Friday, August 13, 2010

Frenchman's Creek

Yes I'm back! Sorry for the delay in transmission but... well... you know how things get.

Anyway I will get you updated on all the news some other time but first I have to post something due to a challenge I took on.

You see back in July at the RNA Conference I became part of a brand spanking new (and rather fabulous) blogging team called The Heroine Addicts. Basically me, Liz Fenwick, Susanna Kearsley, Julie Cohen, Anna Louise Lucia and Christina Courtenay. You can find us here
Yesterday Liz Fenwick wrote a post about settings and included a humorous retelling of an adventure she and I had on Frenchman's Creek earlier this week (and included a photo... chiz chiz). So Christina then set a challenge to write a scene on Frenchman's Creek and seeing how differently everyone would make it.

I kind of went a bit mad though. Instead of a scene I seem to have written a short story. Ho Hum. Anyway here goes...

I’m not sure whose idea it was to camp along Frenchman’s Creek. It could have been Chris’s or even Liz’s. I know it wasn’t mine.
My idea of a fun night out is somewhere with running water and a proper roof over my head at the very least.
“C’mon, it’ll be fun!” Chris bumped me with his shoulder.
“You know that Will’s coming too…”
Liz knew how to snag my attention.
And as she knew it would, I caved in.
Which why I found myself staring ahead at the tip of a lime green plastic kayak, encased neck to thigh in unforgiving neoprene, wishing that Liz was within reach of my paddle.
“I said one, two, one, two.”
I couldn’t see Will, he was behind me, his legs bracketing me as he set the paddling pace.
Blinking back the spray from my paddle catching a crab I strained to get us further up the grey Helford towards the mouth of the creek. No sun shone on our little gang, Liz and Chris up front already turning into the creek, the only thing on us was the tide and the wind and it was working against us.
As we came to the mouth of the creek the current took the front of the kayak and spun it round until we were facing back the way we had come.
“Oh for Godsake Pip!”
I didn’t think it was possible to hear someone grind their teeth over the slap of the waves on the sides of the plastic, but it was.
Inch by hard won inch we battled against, current and wind and made it.
Where was the romantic idyll that I had been promised? Yes the trees dipped down on both sides to kiss the water. Yes there were hidden grottos under those trees and further on I knew that the creek wove its way deeper inland, became secluded, private.
All I saw were white tipped waves on grey water, trees bent over as if reaching for us, trying to pull us under them to hide us, to lose us, to make us part of them.
Fear drove my paddling, Grey sky above and grey water below. Dark green menace to either side, brooding and watching. It called to me. There was silence except for our breathing, the splash of paddles and the lonely cry of a bird. Was even a night spent here with Will worth it?
And as we moved further down the creek, the green menace grew closer, if we floated too close to the side holly and gorse sent out branches to snatch at me.
Will breathed in my ear; even he seemed unable to break the quiet.
He pointed with an oar and I saw off to the side a stone building, or what had been a building. Overgrown with grass and trees, missing its roof and a lot of wall, it jutted out into the creek.
Liz and Chris had tied up their kayak to a tree around to one end and were unloading the bags which contained clothes, sleeping bags, food and drink.
Will and I came abreast and I fumbled to tie the line with cold and shrivelled fingers.
The tree, an oak, drew a finger like twig down my cheek in the parody of a lover’s caress.
I flinched back and almost sent the kayak over.
Will’s voice exploded in my ear.
Somehow we unloaded our gear and ourselves without plunging into the cold and unforgiving water.
Later we rid ourselves of the wetsuits and sat huddled together waiting for the small fire we have lit to give off heat. A bottle of wine was passed around.
“We should tell ghost stories.”
It was Will who suggested it.
Ghost stories. They each take turns. We squeal, we shriek and after each story of a headless horseman or white ladies who walk, the more I can feel the shadows of the trees surrounding us get closer. The light gradually fades so that all I can see of the creek is a dark silver streak being consumed by trees. As if they are merely waiting for the full dark before they take what they want.
I shiver.
The feeling of that wooden finger against my face has not gone away.
“Pip, your turn.”
I could see them through the firelight. Liz and Chris cuddled together, eyes wide and encouraging. On my left and not close enough is Will. Tall and broad. His dark hair has dried sticking up and his usually bright blue eyes are shadowed by the evening. He has a smile playing round his mouth that seems to challenge me.
A ghost story? Me? The girl who can’t even go out on Hallowe’en?
But suddenly from somewhere there was a whisper on the breeze and the smell of green wood brought a thought, a sliver of a story.
“Once upon a time on this very creek, on a night like this, a gang of smugglers were hiding from the excise men.”
“Not a bloody smuggler story! Oooof!”
Liz smacked Chris.
“Not exactly original, Pip!”
I ignored them.
“They knew they had to wait until the moon had set before they could move on. They knew the secret smugglers paths that bisect the woods at the shore of the creek but then so did some of the excise men. All they could do was find cover and wait it out…”
I took a breath, inhaled the wood smoke and the scent of damp wood in the evening and in a blink of an eye the fire, Liz, Chris and Will and the small stone building we were in fell away and I was deep in the woods.
I was both Pip and I wasn’t. I watched from the eyes of a young smuggler, my age, on his first run. His leg was cramped from crouching in the fork of the roots of a gnarled old tree.
Where were the others? The boy thought.
When the signal had been given he had been a bit behind the others and they had dropped where they could.
Had they moved on?
The silence pressed us further into the hiding place. Had they all been taken?
And then we saw her, and the bit of us that was Pip, recognised her. It was me.
Or was it?
I blushed for my naked image, my suddenly longer hair which fell over and around me, allowing glimpses of my body to be seen by the now awestruck young smuggler.
My voice from that other Pip was like the rustle of leaves, the shimmer of blossom, and the promise of safety and forever.
The cramped legs of the smuggler straightened.
I wanted to stop him. That wasn’t me, that wasn’t real. That was something like me.
Even as I thought this the naked Pip reached out a finger and drew it down his cheek in a caress. I felt the whisper of it trace the same line as the tree had traced earlier.
And the I was alone in the hole left by his body as he moved towards the nymph Pip. He was mesmerised by her voice and touch.
And then like ivy, my image wrapped herself around him and I watched him change. His feet lengthened and darkened until they drove into the earth. His legs melded together and became rough and grey.
In horror I watched his arms reach up and twist, dividing and dividing, his clothes becoming leaves and his face suddenly aware as the entwined Pip kissed his lips and his horror filled face sank into the wood of his prison.
And then with a cough. I was back by the fire.
“Oh give the girl some water!” Chris and Liz were holding hands and making their way to the corner of the building where their sleeping bags were.
“Are you ok?”
I could see Will’s eyes close to mine. And by the firelight I could see myself reflected in them. Whether it was a trick of the light or my imagination but those little Pip’s in his eyes had longer hair, they had lost the baggy sweatshirt. I caught a flash of white skin.
I don’t know what made me say it.
There was the rustle of leave and the shimmer of blossom. I breathed the smell of wood and summer and forever onto him.
He came closer.
I wrapped my arms around him. Held my body against his until I was a vine, an ivy, a columbine.
His eyes fluttered shut.
I reached my lips to his and as I touched them I could feel his roots delve into the earth beneath us. I could feel his arms reaching for the sky. I could feel him joining us. Making us stronger.
And as we kissed he looked into my eyes and he knew what forever meant.

1 comment:

Kath said...

Wonderful story and not at all the usual smuggler tale. Very evocative, I felt that branch on my cheek - loved it!