A group of young people descend into the Zion Narrows for the adventure of a lifetime. Soon, however, the churning water and vertical cliffs create a torture chamber. Clinging to what they can, the small band finds refuge on a ledge where they wait for their delivery or doom - knowing things could go either way.
Truth stranger than fiction?No, in this case it's fiction as strange as truth.
"No Way Out," a popular young adult novel by Utah author Ivy Ruckman, was published by Harper-Collins back in 1988 to national acclaim. It was the story of young people in the grips of terror. The recent true-life tragedy took place above the Narrows at Kolob Creek - an even more wicked stretch - but when I opened Ruckman's novel this morning and began reading, there was no mistaking the feeling:
A yell from upstream swung Amy around the other way. A black figure was tumbling in the water like driftwood, flailing and bobbing toward her. Rick! Amy ran straight into the water, grabbing a handful of brush at the edge.
The current tore at her legs, but she willed herself to reach him, willed her arm to grow longer, longer. He was trying to swim, his arms, chopping across the current. Somehow he snagged a footing, lunged. She let go of the brush to meet him. He grabbed the light and his weight swung her around down-stream.
"I've got you," she screamed. "Hang on!" He did, and they stumbled back into the shallows, onto the sand, where he collapsed in her arms - shaking and choking. She held him there against her. She kissed his hair, his ear, so glad to have him safe she couldn't speak.
Then Rick was pulling away and the words exploded from his mouth like sobs. "Couldn't get there - God! - It's hopeless. . . !"
As Amy's insides collapsed, every scrap of reason disappeared. She grabbed a handful of T-shirt and started yanking him around, crying and hitting. "You left him there? You just left him?"
I called the author of that passage this morning to find out her feelings about the tragedy at Kolob Creek.
"Actually, I've been worried all spring about that Zion Narrows area," she said. "High water down there always makes me worry."
She said her book was based on an incident in 1965 when her neighbor and a group of 26 went through the Narrows. Ivy was supposed to go along, but she couldn't find a babysitter. Lucky her. The trip turned into a nightmare.
"I watched them prepare and talk about the trip," she says. "When they were down there, the rain started and I heard on the national news about the flooding. I knew they were in trouble, but it was like little Jessica in the bottom of the well. For three days we didn't hear a thing.
"When the group finally came out, news organizations were everywhere - UPI, AP, even Sports Illustrated. I remember my friend talking about the extreme cold. And I remember the incredible detail. They talked about finding a hard-boiled egg in the sand. About a package of Jell-O - right down to the flavor and how the box looked. They remembered everything."
Over the past couple of days Ivy Ruckman has been remembering, too. Writing fiction means actually living the events as you describe them. And hearing the harrowing tales coming out of the Kolob Creek has given her flashbacks of her own.
"I visited the area and have a sense of what it must be like to be trapped on one of those ledges," she says. "It's frightening. I just hope other people will be careful."