by Howard Eskildsen
“Oh my god, I just killed my little brother!” he thought half aloud. His spirits sank as quickly as Allen’s limp body that tumbled downwards, slowly turning headfirst, then to its side, before splashing into the shallow water of the Middle Loup River below.
Nothing could have predicted such a turn of events as the day of exploring began at Nebraska National Forest near Halsey, Nebraska. After a night in the camper made by their dad, Allen and his big brother had set off exploring with two other friends, Sam and Steve. They wandered the pine covered hills along the dusty road by the campground, looking for deer, raccoons, and coyotes, but found none. A few campers waved at the interlopers as they crunched over pine needles and through scattered brush. Big brother, eight years older than the others, led the way spinning yarns of survival in the wilderness.
He “taught” them how to avoid snakes, coyotes, other frightful creatures that might be luring over the next rise. Just when the younger kids were starting to lose their fear, he would whisper, “What was that?” and then dash off to another clearing leaving the others racing behind in anxious bewilderment. When it finally became clear that they were not about to be eaten by coyotes or other critters, big brother turned to another favorite topic, quicksand.
It had been the subject of many childhood discussions, sometimes fueled by stories by adults of wagons and livestock lost to quicksand by the pioneers as they tried to cross the Platte River on their way west. Even the Middle Loup River, near the campsite wound along a sandy bottom and seemed a likely spot for the treacherous sands.
Big brother noted the apprehension in the younger kids’ eyes; even Allen, his brother who was used to such stories, seemed concerned. Oh yes, quicksand was very dangerous and could suck a person under without warning. He led the others back to the bridge over the river and across to the other side where they could scramble down a steep slope to the river’s edge to better check it out.
He then removed his shoes and socks to test the sand by the shore. It seems ok. ‘Follow me.” he commanded the others. Giggling nervously the younger kids followed suit, wading into the shallow water and squirming nervously when they sank in the sand to their ankles. One sank deep enough to get his pant legs wet since they had not been rolled up high enough. Big brother reached over and pulled them out to a dry sandbar. “Boy, it was a good thing I was there to save you, or you would have been sucked under for sure.” he said.
The giggling had stopped since the kids were out into the river on a sandbar, believing that they had nearly been sucked under. To get to shore, they would have to wade back through the treacherous sand and water.
“Let’s go farther and see if we can find a way across the river.” urged big brother. Try as he might, the three younger kids were not about to follow him farther. The mischievous grin on his face widened as he witnessed their consternation.
“Aw come on.” he cajoled, but there was no going forward. “All right girls, if that’s what you want, we’ll go back. But I know now how to avoid the quicksand, and I know we could make it.” With a few quick steps he splashed through the shallow water back so shore.
“Well what are you waiting for?” he taunted the others.
“What about the quicksand? Allen whined.
“Just go where I went, and you’ll be fine.” big brother replied. Finally, after coaxing and taunting, he got the others to jump and run as fast as they could to shore. Then he bounded up the slopes and called over his shoulder, “Last one to the bridge is a rotten egg.”
The kids raced up the slope barefoot, carrying their shoes, but abruptly stopped due to sticker weeds along the route. As they put on their shoes, big brother taunted: “Be careful, the quicksand could still suck you in from there.” Without tying their shoes, the three scrambled up the slope and onto the bridge.
Big brother pointed to the water that the breathless kids had refused to cross. “See, there is quicksand and that over there is safe sand. We could have waded all the way across if you guys hadn’t been so chicken.”
Wait a minute, Allen thought, big brother had gone too far, he couldn’t tell quicksand by looking down through water at it. How could he have been such fool to fall for big brother’s antics again? He looked at big brother and shouted, “You just made this up! There isn’t any quicksand is there?”
Big brother retorted: “You mean you actually believed this? Don’t be such weenies!”
Allen walked defiantly to big brother shouted even louder, “You jackass!”
Steve and Sam looked at each other, then burst into laughter. “Did you hear what he said?” one giggled, and then they laughed even louder.
Big brother could not let that go unchallenged and he had to think of something quick. “Nobody calls me that; you’re going over the bridge.”
He scooped up Allen in his arms and turned to the rail. The laughter abruptly stopped as Sam and Steve gasped, and a look of terror clouded their faces. Allen was not at all worried, however. He had been through several similar scenarios in the past. His brother was strong as an ox and would never drop him over; it was all just part of the game. And he would have been right had it not been for the loose gravel by the rail that neither he nor big brother had noticed.
Big brother held Allen just over the rail, then his foot disastrously slipped in the gravel and his own body began to lurch over the rail. Allen felt a strange, dreamy, floating sensation of weightlessness as he plunged downward, blissfully unaware of his plight. Meanwhile, big brother, now relieved of Allen’s weight, grasp wildly at the rail and narrowly avoided following Allen to the sand-bottomed shoals 10-12 feet below.
Time seemed to stop for him when he saw Allen splash. Confidence drained from his soul and he felt limp and dazed. How would he ever face his parents, or even Sam or Steve, for what he had done?
For Allen, however, time suddenly sped up when he hit. What the heck? How did get in the water that was over—oh my gosh! Big brother really had dropped him, right into QUICKSAND! He did not know whether he bounced to his feet or if he actually was able to get up that fast. Didn’t matter, he dashed for the shore in record time and was back up on the bridge before the color returned to big brother’s face.
Steve and Sam were bent over in laughter at the soggy site of Allen who had survived a fall into about a foot and a half of water. They all shared a bit of the laughter. Even big brother, once he realized that Allen had survived, managed to regain enough composure to laugh and assure the others that the outcome had all been part of the plan.
Oh, oh! Here came the parents. “What in tarnation is going on?”
“Allen fell in the water,” someone replied. Well, the parents had already gathered that by Allen’s sodden clothes and shoes.
“Oh, so that’s what happened?”
“Er, well, yeah I guess I fell in the water,” Allen replied.
“Boy did he ever!” Sam blurted.
Though the rest of the story would eventually come out, for the time being it was best just to leave it at that.