Dawn was slowly approaching and the jungle hummed with life. In contrast to the river above, the body of water below was calm and slow flowing. The balloon lay motionless in the middle of it, waterlogged and lodged firmly in the mud just off the bank of the much more peaceful river below the falls.
Through some miracle, the velocity of their fall had forced air to fill the limp balloon again, which eased their fall just enough to allow Jeanette to reach Simon and Brittany, who seemed much more keen to climb back into the basket. Their landing had been rough but they were alive.
The balloon canvas had covered them once again like a humongous, overbearing blanket. Simon was the first to come to his senses and he groaned as he tried to lift himself up from his laying position at the bottom of the basket. He gasped as he realized water was filling the space once again and was coming dangerously high enough to engulf anyone who was still lying down. "Wake up," he managed in a cracking voice, reaching out to feel for his brother and his friends. Jeanette and Theodore stirred and let out similarly agonizing groans before they pulled themselves up to a sitting position.
"Oh..." Jeanette sighed, shivering and rubbing her arms when she finally came to and realized their situation. It was pitch black, cold, and very wet, but the sound of Simon's voice was a comfort. "Is everyone all right?"
Simon went to work trying to push the balloon off from the top of the basket to shed light on their situation and also to free them from their watery prison. Jeanette stood up and came to his aid. Theodore sat half consciously against the side of the basket, afraid to move or speak. Simon and Jeanette finally heaved the weight of the canvas off and over the container. It was enough to create an opening for them to peer out. The two of them cried out in shock as Brittany suddenly, seeming out of nowhere, catapulted out of the basket and splashed down into the river. Like a bat out of heck, she tried desperately to swim to shore.
"Brittany, wait!" Simon yelled indignantly after her, and then touched his face, realizing his glasses weren't there. "Oh no..."
"Here, Simon," Jeanette said quickly, reaching down into the watery basket and fishing out a pair of worn, but otherwise in tact spectacles. She handed them to Simon who let out a deep sigh of relief.
"Thanks, Jeanette," he nodded as he slipped them back onto his nose. "Let's get out of here." He held his hand out to her and helped her climb over the wall of the basket. "Wait for me. I'm going to get Theodore and Eleanor."
Jeanette plopped down into the cold river with an "oop!" and watched as Brittany struggled to swim to land. "Brittany, stop! Ohhh... Please hurry Simon!"
Simon waded back through the basket and reached down to his brother, picking him up slowly and gently. "Come on, Theodore," Simon coaxed, feeling his brother shake uncontrollably. "You're going to be OK. Everything going to be fine." Simon tried to fill his words with confidence; uncertainty had to take a backseat until he could secure everyone's safety.
"Ellie! Where's Ellie?" Theodore whined, flailing meekly in Simon's grasp as he looked around for his sweetheart.
He was treated to a faint voice in response. "I'm here," Eleanor replied, slowly picking herself up and pushing her way out from the corner of the basket. Her pigtails were soaked and her Egyptian garments barely constituted as clothing anymore, but she was all right.
"Are you hurt, Eleanor?" Simon urged, holding out his other arm to her for support.
"No, I'm OK. What about you two?" she continued, sliding her arm around Simon as he pulled them both towards the side of the basket where Jeanette stood waiting.
"We're a little shaken up but everyone seems all right. We've got to get out of here and find Alvin."
Without further discussion, Simon aided Eleanor and Theodore up and over the basket wall before climbing out himself. They all formed a chain of held hands to pull each other through the river towards the shore. When they finally made it to land, Simon ran up to Brittany who had collapsed not far away in the mud from exhaustion.
"Alvin..." she whimpered, trying to claw her way back to her feet.
Simon knelt down and held onto the girl who coughed violently and spit out a bit of water. "Brittany, are you hurt?"
"N-no. A-Alvin," She sputtered, grabbing onto Simon's shoulders and shaking him.
"I'm going to find him. Stay here and rest," Simon declared, sitting Brittany down in the soggy mud and standing up again.
"I'm going with you," Eleanor announced, limping up behind him. Simon opened his mouth but she cut him off. "Jeanette will stay and take care of Brittany and Theodore. Let's go find Alvin." Before Simon could protest, Eleanor was hobbling purposefully up the beach.
Simon rubbed the back of his neck painfully and groaned as he started to follow her. He turned to yell back, "Don't go anywhere! Stay right here!"
Without further exchange, the two of them disappeared up the bank.
"Wait…" Brittany whined softly, coughing again before she could say any more. She tried to stand but wobbled and fell back into the mud on her behind.
Jeanette trekked over to her with Theodore in tow. "Easy, Brittany. Just sit down and rest." She took a seat beside her sister and held onto Theodore's hand, tugging gently to get him to sit down.
Theodore was shivering violently and he looked simply terrified as he clung to Jeanette's arm, plopping himself down into the cold mud. He had lost his tribal headdress in the watery ordeal, but was still clad in the sopping wet robe and animal skin skivvies. He whimpered pitiably and nuzzled his nose against Jeanette's bare arm. "J-Jeanette… Is Alvin OK?"
Jeanette tried to comfort the jittery boy by holding him close and rubbing his side. "Simon and Eleanor will find him, Theodore. Don't you worry. Are you hurt?"
Theodore looked up at her, his eyes still filled with a mixture of river water and tears. "N-no. I-I want Dave… and Simon and Alvin…"
"I know," Jeanette said softly, her voice cracking. "Just close your eyes. Everything is going to be OK." She closed her own eyes tightly, her tears squeezing out as she tried to remain brave and calm for her sister and her friend. She held them both close as they all continued to shiver and cough.
An eternity seemed to pass but the three of them did as Simon instructed and stayed put. Theodore continued to shiver and wheeze, unable to rest easy in the cold and wet as he lay limply against Jeanette's right side. Brittany had been rocking herself slowly in a sort of half-sleeping trance. Jeanette remained ever vigilant, praying that Simon and Eleanor would return soon with their missing companion.
"So c-cold..." Jeanette chattered to herself as she gently pulled Theodore and Brittany closer to share whatever body heat any of them had left. She gently rested her cheek against Theodore's forehead. He mumbled someone's name incoherently as he stirred against her. If Brittany was awake and aware of what was going on, she expressed no evidence of it. She simply sat with her eyes closed and her hands hugged around her legs, resting her weight against Jeanette's shoulder. Theodore suddenly let out a mighty sneeze, startling the two Chipettes into awareness.
"Sowwy," Theodore sniffled, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand.
"It's OK, Theodore," Jeanette assured him, shifting her weight in an attempt to lift both Theodore and Brittany to a sitting position. "I'm going to look for some wood for a fire. We're going to freeze and catch cold if the sun doesn't hurry up and rise. Brittany?" She managed to stand up and she placed a hand on her sister's shoulder. "Sit close with Theodore. I'll just be up on the beach there."
"But Jeanette... Simon said..." Brittany trailed off before she finished, realizing she never usually paid attention to Simon's mandates or suggestions, but now she really wanted to follow his orders. "He told us to stay here."
"I know, but Theodore's so cold. He might get sick. I'll be right back." Without further explanation or ado, Jeanette trekked up the muddy bank towards the tree line not far away.
Brittany didn't have the breath or energy to yell at her sister as she usually did, so she merely sighed and looked over to the chipmunk beside her. Theodore tried to stop shivering as he sensed Jeanette was putting herself in danger because of him, but he could not help it. Brittany's expression softened as she watched the boy, and she scooted over towards him. Wordlessly, she offered her comfort by sliding her arm around him and adjusting the sopping wet robe around his shoulder. "There there," she simply said in an uncharacteristic motherly tone. Theodore nuzzled against her gratefully. Brittany sighed and looked off into the direction Simon and Eleanor had gone. "Oh Alvin… Where are you?"
Not long after, Jeanette had thankfully found several pieces of dry wood. She began collecting it, but didn't dare bring it down toward the muddy shore for risk of getting it wet. Having accumulated a decent stack, she strode back down toward the river to check on Brittany and Theodore.
Brittany had returned to her semi-aware state while Theodore had fallen fast asleep against here. "Any sign of them...?" Jeanette managed to ask in barely over a whisper. Brittany did not respond, but then finally shook her head solemnly.
Jeanette hung her head and sniffled away a few tears as she turned to look at Theodore who was shivering in his sleep. She moved around the two and sat beside Theodore, and gently stroked his shoulder. She looked up when she heard splashing sounds in the distance. A huge smile suddenly fell across her lips. "Brittany, look!"
Brittany peeled her tear-stained face away from her sister's side and she looked towards the river. Simon was struggling but in his arms he carried his brother Alvin slowly through the water. Eleanor was a few paces behind and she looked utterly flushed.
"Alvin, Simon, Eleanor!" Brittany cried out, pulling herself up to her feet and running out towards the others. Jeanette quickly held onto Theodore as Brittany threw herself into the water unabatedly, and she carefully laid the boy down as he was still fast asleep. Once ensuring his wellbeing, Jeanette hurried after her sister. They splashed across the river with huge smiles on their faces until they drew closer to their returning siblings. Their already rosy cheeks turned bright red and they looked up at Simon in embarrassment.
Simon knew this would be their reaction, but he didn't have time to explain. "Watch out, I have to get Alvin to level ground." And with that, he brushed by them and hefted his brother toward the shore.
Brittany and Jeanette turned as red as Eleanor and looked to their sister in discomfiture. "He ah... lost his er… undies in the river... it seems," Eleanor peeped, hurrying along after Simon. "And his hat, too."
Alvin without his hat was always a bizarre sight, but Alvin completely naked was something the girls were subjected to even less often. After Brittany and Jeanette got over the initial shock, they snapped back into awareness and sloshed through the water after their sister.
"Is Alvin OK?" Brittany demanded, catching up to Simon but staying out of eyeshot of the boy in his arms.
Simon nodded and shifted his weight carefully, trying to get a better hold on his brother as he approached Theodore. "He's alive. Theodore?" Simon gave his little brother a concerned look as he knelt down to place Alvin carefully onto the ground beside him.
Theodore let out a little moan and woke up slowly, lifting his face out of the mud. "Huh…? What's happening?"
The Chipettes circled around the boys and sat down cautiously, trying to keep their eyes on Simon and Theodore while fighting the urge to look at Alvin to see if he was really all right. "Theodore, Alvin's here," Simon announced, placing his hand gently on Theodore's arm.
"Alvin!" Theodore cried gleefully, snapping into awareness. He pulled himself up and knelt beside his brothers, blinking a few times in confusion. "Where're his clothes?"
Simon held his hand palm-up to Theodore. "He lost them in the river. Theodore, I hate to ask this, but could I borrow your robe? We need to cover Alvin's er… we have to warm him up."
Theodore nodded immediately and started fighting his way out of his wet garb, pulling it up over his head. The girls continued to blush and didn't know where to look anymore. "Where did you find him? Why isn't he awake?" Brittany finally demanded, looking between Simon and Eleanor quizzically.
Simon draped the robe over Alvin's midsection and legs and leaned over him in further inspection. "He was in the river at the base of the waterfall."
Jeanette and Brittany gasped and looked at each other, then back to Simon. "He fell from all the way up there?" Brittany cried, leaning up on her knees and moving closer to Alvin.
Eleanor and Jeanette moved in too now that it was safe to stare at Alvin again, and Eleanor gazed at the boy closely. "It seems that way. Luckily there were no rocks that I saw, and he only seems to have a few bruises on his back. We tried to wake him; he's unconscious, but he's got a pulse." Simon took Alvin's hand and squeezed it as if to double check his diagnosis.
"Oh Alvin," Theodore whimpered, placing a cold hand on Alvin's equally cold cheek. "I'm so happy you're back…"
"He needs CPR," Eleanor urged suddenly, glaring at Simon intently. "He isn't breathing anymore! Look!"
"What?" everyone gasped in unison. Simon moved Theodore's hand out of the way and held his fingers below Alvin's nose and over his mouth. Another inspection of Alvin's chest would reveal that it was neither rising nor falling anymore.
"Hurry!" Eleanor cried, moving up toward Alvin's head in the mud.
Simon was shaking as he held his hands on his brother's chest. Sure, Simon knew each principle of resuscitation and could draw you a diagram of the procedure. But when faced with the task of putting it into practice with his brother's life on the line, he faltered. "I... I..."
"I'll do it! Out of the way, please!" Eleanor politely demanded, butting Simon aside with her shoulder as she leaned over Alvin. Theodore huddled against Simon's back as he peeked around, praying that Alvin was going to be all right.
Brittany and Jeanette watched in awe as Eleanor took charge of saving Alvin's life. They knew their little sister was amazing but her courage alone left them breathless.
Eleanor slid a hand onto Alvin's chest and rested it there for a moment, feeling for his heartbeat. She proceeded to hold his nose with her free hand and placed her lips around his. Brittany blinked several times, as if she had just recalled what CPR entailed. She squeezed Jeanette's hand tightly and Jeanette squeezed back, but for a different reason.
Simon made some sort of a stifled moaning sound that expressed his nervousness as Eleanor forced air into his brother's lungs. Theodore hugged his arms around Simon's torso and squeezed him tight. The Chipette lifted her lips from Alvin's and positioned her hands over his chest. "One... two... three..." she counted softly as she pressed firmly against Alvin's sternum.
"Alvin... wake up..." Brittany insisted in a whimpering voice as she clung snugly to Jeanette.
After a moment had passed, Alvin still lay motionless in the mud. Everyone began to panic but Eleanor stayed calm and focused, lowering her face to his again. "Come on, Alvin..."
"Alvin! Don't die!" Theodore wailed, throwing himself towards Eleanor and his brother, but Simon grabbed a hold of him and hugged him securely. Tears began streaming down Brittany and Jeanette's cheeks. Brittany's weight was leaning heavily in Alvin and Eleanor's direction, and Jeanette had to hold her sister back in a similar way as Simon was doing to Theodore.
Eleanor breathed deeply against Alvin's mouth and suddenly pulled back when she felt a jolt of movement underneath her. Alvin's limp body tensed up and he started coughing and retching violently. "Alvin!" everyone cried in unison and they all moved in close. Eleanor and Simon put their arms behind Alvin's shoulders and forced him into a sitting position so that he wouldn't choke. The waterlogged boy regurgitated an appalling amount of river water which more or less splashed all over everyone, but nobody cared. Eleanor patted Alvin briskly on the back as he continued to cough and gasp for air. When it seemed as though he had found his breath, everyone jumped on him and embraced in a monstrous group hug.
"Alvin, you're OK!" Theodore trilled mirthfully as he squeezed Alvin's right arm like a teddy bear.
Simon hugged onto Alvin's upper right torso and Eleanor rubbed the boy's back comfortingly as she felt him cough a few more times. Jeanette wiped her tears away and smiled happily as she patted Alvin's left leg. Brittany was nearly choking the boy again as she clung to his entire left side and nuzzled her nose against his neck.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid Alvin!" came her angry words of comfort as she squeezed him.
"Give him some air, guys," Eleanor pleaded as she continued to pat Alvin's back. They finally obeyed and release Alvin from their grasps. They all sat up and looked imploringly at Alvin who looked positively disoriented.
He gazed around at all of the smiling faces and let out another cough. He opened his mouth to speak but no sound came out.
"Alvin," Simon began, rubbing Alvin's right shoulder to get his attention. "Are you all right now? You had us all terrified."
Alvin attempted to say something, but it was only barely audible as a water-speckled wheeze. He gave a look of sheer confusion and held his hand up to his throat.
"Eleanor administered CPR and saved your life!" Simon continued, beaming with gratitude at the Chipette beside him.
Alvin blinked weakly and looked around. Eleanor scooted around to Brittany's side so Alvin could see her. "I'm so glad you're OK, Alvin!"
"Wha?" Alvin managed in barely a whisper as he stared at her in paled recognition. He suddenly appeared as though he would fall over and everyone's arms reached out to steady him.
"He needs rest," Jeanette offered. "I-I can try to start a fire. That robe is soaking wet; it won't help poor Alvin get warm. He'll catch a cold," Jeanette offered.
"We all will at this rate. Good idea Jeanette," Simon agreed with a nod as they all set Alvin in a steady sitting position again. "We'll need some dry wood and some safe shelter." He stood up and adjusted his glasses. "You girls stay here with Alvin and Theodore. I'll go find some tinder and some flint."
"I've already gotten the wood," Jeanette informed him, standing up and wiping the mud off of her backside. "It's just up by the tree line. It should be enough to start a small fire, but it's just so wet down here."
Simon nodded, surprised that Jeanette had taken the initiative to gather survival materials.
"Where in this miserable jungle are we going to find a safe place?" Brittany suddenly whined to get the subject back on track before Simon and Jeanette could leave.
"Wh-what about the balloon?" Theodore offered hesitantly, clinging to Alvin's arm again.
"We'd have to fish it out of the water first," Eleanor reported bleakly as she studied the dark bruises on Alvin's upper back.
"That is going to be a lot of work," Simon hypothesized, tapping his chin with a finger thoughtfully and glancing to Jeanette. "We'll need some tools and all our strength to generate enough leverage to combat the water resistance and- Alvin wait!"
They were too distracted by their conversation to notice that Alvin was struggling to his feet. The cloth draped over his hips slipped off as he stood and the girls screamed and covered their eyes.
"Ohh..." Simon sighed and slapped his forehead, watching as Theodore scrambled to pick up his 'Prince of Plenty' garb and pulled it around Alvin's waist again.
"Wha...?" Alvin gurgled inaudibly, still not fully aware of what was happening or why his voice wasn't working properly.
"Alvin..." Theodore whispered, his cheeks turning red as the girls cowered in embarrassment. "You have to wear this, you're... nakie underneath!"
Alvin sputtered out another garbled response, absently taking the robe from Theodore and inspecting himself.
"Alvin, put the stupid robe on!" Brittany squeaked, peeping through her fingers to see if it was safe to look.
Simon shuffled back to the others and took the garment from his brother and tied it around Alvin's waist. "That will have to do for now. For the time being, let's just move up to the drier part of the beach and start a fire. Then we can get some sleep and afterward figure out how to get the balloon out of the river."
The six of them collected themselves and trekked up the beach to dry sand. Simon and Jeanette went searching for something to start a fire with, while Eleanor, Theodore, Brittany, and Alvin took a seat around the piled wood.
"Easy does it, Alvin," Eleanor instructed as she and Theodore helped Alvin take a seat in the sand. "You're lucky to be alive."
"Thanks to you, Eleanor," Theodore smiled, reaching out to pat Eleanor's arm.
Eleanor blushed and held onto Theodore's hand. "If Simon hadn't found him so soon, who knows what would have happened."
Brittany sat miserably in the sand, relieved that Alvin was all right, but worn out, cold, uncomfortable, and scared. She wanted Alvin to say something, especially since she had poured her heart out over him. The least he could do would be to say how wonderful she was for caring. She drummed her fingers on her knee as Theodore and Eleanor doted on him.
"Alvin, does this hurt?" Eleanor asked, taking her free hand and patting his bruised back. Alvin cringed and nodded fervently. "You're really lucky you weren't hurt worse than this. You must be really strong," she added with a giggle in hopes that Alvin would feel better with a boost to his ego.
Brittany's eyebrow twitched. It was bad enough that Eleanor had her lips all over Alvin's moments ago, but now she was flirting with him? And at a time like this?
"Come over here with us, Brittany," Eleanor suddenly offered, holding her hand out to her sister. "We have to stay warm till Simon and Jeanette come back."
Brittany begrudgingly complied and scooted back over to the others. They all huddled close and leaned against one another. Alvin continued to sputter incoherently. His voice just couldn't make it past his throat but no one seemed to notice he was trying to communicate.
Some time passed and Simon and Jeanette returned with various stones and twigs. The arranged the tinder and proceeded to take turns trying different methods of igniting the wood. A long time passed and they were still unsuccessful. Theodore and Alvin had long since drifted to sleep when Jeanette let out a squeak of victory as a sparks finally flew from the two stones she was hitting together. The sparks landed on the wood pile and simmered stubbornly on the surface. Simon moved in and blew on them and prodded them with a stick until they gave in and began to burn. It took another long while of coaxing but they finally elicited some flames.
Worn out but finally warm, they all collapsed onto the sand. Like a newborn litter of puppies, they threw away any inhibitions and snuggled close against one another in a big group cuddle, finally settling down for a much needed sleep in the unfriendly wilderness.