Charlie's Story Part 1
Living next to the woods it almost seemed inevitable that we would play there as children. The trees, river and mud cliffs gave us days of challenges and adventures. The three of us could spend the day exploring, pretending we were on a great adventure or just sitting watching the river ripple past.
Personally I always enjoyed trying to follow the river through the woods, taking the route closest to the water. It always proved the most dangerous and the most beautiful way to pass the time. The days of exploring meant that we could never be lost in the woods, something that came in handy when we got older.
Butterfly Island was what we called the place where all our adventures began, how that name came to be I have no idea. It wasn't actually an island, and as for butterflies, well, I never saw any. In itself it wasn't anything special. There was a fairly slight slope leading to a flat piece of land almost eight feet above the river. To the right as you came down there was a similar drop onto another stretch of land at the same level as the river. As time went by the small cliff edge that we once had to jump from became a steep slope that we could slide down, maybe we went there too much.
Here the river was little more than a trickle that was scarcely deep enough to wet the legs of your trousers if you stepped through it, yet around the corner it suddenly became waist deep. At this point there was a tree that seems to grow sideways out of the hill and lean out over the river. It was Chip's favourite place to sit, lie and rest, mostly because he was the only one of us who could get up there.
On the other side of the river was another mud bank that although the slope itself was slight, the drop on either side wasn't. There was a felled tree stump at the top that served as a 'watch tower' when we were kids. Another tree on the left side of the slope gave us an opportunity to have a swing stretching over the river.
We fixed a piece of rope to one of the higher branches (thanks to Chip's ridiculous climbing skill and head for heights). The rope dropped from the branch to just below shoulder level where we stood at the base of the tree. We fixed a loose branch to the end of the rope and this served as a handhold to swing from.
The rope carried us over the river and to the bank at the other side. But still there was a drop of between six to eight feet between us and the ground. It became a right of passage between us, we all had to swing across the river and drop from the highest point of the swing to the ground below.
I remember drawing the short straw and going first. I was jeered by the other two for hesitating before I swung. My heart seemed to leap out of my chest as I stepped from the tree root that overhung the mud bank and swung out over the river. I was so tense that I didn't allow my arms to extend properly as I swung out. My muscles burned as I began to swing up away from the river, it was more due to the 'chin-up' position I was in than to bravery that I let go. I let go just before the top of the swing and for a second I felt weightless as my body was lifted into the air by the swing. I flapped my arms in an attempt to stay upright as I plummeted to the ground. I landed clumsily with a roll onto the mixture of mud and leaf that was the river bank. It must have looked cooler than it felt because I got a round of applause from Chip and Pete.
Now it was my turn to insult the others, Pete thinking it was easy, opted to go next. Three times he swung over the river, three times he failed to let go and three times me and Chip made fun of him. He yelled as he let go of the branch on his fourth attempt, I think more from determination than fear. He landed almost as clumsily as me, falling backwards to the ground with a wide smile on his face looking up at the swing which crossed back and forth across the river till Chip reached out and grabbed it. He shouted at Pete to move out of the way and then almost instantly stepped from the bank. Seconds later he returned.
"I was just testing to see how high it was." He called over with a smile. We both laughed at him. It was obvious that he was annoyed that he hadn't managed to let go first time.
He stepped off the ledge a second time his arms straightened quickly as the swing took his weight. He hadn't meant to do it and I could see the discomfort on his face as he crossed the river. He desperately wanted to hang on and swing back to the other side again, but his grip had slipped as his arms straightened out and he had no choice but to leave go.
As Chip started to rise away from the water Pete yelped helplessly, as Chip had tried to get a better grip he had shifted the weight of his body. His grip failed almost at the top of the swing and he was thrown into the air almost feet first. Pete yelped again as Chip frantically flapped his arms to correct himself.
He almost succeeded, his feet hit the ground first, but by then his weight was travelling backwards and he tumbled down the slight hill and ended up sitting in the river. The strangest thing about it was that he had stayed quiet while falling through the air and yet he shouted with surprise as he fell into the river. Either way I laughed.
Chip picked himself out of the river and laughed. Pete thought that the flip had been planned and patted Chip on the shoulder before running for the stepping stones to have another go.
Chip walked over to me and leaned on my shoulder, facing the opposite way to me, away from Pete. He seemed out of breath. He swore then laughed in spite of himself.
"That scared the living shit out of me." He admitted with a smile.
We didn't try jumping from the swing much after that, not when there was just us anyway.