Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
It was noisy around the dorm, but that was the usual for late on a Saturday afternoon. The girls in the other half of the suite on the second story of Spaulding Hall were playing country-western loud enough that it was just on the verge of being irritating, but Myleigh Harris was pretty good at tuning out distractions, so it didn't bother her much. The window looking out onto the deeply snow-covered green of Northern Michigan University in Marquette seemed to radiate cold. She didn't mind that much, either; she wore a big, thick turtleneck sweater of an indeterminate brown, had her legs folded up into her long, full woolen skirt in the big overstuffed armchair, and was lost deep in Emma. Emma would have believed this room comfortable, she thought absently.
Still, Myleigh wasn't so lost to the world to not notice the door opening and her roomie Crystal Chladek come in, wearing a light nylon windbreaker, unzipped, over a tattered OLTA T-shirt. This was deep into the third year that the two girls had roomed together, and Myleigh had long since ceased being amazed at her roomie's insensitivity to whatever the temperature was outside, hot or cold. If Crystal was wearing a jacket, it must be pretty cold, she thought. "So, how was the snowboarding?" she asked, looking up from the heavy book in her lap.
"Didn't go," Crystal said, peeling off the windbreaker and tossing it on the top bunk. "Just hung around the pool, worked on the offside a bit, did some laps." She shook her head; water droplets flew from her hair, and there clearly was ice melting there. "Reading trashy novels again?" she grinned.
"Bite your tongue, lass," Myleigh grinned back. "Barbara Cartland is trashy. This is Jane Austen. It was written before Victoria acceded, so therefore cannot be defined as 'trashy.'"
"How would you know?" Crystal smiled. It was a mutual teasing they'd had before. "You've never read anything that was written after about 1850, anyway."
"That's utterly untrue," Myleigh snickered. "I once made the mistake of attempting to read a Barbara Cartland, admittedly in a moment of desperation when there was no decent reading matter available, and found myself feeling quite ill by the third page."
"I dunno," Crystal said. "I tried reading some Jane Austen once, and I fell asleep by the third page. Anyway, I thought I'd wander down to the caf and grab some chow. Wanna come?"
Myleigh stuck an ornate, tasseled bookmark into the book and closed it. "I shan't mind," she smiled as she unfolded her legs and stood up. "I was just thinking some pastry and a cup of tea would taste rather good."
"That'd do for a warm-up," Crystal replied as she followed the slight, dark haired girl in the long dress out the door. "But I need some real food."
It wasn't far to the cafeteria, just down the hall and a flight of stairs, through a couple of lobbies, and they were there. The place was relatively empty for a Saturday night; a lot of students often ate off campus, and besides, there was a hockey game in the arena across campus. Myleigh, who was a vegetarian, did in fact get a pastry and a cup of tea, and then, on sober reflection considering the hour, decided to add a salad. Crystal grabbed a couple burgers, three slices of pizza, a large mound of fries and a milkshake -- and thought about going back later for seconds. Myleigh was, as usual, not surprised about how much her friend ate -- as active as she was, she needed a lot of fuel to stoke her furnace, but never seemed to put on weight. And, "stoke" was a good word; Crystal shoveled it in like she meant it, finished eating before her smaller roomie, and went to get a cup of coffee to wait.
"Hi, Crystal," a voice said. "I just wanted to thank you again."
Myleigh looked up; it was some guy Crystal hung out with at the Outdoor Club. He was small, hardly taller than she was, with a shock of dark hair and a neatly trimmed Van Dyke. She remembered the face -- they'd had a class together the year before -- but the name escaped her.
"Oh, hi, Randy," Crystal replied. "No big deal. I struggled with it a bit myself before I nailed it. Want to join us?"
"Might as well," Randy said, taking an empty chair and setting a milkshake down on the table. He and Crystal had spent a couple hours at the pool in the Physical Education Instructional Facility -- everyone called it the 'PEIF' -- working on his kayak roll. Crystal was a good teacher, and had helped him out a lot.
"You know Myleigh, my roomie?" the bigger girl asked.
"Yeah," he nodded at the small, prim, shy-looking girl with full, shoulder-length dark hair, and big, round glasses. "How you doing? We were in that world history class last spring."
"I remember," Myleigh replied quietly. There wasn't any particular reason to remember him; he hadn't stood out from the other students in the rather large class.
"The way you talk, you'd be hard to forget," Randy said with a grin. "Do you talk like that all the time?"
"All the time," Crystal broke in, knowing exactly what Randy was talking about.
"I just prefer to use the full range of the English language," Myleigh snickered -- it wasn't the first time she'd heard that accusation. "The power and the glory of it can be magnificent, and to belittle it by slang or jargon only ruins it."
"That's not quite right," Crystal snickered. "She prefers the range and the power of the English language of about 1800. When she's talking something modern, like, say, automobiles or computers, she can use as much slang or jargon as anyone else. But, I have to admit, after three years with her, I don't have to get the dictionary out very often to be able to understand her."
That brought a laugh from the other two. "Perhaps not 1800," Myleigh grinned. "Crystal just accused me a few minutes ago of not reading any novels written after 1850, and she's nearly correct. If, however, you read some of the writings of Winston Churchill, you shall realize that the power is still there in the language. I confess, I cannot read Churchill without imagining him writing, standing at a podium, with that gruff, precise voice dictating the words to his secretary. They are often sheer poetry."
"I've tried to read some of that old stuff," Randy said, a little defensive at the passion of her statement. "They sure were wordy. It seemed like they spent a lot of time getting around to saying what they wanted to say. They must not have paid their typesetters anything much in those days."
"Sometimes it gets a bit wordy, I must admit, but with purpose. Let me give you an example, just making this up off the top of my head. Which sounds better -- 'Reginald glanced down at the rise of creamy bosom showing above the crimson of the bodice of her gown, and was appreciative of the way it endowed her femininity,' or 'Reggie checked out her cleavage and thought she had nice tits?'"
"All right, you win," Randy managed after the laughter died down. "I guess you're not as stuffy as I thought."
Crystal was rolling her head from side to side, still giggling. "She does that to me all the time," she managed. "Just when I get to thinking that she's stepped out of a time warp from two hundred years ago, she'll drop a bomb like that."
"Usually when you most deserve it," Myleigh grinned, then turned to face Randy and went on, "But I realize that I am not two hundred years out of date, no matter how I may sound. Believe me, I've read enough of the literature of the period to thoroughly understand the subjugation in which women were held at the time, and I am thankful that I do not have to endure it myself. However, while I confess that I do not take women's liberation to the degree that Crystal likes to, I must admit that by comparison to that era, being a woman today is way cool."
Randy laughed at that one, too, while Crystal again just shook her head. As long as she'd known Myleigh, she'd never quite gotten used to the smaller girl's ability to drop a wisecrack out of nowhere. "You can get carried away with overusing the language," she teased in reply. "Myleigh often does. Randy, can you imagine me in the pool this afternoon saying something like, 'I cannot overstress the absolute importance of inducing a proper rotation of your lower extremities while keeping a smooth but firm motion with the blade of your propulsion device,' instead of 'Hip snap, damn it!' You'd drown while I was getting it out."
"A couple of times there I thought I was going to drown, anyway," Randy smiled, a little glad of the change of subject, and willing to help it along. Myleigh was, well, different, a little hard to deal with. "Then, all of a sudden, it started to fall together. I thought I hit a few pretty good before they ran us out of the pool."
"You were coming along," Crystal admitted, obviously more comfortable with the topic herself. "We can work on it again, maybe work on a screw roll. That's a good one to have in your bag of tricks. You want to have an onside roll down pretty good and at least a hint of an offside roll if you want to come creeking with us when it melts."
"I'm looking forward to that," he replied. "Just from the pictures, stuff like the Silver and the Fall looks a lot hairier than I've ever done." The two streams were well to the west of Marquette near a little town named L'Anse, and usually were only runnable in the cold spring high water, when the collection of melted winter snow all tried to make it down to Lake Superior at once. When that happened, and it only happened for two or three weeks in a good year, the little streams would rage.
"There's some tougher stuff," Crystal said nonchalantly, as if it were no big deal to her. "On the Fall, for example, most of it is pretty reasonable, but there are two or three drops you'd better have the right line and know what you're doing, or else walk them. We usually get some pretty fair carnage with newbies in this spring stuff, and the water's so cold it's better to be able to roll rather than having to swim."
"It'll be interesting to see how scared I can get," Randy smiled, not wanting to leave the smaller, more reserved girl out of the conversation. "Myleigh, do you do whitewater, too?"
"Oh, my, no," Myleigh grinned. "I cannot imagine any sane person taking their lives in their hands like that. I often wonder about Crystal, but then, after watching her on the Fall from the safety of her automobile last spring, her lack of sanity with regard to whitewater is not in question."
"We have gone over to the pool and messed around in a kayak once or twice, just for the heck of it," Crystal said conversationally, then threw out a tease she knew would have an effect: "She nailed a sweep roll the first time."
"I was so fearful I thought I might die," Myleigh grinned. "There was no choice but to do it properly."
"We ought to go over and try it again sometime," Crystal told her. "You need to get out once in a while."
"Perhaps," Myleigh said. "Putting on a bathing suit and splashing around for a bit might be a welcome break."
Crystal shook her head. "Well, maybe next weekend. I definitely want to get out snowboarding tomorrow, crappy snow or whatever, and after today I'd just as soon lay low around the pool for a while. I'd just as soon avoid that swim coach if I can."
"Oh, dear," Myleigh said with a trace of alarm. "Did you read someone off again?"
"I was nice about it," Crystal smiled defensively. "She had visions of me on the swim team."
Randy nodded. "Well, I can understand why. I caught the 800 relay. You had that poor kid from Tech in tears from frustration."
"Crystal, have you been a bad girl again?" Myleigh asked seriously. "You didn't hit anyone, did you?"
"No, nothing like that," Crystal protested, the joking tone gone from her voice. "The flu got some of the kids on the swim team down, and the coach asked me to fill in on the relays, so I did. Just a one-time thing. Like I said, no big deal."
"No big deal," Randy snorted. "That 1600 freestyle was a school record. I'd like to swim like that was no big deal."
Crystal shook her head. "I wasn't sure how to pace myself. I just planned to stay up with the girl in the next lane until the last leg, then I figured I'd get it over with."
"You pushed her so hard she ran out of steam on the next to the last leg, and you went past her like a shot," Randy grinned. "Myleigh, it was like dropping a muskellunge in a pool of bluegill."
"Oh, dear," Myleigh sighed. "It's going to be like Mykkanen out at the ski jump again, isn't it, calling you every day to try to get you on the team?"
"I hope not," Crystal shook her head. "I thought I made it pretty clear to the swim coach that I didn't want to do it again."
"I don't understand why," Randy said, after taking a pull at his milkshake. "If I could swim like that, I wouldn't mind being on a swim team."
"You don't understand," Crystal said, hanging her head. "I really shouldn't do things like that, since it only leads to trouble. I don't want to piss around with being on the swim team, or ski jumping team, or anything like that. It's a pain in the ass," she ranted, warming to her topic. "I mean, I know I'm a good swimmer, but I'm as good as I want to be. It might be fun sometime to work with someone on the techniques. That Techie beat me on the turns every time, and I could improve that, just so I'd know how to do it better. But I don't give a shit for competing, and all the heartbreak that goes with it. If I was the best in the world, sooner or later, someone better would come along, so what's the point?"
Myleigh had heard the rush of words before, so just let her get it out, but the intensity overwhelmed Randy. "I don't quite understand," he said. "If you're as good as you are, why not be as good as you can be?"
"Because I don't want to be," Crystal said, trying to make him understand something she didn't fully understand herself. "It's not worth the price. I want to be as good as I want to be, or in some cases have to be. I don't want to have to be bitched at by a coach, and work my ass off to try to shave a hundredth of a second here and there. And I definitely don't want to do it if, say, the surf's up and I'd rather be out surfing."
It was starting to break through to Randy now -- and he remembered another one of Crystal's avocations, and the picture in the Mining Journal, the local paper, of her out surfing in a November storm on Lake Superior a few months before. "I wrestled in high school," he laughed. "I can just imagine the coach if I said, 'Fuck practice, I'm going surfing!'"
Crystal threw back her head and laughed at the vision. "That says it in a nutshell," she grinned when she got herself back under control. "I'll have to remember that. Fuck the practices, the hassles, the asshole coaches. I'm going surfing. Or creeking, or jumping, or climbing, or snowboarding, or whatever. I don't mind practicing for what I want to do. I really appreciate good instruction, and I'll pay for what I want if I have to. But, I want it on my terms. The more I think about this afternoon, the more I want to get my mind off it. Myleigh, are you up for breaking out the strings tonight?"
"Oh, indeed," she responded happily at the prospect. "Poor Emma can wait -- I've read that book often enough, anyway. It was something to do on a slow afternoon."
Crystal turned to Randy. "You want to come join us? We pick out a pretty good jam session."
Myleigh broke in before he could answer. "Might I suggest we come down to the lounge?" she said thoughtfully. "The last time we had a group in the room on a Saturday evening the refrigerator was devastated. Besides, Doofus and Yahoo were blaring Garth Brooks again."
"Works for me," Crystal agreed with a snicker. "It did get a little crowded in there. I'll run up and get the strings."
"An excellent thought," Myleigh agreed. "I think while you're gone, I shall get another cup of tea."
"Warm up my coffee, would you?" Crystal asked as she got up. "I'll meet you in the lounge."
A few minutes later, Myleigh and Randy were sitting in the lounge when Crystal came down the stairs, carrying a guitar case and a large, triangular black case. Randy couldn't imagine what could be in it, but was still surprised when Myleigh opened it and took out a dark blue harp, about three feet high. Would these two girls ever quit surprising him? "What's that?" he asked.
"A Celtic harp," she explained. "Not authentic, I'm afraid; it was made in France, and rather modernized, but I like the way it feels when I play. I call her 'Blue Beauty.' You should not make the assumption that I'm an expert with her."
He smiled. "I'm almost afraid to ask how you wound up playing the harp."
"A simple mistake," Myleigh smiled. "When I was quite young, I happened to hear a man playing a Jew's harp, and I thought it was a most intriguing sound for such a tiny instrument. I begged and pleaded with my parents to buy me a harp, and ultimately, I received one."
"She's pulling your leg," Crystal snorted. "At least, that's not how her mother tells the story."
"Perhaps," Myleigh said, a touch coldly. "But let's not ruin a pleasant evening, shall we?"
"Sorry, I shouldn't have said that," Crystal apologized contritely.
Randy could see there was a story there and not a happy one -- one that he might never know, and might not want to know, at that. "How long have you been playing the harp?" he asked, to ease over the awkward moment.
"A few years, now," Myleigh told him. "But, I'm not serious about it."
Crystal was tuning up an acoustic guitar. "I'm not real serious about this, either, but it's something to do," she said. "Myleigh and I have been teaching each other about the other's instruments, and I have to say that she's better with the guitar than I am with the harp. But then, she's a better musician than I am, anyway."