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It had been a beautiful week.
Jim and Blair were congratulating themselves on their choice of a week off (though Jim's conviction that the weather would be good had influenced that) as they made their way back to their camp on the evening of the fifth day.
"I think the weather is going to break, though," Jim commented as they reached the camp site - for once, because they were there for a week, they had chosen the comfort of a site where there was a toilet block with washing facilities that included showers.
"Soon?" Blair asked.
Jim thought about it for a moment, then said, "I think it'll hold for anther couple of days - it doesn't feel like an immediate change."
The official long term forecast didn't agree - it was suggesting continued good weather until at least the end of the month - but Blair chose to believe Jim. "Should we pack up a day early, then, to let us get home without the hassle of having to dry off everything once we get back?"
"No, let's risk it," Jim said. "We don't get a full week off all that often - it would be a pity to lose tomorrow."
However, Jim was wrong - the weather changed much faster than he had expected, and by the early hours of the morning, rain was battering off the tent. As they surfaced in the morning, Jim said ruefully, "We should have packed up last night."
"It might stop in time to dry everything off before we have to leave," Blair said cheerfully.
"And it might not," Jim said. "Want to cut our losses and pack up now?"
"Not unless you want to," Blair told him.
Sure enough, the rain eased off somewhat during the day. Apart from making quick trips to the washroom, they chose to stay in their tent, just relaxing, until mid-afternoon when it seemed the rain had stopped; they chose not to go too far, however, and walked a little way up the river that flowed past the eastern edge of the site. The river was a lot higher than it had been the previous day, when it had been so low that it had been possible to cross it without getting wet.
"It looks nicer like this," Blair said.
They returned to their tent, and then after eating, knowing that they would be leaving first thing next morning, they packed almost everything but their sleeping bags into the truck, spreading a tarpaulin over it all; they planned to stop for breakfast at a small diner a few miles down the road. And then they settled down for the night.
Jim was wakened an hour or so later by the sound of rain hitting the tent, and sighed. Maybe they should have packed everything and headed home that night. The tent would still have been damp, but not as wet as it probably now would be. He couldn't feel any difference in the air pressure, though; the weather could do anything in the next few hours. He pulled the sleeping bag up around his ears and slipped back into a restless sleep.
He wasn't sure how long it was before he was wakened again by a panicked voice. "There's water coming into the tent!"
He recognized the voice. It belonged to one of three teenagers - he estimated their age at around seventeen - whose tent was just a little nearer to the river. From a little further away he heard another voice, that muttered, "We've all had problems with a leaking tent, just find something to mop up the water and let everyone sleep."
But the one voice was joined by those of his friends. They clearly had no idea what to do, and finally Jim took a deep breath and scrambled out of his sleeping bag to go and help them.
He crawled outside, realizing that it was just beginning to get light, stood - took one look and yelled, "The river's overflowing its banks!" Then he scrambled over to the teenagers' tent and unzipped it. "Get out!" he snapped.
"Our things - "
"Your lives are more important! If we zip up the tent again everything should be held inside it, unless the water rises so high everything's swept away. Get out, get somewhere safer!" He hustled them out, zipped the tent closed, and yelled again, "The river's overflowing! Everybody move!"
He saw the three boys stumbling in the direction of their car - luckily the parking lot for the site was a little higher than the actual camping area - and began to go around the other tents, chivvying people out. One or two were reluctant to move, and to one particularly recalcitrant man he simply said, "All right, just don't blame me when you and your family drown," as he turned to the next tent.
Meanwhile Blair had gathered together their clothes, stuffing them and one sleeping bag into the other, and, having closed their tent, was heading for the truck. He pushed the stuffed sleeping back under the tarpaulin and turned to help Jim.
A family was splashing through the steadily deepening water - mother, father and three children. The parents were carrying two of the children but one - he guessed the oldest, although the child couldn't have been more than six - was having to make his own way to safety, and was clearly struggling. Blair headed towards them, but before he could reach them, the child slipped, fell, and although he was desperately trying to regain his feet, was being carried towards the actual river by the force of the running water. The parents, with their other two children to think of, could only watch helplessly.
Blair reached them. "Get yourselves to safety!" he called, and passed them. He saw the child disappearing into the deeper water and dived in after him.
He let the current dictate his course, and it didn't take him more than a couple of minutes to catch up with the child, who, luckily, was managing to keep his head above water although he was unable to swim against the force of the current. Blair caught him and kicked out as hard as he could towards the bank. He wasn't able to gain much ground, but he remembered that a few hundred yards downstream a fence crossed the river; with luck that would stop them. Of course, there was always the possibility that trees being washed downstream had broken it, so he didn't stop trying to reach the bank.
And then he saw a fallen tree in front of him, its branches dipping into the water. They were swept against the branches; Blair caught one, angling his body so that he was shielding the child from the force of the current.
"Hang onto the tree," he said.
The child nodded and obeyed.
"Now we'll try to work our way along the branches till we reach the bank. Think you can do that?"
It was far from easy, because the water was trying to push them into the tree, but slowly, slowly, they managed to work their way towards the bank. They reached what had been the bottom branch and found themselves faced with trying to make their way along three or four feet of the trunk - with the water trying to force them underneath it. Blair thought for a moment. "Get up onto the tree," he said, and gave the child a one-handed push to help him up. He scrambled up, hanging onto one of the projecting branches.
Blair took a deep breath, ducked just under the surface and then kicked himself up. The water pushed his feet under the tree, but he managed to haul his body up and bent over the trunk. He paused for a moment, then with one more effort pulled himself up and threw one leg over the trunk.
But he knew he couldn't afford to rest. The water was still rising and pushing against the tree. They had to get back onto dry land as quickly as possible. His lips twisted wryly as he thought 'dry' land. Just how far over the banks had the water spread?
"All right," he said. "Sit astride the tree." That would be much safer than trying to stand and walk along its length. He had to wriggle around a branch to get himself into position behind the boy. "Lean forward. Now pull yourself along."
He kept pace behind the boy until they reached the root plate, then he urged him to climb down on the downstream side, seeing that the water there was fairly shallow. He dropped down beside him, gripped the child's hand and headed away from the river. A few yards and they were out of the water.
"Right then," Blair said. "Now we have time to introduce ourselves. I'm Blair."
"Harry. Do you think... Do you think my mom and dad are okay? And Robin and Betty?"
"I think so. They didn't trip over anything, the way you did, and I'll bet they'll be really happy to see you safe."
Harry nodded. "Thank you for helping me, Mr Blair," he said.
"You were doing well," Blair said, "but you're not quite big enough to swim against a river in spate like this one. Now - I don't know just how far we were carried downstream, but we might have a bit of a walk to get back, so the quicker we get started, the quicker we'll get back to your mom and dad." He held out his hand, not quite sure if Harry would consider himself too big to hold an adult's hand, abd was relieved when the boy took it; it would give him an early warning for if - when - Harry began to get tired.
Knowing that hypothermia was a possibility, Blair decided to walk as briskly as possible in an attempt to keep them both warm. He angled their direction a little further from the river, knowing that they would quickly reach the road that paralleled the river. Once they were on the road, there was always the possibility of someone driving past who might be willing to give them a lift.
They reached the road, and set off up it, not quite as quickly as Blair would have liked, but as fast as the tired child could manage. Blair could, of course, have carried Harry, but decided that doing so might hurt the boy's dignity. Although he had needed help, he was probably feeling quite proud of getting back to his parents on his own feet.
And then he saw the parking lot, and realized that they hadn't in fact been carried quite as far downstream as he had feared.
"We're nearly there," he said encouragingly.
"I'm glad," Harry whispered.
"So am I," Blair told him.
They reached the gate and turned into the parking lot. "I'd guess your mom has gone to your car with your sisters," Blair said. "So let's go there first."
He let Harry lead him, and discovered that he was right; the woman was bending over her two younger children, fussing over them. Blair knocked on the window.
She looked up and her mouth opened. "Harry!"
Blair stepped back quickly as she opened the door and dragged Harry into a fierce hug. He grinned and stepped back, heading back towards the camp site.
It hadn't been long; Jim, helped by the site staff, was still getting the last of the campers to safety.
"Blair!" Jim rushed over and caught him in a fierce hug. "Are you all right? did you get the kid?"
"Yes and yes. He's with his mom. Where's his dad?"
"He went down the river, but promised not to go too far."
"Maybe I should go after him, let him know - "
"Maybe you should go and sit in the truck! I'll go and get him. If there's anyone left here, the camp staff can see to them. - Oh, and we're stuck here; the road's flooded too, about three miles from here. So grab yourself some dry clothes from your pack, get changed, and make yourself comfortable."
Jim watched as Blair turned back to the parking lot, then set off downstream.
They finally got home two days later after the flood water dropped.
They walked into the loft. Blair dropped his gear, stretched slightly - he was a little stiff - and said, "It's good to be home."
"And better that nobody died in that flooding," Jim agreed. "You did really good there, partner."
"Oh, young Harry did pretty well himself," Blair said. "He just needed a little help." He yawned. "God, I'm tried. I think I'll head for bed."
"Hold it for a few minutes. I'll get you a sandwich, and then you can go to bed."
Blair grinned. "Okay."
Jim made them each a cheese sandwich. They wasted no time eating it, went through their evening routine and headed for bed.
It had been a great week, despite the problem of the final two days. Both men were feeling quite relaxed - despite the problem of the final two days, despite Blair's stiffness.
But neither of them wanted to go back to that camp site ever again.