Author: Steven Mohr
Publisher: Status Quo Lit
Amidst the large rolling green hills and the high white capped peaks of the Appalachians, world traversing journalist Elliot Shaw finds himself in a life altering situation mirroring the tragic loss little Avalon, North Carolina faces.
From the other side of the world, Elliot learns of the deadly accident his wife and son have just been in on the country roads of their summer getaway. After making his way back to the Carolinas, questions arise from within the small, secretive town, a town that is going through its own upheaval that’s sparked attention from outsiders. Stationed amidst the disaster by his magazine Poise in Politics, Elliot and the Town of Avalon are forced to reconcile themselves to the new balance fate has set. It doesn’t take long, however, to find this new equilibrium pulled out from under the unsuspecting journalist as he discovers the truth behind a well kept secret.
Elliot’s journey takes him parallel to the various social and political trends pervading a nation that more and more seems on the precipice of disaster.
“Hold on!” Elliot shouted as he jumped to the other side of the raft and clutched the delicate arm of this defiant woman. “Lindy, you’re crazy! As long as I’m here, I’m not letting you get yourself killed, but I can’t promise this isn’t gonna send us both to our early graves!” He pulled her back into the raft just in time for one last sudden vault that sent their little boat flying over the last nodule of turbulence, visible in its frothy white water that jutted from the river’s flat green surface. The two of them and their boat landed safely back into the quickly paced stream of the Pigeon River. At this point, the city raised journalist breathed a sigh of relief as they entered a calm section of the river. From here until at least the next bend that took their future out of view—a quarter of a mile up—the two were safe.
“Eh, I never liked the thought of being buried in the ground and identified by a few words in granite, anyhow! This way we can choose to be buried at sea… or at river.” She looked back and gave Elliot a wink. He couldn’t help but admire and adore her brash Appalachian’ness. It was a characteristic that brought out a degree of hyperbole in every expression. While it made cuteness cuter, it also made obnoxiousness more obnoxious. This was a reality that didn’t seem to favor the men of Appalachia as much as the women. Fortunately for Elliot, he was the virtual opposite of any Appalachian man Lindy had ever met. He had an even keel to his decision making that attracted her. She just wondered if that same calm comportment would hold up under difficult circumstances.
Elliot stood up in the presently peaceful boat. “Who said I chose to be buried here at… river?” He gave Lindy an assured look and waved the comment away. “Eh, but don’t worry. I got this. With me around, there’s no chance of mistake.” With that, Lindy quickly untied the rope that Elliot had been supporting himself with and sent her cocky self-proclaimed protector over the side of the boat and into the water.
“Sorry, I was just try’n to get some of that smug off your face!”
Laughing all the way up, Elliot climbed back into the boat. “But I thought you said this is where mountain folk go to be themselves?”
“Yeah, mountain folk, not you! I didn’t invite you here just so you could take Bret’s place. I invited you here because you’re different than him… and all of them.” As Lindy looked ahead, the large smile on her face went away and was replaced with concern. “You better get in here, Elliot. I think this is about to get rough.”
Elliot peered out and saw what looked like one solid river of bleached white water. Every inch the boat drew nearer, they seemed to pick up speed. Their view slowly gained in definition and now showed the fullness of its treacherous terrain. The two saw large boulders, sharp turns, increased speed thanks to a decline in the landscape, but the worst of all was the distance. Neither Elliot nor Lindy could make out an end to the difficult terrain ahead.
Elliot tried to ease the tension. “Why would anyone name this river after such a plump, lazy bird? This stinking Pigeon River seems anything but oversized and underworked!”
“Maybe it’s just a ruse name,” Lindy responded, “to get unsuspecting Northerners in for a test of their skills.”
“You got it.” She gave another of her seductive winks and immediately afterwards slouched down in preparation for what was to come.
The raft dropped down a two foot fall and doubled in speed. The two of them began paddling intensely as the boat was nearly forced to its broadside, a sure way of tipping even despite its flexible properties. Both of their faces were stoic with concentration. While Lindy had the knowledge that comes with experience, Elliot was determined to pull his weight in the expedition through sheer will and effort. With the strong current doing all the necessary work of propelling them ahead, Elliot and Lindy continued to paddle in whichever direction kept their small inflated vessel tilted straight ahead. The water’s momentum took their boat left and right and through shallow dips and just past jagged rock edges and over the smoothed tops of boulders where the kinetic energy that propelled them was stronger than the gravitational pull that held them down.
In the midst of their dash towards safety, a large half-submerged branch lay before the raft, stretching its way out far enough to be nearly impassible. With the potentialities of this branch diverting the boat from a very narrow path of relative safety to—worse—puncturing it and stealing the air within that kept this young couple afloat, Elliot jumped to the bow and with his paddle he pushed on the branch with all his strength. Realizing it was too big to completely submerge, he chose the secondary goal of shearing off all the lesser twigs and branches that came from the whole, attempting to create a safe passage for the air-dependent boat to make it over the branch. Their first great hurdle passed, Lindy and Elliot mentally prepared for the next. They took deep breaths and rested their arms on the rounded sides of the boat.
The river widened, allowing for a more piercing sun to come from behind the trees and into the sky directly overhead. Lindy used a hand to cover her eyes as she looked out. “Shoot!” she interjected. “I think I know why we haven’t seen anybody else out here rafting.” She pointed ahead. “I guess watching the news before a trip like this isn’t a bad idea…”
Elliot looked out at the expanse of thick muddy water that was beginning to appear more like a small lake than a tributary river. For as far as the eye could see, the distance between edges only grew more distant. “It looks like the banks are flooded. But is that really a problem? Can’t we just make sure we’re paddling our way towards the center? I mean, they’re pretty spread, but we can still see the sides.”
“The problem isn’t seeing the sides it’s what we can’t see right below us.” Lindy put her paddle down and wade her hand through the water. “There’re a lot more submerged trees and bushes like that one we saw back there; plus small fishing docks and boat hookups from little backwoods cottages people have on this river that could be inches under the surface. If we catch one of those, we could be hiking it from here… that is, if we make it to the river’s edge and don’t have any encounters with a gator.”
“Well, there’s no going back upstream, so I guess the only thing to do now is keep paddling and hope for the best.” Both of them began to paddle in a slower more methodical fashion with much greater attention paid to the water directly in front of them. Elliot tried to think of something that would calm the fears of his companion. “Hey Lindy, what do you think a mermaid would wear to an international math competition?” The only return given was a quick look of pity for her friend in the midst of seeming regression. It didn’t deter Elliot. “I’m gonna guess an algae-bra.”
An unintended giggle came out of Lindy. “An international math competition? Is there such a thing? What would they even do, see who could solve some lame question using the quadratic equation the quickest? By the way, has anyone with a normal job ever had to use that equation in real life before? I feel like so much of my school days were wasted on it... But never mind that. Where did you get a ridiculous joke like that? Do you have some handy cheesy joke ready for any given situation?” She looked down for a second, and when her head came back up she continued in a slightly less teasing tone, “If we ever got married… would I have to worry about taking you out into public?”
Elliot took a moment to continue after a slight shock from her last words. “Well, the short answer is: yes. I will embarrass you everywhere we go! Ha, no, that’s not true. At least I hope not! But, I will admit, I like to have stuff to talk about when I’m around pretty girls, so yesterday I looked up some info about rivers.”
“And you chose to go with that?” At this point she allowed herself a full laugh. The boat shook in sync with Lindy as her small body lay over the side, griped by the unconscious act of true laughter and regulated less by her than by her innate limbic system. She slowly gained her composure and looked back at her comedic source. “Your cheeks are red. Aw, I’m sorry. You were trying to make me feel better and it worked! That actually reminds me of one I heard from Sophia the other day. Wh… ah… what made… what made the lobster blush?”
“I don’t know. Did his beautiful date just completely rip apart every strategy he’d ever come up with on how to socialize with girls?” Elliot replied, still playing the facetious part of the oblivious boy.
“Nope. He blushed because the sea weed…”
Before Elliot’s innate machinations even had a chance to encourage a return of the symbol of emotional attachment that laughter is, more primal instincts began pumping adrenaline through his veins. From the back of the raft, both of the passengers heard a distinct popping sound followed by a low wheeze. “We must’ve snagged something,” he said in a voice that gave away no discomfort. After the initial shock, Lindy and Elliot’s minds calmed. They realized, while the situation wasn’t ideal, it also wasn’t dire. Elliot continued, “In my own defense, this somewhat vindicates my limited skills at gauging social situations. I, in fact, did bring duct tape to deal with just such a problem.” He began looking through his bag and pulling out the band aid to their dilemma.
“Well, well. I may have a little use for you after all.”
The two of them manned their posts. Elliot put together a very temporary patch of the hole with a large quantity of tape while Lindy paddled their injured and bleeding boat back to shore. This trip was turning out to be a larger endeavor than was previously discussed. But whether it had been ill planned or was exactly what Lindy had been looking for, Elliot wasn’t sure. Either way, he was enjoying every minute of being in the Carolina wilderness with his beautiful charge. They found a safe place to bring their boat ashore and set up an ad hock campsite, built from the meager supplies they had taken with them. It had been decided that by the time they could have blown enough air back into the boat by mouth and gotten back into the water, it would be too dark to safely maneuver their way through this death enticing river so unsuitably named. Elliot gathered twigs and small branches strewn across the ground and worked on setting up a fire as Lindy made their nighttime accommodations. With the soft raft now safely on land, she flipped it over and used it as an air mattress, putting beach towels she had brought over the crude plastic. Looking for an additional chore as Elliot continued to work on a presentable fire, she scrounged through the waterproof bag she had with her. After finding what she was looking for, she proceeded to put various components together.
“Here,” Lindy said while offering Elliot a bite of sustenance in their unsustainable environment. “You should eat.”
“Pita bread and hummus. Wow, I never would’ve expected such luxury in such a wild setting.” He accepted the gift and ate it in three bites. Immediately, he went back to finishing up his project before the dark made it impossible to see and made their situation all the more uncertain.
“First impressions can deceive you,” Lindy said with eyes that shined in the reflection of a budding fire. “Sometimes elegant things can be found in wild places, and other times it’s the opposite. I like when you don’t know what to expect next…”
With the fire blazing and the dark forest all around them filled with sounds of life, Lindy sat clutching her water bottle, shivering at every gulp. Elliot put his arm around her and grasped her tightly. “Should we tell ghost stories?”
Lindy smiled. “You would say that. I’ve got a better idea.” She kissed him lightly on the lips, stood up, and walked over to the makeshift bed.
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