Against the Current: Part Two
“No, Nash, that’s really very brave of you, but it’s far too dangerous,” Mrs. Green said with a weak smile.
“I don’t really see that there are a lot of other options,” Nash bit back fiercely. “Let me do this.”
“He has a point, Gretchen,” Dr Ballard replied, looking gently at Mrs. Green.
“Please,” Nash pleaded, looking Mrs. Green in the eye. “All I need is a long piece of rope. I can do this.”
She stared at him for a moment, and then slowly nodded her head.
A few minutes later, Nash found himself standing at the river bank with a long coil of rope looped through a belt that had been found for him. One end of the rope was tied to a sturdy looking tree not far away. The confidence that he had felt shortly before in the shelter had vanished at the sight of the raging waters. He was left only with grim determination. He felt Larry shudder with fear on his arm. Mrs. Green was right, this was far too dangerous, but he couldn’t back down now.
“Larry, look...” Nash began.
Larry glared at him and chirped angrily.
“I know you’re a good swimmer and that you want to come, but I just can’t bring you. It’s too dangerous. Don’t give me that look. I’ll be back soon. I’m a good swimmer too, remember? Just wait for me here.” He gently pulled Larry off his arm and placed him under the shelter of a nearby blackberry bush.
“I’ll be back soon, buddy. It’ll be ok. I promise.”
With that, Nash turned around, ran toward the river and jumped in. Night was approaching. The darkness, combined with the wind and the rain meant that visibility was almost zero. He had jumped into the river far upstream from the island, in hopes that he could fight the current long enough to make his way halfway across the river to where the three frightened students remained stranded. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, he thought to himself as he was nearly dashed upon a rock. He missed the comforting weight of Larry on his shoulder and wished that he could’ve brought the little guy along. But instead of turning back, Nash simply kept fighting his way across the river. The current was stronger than he had ever experienced, and he tried not to think about how difficult the return trip would be if he ever managed to find the island. Just when he was about to turn back, certain that he had gone too far downstream, he felt himself being pulled out of the water. He had made it.
“Hey, are you ok?” a soft, feminine voice asked him. Struggling to catch his breath, Nash was unable to answer. He lay on his back and looked up to see the face of a pink Kacheek. She looked young, probably no more than 8 or 10, and she was obviously terrified.
“Yeah,” Nash gasped, moving slowly into a seated position. “I’ll be ok. Where are the others? Aren’t there three of you?” In answer to his question, he heard a booming voice that could be heard even above the river and the pounding rain.
“Out of all the pets that are over there, they send Spongey to come and save us? We’re doomed.” Nash recognized the voice immediately. It was the red Skeith who had dumped the paint on him mere hours ago, Alfazard.
What am I doing here? Nash asked himself. But it was too late for second thoughts. He stood up, wrung himself out, and walked directly up to the Skeith. “Look, you may not like it, but I’m the only help you’ve got. You can come with me or you can stay here and drown. It’s your choice.”
With that, Nash turned his back and walked away to find a sturdy tree to tie the other end of the rope too. He could hear the other three pets arguing in hushed voices, but he forced himself to concentrate on tying the knot. When he finished and looked up, he saw the pink Kacheek and a yellow Ixi standing in front of him with the Skeith skulking a bit behind them. Nash struggled for a moment to suppress his smile before he remembered the gravity of the situation. “All right then. Here’s the plan. This rope is connected to a tree on the mainland, so if we just follow it, we should be able to make our way back to safety. Now, do any of you know how to swim?”
The three pets looked at each other and shook their heads. Nash was slightly taken aback. This was certainly going to make his job tougher. He hadn’t planned on this.
“Well, I make a pretty good flotation device, so just hold onto me and we’ll be ok,” he said, more confidently than he felt, especially after eyeing the size of the Skeith. “So, I’ll hold onto the rope and use it to pull us across the river. You three just make sure that you hold tight to me. I’ll keep us all afloat. If you start to go under a bit, don’t panic! Just kick your legs and keep hold of me. I’ll get us across. I promise.”
The other students didn’t look reassured, but as Nash had been talking, the water was continuing to rise. What had been dry land was now up to their ankles. Nash knew they had to go now, before any of them had a chance to realize how completely crazy this plan was. Nash turned to step into the water, but before he could move, Alfazard grabbed his arm and roughly spun him around.
“Look, Spongey, I don’t like this, and I know you don’t either, but those are my sisters, so you’d better take good care of them, ok?”
Nash pulled himself away and nodded curtly. So much for gratitude, he thought to himself. He then wrung himself out again as well as he could in the rain, and lay in the water, floating on his back. He grabbed the rope firmly. “Ok you three, grab hold and let’s get back to dry land.”
Nash felt three sets of paws grab onto him rather hesitantly as he began pulling them across the ever rising river. Nash realized almost immediately that this was going to be much harder than he thought. He felt the grips of the other three pets tighten as the current threw water over their heads. Nash strained all of his muscles to keep them moving and afloat, but the weight was proving too much for him. He was barely able to keep his own head afloat and he could tell from the coughing and sputtering of the other pets, they were having similar difficulties. They would never make it at this rate. Nash knew what had to be done. When they reached one of the large rocks he had passed on his way to the island. He stopped to rest for a moment and turned to the red Skeith.
“I need to leave you here.”
The Skeith looked at him with horrorstruck eyes, but before he could comment, Nash continued, gasping for air and yelling to be heard above the water. “I know it’s scary, but I can’t take you all at once. It’s too much for me. If I take you all, none of us will make it. If you stay here, we can all get through this. I’ll drop them off and come right back for you. I promise.”
Alfazard looked Nash in the eye and then his gaze flicked over to his sisters, shivering with cold and fright. He slowly nodded his head and transferred his grip from Nash to the rock. “Take care of them first, then come back for me.”
Nash nodded. The Ixi and the Kacheek glanced quickly at their brother and then readjusted their grip. Nash quickly plunged back into the water. If he had to do this twice, there was no time to waste. It was easier now. They didn’t sink as far into the water, but it was still taking every ounce of strength Nash had to keep going. After several minutes that seemed like hours, Nash felt arms grabbing him and pulling him out of the water. They had made it to the shore. He collapsed onto the land, exhausted and panting. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the Kacheek and the Ixi being wrapped in towels and led away out of the storm. His muscles were screaming, and he wanted nothing more than to be led away to warmth and safety, but instead, he climbed unsteadily to his feet and made his way back toward the water. He felt the wings of Dr Ballard wrap strongly around him.
“No, Nash. You can’t go back out there. It’s too late.” Nash stopped struggling. Too Late. The words echoed within his mind. He felt Dr Ballard’s grip slacken. No, Nash thought to himself. It can’t be too late. Taking advantage of Dr Ballard’s slackened grip, Nash broke away. He hardly heard the shouts from the shore as he plunged back into the water. He had made a promise, and Nash never broke his promises.
To be continued...