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Guardian of the River This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     We had been trekking in India for a few weeks. The temperatures were frigid, water supplies scarce, and there was the constant fear of snakes lurking in the underbrush. But, nevertheless, we continued. My boyfriend, Roy, and I had undertaken a worldwide expedition and India was one of our first destinations. My sister, Camilla, had joined us as we journeyed through the Himalayas.

As we made our way across the gelid soil, covered with an icy layer of old snow, I knew that we were swiftly approaching my biggest fear. Rivers were always difficult. With furious waters speeding by, I sensed peril. We were told not to cross during the day, but to wait until one in the morning to maneuver the ravishing flow of water. Beyond the river perched masses of sharp rocks. We knew that now and then people were swept away, but we were determined to continue and willing to take the risk.

As we came to the edge of the bank, we could see the impatient current moving toward the waterfall. A guide approached us and asked, “Will you folks be coming with us across the river?” We consulted each other.

“I know we’re not suppose to cross during the middle of the day, but if we don’t go, we could get left behind,” Camilla exclaimed. Roy and I agreed that it would be better to cross with a group.

The guide explained how the crossing would work. We would hold hands, creating a human chain. The guide would be in the front holding the tail of one of his mountain horses. Trailing several people behind, the horse would struggle through the water, delivering us to the opposite side.

Everything was set as we lined up holding hands with the person behind and in front. One by one we walked into the water. I could tell the water was freezing by their shocked expressions. Roy was in front of me. We shared a smile as I grasped his hand and prepared to step into the river. Then I looked over my shoulder at my younger sister, and took her hand. Camilla didn’t look frightened; she had an adventurous grin on her face and seemed ready for anything. Her dark brown eyes seemed to twinkle as if to say she were happy to be on this adventure. I have a wonderful sister. I was thinking about her as I stepped into the river. I gasped and my breathing stopped for a moment. I knew the water was cold, but nothing had prepared me for this. I squeezed Roy’s hand extremely tight. He turned his head and I could see his teeth clicking together as he chattered, “Cold - isn’t it? It’s four o’clock in the afternoon, the snow has melted and sunk into the river.”

I nodded, still overcome with shock. Behind me I could hear Camilla breathing heavily. I watched her chest rise and fall. She caught my wandering eyes and raised her eyebrows playfully and smiled, despite the frosty conditions.

Up ahead I could see that the horse was less than halfway across the river. I was in up to my waist and finding it pretty complicated to move against the current, which was trying to push me closer to the edge of the waterfall. I noticed that those near the end of the line were being pulled farther and farther downstream. My clutches on Roy and Camilla grew stronger. I could feel myself growing more nervous with each step. The water, now up to my neck, seemed to roar as it crashed around us. All I want to do is get to the other side. I can’t wait for this to be over, I thought.

Then all of a sudden I felt myself jolt back a bit. Someone had let go of Roy. I heard a shrill cry as my grasp on Camilla’s hand was yanked underwater. I turned to see that Camilla had been pulled under by the current. My heart skipped a beat as I realized she was stuck and couldn’t get to the surface. I held on to her hand with all my strength, but I could feel her fingers slipping. Meanwhile, Roy’s grasp on my hand was loosening too. I could vaguely hear him yelling for me to hold on. He was only three feet away, but somehow his voice seemed very far away.

My heart was beating at an alarming rate. Oh, God, no. What do I do? She’s slipping from me, there’s no way she’ll make it. She’s going to be pulled toward the waterfall. If I keep holding on to her, I’ll be pulled onto the rocks, too. I should go with her. I could never forgive myself for letting her go alone. At least this way I won’t feel guilty about her death. But what about our parents, they will be heartbroken. It’s bad enough to lose one daughter, but two? I couldn’t do that to them. Should I let her go? If I let her go, at least I would be okay, and save my parents from losing two kids. Oh, I don’t know. God, please help me. I watched her struggle beneath the water and felt my heart twinge with pain.

Just then a loud call came from the other side of the bank. Everything moved so fast; I hardly had time to understand what was happening. One minute there was a man running along the bank and then he was gone. A moment later, Camilla returned to the surface gasping for air. This man was swimming toward the shore with Camilla clasped in his arms. As I watched through foggy eyes, I noticed the tour guide motioning for me to come. I felt Roy’s hand pulling mine and realized that we were less than 10 feet from dry ground.

As soon as Roy pulled me out of the water, I rushed to Camilla She was sitting on a rock with the man who had saved her. I wrapped my arms around her as she sobbed. Tears welled in my eyes, even though I knew everything was going to be all right. We held each other for a few moments before profusely thanking her rescuer. It turned out he was quite smitten with her - apparently she looked exactly like some Indian film star.

I felt the shadow, which had engulfed my spirit, suddenly lift and I was consumed with relief and knew I was truly blessed. I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost Camilla. We’re so lucky this man happened to be there at exactly the right moment. As I held Camilla close I gazed at the tall man. He stood still and upright, and in his dark eyes I saw a look of pure benevolence and kindness. The sun shone on his wet hair, creating a ring of light. He looked powerful, but gentle. It saddened me to think that I could never repay him. It was almost as if Camilla had been sent a guardian angel. This man who had defied fate, who had stepped up and rescued her from the depths of the river - he saved my sister, and in many ways, he saved me too.

*This is the true story of the author’s friend

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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