(5) Crossing the Bar
THE FIRST THING BETHANIE NOTICED when emerging from the trees was the girl. Long raven hair waving in the wind, pale skin glowing even under gloomy light, eyes shut, arms wide, head tilted back like she was breathing in the world. She looked alive in a way that was more and less at the same time – a mix of absolute, unshakable presence and dream-like mirage.
Bethanie also noticed the girl’s feet, which were planted in the midst of gushing water, right on the edge of the falls. A poem came to her, unbidden:
[Poem Idea #89: Life On the Brink of Destruction]
Her hand twitched at her side, wanting to reach for her notebook and pen. But that would be stupid. This girl was clearly in danger, and Bethanie ought to –
Bethanie’s eyes cut to the left where Dylan was rushing ahead of her, right up to the water.
“Hey, get back from the edge! You’re going to get hurt!”
Raven Girl opened her eyes, glancing at him with mild interest. A smile played with the corners of her lips. “I think I’m doing okay.”
Dylan and Bethanie stared at her, mouths agape.
She sighed, appearing annoyed. “But since you seem so concerned…” She stepped back, hopping nimbly from stone to stone until she at last landed on the pebbly shore. “Better?”
“Much,” Dylan answered. “Thank you.”
Bethanie was still staring. Noticing, Raven Girl met her eyes. “I was just trying to get to the other side.” Then she smiled, seeming to find humour in the statement. “Get it? It’s a pun. I wanted to get to the other side of the river, but there was a chance I’d get bowled off the edge and die, which would send me to the afterlife – another name for which is…?” Her head swung back and forth, looking at the two of them as she waited for answers. When neither spoke, she rolled her eyes and said, “The otherside.” Raven Girl smirked, apparently feeling proud of herself.
“Um,” Bethanie said. “That’s great. Really funny.”
But Raven girl wasn’t going anywhere, despite Bethanie’s deliberate surliness. She stared at the two of them. “Well? I assume you want to get across?”
Bethanie’s eyes grew wider. “I…did. But how–”
“What?” This was Dylan, looking at Bethanie like she’d lost her mind. “You want to cross that?” He pointed at the raging current, the wind tossing the spray wildly into the air.
“It was the next on my list – cross the river. I’ve never done it. And wouldn’t you like to know what it’s like to see things from the other side?”
Dylan was at odds, curiosity and worry brewing like a storm in his mind. His glasses had fallen askew and he adjusted them with his finger. “Maybe we should just skip this one.”
“Nonsense,” said Raven Girl. Bethanie had almost forgotten she was still there.
“How did you know that was what I wanted to do?” Bethanie asked her.
“There were signs,” she said. “You know, body language and the like.” She tapped the side of her head. “I’m good at reading people.”
Bethanie wasn’t sure she believed her.
The smile finally dropped from Raven Girl’s face. Suddenly serious, she said, “I’ll tell you what – I’ll help you cross. All you have to do is follow where I put my feet and you’ll be fine.”
Bethanie frowned, biting her lip. Dylan said, “Wouldn’t it be smarter to cross down river so we’re away from the falls?”
“And where’s the fun in that? You’re not going to feel like you accomplished something if you had nothing to lose to begin with.”
Dylan opened his mouth to retort but nothing came out. Bethanie was nodding. “Okay. Okay, let’s do it.”
Dylan was staring at her in disbelief. She smiled at him. Then to Raven Girl: “Lead the way.”
The girl smiled, only her smile looked devilish and hungry and all-together creepy. Bethanie chose to ignore the way it made her want to run away.
Raven Girl approached the water. She looked over her shoulder. “Remember, put your feet exactly where I put mine.”
Bethanie nodded, felt the heat of adrenaline as the water brushed up against the toes of her shoes. Raven Girl stepped out steady. As soon as her foot left the first spot, Bethanie filled it with her own. She looked back at Dylan. “You coming?” she asked.
He gazed down at his camera and then back up at her. Then he sighed. “Yeah, I’m coming.”
As Raven Girl took another step, so did Bethanie, followed by Dylan. By three steps in, the water was already pounding at Bethanie’s ankles. She could feel the force of it trying to knock her over the falls, could feel the slipperiness of the rocks underfoot. Her mind was in panic-mode – red lights flashing, alarms blazing, neon signs blinking danger, danger, danger. But she blocked it all out. Her heart was pumping blood at a million-miles-an-hour and she could feel the pulse of it all through her body. She suddenly felt as alive as Raven Girl had looked when she first saw her. It was exhilarating.
Before Bethanie knew it, they were half-way. Behind her, Dylan took a portrait-shot of the falls and the river trailing towards the horizon. The view was stunning, the woods spreading out over the land like a blanket of dark green. Bethanie wished she had her notebook out. Words were already welling up within her and it pained her to see them go, lifting up into the air and joining the clouds.
Soon, they were at the other side. Bethanie took the last step out of the water and felt herself swell with accomplishment. When Dylan finally hopped onto dry land, the relief was written all over his face.
Raven Girl appeared amused. “By the way,” she said. “I’m Florence Nigh.”
“This is Dylan,” Bethanie said, gesturing towards him, “and I’m Bethanie. Are you new?”
“You could say that,” she said. And smiled.