Saturday, December 4, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 33

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 33

Auburn hair shimmered in a flowing cascade behind her. In their weightless environment, Glen stared through the glass of his diving mask at Lillie as she descended just ahead of him. Her long hair waved smoothly through the water. Her body was graceful. From above them, sparkling sunlight bathed Lillie’s deep blue swimsuit and the pale skin of her freckled back. It glinted off her matching fins and snorkel. Glen powered after her, holding his breath and kicking with his own fins. Below them, hundreds of thousands of coral polyps pushed towards the tropical light. Hauntingly beautiful, the reds, greens, blues and yellows painted a pastel panorama on the ocean floor. Everywhere, as far as the crystal clear waters would allow them to see, multi-coloured fish swam lazily in small schools. Some were large and some small, but all looked exotic. It boggled the mind to think that this coral reef ran for over a thousand miles! Given an entire lifetime of diving, it seemed unlikely that anyone could see it all.

Glen pulled hard against the thick water with his stocky arms. In a second or two, he pulled alongside Lillie and looked over at her. She was so beautiful! The mesmerized Scotsman couldn’t imagine that any mythical mermaid could look so good under water. Grinning, he gestured with his hand; thumb and forefinger forming a circle and his other three fingers extended. It was the universal scuba diving sign for ok. Under the mask, Lillie’s eyes glittered. She sent him a dazzling smile, nodding as she did. Even with a snorkel in her mouth, she was gorgeous. Her delicate fingers returned the sign. Then, she made a fist and pointed her thumb upwards. Glen nodded and responded to her direction.

In a few seconds, they were at the surface, snorkels protruding into the hot September air. Swimming side by side, Glen reached out and took Lillie’s hand. As their skin touched, Lillie gave his fingers a squeeze. They were living their dream and loving every minute of it. Beneath them lay a part to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Beneath them lay a part of the planet that few ever got to enjoy from such a highly personal vantage point.

Off to their left swam a submerged sea turtle. Lillie pointed excitedly with her free hand. She squeezed Glen’s hand and released it. He knew she was going down for a closer look. He blew a small puff of air through his nose to clear the salty water that was attempting to accumulate in his mask. Then, Glen sucked in a giant breath and joined Lillie, popping his finned feet out of the brine and pushing them straight up into the warm tropical air. Down he shot, into the depths after his very own mermaid. Truly, this was a breath-taking experience!

“Ahhhhh!” Glen gasped for air. He face was wet, but he was no longer warm. “Where’s the light?” The disoriented Scotsman moved his head around, his eyes darting from side to side. A strange sound filled the air. It sounded like raindrops. “Lillie?” In the inky darkness, a drip of cold water hit his nostrils. “Puuu!” Glen blew out sharply to clear his airway, sending the unwanted water away in a mist. “What’s happening?” His mind wrestled to clear away the cobwebs of sleep. Then, in a torrent, reality returned. Another drop of chilled liquid landed on the tip of his nose.

Wiping the water off, Glen shifted. Out from within his warm sleeping bag came his hand. He groped grogily for the flashlight. Fumbling a little, he finally switched it on. Outside the tent, rain rhythmically dripped. Inside, water was crawling through the many small holes in the tent’s roof. Some of the unwelcome water clung to the interior of the fabric, running along the waterproof coating of the nylon to reach the floor. Some of the unwelcome water just fell from where it had breached the ceiling. “This is not good!” He muttered under his breath, dark thoughts rising within his mind like putrid smoke from a smudge fire. “We might be warm now, but getting wet could easily tip the balance against us.” Glen shook his head. “Hypothermia is not a friend to be casually invited in. Hypothermia could easily take both our lives before morning!”

Glen shone the light on Stan’s sleeping bag. Dark, water stains littered the nylon fabric. He looked at his own bedding. It was the same. Wide awake now, Glen’s mind sought a solution. He reached for his fanny pack, getting hit by two separate drips of chilled liquid as he moved. In seconds, he produced his match case and twisted the sealed container open. A tiny fire erupted at the tip of his damp fingers. Then, Glen touched the flame to the wick of the candle lantern. Its yellow flame flared. At least they had a heat source—albeit a small one.

In the light of the candle lantern, Stan stirred. His sore body had been in a shallow sleep, but Glen’s squirming had awakened him. Glen regarded the big man. It was good that he was no longer asleep.

“I need to cover us with the emergency blankets.” He stated unzipping his fanny pack.

“Ok.” Stan whispered. “My sleeping bag… feels wet.”

“Yeah.” Glen muttered. “Rain’s coming in.” He pulled out the noisy Mylar sheets. In the confines of the tent, the crinkling was like applause at a rock concert! Glen rose to his knees and spread shimmering plastic sheets over Stan and then over his own sleeping bag. “There.” He said. “I hope that’s enough protection.”

Outside, the rain gently dribbled, but inside, at least they would stay a bit dryer. Water might drip on them, but the Mylar would keep the tops of their sleeping bags dry. Glen’s eyes followed the flashlight beam to the tent floor. “As long as the rain doesn’t come through the roof holes too fast, our sleeping mats should keep the water on the floor at bay.”

For long minutes, both men laid awake, listening to the incessant drip of raindrops. Muted trickles and gurgles sounded from nearby Maple Creek. The sounds should have been soothing, but not under the circumstances. Candle lantern light illuminated their sleeping chamber, but no sleep was happening as yet. “I wish…” Stan finally whispered, “That I was… home in my… own bed.”

Glen’s thoughts drifted back to the images of his dream. Lilie’s sweet face appeared in his mind. Cuddling up to her would be so much nicer than laying alone in his damp sleeping bag. Tears pricked at the corners of the small man’s eyes. At last, he spoke. “Yeah.” He said. “That sounds wonderful.” Glen’s words died out and were replaced by the sound of pitter-patter on the roof. “I’ll get you home tomorrow my friend.” He finally promised.

“Ok.” Stan replied. “I guess… that will have… to do.” The big man’s breathing was still laboured from his broken ribs, but he continued. “As long as… we don’t die… from hypothermia… first.”

“We still have three miles to go to reach the truck.” Glen stated. “We should make it by tomorrow night.”

“Why doesn’t… God help us… more?” Stan wheezed.

“I don’t know.” Glen replied, considering his next words, “But perhaps He expects us to struggle before He ultimately saves us.”

“I hope… He saves us.”

“I hope so too.”

Stan Calderbank and Glen McPherson lay quietly in the half-light. Tears welled up in their eyes. They had both had enough, yet there was so much more to endure. The candle flickered its warmth near the tent roof, casting its marginal glow over the two unmoving men. Water dripped slowly onto the shiny Mylar and trickled to the tent floor. Both men wrestled with the same question. “Would God spare them or just let them struggle and then die anyway?” One by one the minutes of the dark, rainy night ticked by. Finally, imperceptibly, a fitful sleep overtook each man - first Glen McPherson and then Stan Calderbank.

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