FINDING LOVE UNDER A ROCK
The Critter Getter Series 1
Copyright © 2013
“Hey, Kalista, have you seen this show about people who go fishing with their hands?” Kalista’s roommate, Leandra, gestured toward the television, her eyes not leaving the screen.
“I’m just a city girl and no expert, but isn’t that usually how fishing is done?” Kalista replied, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
“Ha ha. You’re so funny, roomie. I mean literally with their hands. They shove their hands down into cracks and crevices pulling out fish like a Neanderthal or something.”
Neither of them had ever seen such a thing before so Kalista moved to sit with Leandra on their overstuffed couch, her eyes now glued to the television as well. The show depicted a type of sport otherwise known throughout Oklahoma as noodling. Primarily, participants target catfish that tend to live in holes and under brush and are not on the move as much as other varieties of fish.
“Okay, again, I’m no expert, but wouldn’t other things that bite live in those holes too?” Kalista pondered aloud, still intently watching the bizarre ritual on the big screen. Just then, the camera shot panned to a rather large snake gliding across the water, hissing toward the human invaders.
“Ugh!” She jumped, and a visible shudder went through her, but she finished watching the show with Leandra.
“Wow, wasn’t that cool,” Leandra exclaimed, more from admiration than a general question.
“Better them than me, I think I’ll stick to fish from the corner market.”
“There is no corner market in this town. Oh, c’mon! Where is your sense of adventure? I bet I can find a place that offers guides and we can check it out for ourselves.”
“You are actually serious, aren’t you?” Kalista deadpanned toward her enthusiastic—if somewhat irrational—best friend.
“Look, we’ve been saying we need to try a new hobby, get out into the world and explore. We don’t know anyone who has done this. Think of how popular we will be at parties.”
“That is if we make it back from the adventure alive. I’m sure we have to sign a waiver or something not holding them responsible for our idiotic demise. We have no guarantee of safety.” Kalista felt like her mother, and knew the tone came through as well.
“When in Rome, dear friend, when in Rome…” Leandra started tsking at Kalista under her breath.
“When in Rome, I’d eat myself silly like that woman in Eat, Pray, Love—not try to lose appendages or drown. I don’t know if you remember, but we are about as far from Rome as we can get.” But Kalista knew what Leandra meant. They had both moved from Chicago over the summer to attend nursing school in the South. More specifically East Central University in Ada, OK, a town made famous by the John Grisham novel.
Maybe not famous exactly…
The girls chose to attend based on the low cost of everything from housing to tuition. Plus Leandra Lehigh had distant relatives living in the Ada area, and she loved visiting there as a child. However, they had yet to experience anything typically southern. As much as Kalista loved it, she refused to include singing Zac Brown karaoke as making them genuine transplants. They still needed an authentic initiation.
Kalista looked around their quaint apartment and conceded everything in their lives up to that point was very basic. They had a two bedroom second floor apartment that hundreds of students had passed through before they did. Although clean, the wear and tear of the years was noticeable upon closer inspection. It even smelled like the eighties, and the décor almost inspired legwarmers and oversized sweatshirts.
Kalista zeroed in on Leandra, sitting with her laptop open, searching for the excitement of her life—correction—their lives. They had been best friends since grade school, nerds together since junior high, and even went together with a group of friends to senior prom. They could be sisters with their similar blonde hair and athletic builds. However, Kalista’s cocoa brown eyes were quite different from Leandra’s startling ice blue ones.
Maybe it was time for a change, spice things up a little.
“Look…here…it’s awesome!” Leandra excitedly gestured Kalista back to her place on the couch next to her.
Okie Noodlin’ and Bigfoot Expeditions hailed the line across the rather generic looking webpage.
“Oh, this is great, supremely epic, Kalista.” Leandra scanned and read the page quickly, taking in the scant details. “These guys hire themselves out as a type of guide service and take willing participants into some murky looking water to try their luck at fishing without a pole.” Leandra’s eyes brightened. “In the fall, they take people out on guided trips to track Sasquatch, A.K.A. Bigfoot.”
“Bigfoot? You have got to be kidding me.” Kalista shook her head. “They really are going for a realistic redneck experience. I wonder if they throw in the plaid flannel shirts and kerchiefs with the price?”
“Oh, stop being such a party pooper. It’s close by and we can make it a day trip. Let’s do this…please?” Leandra looked over to Kalista with eyes that gave away her need for something exhilarating, even silly.
“Oh, all right then.” She released with a big hrmph. That sentence sealed Kalista’s fate, yet, deep down, Leandra had piqued her curiosity.
* * * *
A week later, the two girls arrived to meet their guides at a small office cabin out in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. Leandra hopped out of the car and raced up to the office in record time. Kalista, however, took her time evaluating the situation. She approached the location like a female MacGyver as she plotted possible peril, and how she could make a successful escape, if need be. A dense thicket of leaves covered two hundred year old burr oak trees in the throes of Indian summer. The sun peeked through the foliage in erratic patterns that illuminated the rocky ground wherever it shone.
The low gurgle of water from the slowly moving river nearby soothed the air with a peaceful rhythm. It reminded Kalista of the sound of an open, gushing wound. Sheesh, this is the kind of backwoods only featured in slasher flicks. She walked tentatively, keeping her eyes peeled for anyone in a goalie mask or wielding a machete. Thank goodness it’s daytime. Murders are normally committed during the nighttime, right? Checking her watch, it gave a small comfort that they would be out of there well before the sun went down…
…and the bats came out. But, she did not know about the bats yet.
Kalista trudged slowly toward the cabin and her new escapade into the wild. Her hiking boots crunched against fallen sticks and dead leaves. The rocky terrain made it slightly challenging to maintain a feminine gait, and she felt awkward. She looked toward the open cabin door and kept waiting for Leandra to come back out and see where she was. Okay, Leandra, no one grabbed you and shoved you down some trap door once you got inside, did they? “Hey, Leandra, are you in there?” She yelled, hoping her voice didn’t actually crack the way she heard it reverberate through her head.
“Of course, silly. What’s taking you so long?”
Kalista then heard an unfamiliar deep male voice. “You must be Kalista. Great to meet ya.” The body that followed the voice out the door made Kalista double take.
“Umm, yes, I’m Kalista Bristow. And, you are?” The most interestingly handsome hillbilly I’ve ever seen. Wait, I’ve never actually seen a hillbilly, except on TV. His impressive muscular frame took up most of the doorway. Not wearing stereotypical overalls, he rocked the simple tank shirt and denim cutoff shorts. He wore a bandanna around his head, and reminded Kalista of the red dirt music singer, Stoney LaRue.
“Well, I’m Caleb Chandler, and my buddy, Owen Guthrie, is inside going through the paperwork with your friend, Leandra.” He stuck out his hand in a greeting much faster paced than his speech.
“So, tell me, Caleb, have you ever had to enforce one of your release of liability waivers?”
“Nope, haven’t lost a city slicker yet on one of these trips.” He leaned in, raised his eyebrows, and lowered his speech an octave. “Although, one lady did lose a rather expensive watch. Some ole flathead cat is out there swimming around a lot more slowly with all that gold in his belly weighing him down.”
Kalista offered a weak laugh. “Oh, I’m so much more at ease now. Good thing my hands and arms are bare.”
“Good deal, wouldn’t want either of you ladies losing an engagement ring or somethin’.”
“Are you fishing for my personal details, Mr. Caleb?”
Caleb turned as red as a sugar beet. “Why, no, I’m just making conversation. We are friendly in these parts.”
Kalista finally released a relieved, genuine laugh. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. That was mean, I’m sorry. Just please tell me this experience won’t be as harrowing as I think it will be.”
“I think you will have more fun than you expect. Trust me.” Caleb offered a look of pure sincerity, and Kalista had no choice but to believe in him. “Now, come on inside and let’s take care of the boring paperwork so we can go have some fun.”
* * * *
Caleb and Owen carried a four-person rubber raft down to the edge of the river. The guys had loaded the necessary supplies into the raft—rope, long wooden sticks, a few pair of fishing gloves, waterproof camera, and a first aid kit. They also included a small cooler with bottles of drinking water.
They gently guided the raft into the river. Kalista and Leandra changed into old tennis shoes to prepare to wade in the sucky muck of the muddy river. They left their hiking boots next to the river in a plastic milk crate. “No one is going to come take our boots while we’re gone, will they?” Kalista warily walked away from her prized leather riding boots.
“Nah, they’ll be fine in there while we are gone.” Caleb attempted to reassure her.
“Are you sure there isn’t quicksand or something we need to watch out for?” Kalista asked her guides as she entered tepid water up to her waist.
Caleb suddenly began jerking his torso backward, grasping to the side of the rubber raft as his lower body stayed static beneath the opaque river. “I don’t know if I can move…”
Kalista looked on in horror as she began a constricted retreat backwards out of the water. “I knew this was a bad idea!”
Caleb began guffawing when he revealed his trick. “I’m joking, girls. See, I can move freely. I’m just trying to lighten the mood.” He rocked and shifted from side to side, indicating his freedom.
“Oooo, that was a lousy joke, Caleb. Not a good way to keep customers, dude.”
“You sure have a lot of worrisome questions. Just relax and enjoy this beautiful day.” Caleb looked to the sky and started soaking in the rays.
Leandra simply giggled. “Oh, you are so bad, Caleb! Let’s keep going.” She trudged ahead, her eyes focused on the route in front of her, holding onto one of the raft’s hand-holds.
Owen offered more drama to incite Kalista. “Be on the lookout for snappin’ turtles, if they latch on, they won’t let go.”
Kalista’s stomach churned nervously as her eyes darted around. Sunlight danced off the ripples in the water that their movements created. Is that us making those waves, or something just below the surface? “Crap, should I watch where I step?”
“That’s sort of a problem. You can’t watch anywhere you move. So, you just better hope you make the right step.” Caleb said solemnly.
“How far out do we have to go? The water is getting colder the further out we get. Besides, how can we get to the bank to get out if we do get into trouble?” Panic teemed in Kalista’s voice. “I don’t like water I can’t see into.”
“Hey, roomie, calm down. Good grief, we haven’t even started yet.” Leandra finally sounded exasperated with Kalista’s irrational fear. “Would you just enjoy yourself and get over being a baby already? Not everything has to be a swimming pool with pristine water to be safe.”
“Girls, girls, focus. You are both right in your own way. This is more than a simple excursion—it’s time we start paying attention to our surroundings.”
“Okay, so, we need to be one with the fish?” Leandra asked seriously as she peered down toward the water.
Kalista rolled her eyes. “Sheesh Lea, as if you could see anything through this brown tinged river water.” She looked more closely, realizing how intent Leandra appeared. “You really are getting in tune with your aquatic side, aren’t you?”
“We paid for this expedition so you’re darn right I’m getting in touch with my inner Ictalurus punctatus.”
Owen furrowed his brow toward Leandra. “What the heck is an ictaluruhhh…icta…icta-walruses or whatever you just said?”
“Owen, let me apologize for Leandra, leave it to the bookworm to use the scientific name for a channel catfish.” Kalista replied with amusement in her tone.
“You knew what I meant when I said it. What’s that say about you?” Leandra shot back triumphantly.
Caleb interjected into the banter. “Girls, we are actually not looking for Ictalurus punctatus. We are searching for Pylodictis olivari, a flathead catfish.
He quickly turned his attention to the water again.
“Sorry, we are both in the nursing program and seems we have taken our biology courses a little too much to heart.” Kalista offered a sincere apology. “We are science geeks at heart. What’s your excuse for the nerd factor?”
“Yes, Mr. Caleb, your knowledge surprises me.” Leandra studied Caleb intently, a combination of intrigue and puzzlement flooding her features.
“I understand, I’ve been to college myself. But, c’mon let’s get this show on the road and catch some fish.” Caleb returned to an all business-like demeanor. “Or, you won’t have any supper.”
“We are going to eat these things…” Kalista continued following her guides.
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