I let the feeling sink into me. I was going to die. I was going to die. It repeated in my mind like a broken record. As if it would be less scary. Or maybe it won’t happen if I say it enough times. I grew weak and finally accepted the fact. I let my head fall underwater one last time, closing my eyes and let the water take over me. I breathed out one last time, a single bubble rising from my mouth. No sound could be heard over the fast-moving water, blocking out all other sounds in a fuzzy feeling. If I didn’t drown, the waterfall would kill me.
What would my mom think? When my dad gets back, what will he think? Will he be mad at my mom? How many days had it been? I wonder if my mom even knew yet? I realized I was suddenly getting warm. The water was freezing cold when I tumbled in, but now it was warm. I remember reading once that this was a part of freezing to death. First, you’ll be cold. Then you’ll lose feeling in your body and get warm. Then you’ll get tired. You’ll fall asleep and never wake up. Now, there are three possible ways I could die. I am going to die.
I saw Ollie running towards me, fast. But as he got closer, I realized that it wasn’t Ollie. It was a boy, about my age. He turned around while running, shouting something at a figure behind him. I couldn’t hear anything but the fast-moving river, but I could hear the faint sound of words. Suddenly, I felt a large branch hit my chest, stopping me from moving farther and knocking the breath out of me. I felt the water trying to push me forward, the branch stopping me though. My head bobbed up as I gasped for air. Maybe I might just survive after all.
I heard someone yell, “Grab the branch!” to me. My eyes were still closed but I weakly put my arms over the branch. Twigs and thorns splintered my hands and arms, the rough edges stabbing my skin. But it was better than the freezing water, suffocating me from the inside.
I rested my head down on the warm branch and felt a thin line of warm liquid trickling down my face from where the thorns tore my skin. The branch began to move towards the riverbank and I felt warm hands pull me up and off the branch. I coughed and lay down. I still hadn’t opened my eyes. I was too weak. I heard Ollie’s voice and felt his cool, soft hands brush the hair from my face, his tears landing on me. He wiped the blood from my face and put his finger to my neck. Then my wrist. The tears flooded down more, now like a waterfall. He pressed down on my chest. Again and again. He pushed hard in a rhythmic pattern. But it wasn’t working. Ollie leaned over me and cried harder. The boy who had saved me from the river felt my arm. “She’s on the edge of death. She’s in the last stage of hypothermia too,” He said to Ollie, “We need to keep her warm.”
Ollie took his jacket off and laid it on me. He took his shirt off and laid it on top of that, and he hugged me and didn’t let go. His crying began to slow as he listened for a beat. Suddenly, his tears stopped, and he smiled. My heart had started to beat again.
My eyes flung open as I gasped for air, beginning coughing and spitting out the freezing water that had been suffocating my lungs. I looked at Ollie and smiled weakly, but the smile left my face and in a more serious tone I said, “I am never swimming again.”
Ollie laughed, “It’s so nice to hear your voice again.” I saw water begin to fill up his eyes and he turned away, but I pretended not to notice.
“I’m so cold,” I said, curling up under the jacket and shirt on me, shivering. Ollie scooped me into his arms and held me tight, keeping me warm. I felt safe in his arms and finally allowed the sleep to take over me, curling into his chest as my best friend walked me up the hill.
I must have been asleep for hours because the sky was already dark. The stars were beautiful, shimmering white dots scattering across the dark night with faint cirrostratus clouds coating it, giving it a nice but eerie look. Back at home, you can’t see much of the stars because of all of the light pollution. But here, I felt like I could see every star in the galaxy. Thinking about that, I smiled.
I looked up and noticed that the boy from earlier was now carrying me. Ollie and he must be taking turns, I guess.
“I can walk,” I said hoarsely. I began to sit up, but the freezing weather and icy wind brought me back down, dizziness and fatigue coming over me. I focused on his soft, chocolate-colored skin and his beautiful caramel eyes fixed on something in the distance.
“Too cold. We can take turns carrying you,” he said. I probably would have slowed them down anyway.
I woke up and saw I was laying in a tent. Ollie knocked on the door, but it was fabric so I could see his fist imprint. “Right,” he said “No wood. Can’t knock.” He unzipped it and went inside. I was laying on a bed of leaves and pine needles.
Sitting up, I looked at him and yawned, “Good morning. How long did I sleep?”
“A... while,” he replied. He sat down on my bed. Well, pile. “You have something in your hair,” he said. He pulled out a leaf and flicked it back on my pile/bed.
“Thanks,” I said, giving him a small smile as we got up and brushed the leaves and pine needles off of us. I grabbed a bag and put our stuff in it and put our rope that apparently Ollie had grabbed before we left, putting it in the bag last.
We looked around and noticed that there was a campfire in the middle with logs to sit on around it. There were tents all around the fire, in a circle but with spaces in between each. We looked in some, curious as to what they are. They weren’t all homes; some had stocks of food and a bucket I assumed for trading. There were lots of things, but no one was in any of them. All the tents were empty.
“Where are all the people?” Ollie asked. I held up a hand, telling him to stop talking. We snuck around, careful to avoid stepping on any branches or anything loud to signal our location.
“There’s one we didn’t check,” I whispered. A small smile spread across his face and he nodded. We heard talking, so we didn’t go inside. The boy from earlier came out, this time accompanied by a girl. It was as if he knew we were here.
“Hello,” The girl said, quietly, offering a small smile, to which we returned.
The boy looked at us and spoke for them. “I’m Adahy. This is my sister, Achak. She does not speak much English. Forgive us for not introducing ourselves sooner. You were asleep before,” The boy, Adahy, said. Ollie was wearing some clothes they lent him. He kept looking at Achak, grinning stupidly.
“You have nothing to apologize for,” he said. I rolled my eyes. Achak had long, dark brown hair with a bead and flower headband-like thing. It had a bright, ruby-red gem dangling down from it over her forehead. She wore a cloth dress that looked like a colorful blanket. She wore small white gems on the sleeves and bottom of her dress. Adahy wore pants that were baggy enough to look like a skirt and a colorful shirt was connected to the pants. He had silky black, short hair. They were both wearing very colorful outfits.
They walked with us back into our tent and sat down across from us on the grass. “They’re having a meeting about something. They wouldn’t tell us what though. They said we were too young. They have the guillotine out so I think they are discussing your fate. I’ve come to warn you. Do not escape. They will think you are thieves if you escape. You must convince them you are innocent,” Adahy explained, but I had already left the tent. I grabbed the bag and went to the food tent. I ended up filling my bag of food and trading it for my necklace and half my hair ties since I didn’t get much.
I walked over to the tent and listened. I heard a few words, but I couldn’t hear everything.
“What should we do about the kids?” one asked.
“I say we keep them. We use the boy for work and the girl can help with laundry and cooking,” another man said.
“I say we send the boy to the orphanage. The girl can work and we have enough boys already,” A woman’s voice suggested.
“Why don’t we send them both to the orphanage?” Someone else asked.
“I say we kill ’em,” An older man said.
Someone clapped their hands and the voices died down. “Let’s take a vote, we’ll give you one day to decide,” A man said.
My eyes widened in shock. Either we’re going to die, or Ollie and I will be separated. I can’t let either of those happen. “I have to get out of here,” I whispered to myself.