Here is part of a short story I wrote a while ago.
It is a warm July night and I am watching the sunset on the balcony of Wilber’s third story apartment. We sit, smoking cigars, enjoying the scenery as we commonly do. The sweat from the day’s work is unwashed, dried to my forehead, but I don’t care.
Wilber is an old friend, whom I’ve known for the majority of my life. His company has always been enjoyable. We sit, watching the red sky fall as night creeps in, telling stories of the past, and in this moment; life could not be more perfect. The silhouettes of the razor sharp mountains are staring from the distance, reminding me of how insignificant we are in this small location where we’ve spent most of our lives. The small town of Sylvan Lake is glowing with civilization, while the dark blue lake sparkles its goodnight to the falling sun, welcoming the moons presence. The colours of the sky send haloes of serenity throughout the space of colour that it possessed. There is nothing more beautiful; nowhere else I’d rather be.
“Such a great night isn’t it?” Asks Will, sitting there calmly, slouched in his chair. He has always been a scraggly looking kid, with curly hair. But he’s always kind; always looking at the positive aspects of life. With his thin complexion, his clothes have always seemed to fit too baggy, but it has always been part of his image.
“The best. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing on a Friday night.” I reply.
“Agreed. Are you coming rafting tomorrow?”
“Rafting? Who are you going with?”
“Pete, Grimace, and Jeremy. It’s supposed to be over eighty degree’s tomorrow. A perfect day for rafting.”
“Hell yeah I wanna go! You’re going in Red Deer river?”
“What do I need to bring?”
“Something to float on. We all have tubes with cup holders. They are awesome.”
“I have a raft, I’ll bring that. Anything else?”
“Beer. Bring beer.”
Excitement rushes through my head with anticipation for tomorrow. We continue to sit, enjoying the scenery, not speaking, while taking the last drags of our cigars.
“What time are we leaving?”
“As early as we can, I want to be there by at least eleven.”
“Okay, I’m going to head home then so I can get some sleep.”
The next morning comes fast as I awake from the alarm clock set on my phone. Taking a stroll through the garage, I pack my raft, an inflatable chair just in case, and grab a grocery bag to fill with whatever beer I can find in the fridge. After everything is packed, I make my way to Wilber’s, which was the decided meeting spot.
“Where’re Pete and Grim?” I ask while entering Will’s apartment. Jeremy and Wilber are sitting neatly at the kitchen table enjoying a large breakfast. The smell of bacon, eggs, and hash browns floods the apartment and although I am not hungry, my mouth waters.
“They’ll be here, don’t worry about it”
“Okay.” I reply, while taking a seat at the table.
“Want some juice? You know where the cups are.” asks Jeremy, whom shares an apartment with Will.
Without answering, I pour myself a glass and sit at the table. Jeremy is eating like a starved dog that hasn’t eaten in days. Like Will, Jeremy is also an old friend of mine. We met while waiting for the bus during the first day of grade eight. He complimented me on the shirt I had been wearing, before introducing himself. I invited him to sit next to me on the bus. He moved from out of town, somewhere up north and it was his first day attending a Sylvan school. After a few minutes of small talk, I learned that he had just moved onto my street and during that year, we hung out almost every day. Life was an adventure back then, with no worries. We wandered through the dried sand fields behind our houses, looking for snakes and animals. We wandered the town, always managing to find trouble and we’ve managed to stay in touch ever since. Since childhood he has grown taller and wider, overlooking both Wilber and I.
We sit at the table for nearly two hours, waiting for the rest of the group to show up and when they finally do, we are way past ready to go.
“You guys are late.” says Wilber in a sarcastically angry voice.
“Sorry dude. My alarm didn’t go off and my phone was dead.” replies Grim with Pete following behind him.
“Well let’s go!” I shout like a child waiting for his parents to take him to the park. We leave, taking separate vehicles so that we can park one where we are going to end and one where we will load. After Grimace drops his car off at the end, where we are getting off, Wilber picks him up, following me in my truck to where we are going to start. The directions, given by my parents take us to an overcrowded part of the river that is packed with parked vehicles, people with rafts, and swimmers. The guard at the gate informs us that the parking lot is already too full and that we will have to find somewhere else to launch. He directs us up a gravel road, telling us that we will have to go up a mile to another launch spot.
After we drive for at least two miles we never find the spot, but we find one on the edge of an old wooden bridge that will work as well as any, so we park in the ditch and unload our gear for the expedition. We all realise that we are starting late, but it is too late to turn back now.
We all unload our rafts, tubes, or whatever we have. As Grim pulls his out, he gasps at the hole that the trunk of the car has made in his tube.
“What the fuck am I supposed to do?” Grim roars.
“It’s okay, I brought an extra.” Will replies, while pulling a green inflatable turtle out of his car. It is obviously a child’s toy and it causes everyone but Grim to laugh.
“Are you kidding me? What is this shit?”
Everyone is still hysterical, but Grim reluctantly accepts the offer and takes the turtle. We all pump up our tubes, rafts, and for Grim, a turtle. I decide to use the inflatable chair and offered my raft to Jeremy prior to leaving. He agreed to be the watcher of all the belongings since it is the biggest of anyone else’s tubes or rafts.
We follow a narrow pathway under the bridge to the river. We all walk, barefoot and shirtless, since the heat is already causing us to sweat, and make our way to the strong current of the river. The rocks on the edge slip as my feet cry in pain from the jagged edges of the stones taunting them. We all make our way about three feet into the river up to our knees and tie our rafts to each other with a rope. We are in a circle, with enough loose space that we can freely move around and switch positions with one another. Attached, in the middle, is a cooler full of our beer, which floats so that we can easily pull it towards our rafts whenever we need. Everything is ready, so we push off.
The sun is blanketing us with warmth while we lay on our tubes happy with the world. Everyone is calm and relaxed, except for Grim, struggling to keep himself on his turtle. Grim is the biggest of any of us, which makes the whole turtle thing even funnier. He has always been a character of his own and a good friend of mine. We met in grade seven when we were both placed on the same hockey team. He was the goalie and a well respected member of the team. We were on the same team the year after also, becoming best friends, and obsessing over hockey. Everyone did; it was our life at the time. During the summer seasons, we spent the majority of our free time at the skate park, either destroying our bodies trying to land new tricks, or just hanging out. There was no better place to hang out and it was always my favourite.
“Can someone else take this damn turtle? I’m the biggest guy out of all of you.”
We all laugh but no one is willing to give up their rafts. After a moment of enjoyment from the comedy of the situation, I start to feel sympathy for the poor guy. It’s usually me who ends up in those situations so I know how bad it sucks.
“How about I’ll trade you about half way when the river gets shallower?” I reply.
“Okay. Someone give me a beer.” Jeremy reaches for the cooler, handing Grim a beer.
“Anyone else want one?” He asks.
“Yeah, I’ll have one.” Replies Will and everyone else decides it’s beer time also.
Pete sits, enjoying the sunshine and the open waters of the river, not saying much. Pete is always calm, never mad, always the reasonable person in any situation. I met Pete, through Grim, who met him at school in grade nine. He is an awesome kid, probably the friendliest person I have ever met, and soon after meeting we became a gang; the five of us.
We all sit, enjoying the beauty of the open river, feeling the refreshing feeling of our beers. The scenery around the river changes from farm land to cliffs, to forest, and it feels as if the aesthetics of the scenery is like a painting that is always changing to keep my vision satisfied.
“This is the best shit ever! Why haven’t we done this before?” asks Jeremy, while lying relaxed in his raft, sipping his beer.
“This is truly amazing. It’s pure freedom! No cops, no people, we’re in the middle of nowhere floating down a river with a case of beer and the sunshine hot as ever. Not to mention that the only company I have to deal with is that of my best friends, who are all tied on rafts next to me.” I reply, feeling the most intense calmness that I have ever felt.
“Everyone is perfect but me. This stupid goddamn turtle!”
Grim struggles to keep his balance on the turtle. Everyone is lying on their backs enjoying the sunshine with ultimate relaxation, but grim is belly down, arms wrapped around the turtle, holding on for dear life. He finishes his beer, sinking the can into the river, and asks for another. Jeremy grabs one from the cooler, being the closest and reaches towards Grim. Grim lifts his hand from the turtle to grab the beer and slips, splashing into the water. After being under for about two seconds he pops up, standing on the bottom.
“It’s only up to my waist. The entire time I have been terrified to fall off, thinking it would be impossible to get back on this thing.” He grabs the beer, still standing, takes a big drink and repositions himself. “I think I’m going to name him Larry... Larry the turtle.”
He lays on top of Larry, awkwardly positioned, trying to drink his beer without falling off again.
“Grim the champ on a turtle!” yells Will. “That is your new nick name from now on.”
Everyone roars in laughter to the comment; accept for Grim, still annoyed that he has been put in such an annoying position.
“Fuck you guys! You’re all calmly enjoying the sun, while my back is getting burned. I’m uncomfortable. I can’t even sit up or I’ll fall off again.”
“Poor guy” sympathises Jeremy. “Why don’t you just come in this raft with me, there’s enough room.”
Grim doesn’t hesitate to ditch the turtle and make his way towards the raft. The river is still only waist height so it is easy to make the change. Once seated comfortably, we are all happy and now no one is complaining.
“Of course the two biggest guys had to be shoved into the same raft.” states Jeremy, being squished next to Grim.
“I don’t even care. I’m happy now that I’m outta that damn turtle.”
“Hey guys see that bridge up ahead. When we reach that, it’s cigar time!” Will says while pointing ahead at a large green bridge, built as a train overpass. It looks close, but we are moving slow. I know it will be at least another half hour before making it.
“You have cigars?” I ask.
“Yep, check it out.” He reveals a zip lock bag full of goodies, such as cigars, a lighter, and candy.
“Give me some of your candy” I demand.
“What. No way! It’s not candy time yet.”
“Whoa, check that out!” shouts Jeremy pointing up into the sky.
Everyone looks up, giving their attention to a group of jet planes, at least ten of them, flying next to each other in a triangle shape, like birds do when flying south for winter. About ten seconds after they pass the aftermath of the sonic boom causes us all to cheer. We all drink to the phenomenon. About a minute later, they pass again, this time with white smoke coming out from behind them, leaving a trail. They do loops, giving us a show. We are all in awe, until being distracted from Will’s yelling.
“Everyone paddle! The current’s taking us into the cliff!”
In a panic, I realise that I was the first one that would hit, so I paddle my inflatable chair with intense force away from it, making my way to the outside of the ring of tubes. Everyone else is struggling to paddle, moving slowly as a group, but manages to get away from the rock ledge. We are all once again, relaxed.
“Those planes are the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. I had no idea that today would be so awesome. I’m not waiting for that bridge, its cigar time.” Will pulls out his bag of goodies and reaches for his cigar pack. He pulls out one for everyone, passing them around, and takes one for himself. Next, he pulls out his lighter, giving it to Grim after lighting his own. Grim lights his, passes the lighter to Jeremy, who’s next to him in his raft, then reaches to pass it to Pete. His arm is outstretched in a struggle to reach his raft, but he lets go of it too soon, losing it into the river.
“Great. What am I supposed to do now?” wins Pete.
“It’s okay, as long as someone is smoking at all times, we can use a cigar as a lighter.” suggests Jeremy.
“That’s not going to be necessary” assures Will, holding up his zip lock bag for everyone to see. It is full of water, creating a sloppy mess of soggy cigars and ruined goods. Everyone looks disappointed, but I am unaffected, enjoying the one cigar I will have, which I lit off of Grim’s cigar. By now we had all obtained a heavy buzz due to the alcohol we were drinking and we were all lying content in our rafts, not saying a word. Taking a long, slow drag from my cigar sent a shock of relaxation throughout my bloodstream. It is peach flavoured, my favourite, and every inhale sends a tingle to my brain. Nobody is talking and I assume, like I, they are enjoying their inebriated stress free state of intoxication.
We are now passing under the green bridge which has been creeping towards us ever so slowly. The bridge is big, but nothing compared to the never ending circumference of the sky overlooking it. The vast abyss of blue empty space stretched beyond the rolling hills and forests of our surroundings. For the first time since forever, I feel free, and wish that I could just lay on this raft until I make it to Mexico. No one has their cell phones, or any technology with them. Civilization is left behind, giving us nothing but the freedom of the open river.
“Look ahead. The river splits!” yells Jeremy. “Should we take the left or right?” Jeremy has appointed himself as leader of the trip, which is fine by me. I want as little responsibility as possible for once and that is what I have, so I’m content.
“No idea.” I reply as I shrug, while everyone looks around, waiting for someone to make a decision.
“Fine!” yells Jeremy. “We are taking the left break. Everyone paddle!” Everyone swings their arms sloppily in the water, making a pathetic, drunken attempt to direct the rafts towards the left channel.
“Oye captain Jeremy, we’ve made your request.” jokes Pete, while lying on his back, with not a care in the world.
The current suddenly slows, and our rafts stop dead in the middle of the river.
“Dammit Jeremy, you picked the wrong turn. Now we are going to have to paddle our way out of here if we want to ever make it to the city before dark.” I state, annoyingly. Looking towards the sky, a bit of worry starts to overtake me as I notice that the sun is starting to fall.
“Oye, new orders via Captain Jeremy... Paddle!” Again everyone, using their hands, gives a pathetic attempt to guide the rafts. After what feels like hours, we are out of the area, back into a steady current.
“Does anyone know what time it is?” I ask.
“I have no idea. Who cares?” answers Grim.
“We’ve been out here for nearly four hours. We haven’t even made it to the part where we were going to start yet and the sun is starting to go down. Do you think we will make it to your vehicle before dark?”
“Look over there!” interrupts Jeremy. “It’s a bald eagle.”
The sight sidetracks me from my worried state, which no one else seemed to be effected by. Standing calmly, about ten feet away, perched heroically on a branch is the first bald eagle that I’ve ever seen. The bird looks triumphant, his claws huge, gripping tightly around the branch that’s supporting him. With his head perched sideways, standing still, unaffected by our presence, he stands proud, bathing in his own existence. The claws are huge. They look as if they could tear apart a carcass, while ripping the flesh from the bone; it is truly a beautiful sight.
“There’s only around five hundred of em’ birds left in the world.” states Jeremy.
“Is that true?” asks Pete.
“Yeah man, I heard it on the discovery channel. They are an endangered species.”
“Well I feel privileged to have seen one.” I interrupt with excitement. Everyone agrees.
“It’s pretty awesome guys, but we are out of beer and I don’t feel drunk anymore.” interrupts Will.
“I don’t think that’s our biggest problem.” I interrupt. “It’s going to be dark before we make it to our car. The sun is already starting to set.”
“He’s right. It’s already starting to feel colder.” replies Will. We all sit quietly observing the sky, debating what to do.
“What should we do?” asks Grim, breaking the silence.
“I don’t think there’s much we can do. We could get off when we reach the city and call someone for a ride, but I doubt we’ll make it there before night fall.” replies Jeremy.
The next hour goes by fast and it still feels as if we are no closer to where we should be. No one has any idea where we are and the sky is starting to darken. The sun has sunken low, disappearing behind the hills, and reappearing as we go around bends in the river.
“I’d say we have ten minutes of sunshine left, so enjoy it boys.” states Pete, filling everyone with worry. Our bodies are covered in goose bumps and we are all shivering, curled up in our rafts. The cold continues to grow like a plague, killing every last bit of enjoyment. Our teeth are all rattling, and dusk is chasing away the sun, while we remain in the middle of nowhere.
“I can’t stand this anymore! I’m not going down the river in complete darkness.” Says Will with a sense of panic and fear in his voice. “Pull over here.” He points to a grassy slope on the edge of the rivers bank.
Everyone works together to paddle to the edge, letting Will leave his raft for land.
“I’m going too.” I proclaim, stepping out of the tube, to find somewhere to piss.
“Adios!” yells Jeremy as the rest of the crew disappears into the dusk, leaving Will and I behind.
“What the hell are they doing?!” I roar.
“They’re leaving us, I guess.”
“Screw them; I hope they have fun trying to find their way in the dark.” I stand, facing away from Will, while letting nature call.
“We’re better off. It’s too cold in the water.”
While tying my shorts up, I turn around. “So... What should we do? We are in the middle of God knows where with no shoes, clothes, or anything.”
“Let’s just get out of here before it’s too dark to see anything.”
We are wet, cold, shivering, and have nothing but shorts on. Fear gives me chills as I look up the huge hill we have to climb, while praying that we will find civilization once we make it to the top.
A scream comes from Will as he takes the lead into the tall grass that coveres the hill.
“There’re pokey plants everywhere! It’s impossible to not step on them. We’re going to have to run through them.”
I sighed, looking through the grass at the underbrush covered in sharp weeds, just ready to pierce my bare feet. Realizing that he was right, I take a breath and run, screaming the entire way. Every step feels like a million pins piercing into my flesh and we were both screaming in pain, just hoping that this would be the worst part of our experience.
“Grim... This really sucks.” exclaims Pete, while assessing the empty rafts. “I feel kinda bad leaving them behind. Do you think they’ll be alright?”
“They’re big boys. They’ll be fine.”
“Stop worrying about it. We have our own problems right now. It’s just going to keep getting colder and darker and pretty soon we are going to be rafting in complete darkness. How will we find where to get off, or where to avoid, or know where we are...”
“At least Jeremy and you are together in the same raft, warming each other up.” cries Pete, sitting alone in his tube shivering. “I’m going to end up with hypothermia.”
“Stop complaining. You’re just making things worse.” replies Jeremy. Everyone sits silent, trying to meditate and escape the realization of the situation. They continue to float, watching the sun slowly sink beyond the horizon.
We reach the top of the hill, with the result of pain throbbing through our feet. Peeking over the top of a large wooden fence, we are filled with disappointment. There is nothing accept gravel everywhere. We climb the fence, ignoring the “No Trespassing” sign, landing hard on the rock surface of the ground.
“We are in the middle of nowhere!” I exclaim, while looking around in every direction. “We have a maximum of thirty minutes before we are forced to camp out here in our swim clothes. We are going to freeze to death, if we are not eaten by wild animals first.”
“Stop talking like that. I’m sleeping in my warm bed at home tonight.” says Will proceeding ahead of me.
“Where are you going?” I ask
“You don’t even know where we are!”
“Shut up! We’re not going to get home by standing here.”
I run quickly to catch up with him, realizing he is right. I run on my toes, trying to avoid the sharp rocks in the gravel.
“Look! A tractor!” yells Will. “I’m gonna try and start it.”
I watch as he climbs into the large operator seat and searches wildly for a key. My feet throb and although I know there isn’t going to be a key, I am relieved that I get to give my throbbing feet some relief. Looking around, everything is gravel, and rock. The earth is dug into craters, which I assume is due to some kind of mining or oil company. After, he gives up, we continue to walk, trying to find someone; anyone.
“Good. We made it to a dead end.” I say with my arms crossed and my hopes of sleeping at home crushed.
“Let’s go this way. It has to lead to somewhere.” Will replies, pointing ahead at a bend that leads past the construction site.
“Okay, we better hurry though; we need to get out of here before it’s completely dark.”
We both run as fast as our feet will carry us, trying hard to block out the pain caused from our bare feet smashing against the gravel path. Everything continues to get darker by the second, and we are running, hoping that the little amount of light left would last long enough to guide us somewhere. We kept running, with no intentions of stopping.
“Look! We did it!” I yell with joy, finding us on a country road. “It can’t be that much further til we find a house. They’ll let us use their phone if we explain what happened.”
We both slow down, breathing heavily, feeling relief that we at least found a road.
“You know, as much as this sucks, this is going to be a funny story one day.” I laugh.
“Ha ha yeah. When we get back, I’m going to order a large pizza for myself.”
The image of a cheesy, hot, fatty pizza makes my mouth water.
“Look ahead, I see lights.” I yell with excitement. We both start running, once again with the anticipation of getting home, getting food and eating ourselves into a coma. Everything is drowned by blackness, so we run towards the light, knowing we are on the road due to the feeling of gravel underneath our feet.
We find ourselves facing a long dirt driveway, lit up by lights on a little country garage. We follow, making our way around the back of the garage to feel the soft, smooth feeling of pavement beneath our feet. We follow the sidewalk up to a porch that leads to the front door of a little country house. Feeling relief and tiredness, I look up and don’t hesitate to knock on the door.