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Mini Sledgehammer June 2012: St. Johns Booksellers

It was a very small group this month, but we had a good time writing anyway. Elisabeth returned with more magical realism to take the prizes!

Prompts:
Setting: First day of summer vacation
Prop: Road-killed skunk
Action: Spilling coffee
Phrase: Don’t tread on me

***

The Lake

by Elisabeth Flaum

Jim floored it.

“You can slow down, you know. They won’t catch us.”

He hit a bump, and my coffee went all over the floor. I swore loudly, and he let up a bit.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “I just don’t want to get stuck in vacation traffic.”

“Well then take the last day off,” I said, sopping up coffee with the assorted paper napkins accumulating in the back seat. “Or wait a week. You don’t have to be in such a hurry.”

We drove on in silence for several miles. Then the car began to sputter. Jim leaned forward and peered down at the dash. It was his turn to swear as he thumped his fist against the display.

“Dammit! I forgot to get gas.”

“And you never got the gauge fixed,” I sighed. The car coughed and sputtered some more, and drifted slowly to a stop. Jim leaned his head on the steering wheel. The smell of coffee rose up from the carpet.

“What do you want to do?” I asked. He didn’t answer, just kept staring at the gas gauge as if he could fill the tank and start the car by sheer force of will.

“Sweetheart,” I said gently, “why don’t we try something different?”

“Like what?”

“Look where we are.”

He raised his head and looked around. We’d made it just past the boundary into the state park, and immense trees towered over us. Sunlight filtered gently through the leaves. I opened my door; the only sound was a soft breeze just stirring the distant branches.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s take a hike into the woods. We can let the horde of summer vacationers pass, and pitch our tent right here. Tomorrow we’ll find a ranger or someone who can help us with the car.”

Jim gazed upward, dappled sunlight falling on his weary face. Slowly he smiled.

“Who needs the lakefront?”

“That’s the spirit!” I jumped out of the car, pulling open the trunk. “Water, bug spray, first aid kit. That’s all we need.”

Just then the leading edge of the horde of summer vacationers began to pass. RVs, station wagons and SUVs stuffed to the roof, the entire population of our small college town seemed to be sweeping past. The smell of exhaust and freshly pressed skunk drifted over us. The first wave passed; Jim peered at the small squashed animal lying in the middle of the road. The stink was overwhelming.

“Don’t tread on me,” Jim muttered. He turned to me with a grin. “Let’s get out of here.”

Together we pressed through the dense wood. Every once in a while the sound of passing traffic or the smell of skunk would waft by, soon to vanish in the sounds and smells of the forest. A small brook babbled cheerily nearby. Birds sang. Waving ferns brushed against our jeans. The stresses of the school year fell away; our steps grew lighter and lighter.

The light grew lighter as well. Jim moved ahead of me through the trees. The branches thinned overhead; the babbling of the stream became a soft rushing noise. Jim stopped at what looked like the edge of the world. I hurried to catch up.

“Wow,” I breathed. Rather than ending, the world opened up before us. A narrow greensward dotted with wildflowers stretched out, leading to the sandy shore of a sparkling lake. The sun, setting behind us, shone in every color on the crystal clear water.
Jim took my hand. “Look, our own private lakefront.”

I gazed in awe. “How did we not know this was here?”

He shrugged. “Nature’s little secret. Our reward for a job well done. Maybe it’s a mirage.” He dropped my hand and whipped off his sweaty t-shirt. “Let’s find out, shall we?”

Suddenly I felt every speck of sweat and dust on my skin, every ounce of dirt that had settled on me over the term, every petty complaint and problem and annoyance of the last nine months, itching all over. I grinned at him.

“Let’s.”

In moments we shed our clothes, and hand in hand dashed madly for the sparkling water, towards the first great plunge of summer.

© 2012 Elisabeth Flaum

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