A young woman's hard lesson about letting go, whether you want to or not.
| Caroline stared up at the dark space of the tent ceiling. Most would have simply dismissed the interruption and gone back to sleep, but here in Africa that would be suicide. She held her breath and waited.
The motion-sensing perimeter was silent. The only noise outside was the usual chorus of insects.
But there was another sound, unobtrusive and almost unnoticed. The gentle patter of rain! Africa was in a dry season, and the relief of rainfall was not expected for months. This development would definitely effect where she shot today.
Caroline sat up with a groan and reached for her beloved camera, reflexively checking the film. Next she pulled on her lucky red jacket.
Might as well get an early start.
The rain showed no signs of stopping or slowing.
Caroline was determined to make this trip the catalyst of her career. She wanted to be renowned, respected! The only way that was going to happen was if she brought back some amazing film.
The Zambezi River was rising swiftly, consuming the ground around it like a starving hyena. Caroline knew the situation was dangerous, and stayed back from the water's edge but close enough for photo opportunities. She must be willing to take risks if she wanted to be successful.
So far all she had managed to capture was a kite seeking shelter, and a gazelle bounding through the downpour. Decent stock photos, but Caroline knew she needed the money-shot.
With a sigh, she sat down facing the coursing river. This was the last trip that her Graduate Program would fully fund - she would never be able to afford it unaided. This one really had to count.
Her jacket was repelling a lot of water, but still she could feel it beginning to soak through to the skin. It was growing threadbare, and the color was sun-faded. Despite that, she refused to get a new one. This jacket was the last gift from her father, who had taught her to love photography. Eight years ago he had died suddenly, and Caroline had vowed to wear this jacket until it fell apart. It was her good luck charm.
It wasn't doing much at the moment besides keeping the rain off her back.
A flicker of movement caught her eye. There was a break in the river's surface, huge and dark and dome-shaped, floating in the middle. She scrambled for the binoculars at her waist. Holding them up, Caroline toggled the focusing knob until the picture came clear.
She gasped. It was the bloated body of a dead hippopotamus, flanked by the flip of a tail, a flash of teeth, a tell-tale roiling of the water. Crocodiles! A feeding frenzy!
Caroline tossed the binoculars aside and thoughtlessly waded in up to her ribcage. The cold water invaded her shoes and clothes, pushed at her ankles, but it was only a minor inconvenience. The woman's attention was on the scene in front of her.
Part of her acknowledged that she was too close, but she ignored it.
She began snapping pictures, capturing the rare sight with giddy elation. This was it, these were going to put her on the map! A male, almost twenty feet long, latched his powerful jaws onto the left foreleg of the hippo, dragging the entire thing down for a few seconds before the leg apparently broke off and the bloated corpse bobbed back up. It was immediately converged upon by five smaller reptiles. The strength required to completely submerge something the size of that was awe-inspiring, and chilling.
She was so engrossed that she didn't see the large log careening her way, carried by the current. Intuition caused her to look at the last second, and she tried to twist out of its path. It missed her body, but the trailing hem of her jacket snagged on one protruding branch, time-thinned material ripping to impale on broken wood. Caroline saw it in slow motion, then time sped up and the umbrella was torn from her hands while she was yanked off her feet.
Though her logical side knew it was unwise, she screamed just before water closed over her face. Sputtering, struggling, she managed to resurface, but fought to stay up as the weight of the log swept her along. Out of the corner of her eye Caroline saw that the huge male was looking her way, drifting motionlessly.
Her heart fluttered like a bird desperate to escape the cage of her chest, and she understood that if she couldn't get free she would die.
With a cry of emotional pain, Caroline released her camera and clawed at the place where her jacket was hung. Tears, invisible in the rain, trickled down her cheeks as the wood cut her fingertips but would not release its hold. She tried ripping it loose, but being suspended in water prevented her from getting the proper leverage.
Sobbing now, she noticed that the crocodile had disappeared from sight. She knew what she had to do, her heart aching at the thought.
As fast as she could, Caroline pulled her arm out of the sleeve. Twisting around, buoying up in the water, she pulled her other arm free and then made fast for the bank. A strength borne of adrenaline and terror flooding her, she sank her ravaged fingertips into the soft soil and hauled herself up out of the water.
Swinging her legs up behind her, she spun and scrambled away from the edge, knowing that crocodiles liked to attack there. Her lucky red jacket, the last thing she had of her father, was like a beacon in the dark water, stark and bright.
Caroline yelped as the crocodile snapped at it from underneath, pulling it free of the log, death-rolling it.
Grief mingled with relief, nearly overwhelming her, and she moved to place her hand over her racing heart. There, still hanging around her neck, was her camera.
(Word Count: 992 - includes hyphenated words)