I felt my whole body tighten. I felt the numbness rush quickly through my foot, through my leg and into my body. I felt myself bite down hard on my teeth, and my eyes squeeze shut, as my leg disappeared, and the space that it left started to tingle. I felt Sooki’s arms tighten around my neck, and his legs wrapped around my waist. I felt the heat from deep in his body keep my skin warm, but inside I was freezing and brittle. I felt the air push from my chest as I slowly put my other foot in. I felt the numbness start to wash away and all that was left was a scorching pain.
“I’m scared” he whispered into my ear.
I said nothing. I just kissed his warm arm and closed my eyes.
I started to wade forward into the icy, black river. I could see the moon shine on the surface in front of us. It shimmered and shook. I pushed my legs through the water slowly. The burning chill crept up and over my bare knees, stabbing my skin. I clenched my jaws together and pushed my breath through my teeth. I looked forward. I couldn’t see anyone on the other side yet. I could only see black. Everything around us was black. Except for the moon. I could feel Sooki’s arms tighten around my neck again. He pressed his lips into my hair. I kept wading forward. The water splashed up against my thighs and send cold, electric shocks through me. I jolted with every step, my heart bouncing inside my chest as I felt the water sweep past me, pulling at my feet. I could feel the moon behind us in the sky. It was watching over us. I could hear the water and the wind and my legs dragging. I could feel Sooki breathe against my hair and my neck. He kept me warm the only way he could.
As the water came up and over my chest, I felt my brother tighten up. He dug his little fingers into my skin. They felt warm. I could feel his heart beat in his chest against my back. My heart started to beat harder. The waves splashed at my neck and face, slapping me again and again with that cold chill. My whole body was drifting away inside me. My feet slid a little on the rocks with every step. They slid back and forth inside my father’s shoes. The water rushed past me, pulling at my legs and feet, trying to drag us away and off, down the river, to be swallowed by the black that was all around us. As we moved into the light of the moon on the surface of the river, I heard him whimper in my ear.
“It’s okay little man. We’ll be there soon.” I said quietly, through my teeth, a breath for each word. He kept sobbing quietly. I don’t know if he heard me. The wind and the water carried those words away into the black night.
My heart jumped as I heard something from behind us. It sounded like voices from the riverbank. I couldn’t hear what they said. The meaning was lost in the wind and the water. But I could hear them. I pushed my legs forward, quickly. I could feel them moving in the joints, sharp and stiff. They felt so heavy. My heart started to pound in my chest, over and over. I felt it hit against my cold ribs, warming them under the water. I felt Sooki’s beating harder, faster, against my back. I looked forward. I started to move away from the light of the moon on the water. We tried to keep in the dark. I saw a shadow form on the bank on the other side. I saw a little orange light from a cigarette moving up and down. I started moving faster. We were moving closer.
I stretched my neck as far up as I could. The chilling water was licking at my cheeks, rubbing at my neck. I kept breathing through my teeth. I could feel him shaking on my back. I grabbed his legs tight. I couldn’t feel his legs or my arms. But I knew where they were. I held them tight, against the current. I raised onto my tip toes as the water got a little higher. I could feel one leg being pulled by the current. I clenched my jaw tighter and tighter. I could feel the muscles in my neck trying to push blood and air and heat through. I felt the next stone with my toe. I closed my eyes as the water splashed into my hair. I felt him clench and sob and in silence. I stepped onto the rock, and my neck rose a little from the water.
“We’re almost there little man. Almost there.”