The solitary inflated tube bounced clumsily down the frenzied river with its four passengers. Cold water from the New River sprayed LaKia Jackson over and over as she dipped her oar into the crystalline water in unison with the others in her raft.
Urgently Terrence shouted, “Nic, LaKia rock…left!”
Terrence and Kendis removed their oars from the water. LaKia and Nichelle dragged their oars in the river and paddled repeatedly until sweat blended with the mist of river water covering their bodies.
“Rock, right!” belted Terrence.
“LaKia watch your right,” repeated Kendis.
Concentrating on her left, she had ignored Terrence and Kendis’ last call. Her oar collided with a rock, snapping and cracking as it ripped from her hands shattering into smaller pieces. Her fingers quivered from the prickly sensations shooting through them. Her heart leapt from her chest when she saw the rock in front of them.
The momentum from her body cast her from the raft.
Kendis caught her around the waist, but his grip slipped.
She fell sideways, rocking the raft, into the water. The vibration inside her helmet as it bounced off the rubber tube rang in her ears.
Cold spring water of the New River gorge rushed into her mouth.
Gasping for air, she tried to pull herself back into the raft. Her hands were too wet. A sickening wave of terror welled up in her belly. “Nic-, Terrence help.”
Frantic, her friends’ hands and arms thrashed through the water. They couldn’t catch her as they guided the raft around the rocks. Waves of salty water filled her nose and mouth; she sank beneath the water, but her vest buoyed her back to the surface.
She had been trained for this…what was it again? Point your feet downstream, keep your body limp, and protect your head. How do you keep your body limp, when you’re scared out of your mind?
Her torso ping-ponged from rock to rock banging her arms and back against every stone in the gorge; slowly consciousness began to drain from her body. Choking from the water in her mouth, she gagged as she slipped beneath the water again. The ragged pieces of her vest, shredded by the gorge’s rocks, floated in the water around her.
The arm that pulled her out of the river felt as solid as the rocks beating against her body. For a moment, she thought she wasn’t being pulled from the water and that she had drowned. But, then she felt the warm air of summer brush across her cold wet skin; her rescuer’s other arm reached down and wrapped around her body to secure his grip. Shivering as she laid on the bottom of the raft, she opened her eyes. Kendis Washington—her enemy, was now her rescuer.
She stirred and awakened as Kendis slid his hands beneath her limp frame. Each shove of her battered body sent a painful shock through her. Fluidly, he scooped her off the rubber floor of the raft and headed toward the dressing tents.