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  • [This is a short story with multiple episodes. The seed of this one is That Mournful Sound.]

    Just feet away from me, the stranded canoe starts slipping into the water with the kids hanging on. Screams. My heart pounds. My paddle churns water like beating eggs. Fortunately, it looks like the canoe is bent but not broken and it's coming down right side up.

    "HANG ON! I command. PULL YOURSELVES IN! I'M COMING!" Easy for me to say.

    Three more manly strokes and the kayak bumps the canoe. Iris is huddled inside it now. Trevor's legs are hanging out. "OW! MY LEG!" he wails.

    "IRIS! PULL HIM IN!" I tell her. She rolls over and grabs his belt. He starts to slide down.

    I try to steady the canoe. It has some water in it but still rides high enough. The river buffets it and pushes it past the rock, toward the waterfall. There's not much I can do from my cockpit to stop it, so I ask myself for permission to come aboard.

    Trevor has slithered mostly inside now, whimpering. Reaching over, I grab for the far gunnel and tell Iris "HELP ME IN!" She clenches my shirt and tugs. "PULL THE ROPE!" I say, "TIED AROUND MY WAIST!" Iris reaches, grabs the loop and pulls. Making a final lunge, I kick away the kayak and flop in, barking my shin and almost capsizing.

    Silly me, I forgot to bring my paddle. And of course the canoe contains none.

    I feel a tug on the rope that's lassoing me. Annie has just hauled in the slack, but only can use one hand because she has to hold on to the rocks. The canoe drifts closer to the falls. I grab the rope and start hauling, hand over hand, inching the canoe along, rocking and rolling.

    The faster I pull, the more wet rope slips through my hands. My palms burn. My shin aches where it whacked the gunnel. My empty kayak is spiraling away toward the falls. I'm piloting a damaged canoe with two traumatized children next to a waterfall with no paddle. A rope tied to a tree limb wedged in some rocks is my only lifeline.

    My wife on the other end of that rope can't pull us in without being pulled out toward us, which is exactly what she does. Releasing her grip on the rocks, she hauls toward me as I haul back. The result for me is that I'm now pulling the weight of two boats instead of one.


    "IT'S ALL RIGHT!" she answers. "I'M COMING TO HELP YOU."

    She gets about half way to me, grabs onto the rope and shouts "READY TO PULL? ON MY MARK ... HEAVE! --- HO!" And so we start synchronized hauling.

    A few heave-hoes later we close in on the end of the rope. Annie lets go and paddles toward the rocks. I give one mighty heave but before I can ho, the branch securing the rope to the rocks splinters. The rope goes slack and I topple backwards, stopping only when the back of my skull strikes a crossbeam.
    "OOMPH!" I exhale, seeing stars. At some point, lying there, I hear Annie's voice. "BRAD! ARE YOU ALL RIGHT? BRAD?"

    I struggle back up only to realize I'm no longer holding the rope. Then I see it, draping over the gunnel. I grab it and squeeze.

    Annie manages to fish the chunk of branch attached to the rope out of the water, jams it into her cockpit and then paddles like a maniac for shore. Before I know it, we are out of the swift current.

    Only then do I hear a distant voice shout "HOLD ON! WE'RE COMING!" It was about time.

    Continued in That Felicitous Sound

    [The original seed of this series is On Sustainable Power, May 31, 2012.
    To identify all the stories in the series, click the tag That Sound beneath the map.]

    @image: Courtesy of North Carolina Outward Bound
    @audio: Dueling Banjoes theme by Eric Weissberg & Deliverance
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