Short Story: A Leg Up
Updated: Sep 17, 2020
The following short story is what I wrote as my second entry into the NYC Midnight Short Story Tournament. This heat required three elements: An Action Adventure, A Rescue Worker and A Handicap. I had 3 days to write it in 2000 words or less. This is what I came up with. I actually liked this story better than my first entry
(https://www.troykinney.com/single-post/2019/04/03/Bar-None) but I didn't make it to the final round. The whole thing was a lot of fun.
This isn’t my fault. It’s not. Adrian thought to himself. Although he doubted that to be true.
The both of them stood there looking down at the kayak wrapped around the colossal slab. It was a red heavy-duty, vinyl air-filled boat called a duckie. The river was flowing at such a high rate that when they had come around the bend, they didn’t have time to paddle out of the way. At first, they had simply just bumped into that treacherous stone, but the high flow quickly pinned them up against it, Mother Rock. All the contents of the boat, including lunch went flying and floating away. Both men scrambled onto the top of the boulder, grappling it in the middle of the river. Beck stood up and hobbled around the outcropping, assessing the situation. Adrian watched Beck working, trying to find a way out of this predicament. He was hopping around on one leg, bending down here and there. He would grab the boat and pull, then release and look for another place to get a good purchase on the craft. Adrian didn’t really know what to do so he waited for instructions. Adrian, cold, looked out over the river. It never let up, never slowed down. It meant to kill them. His hands were shaking.
The water constantly crashing against the stones threw white foam and spray into the air, into their faces. Loud. Beck yelled over, “Okay. Let’s get this going. Grab the front of it! Pull it to the left and push it down toward the water! I’m going to get this end.” Adrian thought this was a strange idea, but he did what he was told. He began to bend toward the boat. He was a little softer around the middle than he had liked, but he tried tightening his tummy and struggled to breathe a little as he knelt over. He took hold of the handle on front. Beck leaned over, reaching.
The boat shifted.
“It’s moving!” Adrian glanced over at Beck. Beck looked back, smiled and lost his grip. He flew up into the air, one arm above his head, and his body contorted half-way round. He was going backwards through the air. It was all happening so fast and in slow motion. Adrian stood and felt fear surge through him as he saw Beck’s rugged face with that little smile at the edge looking back. His body flying toward surrounding rapids and the stones underneath. The whitewater was where the side of his face hit first, arm second. Then he was gone, helmet disappeared, swallowed. Adrian anxiously waited and saw Beck’s life-preserver pop out about thirty feet farther down. The red helmet and vest headed toward the opposite shore. He didn’t look like he was moving, but the preserver was doing its job. On his back, face above the river.
Adrian looked down once more at the boat. What would his brother Liam do? This was what Liam was good at. Emergencies. Adrian had to make a decision. He jumped. Off the rock he flew into the calmest part of the river he could see. His feet and knees slammed into some rocks just below the surface. Again, the water was shockingly cold, but what did he expect with the winter snow melt in the Salt River Canyon. He swam in a frenzy toward the direction of Beck’s body. It was harder to see down here in the water. He made it out of the rapids and scanned. There. He made his way to that helmet and life vest.
Adrian arrived at the campsite where the other twenty men in the group were setting up their stuff. Before last night, Adrian had no idea who Beck was. Beck Destan, veteran of all things adventure, including Afghanistan, was laying out his tent as Adrian walked up. Beck seemed a serious sort, early fifties. He moved around his site with a type of strange ballet. Adrian couldn’t figure it out. It was like Beck was a Russian dancer balancing mostly on one leg, the other he controlled with a sort of sweeping action, down up and around.
One of the other guys from their group came up when he noticed Adrian staring, “That’s where he lost his leg, below the knee and got sent home.”
“Never let it slow me down.” Beck turned around, “You Adrian?”
“Yes, sir.” Adrian couldn’t understand his immediate nervousness and formality. Maybe because Beck looked like he just walked out of an Eddie Bauer ad. He offered his hand.
Beck stood and stared for a second. Then offered his. “Guess we’re partnered.” They shook, “Don’t let this old thing scare you none. I’ve been all over the world on it. Never let me down.” He reached down and knocked on it with his knuckles. “You look at the route down the Salt for tomorrow? There are some tricky areas level threes and some fours? And with the water flow this high…”
“Hmm. You been in the white before?”
Beck gave a funny look, “Okay.” He turned and started towards a tent stake. “Hopefully it wasn’t just one of those family trip deals in a guided raft.”
The funny thing was that Adrian didn’t even really want to go on this Salt River trip. His wife convinced him to go, reminding him of the fun they had as a family on that half-day rafting trip in Colorado a couple years back. He did love that professional picture he posted of the whole family surrounded by the white foam, splashing playfully up and around, a clear shot of his 8-year-old with both a look of shock and joy holding that paddle. What an adventure.
Getting trapped on Mother Rock was nothing like that.
Fire had started burning in Adrian’s arms as he reached Beck and grabbed his vest. Beck had shored up on a small field of boulders. He was breathing fast. So was Adrian, his ears pounding with pressure of blood. He got behind Beck, grabbed under his arms and moved backwards towards shore.
Right now, he didn’t know where the rest of the group was.
Twenty guys taking ten blow-up duckies twenty miles down the Salt River Canyon. Two left behind. He was a rookie after all, Beck got that right. That’s why they were paired, experienced with novice.
Earlier on the river, they had gotten through the Eye of the Needle, Rat Trap and Reforma Rapids. Beck knew all the names. Adrian had flown out of the kayak three times and almost lost the paddle five. He was bumped and scratched and fairly tired. At first, the group was all together. Most everyone took a tumble here and there but then, little by little, they became separated, out of earshot to simply gone.
He was close to shore now. Stood behind Beck and dragged him further out of the river and sat back. Beck moaned. Looking down, Beck’s face looked odd, deformed? There was a bloody gash above his right cheek. “I bet your jaw is broken. And that arm doesn’t look healthy either.” Beck was still unconscious. The prosthetic was missing. Lost forever.
Again, Adrian wondered what his brother would do. His brother, the adventurer, always hunting, fishing, rock climbing. But he was gone now. Two years. His mind relived that live feed from the news helicopter. Liam, being lowered onto the roof of a burning warehouse. A couple of firefighters trapped up there. He had sent the first firefighter up, then he latched the second into the harness when the roof unexpectedly gave way and Liam simply vanished. Liam Calder, a hero. “That’s who needs to be here, not me.”
All of a sudden Adrian felt a chill working its way through his sleeveless wet-suit and life vest. Liam had told him that if you are cold and wet you must keep moving. He stood. The boat, he had to get to the boat. He looked at Beck lying in the shade. Glancing up, the canyon was steep on both sides, fifty feet high at least, not letting much afternoon sunshine down. He noticed a square of sunlight hitting a flat area a little way further off shore and dragged Beck over to it.
Now for that boat. He had to get down to the group for help. He couldn’t simply swim back against that current. He would have to walk back up the rock filled shore. Get above that snaggle-toothed boulder, Mother Rock and swim out to it. Hopefully the current wouldn’t kill him. He looked far over at that rock and saw the boat still pressed against its side.
He stepped into the icy water on unsure and wobbly feet. Hands straight out trying to balance on those river teeth biting at him below in the current. “What is wrong with me?” He wondered as he struck out for that crag. When the water was about four feet deep the flow really started controlling him. He swam. A desperate thought went through his head as he realized he might not have given himself enough time to get to that boat. It was going to be close.
There. He felt the rock with his nearly numb fingertips stretched full length. Sliding along that wet edge. Then a slot. He gripped it. And his legs swept upward in the current. He was flying freely in the water. Weightless except those three fingers holding that rock. He thought about a picture of Liam dangling under a rock overhang, free-handed. Adrian pulled himself against that current. A second hand. A little more effort and he struggled onto Mother Rock. He hugged it. Every muscle exhausted. Now for the boat.
He pulled his knees up and crawled over to the duckie. It looked like it would be easy to free it. The back end was completely free and he reached out to grab it. Both hands and he leaned back, it wasn’t working. Then he remembered the strange instructions Beck gave earlier. Push down toward the river. He pushed down and felt the boat separate from the side. But the boat went right and he fell left. The last thing he saw was the white wall of water crashing on the side of the Mother as he went face first into the squall.
Beck opened his eyes. Blurry. It was dark now. His jaw was killing him. “You okay man?” It was one of the other men from their group. He saw some of the other guys near too.
He tried to speak, he meant to say, “Where’s Adrian?” but it sounded like a mess.
“Adrian?” Beck nodded. “We’re still looking.” He could hear men’s voices yelling Adrian’s name. The river was so loud. Beck closed his eyes.
When he opened them again, he could see there was a campfire and what looked like his duckie on shore. Eyes closed.
Wind was blowing crazy when Beck opened his eyes again. The whole area was lit. Helicopter hovering above. Loud. He realized that he was in a basket stretcher. He could see a white sheet partially covering a body in another basket stretcher, ascending to the sky.
The cable hook was returning. He tried to speak again. The paramedic in the helmet motioned that he couldn’t understand him. He hooked the basket up.
As Beck was lifted, he drifted in and out. Then he was there, basket knocking the sliding-door of the helicopter. He tried to look over, but his head was trapped in a brace. It had to be Adrian in the other basket. Was he alive? And then he saw it, out of the corner of his eye. From out of that basket, a leg held tightly by Adrian’s ragged hand. His leg. Being raised slowly into the air.