Pain overtook his body and eventually his mind. His arms held, but the moment overwhelmed his consciousness. Where’s George… Another sharp pain crisscrossed Osley’s shoulder blades and briefly shook him back into the moment. The cracking of bridgeboards popped in his ears like firecrackers, like gunfire, like a fist on a tight, leather punching bag. One loud, then two quick breaks. One, two, three and the far end of the bridge was lost. And, because of his fixation on the sagging bridge, Osley was the first to see her, the lone mother in a pale yellow dress, skirt soaked, who had never taken her eyes off her son. Her arms wrapped her bent knees tightly as she rocked on the edge of the bank sobbing. She sat apart from the rest of the crowd. He counted the scouts again. Though he didn’t even know how many he was counting, his gut ached sensing that they were one short. He waded to the riverbank. “Ma’m, I think it’s all okay now. The local rescue squad will be here soon to check out the boys.” “You don’t understand,” she sobbed. “I can’t swim. I can’t swim.” She lifted her swollen, seeping eyes to meet his. “I can’t swim!” The young mother pointed downstream to a large rock protruding from in the middle of the Oconaluftee. Crucified atop, was a small, soaked boy, motionless. “My son.” The mother’s tears drowned her words. “My son.” Her head dropped between her bent knees. The trembling mother already knew that he was lost. She had seen his fall when the others had not. She never saw him move again. When she tried to breach the river, it swung her like a wet rag, barely releasing her in time to fumble to the slick bank. “Someone pulled me back. Why didn’t they save him?” She looked to Osley for this answer. Unable to provide one, he left the mother and swam to retrieve her son. The river was rough and wreckage made it nearly impossible to take the most direct route. Looking for the hero of the day, the half-relieved, half-desperate parents on the other bank saw Osley struggling in the river, one arm useless to him, and recognized for the first time, the object of his intent. A flood of men, women, and scouts, rushed the water and helped to deliver the boy’s body to his mother. Osley cradled the tiny boy’s head in the crook of his arm, determined to not let it dip below the water’s surface again. The medics confirmed fifteen minutes later what everyone at the riverbanks already knew. Osley collapsed onto his back in the sandy mud. His shoulder throbbed, but he couldn’t feel any physical pain. If his body moved, he was not aware of it. The last thing he would remember for several hours would be the only thing in vertical sight, his weather-worn rickety sign: chief sololoneet’s trading post. n BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE The relentless rains from the previous night’s thunderstorm had forced the river into a gurgling bubble of rapids, muddy with no visible bottom. It was not entirely the water’s force that threatened the boys; it was the height to which they dangled on the other end of the bridge and jagged rocks dotting the Luftee below. It was the suffocating force of the bridge trapping their bodies in the water should Osley released his grip. And of course, there was the undertow. What if they slipped? “Go! I’ve got you!” How could I have built such a thing? One of his greatest joys had been to watch as that bridge, the only of its kind in the southeast, was erected by a crew from Tennessee, just before the Trading Post opened. It was an attraction he had advertised on his postcards from the very beginning. Now it swayed in the river like a lost tee shirt. His great pride bobbing in the Oconaluftee. 83 The old men who had whispered through weathered lips as the bridge was erected had been right. Osley should have used local craftsmen on the job, the ones who knew the potentials and limits of indigenous wood between their fingers. Instead he had used a “certified crew,” one the bia had approved, recommended even. Not a Cherokee among them.