A cloudy morning gave way to an afternoon rain storm. John tied himself to the raft with bungee cords and his belt. Waves tossed the raft in every direction, but by some miracle it never tipped over. He couldn’t imagine how. Again and again he would get thrown forward, backward, and the raft would tip upward until he was face to face with a spinning horizon. Then the raft would drop, the wave would crash on top of him, and he would see sky again.
Sheets of lightning ripped overhead. Thunder hammers pounded his eardrums. John screamed back at it. He thought his ears bled. The world split into black and white flashes, world positive and photo negative. He wanted to go home. He cried for his mother and for God.
“Do you remember?” his mother asked him.
John saw her in the sky, behind the lightning. She was holding his favorite bedtime story books. A wall of water slapped him. John gagged.
“What did I tell you?” she asked patiently.
“It isn’t real,” he shouted. The lightning tried to drown him out. He still heard the words.
She nodded. “That’s right. Count to ten. It’ll go away.”
He asked her the same thing he’d asked then: “What if it doesn’t go away?”
“Count to ten again. Only stronger.”
John started counting. Lightning blinded him. Thunder cracked the world. He got angry and counted louder.
“Good job, honey. Keep counting.”
He reached ten.
Mother Nature refused to be outdone. The raft went up on the biggest wave yet. John thought he could see his house from here. When the wave came down, the raft went flying, and so did John. The pathetic knot he tied with his belt didn’t hold. Neither did the one he tied with his tie. The bungees did, but the clips were bending.
He was too weak. Three days with almost no food and water.
“Don’t panic, honey. What did I tell you?” she asked.
He couldn’t remember. The raft was flipped over. How would he get it back up in this mess?
He started counting.
“That’s good. Think. When nothing’s working…”
Thunder struck him again. John shook his fist at the sky and got a mouthful of water for his trouble.
“Getting angry doesn’t help,” she said firmly. “Look at me!”
He looked up. He had one hand on the handhold of capsized raft, two bungees tied around his arm that were dragging him under the waves, and clothes that were dragging him under. Behind the flashes of lightning, in between the clouds, he saw her patient face. She’d always been good that way.
He said, “Sometimes your answer is inside your problem.”
“Give it a try.”
John dove under the water. He couldn’t see. Everything was muffled. He groped around, swimming in ink, and came up inside the raft. He could only see slivers of light when the raft hopped off the water. At least now he was next to where he had tied off, and the bungees weren’t dragging him under.
He grabbed hold of one side of the raft and hopped into it. He tried to pull it under. Like before, the raft fought back and popped back up. It landed flat. John’s mother clapped her hands with the sound of softer thunder.
“Good, Johnny! Good!”
“Thanks, mom,” he mumbled.
Lightning flashed. The thunder rolled again. Softer, again. He had a long way to go, but the storm was leaving.
John held on. He drank rain water while he could. The food was gone. All the supplies. Tomorrow would be a hard day.