Trip of a Lifetime
And Nothing Hurt
November 4, 2003
A Note to the Reader
Some months back, in the final
chapter of "Trip of a Lifetime," our long-running serial novel, Ed and
Brenna crossed the St. Lawrence River in the dead of night, heading home at
last. It wasn't quite the happy return they'd been looking forward to,
though, and some readers wondered if it was really the end of the story.
Well, it was, but life goes on, even after the last word is on the page. So
if you, too, would like to know what happened to Ed, Brenna, and the rest
of the gang, read on.
A REMINDER This is a work of fiction. All the characters are
figments of the authors' imaginations. If you need to refresh your memory
or if you want to follow the story from the beginning, just use the
hot-linked title to go to the In the Same Boat Archives. It's all
And now, here's the
Brenna sat down at the desk. The computer
monitor's cold glow cast the only light in the room. Outside, Scapegoat
Mountain towered over the wooded valley. In the deepening Montana twilight,
the mountain's massive east face was a featureless black wall, the
spring-fed lake at its foot no more than an inky pool. A narrow stream
flowed lazily out of the lake. High overhead, silhouetted against the
cobalt-blue sky, a lone bald eagle made languid loops, following the
murmuring water as it meandered through the valley.
A gentle breeze set the gingham curtain in the open window dancing. From
a nearby stand of Engelmann spruce came the unmistakable churrrr of
a short-tempered red squirrel. Nearer still, horses snorted and stamped.
But then a spasm of pain shot up her arm. She stopped typing and closed
her eyes, willing the agony to stop. Suddenly, without warning, she was
back in the water
She was swimming blind, forcing herself to keep going, to hang on, to
ignore the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. She knew only one thing
now: she was going home, and she was damned if she was going to leave Ed
Blossoms of light appeared on the high, dark bank muzzle flashes,
Brenna realized. Between flashes, there was only blackness. Ed's
unresponsive body seemed to get heavier by the minute. Brenna pulled him
along in her wake. His life jacket held him on the surface, but that was
all. Was he breathing? Brenna didn't know. She only knew she had to get
ashore, fast. The numbness in her right arm had gone as quickly as it
struck, to be followed by a searing pain. Still, her grip on Ed's collar
never slackened. With her good arm she stroked hard toward the riverbank.
A hand snaked over her right shoulder and across her chest. She found
herself moving faster. Effortlessly. A familiar voice sounded in her ear:
"It is me, Brenna." Sergei! Together the two of them swam toward shore,
tugging Ed behind them.
After what felt like a very long time, Brenna's butt struck rock. Hard.
She realized they'd made it. But when she turned her head, Sergei had
already gone. So Brenna dragged Ed out of the water alone. Her arm was on
fire now. Ignoring the pain, she bent over Ed, hoping to
something. Anything. A mumbled word. A groan. The sound of
labored breathing. But she heard none of these things. Nothing at all. And
then she realized the hand that had gripped Ed's collar was sticky.
The jet of flame in Brenna's arm flickered and died as suddenly as it
had flared up. She opened her eyes, flexed her fingers cautiously, and then
Hope you and Molly are both well, and that you haven't had second
thoughts about taking the Book Locker off our hands. For our part, we're
delighted to be in Montana, though in truth I think that Sergei and Pavel
could have hired better help for a lot less. I'm glad they didn't try too
And speaking of Sergei and Pavel, both of them say "Howdy!" They're very
busy getting the ranch up and running, but they seem to be loving every
minute of it. It must be costing them a fortune. They haven't said where
the money's coming from. I think we can guess, though. (Sergei says that
the people who tell you "Crime doesn't pay" are just unsuccessful
criminals. I suspect he's right.) Anyway, working capital doesn't appear to
be a problem. I can't begin to tell you all their plans for the place, but
I guess it'll end up as dude ranch and art school combined. In any case,
our friends don't mind the endless hard work. Pavel's even found time for a
girlfriend. Her name's Minaku, and she keeps joking that Pavel's "gone
native." Maybe he has, at least a little Minaku's a Blackfoot, after
all but whatever he's done, it certainly seems to agree with him. No
surprise, really. The Avars and the Blackfoot have a lot in common,
including a love of horses.
Sergei, on the other hand, is writing his memoirs (!), painting, and
drawing. I don't know when he finds the time, either, but he does. He's
been encouraging me to start painting again, too, and I have. It's pretty
slow going, however. Painting seems to make the pain in my arm worse.
And then, as if waiting for this cue, a flame of pain licked from her
hand to her elbow. She closed her eyes once more, and once again she was
back by the river.
The firing from the top of the bank had stopped. Sergei and Pavel had
not returned. Brenna unzipped Ed's life jacket and pressed her ear against
his chest. Blood smeared her cheek. It was coming from a wound in Ed's
neck, she decided, but it was dribbling out and not spurting. And Ed's
heart was beating. He was alive! Just as she raised her head, a
spluttering, strangled cough came from the direction of the water. Then a
voice shrill, imploring: "Shaddap, you old fart! You want to get us
Joe's voice, Brenna realized, relieved. Then Joe himself,
kneeling beside her. "Got to get Jack to the hospital," he whispered,
gesturing toward a prostrate, barely visible form. "On the Rez." He paused,
taking in the scene before him. "And Ed, too.
Look here, Brenna.
We're not far from my boathouse. It's just you and me, but we can do it.
Float the two of 'em in the shallows and pull 'em along. Once we're
opposite the boathouse, Matt'll pick us up. That's the quickest way. Now
So they went. And somehow, they did it.
Brenna shook her head to chase the image of the riverbank away. She
started typing again:
But that's enough about my aches and pains. I'm the lucky one. The
flashbacks are the worst thing they come without warning, sort of
like waking nightmares but both Sergei and Ed tell me not to worry.
They say they'll pass. And they should know, I guess. I imagine you're no
stranger to them, either. So I'm in good company. As for my arm, it was, as
they say, only a flesh wound. But you know all this, anyway, don't you?
Ed's had a much worse time of it. I think he's turned the corner at
last, though. It still hurts him to talk, but that hasn't stopped him from
telling everybody just what it is that he and George Orwell have in common
both of them were shot in the neck and lived to tell the story. He's
fishing again, too, and paddling a little pack canoe on the lake, not to
mention riding a mountain bike along the trails whenever he gets a chance.
(He won't get on a horse. Says he doesn't want to impose. Some ranch hand,
Well, that's all the news from Lake Scapegoat. And I'm afraid I've got
to go. The days really are getting shorter. When the sun drops behind the
mountain it's like somebody turned the lights out. We've got our first
paying customers coming in next week Sergei keeps referring to them
as "volunteers for the gulag"; I'll have to talk to him about that!
and I've got to go over the menus with Pavel and the kitchen staff. Ed
needs to use the computer, anyway. He's keeping the ranch accounts now.
(God help us.)
Take care! We're looking forward to seeing you both in December.
Sergei's just finished the cabin you'll be staying in. He calls it the
"honeymoon suite" and it's got the biggest fireplace I've ever seen. For
the first time since I was kid, I can't wait for Christmas. Bet you can't,
With all our love,
PS Nearly forgot. Thanks for the clippings. We never listen to the news
here. It's almost a house rule. When one of the staff turns on a radio
during a news broadcast, Sergei shuts it off right away, muttering
something in Russian. I asked him what it meant one day, and he raised his
eyebrows in that way he has and then said, "God is high above, and the Czar
is far away." And he winked. Anyway, it's funny how the "Independence Day
attack" turned out to be an earthquake after all, isn't it? Poor old
Professor Scarlotti. I wonder if he'll ever get his job back? And they
think Lesserson Null is in Cuba now?! Well, maybe. Just as long as he stays
away from Montana.
Glad to hear the border's getting back to normal. Give our love to Joe
and all our other friends on the Rez. I don't think we can ever repay them
for what they did for us.
Brenna sent the letter off into the aether, stood up, stretched, and
went over to the window. The pain in her arm was no more than a nagging
ache now. She looked out. In the east, the waning moon was just visible
above the horizon. Somewhere up in the mountains, a coyote howled. Brenna
breathed deep, drinking in the heady perfume of horses and pine forest. She
smiled. Then she left the office to find where Ed had got to. From the main
hall, she heard Sergei's deep voice, singing a song she thought she'd heard
before. It certainly wasn't a Top Forty hit. In fact, it sounded like it
was very, very old. But it had a catchy tune. She stopped at the head of
the staircase to listen.
Courage, boys, 'tis one to ten,
But we return all gentlemen,
All gentlemen as well as they,
Over the hills and far away.
Over the Hills and O'er the Main,
To Flanders, Portugal and Spain,
The queen commands and we'll obey
Over the Hills and far away.
After a minute, she hurried along to look for Ed. She was no longer
Copyright © 2003 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights