In case you missed the opening chapters of the story, here are the links:
Panic on the River: Friends Join Up
Panic on the River: Disaster Strikes
Here’s a short excerpt from the previous chapter to help us to navigate better before we plunge into the final chapter:
The raft dashes to catch up to Fred, who is looming closer and closer. With a few more yards yet to go, Fred may soon be saved from the clutches of the river.
Out of nowhere, a large tree limb cuts between the raft and Fred. Like a large water snake gathering speed, the enormous splinter of wood rushes through the water towards Fred.
Fred’s grip loosens as he is knocked back into the main waters of the Little Gulch.
Randy and Bill groan in utter disbelief at Fred’s terrible misfortune. Pete senses that it is now or never for saving Fred. He alerts his boat mates with a shout that he will try to save poor Fred.
Before Randy and Bill have a chance to persuade Pete to remain safely in the boat, he jumps into the high tide of the Little Gulch. Unlike Fred, Pete’s life vest assists him as he manages to keep his head above the surface of the river’s furious charge.
Calling upon his swimming prowess (remember those high school medals), he furiously sets a pace to reach Fred as quickly as possible. Fred, who is about to breathe his last gasp of air, begins to feel the final power of the river upon his tired, weary soul.
Stroke after stroke, Pete’s “state championship” swimming form propels him forward as he cuts the distance quickly. Ignoring the aching pain in his long-dormant swimming muscles, Pete doggedly pushes himself to reach a nearly unconscious Fred in time.
Meanwhile, Randy and Bill struggle to keep the bulky rubber tube plowing a straight line towards their pair of friends in the water. Randy hopes that both of his friends survive the death grip being applied by a nasty and angry river.
The Little Gulch prepares to take Fred with her, and possibly Pete, too. The river’s “Grim Reaper” stands poised to claim another drowning victim or two.
Feeling his last bit of strength giving way, Fred succumbs to the river’s never-ending power. He is totally out of energy; out of any more willpower . . . the river stands ready to claim final victory!
Pete is reaching his physical limits. He feels his arms and legs beginning to cramp, but he tries to push on. If he quits now, Fred’s final doom is sealed.
Death, the river wins!
Looking ahead, his water-filled eyes can no longer locate Fred. Yet, Pete finds a hidden reserve of energy to continue his sprint to where he last saw Fred.
Where is Fred?
Has the Little Gulch pulled his lifeless body to her rocky bottom?
Where will she spit out his body for others to find so that his passing can be treated with dignity?
So many questions to answer as time seems to stand still momentarily. Randy and Bill trail behind in the cumbersome boat. Pete is pushing himself beyond his physical capabilities. Fred seems to have perished from an “accidental drowning” (as the weekly Clifton newspaper prints in its next edition).
Fred and Pete may well have met their match with the Little Gulch, which stands poised to render both of them as new victims on the river’s scorecard.
Randy and Bill strain to see what lies ahead. Unbelievably, their eyes locate something or someone rising out of the water just ahead.
Hooray! Fred is back!
The unforgiving Little Gulch has made a tactical error. Her death grip has maneuvered Fred to a gravel bar, hidden just below the river’s violent surface. The guys cannot believe it!
Slowly Fred gains more consciousness. He realizes that his nightmare has finally ended, and he will live to see another sunrise. He ungracefully stands on his feet—a bit wobbly, but slowly regaining more strength and balance.
By the same miracle, Pete is also deposited upon the same narrow gravel strip. He is exhausted, his lungs appear to breathe no more, and he lies there silently and very still. Fred looks down at his would-be rescuer, and he begins to weep. His own stupidity and panic have allowed the river to take away his dear friend.
The raft approaches a standing, remorseful Fred and a motionless Pete. Randy and Bill fear the worst for their stricken comrade while thinking that Fred’s transgressions started this terrible sequence of events in the first place.
Without warning! Another spectacular outcome is witnessed by all.
Pete’s lungs begin to take in fresh, life-supporting air. He sluggishly feels his exhausted body trying to recover some of its misplaced energy and strength. He has no idea of what has happened to Fred.
Glancing up, he notices a shadow above him. “Is that really you Fred?”
Fred kneels down and gives Pete a big hug! He feels overjoyed to see his good pal, who risked his life to rescue him.
Rushing in, Randy and Bill beach the raft a moment later. The disheveled boat is partly filled with water from their ordeal. Everyone helps to bail out the remnants of the Little Gulch’s fury and to examine their possessions.
Bill finds the empty rope at the bow, which used to be securely fastened to the cold beer. Now like an empty fish hook, the beer has been swallowed up by the thirsty river. Much of the lunch is water-logged and will have to be thrown away. Actually, food doesn’t sound too tasty as this particular moment. Perhaps the steakhouse at Clifton will offer a better tasting menu.
But at least, the men are safe and together once again. They are feeling an urge to celebrate just a little bit, but their mood will need to stay calm until they reach Clifton. The three look at Fred with more than a morsel of disappointment and frustration. His brazen insanity has ruined a “memorable” float trip on the Little Gulch and nearly taken two men to their graves.
From his pocket, Fred retrieves an unopened can of beer. He hurriedly pops its top, and begins his own private celebration. Afterall, he has survived the river’s best shot, and his heart is still ticking! Amazing!
Pete gingerly walks towards Fred, and rips the can from his grasp. Pouring the liquid out slowly cannot conceal Pete’s hidden anger and annoyance with Fred. While Fred protests, Pete pays little attention. With the empty beer can gripped in his right hand, he crushes the aluminum cylinder into Fred’s forehead.
Fred crumbles to the bottom of the raft, and Bill quickly dresses him in a life vest. The men make haste to finish their journey without any more adventure from Fred or the Little Gulch.
Eventually, the quartet of river adventurers reaches their final destination at Clifton. While trying to enjoy a delicious four-course dinner at the well-known steakhouse, the men feel exhausted and rather subdued. There will be no celebration tonight! Even Fred looks tired and rather apologetic for his actions.
As the evening’s full moon shines brightly in a cloudless sky, everyone (with the possible exception of Fred) feels that this will certainly be the only time that Fred will ever float the Little Gulch. The worn out trio of river rats still desires to return again in the future to enjoy their friendship along with safe, adventurous fun.
Without crazy Fred . . . stirring up another day of panic on the river!