“Where are we going,” asked fourteen-year-old Jasmine Lockworth to herself. She twirled her thick braids around her fingers and stared out the window of the large school bus. “How much farther until we reach the campgrounds?” She grew restless on the long drive through Mississippi. Jasmine turned around in her seat and tapped Trina Jones on the shoulder. Jasmine and Trina were best friends since elementary school. The two of them grew up together in every grade. It was the last week of summer camp and the bus was headed to a recreational center in Baton Rouge. The camper's final day was going to be spent on the river at a prebuilt obstacle course; a footrace and rock climb across a giant waterslide.
Trina slid off her headphones and looked up. A smile grew on her face as she brushed a strand of her thick brown hair behind her ear. “Hey, Jasmine, what's up?”
“Do you know how long we have to be stuck on this bus? I want some ice cream from Rita’s.” Jasmine let out a sigh of frustration and threw her head back.
Trina laughed. “I don’t know, buddy,” she pulled her headphones back on, “best get comfortable now and enjoy the ride.”
Jasmine jokingly snatched off the headphones. “I’m serious, Trina!”
“I am, too!” she snatched them back.
Jasmine sat back in her seat and got comfortable for the ride. She returned her gaze back out onto the stretch of water that rode alongside them. The motion of the ride and the warmth from the sun began to wear on Jasmine as she dozed off to sleep.
“Jasmine. Jasmine.” Trina shook her. Jasmine stirred a bit and stretched. She slowly opened her eyes, blinking several times. “We’re here.”
Jasmine stood up and yawned. Finally. She grabbed her backpack and walked off.
There was a total of twenty kids on the bus as Jasmine fell in line with them. They were staring out at a large body of water that rested behind this gated-off area. It looked like a prison yard. To make matters worse, it started to rain. No, not a normal rain, but a huge downpour with black clouds rolling in and blocking out the sun. Jasmine clenched her backpack straps tight. Fear set into her chest as she stared around at the ominous scene before her and wondered if anyone else was feeling the same way. She tried to get Trina’s attention, but it didn’t work. She could see the fear on Trina’s face, too.
The bus driver walked over towards a small post that was outside of the large gate. Jasmine strained her ears to eavesdrop on the conversations, but they were too far away. She knew that something was said because the gatekeeper switched on the overhead lights and cranked up the machine that wheeled open the heavy metal-linked gate. The driver walked back over to the group with hands clasped.
“Come on, kids.” the driver said with a tinge of excitement.
Nobody moved. The rain now soaking through their clothing. Good thing the announcement said to wear their swimsuits underneath.
“What is this place?” Trina forced out, shivering from the cold water.
A sinister grin plastered on the driver’s face. “Welcome to Battle River!” The driver’s outstretched arms pointed out at the kids. “Now, come on, come on.”
A moment of hesitation was shared among the kids. “Alright, I’m game!” shouted Mickey Foster with confidence. She was the brawns in the group.
“I’m down, too.” spoke out another camper.
By soon, everyone was agreeing to taking on the challenge of the river race. Once the last camper was inside, the gate rolled shut. The obstacle course was enormous! A long blowup bridge that connected them to the other side of the Mississippi. The kids were broken up into four teams. To her relief, Jasmine was on Trina’s team.
The gatekeeper came from around the post and stood at the beginning of the course. He eyeballed each team and gave a speech. “Welcome, campers, to Battle River!” Jasmine rolled her eyes and wiped the water from her face. “Now, I do apologize for the unexpected rainfall, but,” he hung his head low, “this makes the course that much difficult now.”
Trina raised her hand, “why is that?” she unsuccessfully wiped her face with her sopping-wet shirt sleeve.
“Why can't we just do the course later on when the rain stops?” asked another camper. Chatter broke out among the groups.
“Settle down,” the gatekeeper said. “The course becomes extremely slippery.” He completely ignored the other camper’s question. “But I have a saving grace!”
In an instant, all chaos broke loose. Between the pounds of thunder and the many bodies slamming against the obstacle course, Jasmine tried to remain focus on her team’s voices.
“Jasmine!” A muffled voice pierced through her eardrums. “Jasmine, I’m slipping!” Jasmine struggled to look around for the voice. The overhead lights were useless. She couldn’t see due to the blinding rain.
“Grab my hand!” Jasmine called out. She felt a connection and pulled with all her strength. Jasmine was one of the first people to reach the first milestone turnover at the top. She was responsible for pulling across her teammates to the second half of the course. The gatekeeper’s warning was brief, but it rang clearly through her head. “To keep from falling, wipe yourself off and feel like plastic.” It made no sense to her. That was a horrible helping tip, but nonetheless, she tried it anyways. Jasmine wiped her hand on her bare skin underneath her shirt and reached out to grab a handle to steady herself. To her surprise, it stuck! Then she finally understood the gatekeeper’s advice. The point was to keep themselves dry for a better grip on the course.
A lightbulb went off in her head. “Trina,” she called out, “I got a plan!”
“What is it?” A faint voice was mixed in the rain noise.
Jasmine took a deep breath, “I know it’s a longshot, but wipe off your hands!”
“On you!” Jasmine yelled back. “And reach out for me!” Jasmine spotted a lone hand as she reached out to take it, and just like, the connection was solid. A bit of confidence swelled up in her. Alright, she pulled Trina up, I know what to do and I’m ready for this now. She fixed her gaze on Trina when she was safely on the top. A tired smile came on her face, “Friends forever…” she started.
“Stick together,” finished Trina. “Okay,” she shook the water from her face and wiped her hands off again, “so what’s the plan?”
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