Upriver: Ch. 9 “The Storm”
Written by A. LaFaye
Illustrated by Peter Catalanotto
A Breakfast Serials Story
The Story So Far: Eleven-year-old Iah Thomas just came up with a new plan for rescuing the kidnapped Vinny Hemshaw, who is stowed away in a crate in the hold of the Capitol.
“Iah! Where in Sam Hill is that darn boy? Iah!” Mr. Mike’s shouts yanked me from a deep sleep. Hearing him tromping through the kitchen, I scrambled to my feet.
He threw the door open. “You gone deaf, boy?”
“I’ve been shouting for you for a coon’s age. What in the devil you doing in bed when we got to grasshopper? Now, get your backside up top and help!”
I ran off to do his bidding. Proved more of a hindrance than a help. I stepped where I didn’t belong, put my hands in places that could get my fingers chopped off, and generally made everyone mad enough to throw me overboard.
Mike pushed me away from the rails, shouting, “Go help them Bible thumpers. You ain’t no good to us.”
A whole mess of folks stood along the rail holding their Bibles and praying for rain, something to wash us over the sandbars up river. Grandma Colver always said, “Prayer isn’t a tool to be used foolishly. Take it out to serve your own needs, and you’re bound to see something broke.”
What broke this time was the dam on God’s bathwater. It started to rain so hard, you could fill a glass faster than you could drink it. Then the wind came in to stir things up, lashing the rain around like tiny little whips that stung the skin. In a stampede of turned-up collars, held-to-head Bibles, and “Glory be’s,” the cabin passengers rushed to their rooms. The kitchen crew even herded the main-deck folks into the saloon for fear we might get swamped.
My job was to tie down anything that could get blown away—chicken crates, suitcases, trunks, tools. But I just hoped the hold didn’t have any bad leaks, or Vinny’d be sitting in water until I could bring her something dry.
Truth to tell, I’d never been so wet since that long wait before my mama brought me into this here world. I was living in water again, fighting my way from port to starboard. The twisting wind could knock a grown man flat if he didn’t hold on, so I tied a rope from one side of the ship to the other to give me a lead as I made my way back and forth.
Fighting through that wind and rain made me wonder if perhaps God had really taken offense to those Bible folks praying for rain on their own account. They got rain all right, “in spades,” as the gamblers would say. And it’d pushed the boat right over that sandbar and onto something far worse.
Down on main deck, I pulled myself toward the boiler-deck stairs. Just as I came within a few feet of the bottom step, the deck lurched beneath me as if we’d tipped up onto a sandbar. Then the ship fell with a crunching roar.
Holy heaven, we’d hit a snag!
Even with all the whirling noise of the storm, you could still hear the folks screaming in panic. All I could think on was Vinny. What if the snag burst through the hull and into Vinny’s crate? At any rate, the hold had to be filling with water. I scrambled for the hold door.
Reaching it, I got yanked back by someone screaming, “Forget the cargo. Save the people!”
Knowing the crew’s duty lies in saving the passengers, I figured every deckhand would be rushing to do just that. But only Cole and I would know to rescue Vinny, so I ran around the deck to make like I headed off to help passengers. But I doubled back to race down into the hold.
I could hear the water rushing in like rapids over rocks. My heart flip-flopped in my chest like a drowning rabbit as I waded to Vinny’s crate, which bobbed and creaked like a funeral boat dropped into a river.
Holy Heaven! Had the water already taken her?
I yanked. She started to kick. The water rose.
“Get me out of here!”
Why didn’t I take the time to find a blasted hammer?
The cargo doors in the ceiling on the other end of the hold flung open. I could hear Mr. Bertrand shouting from above, “I won’t leave without my china!”
“We’ll save as much of the cargo as we can!” Mr. Davis yelled back.
Then Vinny gave a hard kick and sent me and the crate’s side flying. Choking on the rising water, I threw the wood aside.
“What’s happening?” Vinny cried, helping me to my feet.
“We hit a snag!”
Then I heard yelling from above. “I need my cargo, Mr. Davis!”
“This is no time for guns, Mr. Cole.”
Hearing Cole’s voice set a fire of fear in my blood and sent me running, dragging poor Vinny up the stairs.
We burst through the door, screaming and pushing our way to the railing.
Felt someone grab my leg, but I already had so much fear running through me, there wasn’t room for no more. I just kicked out and dove.
Soaked through from the rain, hitting the water seemed like diving from a bath into the river. I came up sputtering and screaming for Vinny. She didn’t answer, but I saw her white gown like a streak of whitecaps among all the others the storm had churned up.
We swam hard. The current tried to pull me downriver, but I fought back, pushing my arms into the water straight as I could, kicking like the devil had my tail. Mostly ’cause I believed a devil of a man could be swimming after us in the person of Bearclaw Cole or any number of his men. And it didn’t take no figuring to know any one of them could swim a heap better than the two of us tadpoles. It was race to the shore, for sure.
(To be continued.)
Text copyright © 2006 Alexandria LaFaye. Illustrations copyright © 2006 Peter Catalanotto. Reprinted by permission of Breakfast Serials, Inc., www.breakfastserials.com. No part of this publication may be reproduced, displayed, used or distributed without the express written permission of the copyright holder.