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::beached::

Beached

The change in temperature was so drastic that my breath became visible before I even made it out of our front door. I hesitated, looking back at our crude yet homey fireplace roaring with warmth, but Adam's voice caught my attention.

"You just gonna stand there? Come on!" Strands of dirty blond hair stuck out around his beanie. He didn't have it low enough, as usual, and his ear lobes hung like miniature, bright red cherries in the cold. My own hat was pulled down almost to my eyes. Caught by his own enthusiasm, his feet began running before his body and he tripped over himself, catching his fall with his mittened glove, but not stopping his dash towards the river. I forced thoughts of hot chocolate out of my head and closed the door behind me, careful with my steps as I descended the stairs from our house.

Adam was already at the boat by the time I came in view of the river; his foot prints in the snow turning from hastened steps into nothing more than crushed white powder from the circles he had walked around our little wooden vessel. He was shoveling with his hands, now bare to better reach under the boat and free it from land. His fingers were almost crimson, matching the dark red circles on his cheeks that spoke to how much longer he had been outside than me. I removed one of my gloves and held my bare hand to my face, feeling it still warm.

"Come on," Adam puffed, not looking up at me. "Help me out." I shoved my fingers back in my glove, almost embarrassed by their delicacy. I fell to my knees next to my brother and shoveled with him, white showers of powder erupting behind us. "Okay, okay. That's enough." His method of measurement was ambiguous to me. The boat looked just ask landlocked as it was when I arrived, albeit with slightly less snow on the end facing the frozen river. "Help me push."

We grabbed onto the icy frame, Adam with his fingers still exposed and a color so red that they almost looked purple. Our feet slide along the ground with more energy being spent keeping ourselves upright than actually moving the object in front of us. I stood almost a head taller than Adam, but his younger age and stature didn't stop him from putting forth twice the effort that I did. But this was his idea anyway. I didn't feel guilty.

It started with a crack that was most likely ice but sounded like a gun shot, drowning out the sound of Adam exerting himself and me faking it. With the noise, the boat loosened from the ground and slide along the gentle decline as if it had wanted to all along. Adam let out a laugh and chased after it, pulling himself on board, his extra weight adding speed to the decent. They hit the ice with a thud and I winced, imagining the two of them crashing through and into the arctic water below. I sighed at myself, realizing he was in a boat and that it was, in fact, a boat's job to traverse water. But it was winter and the ice was as thick as our small boat was tall so Adam and his raft merely ground along the ice until they came to a stop. His head appeared over the edge and he looked at me laughing, happy with himself for completing the first phase of his plan. I trudged down the slope and onto the ice.

"We did it! Well," he looked over his shoulder at the river. "We almost did it."

"You should put your gloves back on." Just looking at his fingers was painful for me.

"Oh. Yeah. Probably." He slipped his hands into the fabric without looking at it. His head was still cocked down stream where even in the winter the river sloped. This was his idea: ride a frozen river in our tiny flat-bottom boat. "Ready?" he asked me. I shrugged as he climbed out and came to the back where I stood. "We have to push but then jump in once it gets going."

"Duh," was all I could think to say.

We heaved again, our feet still dancing across the ground, seeking traction. The boat began to move and Adam turn his head to me with a smile. The boat lunged ahead and Adam lost his footing, hitting the ice with a smack of his body. I stopped to help him up, but he just laughed and pulled himself to his feet, shaking his head. "Don't stop. Don't let it get away." He dashed past me.

He was in the boat first and grabbed my hand to pull me over. The boat wasn't moving fast yet, but Adam shifted his weight to the front and the wooden planks began to skip across the ice. I sat in the back, telling my stomach to calm itself. The sun was shinning bright, but the air was cold and whipped at my face. As the boat picked up speed, the bouncing became more erratic and my hands instinctively grabbed at the sides to keep me from flying out. Adam still sat at the prow, his body like a figurehead, fearless of the journey. The river continued straight ahead, our speed still slowly increasing to the point where I considered jumping out to avoid the crash I now knew was unavoidable. I tried to turn my head, but my muscles were locked, my arms and hands refusing to loosen their death grip and forcing the rest of my body stiff. Up ahead, I could see the river bending, our runway turning into a bank of snow and evergreen trees.

Adam called out over his shoulder. "Lean to the right!" He shifted his weight but the boat didn't acknowledge him, our course as precise as ever. "Lean Stephen! Lean!" My heart thudded in my chest until all I could hear was the pounding of blood and the whistle of the wind. Adam moved his lips but I could no longer make out what he was saying. I shifted my weight as best I could, still not letting go of either side of the boat, but the wooden frame ignored us. Adam was now almost hanging out of the boat in a desperate attempt to steer his unwieldy creation, still to no avail.

We hit the bank, and to me it occurred without a sound. The boat suddenly stopped and we didn't, our small bodies hurling into the air. I covered my face and tried to scream, but before air could come out, snow went in. I lay there, unmoving and feeling nothing but the cold of the snow numbing my lips and cheeks.

"You okay?" It was Adam, already up and moving. I wanted to move, but couldn't, sure that my body was now broken and that the rest of my life would be spent in a wheelchair, or at least, on crutches. In my mind I was 60 years old and had missed out on life, bedridden since the day of this tragic accident. Adam somehow noticed."Come on, get up. Jeeze. We weren't even going that fast."

I pushed myself up, furious. "Not that fast?! You almost killed us!" I stared down at my body in wonderment. I could move.

Adam just laughed and I couldn't help but smile at the situation and my own paranoia. I turned to look at the boat, expecting it to be in splinters. It just sat there; it's bow run ashore but without damage. Adam crawled through the snow and grabbed the rope tied to the front of the boat, tugging on it to get the ship free. "Help me." He tugged again, up river towards where we had come from. "Let's go again."

I walked over to him, grabbing ahold of the rope and pulling with all my strength. "Just one more time."