“Falling Out” by Thomas Mitchell
Akashic Books introduces a new flash fiction series, Wilderness Wednesdays. Inspired by Nina Revoyr’s brilliant and chilling new novel, Lost Canyon, which is set in the Sierra Nevada and could be categorized as “wilderness noir,” this series will showcase hard-boiled short stories of men and women in perilous encounters with the natural world. But if you think surviving an encounter with a black bear, a 10,000-foot elevation, or a cell phone dead zone sounds difficult, try describing the experience in 750 words or less. Pretty wild.
This week, Thomas Mitchell takes us on a nearly fatal adventure at a reservoir in New Zealand.
The cool water of the lake bit into her as she reached for the canoe, hands slipping against the polished surface, tired legs kicking slowly at the darkness. Finally she grasped the narrow bow and locked her hands together around it. She let the current carry her for a time.
“She’s pretty tippy,” the owner had warned her as they stood on the pontoon earlier that afternoon. She was right.
Leanne floated and breathed, remembering how she had felt when she slid her legs inside the narrow shell. It took her a moment to find her balance but when she did, she felt like a proper canoe sprinter.
“I won’t lie to you,” the owner told her. “I wouldn’t sell if I wasn’t going overseas.”
“She feels great,” Leanne said, reaching for her paddle.
Ron was skeptical as always. “It’s pretty pricey,” he said, over ruling her enthusiasm. “I looked them up online. A new one costs almost the same.”
The owner inclined her head, eyes rolling to one side. “It’s a Nelo Cinco,” she said. “If you want a decent racing kayak, they are the best you can get.”
Leanne paddled up Lake Karapiro towards the bridge. She said she’d only be gone an hour. She knew she’d been in the water for at least half of that.
“It’s too far,” Ron had chided. “You’re only testing it to see if you like it.”
But Leanne had been sure and here she was, in the water, struggling to stay afloat. Would they be looking for her? Unlikely. Besides, they didn’t have another canoe or a motorboat to make a search. She was alone and had to get herself out. She held on and looked again for a safe place to land.
“Try some sprint work,” the owner had suggested. “You’ll see how she performs pretty quick.”
Leanne had taken that advice. She had paddled slowly at first, but then she’d raised her stroke rate, with her paddle chopping left and right, the needle nose of the K1 slicing through the water like fabric shears. She was fast alright.
Leanne continued in bursts, passing the massive bulk of the New Zealand Rowing Institute until she reached the part of the lake where the banks on either side became vertical. Here there were only rocks and moss and native ferns to watch her progress. Pure New Zealand, untouched and untouchable.
When she rested, she could make out the sound of passing traffic on the motorway above and a chainsaw felling trees on a nearby farm. She could even hear her own breathing and the lap of the waves. What she didn’t hear was the speedboat towing the wakeboarder further up the lake. She didn’t see them and they didn’t see her, but as she turned to paddle back to the pontoon, a one-foot wave from the boat caught her stern hard and the canoe simply tipped her out.
She fell without control, her hands letting go of the paddle, her mouth filling with water as she hit the surface, her face smarting at the coldness, the canoe flipping back to upright again, happily divested of its novice paddler.
She swam quickly at first, reclaiming her paddle and then trying to get ashore on the nearest bank, towing the canoe behind her but soon realising there really was nowhere safe to land close by.
The best places were all further down the lake. She would have to take it easy, drifting to some place where the farmland dipped down to the water’s edge. She would have to hold on and stay afloat while the dark water and weeds below her summoned her down, the endless cold ready to welcome her in, all pain and stiffness forgotten.
It was Ron.
“Help. I’m stuck.”
She was lying in the shallows next to the bank but didn’t have the energy to drag herself out.
“We’ve been looking along the riverbank for you for over an hour. I told you not to come up this far. If it wasn’t for that bloody white canoe, I wouldn’t have seen you at all.”
He reached down to haul her out, tugging her up roughly to safety.
“You could’ve died,” he said.
She nodded. She’d made a mistake, but she would still buy the canoe. Her relationship with Ron was less certain.
“I didn’t die,” she told him. “I only fell out.”
THOMAS MITCHELL lives in Auckland, New Zealand. His crime novel, Good Cop, Bad Cop, (Rogue Monster Press, 2016) was co-written with Angus Gillies under the pen name Angus Mitchell. He has also previously appeared in Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder series.
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Include the location of the story next to your byline.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 2–4 months after the notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Mar 22, 2017