Canoeing Houston - A Halloween Story
He skimmed through the water at the tree line in an eerie silence. Debris floated by; branches, coolers, empty gas cans, articles of clothing and a dead bird. His path was marked by flooded-out cars and the tops of ‘Stop’ signs. The sound of the rippling water reminded his heart that it had to beat.
He guided the canoe to a second story and stepped onto the edge. He lifted the cinder block in his canoe, carried to tether it, and set it on the ledge. Walking to the open window, he stuck his head inside and called, “Hello.” Then he went back and grabbed a palm size, l.e.d flashlight. Returning to the window, he stepped inside. “Hello.”
Even on the second floor, his feet sloshed around in the murky water. He looked around the room. It was the room of a teenage girl. On one wall a poster of The Sisters of Mercy and on another wall a poster of Shrek. Clothes floated near his ankles. There was still some light in the room as twilight neared. He swished his way towards the door. Outside a sound of a motor hummed in the distance.
In the hall he turned on the flashlight. There were pictures of a family on the walls. To the right another bedroom. He walked towards it and pushed on the door. A wave of water pushed the far wall and back towards him. A pack of cigarettes floated next to a woman’s shoe. The light of the flashlight stopped at the sparsely filled closet.
Between the water covering his feet and the dim room, a chill raced up his spine. Back in the hall he called again, “Hello.” More for himself this time; just for the noise. He followed the banister to the top of the stairs. He turned the flashlight towards the living room. The beam cut into the dirty water. He could make out an entertainment center. It held a TV set and some knick knacks. There was a picture frame still standing upright. Once a family treasure, now, debris to be discarded. Sweeping the light here and there, he could make out the shape of a sofa with end tables and a coffee table. A partially filled plastic bottle made a slow Ferriswheel motion. Light swept through; piercing as best it could into a shifting, turning, darkness.
Call it reaction or instinct. His thumb pushed the button on the bottom of his flashlight and the light went out. His lungs inhaled deeply without thought, a gasp. He, taken back, was cold now, despite the summer temperature. Just a few moments ago, he was sweating from the heat and the rowing. Consciously, he squared his shoulders and turned on the light. As strong as it was, it still had trouble cutting through, reaching down, searching. But there at the edge, sat a chair and in the chair a woman sat. Her loose clothes billowing, ‘hello,’ he whispered.
He turned out the light and took a deep breath. Without light and the last of the daylight come and gone, he ducked under the water and swam into blackness. It was not a big room, his first touch he thought must have been the coffee table. The water seemed so much heavier than ever before and his body demanded a breath. Panic crept about the edges of his mind. He surfaced and wished he had thought to leave the flashlight on as the room seemed darker. Groping around, he found the steps and climbed them. Reaching the top his fingers felt along the banister creeping towards the flashlight.
He went back to the girls' room, took a white pillowcase from her bed, hesitated, then grabbed a pole lamp and hung the pillowcase over the lamp and pushed it out the window. He stepped out the window and went to the canoe and had a drink of water. The warm air felt good against his skin.
The city was cloaked in an absence of noise. Not many cities are drowned, he thought. Then he thought of the woman in the chair. He had been unable to reach her. He wondered if he should try again. The white ‘flag’ would let someone know that someone in the house needed to be rescued. Instinctively, he knew that was not right. There was no one here that could be rescued. In another minute he stood back up and crawled back through that dark window.
He sloshed through the water, out of the bedroom and felt his way along the banister. At the top of the stairs, he turned on the flashlight. The light moved along the top of the water, but without the help of the daylight could not penetrate. He placed the light, this time left turned on, balanced on the banister. He walked down the stairs and took a deep breath and pushed again into his own fear.
Reaching her, he tried to lift her. She seemed to be attached to the chair. Restrained in the chair. He felt around. There was a seatbelt latched at her waist, holding her in the chair. Keeping her safe, so she would not topple out by mistake. He needed to breathe. He tugged at the belt. His motion in the water made her left arm drift towards him and it touched his neck. An electric cattle prod would not have caused more shock to him. The air in his lungs burst from him.
His feet and legs pushed up. It was only two or three feet from the surface. Her fingers scrapped along his leg as he went. Her fingers caught the cuff of his trousers. Thrashing, freed his leg. His eyes caught the dimming light. His heart had had enough and he drifted down, joining her in her darkness. Their blank eyes stared at each other.
A man from Louisiana, in an old bass boat turned a corner. Seeing the white flag, he turned his Evinrude motor towards the house. He was much closer when he recognized the canoe drifting near the second story. Approaching cautiously, he cut the motor and drifted right onto the ledge. His boat bumped the cinder block, which freed the rope and the canoe drifted away. He took a three pronged anchor and latched it over the window sill. He bent and looked inside. It was so dark inside. He went back to his boat and grabbed a large beamed flashlight. Back at the window, he pointed the flashlight. He saw a poster of some rock band and on the other wall a poster of Shrek. Still bent down, he called, “Hello” and stepped inside.
Outside debris drifted by. A limb, a Big Gulp cup with lid and straw, and time. Somewhere a blackbird was singing in the dead of night.