Trip of a Lifetime
End of the Trail
By Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest
A Note to the Reader
It's April 1st, 2001. Ed, Brenna, and the rest of the "April
Fools" have eaten lunch, and the Battenkill shakedown cruise is
drawing to a close. As the end of the day approaches, Ed and Brenna
are worrying that their "Trip of a Lifetime" might already be coming
unstuck. Could they be right?
A reminder: This is a work of fiction. Ed and Brenna's
Battenkill isn't exactly like the real thing, and this article is
not a river guide. If you're planning to paddle the real
Battenkill, get a copy of the AMC River Guide or some equally
authoritative volume. 'Nuff said.
January 23, 2001
A perfect day, indeed! Sunlight bathed
the valley and the surrounding hills. The four canoes continued on
downstream. Playing the river was now forgotten as Ed, Brenna, and the
others strove to avoid the lines and lures of fishermen. In the chutes
above every pool, anglers struggled to hold their own against the
steady shove of the Battenkill's high-water current. This was New
York's "trophy section." Only artificial lures were permitted, and
most of the anglers had light spinning tackle. A few determined
fly-fishermen cast weighted nymphs, dreaming, no doubt, of low water
and the Baetis hatches to come.
But there were no Blue-Winged Olives in sight. Only high, cold,
swirling water. Paddling in line, the canoeists ferried from side to
side, hoping to slip between each angler and the bank. Relations
between canoeists and fishermen were never good on the Battenkill.
Today, however, was worse than most. Opening Day of trout season! Ed
cursed his stupidity in picking this day, of all days, for their
Still, things went well enough at first. Most of the fisherman
ignored the paddlers gliding by behind them. A few, remembering narrow
escapes from flotillas of out-of-control livery boats during the
summer months, recognized the canoeists' skill and turned to nod their
Then Fenris began to howl. Her tranquilizer was wearing off. Linda
Carney, still paddling in the bow of Brick's boat, made a few
perfunctory attempts to quiet the animal, but without success. Soon
she stopped trying. Fenris continued to howl. Worse yet, the
wolf-hybrid now greeted each fisherman with a snarl. Brick fumed
silently. A few startled anglers yelled epithets at the backs of the
An Irish setter appeared on shore. Seeing it, Fenris tried to leap
into the water. Brick executed a desperate brace, holding his paddle
in one hand and grabbing for Fenris' collar with the other. He kept
her in the boatbut only just. Several gallons of water slopped
over the gunwale as it dipped below the surface. Fenris lunged again,
snapping at Brick's restraining arm. She howled even more loudly.
Linda stared ahead, apparently unconscious of the struggle going on
behind her. The Dagger yawed awkwardly. A fisherman scrambled to get
out of the way, dropping into a hole and plunging over the top of his
waders. Shivering and swearing, he struck out for the shallows.
Seconds later, a grapefruit-sized cobble flew through the air, missing
the boat by inches. The splash caught Brick square in the back of the
Ken was now paddling furiously to get ahead of the Dagger. "Goddamn
dog!" he shouted at Linda. "An animal like that's got no place on a
Linda, grim-faced, flipped Ken the bird. "Get a life!" she
retorted. From several canoe lengths back, Ed and Pete exchanged
The Route 313 bridge loomed up before them. Soon the Battenkill was
winding westward through farm fields, keeping close company with a
succession of town roads. The weir they'd scouted that morning wasn't
far ahead. Ed and Brenna now took the lead, with the other boats
following at intervals of a hundred feet or so. Just above weir, Ed
lined the Tripper up. Then he and Brenna back-paddled. They drifted
slowly down, still perfectly aligned with the flow of the river as it
washed over the low dam. With a sudden, sickening plunge, their bow
dropped into the heaving backwash below the weir, settling deep into
the frothy water. It rose slowly. Brenna reached forward, digging her
paddle into the face of the towering, backward-breaking wave that
threatened to fill the boat. Ed followed her lead, checking the boat's
tendency to roll back into the trough with a single, strong pry.
Within seconds, the Tripper was up and over the big wave. Ed and
Brenna then paddled hard, driving the Tripper toward the bank
Safe in the shore eddy, facing upstream, Brenna watched the others
come down one at a time, a throw-bag ready in her hand. Ed untied the
bailer and scooped up the water they'd taken in over the bow. There
When Pete and Karin's green Explorer came safely
throughtheirs was the last boatBrenna exhaled sharply and
turned round to Ed. "Nice job of scouting!" she said. "If that
reversal'd extended even a couple of feet farther, we'd all be
Ed nodded agreement, and re-lashed the bailer to the thwart in
front of him. "Can't beat local knowledge," he said, with a wink. They
both realized that dams were dangerous placesand small dams were
often the worst of all. This one, Ed knew, had claimed more than one
life. If he and Brenna hadn't spent hours playing in the reversal
below the weir, at every water level from spring flood to summer
trickle, or if they hadn't been able to scout the dam on the drive to
the put-in, he'd have insisted that they all portage.
Further downstream, pools alternated with chutes, and fishermen
stood at the head and foot of almost every pool. Fenris howled at each
one, and most retorted angrily. Having abandoned any attempt to
control her wolf-dog's behavior, Linda paddled on in stony silence.
Brick smoldered. When they passed under the covered bridge at
Eagleville, however, the river moved away from the road once more, and
the anglers thinned out again. The end of the trip was in sight.
Ed and Brenna dropped back, letting the others paddle on ahead.
There weren't many smiles in evidence. "Not exactly what I'd hoped
for," Ed said to Brenna as they approached the little riverbank town
of Shushan. "A trip where everybody's glad to see the take-out, I
mean." He paused for a minute. "Still, that's what a shakedown trip's
for, right? Better a bad day than a bad summer."
"Right," replied Brenna, without turning her head. "Take-out's
Ken was now well in the lead, and he was the first to haul his boat
out of the water. He dragged the Blue Hole up the partly-flooded,
gently-sloping sand beach. Dense thickets of young alder grew right
down to the water on either side. Just downstream, the head of a
balding, bearded man was visible above the low shrubs. He stood by the
river, looking out across a wide pool.
A six- or seven-year-old girl in a bright red sweatshirt ran
awkwardly toward Ken across the beach, her eyes on the collection of
waterworn pebbles she carried in an upturned baseball cap. Catching
sight of Ken when she was still some distance away, she stopped short
and looked up at him. Ken smiled. The girl raised her hand and waved
shyly. Ken waved back, and then turned away to begin collecting his
gear. He heard a loud splash at the river's edge, followed immediately
by Linda Carney yelling, "Fenrisss!" Ken whipped around. He saw
Fenrisa strangely silent Fenrisstreaking toward the little
girl. The girl screeched shrilly, spun round, and ran back up the
beach, dropping her cap as she ran. A lone, dark-green pebble rolled
to a stop against Ken's foot. Fenris ran after the fleeing girl. The
wolf-hybrid's easy, effortless lope gained ground with astonishing
speed. The girl stumbled, fell, then struggled to get up. Too late.
Fenris stood over her. Ken realized again just how big the animal was.
The girl screamed once more. Fenris' jaws closed on her throat.
Ken started running toward the girl and the wolf-like animal with
her throat in its jaws. It took him only a couple of seconds to cross
the beach. With all of his strength, he slammed his fist hard into
Fenris' nose. She opened her mouth and yelped, releasing the
now-silent girl. Ken snatched the girl up in his arms and kicked at
Fenris' ribs. The wolf-hybrid squealed in pain and ran up the beach.
Ken looked at the girl. Blood was welling up from several deep
gashes, but none came spurting out. Instead, it ran in broad rivulets
down her neck. Her red sweatshirt was already dark and sodden. Then
the girl began to scream again. At least she was breathing, Ken
Brick and Linda ran up. Brick stopped next to Ken, while Linda
continued on, still yelling, "Fenris! Fenris!" Then the man from down
the beach staggered up, gasping for breath. He looked as if he'd
clawed his way right through the alder thicket. "My daughter
he said, and took the girl from Ken, setting her gently down on the
beach. Brick sprinted off in pursuit of Linda.
"Better get a doctor," Ken blurted out, not knowing what else to
"I am a doctor," the bearded man replied, and began to
examine his daughter's neck.
At that moment, a loud boom sounded from beyond the alders. A
shotgun, Ed guessed. He'd hung back on the river, talking with Pete
and Karin. They'd just arrived at the beach. Now Ed was helping
Brenna pull the Tripper out of the water. He took in the scene before
them. Ken standing, pale and shaking. A little girl lying on the
ground. A stranger kneeling beside her, blood on his hands and coat
sleeves. From somewhere beyond the alders, Linda was screaming
Just then, Brick trotted into view, shouting, "I think some guy's
shot the dog!" And then, as if he were seeing the girl for the first
time, "She gonna be OK?"
The girl's father made no reply. He continued his examination, both
hands moving swiftly along his daughter's neck. Ed turned to Brenna
and said, "You're the EMT. That man can use some help."
"I'm way ahead of you," replied Brenna, holding up the medical kit.
And she hurried toward the little girl and her father. Ed jogged up
the beach, moving toward the direction of the shot.
Beyond the alders, well away from the river, the Reverend Fergil
MacGregor looked down at the dying wolf in his garden. A wolf? In
Shushan? He wasn't sure whether he could believe his eyes. Wolf or
not, though, the animal was a goner. That much was sure. There was a
fist-sized hole just under its ribs, and its flank was soaked with
blood. Bits of something that looked like ketchup-stained cheese curd
were all over the ground just beyond where it lay. Fergil watched it
struggle for breath. It was panting faster than he'd ever seen an
animal pant, and an eerie, whistling sigh accompanied each breath.
Worst of all, however, was the animal's constant struggle to get up.
"Damn it!" Fergil addressed the wolf. "Why don't you die?" But it
wouldn't die. Long seconds passed. Slowly, reluctantly, Fergil brought
the muzzle of his cherished Parker double up to the wolf's head and
nerved himself to pull the second trigger.
Before he had a chance, howeverbefore he'd even begun to take
up the slacka young woman crashed through the alders at the
bottom of the garden. Fergil turned to face her, automatically raising
his gun across his chest so that the muzzle pointed toward the sky.
The woman ran right at him. She was screaming as she ran. "You
bastard! You bastard! You killed my dog! I'm going to
," and then
she stopped, pivoted on her left foot, and kicked out with her right.
The kick was flat, fast, and hard. Fergil had no time to do anything
but raise his hands. He was still holding the Parker, his finger on
the trigger. The young woman's kick struck the gun right in the small
of the stock. With a sickening crack the figured walnut snapped in
two. Fergil went flying over backward, his finger tightening on the
trigger as he fell. The second barrel of the gun discharged
Ed, with Pete right on his heels, burst out of the alders, and
sprinted up to where Linda was standing. Ed tackled her clumsily. She
went down, but not before striking out and smashing Pete's nose. Ed
threw his weight on her and held her in a choke hold. She continued to
struggle. He tightened the hold. Starved of air, her thrashing grew
less furious. Ed relaxed his hold. In a minute Linda was sobbing.
Ed patted her shoulder helplessly, stood up and walked over to
Pete, who was pressing a blood-soaked bandanna against his nose and
cursing. Then Ed turned to the Reverend, now sitting on the ground and
trying to fit the stock of his old gun back together. He looked up at
Ed and bobbed his head in greeting. "You wouldn't care for a sherry,
would you, old man?" he asked, in a voice that suggested he thought Ed
was someone else.
Ed gazed down at the seated man. He looked at the gun in his hands.
At the deep-cut engraving, the scrollwork on the T-shaped doll's head,
the engraved inset hinge pin, the gold-inlay Parker Bros on the
bottom of the action, the meticulous checkering. "My God," Ed blurted
out, "that's a Parker A-1 Special. That's a fifty-thousand-dollar
"It was my father's gun," said the seated man. "Are you sure you'd
won't have that sherry?"
"My God," said Ed again, shaking his head. "No. No thanks. No
sherry. Not just now, anyway." And he patted the seated man's
shoulder, too, not knowing what else to do. Then he went over to
Fenris. She was quiet, her yellow eyes open in a fixed stare. Ed had
seen chest wounds before. He knew what to expect. Nevertheless, he
felt her side. No movement. He flicked his finger against her right
cornea. No response. She was dead.
Brenna, Brick and Ken emerged from the alders. Ed helped Linda to
her feet. She was still sobbing. He turned to Brenna. "Watch her," he
said, and then he walked back to where Fenris lay. He picked the
wolf-dog up, staggering under the weight of her sagging body.
"Let's go," Ed said. "We've got a lot to do before we can head
home." And he stumbled off, back toward the river and Linda's empty,
To be continued
Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights