I sat in the dark, holding Bruiser’s head as still as I could while Meg held his legs. As our ears became accustomed to the raging falls we began to hear movement in the underbrush all around us.
I was shuddering from the cold, and hoping fiercely that we were surrounded by scrub turkeys and not, as my imagination kept informing me, huge bunyips.
“What was that?” said Meg.
My imagination decided it was probably a snake, but I couldn’t tell Meg that. She’d freak.
“Nothing,” I said. “Just a mouse or something.”
“Or something,” I emphasized.
“When are they going to get here?” Meg was beginning to sound panicky, which wasn’t like her at all. But then we weren’t in a normal situation. Saturday nights were usually spent arguing over what to watch on television.
The next sound nearly had me jumping out of my skin – Bruiser murmured something. It was incomprehensible, but a welcome distraction.
“It’s okay, Bruiser. Just lie still. Help is coming.” I tried to sound confident and reassuring, again like on Bondi Rescue.
He murmured some more and tried to move.
“Don’t move, you stupid git!” I snapped. Then remembered I was trying to be reassuring and softened my voice. “You’ve had a nasty hit to the head and you might have damaged your neck. Help is coming so lie still.”
It seemed like a good sign. If he was conscious, surely that meant he wasn’t going to die anytime soon. If he was trying to sit up, then surely his back was okay. It occurred to me he was probably going to be back at school and pushing me around in no time. I toyed with the idea of rolling him back into the rock pools.
“They won’t be long,” Meg said. In the poor light, as in no light to speak of, I couldn’t see more than blurry shades of black, but I think she took his hand and held it. In any case he seemed to relax a little and didn’t try to move again.
Hours seemed to pass, but it was probably only another fifteen minutes before we heard a distant drone over the sound of the falls. It grew into the loud, high scream of an engine. Through the scrub we caught flashes of light from up the hill where the walking path meandered down. The light worked its way to us and within a minute we were caught in the headlights of a dirt motorbike.
It stopped and the engine cut, but the light continued to shine on us. It was blinding, but wonderful too.
“Good kids!” said the voice of Ranger Tom as he came over to us. He knelt down and took in the situation. “How’s your patient?” He was sounding relieved and worried all at once, but was also trying to reassure Bruiser whose eyes, I now saw, were very wide and very scared.
Ranger Tom had probably expected to find Bruiser dead. The fact we found Bruiser in the water meant Crusher wasn’t able to find him and had panicked then ran for help. He would have told the ranger and everyone else Bruiser was swept off the top of the falls by the flash flooding and had disappeared.
“Can you talk, son?” he asked Bruiser. “No, don’t shake your head! Not until we check you out. What’s his name?” Ranger Tom asked us.
I looked dumb for several seconds until Meg came to my rescue.
“Bryce,” she said.
Was it really? I’d called him Bruiser for so long it hadn’t occurred to me until now his parents might have called him anything different.
Ranger Tom saw that I was shivering in a wet shirt while I sat holding Bruiser’s head.
“Here,” he said, taking off his jacket and throwing it over my shoulders. He quickly turned his attention back to the patient. “Now let’s check you out, Bryce. I want you to squeeze my hand. That’s my boy…”
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