(author’s note: This is yet another novel extant in rough draft, the opening element of a story told in two voices, those of Austen and Kayla. I’m putting up the second half of this element as well right now; at some point in the future, I’ll select one from Kayla’s voice and share her track. This is still only rough draft; normally I work through many edits before ever finding satisfaction with a story writing.)
Repetitive bumping played to the gentle rhythm of waves, jostling the slumped over woman, at last piercing the shutdown shroud encasing her consciousness. Eyelids at first resistant retracted, overcoming a crusty weld from hours of closure. Employing a finger, the waking woman swiped away without thought the itchy residual irritation of sleepy seeds, mustering her true effort into clearing out the mental fog of hard sleep.
If she expected her eyes to drink in information, even with their opening, nothing recognisable formed up around her. Black silhouettes loomed in front of her, reminding her of construction paper cutouts, except these covered the bottom of a equally dark skyscape, differentiated only by a spray of flickering pinpricks of white.
Nighttime. At least her eyes worked; for a moment, she worried. Looking closer in, Austen saw her tiny boat dancing with a rocky shore, bumping, rolling back a foot, moving in, bumping, rolling back. The black silhouettes were in fact scraggly evergreen trees, forming up a line a few feet up from shore, looming to either side for perhaps fifty feet to her right, one-fifty to her left. A small island, she deduced.
Behind her and towards either side were distant, almost lake level lights, marking the presence of well-to-do civilisation and its recreational nestings. Austen began to grasp expanse, for the lights were more than half a mile away to the left and more to her right, and miles away behind her. Guessing, ideally she needed to head toward the furthest distance behind her, although for now, anywhere would do.
Except…if she left the island, on open water she would be exposed and vulnerable, and her tormentors, possibly still lurking somewhere, might spot her. Fear combined with night air exposure shivered her, reminding Austen she wore only a one-piece swimsuit. At least it had dried during the intervening hours.
She had to pee. Out on a boat with no bathroom and no on board toilet, much as she abhorred the idea, Austen had no choice. Off came her suit and into the cold water she jumped, remaining long enough until she felt a flow out of her and into the water. Finished, she swam about to be sure she no urine was on her, in the process freshening her mind. Climbing on board, she shivered; water felt warmer than the air. There was a towel…reaching under the hull and towards the back, she found one and rubbed it over the whole of her naked body, then slid back into her swimsuit.
Seated again, remembrance came on a wave of fear for Kayla, forcibly separated from Austen earlier in the day. All right, Austen, the young woman self-challenged, you need to take stock of the situation and develop a plan. To her advantage, the big lake had settled for the night and almost glazed over, unstirred. No boats moved, at least as far as she could see or hear. She had no idea of time, but for early July, night in northern New England did not lock into place until half past nine, and people loved evening rides out on the night lake. Late.
To her detriment, no wind meant an absence of sail power for the Sunfish, not that wind would make a difference; their attacker had shredded her prized custom-made rainbow sail. Oars, the aluminium and plastic ones kept for dead air movement, should be under the front hull.
Austen shivered again and realised despite her immersion in water minutes before her skin felt warm to the touch. While the air temperature felt warm and humid, she needed a shirt. Searching with a hand rather than her eyes, she found her duffel bag, pulled out a dry tee, and slid it over her head.
She could feel the shards of sail remnants scattered around her feet. The thought of its destruction infuriated her as much as it made her sad, but she had no time for such thoughts now. Reaching again under the hull, she searched by feel for the oars, she pulled one out and dipped its plastic paddle into the water. Pushing the boat away from shore and turning it around, she began to row, mustering only snail’s pace speed.
With purpose, she worked to establish a rowing rhythm. Once in place, Austen’s mind flashed back in time, to Sunday morning.
Their new Sunfish, christened as Skimmerbug, easily detached from the overhead roof rack of their Ford Edge. Parked at the Center Harbor boat ramp, Austen and Kayla slid the hull off the rack and carried it down the boat ramp into the water. After they both unloaded needed supplies, Kayla parked the vehicle, while Austen loaded their gear into the small centre boat cockpit. Ready, the two clambered aboard and paddled out a ways from shore, stopped, and unfurled the colours of what would propel them out of the harbour.
The two sailors wore wide smiles, even though Kayla and water were not quite as symbiotic as Austen and water, the latter having grown up playing on Lake Winnipesaukee during summer months. Their sleek little Sunfish sailboat was an American classic, with hundreds of thousands manufactured over fifty years. Kayla didn’t care if they went with a stock sail, but Austen carried dreams of a rainbow sail. Since she knew a sailmaker, the result was one gradated in multi-hued and tapering arcs, sweeping up on one side and down on the other, merging in a triangular point at sail’s end.
Outside the harbour, they tacked south on a perfect forty-five degree angle to the ten knot southwest wind, increasing their speed to an exhilarating seven knots. White water churned along both sides of the hull as the little boat bifurcated the blue hued lake, producing a soft whooshing sound so peaceful, each felt as if one with nature.
In the distance, toward the southeast, a high-powered boat passed between two islands, throwing up a significant wake, with some backspray evident, suggesting drive modification. Austen noticed how Kayla kept her attention on the showy craft. Focusing toward it, her mind fixed its course as in their general direction. “We have the right of way,” she assured her partner. “Motor boats have to yield to sail power, and give us a wide berth, otherwise the waves they generate at speed could swamp us.”
“What do you consider a ‘wide berth’?” Kayla retorted, unconvinced. “That boat will be on is in a minute at such speed.” After a pause she added, “I thought they passed a law limiting top speed to forty five?”
Austen looked toward the oncoming boat, still a mile away. Estimating its speed, Kayla had guessed right, it would be on them in at most a minute, putting it well over the lake speed limit. “A couple of hundred feet or more, and yes, they did set a lake speed limit,” which Austen knew would still produce significant rocking of their little boat.
Both tensed with closure, the speedboat holding true to its course, set to pass less than fifty feet away. The roar of the triple engines made conversation impossible. Austen yelled for Kayla to hold on, unsure of whether her partner actually heard the warning. The boat roared past, its three occupants yelling something at them she could not understand. The Sunfish rocked violently as the first wave struck, nearly capsizing it, but both Kayla and Austen held on.
Behind them, the powerboat slowed and came about, increased speed and retraced its path, giving the Sunfish its second shaking. This time Kayla flashed both middle fingers at the young men, declaring her contempt for their ill boating manners.
Fuelled to fury by the twin gestures, the big boat came about again for a third and then a fourth pass, the last one not thirty feet away, leaning Skimmerbug on a hard angle, in the process, tossing Kayla out into the lake. Before Austen could lower the sail and come about, she was a hundred and fifty feet away from Kayla, giving the gleeful powerboaters time to slide between the Sunfish and Kayla.
With the tri-engines idling, the homophobic and racial taunts of the boaters finally registered. Tempted to answer their shit, Austen chose to hold back, knowing Kayla was in the water beyond their boat. One of the men jumped in the water and swam toward Skimmerbug, dragging a yellow nylon rope along with him. Stopping at the bow, he lashed it to the tow hook and swam back. Austen climbed on the front hull and tried to untie the rope, but before she could even slide the rope back through one loop of its knot, the swimmer was back on their boat. With a roar, the three engines roared to life, pulling taught the line, dragging the Sunfish after them.