Trip of a lifetime – part four
The pain was savage. A simultaneous combination of scalding heat and razor cut cold tearing at his skin. His breath came in agonising choked gasps. The icy water into which they each had fallen, immediately drained him of energy and his hiker clothing and boots, so practical for land, became leaden weight in the freezing water.
Bellowing in pain and fear, coughing out iced water in retching sobs he reached for the red inflatable floating freely close by. Josh was not in it. Panicking Quinn scanned the water line screaming out.
‘Josh!, Jill! Where are you? Fuck, please… Please God, where are you?’. His words bounced off the walls of the canyon. He heard a birdlike cry and whipped his head round in the direction of the noise. In the distance, he saw the other inflatable. It too was empty. Close to it was a mound in the water and it was moving. Quinn was confused. The picture was all wrong.
‘Jill I am coming, hang on’.
Quinn swam toward the floating mound. Swimming was as slow as through a strong current though the glacial water was calm and flat. Hypothermia had already begun to develop. Every stroke aged him a hundred years.
Kai was strapped to his mothers back. The cloth sling had kept him with her. Jill was floating face down in the water, and in raging grief, Quinn instinctively knew she had chosen to save their son. She had made sure he was out of the water the only way she could. She was dead. Kai was feebly mewling. Feverishly Quinn grasped Jill’s body. He could still smell campsite wood-smoke on her clothes.
‘Its OK Kai, I am here…. I am here…. Its OK, its OK’.
The sling was tied tightly. Stability was always important when carrying a baby on one’s back but never more so than when in the inflatables. The sensible precaution was now adding to the nightmare. The sling was a large rectangular cloth that wrapped around Kai’s body and tied at Jill’s waist in a large knotted bow. Quinn had to reach under her body to get to the gathered cloth but water-sodden, the knot had become tight and hypothermic confusion made its untying as complex as a fiendish Chinese puzzle. He dived under the water, again and again, each dive sapping energy and strength. Kai’s quiet cries had stopped and his small balled fists had started to become a mottled grey.
‘Jill I am sorry, I am sorry – please God someone help me!’
He had no choice. He had to turn the body over to undo the knot. It was the only way to free Kai. He would need to do it quickly and get Kai back to the shore.
‘I have to leave you darling. I am so sorry. I love you’.
He rolled her body over making barely a ripple in the water. As she turned he saw that her eyes were open and reflected the crisp blue of the sky above. Quinn’s wracking sobs filled the valley. Kai was under the water now and he had to act quickly but the swollen knot now being pulled with the weight of the child refused to give. It held fast and took all of the energy Quinn had left. The cold water enveloped him and he slipped into the now still and calm crystal clear depths.
On the shore- line, three miles away from the next nearest human being, now shoeless four year old Josh stood shivering and crying uncontrollably.
‘Mum, Dad, where are you? Mum? Dad?’