Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Deadly Race

The wind beat the waves into a frothy frenzy as I gazed out over the bay. The beams thrown out by the twin lighthouses, one at the end of either point, pierced the storm-crazed darkness. From the island, joined to the mainland only by sturdy walkways picking their way through the lashing trees, shone dull glows from shuttered houses, hunkering down to wait out the storm.

Having picked my way down the cliff, I passed through the dark streets of the town, heading towards the channel that cut the island off from the mainland. I sought my boat, last left near the slipway by the big tree.

As I approached, I knew it was hopeless. The channel, usually harbouring a gentle rivulet, was a raging torrent, whipped into a deadly race by the wind. Drawing nearer to the water, I noticed an oar pass by, and then a float-board. With growing horror I looked upstream, catching sight of what I dreaded. Several more float-boards and oars were heading my way, and limbs flailed in the water, heads occasionally breaking the surface. I had to act, and now.

Wading into the water, I caught the next board that came near to me, and then the next oar. Suddenly I sighted a hand moving past just below the surface of the water. I grabbed onto it, and the response was immediate, the relief at being rescued flowing up through my arm. I hauled at the hand and a body followed it, the young man finally finding a grip on the bottom of the channel. He staggered out of the channel and stood to one side of the slipway.

A short while later, all of the black swim-trunk-clad young men who had been caught by the storm were standing behind me, congratulating themselves on their narrow escape. I had ditched my efforts to rescue their equipment in favour of saving their lives.

They spent that evening in the local tavern, warming themselves with beer.