A hiker stops to admire a country scene.
|The Water Vole
On the upper reaches of the Avon River, the same that passes through Shakespeare’s Stratford, at a place named Stoneleigh, where the stream works its way along a steep, forested bluff, with an expansive meadow rising on the other bank, a hiker once paused to rest. He was halfway across the little stone bridge that crosses the water at that point when he chose to sit down on the parapet and gaze at the pastoral scene before him.
The summer had warmed the stones beneath him and the sun shone brightly on the green that leafy Warwickshire was in those days. A little village on the hiker’s right peeked through the tall bushes bordering the meadow and the reeds at the stream’s edge stirred in the current. Trees crowning the bluff to his left cast their shade upon the bare earth that fell at their feet.
The hiker eased the straps of his pack off his shoulders and let it fall to lie in the roadside behind him. He gazed into the rippling water below him.
Further downstream, the reeds nodded their heads as the body of a water vole emerged between them. It began to swim in determined fashion against the current and towards the bridge. The hiker watched, fascinated. In all that scene there was only the pair of them, vole and hiker, awake in that moment, for the world dozed in that day’s warmth, somnolent with satisfaction.
As the vole passed beneath him, the hiker could see its body with the water rippling over it. It was about the size of a large rat, covered in thick fur streamlined by the current, with short but strong legs pumping away it its sides. Its tail waved under the stream behind it, but the broad and blocky head nodded back and forth, well above the water line, as it pushed a little bow wave before it. The tiny black beads of its eyes must have noted the figure of the hiker above but the vole showed no sign of fear.
It disappeared into the darkness under the arch of the bridge.
For a long time the hiker continued to gaze into the water flowing beneath him. It was as if the unexpected encounter with the vole had transported him to another time, when humanity and nature were not at war, and he was loth to release his fragile grip on the feeling.
But at last he moved, looking up to take in once more the scene before him. Then, placing his hands on the parapet at either side, he launched himself off into space, dropping immediately into the stream.
It was not a very long drop. A matter of perhaps four meters only. And the water was not deep. But the hiker fell into it with very little splash and he disappeared as the water closed over his body. The disturbance caused by his entry moved on downstream with the current.
He did not surface again. At least, we do not see him struggling, soaked and gasping for breath, through the reeds and up the shallow bank of the meadow. There is no report of his body being found in the river downstream, caught up in some obstacle or other. He disappeared as though the river at that spot contained a portal to another world, perhaps a place where life continued as it always had in merrie olde England. He was never seen again.
But there are rumours of that stream being the home of an unusually large water vole in later years. And there are those who claim to have seen him on moonlit summer nights, sitting on the parapet of the bridge and gazing at the meadow, the bluff and the stream.
Word count: 625
For No Dialogue Contest, Round 64