We don’t question when they wake us, the sky not yet blue, morning merely trickling through the blinds. We don’t panic when we board the bus, drive down the dirt roads from church camp, see the swollen river. At first, it feels like floating—the slip-slide motion of tires on river bottom, the whole world weightless—but we cry when the brown water grabs our ankles and again when we file, one by one, down the aisle, hands clasped in a human chain. And we scream when the water takes us. Above us, the sky an angry brown; below us, the muddy water. Our prayers break open on the rocks and trees, and the current carries them away.
We have known only blue hotel swimming pools and backyard church parties with plenty of sunscreen and no two-piece bathing suits allowed. When Pastor took our hands to baptize us in the flat water, he held a handkerchief to our noses before pushing us under. Then we rose again. Though our parents said we were filled with the Holy Spirit, a quiet pond inside the bony tub of our ribs, our chests were still filled with violent thumping. Now we are full of angry brown river, and the river is full of us, and we know we are full of things that aren’t blue—heat and dust, the dark well of the girl’s mouth in the woods behind the school, our own hearts made of dirt and fallen leaves.
We are in trees singing hymns. We’ve got a river of life flowing down our chins, across our bellies and over our limbs. The swollen river is singing its own brown scream that fills our ears with mud. We fill up the waiting with fear. We could choke on faith, could drown in it, but doubt is easier to swallow.
We find a fawn pinned to a tree and pull and pull and pull it from the current before our grace gives out, and we lose it to the brown below.
We can hear the sound before we see it—a blue sound, a soft hum then the loud thwack of blades as the helicopter slices through the sepia sky, sending pieces of it down on our heads. We soon see the blue uniforms. We’ll save you! We want to believe in their words, to float on their blue screams. They send down a rope, coiled blue thread connecting us to everything that matters. We try to grab it, again and again, but it slides through our slimy fingers.
Carla Kirchner is a poet, fiction writer, and writing professor. She lives and works on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. Her flash fiction has appeared in Rappahannock Review and is forthcoming in Unbroken Journal.