Chapter 1.


No! Not again. Tom looked over his shoulder at his campmates and the instructors. He slowed his kayak. What had they covered so far, a mile? In what, two hours, maybe more? “Come on. Come on!” he muttered, paddling in place. The two instructors drove the kayaks of his campmates back onto the current to prevent them from being dragged into an eddy. “Pull! Pull harder!” The instructors shouted at two girls, sharing a boat. The girls didn’t pull. Instead, they shrieked as if they saw ghosts rising from the water. The kayaks swirled into the vortex, like logs adrift. Tom heard the impatience in the instructors’ voices. It was the same impatience he felt. He wanted to ignore it, but it kept creeping up at him. There was so much to see, so many miles to cover! And the hours were ticking away. At this pace, they would never reach the next campsite, let alone have time to explore the area. The girls’ piercing cries echoed of the high cliff walls, scaring an eagle that had been resting in a dead tree on the high bank. Tom followed the majestic bird with his eyes until it disappeared out of sight. If only he would be as free. He sighed, willed his patience back. The agitated current kept daring his kayak, bouncing it up and down, and beckoning him to go on. The water whirled around the paddle he’d jammed between two rocks to prevent him from gliding further down the river. “Can I go on?” he shouted. “Don’t go past the bend – there are class 3 rapids up ahead!” one of the instructors yelled back. Class 3 rapids! That was what he wanted, what he needed! Some good solid action instead of waiting till the river ran dry. He jerked the paddle from the rocks. For a short time, a split second maybe, the water didn’t notice that it had free play, but then the kayak blasted off like a slingshot. Tom’s heart raced with it. From the corner of his eye he scanned the riverbank. Rocks and bushes flashed by. He concentrated back on the river. The faster he went, the quicker he had to choose where to pass a rock. He pulled his paddle through the water. The white kayak leaped forward and sped to the river bend. The instructor hollered after him, but Tom closed his ears. For a second, he wavered. But the water already decided for him. It bubbled and boiled, and tugged him past the bend. Sharp and edgy rock tops revealed themselves in between the ruffles of the rapid. Tom clasped the paddle with both hands and plunged it into the water. Losing speed would make him a rudderless toy. The blade scraped the riverbed, secured itself. The boat brushed past a rock and dove between two others. Unharmed, he swung out of the rapid. The river widened, washing out the rapids. Tom reversed the kayak and let it float sternward. He leaned back, looked up at the blue sky and he laughed out loud. His laughter rolled away over the water, echoing of the cliff walls. Brilliant! With a swift jostle of the paddle he turned back downriver. Water splashed up alongside the kayak and cooled his suntanned arms. The sun stood right above the gorge and sweat pricked his scalp. He rested the paddle on his legs for a moment to loosen the chinstrap of his helmet, when the current drew him through another bend. “Shoot!” Tom gasped for breath and let go of the strap. He grabbed the paddle. That wasn’t a class 3. That was a 4, maybe even a 5! In less than a hundred feet the river narrowed, turning into a roiling boiling mass. The noise of water hitting rocks reverberated of the cliff walls, deafening him like he was in an echoing well. He forced the paddle blade against the current. A six-foot wave train rushed under him. Huge boulders and ledges blocked the way. He tensed his arm muscles. He had to slow down or he would crash. But the roaring water dragged him on. He couldn’t do anything but paddle. Paddle like a madman. Waves pounded the boat, heaving it up high, smacking it down. Within seconds his arms hurt from fighting the water. A giant rock loomed up. He braced his feet against the sides of the kayak, rammed the paddle back into the water, forcing the blade against the current. The kayak grazed past the rock, and headed straight for another. Tom thrust the paddle down, pushed off from the riverbed. No grip! He slid forward, slightly tilting the boat. He ignored the burning in his arms and pushed again. The kayak’s nose shifted, not more than a hair’s breadth, and the whitewater swept him past. A massive wave lifted him up. And there, at the highest top of the wave, he caught a glimpse of what was waiting for him. No more rapids. No more rocks. Just sky. And a gargantuan waterfall. Lift the bow! He had to lift the bow. The kayak shot over the edge. He hopped up, but the kayak already pitched forward. “No!” he yelled. “No!” For a split second he hung mid-air, motionless, then the kayak nosed down. The water lashed his face, pulled him under, kayak and all. Rocks took bites out of him as the water thrashed him to and fro. The kayak whirled round like in a spin-drier on full speed. His lungs burned. He had to breathe! He opened his mouth, gulped for air. Water flooded into his mouth, filled his lungs. The kayak spun on its axis. He should go up! Not down. Not down! The water pressure squeezed his eyes out of their sockets. His head hit something solid and pain shot through his neck like a burning hot arrow. His brain exploded, leaving nothing but a black gaping hole that sucked him in. First chapter from The Sun Spirit (De Zonnegod) ISBN 978-90-00-03756-8 © Mina Witteman (translation Mina Witteman and Dan Nielsen, edited by Laura Watkinson)

Tsé Bit’Aí or The Rock With Wings