The river was not as cold as she’d expected. Moments earlier, she’d been on the surface, pushing the paddle into the churning water. The spray from the rapids had cooled her golden skin, and the sun had shone through the canopy overhead, tracing dapples along her forearms in the soft shape of leaves. She’d seen the wave approaching, as if in slow-motion, and felt herself pitched off, helpless, sucked beneath the river and pinned on the underside of the raft by a vacuum of swirling water. Squished against the soft vinyl belly, she was no different than a barnacle, or a greenish bit of algae. Except, she needed to breathe.
Looking up, she could see the shadows of the others. They pointed at the rapids, gesturing to each other in motions she took for panic. They were searching for her. A man leaned over the side and called her name. “Elyse!” She knew that voice — her husband. Noah.
He tried again. “Elyse! Where are you?” He turned to another, a shadow merging into another shadow, words fat like bubbles. “Where did she go?”
“I don’t know. She just slipped off.”
“Could she be under the boat?”
They looked down. She held her breath, not daring to open her mouth. The knot in her lungs tightened. She tried to draw them to her with her thoughts. I’m here, look down! The shadows moved to the other side. They didn’t see her. Down here! I’m right under you!
The sound of Noah’s voice was sticky, like honey. Her fingertips touched the raft and brushed the outline of his dark figure. No. She couldn’t leave him. There was the house; they’d just picked out the Dartmouth Cinnamon kitchen cabinetry and a red enamel Viking oven with six burners. And the dog. What would happen to Greit? She loved her sloppy tongue and mammoth paws. She loved Noah too. They were perfectly happy. No fights, no drama, just simple companionship. They could eat Chinese takeout together in silence. That was love, wasn’t it?
A whisper of doubt blackened her thoughts.
She knew what this was; it was the other man. She had never met him, but she felt his presence under the river. He was like a lost mitten, soft, dirty and smelling of her body. She and this man were a matching pair, and they came from a distant memory where shadows were origami and flowers sprang from their folds. This man — she did not know his name — was always present. Forever watching. She could almost see him, but not quite. He reminded her that she’d forgotten.
The knot in her lungs swelled. Blood pounded in her ears. Her vision blurred. The knot became a tourniquet. She couldn’t hold her breath much longer. Save Yourself, Elyse.
She exploded. She was a supernova. Shock waves swept across the universe. She pushed against the raft, not with her arms or legs, but with a cosmic energy which sprung forth from her body, leaving her skin tingling and fingertips burning. The energy was real, she thought. She didn’t know she had such power.
Suddenly she was free. The river pushed her towards the surface. She was now a fishing bobber, where — air! She could breathe again. Gasping, her nerves raw, she looked for the raft, but only saw pine trees and a whir of greenish river and gray granite. She was going too fast.
“Elyse!” Noah called. His voice sounded distant. “Feet first!”
Feet first? Of course. That was what their guide had said to do during the ten minute white water rafting lesson at the boat launch. He was only nineteen, tan from the strong mountain sun and wearing a UC Boulder T-shirt. He’d opened a creased safety card and held it up so they could see the cartoon drawings. “Aways go feet first. Remember that — feet first. You don’t want to hit your head. Let your feet take the brunt of the impact.”
She straightened herself into the safety position just as she tore passed a rock.
She felt its jagged surface swipe her shoulder. It ripped her shirt, and a trail of blood spurted out, leaving inky-pink in her wake as she was swept down river.
Another raft was up ahead. They were waving at her, trying to get her attention it seemed. But this wasn’t her raft. No. Hers was long gone. This was a different group. They were going to rescue her.
Keep calm. Save Yourself.
Yet she could feel the shadow-man watching her. He knew something she did not. He remembered.