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CREATIVE WRITING

Rising and falling

Joe Gray

Publication date: 6 August 2021
 



With the way that Jeff and Matthaeus bounded across the stepping stones, despite their large backpacks, Abi wondered if they had metal springs for ankles. Yet it was just so unnecessary, she thought, for them to pitch their tent across the river. They would have been kings of the camp anyway. The embellishment to their status was like a tomahawk dunk in an undefended basket when a lay-up would have given the same result. (This analogy crystallized in her on account of a preseason basketball game she had watched the previous evening. A player had dunked in such a situation, landed awkwardly on an ankle, and suffered an injury that was almost certainly going to terminate his long run of all-star selections.)

Even so, if Abi could have crossed the river with them, then she would have. But Christa, her tent buddy, insisted that they stay with the two teachers and the eight other students in the main group of campers.

Christa was sure that there would be little sleep on Jeff and Matthaeus's side if they joined them, just as she knew that she needed rest for the climb of Mount Clark the next day. That, she reminded herself, was why she had come. That was why her mum had been squeezing the household expenditure even more than she normally had to and bought her a decent pair of hiking boots. That was why she and several other pupils had been visiting the community gym three nights a week for the past two months.

At length, tents were erected, food was eaten, campfires were lit—one on each side of the river—and darkness descended. The night was still, and stars soon began to twinkle with a density previously unknown to Abi.

From time to time, bouts of laughter drifted across the river. They seemed forced to Abi, as if Jeff and Matthaeus were trying to prove the superiority of their side's socializing with volume alone. Well, that and an oversized fire, she corrected herself. At high school, the two seventeen-year-olds felt to her like they were men already. Here, in the wild, against the backdrop of grand ancient mountains, they seemed young boys again. But the other students in Abi's group looked only with awe toward the leaping flames across the river.

The oversized fire was still burning fiercely when the members of the main group began to break up and head to their tents. "Please keep your noise down, now, Jeff and Matthaeus," a teacher shouted across the water. "And you'll need to be back across here for 8am sharp tomorrow. We don't want to still be climbing in the midday heat. It's going to be hot, for late September."

 


 

During the night, Abi was awoken by the flapping of canvas. There was something tugging at the tent. It was, she quickly realized, the work of a rising wind. Meanwhile, water pressure was building on her bladder. Through a process of will, she managed to remove herself from the warmth of her sleeping bag and emerged into the night. The fire across the river was now just embers, while the stars had been smothered from beneath by a blanket of cloud.

As she stared upward, after relieving the pressure, the sky flashed with a burning whiteness. Remembering a trick that her mum had taught her, Abi began to count. Thirty-one seconds passed until the rumble of thunder arrived on the airwaves. The storm was six miles away.

There was another flash, and this time Abi's count reached forty-three: the storm was moving away, up into the mountains. A deep shiver prompted her to return to her sleeping bag, where she was pleased to discover some residual warmth.

 


 

In the morning, Abi awoke to stillness: the canvas was no longer flapping and Christa's eyes were closed. She unzipped the door as quietly as she could and stepped out into a new day. There was a dew on the ground, but it did not seem like rain had fallen overnight.

Then she looked up, toward the tent across the river. Where before, between her and the satellite camp, there had been a gentle river, now there was a torrent. They were in the catchment of the mountains and the water had risen a foot during the night, swallowing the tops of the stepping stones and cutting off the opposite bank.

 


 

Jeff and Matthaeus waited hopefully while the teachers, across the river from them, studied their map. The news that came was not good: the nearest bridge was six-and-a-half miles downstream. Thinking themselves noble, the pair proposed that the teachers and other students climbed Mount Clark as planned while they made the thirteen-mile detour back to camp. After a short deliberation, however, the teachers explained that the high school's outdoor protocol would not permit this.

Instead, the teachers and the ten students who had stayed with them hiked downstream toward the bridge, on a path that Christa could have walked just as easily in her old trainers. Jeff and Matthaeus experienced the indignity of having to remain in visual contact at all times.

 


 

At last crossing the bridge for the reunion, Jeff and Matthaeus had from somewhere found smirks to wear on their faces, but no one was in a mood to hear anything they had to say. Christa harbored the deepest resentment of all. That afternoon the group would head back into the city, leaving Mount Clark unclimbed.

 


 

Just as swiftly as the river's level receded, so ebbed the reputations of the satellite pair. For Abi, though, there was some upside. It saved her ever having to worry about either of these boys again. Had they instead held their heads low, it would have been easy, in time, to forgive them for causing an inconvenience that no one foresaw. But in the rise of the corners of their lips, after six-and-a-half miles' thinking time, she had been told everything that she needed to know. 
 



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