The trees are up and decorated, the stockings are almost finished being made (only the fuzzy trim left to sew on and then press on the names), the mock fireplace is drawn and colored and hanging under the window, and my husband is making a 4-stockings hanger with some scrap metal from work. We might just pull off this one-house Christmas thing! :)
The biggest things that help me off an anxiety spiral are regular eating and sleeping. Regular eating helps because I stop eating during anxiety, it's where my eating disorder lives, and crashing blood sugars do not improve anything. Regular sleeping helps because sleep deprivation makes for fuzzy thinking, and my anxiety thrives on confusion. Eliminating confusion and hunger starve my anxiety and help me regain control.
Justin started the preliminary breathing exercises he did before any dive. Better to be prepared, he figured. There was nothing he could do about how cold the water was, but he could at least not drown if he was dunked under the ice. Tor said it was open water around the bend, and Justin could hold his breath that distance as long as he wasn’t frozen to death. He picked his first few steps and then narrowed his focus down to just this moment, ignoring the thinking part of his mind so that he could react faster, and set off after Tor and Tam.
A nearby crack interrupted the groaning river and reverberated through the flows as Tor, Tam and Justin leapt from one jagged edge to the next, using the snowshoes to bridge across the roughness of the ice sheets. Justin felt the change as a vibration before he looked up from his next steps to see where the cause of it was. The ice creaked and grated on all sides as it underwent a massive shift just ahead of him. Tor looked back, meeting Justin’s stare as Tam dropped from between them.
Panic flared in Tor’s eyes that all the ice around where Tam had been was now in motion. The place where she’d dropped erupted into a flurry of loose snow and then her arms clawed up and they could see her head.
Tor’s brain engaged his training reflexes before it remembered about his snowshoes and he sprawled into a fall as he tripped himself trying to turn too quickly. Tam slipped down and then caught herself on the edge of an adjoining sheet, pulling herself up so she was only half submerged, her arms stretched to full extension forward as she scratched for any handhold to pull herself completely free of the freezing river.
Justin stopped looking for safe footing and kicked out of his snowshoes into a run. The ice sheets behind the gap she’d fallen through were slamming up and twisting into a new configuration. A sheet twice as thick as Justin’s arm and as tall as he was above the water surged up, gravity fighting against the river to pull it down. Swinging slowly into the opposite direction than it had been pushed up, and pressed by the current and more ice from behind so that the circular motion was delayed, the heavy ice was scissoring closed on the gap Tam was in the middle of.
Justin breathed deeply, his lungs aching from the sudden cold, and leapt to the sheet of ice she was clinging to as he yanked his pack and coat off over his head. The sheet she was holding bobbed under his added weight and then tipped, dipping Tam further down. Justin threw his supplies toward Tor as he skidded into the gap, grabbing Tam and dragging her into the water as he slid off the ice.
The water was horrifically cold after the sudden dive, but much clearer than he’d expected. The cracking boom of the gap slamming closed above them was followed by screeches and groans of the ice adjusting while the current started to carry them away. He spun to face down and kicked deeper to get away from the floes. Even with only the dim sunlight penetrating the thick ice, he could see the jagged bottoms of the sheets. Everything was lit blue. He tore off the pack and coat that Tam was wearing so it wouldn’t weigh her down as she struggled. Justin clutched Tam to his chest, pinning her so she couldn’t hurt him as she fought the water, and swam with the current while looking up for a thin spot.
He kicked up to a shadowy gap in the overhead surface and grabbed onto the ice, wedging his elbow into a crevice when his fingers didn’t work to hold on. Tam coughed and gagged in the small space. There was no way of breaking through here to get above the ice, but at least there was air for the moment.
“Hold your breath,” Justin said, stuttering around his chattering teeth, forcing his body to breathe deeply again. Tam whimpered, but gasped as best she could. Justin felt her chest lock into an expanded position and gulped a final mouthful of air before diving back under. They needed to get out of the water or they were going to freeze before they had a chance to drown.
Brighter light caught his eye and he looked forward as he swam: three bridge abutments rose up from the shadows below and disappeared above the waterline. Justin kicked hard for the one he could angle to the easiest. He could see the shadow of a catwalk jutting far out in advance of reaching the abutment. That must be where they stand to break the ice …. He clawed up to the surface and hooked his free arm into the low railing. Movement and shouting assailed his senses as he pulled Tam so she had her head above the water.
“Help,” he gasped. “Our guide… everything fell through the ice …”
Rough hands hauled them out of the river, hard voices demanding to know who they were. Justin kept repeating the lie about having a guide and that they’d all broken through the ice, repeatedly thanking the guards for saving their lives. Soon they were bundled into blankets and taken up to the nearest perimeter cabin. With no way of verifying the story because Tam whimpered wordlessly and Justin didn’t change any details no matter what questions were asked, they were reluctantly given dry clothes and warm tea and left to sit near the stove.
Once they’d changed, Justin pulled Tam into his arms and dried more water out of her hair with one of the towels they’d been given. She was shivering harder than he was, and he needed to maintain the assumption the guards had made that they were a couple. She curled against him, soaking up the extra heat he provided, so he shifted how they were sitting to keep her closer to the stove.
He picked up his cup of tea once his hand was still enough not to spill all of it and took a tentative sip. It was barely more than hot water, and was barely hot, but it was a lot warmer than he was. He took another sip, the heat warming his insides as pleasantly as the stove was warming his skin. He pressed the rim of the cup to Tam’s lips and tilted it for her to sip as well. She took small drinks as he gave them to her, finishing the tea, and was shivering rather than shaking when he set the empty cup down.
Justin heaped gratitude on anyone who spoke to them, loudly praising the guards who had pulled them out of the river as saviors when the commander came in to question them after lunch. Justin inwardly cringed when the commander started agreeing with him about how good and kind the guards were, but outwardly commended the man, stating the troops must have learned such grace by example when the twit gave them coats, good snowshoes, and packs of rations to serve them until the next town a week away. Tam assured everyone who asked that she had family there who would help them, and that the next town had been their destination before their unfortunate run-in with the river. She even sweetly blamed Justin’s ‘adventurous spirit’ for their situation, stating it had been his idea to travel off-road because he fancied himself a bit of an outdoorsman – something she acted as abhorring and adoring in even measures without having to actually say the words.
A weekly blog updating on Saturdays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!