Coming soon. The sequel to Disconnected: The Broken Path.
Escape to the Wild
Ages 10 and Up.
Available on Amazon, late October/early November, 2022.
Influences: Wendell Berry, Wilson Rawls, J.R.R. Tolkien, Gary Paulsen, Alexandre Dumas, Ma and Pa Kettle.
* * *
Two days later Ben was out by the river, fishing with John-Paul and John-John. Little three-year-old John-Darr also tagged along.
The boys had caught a few trout an hour earlier, but as the heat of the sun beat down, the fish stopped biting. They decided to come back in the evening when the fishing would be better.
Not wanting to leave the river just yet, John-John suggested they catch crayfish instead. And so the boys rolled up their pant legs and waded out in a shallow area of the river where rocks rested and slimy weeds grew. Turning over rocks and grabbing at the crayfish soon mesmerized the boys. Laughing, they snatched at the little creatures, counting aloud who was in the lead for the most catches. Boys are never happy unless they are in a competition.
It was at that moment that the predictable, preventable, and entirely ferocious slip happened. How many tragedies in life are easy to foresee? In this case, the older boys were so busy looking under rocks they forgot all about John-Darr. And John-Darr, being three, had neglected to stay near the shore like he was told. It was all so predictable. John-Darr waded out into the water, desperate to grab a flower petal floating in the river. But he took one step too far, slipping down into a strong, cold current of flowing mountain water. In an instant the water carried him away, so fast that he was unable to utter even a cry of surprise. Down and away he sped, the water easing its way with a gentle firmness.
Meanwhile, John-John and John-Paul were arguing over a catch. “I scared him right to ya, so we should split that one,” argued John-John.
“Tell ya what? If Ma calls me the wrong name first, it’s mine. If she does it to ya, it’s yers,” came John-Paul’s reasonable response.
Ben, however, suddenly had that strange feeling. Like he needed to listen. His skin tingled, his ears perked in high alert. Lifting his head and scanning the water, he saw, floating some twenty yards away, the legs of a little boy.
Sickening. It was nothing short of sickening.
Fighting off his stomach’s urge to launch his breakfast onto the ground, Ben tore out of the water and down the bank of the river before he could even think to shout in surprise. He raced over rocks and stumps, towards where he had last seen John-Darr, desperate to get a glimpse of the boy. Occasionally an arm or leg would show as the water carried the boy farther downstream. But for the most part, the little boy was submerged. Still Ben ran forward, chasing the boy, or what was left of him, along the path of the river.
At last Ben reached an area near where John-Darr floated along. He plunged into the river, desperate to catch hold of the drowning boy. The water moved Ben along with surprising rapidity, and the waves made him lose sight of the boy. The moving water was disorienting, splashing in Ben’s eyes and mouth. Choking and flailing, he rode the path of the river, lashing in all directions, hoping to strike hold of John-Darr. Ben’s clothes were weighing him down, making it difficult to stay afloat, let alone search for the boy. In fact, Ben felt he was sinking, and that it would be an enormous task just to get to shore and save himself.
But no, Ben kept kicking to stay afloat, fighting for a fleeting glimpse of John-Darr. Before long Ben was swallowing water. With dwindling strength Ben gave one last thrust, hoping against hope to overcome the inevitable conclusion of death. Where was that angel now when he needed him? When John-Darr needed him? Where was John-Darr?
With a final thrust of his body, Ben shot closer to the shore. As he did, his arm bumped into something soft but firm. Like fabric and cold skin.
Tugging with all his remaining strength, Ben grabbed the object and kicked, pulled, and willed his way to shore. It was like tying a rope around a skyscraper and trying to pull it along. Every inch took years off his life. But there was no quitting, no thought of quitting. Ben pulled, screamed, kicked, and pulled and screamed some more. And then, hoping against hope, willing against reality, he did it. Reaching the shore, he flung himself and the bundle onto the river’s bank. Gasping for air. Fighting for life.
Ben shook off his unsteadiness and went to work, pumping John-Darr’s stomach in one final battle for this boy’s life.
“One-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-five-and…” counted Ben, pushing his firm hands into John-Darr’s body. He went all the way to thirty, then blew two hard breaths into the boy’s limp mouth.
Again. “One-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-five-and…” This time Ben was even more desperate. Desperate to save John-Darr by being desperate to stay in control. Two more breaths. Then more pumping.
And still, no response.
By now John-Paul had joined Ben, while John-John raced back to the house to get his parents.
“Ben! Help him!” shouted John-Paul, with shock freezing his senses.
“Let me count!” snapped Ben. This was no time for emotion to get in the way. He was on his fourth go-around. The end was near, if not already past.
I wish I could switch with you, thought Ben, fighting grief as he worked on John-Darr.
With this simple prayer on his mind, he worked. Against all odds, he worked. Fighting fear and dread, he worked. And in the end, when all was lost, and death a certainty, the angel of life came, bringing a saving breath.
John-Darr gave a choke and then, turning to his side, unleashed a torrent of water. Coughing, wheezing, choking. It all came out, and finally air came in.
The little boy gave the most beautiful sound Ben ever heard. John-Darr started crying. Shrieks of fear and pain. Yells for his ma and pa. Tears of life, pain, and joy. He was saved.
“Ben!” shouted John-Paul, shaking with exhaustion. “Ya saved him! Ya did it! Oh John-Darr!”
Ben gave a hint of a relieved smile, then rolled over and, with the sun beating down on his overwhelmed body, passed out.