Turbulent Tubing: A True Story of Nonsensical Courage

The last day at the lake meant six sunburned and tired bodies on a nineteen-foot boat laden with camping gear. Other than swimming in the middle of the lake, an all-time family favorite, the tube remained available for one more ride before heading to the boat ramp.

Down by the Glen Canyon Dam, the crystal clear water called to me. So when Dad asked if anyone wanted to tube, I couldn’t resist. How the others did, I still don’t know.  As I climbed out of the boat and stood on the back platform, I looked at Dad. “Not crazy.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, nice and smooth.” His hands cut through the air with a slow gliding motion, but his suspicious smile left me unsure.

I eyed him. His track record mimicked his smile. “Let Mom drive.”

“No-no, Kam, I got it—nice and smooth.” He nodded, still smiling.

“Don’t bounce me out of the wake.”

“I know, I know. Trust me.” He was not giving up his seat.

The last buckle on my worn ski jacket clicked and I jumped in, the cool water bubbling around me as I resurfaced. I laid back, my hair floating behind me, and took a minute to comb my fingers through the windblown strands before climbing on the tube.  “Dad, easy,” I reminded.

He gave me a thumbs up, and I nodded. Mom held the flag, and as the boat began to glide through the choppy Lake Powell water, she dropped it to her lap.

True to his word, Dad kept the ride comfortable—pleasant. The wind whipped through my wet hair, but not enough for it to sting my face. I bounced along, enjoying my ride. Then, I saw it.

The dreaded tour boat.

Tourists without boats enjoyed riding these ocean-worthy beasts. Able to hold a couple hundred people each, they also had the power to create a wake taller than our boat was long. Without good maneuvering, the wakes could crash over the front of small boats, flooding the floors with an inch or two of water. We called the floods sam-sueys.

I told myself Dad could turn the boat. There was plenty of escape time. But Dad enjoyed tormenting me. I watched as he drove directly into the tour boat’s wake. I froze. My brain commanded my hands to hold on. Fingers clenched the two blue handles. My body secured itself closer to the front of the tube. Don’t let go. The mantra fed my nonsensical courage.

Our boat climbed the wave and fell below the horizon. A mountain of water formed in front of me. I gripped the handles tighter. My body soared through the air, legs and torso dangling several feet away from the water and the tube, but my fingers clung to their mark. An internal argument raged within me. Let go! No, Don’t let go!

I closed my eyes as my breath lingered within my lungs. Sensory input bombarded my body, slowing time. Through my decent, my body rolled back to the tube, arms, torso, legs. I bounced twice before finally landing on the tube, my breath leaving my lungs in a rush.

The boat stopped, and the flag flew into the air. I lay my head on the tube, waiting for the thrumming of my muscles to stop. My arms and legs shook like jelly. My back ached with a newly found tension. The tube started moving toward the boat. Someone was pulling me in. As I neared, I slipped into the water and hung on the boat’s lowered step.

“Dad! A tour boat? I caught air!”

“Sorry Kam, I couldn’t avoid it.” He laughed. I doubted his words. “You did great. Boy, you flew through that air.”

Mom handed me a towel as I slowly climbed out of the water and sank into a shaded seat. “Why didn’t you let go?” she asked.

What answer could I give? Why didn’t I let go? Where had my ridiculous mantra come from? I shrugged, unknowing.

 

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Flash Fiction: YouTube Escape

The pace of the car matched the pace of Kara’s racing heart. How did she get into this mess? With another jolting shake of her head, a bobby pin fell to the floor. Now to find it. With arms handcuffed behind her, she twisted her body, and her head curved deeper into the trunk. The phrase ‘needle in a haystack’ entered her mind. Her finger brushed against the edge of the bobby pin, and it slid further away. Dang-it. Willing herself to search more gently, she patted the floor.

Minutes.

Minutes had passed, and Kara had no idea where they were taking her. Not far. Maybe far. The farming community lay only miles away from the city, that’s why smugglers liked it. She knew better than to explore their hideaway, but she couldn’t help herself. There was no question that they’d see the smoke from the fire she’d started. If she were a guy, she’d be dead. Best guess now, she’d be sold.

Her middle finger tightened around the bobby pin. Shallow breaths calmed her shaky hand, ensuring she wouldn’t drop it. Stripping the plastic from the tips with her teeth, she straightened the pin, trying to remember the training she’d received via YouTube. As she worked to place the bobby pin in the latch at the end of the handcuff, the shaking returned, and she fought harder to control her gelatinous fingers. The pain emanating from her head didn’t help.

The bobby pin slid into the opening. Kara pulled. Nothing happened. Don’t hyperventilate. Breathe. She sifted through the muddled thoughts in her mind. Wrong method—that way used a snap barrette. Reaching toward the cuffs with the bobby pin again, she pushed it into the keyhole, the pin telling her when it was on top of the button. She pushed, and the cuff popped open. Kara gasped as she removed the duct tape from her lips.

Scooting toward the trunk door, she searched for the glowing emergency latch. Nothing. Think. Think! Kara rolled to her belly and dug her fingernails into the seam of the carpeting. Where is it? Where is it? Her heart throbbed within her chest, echoing in her ears.

A cable ran under her fingers, and tears cascaded down her cheeks. Please, God. Kara wrapped her hands around the cable and yanked it as hard as she could toward the front of the car. The trunk popped open, and she flung herself toward it, hoping to keep it from getting caught by a gust of wind. Too late.

The trunk flew open, and Kara faced the cold, hard truth. No other cars drove on the road. No immediate rescuer waited outside the trunk. No one would help her.
The car slowed. Kara’s heart rate doubled. ‘Jump. Jump before they stop. Jump.’ Her mind willed her body to move, but her body refused. ‘Jump,’ her mind whispered again.

I can’t.

‘JUMP!’

Kara threw herself from the trunk and forced herself into a roll. She crashed onto the rough pavement, her shoulder and hip crying in agony. Get up! She scrambled to the edge of the road and to her feet.

Run.

Her legs carried her swifter than a roadrunner escaping a coyote. The sound of a bullet, then another, cracked behind her. Run. Zig. Now Zag. Would they follow her? No way to know. Darkness engulfed her, and piercing pain erupted over her body as she stumbled. Cactus. Her motion slowed but never stopped. Ducking around the cholla, she tried to run again.

Needles dug deeper into her skin, but she didn’t dare touch any of the oversized burrs. That would only make it worse. Did Mike call the police yet? Was Mike still alive? Tears streamed down her dirt-coated cheeks as blood spotted her face, and screams burst from her lips. Why did she start that fire? What enticed her to explore that hideaway? Only some kind of stupid would call it an adventure.

Specs of light lit the distant horizon. A road? A house? Kara didn’t know, but she ran faster—screamed louder.

“Help me!”

Nothing.

“Please, help me!”

Silence.

A house. Kara flung her sweat-soaked back against the door, screaming for help. Raising her bloodied hands to the door, she pounded her tender palms against the wood. A coyote howled.

“Someone there?” An older woman’s voice called from beyond the door, colored by a heavy accent.

“P-please help me.”

The door cracked open, and a woman’s heavily wrinkled face shone with concern as she gasped and flung the door wider, leading Kara inside. “Let me get a comb. We’ll get those spines out of you. What’re you doing in the desert at night?”
Kara stumbled into the house. “Escaping … kidnapped.” Her breathing burned her lungs as she blew dust back into the air. “Call the police.”

“Police? Here? You don’t want the police. You want the embassy; this is Mexico.”

“But you’re speaking English.”

“So are you.”

Kara’s shoulders slumped as her head dropped warily toward her swollen hands, only for her to realize they hurt too much to cradle her face. Instead, tears escaped her eyelids freely, eroding the dirt from her cheeks. “Where is it?”

“Not far.”

“Take me now, please.”

“Tomorrow.”

Tremors racked Kara’s body, and she jerked her head back and forth. “Now.”

“Tomorrow will be better.”

“Please, now. I don’t belong here. I want to go home. Please.”

The old woman sighed, “Let’s remove the cactus first.”

Kara nodded, and the old woman eased a comb under each bulbous cactus burr. Blood, from several welts under the burrs, pooled on her skin as the spiny balls lifted from her body one by one.

With the cactus removed and the bleeding stopped, Kara shuffled toward the gate of the Embassy. The old woman had dropped her off and driven away without notice. Guards stood at the gate, their hands sliding toward weapons as they studied her. She stopped. “Please. I’m American. I was kidnapped.”

They peered closer at her. “Name?”

“Kara Matthews.”

“ID?” Their arms stayed at the ready.

She shook her head.

One of the guards disappeared.

Moments later, Kara was ushered into a room and offered a hard plastic chair.

“We need to verify your identity. It shouldn’t take long; someone reported a Kara Matthews missing. How did you get here?”

Stress and agony relaxed as her heart began to slow for the first time in hours. “A YouTube education followed by a prickly situation.”

Never get too close to cholla. It will jump at you before you ever get a chance to touch it.

 

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