I’m very excited to welcome fellow #RRBC member, Mark Bierman author of Vanished! He’s sharing a true story based on his friend’s experience.
“Left is death.” These are the guide’s last words to us, before the mighty Ottawa is halved by the stone island with cliffs that rise fifteen feet on all sides. I cling to the handles of my glorified flutter board, known as a riverboard, in river-junkie lingo. My legs kick furiously against the freight-train current, a byproduct of tons of H2o that seems of a will to push me towards the promised waterfall of death. I’m winning! The nose of my personal craft is pointed to the right.
Something slams into me from behind and I turn my head, expecting a rogue wave, or perhaps a muskie. It’s neither. The blur of a blue helmet and a yellow-life jacket, speeds past. The rider, a good friend, offers no apology for knocking me off course. He’s not being intentionally rude, just too engaged in ‘flight’ mode, unaware that he’s just condemned me.
The cottage-sized rapids brew a storm of terror as the island passes to my right and I’m suddenly alone. Cresting a wave, I search frantically for my killer, but instead of a waterfall, the remnants of an ancient concrete structure appear downstream, then disappear as I careen down the back of the liquid leviathan into a trough deeper than Jacob’s Well.
Dam! I scream in silence as I dare not open my mouth and drown. I recall our guide, Harley, or Holly, as we’d mistakenly called him during the introductions, warning us in his thick New Zealand accent that the only way to retrieve a body is to call the authorities and have them close off the hydro-electric dam located miles upstream. I’m yanked from the depths and treated to a blinding facial slap, yet behind my eyelids I visualize my only salvation, the island.
I order the last drop from spent adrenal glands for a final push towards stone razors that offer way too close of a shave. My vision clears briefly before repeatedly being assaulted by the eye-wash station from Hell. I cut across the animated hills and valleys in a Herculean feat to reach the only spot on the jagged cliff that won’t eviscerate my corpse, a small cavern dug by eons of hungry waves.
I cannot escape. The mighty Ottawa is bent on sending me to the bottom as it shoves my board violently under the cavern roof. I’m pinned beneath, unable to breath, my life jacket is nothing more than a morbid and ironic fashion accessory. My will to survive overrides the deadly circumstance and my burning legs push against the walls. I’m free, but manage to gulp a mere ounce of oxygen, before I’m squished into the same hole, like a garlic in a press.
Holly! I beg internally. Where are you? Are you too busy flirting with those women on the rafts? Put away your playboy ways, for a moment, and do your job! But Holly doesn’t come. My thoughts settle on my wife and children, whom I’ll never see again. Thankfully, I’m an insurance broker in a soon to be past life, and the Life is paid up. I push off again and surface.
“Just swim towards me, mate.” Harley yells.
I open my mouth to shout an objection to this oversimplified strategy and drink a gallon of Canadian history.
Harley seems nonplussed. “Swim, just swim, mate.”
I shake my head and sink once more, but the company, even one so useless, spurs me into immediate action. I break the surface but this time, my flippers and one hand have found purchase on a less deadly piece of the island.
Harley realizes the fallibility of his plan and swims to me, grabbing the handle of my board and ordering a “hang on.”
Harley may be preoccupied with the extracurricular, but he has the strength of a tugboat, swimming against the river giants, with me in tow. We round the island and reach the bank. My friends are there and I give the offender a cold stare.
Normally a man of sound mind, he realizes his transgression and offers numerous apologies.
Harley smiles and waves his hand dismissively. He shakes his head and chuckles. “There was never any danger. We’ve already passed the waterfall a few miles ago. Don’t you remember when I had everyone get into the raft? We went through the White Monster, that’s where the danger zone was.”
Safe? No danger! I wanted to beat this man with my flippers. “What about the manmade death trap, the old dam?”
His eyes took on a look of incredulity, as if I spent my days on a board, instead of riding a desk. “All you had to do was stick to the middle of the river. You would have sailed past it all and joined us at the end of the island. You see, never any danger.”
My hand reaches for a flipper, but I think better of it. The day is almost over, the biggest rapids supposedly conquered. I’ll cool my temper with a cold beer on the patio later, as I vow never to stick a toe in these waters again.
About the Author:
Born and raised on a farm near Brockville, Ontario, Mark Bierman’s childhood consisted of chores, riding horses, snowmobile races across open fields, fishing trips to a local lake, and many other outdoor adventures. He was also an avid reader of both fiction and non.
Transitioning towards adulthood also meant moving from the farm and into large urban areas that introduced this “country boy” to life in the big cities.
Drawing on his many experiences as a private investigator and later a Correctional Officer, Mark combines his unique experiences and imagination to create his stories and characters