The Swing over the River

“And then I let go when I’m at the farthest point out, drop into the river and swim to the far shore. The current will be helping me.”

“And if you can’t make it?”

“I’ll come up against that rock.”

“What rock? I can barely see anything.”

“There’s a rock in the water just where the river turns. If I can’t make it to shore, I will almost certainly end up at that rock.”

“And if you miss?”

They could both hear the roar of the rapids below.

“If I miss, I’ll die, and you’ll think of another plan.”

“I don’t think there is another plan.”

“Let’s get going, then. The bandits can’t be far behind.”

This is a work of fiction.
Copyright © 2011
Henry E. Neufeld

Sheldon looked around. The ragged group of refugees had pretty much fallen where they stopped. In the darkness with just a waning moon, he couldn’t see their faces, but he knew there would be no hope. They’d been forced further and further south, and everyone knew one couldn’t ford the river here. Soon they would all be killed.But this kid thought he could swing out over the river, and get near enough to the other bank to avoid the rocks. He maintained that the current at that point would push him in the right direction. Not only that, but he’d have to do it with a rope tied around his waist. Once that rope was tied at both ends, they’d run another one, and let the people cross on the one rope while holding the other.

It would be the end of the road for their mule, who was carrying the supplies. It was the kid again who had inclued that much rope in their load. He seemed to think there were few things that couldn’t be solved with the proper length of rope. Whether the refugees could cross the river in that manner remained to be seen. Sheldon doubted they’d all make it.

The kid looked at the rope hanging from the tree. The memories were strong. The little river near his home, not too swift, but very muddy, and considered somewhat dangerous, especially for the very young. He’d only been five years old the first time he tried to swing out over the river, much too young. Nothing had ever stopped him. No amount of orders, no punishments, no matter how severe, could keep him away from the rope swing. And he was good.

As he looked at the river below in the moonlight, he realized how fragile were his plans. There was no room for error. If he was any less skilled than he had said, he would land either amongst the rocks on this side or in the middle of the stream, where he would have no chance to reach the other bank before being swept around the turn and caught in the rapids.

Then he heard his father’s voice. “It’s dangerous. It’s a waste of time. You need to learn to do useful things.” His father was very fond of useful, practical things. The swing over the river wasn’t useful. Fun, yes, but not useful. His father hadn’t understood fun.

He positioned himself as far back as he could, to get the most momentum. “What do you think now, Dad?” he muttered, and launched himself over the river.

He didn’t have time to think. He just reacted. One moment he was hanging from the rope, and the next he was dropping toward the water. He had time for just one thought: This is the biggest thrill I’ve ever experienced. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Sheldon felt somewhat different. He only caught glimpses of the kid in the river. He thought he wasn’t close enough to the far bank. Then he saw him crawling out on the rock. He had come up against the rock–barely.

At that moment all the kid could think was: Too bad I can’t tell my dad. Some useless activity!

(This story has been submitted to the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival: Swings, though I think it’s mildly off track for that!)