The Hole in the Lake

Published August 8, 2012 by Elsa Pla

Today’s exercise:

Describe an outdoors setting for a story. The setting must be a real place you have visited or lived in. Think about how the place made you feel (happy, sad, scared, etc), and try to capture that feeling in your description. The purpose of this exercise is to practice using setting to create mood.

Here’s my attempt from a story I’m working on:

The lake was the color of boiled plantain leaves. It lay captured between verdant hills teeming with tropical life, the lush vegetation interrupted here and there by the modern dwellings of the well-to-do residents of the area. I glimpsed the glistening green water between branches and leaves as I treaded – with difficulty – down the steep asphalt road that snaked through the gated community.

I searched for the wooden steps that led from the side of the road down the embankment to the communal dock. The steps were partly hidden by bamboo trunks, so it took me a few moments to find them. Going down the steps was tricky, for they were being taken over by the surrounding vegetation. Aggressively so, I realized, as I tripped on a root and almost went down on my behind the rest of the way. The bamboos swayed and creaked loudly. Maybe coming here wasn’t a good idea, even if it was broad daylight. I slowed my pace and held on gingerly to the wobbly railing until I had made it down safely.

I now stood on the sturdy, wooden planks of the dock. The surrounding bamboos provided a shady reprieve from the summer heat and, best of all, privacy. I breathed in and out the thick organic scent that enveloped the dock and admired the liquid-green expanse before me. The summer breeze shook the branches and rustled the leaves, creating groaning and swooshing sounds. It was as if the trees were complaining, resenting my presence.

I pulled up a grimy plastic chair, plopped down, and concentrated on slowing down my breathing.  Alone at last, thank God. The thought, of course, was ludicrous. This was a tropical island, and I was sitting among – at the very least – a thousand living things. I leaned back, closed my eyes, and tried to ignore the groaning trees plus the buzzing, chirping, scratching, pecking, plopping, gurgling, and scrabbling all around me. I was sufficiently far away from my mom, and that’s all that mattered. She was having one of her bad days, and if I stayed inside the house listening to her for too long, her craziness would start seeping into me, and I certainly didn’t want that. (I have enough of my own craziness, thank you very much.) So I had run away to the dock at the first chance I got.

Normally I wouldn’t have chosen to come down to the edge of the lake, but I was desperate for a bit of peace and solitude. And the lake offered both. I loved to gaze at it from a distance – it was lovely as a calendar picture – but I was reluctant to get too close, especially after one of my neighbors was found dead and bloated, floating face-down right behind our house, where our property reached the water.

The dock, as I had expected, was deserted. Now that I felt more relaxed, I opened my eyes and admired my surroundings. The day was so hot and hazy that the lake resembled a bowl of hot soup, but where I was sitting the temperature was pleasant.  Thank goodness for those creaky bamboos, otherwise lounging here would have been unbearable. I studied the tiny insects skimming the surface of the water and the fish bubbles that popped now and then. Dragonflies bobbed up and down in the hot, muggy air.

I imagined all manner of insects, spiders, centipedes, frogs, and lizards, perfectly hidden, quiet and hungry, acutely aware of my presence. Correction: I did not imagine them, I was as acutely aware of them as they were of me. A strange thought crossed my mind: if I were to drop dead on this dock, all those critters would greedily feast on my body. There you have it. Those are the kind of cheery thoughts that often creep into my brain.

I plucked the little predators out of my mind, and tried to focus on the pretty way the water rippled and glistened. But, as I glanced across the lake, I saw the hole. And my thoughts wandered in a different, darker direction.

Hopefully I’ve created a suspenseful mood. Now you try it! 🙂

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