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THE WILLLOW AND THE STORM

            "Hard left!" yelled Lelani, while beginning to backpaddle on her left side. Two seconds later she hollered out, "Hold on!" and the raft tilted precariously to the left, barely avoiding hanging up on the last rock in the rapid.

            "Whew!" sighed Justin and Brad at the same time, "We made it." There was a sudden thump followed by two splish-splashes as both boys fell backwards out of the boat. We had hit a small bump in the river while the two were laughing and they both flipped out. Everyone laughed as the two heads popped up through the surface of the water. After the stress of navigating the rapid, the comical antics of the two boys were welcome relief.

            The group continued laughing until we heard the river laugh with us. It wasn't a friendly laugh, but more of a deep, ominous chuckle of a river god as he laughed at the puny humans who dared to raft his river. Up ahead there was a gorge and a rapid with a mean attitude. Lelani told us to get ready; we were about to tackle Widowmaker. It was the fastest, hardest rapid on the river; Widowmaker was the only class IV in the county. As I held my paddle tightly in my hands, my right foot unconsciously locked itself under the tube that crossed the boat, bracing me. Unbidden, the rapid's portentous name sprang into my head like an egg spilling out of its cracked shell. I groaned, predicting something bad would happen either in relation to the rapid or with regards to the scrambled eggs I ate for breakfast, or maybe both. The eggs had been gurgling in my stomach for the past hour and there was no decent bathroom for another 3 hours. I was in heaven daydreaming about the bright blue porta-potty that awaited me only six miles downstream until Brad screamed in sheer terror and delight as he saw the rapid. At the bloodcurdling, hair-raising scream I forgot all about eggs as I readied myself for the set of thumps and thuds that was up and coming fast.

            It happened very early. In fact, it was the first of one of many events that occurred. AT the first set of bumps, our guide held on to her paddle a second too long and flip, she was over the back of the raft. John, the oldest of the six boys now left alone on the boat, tried to take control. As we crashed and banged our way down the rapid, I kept looking back to see how Lelani was doing. She was zipping along as happy as a lark a dozen or so yards behind the boat. After one such checkup on her, I turned back just in time to see a piece of rock each out and touch Derek. Instantly his arm turned red with blood. When the end was in sight, the worst thing on the whole trip happened to me: I fell overboard. I was anticipating the bump we would get from a boulder I saw ahead, but was totally unprepared for the thud we received when the raft's bottom grated on a submerged piece of granite.

            The shock of the water was the first thing I felt. I rose to the surface, struggling and gasping for air. Breathing was no longer an unconscious muscle contraction, it was a continuing struggle against the fourth element. The trip through the watery roller-coaster was indescribable. Bumping into this crag, crashing against this boulder, I felt as if the tremendous force of the river would dash me up against some piece of granite or limestone and end my life. In the back of my mind, somewhere, I recalled the safety session I had attended that morning. For some reason I remembered to keep my head pointed upstream and my feet downstream to ward off rocks. Indeed there were some times when I just could not stand the pressure of staying afloat and would be submerged beneath the roiling waters. At these times I could only vaguely see the beautiful sunlight that had shone brilliant and golden on me not five minutes ago. After what seemed an eternity I was released from the torment and torture into the blessed calm waters of a pool.

            After rejoining my group (Lelani had already caught up with them, passing me when I was submerged), I sat back and reflected on what I had just experienced. The trial stressed not just the body, but the soul as well. Both had been battered to near the breaking point, but neither had cracked or fallen apart. Instead they were like the willow in the storm, bending with the forces that were attempting to overpower it, yielding all but the last bit of strength. As I stared down at the mirror like pool in the cool shade of a willow tree that hung like wisteria over our heads, a saying came to mind. "The willow knows what the storm does not; patience will always outlast the tempest."

 

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Writer's Reflection

            I had fun writing this short story. It was very interesting because I cannot recall the last time that I wrote a short story. I do remember that the stories I have written have all been very short and few and far between. This time I actually felt somewhat satisfied with the end result. It was a fun experience writing the story, but it still feels awkward writing something longer than a few paragraphs and worrying about characters, personalities, plot, etc. etc. Perhaps I will continue writing short stories at a later time, but for now I will quit while I think I'm ahead.