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Trip of a Lifetime

Into the Mists

By Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest

A Note to the Reader

The Nearys have parted company with Ed and Brenna, leaving them to continue on down the Albany River alone. Or are they?

A REMINDER This is a work of fiction. All the characters are figments of the authors' imaginations. It's NOT a paddling guide. If you're planning a trip on the Albany River, consult the most recent edition of a good guide-book and be sure you're thoroughly familiar with all applicable regulations. While maps of Ontario show some of the waterways mentioned here, the places depicted in our story exist only in the authors' minds—and in yours.

A new chapter in Trip of a Lifetime, our paddlesport novel-in-progress, will appear on the first Tuesday of each month. If you've missed a chapter, or if you're joining us for the first time and you want to catch up, just use the hot-linked title to go to the In the Same Boat Archives. It's all there.

Our story continues….

March 5, 2002

Chapter Twenty-Four

Ed and Brenna awoke to a cloudless sky and a steady northwesterly breeze. It was their first morning on the Albany, and the omens were promising. From their camp on a gravel bar, high above the riverbank alders, the first light of dawn illuminated both the mouth of the Misehkow and the broad channel of the big river that would lead them to the Bay. An exuberant troupe of boreal chickadees flitted round them. Even better, the mosquitos and blackflies seemed to have taken a holiday. Life was good.

They ate breakfast as the rising sun wakened all the colors of the landscape, from the pale green of the isolated stands of poplar to the darker hue of black spruce and the deep blue of the river itself. Later, while Brenna struck camp and stowed their gear, Ed rigged the canoe for sailing.

"Seems like the last time was years ago, doesn't it?" Brenna mused, as she tied the final pack in place and watched Ed finish off the last lashing.

"What?" Ed asked. His mind was on other things.

"Spirit Camp. Wabakimi. Big water," Brenna replied. She spread her arms wide and grinned. Ed grinned, too, and without another word they pushed off. In seconds they'd dropped the leeboard, and the spritsail was filling. The canoe swept down the river with the stately grace of a royal barge, as a steady beam wind added five miles an hour to the two already imparted by the current

Much to Ed and Brenna's delight, the wind held good for days, an almost unvarying light to moderate breeze. Sometimes it veered north and sometimes it backed west, but it nearly always blew fair. Whether reaching or running, the wind hurried them along. Ed and Brenna sat among their packs on the bottom of the canoe, leaning back to windward against rolled foam pads. One tended the mainsheet while the other kept the leeboard trimmed. It was easy work, done to the accompaniment of the liquid babble of the wake. (Ed called it "water music," and the name stuck.) Thirty-mile days were now a matter of a few easy hours, broken only by an occasional sandbar or riffle, and the grueling slog on the upper Misehkow was soon forgotten.

Having made their planned miles by lunchtime, Ed and Brenna chose the day's campsite early and then pushed on up some inviting tributary stream or hiked away from the river on one of the numberless game trails. They usually returned from these excursions late, fly-bitten, and soaked—Brenna was quick to note that however tall her waterproof boots, she was always sure to step in a bog at least one inch deeper than they were high—but both were delighted nonetheless. Brenna filled sketch-book after sketch-book, while Ed spent hours perfecting his roll-cast. His luck was usually good. Perhaps it was too good. Brenna began to dream of lasagna and roast beef. But she kept these thoughts to herself.

All good things must end sooner or later, though, and after five days, their fair wind deserted them, swinging round until it blew square in their faces, driving a chill, swirling mist before it. Low cloud now covered the sky from horizon to horizon.

Despite this, Ed and Brenna passed the channel leading to the Native community of Fort Hope without stopping. The river now seemed like home to them both, and neither felt any longing for the comforts of "civilization." Jack, the eighty-something newlywed who, along with his new bride Molly, was looking after the Book Locker in their absence, wasn't expecting to hear from them till they reached Fort Albany. Besides, as Ed reminded Brenna when they left the outlet of Eabamet Lake behind them, Pete and Karin had promised to phone Jack and fill him in once they'd reached Osnaburgh House. So the big canoe continued on down the river, into the swirling mist

* * *

Jack was worried, though, and he had been for a week. His worries began on the Fourth of July. Despite the holiday, he and Molly had opened the shop. Brenna had said that business would be good, and she'd been right. Local folks, waiting for the parade to start, were killing time by browsing. Tourists who were heading north stopped in, too. And a surprising number of them bought books. Molly was ringing up sale after sale.

The shop hummed with quiet conversation. Couples discussed purchases in conspiratorial whispers. Parents admonished children to "Put that book back right now!" and then urged them to choose something more suitable. In the background, the radio played softly. It was tuned to an Albany station, and a program of Celtic music was just beginning. Suddenly, the music stopped. There were several seconds of silence, and then a National Public Radio announcer came on. "There has been a catastrophic dam failure in northern New York," she began. "Thousands are feared dead…." Her voice broke. She paused.

The hum of conversation in the shop stopped. The radio was now silent except for the sound of shuffling papers. Then the NPR reporter cleared her throat and resumed reading. Her voice wasn't trembling now, and she talked for many minutes.

A week later, Jack had a hard time remembering exactly what she'd said. The story had been fragmentary and confused at first. The dam holding back the largest reservoir on the Raquette River had given way without warning, sending a hundred-foot-high wall of water surging downriver. There were other dams below that one, and other reservoirs. The local power company had once boasted that the Raquette was "the best dammed little river in the world," and now each of those dams fell before the onrushing waters. One by one, every reservoir along the river emptied itself into the narrow valley. Houses, camps, and summer homes were swept away. Hamlets vanished completely. Much of the village of Potsdam had been inundated. Hundreds of acres still lay covered in tens of feet of mud and debris. The riverfront campus of Frontenac Lowlands University was entombed in silt.

There had been no warning, but some lucky people still survived. A few said they'd heard an explosion. Most just felt a rumble. Some compared it to a train passing nearby. Others simply said they felt the earth move. Many started running, but no one knew where to run to. The survivors were the ones who ran uphill.

It began as a catastrophe, but by nightfall it was something worse. It was now being called the Independence Day Attack, and America was a nation under siege. Within hours of the first news report, a group calling itself the Innisfreedom Fighters, a self-described breakaway faction of the Innisfree Separatist Movement, had issued what it called a "revolutionary communiqué." The group claimed that its Martyrs' Brigade had destroyed the dam with a specially-constructed explosive device. The communiqué warned that more attacks would follow, and thousands more would die, unless the Innisfreedom Fighters' demands were met in full. And the most important of the non-negotiable demands was the immediate recognition of all of northern New York as the Independent Republic of Innisfree, the first in a global network of libertarian ecological communities.

There wasn't much good news in the days that followed. The estimated death toll mounted until it stood at more than ten thousand. Thousands of survivors were evacuated to shelters, as utility crews struggled to restore electrical and phone service to the Raquette River valley. Clean-up teams faced an almost impossible job. Nor were the effects limited to northern New York. The loss of generating capacity almost brought down the entire Northeast Power Grid. New York City and Boston were both under mandatory power cutbacks, and rolling blackouts were the norm. Business was at a standstill. The Dow fell to 5,000, and the financial markets were in turmoil.

President Chuck Heston sought to reassure the nation. "America," he declared, "is now at war with terror, in every shape and every form. No enemy of freedom can hide from us, and no nation which gives shelter to any terrorist can call itself our friend."

But Jack wasn't fretting about his stock portfolio, and he didn't know any terrorists. He was worrying about Ed and Brenna. He remembered hearing that the Innisfree Separatist Movement had what they called an "educational center" in Canada. Someplace called "Camp X," he thought. Anything could happen, and it was beginning to look like it would.

He glanced at the clock. He hadn't heard it strike—too preoccupied with his own thoughts, he supposed—but it was little after noon. He switched on the radio, hoping for good news at last. As he listened, he paced back and forth in the small space behind the shop's counter.

Tensions are escalating rapidly between the United States and Canada in the aftermath of the US demand that the government of Canada allow American military units to conduct combat operations on Canadian territory. Spokespeople for the White House and the Department of Defense characterize the planned operations as constituting a "limited-duration police action." The US insists that these operations are essential to neutralize the potential threat from the Innisfree Separatist Movement and other suspected terrorist organizations currently operating from Canadian bases.

In response, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre LeClerc forcefully denied that his country had given shelter to any terrorist group. He also made it clear that Canada would regard any attempt by American forces to conduct military operations on Canadian territory as an act of war, and he appealed to both the United Nations and NATO for assistance in adjudicating the present dispute. "The United States has no greater friend than Canada," he concluded. "But if that friendship is to endure, it must be based on mutual trust and shared respect. Canada will not be bullied."

In a related development, Canada has just announced that it is closing the international border for a minimum of seventy-two hours. All American citizens living, working, or vacationing in Canada are being asked to report to Canadian authorities immediately, in order to facilitate determination of their status….

"Damn!" Jack said. He switched off the radio. Molly came over to stand beside him. "Any news?" she asked.

"Bad news," he replied. "More bad news. Looks like we're goin' to have a shootin' war right on our doorstep. Damn fool 'Innisfreedom Fighters.' Damn fool politicians. Them 'freedom fighters' may be murderin' bastards, but war…. War ain't the answer. Not this time."

He turned to Molly. "Ya wouldn' have any news for me would ya?" he asked.

"'Fraid not," Molly said. "I haven't heard anything since I got that reply to the e-mail I sent out on the 5th. A nice woman from the Fort Hope Community Center—Sarah Jock, remember?—said she'd ask around and try to get word to Ed and Brenna, but I haven't heard anything more. Do you think we ought to get in touch with the Canadian authorities?"

"Hell, no!" said Jack. "That's the last thing Ed and Brenna need. Be locked up, more likely than not." And he told Molly about what he'd heard on the radio.

"Turn the radio back on, will you?" Molly said. "The news isn't over yet. Maybe we'll hear something."

Jack did as she asked. Then he started to pace again. Before he'd taken two steps he'd collided with Molly. Neither of them laughed.

Among those now confirmed killed in the Independence Day attack are former President of the United States Jefferson Williams. Williams, a newly-ordained minister in the Church of Eternal Redemption, the world's largest non-denominational personhood of faith, had just accepted the presidency of Frontenac Lowlands University. He was visiting the Frontenac campus in Potsdam, New York, at the time of the terrorist attack. Killed with him were his personal assistant and publicist, Monika Darling, and the entire staff of the campus radio station, WFLU, along with an undisclosed number of Secret Service agents.

On being informed of his predecessor's tragic death, President Heston praised Williams as a great patriot and a man of unswerving principle. "The nation has lost a moral beacon," the president said. "We are all much poorer for that loss."

According to her staff, the former president's widow, Senator Hilaria Dorman Williams, was overcome with grief and unable to speak with reporters. A spokeswoman for Ms. Williams asked that Americans remember the senator's husband in their prayers.

In a related story, the New York State Science Service has announced that Dr. Anthony Scarlotti, the state seismologist who had earlier suggested that the catastrophic dam failure on the 4th of July might have been caused by an earthquake and not a terrorist attack, has been granted a leave of absence. The Science Service spokesman noted the Dr. Scarlotti has been under a great deal of strain in recent days, and that he had "repeatedly expressed the desire to spend more time with his family." No date was set for his return to work.

Dr. Scarlotti could not be reached for comment.

The news trickled to a close. An underwriting message from the Osmosis Fund followed. Jack turned off the radio for the second time and stared at Molly. "We gotta do somethin'," he said. "We gotta get Ed and Brenna back home before this thing hots up. Can't just stand around here with our fingers up…." He noticed a twinkle in Molly's eye, and paused before continuing. "Can't stand around doin' nothing. Them two gave me a job. Hell, they gave me my life back. And they brought us together. I owe them."

"We owe them, dear," Molly reminded him. "But we don't even know that they're in trouble, do we? And anyway, just how are we going to bring them back home when we don't even know where they are?"

"I don't know," said Jack, his voice a study in frustration. "But we're gonna do it somehow! Jes' let me think on it, woman." And he turned away from her, crossed his arms, and stared out through the plate-glass shop window at the street, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. He was sweating now, and his light cotton shirt stuck to his skin.

Molly chewed her lip and sat down in front of the computer. "I'll log on again," she thought. "Maybe there'll be a message from Sarah."

There wasn't, but before she'd logged off, Jack was standing over her. "I know what I'm goin' to do!" he said, slapping his open palm with his fist. "Gotta pack my kit." And then he was gone, striding off toward their apartment.

Molly hurried to the front door, turned the sign in the window around so that it read "Closed," and rushed after Jack. She caught up with him in the storage room in the back of the shop. "Now listen here, Jack van Dorn," she said angrily. She was only just over five feet tall, and Jack topped six, but Molly seemed to be standing taller. "Listen here," she repeated. "If you're going anywhere, I'm coming with you." And she jabbed her forefinger into her chest by way of emphasis.

"You're not," Jack replied, shaking his head emphatically.

Molly wasn't dissuaded. "I am," she said, matching Jack's tone and volume. "If you think I'm going to twiddle my thumbs here while you tear off into the Canadian bush, then you've got another think coming. It took me over sixty years to find a good man. After waiting that long, do you really think I'm going to stand in the doorway and wave goodbye to him? You aren't that dense, are you, Jack? Besides," she added in a burst of inspiration, "you don't own a car! You don't even have a driver's license. You think you'll have much luck hitch-hiking at your age?"

Jack couldn't argue with that, he decided. "'Ya gotta know when to fold 'em,'" he thought. "And 'know when to hold 'em.' That, too." So he put his arms around his bride of six weeks and kissed her soundly.

* * *

Ed and Brenna paddled on down the Albany. The wind settled in the east Curtains of rain obscured much of the surrounding landscape. Now and then they heard the barking of a distant dog, the roar of a laboring outboard, or the buzz of a light plane. On two occasions, they heard the throbbing Whump! Whump! Whump! of a chopper. They saw no one, though. Most of the time, there was nothing to suggest that they weren't alone in the world.

The swirling mist came and went, but the low clouds hung on. They portaged the first in a series of falls, then a second, and a third. The carries were exhausting work, but by now Ed and Brenna took them in stride. Ed even caught a nice trout below the last falls.

As he carried his trophy ashore, the current tugging at his legs, Ed noticed something odd washing about in the shore eddy. Angular, about the size and curvature of a salad plate, and pale gray in color, with a tooth-like central projection, it seemed to be made of some sort of shell. Puzzled, Ed picked it up and carried it back to camp. He asked Brenna if she knew what it was, but she had no more idea than he did. In the end, Ed tossed the thing back into the water.

The mystery returned to haunt them, though. Soon they were finding similar plates in eddy after eddy. And later, at night, they heard the growl of an outboard passing close by. Ed walked down to the shore, but he saw only swirling mist.

In the morning, the mist was even thicker. Still, they were confident that they knew where they were. No rapids or falls lay ahead. So after breakfast, they pushed off and headed down the river.

Tendrils of mist rose to either side of them. The canoe glided forward. It seemed to Brenna that river and sky were merging into one. Soon the mist enveloped them in a chill blanket. Brenna shivered. "Is this what it would be like to be the last people on earth?" she wondered. Just then she heard the drone of a small plane.

"There's another one," Ed said unnecessarily. Brenna only grunted in reply. A growing sense of emptiness told her it was getting close to lunch time. "Good thing we know where we are," Ed added, as a sudden rent in the curtain of mist revealed a ghostly shoreline. "Still, maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to pull ashore and wait for this to burn off. And have something to eat."

"I'm with you there!" Brenna replied. They edged closer to the right shore, still in the grip of the current. A little river entered the Albany here, and they eddied out just below the confluence. "There's another one of those plates," Brenna remarked, pointing to it with her paddle. "And another…and another. Hell, the eddy's full of them!"

The plates washed back and forth as the water in the eddy surged and subsided. In the muted, diffuse light, they seemed to glow with a sort of pearly incandescence.

Ed and Brenna shoved their canoe onto the mud shelf beneath a high bank, and tied it off to a straggling clump of alder. Brenna picked up one of the plates from the eddy and stared at it. Suddenly she knew what it was. "Sturgeon!" she yelled. "I'll bet these things are scutes—body-plates from the backs and sides of sturgeon!"

Ed nodded in agreement. "Sure are a lot of 'em," he added, glancing over to the mouth of the little river. "I wonder if they've come from there?"

Brenna shrugged her shoulders. Now that the puzzle was solved, she was more interested in lunch.

"Come on," said Ed. "What's happened to your sense of adventure? Let's grab some of the bannock we saved from supper, then go climb the bank to see what we can see. Maybe we'll get above this fog."

But they didn't. As they stood on crest of the bank, gnawing on cold bannock, they saw little more than they'd seen from the water. The little river—it was no more than thirty yards wide at its mouth—simply vanished into the mist.

Ed wasn't discouraged. "Let's head upstream a ways on…," he stopped. The river didn't have a name. "It's too small to pick it out on the map. Let's call it the Sturgeon River. How about heading up the Sturgeon River?"

"Why not?" Brenna replied. "We've got hours of daylight left. If you can call this murk daylight, that is."

Soon they were paddling upstream against a sluggish current. The river was bounded by gravelly banks. Alders grew thick above the high-water mark. Gravel bars spread out over the inside of each bend, and every eddy seemed to hold more sturgeon plates. No birds sang. The only sounds were now the sibilant hiss of moving water and the rhythmic splash of their paddles.

Ed was the first to see the bodies. Two sturgeon were caught in the grip of a toppled poplar near the base of a cutbank. Each was perhaps six feet long, their white flesh clearly visible beneath the water's surface. Ed gestured to Brenna. Her eyes followed his pointing finger. She, too, saw the sturgeon. Neither spoke.

They pushed on upriver until a shallow riffle blocked them. Here, they agreed, was the head of navigation. The sky was darker now. It was time to head back.

"Gotta go," said Brenna, urgently.

"We're going," said Ed, testily. "We're going."

"No, dummy, I gotta go. A girl can only hold her water so long." And with that, Brenna dropped her paddle across the gunwales. It made a hollow thud.

Ed held the canoe's bow against the current while Brenna stepped out into the shallow water. She was back in just a minute. "Your turn," she said. "If you're interested, that is."

"Why not?" Ed replied. He swung one leg over the gunwale, then the other. He stood up and walked toward the bank.

The first shot rang out just as he returned to the canoe. A single, sharp hammer blow. Then there was silence.

Ed turned to Brenna. "Run…!" he began, but a washboard rattle interrupted him. He knew the rhythm. Not exactly the top of his hit parade, to be sure, but a golden oldie nonetheless. One of Mikhail Kalashnikov's better ideas. Firing full auto, no less. And not very far away.

There was no time for words now. Grabbing Brenna around the waist, Ed lifted her out of the canoe and pushed her toward the temporary shelter of the river bank. The big canoe, lighter by nearly three hundred pounds and free to move, drifted slowly downstream and out of sight.

Running, splashing, stumbling—Ed drove Brenna before him. Once they both stepped in a hole. Water closed over them before the life-jackets brought them back up. But even as their heads broke through the surface, Ed's hand was on the small of Brenna's back, pushing, pushing, pushing.

They were at the base of the bank now. Breath coming quick, Brenna bent over, retching river water. Her eyes focused on the top of Ed's wellie. His neatly-rolled pants cuff had ridden up. A worn, oxidized bronze handle protruded from his boot-top. A knife. The knife, Brenna realized. "Why?" she wanted to ask, but Ed had his hand over her mouth now and the word died in her throat.

His hand still clamped tight, Ed put his mouth close to her ear. "I'm going up the bank," he whispered. "Shut up. Stay here." Then the hand was gone, and so was he, swarming up the steep bank and slithering over the top into the tangle of alders. Lost to view.

Seconds grew into minutes. Brenna heard nothing save the hiss of the river and the pounding of her pulse in her ears. Suddenly, Ed half slid, half fell down the bank, landing beside her. His pants were torn. His face was scratched and bloody.

"Downstream!" That was all he said. An urgent, whispered command.

"But…" Brenna began. Ed answered her with a powerful shove. "Go! Now!"

Stumbling again. Half running. Half wading. Tendrils of mist twisting about their silent, hurrying figures. Now concealing. Now revealing.

Ahead, a small creek emptied into the little river. The mist thinned, and Brenna thought she caught a glimpse of their canoe, held fast in the branches of a sweeper on the opposite bank. "Just like the sturgeon," she thought.

Then she saw movement. Just ahead of them, a figure emerged from the alders. "Let it be a bear," Brenna prayed. But it wasn't. It was a man. He had a gun in his hands, a very businesslike gun, and he had already seen them.

The man brought the gun to his shoulder in a smooth, unhurried movement. Brenna could see the small opening in the muzzle. She wondered why she wasn't more afraid.

"Stoy!" the man behind the gun yelled. His harsh voice reverberated from the high banks. "Stoy! Stoy!"

"Oh, shit!" Ed whispered. And then he waited for the man with the gun to decide whether or not to kill them. There was nothing else to do.

To be continued…

Mist and 
Moonlight

Copyright 2002 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.










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