The sky was blue, and it was a near perfect day but Ameesha hardly noticed. With adept prowess and instinctive, lightning fingers she tapped out message after message after message on her iPhone screen, falling into the groove of plings until at last she punched out her last text, merely stating, Ttyl. I hate my family. This paddle boat thing is dumb.
A final flourish of her hand and her smartphone went dark. Scowling and begrudgingly, she passed her one and only lifeline that could have saved her from the oncoming onslaught of boredom to her mother, who plucked it from her grasp with no small shortage of pleasure and pocketed it. Ameesha looked blankly over her mother’s shoulder, and with no shortage of displeasure, frowned as she watched her younger sister, Nargis, and grandfather shove the decrepit-looking paddle boat from off the sandy lakeshore into the murky water. To her mother she turned.
“Do I have to do this?”
“I think it will be good for you. You and your sister could use some time away from all those screens -” her mother began.
“Yeah,” Ameesha interjected, her annoyance unvarnished, “Fine. Whatever. But do we have to take Shammi with us? I mean, he’s just going to be a drag. I hate watching him.”
“He’s your little brother and he wants to come. So yes, you have to take him with you. Here.” Her mother handed her a large, neon-orange lifejacket, which only made Ameesha’s scowl deepen. “Don’t whine. You will wear this and you will definitely make sure your sister and your brother wear theirs.”
“Mom, these things suck.”
“And they’ll save your life if something should happen -”
“It’s a paddle boat, Ma. What could happen?”
“Ameesha! Ameesha!” Her brother zoomed over to her, bubbling with excitement, “I saw a frog, and it was doin’ like this thing with its legs!” furiously Shammi began pumping his arms, “So I went to touch him, and he went flying way up in the air, and splashed into the water! When we’re in the paddle boat, we should race him!”
Ameesha, more defeated than ever, looked woefully at her mother, who only smiled.
“Okay! That’s it!” Her grandpa called. “Everything’s all set. We got your track phone in case of an emergency, lunches packed, got your sunglasses, extra lifejackets, some coats in case the weather turns, got a pair of binoculars, got a net here in case you guys see some fish or something else that you like – ”
“Can I bring my dinosaur?” Shammi asked, holding the large, blue triceratops up to his grandfather’s bespeckled face, and pressing the tail down the plastic creature let loose an electronic rooaar.
“No! No, please!” Nargis complained, Ameesha just as verbal coming up behind her. “I hate that thing! It’s so annoying! Come on, Grandpa Om, please no.”
“Alright, alright.” Their grandfather began, waving his hands to calm the rising tide. “Let’s not make a mountain from a molehill. Shammi, how about you leave that here this time, and I’ll watch him for you.”
Sad, but accepting, Shammi handed over his prized possession, Grandpa Om taking it gracefully and with care, and then lovingly, he tousled his young grandson’s mop-like hair. “Autta, boy.” He said. Nargis and Ameesha both looked at each other, relief washing over their faces.
“Alright now!” Their mother said eagerly and with chipper tone, “Everyone into the boat! While the weather’s still nice and the morning young!”
Nargis and Ameesha both sloshed into the cold water; a large shiver jolted up Ameesha’s spine, making her squeak. With Nargis and Grandpa Om holding the boat, she climbed into her seat, her butt hitting the hard plastic and immediately she felt the cold and wet, and frowned. With Grandpa Om holding the boat steady, Nargis heaved herself up (with some difficulty) and plopped down in the seat next to her sister. In unison they put their feet upon the pedals below them, and Nargis smirked at her sister, her thin brows raising slyly, and energetically see began pumping her feet; water bubbled and splashed out the stern, drenching her grandpa and sending a small shower upon her and her sister’s backs.
“Haha!” Nargis laughed mischievously.
“Nargis, stop! Ugh! Shammi’s not on the boat yet cut it out!” Ameesha reached over and stomped on her sister’s foot.
“Girls, behave yourselves! Wait until Shammi is on the boat and your grandfather out of the water.” Their mother pressed.
“It wasn’t me!” Ameesha declared defensively. She turned to her sister, who had said nothing, but merely stuck out her tongue sneeringly. “Moooom!” Ameesha called.
“Now cool your jets.” Grandpa Om stated as he heaved Shammi into the back of the paddle boat, checking his life jacket for absolute infallible snugness. “Once you’re out on that water you’ll have plenty to do and complain about.” He kissed his grandson on the head, who whirled in his cubby-like seat, and looked pleadingly at his grandpa.
“Grandpa Om, can I please take my dinosaur?” He said softly, “I promise not to bug Ameesha and Nargis. Please?”
“Here,” gently Grandpa Om reached into his soaked breast pocket, and pulled out a necklace with a large, gold pendant, “How about you take this instead?”
Wide eyed, Shammi clutched the chain in his small hand, bringing the pendant close to his face. There a golden turtle met his gaze, with a piercing jade eye. “… Cooool.” Shammi breathed.
“Now that’s Chuck.” His grandfather said. “He’s a very special turtle. You look after him, ya hear?”
Shammi smiled. “Sure, Grandpa.” And deftly he slipped the chain over his head and around his neck, taking the pendant between his fingers and gazing at it.
“Okay!” Grandpa Om called, making his way out of the steely water and back to the shore. “You kids have a good time! Be careful! And don’t take off those life jackets.”
“We won’t!” Nargis called back, and again in unison she and Ameesha slammed their feet on the pedals and both together began pumping furiously. With Ameesha at the rudder, and their mother and grandfather’s voices bidding them all farewell, in the shunk-shunk-shunk of the paddle boat and the lap of the wistful water the three slowly headed out into the blossoming green and still blue of Drummond Lake, the sun pale and creeping into the splotched sky. With the clouds fluffy and just so, and the wind absent, Nargis and Ameesha made quick time, pedaling swiftly, Ameesha keeping them all hugging the shore. But as the day wore on, and the two girls becoming more emboldened by their detachment from the world, Ameesha cranked the rudder and the trio of voyageurs charge headlong into the center of the lake, joking of being pirates on the High Seas. The lake, however, was much bigger than it had appeared, and after a couple hours of constant paddling the two girls called it quits, propping their feet up and letting the boat idle, leaving the young pirates floating and drifting easily in the heart of Drummond.
Ameesha sighed, head back and gazing up at the sky, feeling unusually relaxed. She thought leaving her phone behind would have filled her with anxiety, which it had, for a time, but after all the paddling and steering and fending off her sister and brother’s bad pirate puns, she found herself too tired and exhilarated to be anxious. The sun burned white behind a thick cumulus cloud, and she squinted as she watched what looked to be a pair of Canada geese soar over, the cross-like shadows honking as they flew.
“I’m hungry!” Shammi proclaimed.
“Me too.” Chimed Nargis.
“And that makes three of us.” Ameesha said, swinging her legs down into the boat, sending them all rocking slightly on the cobalt blue. “Let’s freakin’ eat!”
Nargis gave a woot as Shammi reached into the back cubby and pulled out the small cooler their grandpa and mother had packed for them. Together they divvied up among them the loofahs and packs of fruit snacks, and with some persuasion Ameesha managed to convince Nargis and Shammi to split an orange soda while she steadily sipped her Sprite. Having drifted slightly closer towards the shore, Ameesha had Nargis drop the anchor, Nargis looking down into the water, seeing long weeds dancing like thin green ghost in the dark. She plucked a fruit snack and popped it in her mouth, chewing loudly.
“How deep do you s’pose it goes?” She asked to no one in particular.
“Not that deep.” Ameesha said flatly, “Maybe five, six meters.” She took a bite of her loofah.
“Nah, I think it’s way deeper than that.” Nargis retorted.
Shammi futzed about, having polished off all his fruit snacks without touching his loofah, and smacking his lips, he took the empty plastic wrapper and tossed it over the side of the paddle boat.
“Shammi!” Ameesha shouted, “Don’t do that! You pick that out of the water right now!”
Sheepish, Shammi leaned over the boat, stretching his arm out, his fingers just brushing the wrapper, trying to reach it. Unable, he adjusted himself in the boat, gripping the side, and with Ameesha watching him with a studious eye he extended his arm and torso and stretched out, mere inches above the water, Grandpa Om’s necklace dipping into the glassy hue.
“I…almost… Got it!” Shammi declared, snatching the wrapper from the waves, and with a click the necklace fell from Shammi’s neck and plopped into the water, the gold turtle glinting before disappearing into the forested dark. “Oh no!” Shammi cried.
“What? What is it?!”
“Chuck!” Shammi yelled into the ripples.
“Chuck what?” Nargis said, leaning over to look.
“Chuck! Grandpa’s turtle! I promised I’d watch him!”
Ameesha instructed Nargis to the other side of the boat, to balance the weight, as she sidled up next to Shammi and peered down to where his Chuck had fallen.
“Well, he’s gone now.” She said definitively.
“No!” Shammi said, traumatized, “I said I’d watch him! Grandpa said he was special – I promised!”
“It was an accident, Shammi. Grandpa will understand.” Nargis said softly.
“NO!” Shammi cried louder, his big brown eyes welling up with stressful tears.
Ameesha continued to gaze deep into the water, watching the tips of the long weeds sway in the hidden currents of the lake. She couldn’t see anything, and she knew it was lost, but she hated to have such a surprisingly good day ruined. A flash of gold met her eye.
“I think I see it!” She called. Eager, Shammi stretched himself over the side of the boat to see. The gold shined and blinked, glowing, and as Ameesha squinted, looking closer, it went out like a light. Silent, she stared intently into the murky water.
And then through the dark an enormous jade eye rolled into her gaze.
“Woah!” She shouted, throwing herself backward, the boat rocking.
It kept rocking. The boat bobbed left and right like a seesaw, as huge bubbles from the lake boiled beneath them, causing the hull of the paddle boat to thrum. The three looked to each other, their agape eyes tossing confusion and fear, and as the boat began to surge and turn and roll in the sudden waves rising about them, Nargis gripped her brother to her chest and shouted above the mad burbling and roaring, “What’s happening?!”
“I – !” Ameesha began, “I think I saw – !”
Something beneath the roiling water broke, and before them a goliath flipper, green as ivy, rose from the lake as a wall. Great swaths and rivers of water showered down from its slick precipice, great falls crashing. The emerald fin, stretched so high, Ameesha’s neck craned and craned as she watched it, rising and rising until it blotted out the sun. All around them the waters raged. Clutching the boat they were tossed about on what now seemed to be an ocean. Waves towered as tsunamis, lashing them from one end of the world to another. The land was swallowed. The vastness of the blue all consuming. The great fin descended, a mighty sweep that crashed the water, tumbling them off in a mad spiral. Far they were tossed, so beyond logic and physical reality they were tossed, and as a wave carried them off to sea, in awe they watched, as the colossal creature emerged fully from the deep.
Trees and craggy peaks grew off its shell; mountainous barnacles and corals birthed along its belly; from its four flippers dangled twists of seaweed and showered buckets of pearls that splashed as boulders back into the waves, the whipping weeds twirling as long as redwoods behind the beast. It was a turtle. The largest thing any had ever seen. That had ever been. From the ocean it rose and rose, cascades of running water tumbling from its grooves and eaves, and so it ascended, like a mighty albatross, into the sky, and as the children drifted further and further, so rumbled a deep, throaty moan; a bellow like that of a whale, guttural and bassoon, rang out through the air, and it pushed them into the Beyond.
Ameesha clutched the empty cooler, hands shaking, and paled water out of the boat. Shammi laid limp, drooped over the side, flabbergasted and looking as though he had vomited, and Nargis yelled wildly into the wilderness around them, her hands stretched out to the air.
“That was A-MAAZING!” She cried, both with terrific thrill, wonder, and terror. “Did you see that?! DID YOU SEE THAT? My heart is beating, so hard! Feel this! Feel this!” She said, her hands pressed over her heart. “I can’t believe that just happened! HA-HA! Wow!” Ameesha dropped back down into the paddle boat, depositing the cooler by her feet, exhausted, her heart indeed pounding.
Through a forested marsh-like land, they floated along, some secret current of the waters having stolen them. Mammoth trees, with trunks the size of houses, towered as pillars from the still, algae dusted waters. Roots thicker than elephant trunks, tangled as a web beneath them under the green sheen. The forest canopy was so far above them; a sky alighted with dragonflies and beetles. A moist bed of air rested over them, and the dense, enormous leaves of the giants, rustled in winds, and the high branches of the trees far overhead, creaked. It was a magical, overwhelming world. Rays of sun, escaped down to the slowly churning waters, beaming as spotlights into the murky, life-filled world. Calls and chirps of animals, both large and small, echoed all around them. The land brimmed with ancient feelings, primeval sensations; the kids drifted, seemingly endlessly, without sight of home, or the familiar.
“…Where are we?” Ameesha breathed.
Nargis huffed a breath. “Well, I’ll tell you this, we aren’t in Kansas anymore…”
Ameesha gave her sister an eye, but her annoyance didn’t last. She kept finding herself drawn back into the magic all around her. Her heart pumped; she could still hear it, beating in her ears. But her hands had stopped shaking, and her breath had at last steadied. She couldn’t help but be filled with amazement, and wonder, overwhelmed and mystified, like her sister… Shouldn’t she be more concerned about their safety? Getting home? What was wrong with her? She should be terrified! But, this place, it was…it was…
“Hey! What’s that!” Shammi called. Quick as birds Ameesha and Nargis scurried and turned to see where Shammi’s small finger pointed. From up behind, something seemed to be making way towards them. It appeared, it seemed, as a little person, standing upon a large oak leaf, and using the leaf as a raft and a finely shaped twig as a paddle, slowly as though directing a canoe, the little being at last sidled up beside them, and from under a large straw hat, it looked up, and smiled.
It wasn’t a person at all, but a newt.
“Gud eve’nin, mates! Noice day fer a pattle, ain’t it?”
The three gazed in awe at the little creature, as he made his way with great finesse and the ease of an experienced navigator. His shiny black eyes were kindly, as he peered at them from under his hat, and his tail he dipped into the water, using it as a rudder on occasion, as he kept in perfect time with their aimless paddle boat.
“Foine floatar yer got there. Not seen one of those fer a good time.” The newt marveled. “Yoose look loike younglings, am I roight?”
“Oh, um -” Ameesha began, breaking from her trance. “No, we’re people. I’m sorry but, what are yo – ?”
“Peeps!” The newt pronounced in what sounded to be both surprise and excitement. “Woell that’s just great! Not had peeps in these parts fer a good time. Welcome in! Now I’ma newt, is whot I am. Just a newt.” He shrugged, as though sheepish. “But yoose peeps seems frazzled-y! Turmbled in, did ya? Yah, I know tha look. You just keep sailing straight, and you’ll turmble out again. Just a click. Woell, I best be goin’. Have a good one, peeps!”
His tail he flicked, and like an insect, turned on a dime and began gliding out into emerald land. His hat he waved, shouting, “Just a click!” And graceful into the mist the newt paddled and vanished. Ameesha turned to Nargis, baffled. “What do you suppose he means?” She asked, “Does he know the way out?”
“Out of what!” Nargis declared, “I don’t even know what we’re in!”
The mist rolled on, and as the three floated onward, they marveled at the world around them. Waves of butterflies, massive and glimmering, would pedal through the air in great sweeps above them, and disappear into a channel of wisp. Massive rolling backs of fish would rise and fall around their boat, and then move on, graceful in the rhythm of their existence. Dove-white birds, of long necks and legs, would dive and snag insects, with wings that hummed and glowed. A familiar bellow met their ears, but not as deep, and above them they looked, and saw a great manta ray, sailing overhead, as sublime and serene in the air as it had ever been in the sea. Everything in this world, moved, autonomous and yet linked, and Ameesha, lost in the dream, rested her chin upon her folded arms and simply looked out, unable to feel any anxiety or fear, only enchantment.
In time, the mist became fog, stark white and thick. The girls tried to navigate and see their way through, but nothing could be vindicated in the sea of white. So, trepid but accepting, they allowed the current to take them, further and further, deeper and deeper into mystery.
When they came upon the water lilies, that towered above them and emitted heavenly scents, with stamens that glowed as bulbs and in the breeze shook loose fireflies that danced as yellow gems in the cloud white, they reached with their hands and felt the soft gentleness of their petals, the cool lap and tickle of the water; they stood up, one at a time, and breathed in the aroma of pollen, so large it dusted their hair with gold. Nargis, slapped her hand on top of a pad, and watched the ripple cast out, a vibration that shivered the blossom gleefully. And when the fireflies began to take formation, and whirled around them, lifting their wonderboat from the waters and taking them to the sky, they could only wave farewells, calling warm wishes and take cares into the fog that began shrinking below them, their hearts full and free.
And then their boat tipped over.
Ameesha exploded out of the water, gasping and wiping her eyes frantically as she tried to gather her bearings. Her life jacket stuck to her. Her feet were on solid, though mucky ground. She could feel weeds lapping against her legs. She coughed, and stood, waist deep in water, and pushed her hair out of her eyes. What had happened? Were they – ?
She stood absentminded in a swath of green lily pads, mere meters from the shore. The lakeshore. She saw a hill and a road and her mother’s truck parked, and from there she saw her mother and grandpa hurrying down the hill, arms waving madly.
“What! Are you alright? Oh! Oh!” Her mother cried, “We’re coming! We’re coming!”
Ameesha, still confused, turned and saw behind her her sister Nargis, standing just as absentmindedly as she was, and right next to her, and a capsized paddle boat, bobbed Shammi, his head turtled into his large life jacket, his hands slapping the water like a deranged dolphin. “Mooom!” He cried, spitting up a bit of water, “Mooom! We talked to a newt!”
“AH!” Their mother cried, as she plunged into the water, striding forward and seizing Shammi. “Oh! Are you alright?” She asked fitfully, brushing his large bangs from his eyes.
“We talked to a newt! We went up on this wave – and over – and splashed down and there were all these big trees and super many fireflies picked us all up! We went flying and there was a big turtle and -!”
As Shammi spilled the adventure from his lips, Nargis racing up, water splashing around her to join in, Ameesha could only stand in silence, and joy, and shock, of all that had just happened. Her heart was giving the strangest flutter; that of overwhelming happiness and sadness and confusion and hope, all at the same time. She stood there in the green water, with the lilies lapping, her eyes cast downward and far away. It was then, a gold glint caught her eye beneath the water, and reaching down, her face touching the pool, she grabbed and untangled Grandpa Om’s necklace from off a weed. Pulling it from the lake, she raised the pendant to her face, and gazed into the jade eye of the turtle. She felt her grandfather’s hand upon her shoulder.
He stood there in the water next to her, and smiled.
“So, did Chuck show you a good time?”
Ameesha smiled, her heart now overflowing, and with grimy wet fingers, she put her grandfather’s pendant back into his outstretched hand.
“Yeah, Grandpa Om,” she said. “He did.”