And fell and fell.
His skin stung as the freezing water slapped his body. Underwater, his lungs begged to suck in a breath, but he kept his mouth clamped shut. Bubbles surrounded his face and he pumped his arms and legs, propelling himself to the surface. He broke and gasped for breath.
Cheers came from the guys on the bank. Truman shook the water out of his eyes and started to swim to shore. The current had already moved him far down from his entry point. His arms shook from the strain of fighting the current. Shouts made him look up, and he saw Craig Rafferty swing out over the water. Truman treaded water, enjoying the fear on Craig’s face and the huge splash. Cheers went up again, and Mike grabbed the rope as it swung back and worked his way up the bank. Truman took a few more strokes toward shore but kept an eye on Mike, waiting to see if he was going to flip upside down again.
Mike didn’t go. His gaze was fixed on the water. More shouts.
Four of the guys were pointing at the water and yelling.
Truman looked where they pointed, experiencing a split second of terror that a deadly river creature had appeared. Instead he saw Craig, facedown in the water, caught in the current and flowing rapidly downstream.
“Truman!” He heard Mike’s shout above the others.
He didn’t pause. He changed direction, putting himself on a collision course with Craig. His arms had tired and the cold water sucked the strength out of his legs. He pushed on, locking his gaze on Craig’s hair.
Lift your head!
Craig vanished below the water and panic lit up Truman’s chest. He tracked the course he believed Craig’s body would take and swam harder, pumping his arms and legs. Craig’s back surfaced and Truman adjusted his interception path.
Truman sucked in a deep breath and went underwater to use his strongest strokes. His fingertips touched skin. He lunged and caught Craig’s ankle. He let the current carry them as he worked his way up Craig’s body and turned his face out of the water.
“Craig! Craig!” He slapped the teenager.
There was no way to apply chest compressions as they shot down the river. Truman linked an arm around Craig’s neck and paddled one-handed toward shore. His progress was slow, the river rushing them farther downstream, but the shoreline eventually came closer.
Big rocks littered the water where Truman estimated he’d finally reach shore. At the rapid rate they were moving, it would hurt when they hit one. He moved Craig to his other arm and braced his left arm to catch the rock.
The impact knocked the breath out of him, and he went under. He clamped his right arm around Craig’s neck, determined not to lose hold. He came up for air, and the rush of the water pinned him against the rock. At least they were no longer moving. His gaze estimated the distance to shore: fifteen feet.
But his energy was gone. He yelled at Craig and pinched his lips and poked him as hard as he could in the ribs. He welcomed the pressure of the water that held the two of them against the big rock, giving his muscles a small break, but now he had to fight to keep Craig above water. The current continually caught the other boy’s legs, trying to drag him past the rock. There was movement on the shore as the other guys arrived. They had cut the rope swing and one of them was tying it around Mike’s waist. Mike waded into the water, using the other big rocks to keep from being swept downstream.
“How’s it going?” he panted as he reached Truman and Craig.
“He’s not breathing,” Truman gasped.
“Are you okay to stay here if I pull him in?”
“I’m not going anywhere.” He struggled to unfasten his arm from Craig’s neck. His arm had frozen in place. Mike grabbed Craig under the arms and turned onto his back.
“Pull me in!” he shouted. The guys on shore towed them away.
Truman watched Craig’s still face as they inched toward shore.
Open your eyes!
Two more guys waded into the water and helped pull Craig to shore. They circled around him on the bank, and Craig disappeared from Truman’s sight. Bare shoulders moved up and down as chest compressions were applied. Mike looked over his shoulder at Truman.
Truman couldn’t move from the rock.
One of the guys anchored the rope as Mike moved back into the water. “You stuck?” he asked as he reached Truman.
“Fuck yes. My legs can’t move. They’re numb.”
“Relax. Turn around.” Mike deftly maneuvered him into the same position he’d used to haul Craig to shore. Truman stared up at the blue sky and towering firs along the riverbank as Mike hauled him in.
He felt like a paralyzed baby.
Rocks grazed his butt and he rolled over to his hands and knees in the water. Every muscle shook. He tried to crawl the last few feet out of the water, but several hands grabbed his arms and lifted him to his feet. He stepped carefully, as no feeling was left in his feet from the icy water. He looked over and saw Craig on his side puking river water.
Relief nearly sent him back to his knees.
One of the guys slapped him on the back. “Nice job! You saved his life.” The others gathered around. More slaps on his back.
Truman couldn’t speak. He kept watching Craig heave and puke.
Mike led Truman to a rock and made him sit. Truman’s knees screamed as they bent. “You okay?” Mike asked.
“Craig’s gonna be all right.”
“I see that.”
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