Walking on Pebbles

by Erika Byrne-Ludwig

I was on holidays. A hot day in July. I decided to walk to the part of the lake not seen on the postcard: a shallow end rippling lightly on a pebble bed. It was both a timid way of getting acquainted with the water before the big swim, and a wish to get closer to the hills in the background, to discover something out of the ordinary.

A short distance on the dry pebbles before the water started to wriggle between my toes, and slowly, slowly, climb up my legs. I was on my own. All for me this vast stretch of grey. Deserted spots have a mysterious appeal and are worth exploring. I didn't need further convincing, and for a while at least I enjoyed the pebbles playing rough with my feet, the late morning sun tingling my bare shoulders and toying with the water.

Still, the wonder remained: why exactly was I alone? Could my solitary walk be an intrusion into forbiddenness? Was I trespassing? The water was bubbling up to my knees when I came to realise I was not alone. My mind busy with various impressions, it hadn't occurred to me to look down. A ticklish flutter of wings. It couldn't be. They couldn't be birds. I was in the water. My legs were being caressed, gently as with a soft hair brush.

I looked into the ripples and my body immediately stiffened with fear. Had they been there long, I puzzled. They were swimming close to the surface, a colony of them, meandering around and between my legs, more or less at my rhythm, overtaking me then winding closer to me in a mellow circular motion, a slow merry-go-round.

I turned my back on the hills and aimed for the dry side again, terrified of a bite, even a slightest nibble, trying to identify these creatures. Light brown fur; roundish ears; rabbit faces with whiskers; long tails; altogether a metre long or so. Images of sharp teeth and claws crossed my mind, those of otters or giant water rats.

Another twenty short steps to go. Even if I had been walking barefoot on velvet, I couldn't have run. Something was frozen in me. I might as well admit it: I was petrified. A tiny nip could make me bleed and a ferocious attack ensue. This was my dark line of thinking under their constant caresses.

I kept my eyes on the dry pebbles ahead, the sand over there, the bathers, the blue lake, the cruisers, the noisy resort life: the reasons why I had come all this way, to hear the sunny postcard's language, not that of strange water-living things pursuing me.

I was mid-leg high in water when the animals left me for the more secretive depths. Out now, I paused and looked back at the water rippling at random. Quite an unsociable place really. Whatever pushed me to venture there? There was movement in it, many small mouths looking for food and paws paddling febrilely. In a puzzled frame of mind I turned round and walked towards my real holiday, to the crowd that had gathered on the bright side of the lake, furry feelings still nuzzling me.

No bite for proof, still intact, nothing to show for except words and eyes reliving the adventure. A frisson of fear still felt weeks after. Even a dream unsettled me one night. The hairy creatures' winding frames were crawling on mine, their whiskers feeling me all over, exploring each curve, hollow and cavity of my body.