I wrote this for a quick turn around contest. Story had to be 1000 words and feature both an animal sanctuary and a paddle board.
Ash leaped over gate B and landed in a pile of manure. She slipped to one knee and the brown muck squelched up over her thigh. “For the love of…”
Loud laughter cut her off. Ash turned around to see Kimber deftly avoiding the pile of elephant poo as she followed. She held out a hand and Ash gripped it, allowing Kimber to haul her out of the pile.
Ash managed to avoid the reflex of wiping off her pants. She’d done that instinctively on her first day at the Jolly Jungle Wildlife Sanctuary and had ended up flicking the manure everywhere. She grumbled as they stomped toward the barn. “Koalas,” Ash muttered. “I had a chance to work with cute little koalas.”
Kimber grinned. “Don’t blame the ladies for pooping. It’s not their fault you can’t stay out of it.”
Ash smiled back. She wouldn’t trade working with the ladies, as they called the six elephants in their care, for anything. The elephants were their passion project. The caretakers worked for peanuts, so to speak, and the place stayed afloat by donations and grants.
Kimber leaned in close, her warm breath dancing across the skin of Ash’s cheek. “You’d be so sexy if you didn’t stink,” she whispered.
Laughing, Ash grabbed for Kimber. “Come here and give me a kiss, baby.”
Arms linked, they came around the last corner to the barn and stopped short. Kimber reacted first, yanking Ash back into the bushes. Two men with machine guns were standing outside the door. Ash sent up a quick prayer that the ladies were all out in the far field today. It would be a couple hours before they started heading to the barn for foot treatments and dinner. Kimber’s face reflected Ash’s thoughts. “What’s going on?” Ash mouthed.
Kimber gave a grim shrug. “Poachers,” she mouthed back. They backed away. When they were a fair distance from the barn, Kimber whispered, “The lagoon.” They took off running. Ash leapt over a mound of elephant poop as they circled toward the far side of the lagoon. She flashed a smile. “Smooth as butter.”
Kimber rolled her eyes. “The first thing I think when I think of you.”
The banter didn’t quite ease the fear sitting in Ash’s stomach. If the men with machine guns had already taken over the barn, the attendant on duty was likely dead. Kimber carried a handgun, but Ash didn’t have anything but a pocketknife. They didn’t stand a chance.
They reached the edge of the lagoon and circled it until they could see the barn again. They couldn’t see the gate, so Ash didn’t know if the men with machine guns were still there.
“We have to get across the lagoon,” Kimber said.
“Yeah, no.” Ash shook her head. “Hell fucking no.” A few years ago, a clueless patron donated a handful of paddleboards to the sanctuary, along with a box of handmade sweaters, three sheets of mosquito netting, and a record player. “Filthy rich and batshit crazy,” Kimber had said at the time.
“Eccentric,” Ash reminded her. “Filthy rich means she gets to be eccentric.”
Odd as the donation was, the paddleboards were used. Kimber and another attendant kept them all over the lagoon and would often use them to cross the swamp on various trips around the preserve. Ash tried it once. Her squat legs and thick torso meant she had a lower center of balance than her willowy girlfriend, but Ash had enough trouble staying balanced on shore, let alone in the middle of a giant mud puddle.
“We don’t have a choice,” Kimber said. She ran over to the bush and paced around until she unearthed a couple boards. She handed a paddle to Ash. “We’ve got to get over there and see what they’re doing. We owe it to the ladies.”
They dragged their boards to the dark water and Ash grimaced as she knelt on the board. “We’re sitting ducks on these.”
“They won’t see us,” Kimber insisted. “We’ll push to the far side and be protected by the foliage.”
“And eaten by water snakes,” Ash grumbled.
They almost made it across, Kimber gliding smoothly through the water, Ash on her knees, wobbling. She refused to stand, sure she’d take a headfirst dive into the murky water. As they made the far side of the lagoon, Ash overreached with her paddle and the board swayed wildly under her. She overcorrected and in a moment, she was falling. Something brushed against her leg. She bit back a scream as she groped for her board. Kimber circled around. “Stay still,” she whispered. “Be quiet.”
Ash held as still as she could. The sensation of things brushing her legs under the water sent shivers up her spine. She abandoned the board and scrambled for shore. She rushed out of the water, dragging her paddle. Kimber landed next to her. As they climbed the crest of the bank, the men from the barn appeared at the top. One of them pointed a gun at Kimber. “Where are the elephants?”
Ash’s feet slid out from underneath her. She clutched for the bank but found herself sliding down the hill. The machine gun man, starting after her, slid next. At the bottom, Ash gained her feet and swung her paddle. It connected with the man’s face and he fell. Ash dove on top of him.
A gun went off and Ash froze. “It’s okay,” Kimber yelled. “These guys are armed, but extremely stupid.”
Ash got the gun from the man’s hands and pointed it at him. When she managed to get him up to the top of the bank, she saw Kimber had the other poacher at gun point. Ash grinned. “You know, there’s a ten thousand dollar reward out on poachers these days.”
Kimber smiled back. “We could use security.”
“Or medicine for the ladies. A new foot spa.”
Kimber ducked her head and smiled slyly. “Don’t forget a new paddleboard,” she said.