Chapter 5

Written by: carrotqueen

The raft is gone and the canyon is empty. Artie leaps from rock to rock, drunk on his own adrenalin. I pick my way more slowly, equally afraid of following Artie’s reckless lead and of dropping behind. My heart is still pounding from the plunge into the river, but my feet weigh like lead.

Suddenly, a wall. Where the river rounds the bend, the canyon walls cut so close there is no beach, just a sheer cliff.

“Well, what shall it be—scale the towering cliff, or fling ourselves upon the mercy of the waves?” Artie shouts back to me.

“Maybe we should just wait for rescue.”

“And miss out on the rest of the trip? C’mon, we can take this cliff. They’re probably beached on the other side waiting for us.”

Before I can even reach the base of the cliff, he has scaled nearly half of it, but the footings seem to be getting farther between. His progress slows. I set my pack down and watch, slowing my breathing, trying to calm myself. Once when we were in seventh grade I tried to follow him along the undergirdings of the old bridge on the south side of town. He swore he’d done it a hundred times. Maybe he had. I fell. By some miracle I walked away.

This time, at least I’ll watch first. Between us we have enough courage and sense for one adventurer. It remains to be seen whether that is quite enough to go around.

Now he stops. “What’s wrong?” I call up.

“It’s fine. I’m just out of handholds." His voice comes in gasps. "I might need to backtrack a bit. Once I figure out the best path, you can follow.” Everything stands still. He splays across the cliff face, like Spiderman. Without the super-cling fingers, webbing, or Spidey sense. Is he ever going to grow up enough to learn he isn’t immortal? Am I ever going to stop trying to tag along—or will I finally shake my fears?

He’s moving backwards. Downwards. One slow stretch, one reclaimed foothold at a time. I stop breathing, too busy watching, listening, though I can hear nothing above the river’s roar.

Then it happens. His foot reaches for a foothold, he shifts his weight to it, and it crumbles underneath him. His white knuckles grip for a moment, then let go. Face and hands pressed to the cliff, he slides, hits a bump, claws at the cliff, tumbles backwards. His scream echoes from the canyon walls. I run toward him.

White bone and pink flesh stick out from his side. Blood pools beneath him and trickles down the rocks into the river. His eyes are closed and he does not answer me. I look to the river, to the cliffs, but they are empty. I look to the sky. Something is circling overhead again. Make that two. Three. I don't think they are hang gliders.

Karen Richmond (USA)

Comments

Finally: Blood & Gore!  The suspense has been killing me.  This had to happen!   Artie falling badly has just made me give a great sigh of relief :)
Nice one Karen. And now a chapter with more suspense and tragedy. The adventure is growing stronger. I loved the description of Artie climbing the rock face. I could see the cliff and hear the rushing water. Blood and bones and tension heighten the expectation. Will Sue take control? Is Artie dead? Are they vultures circling above or - what? This is the kind of chapter one wants to turn the page on and see what happens next. One small kink - the paragraph starting, "Before I can even reach...." changes tense half way through. The second half of the para could be seperated top and bottom by an extra space to denote a memory. (as opposed to foreshadow)  Look forward to reading you again.
I don't see the tense change here. Everything still reads present to me. And I disagree with the need for a space in a first-person memory over a flashback scene. We're not actually being taken back to the past scene, but rather given the memory that reminds her of this situation. Would I have put it in a separate paragraph? Probably - but then, I like short paragraphs.
This is great stuff. And Ray is probably over the moon about the hang glider reference. Good thing I'm not participating in this one . . . this marks the second chapter that I would have followed by jumping into a sci-fi universe. We're now officially more than halfway through this tale, and I still don't know much about Susan and Artie's relationship beyond it being a lifelong tag-along for Susan. Maybe now that Artie has been broken, we'll finally get somewhere!
I'm inclined to agree. I wished I could have developed the relationship more, but it got shoved aside in favor of blood and gore. I tried to at least develop some past tensions a bit more.
If I can't get psychological depth, then bring on the action and mayhem! I'm just fixated on why Susan would still hang with a self-serving cretin - which is how I see Artie right now. I'm sure I'm wrong. But we'll just have to wait and see. I'm a fan of your writing, Karen - I'm so glad you found time to submit to the Mint. And now I know who "carrotqueen" is, hehe! I'd been wondering.
Before I can even reach the base of the cliff, he has scaled nearly half of it, but the footings seem to be getting farther between. His progress slows. I set my pack down and watch, slowing my breathing, trying to calm myself. (Present tense)     Once when we were in seventh grade I tried to follow him along the undergirdings of the old bridge on the south side of town. He swore he’d done it a hundred times. Maybe he had. I fell. By some miracle I walked away.(Past tense)
It's only reasonable to think she'd use past tense referring to something in the past. It would sound awkward to talk of things that had already happened in present tense. It's only the things happening in the "now" that have to be kept in present. That's where first person present can get tricky. In my not-so-humble opinion, at any rate.
...and yup.
Are we going into "Deliverence" country? I'm sure something nastier will happen. Well done on moving the story along 
I just now read all the chapters. I really like where this serial is headed. The action is great. I actually don't mind how she keeps refering to her past. It adds some depth to the story and we are able to relate to why she is nervous. I live in Colorado and river rafting is a big deal here. I was going to do it last year, but the plans changed. I'm sure, after reading this, I may never take that "Deep River" plunge. On another note, ddin't she hurt herself in the water? I thought I read that she was poked by a stick and it cut her. I was kinda hoping that when she was retrieved out of the water by Artie, she would be holding her side or blood would be mixed with the water that was draining from her clothes. I can't wait to see where this serial goes next. I feel for the next writer. These things can be hard.