Today I'm sharing an exert from my Jonah allegory, If. In this brief section Major General Mark Aizcer has gone out while the eye of the storm passes over New Ixeveh to rescue two medical workers. If you would like to read the rest of the novella, subscribe to my blog by email and I'll send you a copy.
The lone Hummer moved carelessly through the deserted streets of New Ixeveh. While the General had only been deployed on peacekeeping missions, those missions had been in war-ravaged towns that looked cleaner than this one did halfway through the storm. His driver skillfully maneuvered the vehicle around, over and through obstacles until a mere twenty-five meters from the building. The General himself gave instructions to stop. The water overtopping the levees had filled the storm sewers and backed up in this spot. Eighty feet separated him from his goal; Our Lady of the Lake was one giant puddle away from the safety of the Hummer. A stop sign was visible halfway across the water, but the windows on the buildings closer in gave the indication of the water being deeper than they could safely ford. They had come all this way and would be stopped just short of the prize.
"Sir?" Specialist White, the driver, started, "I think I see a way to do it. The water‟s deep but where the sign is it‟s almost an island. The winch will reach from there. We can throw it over to them and they can pull themselves along it back to the vehicle."
A daring plan, but a workable one. Going through the water would be the hard part, or so the General thought. "How do you propose to get the winch cable to them? We can‟t very well throw it that far. And what happens if the vehicle stalls out in the water, then there will be four of us stuck out here?"
The driver reached behind the seat, "I have a rope. If we tie it to the winch cable we can throw the rope over, then they can pull the cable. We can try to reach it from here, but I don‟t think the cable‟s that long. If the water gets the vehicle then we‟ll have to think of another plan but we can worry about that when it happens."
The General took two deep breaths as his driver continued fishing out the rope. He had not gotten where he was by taking senseless risks, or by not having a well thought out plan. Everything he had done had backup plans, nothing risky. This plan was shaky from the start, had little chance of success, and the only good thing about it would be if it worked. "I‟m not the least bit happy with it, but what else can we do. Let‟s try it."
Handing the General the rope, White put the vehicle in gear. Before the vehicle moved, he paused. Mark wondered if he had just said a prayer. He started his own as they moved. The Humvee specifications said thirty inches of water was the most it could ford without modifications. Mark had always thought it odd that the military used the metric system, but when it came to important small details, they still thought in terms of inches. This Hummer had no modifications, and a mere ten feet into the puddle, they reached that safe depth. Water began coming in through a hole in the floorboard. Ten more feet.
As water began seeping in through the door seals, Mark yelled, "Dive deep!" White floored it, as water began cresting over the hood. Ten more feet. Then the water receded a bit. Ten more feet and they reached the driest spot in the middle of the puddle. A sandbar of asphalt. Even if they risked driving further, there was no other place to load the vehicle. It was here or nowhere.
They both got out of the truck. White started working on the winch controller while Mark tied a canvas bag onto the rope to give it weight. Inside the half-destroyed building, the two figures they had seen had come to the opening that had once been a wall.
A piece of plywood floated between them on the water. Judging by its speed, there was a strong current between the building and the truck. There would be no swimming between here and there.
White had removed the winch and tied the end to the rope. Mark started trying to throw the rope, unsuccessfully. The two scrub-clad people climbed down from the second story in anticipation of rescue. The rope landed in the water and quickly sank.
He pulled it in and tried again. This time it got almost all the way to the other side, but still missed the mark. After a third failed throw White asked for a chance.
White's first throw went as far as the General's second, but by now the water-soaked rope and bag were both clearly getting too heavy. A gust of wind knocked both of their hats off and they both realized that their time was about to run out. Mark started taking off his belt and his uniform top. "Tie the rope around my waist. I‟ll swim it over." Without a word of protest, White did as he was told. The General could not hear anything except his heart pounding. Fear gripped him, not because of the swift moving water he was about to enter, but he was so far outside his comfort zone that nothing seemed safe anymore.
Slowly he waded in. The water quickly deepened. Before he was ten feet away from the truck, it was already to his waist. It was cold, colder than he thought it should be. This was, after all, summer in Louisiana. As he shuffled through the water, his boot hit something. He raised his foot and went to take another step. Only there was nothing for him to stand on.
He fell in and the current pushed him immediately. He was still not halfway across but now he was swimming for his life. The current pushed him against part of the wall that had fallen down. He clawed at the wall; trying to make forward progress in any possible way.
By now, he could see that there was a man and a woman in the building. They were reaching as far as they could, but there were still twenty more feet to cross. Another part of the wall fell, nearly landing on top of him. He fought as hard as he could to get to them. He took a deep breath and dove underwater. Using both his arms and both his legs, he finally began to make some headway against the current. Then another part of the wall landed in the water near him.
Startled, he swam to the side, away from the wall. Now his exertion was using up his oxygen. He headed toward the surface for another breath as the next piece of wall landed on him.
It was only a couple of bricks, but it forced his breath out of him. His arms flailed and broke the surface of the water, but he still did not have his feet under him. He was unable to reach the surface and get just one more precious breath of air. The next piece of wall trapped his arm. Now even with his feet under him there was no way for Mark to breath. His lungs strained, his eyes felt as if they were going to burst. So close and yet so far. All he had wanted to do was to stay alive and rescue these total strangers. He pushed on the bricks as hard as he could with his other hand. They would not budge.
Another brick landed on him, involuntarily Mark breathed in. Only there was no air for him to suck in. The salty water from the Gulf filled his mouth and entered his lungs. He ceased to be.
Wispy white clouds filled the blue sky. The light was dying. Just out of his line of sight was the dark, decayed building that used to be Our Lady of the Lake. Directly above Mark was a man in surgical scrubs performing CPR. Inhaling deeply he got the urge to vomit. Salty water poured from his lungs through his mouth and nose. Still lying in water, Mark sat up expunging as much water from his lungs as he could.
By the time he could stand, the female doctor had untied the rope from his waist and pulled the winch cable across. The man helped Mark to his feet and then said, "If you have to drown, it is best to do so within the reach of a doctor. Welcome back. Now maybe we can all get out of this mess alive."
Who could resist the urge to have a major generalizer discover the pair of docs that he had to die to truly live?