Shore Leave - an excerpt

Nothing he had read had prepared him for the sheer physical nature of the water. He stood at the rail and stared for close to half an hour, allowing his thoughts to be blanked out by the white noise of the rushing water. He finally stirred himself and walked among the tourists happily taking photographs of each other - more than once he was asked if he would take a picture of a couple, and he obliged without really ever interacting with any of the people involved. He walked along the side of the falls, intending to ignore the tourist attractions, simply being happy to be in the presence of such a powerful force, but he was intrigued by the possibility of walking through caves behind the water, and he paid what seemed to him to be a surprisingly large amount of money to be issued with a raincoat and boots and be carried by elevator to a dimly lit area which then gave on to an observation deck below the main falls.

He waited with several others, all of them in pairs or family groups, and he tried not to listen to their excited chatter while they waited together for the guide. After several minutes, a young rainsuited woman duly appeared, and launched into a well-rehearsed recitation of the amazing facts and figures surrounding the falls. David tuned her out quickly; he wanted to experience it for himself rather than seeing it through someone else's eyes, and he studied the waiting area instead, admiring the way it had been partly cut into the rock, and figuring out how it had been done. Once their guide was satisfied that everyone had grasped the scale of what they were about to see - a task which involved imagining an impossibly large number of bathtubs being thrown over the side every second, or so it seemed to David, who must have been paying more attention than he thought - they were led in solemn procession into the cliffside.

Thankfully, there was enough room in the tunnels for David to explore on his own, and enough noise that any attempt by the guide to explain anything further was futile. David walked quickly ahead of the main group of visitors, ignoring the side tunnels so that he could find some solitude further on. He came to a tunnel which was unoccupied, and walked along it, apparently directly into the falling water. As he got closer, he was overcome by a sensation of falling, and his steps became more and more hesitant as they neared the mouth of the tunnel.

He managed to reach the rail at the end, and was rewarded for his persistence with a thorough soaking which the slightly too small raincoat was not entirely able to repel. He gripped the rail and looked up at the falling water. Suddenly he had a clear vision of falling into and through water, and he recognised it for the explosion and its aftermath. He stared in terror as the thunder of the falls was replaced in his mind by the roar of exploding bombs and the screams of dying men. He felt his legs give way beneath him, and registered a sharp pain in his left shoulder before darkness overcame him.

He woke to the same roar; he did not appear to have moved far, although he could make out a number of concerned faces peering down at him, and from this deduced that he must be lying down, he recognised the guide, and she smiled at him, then leant down to try to talk to him. She was close enough that he could feel her damp hair on his face, but he struggled to hear what she was shouting to him. He managed to convey that he was fine, and simply needed to stand and get some air, and eventually this was accomplished. The guide insisted on walking back along the tunnel with him and, in spite of his protestations, came back to the surface with him in the elevator.

Once they were back in an area where they could hear each other, he tried to extricate himself from her care, but she persisted, and made him sit on a bench overlooking the falls, and take big lungfuls of air. She was clearly trained to deal with people passing out, and David wondered just how common an occurrence it was.

"You're my first", she grinned at him. "I've heard about people being overcome by the falls, but I've never seen it before." She looked at him. "You don't look like the type who passes out, either. I guess you never know."

David tried to explain what had happened to him, but realised quickly that 'passing out' probably covered it. After a few more minutes of inconsequential chatter, he felt ready to leave, but she seemed reluctant to let him go. It only slowly dawned on him that she was going beyond her professional duty of care, and he eventually realised that she was in some way interested in him. He thought for a moment, then invited her to dinner, although he had been planning to move on and drive at least as far as Barrie before looking for a place to stay. He swiftly recalculated that, however, having experienced Toronto traffic, and reasoned that in such a tourist-oriented area, he would be able to find a motel room without too much trouble.

"I'd love to!" the guide exclaimed. "I'm May, by the way." David started to introduce himself, hesitated, then said 'Edghill' rather than 'Caldwell'. She stared at him, as if divining that he had been unsure what his name was. Her gaze faltered, but recovered, and she recommended a restaurant and a motel - the one she herself was staying in for the summer months; she offered to organise both for him, and he accepted.

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