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Two Canoes

written by James Bell February 7, 2018

Two Canoes

By James Bell

 

Mc Phail was aware that his name rhymed with fail. It had made him push himself. That’s why he was now a graduate student at McMaster University in Hamilton.

The trip out to the wilds of Ontario in Canada with three other guys in two canoes was another challenge to beat his personal sense of failure. Soon he would have to tell a story round the campfire. Bane made this a ritual after dinner after they had paddled the River Ogoki all day. He could not think of a story.

A couple of professors had issued the challenge to students in the science faculty. The only non-student in the party of four was Ben Crow, one of the original Algonquin people of Ontario. He spoke little but related a fabulous creation story from Algonquin myth that with sound and actions regaled everyone on the first night.

Four days and nights out and the same back were the expedition requirements. The two canoes were fibre glass, recreations of big traditional Algonquin war canoes and meant their equipment and food could be carried with ease. Tthe team, bar Ben, flew from Hamilton to the Ogoki airstrip and were driven into town where everything awaited them.

Mc Phail as botanist, had had a good four days, found several plants and flowers he was convinced were undiscovered and looked forward to naming them.

Allenby, was a geologist and seemed to think about nothing but stone. His voice was a monotone. His story on the second night droned on and spoiled an otherwise star and moonlit filled night sky. The tale was about an expedition where he had slid down a screed and trapped a foot. Dehydrated and suffering from sunstroke he was considering ways to amputate the foot by the second day.

Bane was on the trip as a sports science graduate student specialising in extreme sports and survival skills. He and Crow both had rifles. While the latter was laconic about having a weapon in his possession Bane liked to flash his around to exhibit his manhood.

“Never mind Mac,” It’s only a scare bear tactic,” he said with a leer to Mc Phail and bayed like a wolf.

Bane’s story on the third night was delivered with his customary exuberance. It entailed graphic descriptions of conquests with the female gender and had the same effect as Allenby’s tale the night before, though with the opposite delivery style.

Now it was Mc Phail’s turn.  

Illustration by Kieran O’Halloran

 

“Chow’s ready,” bellowed Bane from the campfire he built each night when they came ashore and moored the canoes. Mc Phail was teamed with the reliable Crow, who tended to do most of the mooring.

Mc Phail was greeted with the Bane grimace that passed for a smile.

“Story!” declared Bane like a TV show host after coffee had been poured.

There was only the crackle of the fire and the trickle of river water. They generally camped on promontories where possible. Crow and Bane agreed it would be a deterrent for wild animals, especially with the fire built up on the remaining landward side. Mc Phail took a deep breath and began.

“The first time I went camping there was no fire like this. A guy I knew got a tent for his birthday so we took it down to a patch of grass behind a hedge beside the River Almond. This is just outside Edinburgh at a place called Cramond. We had torches, sleeping bags, bottles of Coca Cola and nothing else. It was a full moon and we talked about ghosts, werewolves and girls. We got excited about the idea of girls being in the tent with us. Food smells came from the nearby Cramond Inn and wind whistled round the cables of yachts. Somebody suggested we took a walk up the path by the river. Eyes used to the dark we didn’t bother with torches. Soon we heard people coming from the other direction, so we swooped forward waving our arms. It was a couple, man and woman, and when they saw our forms run towards them they ran off as we emerged from the darkness thinking we were ghosts.”

Mc Phail tried to dramatise the final sentences with arm movements and a heightened voice tone but it fell flat.

“Is that it?” asked Bane. “That’s all there is to your story. The night is still young buddy.”

“Yes, that’s it,” said McPhail weakly.

“Did you say Cramond?” asked  Bane but didn’t wait for an answer. “I went there once with a girl. This happened to us. She was so frightened we had to go all the way back to town for supper.” The way it was said sounded like a threat.

Mc Phail was terror struck.

“Just joshin’, Mc Phail. Never been to Scotland,” said Bane and followed this with a wolf like howl of laughter.

“Looks like it’s time for some shut eye now,” Bane continued, forgetting he had already said the night was still young. He got up, ignored everybody and went off to his tent. Crow set the fire to burn slowly with some damp wood that would smoke into the night and ward off bears. Crow said they had learned to be cautious of man long ago. Mc Phail and Allenby drifted to their own tents.

Mc Phail sat upright in his sleeping bag. He didn’t believe Bane about not being at Cramond that night. Bane would do something to him. Mc Phail thought about just taking a canoe and heading downriver without stopping. He could just take a few necessary things, sleep in the canoe and float downstream to Ogoki; using a paddle instead of an outboard motor should not be too difficult.

As he mulled over these thoughts a large face poked through the entrance to his tent. It had big furry ears, a long snout, large canine teeth and blood red eyes. A familiar voice said in a deep growl: “Hi Mac. Time to finish the story.”

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