Rising Tide (Chapter Six)
Illustrations By Jenny Cooper
To read previous chapters go to Stories
In his dream, Ari covered his head with his hands and crouched down, hiding. He could hear people calling to him, trying to find him. Suddenly he felt himself being pulled upward. Strong hands were grasping him.
“Ari! How are you sleeping through this racket? Get on your feet, son!”
Ari’s mind raced. Where was he?
“We need to get out of here. Fast! The river is about to break its banks. Come on!”
The driving rain hitting him finally woke him up properly, and he looked around.
His father had lifted him out of the dinghy. Below, the usually peaceful river was raging as if it was boiling. It was dark and furious and roaring down towards the beach.
It was so high – and it was rising fast up the bank, now only a metre or so from Ari’s dinghy.
“Son, we need to get home. You’re freezing, and your mum is frantic,” his dad shouted over the wind and the rain. “I drowned my phone this afternoon, can’t let her know I’ve found you! Leave your bag. You’ll need both hands to get up over the bank.”
Ari looked up and saw the smoothed track where his father had slid down to get to the dinghy. Sheets of rain were coming down the steep bank, making it even slipperier than it already was. His father was right: they’d need both hands to pull themselves up, and even then it wouldn’t be easy.
Luckily, there was enough strongly rooted bush near the bottom of the bank to hang on to.
Slowly and carefully, they began to climb. They shoved their feet one after the other into the mud to get a foothold, then pulled themselves up by grabbing on to the ends of branches made slick by the rain.
Ari kept his head down to stop the rain from stinging his eyes, but he felt like they were getting close to the top.
Suddenly he heard his dad swear. At the same instant, Dad slid hard and fast past Ari and hit the bank below. A low sound, like a hurt animal, came from him … then a couple more swear words.
“Keep going, son!” his father shouted. “Go home and let them know where I am. I’ve hurt my ankle. There’s no way I’ll make it back up there.”
Ari almost laughed, because the thought of leaving his dad there, soaking, hurt and alone, was so ridiculous. Carefully he slid back down to his dad. He grabbed at the thickest branches and handfuls of grass so he didn’t lose control, but he went as quickly as he could. As he got near to his dad, he let go and slid on his stomach the last couple of metres. The cold, claggy mud coated his clothes, making them hang heavily on his body.
“Looks like we need a Plan B,” his dad attempted a weak joke.
Ari cupped a hand over his eyes to protect them from the rain, and looked around.
The river was continuing to rise. It was really close to the dinghy now. Soon it would be lapping against it, and then it would reach Ari and his dad. The only place they’d have left to go would be into the water.
Ari heard his koro’s voice in his mind: “Have a look around. Use what you can find.”
Suddenly he had an idea. “I know what to do, Dad. Can you stand, if I help you?”
His dad nodded. “Give me a hand up, and tell me what you think we should do.”
“We can’t climb out, and we can’t stay here. Whatever we do, we’ll end up in the river … so we’re going to get in the river, in the dinghy! We can do this, Dad!”
Ari and his dad crawled to the dinghy and started to shove. At first it wouldn’t budge. It’d been sitting in the same spot for so many years it had got stuck there.
Ari worked his way to the bow, making a track round the dinghy by digging into the soft mud with his hands. The river swelled again, forcing water over its banks and into the track round the boat – the very thing that they needed to escape from was giving them the help they needed! The water loosened the mud around the dinghy, and slowly Ari and his dad were able to inch it forward.
The bow dipped towards the current.
“Get in, Dad!” shouted Ari.
His dad pulled himself over the side, and moved quickly to the bow, using his weight to tip the boat further towards the water. Ari stood and braced his right foot hard against a tree trunk, then he gave the dinghy one huge, final push.
The dinghy began to slide, meeting the river at last, and the river current pulled the little boat into it. As the dinghy swung itself into the water, Ari jumped high and hard … and just made it in alongside his dad.
He reached for the old oar that had sat for years in the bottom of the boat and handed it to his dad. “Use this to keep us away from the edge. I’ll work to keep the water out.”
The wind, the rain and the racing river were now so loud that Ari could barely hear himself over it.
Suddenly the back of the little boat swung out, making them spin and almost tip over. The water was now moving so fast and was so high that Ari knew they wouldn’t be able to stand up in it. He felt the blood start to pound in his head, and panic washed over him.
Then they slid into a swirling eddy at the side of the river, and the stern of the dinghy swung back round the other way. For a moment, time – and the boat – stood still.
Ari thought he heard singing. He shook his head.
Another surge of water and they were moving again – faster this time.
They were heading into a much wider part of the river now. This was a part that everyone knew not to swim in. It was much deeper here, and more dangerous, and you couldn’t tell if it was fresh water or salt water. Soon they’d be heading towards the estuary, and with the tide going out so quickly they’d be in the ocean within minutes.
What was that? Ari was sure he had just heard the singing again.
His father turned to face him from the bow, where he was crouched, and Ari realised that it was Dad who was singing!
His voice was low and deep, and he was singing an old chant Ari hadn’t heard before. It sounded like the beating of the blood in his ears.
Then Ari understood: his dad was calling their ancestors. He was calling to Tāwhiri-mātea and to Tangaroa. He was asking for help.
Ari looked past his father, through the rain that was still driving hard against the current. Ahead he could see the bridge slung low above the water.
Could they grab it? Was it worth it?
Ari squinted, trying to see better. He couldn’t tell if the boat would even make it under the bridge, the water was so high now.
He had to decide, and there were only seconds left.
Then the boat swung violently, turning them backwards, so he was now at the front but facing the wrong way. They were rocketing towards the bridge.
Ari was more frightened than he’d ever been before.
“GET DOWN!” his father screamed, throwing himself on top of Ari and forcing them both into the bottom of the little boat, which rocked dangerously from the sudden movement.
Ari squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the impact …
Then he felt his father move and shift his weight so the boat sat evenly in the water again.
Ari lifted his head and looked back. He couldn’t work out how they’d fitted under the bridge, but they had! He felt a surge of adrenaline and relief.
Then he heard his father’s voice, strong and steady. “Ari, it’s going to be dark really soon, and we are taking on too much water.” His father moved closer to him. “We can’t risk staying in the boat once we get out in the breakers. Ari, mate, we’re going to have to swim now.”
Ari started to shake.
He felt the blood start to pound in his ears again.
He felt the air around him start to darken.