Wild Rain

By: Christine Feehan

Whispering a silent prayer for the others and for her own safety, Rachael went over the side of the boat, slipped into the fast-moving water and was immediately swept downstream.

As if on cue, the heavens opened up and poured down a wall of water, feeding the strength of the river. Debris churned and raced by her. She kept her feet drawn up in an effort to avoid any rocks or snags. It was difficult to keep her head above the choppy waves, but she struggled to keep the water from her mouth and nose as she allowed the current to carry her away from the bandits running toward the launch. No one saw her in the swirling rush of tree branches, leaves and foliage being carried rapidly downriver. Again and again she went under and had to fight her way to the surface. Coughing and choking, feeling as if she’d swallowed half of the river, Rachael began an attempt to catch at one or two of the larger trees the force of the water had toppled. The first one she missed and her heart nearly stopped as she felt the pull of the water dragging her downward again. She wasn’t certain she had enough strength left to fight the monstrous suction of the river.

Her sleeve caught on a snag below the surface, jerking her to a standstill while the water swirled around her. She clawed frantically for a branch. Leaves came away in her hand. The water tugged relentlessly, pulling at her clothes. One boot flew off and spun away from her. Her fingertips found the rounded edge of a thick branch and dug in. Her shirt ripped and the water claimed her, pouring over her head, forcing her toward the bottom. Somehow she hung on to the stationary branch. Rachael wrapped both arms around it and hugged it tightly, once more breaking the surface with her face, gasping for air, shivering with terror. She was a strong swimmer, but there was no way she could stay alive in the raging waters.

Rachael clung to the branch, fighting for air. She was already exhausted, her arms and legs leaden. Although she had gone with the current, trying to keep her head above water had been a terrible fight. Even now the water fought to get her back, pulling at her, dragging at her body continually. When she was able she edged along the fallen tree until she was wedged between the trunk and the branch and could pull herself up enough to gain the massive root system. She was on the far side of the river now, away from the rebels and hopefully too difficult too see in the downpour.

Concentrating on each inch she could gain, Rachael began to scoot onto the closest branch. A snake struck her hip and was swept away. She couldn’t tell if it was alive or dead but it set her heart pounding all over again. Cautiously she stretched her body along the root, pulled herself up out of the water, lying there panting, afraid of her precarious position. One wrong move could send her toppling back into the water. The tree shuddered as the water tried to pull it free of its anchor.

The branch was slick with mud from the embankment where it had torn lose, but it formed a bridge of sorts to the shore. It seemed a million miles away. All the while the rain poured down, adding to the slippery surface. Rachael wrapped her arms around the root and slowly scooted, inch by inch, over the twisting, curving limb. Several times she slipped and had to hug the root, her heart pounding until she regained her courage and could continue forward. An eternity later she managed to step onto the bank. Her foot sank into mire that sucked at her boot when she tried to pull it free.

Rachael took the remaining boot off and threw it far out into the water, away from the trees where it might get stuck and call attention to where she had managed to get ashore. Her one hope was that the tree, holding on by a few precarious roots, would be swept downstream, leaving no trace of her escape.

Barefoot, mud squishing between her toes, soaked and shaking with fear, Rachael crawled over the marsh to the edge of the tree lane. Only then did she try to see what was happening on the opposite shore. She had been swept hundreds of yards downstream and the pounding rain formed a nearly impenetrable curtain. Rachael sank down behind foliage, peering through the sheets of rain as she donned her spare boots, brought along for the very purpose of sacrificing her other pair should she have the opportunity to go overboard. She hadn’t counted on such a wild current, but the chance to make an escape, in spite of the danger, was too good to turn down.

The bandits seemed to be angry, herding those remaining alive into a small shivering group. They were all shaking their heads. Several men paced along the riverbank looking for something... or someone. Rachael’s heart sank. She had a sneaking suspicion the raid had been aimed at killing her. What better way to insure her death than to have her meet with a stray bullet while they rounded up prisoners to ransom? Kidnapping was a common enough occurrence and the bandits could be bought easily to perform an assassination. Rachael adjusted her pack, took one last look at the river and headed into the jungle.

She couldn’t stop shivering as she raced through the forest, searching for a faint path leading into the interior. She had spent nearly a year preparing for this moment. She ran every day, lifted weights and climbed rock walls. She was not a particularly small woman but she learned how to turn every pound into muscle. A private instructor worked with her on self-defense, throwing knifes and stick fighting. She had gone so far as to search out survival books, committing as much as she could to memory.