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Very Short Fiction: Renae Rife “Rapid”

“Come on, it’ll be an adventure!” Her husband’s uncle had said. “Let’s go river rafting!” Renae was apprehensive at first, but convinced herself she needed to do something, besides work. Her job was stressful and frustrating and lately it’d started to seem like all she did was work. So she let her in-laws convince her to go rafting down a river. She’d never done it before, so maybe it would be an adventure.

Ryan wasn’t thrilled either, but he shrugged off his apprehension just as his wife did, and they all went along for the ride.

The morning of was bright and clear as they packed up and headed out early. It was already promising to be a hot day. “But, hey,” Renae thought, “We’re going to be on the river, so, not so bad, I guess.”

Trying not to think of the dangers on the way down, Renae distracted herself by texting friends and snap chatting selfies to her followers.

Finally arriving, they pulled into the parking lot next to Ryan’s uncle’s vehicle, and they began unloading. The park was beautiful with summer’s beauty and bright sunshine. The sweat was beginning to bead on Renae’s forehead from the heat and nerves, as she looked around at the setting.

Within the hour they were all packed and checked into their rooms in the motel and they were preparing for their trip down river. The unloading of the canoes and equipment took less time than Renae expected—she was in absolutely no rush—but she was hopeful for good things.

They all pulled on life vests and climbed into precarious seating. They pushed off the bank and soon began a slow cruise down river.

A gentle breeze was rustling the leaves of the trees and birds sang out to them as they paddled their way down the lazy river. Renae was beginning to enjoy the scenery, wishing she’d been able to bring her phone to take pictures, but she remembered she didn’t want a water logged smartphone.

After a half an hour, the heat and sun seemed to grow stronger, bearing down on them. “Why did I not bring sunscreen?” She said aloud.

“I don’t know,” Ryan responded as he continued to paddle.

“Yeah yeah, you’ll burn too.” She told him.

They had been barely a few yards behind her in-laws when she realized that she didn’t see them. Ryan noticed it too, and saw that she was worried as well.

“They’re probably just a little faster than us, is all. I’m sure everything’s fine.” He didn’t sound convinced to her.

Almost immediately the river began to get rougher, rockier. “Whoa!” Ryan shouted as he padded to avoid a boulder in their path. Renae saw and tried to help correct as she paddled, but their turn was short, and the rear of the canoe smacked against it, rocking the vessel.

They shifted their weight just enough to compensate, righting themselves before it capsized.

“This is definitely not fun anymore!” Renae shouted.

“It’s okay,” Ryan reassured her, “we’ll be out soon, I think.”

“You THINK?!”

“Just calm down. We will be okay.”

She paused, took a deep breath. He wouldn’t let anything bad happen to her. “Okay.” She said finally.

The continued to navigate the ever rougher river, as they began to move quicker and quicker. Boulders, fallen logs, and other debris made the going harder as they attempted to find their way back to civilization and family. Renae’s grip on the paddle tightened as they worked together to swerve and dodge the obstacles in their path. Neither spoke as they focused on staying upright.

After what seemed like forever in rough waters and focused silence, the came around a bend in the river. Ryan spoke up.

“Oh man,” Renae barely heard him over the sound of the rushing water. “Is that what I think it is?”

“What?” Renae asked. When she saw what he was seeing, a heavy mist rising up from the water ahead, where the water seemed to end. “It’s a waterfall!” Renae called out. “What do we do?!”

“Maybe it’s not to high,” he theorized. “Paddle backward,” he instructed her. “We need to try to slow down!” They were shouting now, as the sound of the waterfall was getting louder as they neared.

They paddled backward, against the natural flow of the river, fighting against the flow to try to slow down. The closer they got, the harder they had to work their aching muscles to force their watercraft to slow down.

As they fought they watched the tip of the canoe proceed toward the edge of the drop off. Ryan saw first how far they’d fall, and he shouted, “HOLD YOUR BREATH!” And suddenly, against their will, the canoe tipped and gravity took over. They tumbled over the edge, Renae held her breath as instructed, lost her grip on the paddle, and closed her eyes.

Unable to watch her decent she was unsure how far she fell when she felt herself hit the surface of the water at the base of the fall. She sank like a rock into the river and felt a sharp pain as the whole right side of her body slammed into the river bed, causing her to release her breath. She gained her footing under water and pushed herself up to the surface.

When she felt air on her face, she took a deep breath, then began frantically searching the surface for signs of her husband. Having difficulty staying afloat in the quickly moving river, she looked for the nearest riverbank and swam across. Crawling out of the water and stumbling onto the bank, she stopped long enough to catch her breath, then began her search again.

Renae looked around the river, called his name, walked the bank along the rushing river, but saw no sign of Ryan. Afraid for his life, soaked to the bone, and alone, she began to shiver. There was no sign of her husband, no sign of where his family might of gone, she was alone, and she had no idea where along the river she was. She had no phone, so no way of contacting anyone, or finding her way out.

She fell to the soggy, rocky river bank, tears beginning to form in her eyes. She wrapped her arms around her shivering body, and began, unconsciously, to rock. Then suddenly she stopped. “Wait.” She said, to no one in particular.

“I’ve dealt with every kind of angry customer there is.” She told herself. “I’ve counted thousands of dollars of someone else’s money and was strong enough to not want to take any.” She stated to the trees. “I’ve fought with management, disrespectful cashiers, I’ve managed the front end on Black Friday,” she paused. “I’ve put up with my husband for a while now!” She stood herself up and threw off the sopping life jacket. “I got this!”

Pep talk over, she stood silent to think. “All I have to do is follow the river.” She paused. “Maybe Ryan made it, went on and found a his way out. All I have to do is follow the river and I’ll find my way out.”

She turned to walk in the direction the river flowed, but turned to look back, searching the surface, the opposite bank, for signs of her Ryan or the canoe. She saw nothing, but was still afraid that she might leave him behind.

“Would he move on without me?” She asked herself. “Or would he get to safety so he could find help?”

“No! I refuse to believe something bad happened to him.” She paused, “besides going on this STUPID TRIP!” She turned and started walking.

After a half an hour in the heat of the summer day, her clothes were completely dry and she was no longer shivering but sweating instead. She fanned herself with her hand, wishing a breeze would blow in off the river to cool her. Stopping to catch her breath, she looked into the sky, and saw that the sun was beginning to set. Soon it would be dark, and she would likely not be able to see the river. “I’ll have to stop, and find a place to rest.” Trying not to get nervous about being stuck in the woods alone, overnight, she turned to venture into the woods, away from the river, searching for a safe place it rest.

Being sure to keep her back to the river—in order to find it easier come morning—she walked a few yards away from the river, soon finding a fallen tree with bushes growing around it. It appeared to be as good a place as any to rest, hoping the bushes would be good cover, with the log as a good place to lean. She sat facing the river, she could see the light of the setting sun glinting off its bubbling reflective surface.

It seemed to very quickly grow dark, once Renae had found her resting place. It became hard to see the river, with no light reflecting off its surface—the sun had set below the tree line. And with the growing darkness came the sounds of nighttime creatures waking up to venture out for food. She’d spent time outdoors before, had even gone camping. But she’d never been alone, and never in unfamiliar woods. What lay in the dark, waiting for her to let her guard down? What creatures of the night would walk, stalk, or slither into her path, into her hiding place? Renae pushed the thought aside and tried to focus on the morning and what would come.

Determined to stay awake and alert, she tried to think of something that would distract her. Something that wouldn’t stress her or upset her, but take her mind off the situation at hand. For the first time in her life, no songs were stuck in her head. She couldn’t remember the plot of the last episode of her favorite show she’d watched. The only thing that came to mind was, “I wonder how busy it is at work right now?” She’d agreed to the trip to get away from work. But here she was stuck in the woods after nearly drowning wondering what was happening there.

Though annoyed that all she could think of was work, doing so was a much more soothing idea than focusing on the ever encroaching darkness and the mysteries it would bring to her. After a moment she pulled her legs in close, wrapped her arms around her knees and bundled herself against the fallen log, stealing herself against what lay in the dark.

Despite herself, and the effort she’d made to stay awake, the stress of the day, the fear she’d felt, and the anxiety of the unknown began to wear in her. She felt herself nodding off, unable to keep her eyes open. Laying her head back against the log, she looked up, for the first time since before the sun had set, and there she saw the stars. Bright and shining in the night.

Renae wondered about them, pondering how far away they might be, how long it took their light to reach her eyes. Without realizing, she’d lulled herself into a doze, unburdened and unaware of her surroundings.

That was until a distant howling startled her awake. It cut off before she’d fully awoken, before she remembered where she was. She didn’t know whether it was near or far. She waited for a second howl, hoping it was further than her frightened mind was telling her.

The second howl came, piercing and desperate in the night, scarier in the darkness, even more so because it sounded so near.

“Please God, please.” She prayed in silence. “Please let me survive the night!” Tears threatened to slip free, but she blinked them back. “Now was not a time to cry”, she told herself. She tried to steady her breathing, stay perfectly still and silent, calm her racing heart and mind.

With no watch to tell the time, no flashlight to see, she had no way of knowing how long she had until daylight. No way of knowing if help was on the way, or which direction to move, she knew she had to stay where she was despite what might lurk in the night. She had better chances of finding her way out of help when the sun was up. But how much longer would she have to wait?

Renae began to feel beside her, quietly and calmly. Patting the ground where she sat, along the fallen long. She finally stopped, finding what she was looking for, or as close too it as she could manage, without walking away. A small rock, about the size of her palm. It had a point, not very sharp, but useful in need. She wrapped her fingers around it, with the point out, imagining herself slugging some wild vicious animal over the head. Or Ryan, if he’d lived and not come looking for her.

With some sense of security, she laid her head back once more, clinging tightly to the rock, and closed her eyes.

Her sleep was fitful and frustrating. It seemed every time she’d doze off, some noise—a hooting owl, rustling leaves, a broken branch—startled her awake. She raise and brandish the rock, as if it’s scare her would be attacker off. She’d look into the darkness, see nothing, then close her eyes once more.

Finally, after what seemed like a millennia, she woke once more, startled buy something, only to find the still dim light of a rising sun, resting on a doe, a few yards away from where Renae sat. She watched the deer nibble on some grass for some time before she realized it was finally daylight.

With a sigh of relief, she pulled herself up off the ground, legs and back and neck stiffer than she’d ever felt. She looked directly forward, and saw the shimmering water of the river. She was both relieved and dismayed, knowing she’d once again have to be at its side.

Walking walking, always walking. She moved along the river’s path following the trail it had cut for itself over centuries of flow. The sun beat down on her head just as it had the day before. After hours of travel she wondered if she’d ever find the river’s end and civilization.

Though growing weary and tired she continued on, enduring the heat and frustration as she made her way, step by step. She dodged trees and thorny bramble as she picked her way along the sandy banks, broken rocks, and crumbling dirt. More than a few times, she miss stepped, plunging ankle deep in the surprisingly cold waters.

She soon grew hungry, no longer able to distract herself from her growling stomach. Weary worn mind and body began to grow heavy and weak, eventually pulling her down into a slump, at the base of a long dead, though still standing tree.

“I’ll stop here,” Renae told herself. “I’ll read a while, then try to find some food.” She gazed at the river, angry at the beauty of its glistening flowing waters. She knew there were fish there, lurking beneath the surface. But she had nothing with which to catch them. She had nothing at all. When she realized she was glaring at a river she thought, “I must be going crazy.” She told herself, looking into the sky, away from the water. “It’s just a river, it can’t be blamed for my situation.”

“But who could?” She thought.

That’s when she heard it. At first she thought she really was going nuts. There was no way she could hear voices. Unless the devious river was babbling through its rapid rush. But she stopped thinking, and listened.

It want just voices she heard. Dogs were barking, the sound of an engine starting. And the oh-so-familiar sound of a Walkie, with a rattling voice speaking commands.

At first she shook her head, disbelief clouding her confused mind. “It couldn’t be.” When the glorious sounds of civilization didn’t retreat into the fog of her brain, she burst into tears of relief, so overcome with happiness she could only cry.

The tears continued to flow, though she was finally able to summon the strength to stand. She pulled herself up with the aid of a tree, swaying as her tired legs regained feeling. Once upright, she slowly made her way to salvation, safety, and, hopefully, food. Ignoring the river now, focusing only on the noise of rescue, she pushed herself forward. “You’ve made it Renae.” She told herself. “It’s almost over.”

When she finally made it out of the trees into what appeared to be a parking lot at a ranger’s station, she called out, as loud as her tired aching body could stand. The effort took her last ounce of strength and she fell to her knees.

People swarmed around her with questions, checking her vitals, offering her water. They helped her into a stretcher, and she was about to be loaded onto an ambulance.

“Where is my husband? Did he make it?” She asked in a strained whisper.

“I’m here!” She heard him call out. He pushed his way through the crowd to her side.

She turned her head slowly to look at him. Then, in a blink of an eye, with energy field by rage, she began to hit him over in over. Ryan help his arms up to shield himself from her blows as she shouted at him. “You’re here?! Of course you are! Why didn’t you look for me?! Where have you been?! Do you know what I’ve been through?!”

She stopped the spousal abuse, sighed tiredly, then fell back on the stretcher once more.

“Well okay. We won’t go canoeing on the river again, then.”

“You bet your skinny tail we won’t.” She said under her breath. “I’d rather be at Walmart.”