Her Place

Story #3 in my Out of Place series. Enjoy!

Shae snapped a picture of the Grand Bazaar. She pulled the camera away from her face, analyzing the photo on the view screen. The archway leading into the bazaar framed the crowd perfectly. How old is this place again? she thought. Now I wish I’d brought that guidebook Mom gave me. She looked at the big, white watch her mother had given her. A flashy yet ironic gift, since her mother had warned her time and again about being robbed or mugged in a foreign city such as Istanbul. Robberies happen in Houston too, Mom, Shae remembered telling her mother days before she left. Besides, I look similar to the people here. You don’t have to worry about me.
A breeze brushed her short, brown hair, and she pushed it back with one hand. The air smelled of cinnamon and paprika, and her stomach rumbled. Might as well head back to the house and try cooking something up before everyone else gets back. All the English teachers lived in the same house, and Shae hadn’t inherited her father’s instincts in the kitchen. She hitched her backpack on her shoulders, camera held tight and turned back to the streets.
She brushed past tourists and merchants alike, glancing back every few steps. Someone tapped on her right shoulder, and Shae glanced around. Travis stood there, all skinny and bright eyed. He had long, dark hair and radiant skin. “Is this your place?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” Shae asked.
“Your place. Wherever you go to take some time to yourself.” He looked back at the entrance to the Bazaar. “Some people like public places like this. Other people need a little restaurant tucked away in a back alley. Mine is a rooftop a few blocks from the house. It’s got the most unique view of the city.” He flashed a crooked smile. “I’ll have to show you sometime.”
“I’d like that,” Shae said. Travis was the first person she had met when she got to the house, and he had made her feel at home that first day.
“So is your place somewhere in the Bazaar?” Travis asked as they started walking back to the house.
“Um, I don’t really have a place yet.” She smiled, glancing over her left shoulder. “I’m sure I’ll find it soon enough.”
“Most people do. How do you like the city?” Travis asked.
“It’s… big. Like, so much bigger than Houston.”
“Yeah? I’ve never been to Houston.”
“You’re not missing much.” Shae glanced down at her watch, even though she could feel its weight.
“What is it?” Travis asked as they turned the corner. Shae noticed the different people they walked past. People dashing home from work to their families, briefcases in hand. German-speaking tourists respectfully chatting with locals. Children playing and giggling in the streets. The setting sun cast an orange glow over the tops of buildings, their shadows growing longer by the minute.
“You know I’ve never left the States before, right?” Shae asked.
“You haven’t?” Travis said.
Shae shook her head, holding her camera tighter. “I grew up with my dad’s stories about seeing the world and all the people he met on these crazy adventures as bedtime stories. My mom always wanted to read Winnie the Pooh or The Chronicles of Narnia. They’re good, but they had nothing on Dad’s stories. One time he got lost in Rome and used what little Spanish he remembered from high school to make it back to his hostel.” Shae smiled. “Those stories just bounced around in my head and kept on gnawing at me. Instead of applying to college, I looked into English teaching programs, and these guys accepted me first.” Her smile faded. “I didn’t expect to feel so lonely, you know? All my friends went to school a few hours from each other, and I’m halfway around the world.”
Travis smiled. “I’ve been vagabonding for six years, and the first adventure is always the hardest.”
“But my dad never told me stories about feeling alone or afraid,” Shae said, “he always did crazy, spontaneous things like jump on a riverboat with total strangers for four months or hike from Santiago to Panama over a year. He never had any fear.”
“What time is it in Houston?” Travis asked.
“Uh…” Shae pulled out her phone and pressed the clock app. “Around 11 am.”
“Give him a call. Ask him about his first trip.” Travis took a deep breath. “You want me to make dinner while you talk?”
Shae looked around. She hadn’t even realized they had arrived at the shabby square house. “That walk took less time than I thought.”
“It always does. Dinner?” Travis asked.
“Sure, I’ll be right in,” Shae said. Travis smiled, opening the white and pink door. The rest of the siding bore the same faded shade of Pepto Bismol, peeling everywhere. Shae dialed the phone and sat down on the front steps.
“Hey, honey,” her father said over the phone, “I thought you weren’t going to call again until after orientation week.”
“I was, but…Dad, tell me about your first trip.” Shae glanced at the crowd walking past the house.
“My first trip? Egypt. I was eighteen, just like you, except I didn’t have a plan. I used all the money I had earned bagging groceries to buy a backpack and a plane ticket to Cairo.”
“You went to Egypt?” Shae asked, smiling. “Have you told me this story before?”
“Hmmm, you know, I don’t think I have.” Shae could hear her father’s smile through his low, quiet voice. “Do you know what I did first?”
“Find a hostel?”
“Nope.”
“See the pyramids?”
Her father laughed. “I did that a month after I landed.”
“Swim in the Nile?”
“I threw up in a trash can after I stepped outside.”
Shae blinked. “You never get sick.”
“I never told you about getting sick. You were a kid. That doesn’t make for a great bedtime story.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Shae smiled. “Why did you throw up?”
“I was standing in a crowd of people speaking mostly Arabic. I had no idea where to go or what to do. Everything overwhelmed me, and I couldn’t help it. Honey?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m here.” Shae looked around and took a deep breath, brushing a tear from the corner of her eye. “So, you were nervous too?”
“Is that what this is about? Are you nervous?”
“Yes!” Shae said, sniffling. “Everything smells different from Houston, there are way more people here, I don’t speak the language, and I don’t know anyone.”
“You ready?” Shae turned around. Travis stood in the doorway.
“In a minute,” Shae said, “thanks.” Travis smiled, a concerned look in his eye, and closed the door.
“Who was that, honey?” her father asked.
Shae turned back to the street. “A guy in my program. He made dinner.”
“See, look at that. You already know someone.” Her father sighed. “Look, Shae, every adventure starts off a bit scary. All the best ones do. It’s only been three days. Give it time, you’ll have a blast.”
Shae smiled. “Thanks, Dad. I’ll call you and Mom at the end of the week.”
“Sounds good honey, enjoy your dinner. Love you.”
“Love you too.” Shae hung up. She took a deep breath and looked around the crowded street. She caught snippets of English amidst the noise. Paprika wafted from the window of her house. The two houses across the street framed the setting sun, the spires of the Hagia Sophia visible over the rooftops. Shae turned her camera on and snapped a picture of the street, as a relaxed smile settled on her lips.

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On the Ropes

The second story in my Out of Place Series. Enjoy!

“This is gonna hurt. I have to make sure the harness is secure, which means-”

“I get it.” I reply, bracing for the pain as I stand on the washed out trail. The overcast sky creates a dull backdrop behind the ponderosa pines.

Darren, the bear of a man who tied the rope around my legs, grabs the loop where I would later clip in and yanks up hard. I cough and let out a short “ow!” I had completely forgotten how much that hurt.”Oh, man…”

“Told you it would hurt.” Darren chuckles. “These things aren’t made to be comfortable. You alright?”

“Yeah, fine.”

“Great.” Darren hands me a locking carabiner with a rope tied in a figure-eight knot around it. “Go ahead and clip yourself in. You’ll anchor Robbie so if he falls your weight will stop him from swinging too far down.” I nod in compliance, clipping the carabiner to the loop Darren had just pullled and screw the locking mechanism tight.

“Tom, are we clipped in there?” Darren calls over his shoulder.

“Yep! He’s all set.” Tom replies. I glance over at my friend and coworker Robbie, who’s working with Tom, as he adjusts his white helmet. “Gary, we secure?”

Upslope Gary tugs on a rope fed through a contraption that’s supposed to stop the rope should we fall. “We’re good. Send them down.”

“Okay,” Darren says to me and Tom, “Step back, guys.”

I look to Robbie, who walks off what remained of the trail, never looking up lest his footing fail him. The rope between us goes taut, and I start back down the treacherous slope. I hold the rope, little faith in my footing. The soft, dry dirt shifts beneath my feet.

“Lean into it, Adam! It’ll take your weight!” Gary shouts to me. I try, but I feel myself falling and grab the rope even tighter. “Sit into it!” He shouts again. I obey, and the makeshift harness take my weight and press into my groin uncomfortably. The rope holding me into the tree vibrates as it goes taught.

As I adjust my harness to try and make it even a little more comfortable I look to Robbie, who’s talking to our team leader up the trail. The rest of our team waits several yards behind him. Two of them assemble the yellow, plastic litter to transport the patient; the rest stand on the trail, fiddling with their pack straps and exchanging anxious glances.

In front of me and Robbie our patient lies on his back, broken ankle braced, two team members supporting him on his left side so he doesn’t fall down the slope. The medic at his head has made it perfectly clear that if the patient’s ankle was moved even a little bit it would lead to serious complications. Two groups of hikers have been delayed for several hours on either side of the patient, and they’ve been getting restless. In the dying light of the setting sun, we don’t need to say anything to recognize the urgency of our situation.

“Okay,” Robbie says to me, “I’m gonna start handing you packs, just keep passing them to the other side.” He hands me a blue pack with poles and a tent strapped to the outside, and I grab it and hoist it up to Darren. This goes on for several minutes until one of the packs slips from Darren’s grasp. I don’t think; I leap to catch it, grabbing it with one hand and catching myself on the ground with the other. My heart races; my feet begin to slide out from under me, and I quickly scramble back upright.

“You okay?” Gary asks.

“Yep.” I say.

“You alright?” someone else asks.

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Take this.” I say hurriedly, handing the pack off to an outstretched hand (I think it’s Darren’s). I adjust my harness again, grimacing.

“Adam, grab that shovel.” Robbie directs. “Start digging out footholds, we’re gonna send people across. Darren, sit there-” (he points to the trail near me) “-and act as a handhold so they don’t fall. Adam and I will spot them as they move across.” Darren hands me the small spade, and I attack the dirt across the slope in equal spaces apart. Before too long people are crouched down as they navigate the holds we’ve dug out for them so they can continue on their way. Fortunately no one slips like the pack did.

“Thank you guys!” One of the adults shouts back as he waves goodbye to us. I wave back, hoping they get to camp before dark.

“Adam, I need you to move up a little bit.” Our team leader commands. “You and Robbie are going to spot the rest of us on your side while we move the patient onto the litter.”

“Don’t let his leg move too much.” The medic reminds us. She looks down at the patient and says gently “We’re going to move you on to the litter now, this shouldn’t take long.” I scramble up the hill as more of the team sets themselves in the footholds we dug out. I put my hands up close to the backs of my teammates, fingers together. Different voices begin talking over one another.

“Get that vacu-splint!”

“Where’s the other blue strap?”

“Bring the litter over here, now!”

“They should cross over.”

“Can someone get me that pump?”

“Adam, can you get up here?” Amidst the confusion, I obey and get a hand on the patient.

“Alright, we’re ready to move him.” The team leader’s voice cuts through the rest, and the team falls silent.. “On three, roll him to his left and we’ll put the vacu-splint under him. One, two, three!” The people on the other side roll him over and shove the pad under him. When it’s completely under him, someone pumps the air out of the splint, conforming to the patient’s body and stabilizing him. “Good. On three, we’ll lift him and set him in the litter. Hand on. One, two, three!” The rest of them are lifting as I spot them. My friends and coworkers gingerly lower the patient into the litter.

“Adam, Robbie, unclip.” The team leader commands. “I need you to spot on your side so the people on the litter don’t fall. If you’re on the litter, secure the patient get your straps on. We’re going to lift the patient and start moving forward.”

Darren, Gary, and Tom begin to undo the rigging they had set up around the trees. As I unclip myself from my harness I massage my legs where the rope dug into my flesh.

I notice the ground in front of me was illuminated, but none of the surrounding earth was lit. I had turned on my headlamp at some point. Where did the time go? I look at my watch: nine-fifteen. I don’t remember how much trail we had to cover before the vehicle, but I remember hiking this trail years ago in the daylight. It keeps going up and doesn’t stop for what feels like forever. Massive rocks will create some serious obstacles.

At least I’m not clipped in to that harness anymore.

Out of Place

It’s been a while since last I published anything. I started a new job a month ago and until recently didn’t have access to WordPress, not to mention being incredibly busy with training. Now that everything’s settled I’ve figured out how to get on WordPress again and I entered another writing contest (but more on that later). Here’s a story from when I first started taking writing a bit more seriously. I may turn it into a series, who knows?

The noise in the room was unbearable, and the air reeked of booze. My feet stuck to the floor, and the concrete walls of the windowless room reminded me of a prison.

During orientation week my freshman year of college, I didn’t go out every night partying like a lot of the kids. I was perfectly content to take it easy and make the adjustment to college without throwing in new things like booze and drugs. Besides, social skills weren’t my strong suit.

Partway through watching a crappy movie-I think it was Robin Hood or something-a couple people I knew from high school invited me to go out, and I thought “why not?” What’s the worst that could happen?

John thought we had to take Park Street a ways, but the rest of the group thought the house was in a different direction. I was just along for the ride; there was no point in chipping in to the conversation. After a couple wrong turns we began following the pounding bass. That had to be the right direction.

Butterflies started dancing in my stomach. I had lived a rather sheltered life, and everything I knew about college parties I learned from my friends and the media.

Finally, we stumbled upon the source of the pounding bass: a frat house.

It didn’t truly resemble a house when we got inside, more like a stylized dorm. One half looked nearly identical to my floor: a narrow, carpeted hallway with easily a dozen doors on either side. Some dude in a t-shirt and backwards hat let us in and mentioned something about the basement. I can only assume he did, since that’s where my group started meandering. That’s how I found myself in a sticky, noisy basement.

Three tables were set up with red cups on either side. It wasn’t terribly crowded- more dudes in backwards hats flirted with attractive girls while they played pong. Some people were sipping on beer, some were throwing their drinks back. Me, I just stood to the side with my friends. I couldn’t say anything to anyone, it was so loud, nor would I have known what to say. That’s when I started to regret coming.

A big guy with light brown hair and jeans walked over and started talking to us. The rest of the group engaged him with no problem. I continued to awkwardly stand there, answering questions when he asked me directly. My awkwardness wasn’t entirely my fault- more often than not the music drowned out everyone’s voices. Since joining a fraternity, I realize he was probably rushing us and asking us the basic questions such as “Where are you from?” or “What are you majoring in?” It also explained why he offered us all shots.

My heart raced. The only time I ever tried alcohol was when I was twelve. It was a sip of beer, and my uncle joked that the sheriff would arrest me that night.

However, it was college. I might as well try it, right?

I followed the group upstairs to the guy’s room. Several shot glasses lined the top of the dresser, each being filled with Southern Comfort by the guy who generously offered the shots (another rush tactic). A glass was passed to me, and I took it with my right hand. Everyone else had accepted their glass.

As we raised our glasses in a forgotten toast, I couldn’t help but wonder: is this really such a good idea?