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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.

The Beatles-Blackbird w/Lyrics!


mckbirdbks (author) from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on October 04, 2017:

Hello Peg - Several people will miss The Carriage Driver, but you have to admit, he and Nuelle had a long run. Both you and mar elevated the writing about Captain Griffin Chaffey and Nuelle to the top of my work.

I am not sure what is next. I do not think it will be a two year run. I never knew that EWC or TCD was going to take me on a two year journey.

Thank you for such a nice comment.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on October 04, 2017:

Hello Mike, It took me a while to get here but I'm glad I made the trip. As usual, your imagery and descriptions keep the reader moving forward at a rapid pace trying to get to the next development. I was not prepared for the way things turned out and somehow kept thinking Captain G would come along with Nuelle. I guess that horse has ridden off.

I like the new direction and agree with Maria that you need a short story compilation for your next publication. Cheers and good writing.

mckbirdbks (author) from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on September 20, 2017:

Hello Sannel - Thank you for creating 'your Poe' Your art fit right into this story. Thanks for finding your way here. Hubpages has made some changes, so this is Hubpages, but Hubpages miniature as they search for ways to attract traffic.


Sannel Larson on September 20, 2017:

Oh wow. . .I'm just blown away, seeing my illustration of Poe here with your article. Thanks to Susan Zutautas I found my way over here. But I'm confused, is this Hubpages?

However, your writing, dear Mike are as always wonderful! Your unique way of storytelling is absolutely awesome. So well done, dear friend! Thank you for including my Poe in your work. Much appreciated. :)

Love and hugs,


mckbirdbks (author) from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on September 20, 2017:

Hello Genna – Thank you. The story was well along when ‘the blackbird singing in the dead of night’ came to me. It fit so perfectly. So many different feelings combined together to make this story pull together. The ‘a Halloween Story’ was an afterthought. Thanks for the nice comment.

mckbirdbks (author) from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on September 20, 2017:

Hello Gypsy Rose - Poe arrived for me late, when I saw the black bird float by, since he was here, I used him to aid the story. Thanks for the visit.

mckbirdbks (author) from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on September 20, 2017:

Hello Becky - Here it has cooled down. The 110 degree temps are not at all welcome, so once the temps break back through 100 on the way down, it is welcome relief. Next I can complain about the cold 60 degree temps. ha

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on September 20, 2017:

What terrific imagery, Mike, that pulls us in and keeps us latched to the story, like the seat-belt that held the woman to her chair. A very timely, poignant story that needs no dialogue.

"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....." Brings to mind the echoes of Edgar Allan.

So well done!

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on September 20, 2017:

Poe was with me all through this story to the very awesome ending.... and the raven quoth "Nevermore" just more of your stories.

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on September 19, 2017:

Mike, it has been in the mid to low 80s. My favorite temps. Cool enough in the early morning and evening, to work in the yard a bit and I do not cook the moment I open the door.

mckbirdbks (author) from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on September 19, 2017:

Hello Becky - Thanks for sharing your story. Sounds just like some mischief that you would get into. ha Hope the temperatures have dropped there, as they have here.

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on September 18, 2017:

I have canoed down a flooded street. It was strange, to say the least. My sister and I plucked an old lady off of her stoop and took her to the park that was down the street and dropped her off. She was reunited with her family that was looking for her. Her house was not badly damaged, but it did get a bit wet inside. That end of the street got flooded every 10 years or so. My parents lived on the uphill end and their lawn got flooded, but nothing else. My sister and I parked our cars in the neighbor's drive, as it was too deep on the street. The drainage in some old neighborhoods, could not keep up with some of the rains in the Reno neighborhood. We kept a canoe tied at the end of the driveway to my sister's mobile home a few times. We used it to keep from having to wade to her house, which was a little higher up. When I got married was one of those times that Reno flooded. It started raining the day we got married and we were renting her mobile for several months. She was working out of town. We canoed to the house from where we parked in the shopping center parking lot. Would have been too cold to go wading in February.

mckbirdbks (author) from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on September 18, 2017:

Hello Patty – Funny about those Hubbies, as I nominated you for a couple. Good luck.

Thanks for such a nice gesture and thank you for such a nice comment.

Believe me, if I had thought of that black bird sitting on a limb outside the window, I surely would have used it. Wow, that is a good image.

"Child of a Rainless Year" is one heck of a good title. I will have to see if I can find at least an excerpt of the story.

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 18, 2017:

This good story is powerfully reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe, and with your own twists and style, so I'm glad to see the leading image. it also reminds me of O'Henry twists.

My first thought was that the eerie scenes of "Canoeing Houston" are much different from the South American tour sites called "Walking Peru." Later, I remembered brave rescuers in many disasters that lost their lives in their attempts. I can see a raven perched on a blackened limb near the second story window as I write this.

In another way, the story reminds me of "Child of a Rainless Year" in which another world, often dark, lies just beyond our mirrors - rather like the dark underwater world inside the second story of the house. If someone is dead, we might pull out an earlier reflection and have them here again.

Much luck in the Hubbies for 2017; I nominated you for a couple.


mckbirdbks (author) from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on September 18, 2017:

Hello Bill – As I practice this writing craft, I try different things. Some authors write ‘so smart’ that it is tiring to read them. In a story like this description and the one word narrative were to carry the day.

mckbirdbks (author) from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on September 18, 2017:

Hello Susan – Thank you. I appreciate the visit.

mckbirdbks (author) from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on September 18, 2017:

Hello mar – Thanks for the encouragement. My writing speed is no doubt keeping up with the demand. The title of the story came to me a couple of weeks ago. I saw a canoe going down a street in Houston. That was a very eerie sight.

The story came to me while on a visit with someone who was not there. There was no way to reach them. So, I tried to capture that feeling of drowning and helplessness. ‘And he wondered if he should try again’

Now, the Beatles song was just icing, as you say. It struck me early, and seemed to fit like a puzzle piece.

mckbirdbks (author) from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on September 18, 2017:

Hello Shy – Dark and sad. It certainly is. Your story about the morgue is pretty scary in its own right. Thanks for the visit and the blessings.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 18, 2017:

"Cloaked in an absence of noise"....great stuff there. Loved this story...timely in a way....nice work, buddy!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on September 18, 2017:

Great story Mike!

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on September 18, 2017:

Dear Mike,

I do believe your next book should be a compilation of short stories. This is a perfect example of what I'm talking about...

Your muse is nowhere near ready to retire. Suspenseful and compelling story - with The Beatles as icing on the cake.

Great to see Sannel's art framing this story too. Hugs, mar

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on September 17, 2017:

Wow Mike, this is really dark and sad, it reminds me of a friend of mine who worked in a morgue and he was tagging a man who had passed and the man grabbed him and he almost had a heart attack and quit the right then and there.

Great job on the descriptions.

Blessings my friend.

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