Prairie Dogs, Pronghorns & Penis Sheaths

by Biff Spork

Chapter 18

A Hard Rain

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin'
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin'
Heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin'
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin'
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall

( From "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" by Bob Dylan )

I awoke to a tremendous thunderclap directly overhead. In the flash of lightning that instantly followed, I saw the sides of our tent bellying out. In the next flash they were sucked in, like the tent was breathing. Our bed seemed to be shifting beneath us. I put my hand down to steady us and realized that our air mattress was floating, a hand-span above the tent floor.

I shook Marcus awake, "Marcus we've got to get out of here. The river must have flooded."

I unzipped the tent flap and water gushed in. Above us, the thunder was now a continuous roaring like a thousand kettle drums. In the strobe-like flashes of lightning, I saw that our grassy campsite was completely underwater, a foot deep and rising. I dragged Marcus out of the tent. We were knee-deep in water and the water was moving. The wind whipped around us and drove the rain into us like darts.

"We should go to higher ground," shouted Marcus and pulled me towards the trail that led to our observation hill. Just then, in an instant, the water rose to our thighs. We churned through ever-deeper water. When we had nearly cleared the woods, I fell. My foot had caught beneath a tree root where rushing water had washed the soil away. I pulled myself up and cried out in pain. My left leg wasn't working. It crumpled when I put my weight on it. The razors of pain were unbearable. I couldn't stand.

"Marcus," I shouted through the thunder. "I think I broke my leg."

"Can you walk?"

"No, I can't make it do anything."

Marcus crouched down and said, "Get on me," and turned his back to me.

I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled myself onto his back. He set off across the prairie towards our hill. The floodwater was steadily rising. It was up to Marcus' waist but he plowed ahead. The current was in the same direction we were going, but the base of the hill was still hundreds of yards distant. The water was getting deeper. I heard a tremendous crack and looked back to see a tree struck by a bolt of lightning that blinded me for a minute. The fitful wind briefly brought a weird burning odor to my nose.

Marcus stumbled and we fell forward into the floodwater. He righted himself and said over his shoulder, "I'm sorry, Bumper, I didn't mean to drown you."

"No, no, I'm fine," I said. "Just a little damp."

Suddenly then there was a push from behind us and the water climbed to our chests. Marcus gave up walking and breast-stroked us towards our hill. When we reached the hillside Marcus pulled us out of the water. Exhausted, we lay immobile. Then, feeling the floodwaters rising and curling around our ankles, we crawled toward the hilltop. The thunder and lightning were still nearly incessant, long, rolling detonations and stark, bluish flashes from every direction. There were brief moments of darkness when the only sounds were the shrieking wind and an eerie groaning from the rushing floodwater. The wind flung shards of rain against us like handfuls of gravel.

We huddled together and hugged. My left foot was lying on the grass at a weird angle but when I tried to make it look right, the pain was too much and I left it alone.

"We'll be okay up here," Marcus shouted. "Someone will rescue us in the morning.

A sheet of lightning cracked across the sky and lit the rushing floodwaters covering the prairie below us. "Oh Marcus," I cried. "That's Dogtown." And I started to weep. I couldn't help myself. I knew there was no way any of the prairie dogs could have survived. Marcus hugged me and kissed my forehead and I knew he was feeling the same sorrow.

The flood was uprooting trees from the riverbank and carrying them past us. One had been caught where Dogtown had been. Perhaps a limb had become lodged in a burrow entrance. As I gazed blankly over the scene, I noticed a little movement on one of the branches. I watched more closely while waiting for successive bursts of lightning. That movement became a bedraggled brown creature that pulled itself up through the leaves onto a branch above the turbulent waves. It was a prairie dog. A pup hung limply in her mouth.

"That's Big Mama," I cried. Just then, the swift current overturned the tree she was in, but it was not carried away. It must have been deeply embedded in a burrow entrance. The branch bearing Big Mama dipped closer to the surface of the flood, and there was no way for her to reach any higher branch. While I watched in horror, the relentless current rolled the tree further underwater. The racing waters nearly submerged Big Mama's perch.

Marcus jumped up and ran down the hillside. An instant later he was swimming strongly across the current towards the tree. He reached it and clung onto a branch ten feet away from Big Mama. He pulled himself slowly along the branch until he was beside her. Then he held out his arm and she crawled up onto his shoulder. Just then the tree lurched and rolled again. Marcus disappeared beneath the waves. I saw Big Mama carried away. I think my heart stopped. Then Marcus' head and shoulders rose above the water, but I could see that he was struggling, that he was somehow stuck in the uprooted tree. He continued to strain, but seemed unable to free himself. I scrabbled down the hillside, as far upstream as I could, and launched myself into the flood. I pretended that there was nothing wrong with my leg, and that all the pain as I thrashed forward was in some other person's leg. I reached Marcus and tapped him on the shoulder.

He turned sharply and saw me, then grinned and said, "Hey, you should be more careful. I might have killed you."

"Well, you should be more careful too. I might have killed you too, but I just tapped you on the shoulder."

"I doubt you know how to kill anyone," he said.

"Well, if I wanted to kill you I would have bopped you with a baseball bat, but I don't want to kill you."

"Yeah," he said. "I don't want to kill you either."

We were both crying.

"What are you doing here?" I said.

"This tree has rolled over onto my leg. I can't get loose."

I took a deep breath and walked myself down his leg to where it was locked between two thick branches. I couldn't dislodge it. When I surfaced I said into his ear, "We may be here for a while. You're really stuck."

"You should swim back and wait on the hill, in comfort," said Marcus.

"Naw," I said. "I got lonely over there. I'm gonna go down again and see if I can push or pull you free. It might hurt."

"Okay, see what you can do."

I took another deep breath and submerged. Then I wedged my good foot against the branch that was holding him and pushed with every ounce of strength I could command. Nothing moved except my foot slipped and squashed through to be caught in the same tangle of branches as his leg. I figured I could loosen it but I was running out of air. I raised myself up beside Marcus and took a deep breath. Then, in a flash of lightning, I saw a wave coming towards us, at least two feet above our heads. "Marcus," I shouted. "Take a deep breath," and I held him tightly against me.

"Bumper," he shouted. "I love you." The wave rolled over us.

The giant wall of water seemed endless. I was running out of air when I felt the tree shifting, rolling over from the force of the wave. It buried us deeper underwater. The prairie floor scraped against my face. The tree rolled again and the tangle of branches that had entrapped us loosened. I flailed through the black water toward the surface, dragging Marcus with me.

In brief flashes of lightning I could see that Marcus' eyes were closed, as if he were asleep. It was all I could do to keep our heads above water. The current carried us through the night. I kept slipping into unconsciousness, only jerking awake when my head sank below the waves. It seemed an endless struggle. Then my knees struck grass and dirt. We had washed up against higher ground. I crawled upward, dragging Marcus' limp body with me. I could barely see. Too weak even to get up on my hands and knees, I clawed forward and hauled us up the slope until we were clear of the flood. I wrapped my arms around Marcus, held his cold body close against me, and faded into the blackness.

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