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Micah Rezim recited a prayer all the way down the hill. His heartbeat thundered in his head. He didn't hear the river gurgling until he was almost in it. At Beacon Road Bridge, the river slipped into a wide pool, sneaked under the bridge, squeezed between two brown boulders, and tumbled on. Moonlight reflections off the water danced among the graffiti on the bridge's beams.
The dance rippled into a flurry of flashing light when Micah splashed into the pool. He dragged the canoe with him. His flashlight fell from beneath his arm. He snatched it from the water, tossing it into the canoe with his backpack. Aiming for the brown boulders, Micah shoved off and hopped aboard. His Nikes sloshed in liquid moonlight, kicking the flashlight and pack away from a puddle. The cold water seeped through his socks. With plunging strokes that dug all the way to the sand, Micah paddled for the chute. Fog from his heavy breathing warmed his cheeks and ears. With all his weight in the stern, the canoe bow rose above the water. Micah leaned forward and paddled harder. It seemed to take forever to reach the chute. It was like trying to run in a dream and not getting anywhere.
The whole thing was like a bad dream; Papa coughing; ambulance lights splashing the neighborhood; Aunt Ellen lying, telling him everything was fine. Now, the river was holding back the canoe. Only the icy water seemed real.
The canoe fired through the chute into ripples. Micah smiled. With a sleeve he wiped the mist from his face. He pulled off his jacket and adjusted his cap to retrieve a black curl escaping down his forehead.
Familiar landmarks made the whole thing seem routine: the fallen oak with its head buried in the stream, a cluster of stones boiling the water at a narrow curve, the sycamore grove. From the trips with his father and friends, Micah could navigate blindfolded from Truffer's Landing all the way to the railroad trestle.
But he'd never gone alone. Papa had forbidden it. "If something should happen, two are always better than one. 'A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.'" Papa had quoted the Jewish wisdom literature. Of course, his father would understand this time. Micah had planned to make this trip after Passover, in two weeks. He wanted Josiah to go with him. But on this night everything had changed. The doctors had been wrong. Micah's father couldn't wait.
The bow bounced over the ripples, making it impossible to steer. Micah moved forward and knelt for balance. Still, he had to switch the paddle from side to side to steer. He wished Josiah had come.
Josiah Kaufman first brought Micah to the river right after the Rezims had moved to town. Together they explored, hunted for Indian rocks, fished, swam, built dams and bridges. . . and then came the canoe. With the canoe came adventures up and downstream to every pool, inlet and side stream of Snake River–but never beyond the trestle. Less than a mile beyond that the river foamed among boulders and tumbling falls.
Micah pushed harder with the paddle. The current poked along, as if unaware of his urgency. He wanted to reach the trestle by dawn–when there would be enough light to find the cave.
As he passed the sandbar, Micah saw the stars melting into a grey-blue sky. Though he needed the light, he wished he could stop the morning. He wished he could lie on the sandbar, watch the sun rise, and tell it when to stop. If he stopped the morning, he would have time to help his father.
Josiah called it “snake bar.” The boys spent a lot of time there hunting for crayfish and snakes.
"He's probably just getting up," Micah said aloud. It was Thursday. Josiah rode the early vanpool into the city where the boys attended Hebrew school. Micah usually rode with his father–except on Thursdays when he joined the vanpool. "He's probably getting up and kissing that panda."
Micah would never be Josiah's best friend. He could never replace the black and grey mass of matted fur that Josiah called Daniel–a stuffed panda. Josiah brought Daniel on every trip to the river. He talked to it. He carried it on his shoulders. Micah thought he would forget about it when he turned ten, then eleven. But Josiah seemed more attached to Daniel every day, sometimes even acting like the panda was real. Everyone else made fun of him, but Josiah didn’t seem to care. Micah didn't say anything. He knew that Josiah had no family at all–just Daniel.
Micah cut hard to follow the eastward bend. Against pink sky he saw the trestle. He jammed the flashlight into the backpack and slipped his arms through the straps. Grabbing the paddle, he held fast to the right, just missing a trestle pole. Energy surged through his muscles as he passed beneath the dark wood and into the new waters. His chin quivered. He felt the morning light surround him with warmth. The breeze sharpened his senses. The world around him shook off the dream.
became his friend, guiding him to the cave in his dream. Micah scanned the cliffs. Clunk! He fell forward. Water splashed over the stern. He shifted his weight and used the paddle to pry the canoe off a stone hiding beneath the surface.
The river hurled Micah downstream. As the light grew, so did the noise and current speed. Laughing and trembling, he used the paddle only to avoid shallow rocks and fallen trees. He glanced at the shore, hoping not to miss the cave. It must be before the falls. He steered toward a smoother channel away from a chain of whitewater rocks. The canoe slipped sideways and the stern scraped bottom. Micah fell across the paddle and banged his head on the crossbar. Groaning, he pushed up and replaced his cap, suddenly finding himself sailing rear first. He chuckled and paddled the bow around.
Before he got it around, something hit the canoe. He spun in the other direction and scraped bottom. As he pried against the rock chain the paddle slipped from his hands. He snatched it from the current, nearly tipping over. Everywhere he looked, white patches of foam crowned the brown and green stones that poked their foreheads out of the water. He drove toward the north bank, but the current hurled him toward a fallen tree. He ducked. A branch knocked off his cap and the boat turned sideways. It thudded against the trunk.
Water poured over the canoe edge. He braced the paddle against a branch and threw his weight against it. The paddle flipped into the water and the current stole it, but the canoe sailed free.
The current took it prisoner. It tossed and bumped and scraped the canoe. The bow bounced higher with the water's weight added to Micah's. Micah heard the falls roaring. “Out. I gotta get out!”
He rolled into the current and swamped the canoe. Freezing water bit his ribs. He clutched the starboard. The river towed him fifty yards before his feet found a hold. He braced himself against a boulder and tested his balance. The canoe rope looped around his hand cut off circulation and threatened his shoulder socket.
Another boulder stood two steps away. Heaving the rope over a shoulder, he took a step and jerked. He went under. Cold rushed past him and through him. He came up just as the rope hauled him down a slide. He slammed against the bow. Micah shot off another prayer. Using the canoe as a bridge he climbed to a dry boulder and caught his breath. He tried to see over the main fall, just ten yards away. It screamed at him.
Bracing himself on the boulder, he freed the canoe. But the current caught it, dragging him into the water. His body pressed against the boulder and the rope tore at his arm as the canoe teetered on the brink. He twisted and shook the rope loose from his hand. The rope whipped away. He fell back. CRONGGGG! BONG! He heard the canoe crashing and tumbling on stone. The fall wanted him. It grabbed and bit and tugged. Micah spied a branch bowing over the water. He might reach it if he jumped from the boulder. If he missed, nothing but water lay between him and the fall. He set himself and leaped. Leaves seemed to grab at him. Micah grabbed back. They embraced.
He lay on the bank, catching his breath. The leaf ceiling, spotted with orange where the sunrise blinked through, reminded Micah of another day last summer. With his father, Micah lay on the crunchy floor of the woods, studying the leaf and limb canopy. Mr. Rezim often told him stories of the Patriarchs, the Judges, and the Kings. Micah knew them all, yet loved to hear his father's voice recite them. That day his father told him the legend of the Thummim–the healing stone. That was the day Micah had decided to find that stone and heal Papa's heart.
Suddenly Micah pushed up. Someone called his name. He listened. A bird tweeted. Two squirrels chattered. The falls rumbled–no one in sight. His mind had drifted for a moment, almost to the point of dozing off. He had to stay alert, even though he hadn’t slept much last night. The voice calling his name must have been his own conscience jolting him out of his daze.
A few things in the waterproof backpack were wet now: an extra shirt, a ball of string, and a jelly sandwich. Micah stood and pulled the pack on again. He shivered and the hairs on his arms stood straight. His clothes still felt soaked and his arm ached. He wrapped a bandana around his hand to stop the bleeding.
As he walked upstream his shin and back bruises throbbed. Until then he'd been numb from the water. At least he felt warmer as long as he stayed in the sun. With each step he thought less of the pain and more of the cave.
His red cap bobbed in a brush pile. Micah balanced on the log and stretched out over the water. He poked the cap with a stick, knocking it loose from the brush and drawing it in. He wrung it out, slapped it against a tree, waved it in the air, and finally set it over his curls.
Papa bought him the cap last summer. They had tickets to a St. Louis Cardinals game, but Papa got sick. He gave the tickets to their rabbi, Rab Gerizim and asked him to buy Micah a cap. Papa promised they would go to another game as soon as he recovered. A steep bank rose about two hundred yards before ending against a cliff. The cliff's ragged face peered down through the foliage. Somewhere up there hid a cave. Somewhere between the waterfall and the bridge. Micah saw it in the dream. He knew it was there–somewhere.
A few hundred yards up the river, Micah came to a stream that tumbled down the hillside into the river. That's it! Micah felt a surge of anticipation. It had to be the spring from the cave.
He started climbing. At every other step he caught a tree to pull himself forward. About halfway up, he rested against the uphill side of an elephant-shaped rock. His calves ached. As the slope tapered off, the stream narrowed. It rippled the tenor part in harmony with the bass of the thundering river far below.
The straps dug into his shoulders. Micah took off the backpack and dragged it in one hand. Finally he dropped the pack on a clump of stones beneath the cliffs.
He stared at the cliff wall. A trickle fell out of the rock about three feet off the ground. It traced a wet path down the smooth face, and began the stream.
"Where's the cave?" he asked. "There's gotta be a cave.” But where's the bubbling spring? Where's the arching gap in the cliff wall? This stream dripped from a crack in the solid wall. The brown and grey cliffs towered toward heaven, spotted with wild flowers, ivy, and moss. He saw no caves–only a few hollows that seemed to have been carved by some giant hand.
He sat on the clump of stones and lay back. His legs ached. His hand throbbed. His clothes still felt damp and he was sweating. Finding the cave might not be so easy. Which way now? He hated the thought of hiking back down the hill after that torturous climb. He could follow the trail along the cliffs. He might have to hike back to
Beacon Road Bridge
and search the opposite cliffs. I have to find the cave, no matter how long it takes. He felt called to it. He didn't want to see his father again until he gave him the Thummim of Israel.
The orange glow in the sky had become full-fledged daylight and Micah watched the yellow glow through his eyelids as he tried to finish his dream in his imagination. He would find the healing stone and bring it to his father’s bedside. The stream’s ripple began to echo. It became a noisy rushing, and he thought it was the waterfall. It grew so loud that he felt as if he lay right beside the plunging river. He sat up and forced his eyes open. The stream looked different–bigger, wider. With every blink, more water appeared. Micah rubbed his eyes. He watched the stream growing, not like a normal rising stream in the rainfall or snowmelt, but like a fast-action film. The earth split to open a path for it. Rising water never overtook its tiny banks, but reached deeper into the earth and extended the banks by pushing them back. It stayed the same distance from Micah, though it should have overtaken him.
He gaped at the crack where the water gushed. It grew with the stream. He stood, edging toward the opening, watching it grow like a dragon opening its mouth. Water flowed out of the lower part. The upper part swelled into a dark hole.
He grabbed the pack and stooped. As soon as he poked his head inside, he could almost enter it standing. He crawled inside along the ledge and pulled himself up. The roof kept rising.
“Micah!” A voice turned him back. Someone called him again. He searched the banks behind him, but he saw no one. He thought it must be his own conscience again. “Micah! Wait! Micah!” He heard his name shouted over and over, echoing far away. Maybe the cave called him.
The entrance climaxed its expansion. The river spilled out under the archway and bounded down the hill. Shrubs larger than houses and head-high grass lined the banks. Elms on either side became thick as legs of giants. Everything grew!
Micah called it a miracle from the Adoshem of Israel. God gave him the dream. God gave him the cave. And soon God would give him the Thummim. He scooted along the ledge