We all struggled around on the mattress to follow Sadad’s little finger as it pointed behind us, toward the shore of Manhattan. She was right. The giant, giant bird, the mother of all the giant birds, the giant bird that had been born of the wreckage of the Loew’s 175th St. Theatre, was rising from the tree lined hills.
It gained altitude and started tooling casually along in the air. Making circles, just soaring along. I felt a bubble of hope rise in me. It didn’t seem to be actively hunting. Maybe it wouldn’t notice us, at all.
Then, my bubble burst. The bird paused in mid-air. I could almost see it’s hideous, huge head turn in our direction. It seemed to gather itself, pull itself out of its lazy mood. It tensed. I imagined that I could feel the bird tense. It suddenly released the tension and rocketed our way.
“Row!,” Mike roared. Nobody moved. If we’d had fifty galley slaves helping us, we couldn’t have rowed fast enough to get away from the bird. We weren’t anywhere close to a river bank. There was nowhere for us to go.
The bird was nearly upon us in an instant. I could see it stretching out its talons as it headed our way. The only hope I saw was in the water. I grabbed Sadad and Bethel. “Get off! Get off the raft!”, I screamed. I rolled all three of us into the water.
Moira, Mike, and Jill rolled, too. We were still all uncomfortably close to the raft, but maybe the raft itself would make a tempting target and keep the bird from trying to pluck us separately from the water.
I was briefly under the water, but then I bobbed to the surface, Bethel in one hand, Sadad in the other. They seemed to be floating fine, but they were both screaming. I couldn’t see my friends, but I assumed they were floating around somewhere nearby. The bird had slowed down. I didn’t know if our sudden abandon mattress had confused it or what, but it extended its talons again and prepared to resume its foot-first dive.
As the bird started to lose altitude, the unexpected happened. From the shore of Manhattan, from beside the Little Red Lighthouse, I saw a whoosh of a something headed toward the bird. Whatever it was, it was leaving a trail of smoke, and it was moving fast. “A rocket,” my brain told me, then I dismissed the idea.
But, it was a rocket. It didn’t fly an arrow-straight path, and it actually seemed to move slowly, for a rocket, but it was a rocket and it swooshed right into the unfurled left wing of that giant bird.
The bird screamed, but it tried to continue its dive. It almost immediately discovered that it needed two wings to move effectively through the air. It lost control and spun wildly, a wobbling top in the air.
That’s how it hit the water. Still spinning, all flailing wings and talons, the bird crashed into the Hudson River. The splash was spectacular. The splash was horrific. The splash meant that the bird probably wasn’t going to get us, but the waves from the splash might.
I struggled to keep myself and my two living burdens above the water, at least for long enough for all of us to grab gasps of air. The damned mattress surged my way and battered us. I wanted to curse it, but I couldn’t afford to waste the breath.
The mattress continued to slap into me, and I struggled to swim us all away from it. Then, hands came down from on top of the mattress. Two hands. They plucked first Sadad, then Bethel from me. I did scream then, and I fought to get my two little charges back.
“Stop it,” a voice said. “You are going to tip the mattress. Just let them stay up here. You are going to have to hang onto the side. I don’t think you can climb up without swamping us.” It was Mike. Mike was on the mattress. Mike was safe, and Mike had saved us. I burst into tears and raised the level of the Hudson a wee bit.
Mike pulled me up far enough so that I could grab onto the netting and have some of my torso out of the water. Sadad and Bethel hunkered down on the raft, teeth chattering. Sadad looked at me and chattered, “Uncle Arsal.”
The raft was a huge, bucking bronco of a thing for a long time. I had hell holding on, and Mike just laid down and secured Sadad and Bethel with his weight.
The bird was still struggling in the water and making waves, but the waves got weaker as the bird failed. It didn’t try to come after us. It had more to worry about than some little tidbits. We watched it try to launch itself out of the water one last time, then it seemed to give up. It disappeared under the surface. A few minutes later, it reappeared, but it wasn’t struggling at all, anymore. It started its own last journey, floating downstream.
As the waves subsided, Mike released Sadad and Bethel and started bellowing for Moira and Jill. Like a magic trick, Jill swam up to the raft. She still had Lexington. Mike took Lexington from her and deposited him on the raft to chatter with the other small sailors.
One good thing about the waves was that they had pushed us closer to New Jersey, if being pushed to New Jersey can ever be considered a good thing. None of us discussed it, but Jill and I started weakly kicking again. We felt the loss of Moira keenly, but we had to get out of the water.