What follows is another “homework” assignment from the St. Louis Library writing group. I’m really enjoying these exercises.
The exercise was:
“Write about a strong memory you have. This does not have to be a dramatic or important memory in your life — just something you remember clearly and well, a school dance, for example. Fill the page with as many vivid sensual details as you can remember, giving the reader the feeling that she is “there”. You might choose to free-write or journal about the experience, simply writing down as much concrete detail as you can without worrying about form or structure.
Then, introduce a fantastic element to your piece. *This should be fictional, NOT a part of the remembered experience*. This could be a rare natural occurrence, such as an eclipse, or an earthquake; it could also be something surreal or “impossible,” a zombie invasion, for example.
The challenge of the piece is to bring the same level of vivid, believable detail to the fantastic element as you do to your personal memory. (500-1000 words)”
This is a modified version of an anecdotal post from a few years back. I revised the beginning and added the fantasy at the end. The fantastic portion is in italics.
I was around ten and it was my first time outside the United States. Dad was trying something new and Mom, my cousin Don, and I were coming along. We were spending a week at Penney’s Timberlane Lodge, a remote fishing camp on Lac Suel in Ontario.
Being in Canada was an unsettling experience. It was just like home, but different. There were strange candy bars among the familiar. Nobody was celebrating the 4th of July. But the fishing! We’d always gone to lakes in Minnesota and Iowa where catching a Northern Pike was a major event. Walleye were unheard of. At Lac Suel, every time you dropped a hook in the water, the Northern and Walleye were waiting to strike.
I’d never liked fish unless it was Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, served with lots of tartar sauce. That summer I discovered how good fresh fish could taste. Every night we were in Canada, Mom batter fried Walleye, the Walleye we’d caught that same day. Mom was not a great cook, her chili was Germanic; there was an occasional kidney bean and chunk of hamburger floating in a thin broth, with just a hint of chili powder to provide ethnicity. There were a few things she did well; her meatloaf was great (I thought) and her Maid Rites and chocolate chip cookies were renowned, at least in our extended family. That summer we learned her batter fried Walleye was ambrosia, especially with lots of tartar sauce.
The fishing camp was primitive and remote compared to what we were used to. In Iowa you were never much more than a ten minute drive from a town. In Canada, there were trees, trees, and then more trees for miles, miles, and then more miles. When we got to the camp we seemed cut off from the world. All the food we brought with us was preserved. On that trip I learned potatoes and bacon came in cans. The cabin was made of rough-cut logs and the kitchen area was primitive; the stove consisted of exposed gas pipes with burners attached to the ends.
Fishing was my Dad’s passion, not mine. I was always more interested in comic books and science fiction. My cousin Don was (and still is) an avid fisherman and hunter, but I was just there because my parents were. But the fishing was so good, even I became enthusiastic about it. I was, however, most assuredly not a morning person and Don and my Dad liked to be out on the lake at an hour when I was usually snug in bed. They would drag me out to the boat at the crap of dawn and I’d spend the first hour or so huddled in my jacket, trying to stay warm, sullenly wishing I was still in the sack. One morning we were performing the usual routine, Dad and Don had their lines in the water and I was wishing I was someplace else, warm and cozy.
Then I saw something I’ll never forget.
The water was smooth as glass and the lake was quiet, not a breath of air moving. We were fishing in a drowned forest—the lake was lined with them—the trees had been under water long enough to lose their leaves, bark, and small branches. The trunks and larger branches still protruded above the surface. I was staring at the drowned trees, thinking about how eerie they looked, wondering why they had been underwater for so long. Without warning, fifteen or twenty feet before my eyes, a half-dozen gigantic tentacles thrust up from the depths, loomed over the boat, then withdrew below the surface. I was petrified. My brain was operating on overdrive but my body couldn’t move. I was looking at something impossible, something out of a horror film. But it was real.
I froze for what seemed like a minute but couldn’t have been more than a second. I was experiencing tachypsychia, Greek for “speed of the mind.” It’s what special effects people call “bullet time” in the movies. You know, the scene where everything slows down to the point you can observe a bullet in flight. As I sat there, stunned, the tentacles emerged again, just a few feet, then withdrew, and suddenly I was back in real time.
We became aware of something huge moving beneath us as the boat began to pitch and roll. I gripped the gunwale of the boat, hard, and Dad and Don braced themselves. There was no swearing in our family, not when I was around anyway. Mom didn’t even allow me to say “ain’t,” so the words I was hearing from Dad were—unusual. I was still too shocked to speak. As we watched the disturbance in the water it began to form a bulge, like the water above the bow of a submarine about to surface. It moved toward the shore, the drowned trees parting in its wake, giving the impression of elephantine size and strength below the surface.
As it neared the shore, huge tentacles, the tentacles I’d seen less than a minute before, emerged and began to feel about the trees at the water’s edge and then wrapping around the trunks. A monstrous shape broke the surface, sending tentacles deeper into the woods, searching for purchase in the trees further from the shoreline. A vast, obscene body, shimmering like wet leather, pulled itself onto the shore, pulling and humping its bulk toward the camp.
I thought to myself, “This is what comes of reading aloud from the Necronomicon last night.”