.  Every month Writers' Forum includes news about competitions and places to submit work.  It also includes a few writing prompts and exercises and while browsing I took a picture of one of them.

A free treat for you there, ripped from the pages of an interesting magazine.  Maybe you would like to join in, roll the dice five times and create your own story.  I've decided that rather than browse Craigslist I'm going to roll an (imaginary) dice, pause for a minute, and then free write.

My five (imaginary) rolls lead me to this:

An unkind goddess, an excitable ice-skater, an unfair competition, an empty beach, and a broken window.

A free written story.  Lord help me!

"I promise.  You can do this.  These are special boots."

"Oh wow, this is going to be such fun.  Gimme, gimme, gimme.  And I'll beat you, I just know it.  You'll never catch me in those things."

"Just wait and see my friend.  Don't count your chickens until they're hatched.  And don't count your victories until you've got a medal hung round your neck."

"Medals?  There are medals?"  She began to sing.  "You're giving me a medal.  You're giving me a medal."

Josephine's day had started out quite ordinarily.  She was getting bored with being cooped up in her house and couldn't stand the thought that the highlight of the day might be catching up with an episode of Neighbours.  Watching was very tempting and she would have liked to learn the result of Toadfish's latest court case and to see whether Karl was suddenly working in yet another department of Erinsbrough's hospital.  Just what was his job and how had he become a consultant in every single medical field?  Josephine found herself wondering what it would be like to be treated by Karl if whether she could hire Toadfish if Karl screwed everything up for her.  Then she mentally kicked herself.  "Don't be daft.  Is your day really going to be filled with this rubbish?  Get yourself out and if it's really important read about the missed episodes later."

If only the rink wasn't closed on Thursdays.  She couldn't skate on Thursdays and that left the day feeling so much emptier.  The sensation of skates on ice as they swept across the rink at speed.  The sound of the ice as she turned and braked.  "Without ice is half as nice."  That's what she told herself every Thursday.  With the rink closed it was hard to find any motivation for anything much at all.  The ice was freedom and it was on the ice that she met her friends and where she found such reward in teaching children the fundamentals of skating.  Adults too, and they were much funnier.  The children knew no fear but the adults were often so timid on the ice that their own fear caused them to stumble and fall.  Watching them struggling for purchase on that near friction free surface made Josephine laugh.  Helping them through those early problems made her feel fulfilled.  But nothing was as good as the freedom of an empty rink and at least once a fortnight she would book the entire place just for herself late at night.

So it was that Josephine found herself on the beach.  It had been quite a trek to get there but the sky was clear, the breeze swooshed through the grasses, and every time a bird flew past she felt a rush of excitement that almost compared with the joy of landing a triple toe loop.  Josephine's mother said that she should give up ice skating.  It was never going to amount to anything.  "You're not exactly world class are you?  Never going to win the Olympics, not at your age, so I don't know why you bother at all."  It was true.  Josephine wasn't going to win.  She had managed to get in the British team a couple of times but was never going to get anywhere near that podium.  One year she made the final in the European championship and that was brilliant.  She had been on a high about that for weeks but her mother just said, "Well you were never going to win.  Zagreb is a long way to go if you're not going to win.  Should have just stayed here.  We could have watched it on TV if you really wanted."  Josephine's mother couldn't understand the joy, the passion, the brilliance of skating.  And she wasn't even supportive once Josephine got her job at the rink and earned a living through her teaching.  "That's not a respectable thing for my daughter to do, is it?  You should do something else.  You know Uncle Richard could have got you a job at the bank.  Now why didn't you take him up on his offer?  Silly girl."  Josephine tried not discussing skating with her mother but somehow it always entered into their conversations.

She hadn't considered inviting her mother on the walk.  Not for a moment.  It was better to be alone than to put up with being criticised yet again.  And that day was a beauty.  As she walked she looked forward to the sea.  It didn't matter that it was still chilly this early in the spring.  It didn't matter that there might be a cold wind blowing in from the ocean.  Nothing mattered except for solitude.  Josephine knew that the beach would be deserted or nearly empty.  Outside of the summer, when the caravans on the cliff top filled up, the beach was hardly used.  There probably wouldn't even be anyone there walking their dog.  As the beach came into view Josephine's heart leaped.  She couldn't see a soul.  A mile of sand.  All hers.  And half way up the beach, her favourite rock.  The best place in the entire world to sit and stare at the horizon, listening to the waves and watching the tide moving up and down the sand.

Beach to north of River Wansbeck estuary, April 2016

She walked up the beach.  This was joy.  It wasn't a deserted ice rink but an empty beach was almost as good if she couldn't have the ice.  She began to sing.  Quietly.  Then louder until she was blasting out songs at the top of her voice.  A bit of James Brown, "I Feel Good, Na Na Na Na Na ..." and then a made up song about the differences between white clouds and white waves.  Total contrasts yet made of the same water.

Josephine reached her favourite rock and sat down on it.  Closed her eyes.  And listened.  The wind had dropped.  The air was still.  All that was left was the sound of the waves, as gentle as they ever were.  Almost indiscernible.  Every now and again a seagull squawked.  And in the distance an RAF jet.  Josephine breathed.  Deep.  Deep.  Deeper.  She let her worries fall away.  No crazy stressing about her mother, about Neighbours, about closed ice rinks.  No stress.  Anywhere.  There was time and space to be luxurious in emptiness.  Time and space to not give a damn.  Time and space to not worry about being thirty-four, with no more opportunity to be an Olympic skater.  She hoped that some of her pupils might get into the team next time ... no, let it go.  It's not time to think about that.

Peace.  Gentle peace.  The waves.  The warmth of sunlight as the clouds free her from her prison.  Josephine thought herself incredibly fortunate to be there ... no, let that go to.  Just live it.  Judge it later.  Peace of the pure breath.  Peace of a mind less stormy even than that sea.

Peace.  Peace.  Josephine nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt a tap on her shoulder.  It was enough to make her scream out in shock.  She opened her eyes to see, standing in front of her, a teenage girl with one of the most beautiful faces she had ever looked at.  The girl laughed and said, "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you.  Take a moment.  You look fun."

Josephine took a few deep breaths to calm herself again before saying, "Er, that's okay, I think.  Hi.  I've not seen you here before."  Although, if she was honest, she wouldn't have known who she might have seen on the beach.

"That's because I've not been here before.  I was just passing by on my way to Iceland you see for a gathering of the goddess knitting club.  I do like knitting.  I'm pretty good at it.  I made this jacket.  Do you like it?"

Josephine looked at the jacket.  "It's lovely yes.  The purple lining looks very cosy and that pattern must have taken ages to design.  You must be very skilled to make something as complicated as that but I think you've taken a wrong turn if you want to get to Iceland.  I'd recommend flying there not walking along the beach."

"Flying, yes, of course.  That's what I was doing but then I saw you down here and you looked so alone and I thought you might be fun and we could play some games together, so I swooped down, landed here and tapped you on the shoulder just now.  And here we are.  Let's play."

"What are you on about?  You flew?  Don't be daft.  People don't fly.  People walk.  Or skate.  I love skating and I'd be there now if it wasn't shut today.  How old are you?"

The girl looked intently at Josephine and pointed away along the beach.  She asked, "If I walked here then where are my footprints in the sand?"

There was only one set of prints.  Josephine's.  "Well maybe you saw me from the end of the beach and walked in my prints and thought up a funny story to see whether I'm gullible.  That's the only explanation."

"I could have done that.  But I didn't.  I flew.  Plenty of time before the knitting club meets.  Freya will be leading it of course and she always gives us a warm welcome which is just as well because the north of Iceland is shockingly cold in April.  Plenty of time so I thought we could play."

"You know what?  I just don't believe you.  Seriously, how old are you?  Is anyone going to be worrying about you?"

"I'm older than I look.  I was born about three thousand years ago.  I'm one of Zeus's children but he didn't like me much and always said I'd been born in the wrong pantheon.  He was so mean and threw me out of the family.  I'll never forgive him and one of these days I'm going to go back to Olympus and show him what I've made of myself.  It's not just knitting you know.  I single handedly stopped Osiris and Seth from destroying the Great Wall of China you know.  Their arguments get a little heated.  But is Zeus proud of me now?  Of course not.  I bet you don't have parent problems.  Not someone as sensible as you."

"I still don't believe you.  But if you must know I have lots of problems with my mother."

"That's okay.  I'll convince you of my goddess status.  Easily done.  My name is Calamity.  I chose it myself.  Didn't like the name Zeus gave me.  Hashbazz.  I ask you.  Would you like to be called Hashbazz?  I wouldn't.  What is your name anyway."

"Er, I'm Josephine.  Calamity.  Interesting name."

"Yes, Calamity by name, calamity by nature.  Nurture too I think.  I can't help it.  Now just you watch this."

Calamity wriggled and pulled on the sleeves of her jacket and from out of slits in the multi-rainbowed back appeared a pair of bright purple and orange wings.

"See ... I've got wings.  Makes flying easier.  I'd never manage it without them.  Now shall we play?  What do you like to do?"

Josephine just stared.

"Take your time, it's okay.  People always seem surprised by my wings.  Haven't they ever seen wings before?  You'd think not.  I dyed them you know."

"Pardon.  What?"

"Dyed them, yes.  They weren't always this stunning.  I used to have boring green wings and not even Zeus could conjure up decent dyes.  Humans are so good at inventing I think.  Come on, what do you like?"

"Well ... I do like ice skating.  And that's why I'm here you see."

"You've come to a sandy beach to skate.  That doesn't seem likely.  You're making it up."

"No, sorry, I didn't explain.  I came here because I can't skate today but I skate every day I can and I love it so much and it makes me feel alive and worthwhile and every time I jump a triple toe loop my heart soars and it's so much better than flying must be and I wish I could skate today but that's not going to happen is it?"

"Hmm.  It's a shame my wings aren't strong enough for two.  I'd carry you off to Iceland if I could.  There's lots of ice there.  It says so in the name.  Ice.  Land.  Clever isn't it.  But they don't call it Iceland there of course because they speak Icelandic so they call it Lýðveldið.  You would love Iceland and I bet Freya could rustle up some good clothes for you that would keep you warm.  She's so good at cold weather clothes.  And then you wouldn't ever have to stop skating at all.  I bet we could convince Thor to pop over next week too.  A few hits with his hammer and he'd have probably made you a beautiful ice rink and then you could open it up as a tourist attraction.  I'd take you if I could.  Sorry."

"That's okay.  I'm happy here.  It's a gorgeous beach and usually it's very empty.  It was empty today until you appeared.  So peaceful."

"Don't get cross about it please.  Let's play.  Hey, I've got an idea."

Calamity reached into her bag and pulled out a pair of ice skates.

"I just happen to be carrying these.  You don't believe me?  Pushing coincidence a bit far?  Well I was on my way to Iceland so why not?  But you're right.  My bag is magic.  I can pull from it nearly anything I think of and I was able to think of these.  You'll find they're your size.  It was the Buddha who taught me to judge the size of feet.  Amazing man he was.  Fully enlightened and could tell what size your feet were at a glance."

"But I can't skate here can I?  That would be impossible.  They're ice skates.  Not sand skates.  And definitely not sea skates."

"There you go again with your scepticism.  They're magic skates, you'll see.  Just try them on."

Josephine took the pair of skates and began to put them on.  They fitted perfectly.  As she was doing that Calamity pulled as second pair of boots from her bag.  "These ones are my size."

When they had both laced up their boots properly Calamity explained.  "These aren't ice skates.  These are magic sea skates.  If you wear these you can skate on the surface of the sea.  Let's go."

Calamity grabbed Josephine by the hand, pulled her to her feet and together they gingerly walked down the sand to the sea.  It wasn't easy.  Have you ever tried crossing a desert in ice skates?  If you have you'll know how difficult it is.

"I've got a challenge for you,"  Calamity said.  "A competition.  You might win, even against a goddess because I haven't water skated before, not in three thousand years.  I challenge you to skate across the bay to that beach over there, pick up a pretty stone, and skate back here.  First one back is the winner.

Josephine said, "You can't be serious.  We'll just sink.  And then we'll have cold feet for the rest of the day.  It can't be done.  Gravity.  I'm not Jesus.  And whoever you are, you're not Jesus either."

Calamity looked at Josephine and smiled.  There was something a little off about the smile.

Calamity said "I promise.  You can do this.  These are special boots."

And Josephine believed.  She would skate across the sea.  She would win, show this goddess who was boss.  She couldn't contain her excitement.  Especially when Calamity talked about medals.

Josephine stepped out onto the water.  In her magic skates she didn't sink at all.  Was she even on the surface of the water?  She couldn't tell.  She certainly wasn't under it.  As she slowly pigeon stepped out further the damp sand fell from the blades of her skates and she slid on the water, so surprised that she nearly fell over like one of the frightened adults at the rink.  This was just like being on ice, perhaps even smoother a glide if that was possible.  The waves didn't seem to affect things at all.

Amazing.  Skating on a Thursday.  Josephine said, much louder than was necessary, "This is fun.  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!  I love it.  Oh Calamity this is the best ever.  Let's race.  Come on, let's do it."

So the race began.  Across the bay.  Two miles of water to cross.  Josephine was glad the wind had dropped.  With bigger waves she might have been too scared to consider it at all.  For the first half of the trip Josephine out sprinted Calamity easily.  Calamity seemed more used to flying than sliding.  But then she started to get the hang of it, or so it appeared and by the time they reached the other side wasn't too far behind.

Josephine waited for her new friend.  It only seemed fair.  She couldn't stop giggling about the crossing.  Why hadn't anyone else invented magic water skates?  Together they searched for suitable pebbles to pick up and carry back across the bay.

"This is fun," Josephine announced.  "It's a shame you can't take me to Iceland.  I'd love to skate there and I wouldn't ever stop, not even for a particularly exciting episode of Neighbours.  Let's go back."

"I am going to win you know," said Calamity.

"No way you're not.  I've been toying with you.  Going to go much faster now.  Gonna beat you and it'll be so much fun I don't even care about the medal."

Calamity took Josephine's hand and led her back out onto the water.  "You might want to be careful.   Race!  Three, two, one, go go go!"

Josephine raced off as fast as she could go and shouted back to Calamity,  "See!  I'm faster than you.  I should have let you know I was an Olympian once."

And that's when it went wrong.

Josephine found herself going slower and slower.  No matter how skilfully she skated she didn't seem to move across the water with such pace and grace.  Calamity was catching up.  Then she noticed she wasn't gliding across the surface quite so well.  The skates were producing spray as if they were cutting through the waves rather than riding on the top.  She got slower still.  And slower.  Then she stopped.  No matter how she moved she could make no more progress.

Calamity passed her, stopped and looked back.  There was definitely something wrong with her smile now.  She laughed horribly and said, "You can't win.  You're stuck now.  Tricked you.  I said I would so you can't say you weren't warned.  Said I couldn't help being calamity."

"What have you done?"  Josephine was scared, adrenaline coursing through her, her stomach knotting up.  "W..what have you done to me?"

"I should have told you but I didn't want to.  I only gave you one-way water skates.  Mine are two-way.  Your skates started to go wrong the moment you began the return journey.  There's nothing much I can do about that if you were silly enough to wear them."

"So I'm stuck here on the water miles from anywhere."

"Oh no, you're not stuck on the water.  Not at all.  And don't exaggerate the distance.  Must be only three-quarters of a mile to land from where you stand.  And a couple of hundred feet down.  You might get there quicker."

"What the hell?"

"Your skates are failing.  Pretty soon the stitching will start to dissolve in the salt water.  I've got salt thread in my boots of course but I'm afraid I didn't have enough of that to use for your boots.  Then the leather will start to get holes in.  And when the blades fall off.  Well then you'll sink of course.  Or swim.  If you can.  It's not far."

"But I can't swim.  I can't swim.  Oh God, I'm going to die out here."  Josephine began to cry.

"And now you're making it worse.  You think a bit more salt water is going to make this all go away.  Don't be an idiot.  Bye bye.  It's been fun.  Next time you'll know not to enter into competition with a deity.  Nobody ever beat a deity.  Bye."

Calamity turned away, flapped her wings and took off leaving Josephine alone in the open water.  She cried more heavily.  And began to sink.  To panic.  To drown.  Into unconsciousness.

Something grasped onto Josephine's unmoving body.  Pulled.  Harder, faster.  Through the water at speeds swifter than a shark.  Down.  Down.  Through the broken window of a ship wreck and up into the metal structure.  Out of the water.  Into air, trapped beneath the ocean.  The something laid the body on the underside of a table.  And worked fresh magic.  Combined with basic first aid.

Josephine woke to find herself back on the beach, lying in the sand next to her favourite rock.  Her clothes were wet.  Except for her shoes and socks which were where she had left them.  Had Calamity relented and saved her?  Had she fallen asleep and somehow imagined the whole thing?

Calamity hadn't saved her.  A man was sitting on the beach nearby.  He looked at her with a sad expression and said, "I saw it all.  That Calamity.  It's a wonder Zeus didn't do more than just throw her out.  She was always a wild one, even by Pantheon standards.  Sorry I couldn't step in sooner to help but there are rules you know.  Rules.  As if that matters in the middle of a Calamity."

"What happened?  Who are you?"

"Oh, how rude of me.  My name is Neptune.  I'm a god you know.  I saved you.  You were nearly dead by the time I got to you but I've got a little place hidden away in the sea that I use sometimes to save sailors who fall off their ships.  It gives everyone such a surprise when a sailor is lost at sea and then turns up the next day on the other side of the world.  They can't explain it because I don't stop to explain myself."

"You saved me?"

"Well yes.  Of course I did.  Otherwise you would be dead now wouldn't you.  I nearly didn't manage it.  Had to wait until Calamity was far out of sight before stepping in otherwise it would have counted as interference and that's against the rules."


"Rules.  We have rules.  What good are gods without rules.  And even though she got herself chucked out they still count her as part of the Greek family.  If I'd interfered and Poseidon had got to hear about it he would have been very annoyed and he's the kind to throw storms at you for a hundred years if you so much as sneeze at him.  Rules.  Got to stick to them."

"I see.  I think.  Am I okay?  Is she gone?"

"Yes, I think so.  You're fine.  Just a bit soggy.  I'd suggest getting warm somewhere if you can.  I've got to go now.  Big chemical spillage occurring in the Pacific.  I'm going to see if I can clean some of it without the humans spotting me.  My poor sea.  My poor sea.  Just promise me one thing."

"Anything, anything.  Thank you for everything."

"Never put a deity to the test.  And never let a deity put you to the test.  That's all.  And you're welcome."

Neptune walked into the sea.  Josephine never saw him again.

She would see Calamity again.  Twice.  But those are tales for other days.

[3945 words]

Written afterwards:  I think that went okay!  Nearly 4000 words.  I think editing might remove family and Neighbours and cut quicker to the calamity.  These things just happen when writing without any plan.  Perhaps by the end of the year I'll be able to write conversations that sound far more natural.  This is a learning process.  And there is a lot to learn.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome. But not spam and not obscenity. It's not all politeness though - religion and politics aren't banned.