Meet Tigger. This big guy is always ready to flash a big, toothy smile, especially at mealtime.
Ripples on the water. Pete sat in a canoe, the warm, plastic seat pressing into his thigh the paddle’s handle smooth in his hands. He shifted his feet around the cooler in the bottom of the canoe, and leaned forward slightly to push the water back with the flat paddle. The sides of the boat rolled from side to side a little, and drops of water fell in his lap when he raised the paddle to slice through the water on the other side. Funny how solid and syrupy water feels, when it’s pushing back.
He allowed the canoe to flow forward slowly, the rippling wake gurgling around him. And he watched the dark surface of the water.
Birds called to each other along the shoreline. The air was thick with humidity and the hum of insects. Pete swatted at a fly he heard whine past his ear, and he readjusted the broad brimmed hat that shaded his head from the beating heat of the sun. A cool breeze rippled the surface of the water, and he squinted against the glint of reflected sunlight.
He rested the paddle lengthwise along the bottom of the canoe and unbuttoned the cuff of his right sleeve. With quick jerks he rolled up his sleeve, grey-blue eyes shifting from the rippling surface, the dark shadows of the water beneath the trees that lined the far shore, then back to where the water lapped against the sides of the canoe. He pushed the sleeve of his cotton shirt past his elbow, then lowered his right hand into the cool, greenish brown water. Halfway up his forearm, his hand faded into the murk. He wouldn’t see anything so big as a minnow unless it came right up to the surface. He pulled his dripping hand out of the water and unrolled the sleeve of his shirt.
A slap and sucking sound to his left. But only a small wake curled through the surface of the water. A fish. He felt for the button hole on the cuff with his left hand and pushed the button through with his thumb. The fish didn’t resurface.
Pete bent down to pick up the paddle again, and pushed off the right side of the canoe. He’d need some bait to lure the beast out.
A few more thick strokes forward, the sharp nose of the canoe steered toward the distant rocks that sealed the narrow bay from the ocean. Then the canoe slid through the water easily as a fish. Only a few more easy caresses with the paddle against the water to give him the momentum to coast to the deepest part of the bay.
Pete lay the dripping paddle in the bottom of the canoe and clicked open the cooler. He reached in and, handlebar mustache askew under a wrinkled nose, pulled out a netted bag filled with pale, wide-eyed squid. With a low grunt, he tossed the small, slimy bag of stinking chum over the side of the canoe and tied it to the thwart just behind his seat. He blew out a sigh against the heat prickling the back of his neck, and leaned forward to pick up his paddle and lay it across his lap.
The canoe settled into gentle rocking in time with the undulating water. Soft waves lapped against the fiberglass sides. The squishy netted bag of squid thumped a quiet, slow rhythm. Closer to shore, large heads with small bodies bobbed in and out of the water. Not birds. Though the sharp, triangular snouts did look vaguely like bird’s beaks. Some of the creatures had small red crests adorning their narrow heads. He watched the lines of red disappear under the water suddenly with hardly a ripple, only to bob up again a short distance away to tip its head up and back with a few short, jerky movements. They were swallowing fish whole like alien seabirds.
Wings like those of an airplane, but made of leather scooped out of the water and slammed back down against the surface. One or two big splashes and the dripping creature was free of the water and launched into the air. A pterosaur. It had a flopping fish caught in its jaws, and it veered awkwardly in the air as it struggled to keep its hold on its flight for the rocky shore.
A heavy thud. The canoe rocked back and forth. Pete held onto the rim of the canoe to steady himself as the paddle slid off his lap and onto the floor. He looked over the right side of the canoe where he’d tied the bag of squid, but it was untouched.
Pete was lurched forward with another heavy thud against the bottom of the canoe. His hand smarted from hitting the corner of the cooler, and his knees stung. He knelt in the bottom of the canoe and held onto the sides, eyes searching the surface of the water.
There. To the left. A soft ripple on the surface that coiled and sucked for too long. A big one, and just teasing under the gloom of the murky water.
“There you are you big brute,” murmured Pete under his breathe. “Come up here where I can see you now.”
The ripple quieted, merged with the liquid wrinkles of the breeze over the surface. Pete relaxed his white-knuckle hold on the rim, and the bag of squid renewed its quiet rhythm against the fiberglass side of the canoe. He twisted around and grabbed a coil of rope. Turned his head to keep an eye on the water as he straightened and pulled the rough fibers through his fingers until he felt a good enough length to make a loop.
He looked down at the rope just long enough to twist a quick knot- one that would tighten when he pulled- and focused back on the water.
Everywhere he looked, the water was the same deep shade of muddy olives, the sun reflecting off the crests of each ripple made his eyes water. The thrum of insects pressed against his ears as thick as the humidity, and he felt a shudder crawl up his spine when a bead of sweat trickled down the back of his collar.
“Come on,” Pete held the rope lose but firm, the loop hovering over the rim. “Come on boy, where are you?”
The water answered with its quiet lap, lap against the canoe.
Pete’s stomach lurched as gravity suddenly dissapeared. His kness rammed into his chest, and he flailed his arms to steady himself against thin air. His right elbow contacted something hard, and numbness shot up his arm. Water everywhere. Was he in the air or the water? Which way was up or down? He couldn’t tell.
He gasped when he plunged into the cold water, then kicked until his head broke the surface, spluttering. He shook his head and tread water, coughing. His hat was floating off to his left, his canoe upturned and drifting not far away. Pete kicked his feet hard, his legs heavy as lead with the weight of water-filled boots and denim jeans, and scrambled through the water to the canoe. He shook the water out of his eyes and blew through his lips. The water tasted like muddy salt.
“Should have brought a bigger boat,” he muttered, and then louder against the water. “Now what am I going to do with you? No more hide and seek. Come on Tigger!”
A long, thin shape broke the surface of the water, like an algae-covered log. But it blew two small jets of salty spray and rose higher to reveal a long, narrow jaw and orange eyes. It opened its mouth, impossibly long and full of sharp teeth, and snapped it closed with a low growl and explosive splash.
“Oh yes, very funny,” said Pete. The paddle was too far to reach, on the other side of the upturned canoe. He heaved himself up onto the hull and struggled with his heavy boots, gave up wrenching them off, and glared at the creature in the water. The pliosaurus snapped his jaws against the water again. From up on the canoe, the menacing teeth looked like a giant grin. Pete shook his head, his mustache curled with a small smile.
“I suppose it is my fault,” he said. “I really should have brought a bigger boat, though this one should’ve been fine. You’re not hungry?” The bag of chum was still tied to the canoe. He reached over precariously, felt for the rope tied near the rim, and lifted the untouched bag of squid. He let it drop back in with a splash. The pliosaurus turned his large head towards the splash, but didn’t move towards it.
“Hmm,” Pete frowned thoughtfully, watching Tigger. The pliosaurus was moving closer, rowing his four flippers. He coasted past the canoe, almost knocking Pete off his perch as he rasped his back against the rim. Pete got a good look at the Pliosaur’s tiny round scales, scales so small it looked like thick, wrinkled skin from further away. He touched the small tail fluke with the toe of his boot as he passed. Tigger circled back around and leaned his large, torpedo-shaped body up against the rough bottom of the boot. Pete laughed.
“I see now,” he leaned forward to put more weight against the pliosaur’s side. Tigger chuffed, exhaling salty breaths through the large nostrils at the top of his sloped forehead, and closed his eyes. Pete scratched his back with the textured bottom of his boots.
“There you go,” he said fondly, his eyes crinkling in a soft smile. “A bit itchy with some bugs huh?” Tigger waved a front flipper lazily, the water rippling and curling in its wake. Pete shook his head. “Well, you’ve knocked over my boat. Your medicine is floating away somewhere. So I suppose we’re stuck here for a little while then.”
Tigger gazed at Pete with one orange eye, and Pete could’ve sworn that toothy maw was grinning at him. Pete laughed, dripping wet in the sunshine, and scratched Tigger’s back with the bottom of his boots.
It’s good to be back!
I’m glad I took a month-long hiatus (actually two months, took longer than expected), because life’s been busy!
I forgot how intense life with a newborn can be. If you’ve never experienced one of these bundles of joy before, just picture a nest full of baby birds. 😀 All those little beaks agape and calling out for their share of the grub as the parents run the relay race of tasks to be done, punctuated by moments of peace when everyone is leaning their heads over the side of the nest, eyes and beaks closed in blissful sleep…
It’s a beautiful, joyful, mess, but I’ve been doing little creative things here and there in moments of time I carve out for myself. Most of it’s just been happening between my ears, and most of what’s come to the surface isn’t really worth sharing, but creativity hasn’t come to a total standstill! 😛
I’ve been thinking on how to best do this…I am not backing down on this blog or the book, but I may have to rearrange how I do things for a month or two until we establish a new rhythm.
Since I can’t reliably give you something worth reading or seeing every week right now, I’m afraid Critter of the Week will have to be Critter of the Month…at least temporarily.
So, the temporary Critter of the Month posts will be on the 1st of each month. 🙂
I plan on writing a new short story for the featured critter each month, so you have something to look forward to while you wait. 🙂
Thank you so much for your patience, and for sharing this little corner of the internet with me. 🙂 I truly enjoy seeing you in the comments! 😀
Coming March 1st…
This swimmer likes a game of hide and seek, can you find her? 🙂