July 23rd, 2016. 11:00 AM
Waking wasn’t easy. The strain and excitement of last night’s festivities had taken its toll. My eyelids barely lifted to expose my bloodshot eyes. My skin looked as though it had turned a shade paler. Even a full liter of water could do little to restore my parched throat or cure my throbbing headache. The only vestige of salvation sat atop my lap. I opened the shoebox and stared upon the glowing treasure inside.
A sweet, synthetic aroma lifted into the air, igniting my nostrils like a blast of ammonia. No more hangover; zero lust for thirst. This was it, the moment I had been waiting 24 long hours for. A run on the Greenbelt with my new running shoes and the reward of an ice-cold Rockstar energy drink at the end. The perfect start to a perfect day—
“BZZZ.” The sudden vibration of Bill’s phone shook thenightstand, sending a slight startle through me. A steady ringtonefollowed. Bill jolted in his bed, wide-eyed and coming to a rise like a “Don’t Wake Daddy” board game centerpiece.
“What time is it,” he exclaimed.
“10 after 11,” I answered. Bill peered into his phone, gravitating towards it as if his entire body was void of control. “Don’t answer it.” All signs pointing to a futile resistance. “Don’t you do it… Bill!”
“…Hello?” I threw my hands into the air, then lowered my head into them, settling into a constant head shake. Bill pulled the phone away from his ear, the voice on the other side overwhelming. Within an instant, the effects of the hangover had miraculously been reinstated.
“Dude, where are you guys? I’ve been waiting outside for 10 minutes! We got Tubapalooza to win. Wake up!… What’s the matter, too much to drink last night? I bet you Zack’s hungover. Can’t handle his booze, like usual. Not me though—wait, is he still asleep? He is, isn’t he? That’s it. What’s your room number? I’m coming up. If Zack’s asleep I’m going to tea-bag him, right in the face! Haha, he’s going to get it…”
Lesson 1: Josh doesn’t know how to win a race
“Oh, my God.” Bill uttered the phrase somewhere between a chuckle and a scoff the minute we pulled onto the grass field that acted as an overflow parking lot. To the 1,000’s of others that had converged onto Barber Park for the advent of a 6-mile journey down the Boise river, it was the start of adventure, excitement—an afternoon of bliss. For Gretch and Megan Mills, both leaning against their car looking to be in desperate need of an IV, it was nothing but a chore, an abysmal condition only to be exacerbated by another 90-degree roaster.
“Did they get here early?” I asked.
“No, we’re about a half-hour late,” replied Josh. “Sort of misled them a little bit. Whoops!”
He pulled into the spot next to them and shut off the engine. I leaned into Bill with a whisper. “Ok, whatever you do, don’t say a word.” Bill understood wholeheartedly. The fraternity we’d developed over the years ordered us not to speak in situations like these. Even considering the amount of bad blood spilt, both Megan Mills and Gretch deserved our respect for keeping their commitment. Honestly, I found it amazing that they were even halfway functional. In fact, it would take a major tool to point out their obvious shortcomings at a time like this, something Bill and I were not prepared to—
“Well, well, well. Look who decided to show up,” blurted Josh as he swung his door wide open and strutted out onto the open field. “Aww, did somebody party too hard last night? Haha, what a bunch of rookies… What are you waiting for? We got a race to win! Let’s go, chop chop!”
“…Josh, we’ve been waiting here for at least 15 minutes,” replied Megan Mills. “We were on time, 11:15, like you told us to be.”
“Dude, Megan Mills, you always assume we’re going to be late. I had to get the Tubapalooza tickets, pick up these yahoos, and get more booze. I can’t believe you even showed up on time… Megan Mills, you actually disappoint me.”
“Josh,” inserted Bill. “Maybe we should tone it down—“
“I mean, look what I’m dealing with!” Bill’s attempt to intervene failed, miserably. “You know Zack was sleeping in. Really, you should be mad at him. He’s the real reason we’re late! Besides, I don’t know what the big deal is. I drank twice as much as both of you, and I didn’t even get drunk!”
Gretch and Megan Mills rested their heads against their folded arms that were spread across the blistering metal car frame with dreams of euthanasia. The feeling failed to subside well into the minutes-long castigation. Though I felt for Gretch and Megan Mills in their state of misery, I couldn’t help but stand back in awe. For the first time in my life, I had been on the periphery of a Josh Ulrich insult binge.
His vituperations mellifluously flowed, one after another, never missing a beat. They came out of his mouth at such a rapid pace; either his mind was running Einstein-caliber algorithms at break-neck speeds, or he wasn’t thinking at all, merely relying on his natural, God-given talent. The endurance needed for such a long string of insults, no less than child prodigy status; a talent that could be described as nothing less than… impressive.
“Still feel like crap? Here, drink some of this.” Josh pulled out a bottle of Champaign, already halfway consumed. Megan Mills buried her face further into the car frame, the scorching temperatures far more bearable than the sight of alcohol. “Gretch?”
Gretch gave the bottle a savory look, then turned away. “C’mon Gretch, you know you want to.” Josh’s tone bordered that of a taunt. “…Gretch?”
Gretch lifted her head and crept her gaze across the length of the car. The taste of alcohol was on her mind; I could feel it—we all could. Josh knew it was a terrible idea; his desire for destruction fueling his persuasive tactics. Bill looked beyond her with concern. He remained silent, as did I, unwilling to accept the almost certain tongue-lashing that would follow if we objected. Don’t do it Gretch…
She grasped onto the bottle and slowly raised it to her mouth, her hand violently shaking as the bubbly beverage poured from into her mouth. Oh, Gretch…
A minute later, I followed suit.
“C’mon Bill, you’re next.” Bill eyed the bottle with unrestricted disdain, partly driven by the pressure of his peers. “Do you want to win Tubapalooza or not?”
According to Josh, the recipe for success so far was:
1. Show up 15 minutes late to the race.
2. Go to a public park and drink alcohol.
3. Continue doing for the next several hours, in the middle of a hot summer day, with no drinkable water.
Bill’s ultimate compliance was enough to endorse the winning strategy. It would be another 15 minutes before the idea of floating the river reemerged.
Lesson 2: The Irish Goodbye is the best goodbye
Mayhem reigned as we closed in on the launch point; our group scattered amongst the heavy traffic. A steady stream of kids ran between the field separating the launch point and the pump house, a long, wooden shack lined with air hoses to inflate the inner tubes. Josh found himself stuck in the middle of it, a headless chicken running about in an attempt to heard a group of cats. Panic had set in, the threat of losing Tubalooza looming harder over him the longer our departure was delayed. Yet, he artfully mended his way through the influx of patrons between the pump house and the launch point, all while keep with the tradition of issuing orders.
“Dude, Megan Mills, you’re just now putting on sunscreen? Bill, where’s Gretch—where’s you’re tube!? You guys are killing me—c’mon Zack! How are you going to float down the river with that thing? You’re gonna sink to the bottom! That’s embarrassing, fill it up with more air! Pick up the pace, let’s go!”
“Josh, your tube is lower than mine…”
“The hole’s too big, what do you expect?” He was correct in his assessment of the blow port. Its large diameter made inflating an arduous task. Though a much sturdier tube than the 97-cent Wal-Mart special we procured for our float down the Madison in Pony, Montana, the design left a pair of engineers puzzled as to how to properly fill them.
“Here, take two air hoses at the same time and fill it. Double the air. The volumetric flow rate into the tube will be greater than the flow coming out of the tube.” Josh gave me a funny look. “…Fluid Mechanics… the pressure in the hose is high enough so that the air won’t escape fast enough… you know, engineering stuff.”
“Oh, right… engineering.” Josh grabbed my air hose, on stand by for a quick transition. I clasped the port, ready to unscrew on command.
“Ready?” I asked.
“You guys, there’s a smaller port on top,” butted in Gretch. Josh and I gave her a condescending stare. “Just unscrew that one and fill it. The air hose fits perfectly in it… you know, the top one’s for filling, the bottom’s for deflating, right?” We looked at each other, bemused. What the hell is she talking about?
“Can’t. It’s sealed shut,” said Josh.
“Yea, it needs some grease to loosen it. Trust us, we’re engineers.”
Megan Mills snatched the tube from my hand. “Yea, more like some… elbow grease!” Megan Mills gave the top port a swift twist and popped the screw right off. Josh and I looked at each other with bewilderment, raised our shoulders with a slight palm lift and sunk our heads into them. Engineering brothers, I don’t know…
“That’s great Megan Mills, but finish putting on your sunscreen! And you still haven’t… wait a minute,” Josh jerked his head between the pump house and the launch point. “Great, what happened to Bill? We’re going to lose Tubapalooza…” It was rather strange, I’d admit. A minute ago, he was right beside us, and now… gone. His Houdini-like tactics whipped Josh into a shambolic rage. All attempts at organization were falling apart before his very eyes. He wasn’t the only one worried. No way I’m floating the river alone with these guys.
Josh popped his head up like a muskrat in a crowded field, setting his attention just beyond the launch point. “Bill… Hey Bill,” he screamed. “…Bill?” Amongst the crowd of floating bodies, one in particular caught his eye. This individual’s tube shared a strong resemblance to the one’s held under his own arm, and the man’s features and clothing style fit a perfect profile. “Bill,” screamed Josh again, his hand cupped around the rim of his mouth. No mention of the name warranted a response. “Don’t go yet, Bill! We need to leave together… Bill!”
Too late. I stood back, my arms folded, unable to look down the river in anything but awe. The technique had been used several times throughout the years, from large gatherings at the skatepark to college parties where guests had long worn out their welcome. Over time, he had perfected the practice, managing to slip away from any situation through various degrees of chaos undetected.
And once again, Bill had brilliantly pulled of an Irish goodbye, and there was nothing Josh could do about it.
“C’mon Gretch, Bill’s already in the water,” barked Josh, reverting to what he does best. “How come you haven’t inflated your tube? We’ll double up—wait, Megan Mills, where’s your sunscreen? I thought I told you to put it on!? Here, turn around. I’ll get the back, you get the front.” Josh spread his arms with a full wingspan, working aggressively like an overwhelmed mother tending to her children’s needs at the amusement park. One arm slopped a layer of sunscreen on Megan Mills’ back while the other held an air hose to Gretch’s tube. “Don’t just stand there Gretch, start inflating!”
My air hose spit out from my tube, the spectacle unfolding in front of me having commanded my undivided attention. Quickly, I screwed the top back on and pressed at the sides. Pumped to the edge… we’re good to go. I looked to the river. Bill’s long gone. Envy filled the crevices of my body among other thoughts; nefarious fantasies of abandonment. I wonder… if I just take a small step, if he’d even notice… I side stepped away from the pump house. Nothing. That was easy. What about another? This time I turned my body and managed to take a full step. I gave another peak over to Josh.
“Keep pumping Gretch,” he ordered. “Megan Mills, you’re wiping like you don’t even care. What’s the deal?” Still dinkin’ around. What if I just walk into the middle of the lawn, or even a little further…
“Zack!” the name shot out like a bullet whipping passed my ear. I had made it down the staircase of the launch point before being detected by the eye of Sauron. For a second, I froze, one step away from the river’s entrance. “Don’t even think about it!”
“Don’t turn around,” I told myself. “Whatever you do, don’t you dare turn. Don’t even give him the thought of acknowledgment.” My foot sank into the water, ignoring the attack of cool water on skin before acclimation.
“You better not—I swear to God if you leave I’m going to kick your—dude, Zack!” I kept on walking, like a wife finally taking the brave step to walk out on her husband after years of abuse. Once the water reached my waist level, I plopped myself onto the tube. “I’m warning you! You’re going to regret this! Do you hear me—Zack…” Josh’s words faded in obscurity, being no match for the river’s current; continuously fading, further and further, until there was nothing.
Lesson 3: Get lost in the moment and enjoy the ride… as long as you’re in the middle.
Much of Idaho is bare. During the peak of summer, temperatures can reach well over 100°, decimating any form of plant life that had sprouted in the Spring months. However, if you know where to look, Idaho is lush with green forests, crystal clear lakes, and precipitous peaks, starting at the top of the panhandle at lake Coeur d’Alene along the border of the Bitterroot Mountain Range, down past the raging rapids in Riggins, where tens of thousands go each year to experience some of the country’s best white water rafting, and up through McCall, a resort town and home to some of the most beloved skiing in the state. Further south, you’ll find more than your fair share of evergreen milieu, including Sun Valley and its surrounding towns, as well as other destinations unique to Idaho such as the Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh and the Craters of the Moon. It’s no wonder the people of Idaho are amongst the most humble of statesmen. They see it as their hidden gem, the best kept secret in the States; and they’d like to keep it that way.
The Boise River is no different. Surrounded by mounds of sunburnt foothills, the Boise River is a representation of that same attitude, a linear oasis where the masses find refuge from the sweltering sun. A long line of trees hover along its banks, perhaps the only natural ones of its kind, providing comfort and shade throughout your float. You are one with the river, slowly mending your way back into the peak of man’s ingenuity, the thriving tech and business hub that has managed to remain under the radar, free from the common issues that infect most metropolitan areas.
I leaned back in my tube, flopped my arms to the side, and gazed upon the clear, blue sky. The sun’s rays struck me, permeating through my pores to induce a state of quasi-paralysis. For the next couple of hours, the fouls of the world would be purged from existence, just as it had done for the smattering of others who had also descended upon the shallow river valley that Saturday afternoon. I sensed that Bill was not far ahead, and that soon we’d—
“Hey Zack!” My heart raced at the sound of her voice, it’s tone familiar, shrill—disturbing. Great, I’ve been blindsided! Letting Gretch sneak up on me like that—what was I thinking? And Megan Mills? Forget about it! Not after the crap I pulled yesterday.
And if Gretch was near, then so was Josh. I could hear it all play out. “Dude, why didn’t you wait for us? Slow down… Zack, go faster… Seriously, we’re gonna lose Tubapalooza because of you! You’re lucky I didn’t tea-bag you earlier today, blah blah blah. Get this Megan Mills, Zack sucks…” I braced myself.
“How’s it going?” …How’s it going? Gretch sat up in her tube, perched and poised. Josh was next to her, removed from reality. Subtle eye contact was made; he had nothing to say, a rare and beautiful moment; a gift given unto us by the power of nature.
“What about Tubapalooza?” I asked.
“Huh?” Josh responded, as if I had broken a deep trance.
“Tuba… Never mind.”
Megan Mills looked to be a cadaver sprawled limp across her tube. Asking her to move was not in the realm of possibilities—not at this time.
“Well, look who it is,” said Josh looking onward, holding the same grin given to me many times right before a smart-ass comment was to leave his mouth. We had crept up on Bill, his head tilted back, top submerged—totally oblivious. “Gee Bill, looks like we’re all catching up. Haha, what a slowpoke!”
Bill whipped his head up, sending his hair forward over his forehead. He shook it about like a wet dog, then whipped it back again, forming a nice slick—Ryan Gossiling style. His collared shirt remained unbuttoned like the old Florida man stuck spending his hot summer days at the bayou bar, a style both coveted and admired. “No wonder you left so early. That puny body of yours can’t even handle a float like this. Even Zack’s keeping up! That’s just embarrassing…” Bill lowered his head back until the top of his head was submerged once again and shut his eyes. “Aw, look, poor Bill. You’re in worse shape than Megan Mills, and she isn’t even trying!” Under normal circumstances, such an affront would’ve provoked a stinging response. Yet, both remained stationary, still in refusal to move a muscle. If there was a way to fully submerge his ears without falling out of the tube, Bill would’ve done so.
“But really guys, you should wake up.” They refused to yield. Josh’s words had fallen on deaf ears. “Seriously, I think we’re heading towards the edge.”
“What?!” shouted Megan Mills, rising from her comatose state with an injection of adrenaline. Bill whipped his head back out of the water, repeated his wet dog routine, and worked himself into a furious paddle.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“C’mon Zack, paddle!” said Gretch. “You’re separating.” So, I’m a little bit by the edge. Who cares? Drifting away, I casually waved my sardonic goodbye.
Hmm, I guess the river actually runs kind of fast the closer you get to the edge. Those branches look kind of low too… Oh crap, I actually am a little close to the edge—OH CRAP!
“Bill, help!” I screamed. My arms swatted against the water and my feet fluttered about in non-uniformity, unwilling to get my body wet.
“Zack, take my hand,” he said. I twisted my body and searched through the commotion for an awesome hair doo. “Zack… my hand. Quick, before it’s too late!” I zeroed in. Bill spread across his tube, his hand outstretched to grasp onto mine. I reached out, our hands meeting under the scintillation of the sun, our fingertips barely missing in an accidental recreation of the Sistine Chapel.
“Noooo!” I watched as Bill sailed away with the rest of the pack. He looked at me, as if he were a soldier forced to leave his brother to die on the battlefield. For only an instant did I appreciate the poignancy of the moment. No time to feel sorry for yourself when survival is on the agenda.
I turned around in my tube and stared down my attackers. Several layers of branches hung, coming right at me and eager to strike. A wall of jagged rocks flanked my right. If given the chance, they would deal serious damage. I braced myself for impact.
My legs flew up and picked off the first wave. They were met with solid resistance, snapping upon impact; the ruthless conditions imposed by the sun, their merciless General having an adverse effect on the soldiers. I outstretched my arms and took care of the remaining stragglers.
The second line came immediately after. Again, my legs flew up, then my arms, catching as many as they could intercept. The branches bent, proving much stronger, much more versatile than their predecessors. My God, the sheer volume of firepower—too much to overcome! My defensive line, though strong and powerful, couldn’t handle sheer quantity. “NOOOOO!”
I bent me arms to cover my face. Branches scraped the sides. One impaled my stomach. I shifted accordingly like a losing boxer in desperation mode. Another smacked me across the face. I turned and scrunched in the tube, hoping to reduce the damage. They scraped and scratched away. I reached out and caught a straggling branch—my last resort. The tube whipped around and entered a tailspin. My mind blotted the chaos, bracing my body for the impending doom.
Seconds later, I rose from the crash site, bruised and battered, mangled and torn, scraped and scabbed, stuck in an eddy against the rocky shore. I watched as Bill and the rest of the group dipped into one of the many sections of shallow rapids. With only the slightest hope of reunion, I pushed off the jagged bank and paddled in what was to be the beginning of a long and arduous trek back to the group.
My breaths were strained. I could feel a tendency in my muscles to cramp whenever my calves flexed. “Hey guys,” I said with difficulty. The response from the group was lethargic at best. I cleared my throat and spoke again, ensuring my determination would be realized. “Boy, I can’t believe how long I had to paddle…” Gretch turned her head slightly, annoyed, as if she were forced to give the unpopular girl at school acknowledgement. Bill was sprawled, his head dipped and throat vulnerable to a devastating judo chop. Megan Mills was no better. Josh turned his tube around for a much-wanted address.
“Dude, Zack, you were gone for a half hour.” Really Josh? I hadn’t noticed. “You know, you shouldn’t have floated near the edge…”
Gee, you think?
Lesson 4: Watch for falling flab
The volume of manmade structures increased the further we traveled, evidence that we were heading into downtown. Hotels and office buildings accompanied the line of trees along the river, providing further shade. And for better or for worse, so did the volume of patrons.
A procession of splashes was heard from afar, aberrations from the natural ripples of the river. Its rhythm was inconsistent, but reliable, each new splash louder than the previous. The commotion had yet to reach panic levels, yet a sense of caution was well congruent within the group.
We approached the first of many bridges, 10 feet high and spanning the narrow width of the river, part of the Greenbelt Trail system and apparent source of disorder. A steady line of prepubescents stretched from the middle of the bridge to several feet past its origin, each one’s appearance strikingly similar. Puberty had been deprived of these adolescences for the time being, their body portions not in sync with their corresponding hormones. Though there was potential for athletic development in the coming years, much time and patience was required until they could fully fill into their fleshy figures.
One dropped from the bridge, sending a shockwave through the water. The next boy lined himself into position. We looked onward with agitation as he clasped onto the railing and swung a leg over the edge. As soon as the tips of his toes set down on the edge of the wood platform, extruding mere inches from the outside of the railing, he swung the other across, just as careless. He turned his back to the railing and looked down upon the obstacles crossing his path, any consequence of collision obfuscated by the thrill of the jump.
Several times he had contemplated jumping. He dipped every time an urge presented itself, a sinusoidal ripple bellowed across his belly, each delay a direct relationship to the continuous population of floating objects below. Many factors were in play, all of which worked against him. The entire weight of his body balancing on the balls of his heels, the heavy layer of sweat lubricating his grasp on the railing, the pressure of his peers, yelling, complaining, and growing more impatient with each passing second as they were forced to wait in line—all the elements for a perfect storm. It was only a matter of time until the young boy descended upon an innocent target several feet below. Multiple casualties were at risk.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” said Bill. I thought the same as we neared the bridge. Not only was traffic looming, but the shallow nature of the Boise River didn’t leave much room for recovery in the probable case that the jump didn’t go according to plan. We crossed under, paddling an ample distance away from ground zero.
The boy shook uncontrollably now, knowing full well it was only a matter of time before the limitations of his undeveloped strength forced him off the ledge. “Wait… where’s Gretch?” asked Bill. We whipped our heads back to the bridge. A small break in traffic surfaced, a slight chance he could make the jump and come out unscathed, if not for two oncoming obstacles—two blonde haired girls floating aimlessly down the river. Uh oh.
“Gretch, Megan Mills, look—“ Too late. With little warning, the boy let go, falling with the full acceleration of gravity behind him. Our hearts stopped. Even Josh felt a rush of distress.
“Splash!” A large crater followed, the impact sending a tsunami-like wave in all directions. It swallowed the boy and everybody in its wake. A second passed, a second that felt like a minute. Remnants of the wave remained. Still no signs of Gretch, Megan Mills, or the boy. We feared for the worst.
“Gretch!” yelled Bill, startled, yet with enough sense not to paddle towards the impact zone. The boy emerged from the bottom, whipped his hair around, and swam to the river bank, oblivious to the damage he nearly caused. Gretch reappeared, looking back at us as if we were an inconvenience.
“What?” she asked.
“Where’s Megan Mills?”
“Right here!” said Gretch, pointing at the slain warrior floating a few feet behind. Bill let out a sigh of relief. The splash had missed her by a matter of inches.
“Oh man, did you see that?” bragged the boy as he jiggled his way up the bank and towards the back of the line, leaving a trail of water spots on the dirt path behind him. “Man, that was a close one, haha! Watch me next time, I’ll do a cannon ball!”
The next boy climbed over the railing and positioned himself accordingly, shaking and dipping along the edge of the bridge, waiting for the opportune moment to jump. A faint crash sounded ahead of us, competing with the crashes coming from behind. We floated on, knowing at least two more bridges of its kind remained along with a couple of rope swings, just as hazardous. Lasting well into the waning fragments of sunset, day after day and all summer long, it was only a matter of time before one of these annoyed river floaters was met with a face full of flesh.
“Dude, we should totally do that,” said Josh, his face perked. Bill and I shook our heads, hoping Josh was only joking. Unfortunately, we knew better.
Lesson 5: Avoid the strange animals (that’s what I know…)
“Check it out,” said Bill looking onward.
My face squinted with perplexity. “What in the hell?” Past the second bridge of falling flesh blobs a strange creature lurked; an animal of sorts, growling about in an unintelligible manner and staking claim on a rocky patch. At first glance, the dark complexion suggested lineage from the sasquatch family tree, for the upright stance didn’t fit the profile of most mammals. Behind him was a rock cove carved into the river bank for shelter. Filled with an assortment of items that were the prime pick at the local landfill, it was appropriate to assume that this was where the strange animal took up residence. “There aren’t bears in Boise, are there?”
“It’s Jesus,” chuckled Josh.
“Very funny,” said Gretch. “It’s just a dirty old man.” Further inspection proved Gretch correct.
“He’s nuts! Look at him.” Though conceivable, I couldn’t yet agree with Josh’s assessment. If thousands of people floated past my house every day, yelling, splashing, jumping off bridges and raising hell, I’d probably be in a bad mood as well!
“He’s just an old man yelling at all the hooligans on his lawn,” I said. “…I dare you to go talk to him.”
“Are you kidding me? Look at him!” Josh replied.
“C’mon Josh, all he needs is a friend!”
“Yea Josh,” chimed Bill. “You both like the outdoors. Sometimes you live in a car, he lives in a cave.”
“There’s so much in common—a match made in heaven!” Bill and I laughed while Josh scoffed, struggling to find an equivalent comeback.
“Um, maybe we should swim away from him,” suggested Megan Mills.
“Yea, whatever Megan Mills. Josh, are you going to talk to him or not?” I egged.
“What would I even say?”
“I don’t know, ask him what type of cologne he wears,” suggested Bill.
“Chances are, it’s the same kind you wear,” I added. “That natural, hippy bull crap, heheh.”
“Screw that. You’re stupid.”
“You guys… we’re getting really close…”
“Just hang out with him a little bit. Offer him a drink of your rum. He’d love that! He might just invite you into his cove—”
“GUYS!” There was something about Megan Mills’ latest alarm that silenced us all. The animal’s words, though no more intelligible, clearly conveyed displeasure, and were clearly directed towards us. We had been a moment too late realizing the current’s pull towards the cove. And now, every passing second solidified the sense of urgency to remove ourselves from our petrified state.
“Run for it!” screamed Josh. Lacking the stoic nature to keep his composure, Josh took the lead and triggered us into action.
“Josh, wait!” said Bill.
“Survival of the finished,” he shouted back, making little effort to address the rest of us. We scattered like a school of piranhas interrupted from their fresh feast, kicking our legs and flinging our arms furiously against the water. Was this man truly evil? Hell if we would stick around to find out.
“Megan Mills, it’s not working!” I screamed.
“Don’t stop! Keep paddling!” she insisted.
“I’m trying Megan Mills, I’m try—“ I froze.
They say when confronted with conflict, most people possess a fight or flight reaction. I possess neither.
His gaze pierced through mine; my body frozen, the sign of ultimate acceptance for an imminent death. A flow of obscenities spoken in a strange dialect followed. He pointed, as if I were his next sacrifice gravitating towards his rocky altar.
“Zack,” cried out Bill.
“Forget it! he’s a goner,” yelled Gretch. It was words I would’ve expected from Josh, though he had wasted no time making his escape when the opportunity presented itself, belting out of there faster than the infamous police run at Billapalooza, circa 2007.
“Bill, don’t leave me,” I said, unable to break eye contact. “Bill…”
And just like that, he was gone. Oh, how the Irish goodbye strikes again.
The animal’s voice was loud and clear now, spewing a gargle of gorilla like rumbles, part of his telekinetic powers to lure his victims. Here I lay, a frozen body at the mercy of this dirty, hairy monster, drifting towards my fate. It’s over. I’m finished…
His head jerked and body twitched, the evil spell conjuring the demon trapped inside. Then, he tilted his head and stared passed me. Something new, something more enticing. It must be. But what? That Boy Scout troop? No, not nearly attractive enough, not for his taste. Besides, all their moms were around. The blondes perhaps? Or maybe that babe in the Wonder Woman swimsuit on the paddle board… Yea, she was kind of a babe. I bet it’s her—wait, what are you doing? Run stupid! RUN!
I turned to my stomach and pushed off the bottom of the river. “OOGA OOGA, ARGHU UGA OOHH!” he rumbled. I paid no mind—no acknowledgment. I kicked, harder and faster than ever before, my arms swinging with a warrior’s fury while the harsh cries of the animal burned passed my ears.
Survival of the fittest…
The jet boat could be heard several bends down the river. Its engine roared louder with time, until it emerged around the bend like a giant sea monster rising from the depths. The hull lifted with each rev and gave the water a giant slap as it weaved in-between tubers, as if it were navigating down the Columbia River on the final level of the Oregon Trail.
“What do you think’s going on?” asked Bill, casually observing the deadly potential of the machine crashing up the river.
“I dunno,” replied Gretch with a sloppy shrug. Megan Mills lifted her head for a moment, then resumed her natural state of apathy. The lack of caution was shared among the river dwellers. Either the scene of a giant boat evading a constant case of manslaughter was an all too common occurrence on the Boise River, or the three-hour float had temporarily drained any care for one’s life.
“Maybe somebody’s drowning?” suggested Josh.
“Hopefully their taking care of those damn kids jumping off the bridge! How much you want to bet they whomped on somebody?” Nobody took me up on the bet. “Maybe they’ll put a whomp on them…”
From the edge, the jet boat made a sharp turn across the river, threading the needle through a group of tubers to make its way back to the middle. Two uniformed men were at the helm, most likely police officers judging by the words “Boise Police” written across the hull. It turned again and thrusted forward, pointing the tip of the boat to the sky. We watched as the bottom of the boat exposed itself in front of us, much like the mouth of a Great White Shark eager to sink its teeth into his next meal. It was hard to tell if the officers could see what was directly in front of them as the tip of the boat pointed directly towards the sky like the 12 O’clock Boys of the water. Due to our inability to react, we assumed they could, knowing full well the hull could come down and crush us at any moment.
A slight shift in the propeller jolted the boat to the right. It juked and drove up parallel to us, then continued up the river. We looked back, observing the boat’s precise movements back and forth across the river as not to cause any casualties, then resumed down the last bend of the river.
A day later, we would come to find out that the strange animal had snatched two teenage girls. Literally, grabbed them from their tube and held them captive in his cove. The police men were called upon to arrest him and save the hostages from their cove.
Nature has a funny way of dealing with us humans. Why did God give us a conscience? Probably has to do with that verse in the bible where he made us into his image or something like that. I forge the exact one, somewhere near the beginning I think. But suddenly, survival of the fittest sounded more like a bearing of guilt…