By Carrie Jacobson
The story so far: Zoe and Kaja are making their way from the Pike County shelter to Middletown. Kaja, a big red dog, is helping Zoe, a mostly blind lhasa apso, find James Dunning, her owner.
On the way, they meet Samantha and Ashton Morrone, a brother and sister who live in Barryville with their parents, who run a hotel. The kids want to keep the dogs, but Pete Morrone, the children’s father, says no. He later relents, but it’s too late. The dogs have vanished.
They’ve made their way down the Delaware, and spent the night in a cave. But a heavy rain has made the river rise, and Zoe has been swept off the bank and onto a tiny island, where she’s discovered a cat clinging to a piece of driftwood.
Kaja stands on the bank of the Delaware and barks. The water is rushing by so fast, so strong, it’s roaring, roaring, and Kaja can hardly hear herself. She can see Zoe, wet and bedraggled, sniffing at the cat, and the cat sinking down into itself and baring its teeth as if it’s going to leap on Zoe and attack. Please, please, she begs, please don’t do anything to scare that little dog into the water.
Kaja decides to swim, then, and she wades into the river, but instantly, she’s pushed downstream. She makes it to the bank and tries again. Same result.
This time, she gets her breath and shakes herself and walks up the bank, up the river, until she’s above the island. She walks in and in an instant, is carried downstream, past the island.
Once more, she makes it to the bank, and this time, walks even farther upstream. She wades into the water, launches herself, swims as hard as she can, and ends up, soaking and cold and exhausted, on the island with Zoe and the cat.
Zoe meets her, barking and wagging. Kaja sinks down on the sand, her muscles too tired to keep her upright, and Zoe licks the big dog’s face, licks her ears, rubs her little body against the big dog’s, while the cat, wet and cold and terrified, watches.
The cat’s name is Loosey, and until an hour ago, she lived in a house in Barryville. She was out in the yard, climbing on a piece of driftwood, when the branch broke free and was swept down the river. It snagged on this island and Loosey jumped off. No matter what, she thought, this had to be better than drifting down the Delaware.
Now, she’s not so sure. She’s trapped on a tiny island, in the middle of a raging river, with two strange, wet dogs. She’s had better days, she thinks.
Then, as though a door has closed, the rain stops. The sun comes out. Kaja and Zoe, still exhausted, fall asleep in the sun. Loosey dozes on her branch. And the river continues to rise.
Upstream, Samantha and Ashton Morrone see that the rain has stopped, and go out to their fort. Their dad is at work, and their mom is busy with some hotel guests, so they just call in to her that they’re going outside, and in a minute, they’re scrambling down the riverbank to the fort/raft they’ve made.
Samantha steps on it and it rocks under her feet. “Whoa!” she says, and takes another cautious step. The raft rocks again, the water lifting it, nudging it, pushing it. Samantha steps toward the far edge, and in a moment, just like that, the raft is loose, and drifting downstream.
“Sam!” Ashton calls from the bank, “Sam! Oh no!”
“Get help!” Sam wails. “Get Mom!”
In a moment, she is out of sight, hurtling down the river.
On the island, the water is rising, and rising quickly. Kaja is asleep on her side, and the water reaches her feet, and she’s up instantly. In a while, she knows, there will be no island. The water will cover it, and they will be swept away.
She’s nudging Zoe to the edge of the water when she hears a human screaming, above the rush of the river. She looks upriver, and she sees Samantha, and the raft, and without a thought, she leaps.
The brown water churns against her and buffets her, but somehow, she manages to get near enough to the raft that Samantha can see her. The girl tosses her a rope, and Kaja grabs it with her teeth. She turns around and tries to swim toward the bank, or toward the island, but now the river is pulling her downstream. She summons all her strength and heads toward the island, and just as she is about to pass it, just as she is about to miss it, her feet hit something solid, a boulder or a log or something, she doesn’t know what, and she grabs onto it and, with all her might, pulls the rope and the raft toward the shore.
Samantha leaps into the water, toward the island. She holds the rope and searches with her feet for purchase on the riverbed. The water is so strong, it knocks her sideways, but then she finds something, a rock or something underfoot, and she wedges herself against it, and pulls on the rope and hauls herself onto the tiny island.
She lies there, panting and crying, and then she gets up and hugs the big red dog with all her might.
And then she sees that it’s not over, that if they don’t get off this island quickly, they’ll be swept away.
But this time, the raft will help. She pulls it around until it’s between the island and the shore. It’s a distance for a dog to swim, but not so far for a girl. She ties the raft to a log on the island, and then she takes another rope, ties that to the raft, and heads toward the shore. She’s knocked downstream a ways, but not that far. She makes it to the bank and then walks upriver until she can tie the rope to a tree. Then, holding onto the rope, and then the raft, she makes her way back to the island.
She picks up Zoe and, holding onto the ropes and the raft, carries her through the water to the bank. She goes back for Kaja, whom she leads and guides through the water. And then, she goes back for the cat. She doesn’t know where the cat has come from, or how the cat figures into all of this, but she’s not going to leave her there.
And then, as they sit in the sun on the bank of the Delaware, wet, exhausted, weak, they watch as the rising water covers the island, knocks the raft loose and carries it away, toward the sea.
Carrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A note for readers: The real Kaja, our big red German shepherd/chow, suffered a series of seizures and/or strokes this week. She appears to be on the mend, but if you can hold her in your thoughts, we’d both appreciate it. Carrie