Thursday, February 26, 2015

Nerds in the Wild (Conclusion)

Last week, we left Zeke and Ron in a tent on a rocky ledge in Golier Canyon snug in their sleeping bags listening to raindrops pelting the tent overhead. Peaceful scene, right? Well, just wait. We’re in Zeke’s “head” when the concluding installment begins.

I woke in what must have been the middle of the night. It had stopped raining, at least I couldn’t hear water hitting the tent. Of course, I couldn’t hear much of anything because of a dull roaring sound. It took a minute to understand it was the noise of the creek even though the shelf where we lay was ten feet above the water. But maybe not. It sounded closer – and angrier – than that peaceful little trickle of yesterday.
Then I realized my butt was wet. Wet and cold. That’s what had awakened me. I put my hand out and dipped my fingers in half an inch of frigid liquid.
“Ron!” I yelled. “Get up! There’s water in the tent.” I fought my way out of the sleeping bag and stood in the water. And my feet had been about the only part of me that wasn’t freezing. I heard Ron splashing and cursing around in the darkness.
“Glasses! Can’t find my glasses.” That all came out in a moan.
Then I felt the tent move. Not much, but just a little. Hell, it shouldn’t be moving at all. The water was now up around my ankles.
“Get out!” I screamed. “The tent’s about go.”
“Glasses! Gotta find my glasses!”
I found the zipper and managed to get it halfway up. “Forget your glasses. Save your ass!”
I fought my way out of the tent into a freezing wind. I was pretty sure it had stopped raining, but water still pelted my face. Whipped up by the wind, probably. Ron blundered out of the tent and almost shoved me down into the creek. The clouds had cleared and a moon directly overhead provided a little light. I felt blood drain from my face as I looked across the canyon at a broad expanse of boiling water. Yesterday’s playful creek had become an angry river. And we were standing in it.
I turned and ran into Ron. “Run,” I said. “Climb the walls. We gotta get higher.”
“G-grab our packs,” he stammered.
Even as he said it, our tent swayed before the wind and then was gone. We watched with our jaws sagging as it floated briefly before collapsing from the weight of the water inside. It was out of sight within ten seconds.
Just as I started for the wall of rock behind me, a deep booming sound halted me. “What’s that?”
“D-dunno,” Ron stammered. “Maybe thunder.”
It came again … and again. A booming, thudding grinding sound. Getting closer. And then I understood.
“That’s not thunder. Move. Climb for your life!”
“What is it?”
“Climb, man, climb! Don’t waste time talking.
I’m not sure how we did it given the combination of total darkness eased only by the moon’s faint glow and rocks still slippery from the rain, but we began to ascend the nearly vertical walls of Golier Canyon. All the while the terrible booming came closer and closer.
I reached a ledge and paused to grab Ron’s collar and drag him up beside me. I had no idea if we were high enough, but I’d done all I could. I wasn’t going to be able to climb another inch. So I started praying while the wind tried to snatch us off our precarious perch.
The booming grew louder and louder until it was almost ear-splitting. My chilled blood ran even colder. Ron let out a moan as a wall of water rushed toward us, an occasional boulder the size of a truck occasionally visible inside it.
“Oh, shit! Climb,” Ron yelled.
“No!” I shouted. “Don’t move. If we’re not high enough, it’s too late now.”
“We might fall if we try to climb. Stay still.”
The ten-foot wall of muddy water seemed to creep toward us. It was like watching death approach at a slow, deliberate pace. But I knew there was nothing slow about it. And the booms filling our ears weren’t death drums, they were boulders and tree trunks and who knew what else striking the canyon walls while being swept along by the power of the water. Why wasn’t I terrified? Why was I calm?
And then it reached us. The angry wall passed right below our feet, but leaping waves reached up to snatch at us. We were drenched anew, but we remained glued to the wall of rock at our backs. And then I saw a tree, reduced to a sodden log rushing for us. Someone moaned – I think it was me – as a long, cable-like root scraped the canyon wall not twenty feet ahead of us. We clutched cold wet stone and watched in awe as the log tumbled, and the whipping root rose and passed just over our heads.
And then the torrent was past. The booming receded, echoing up and down the steep canyon walls. And with the passing came fear. The absolute terror that had refused to come as we stared Death in the face. I started shivering violently, but didn’t know if it was fright or cold. Probably both. We were without boots and coats, but thank goodness we’d slept in our clothing. Even so, we were soaked to the skin and whipped by a brisk, cold wind.
The water level dropped rapidly after that, but it stubbornly refused to fall enough for us to clamber down to that rock shelf where we’d pitched our tent. There was no way to go anywhere. We were stranded. Would we freeze to death before cramping leg muscles pitched us off the ledge into the torrent below?
I was still calculating the odds on that when I heard the faint sound of a helicopter.
Ron and I considered skipping school the next Monday, but that would merely delay the inevitable. Dweebs and nerds and geeks – and we were all three – came in for more than their share of harassment at Belvedere High, and our recent adventure brought us more than usual. But it also occasioned a few “glad you made it” and “close shave, man” comments.
We had handled things pretty well at school until Friday’s edition of the Belvedere Weekly Gazette came out. The lead story opened with the words:
“Local Belvedere High students, Ezekiel Harmer and Ronald Smylie (both 17) were caught in Saturday’s flash flood in Golier Canyon and had to be rescued by …

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed the story and recognized a few people you know. And take a moment to give me some feedback on the story … be it good or be it bad.

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