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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

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

Chapter Nine

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 shakedown cruise.

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 appreciation.

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 departing canoeists.

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 boat—but 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 neck.

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 river trip."

Linda, grim-faced, flipped Ken the bird. "Get a life!" she retorted. From several canoe lengths back, Ed and Pete exchanged worried glances.

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 wasn't much.

When Pete and Karin's green Explorer came safely through—theirs was the last boat—Brenna 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 swimming."

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 places—and 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 coming up."

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 Fenris—a strangely silent Fenris—streaking 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 thought.

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 say.

"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 something unintelligible.

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, however—before he'd even begun to take up the slack—a 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 harmlessly.

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 gun!"

"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, waiting car.

To be continued…

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

Trail's End

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