Sunday morning. The early springtime sun peaked over the eastern edge of the bank, sprinkling the water with dancing diamonds as it spilled over the rocky base.
Pete hitched his pants up higher, as he picked his way along the shore hopping from rock to rock, fishing pole slung over his shoulder, a bulging bait pouch tied to his belt along with a hard box containing several lures made by hand.
His best friend Sam mimicked his steps, hopping precisely from wet rock to slippery ledge, balancing himself precariously for a second on one foot when Pete paused suddenly.
“I bet the bass are clustered under that rock ledge over there” Pete said, pointing to an outcropping where there swiftly running river swirled and back washed before being sucked back into the frothy grey green waters.
“Yeah,” said Sam with a push, wobbling for a second, ” keep moving will ya?”
Pete jumped up onto the ledge and with long practice, scrambled up the shell encrusted surface of the stone ledge.
The locals said that the great stone had been ballast in a doomed freighter that had come close to being sucked over the falls near a hundred years ago, the remains of the barge still stuck to the upper river rocks to this day. The boat fascinated Sam who imagined it had to be haunted.
He peered down the river at the spooky boat, the waters parting and rushing past its rusting hulk. A soft sigh lifted from the waters as it whispered past the doomed vessel and Sam shivered, imagining trapped souls long departed, longing for rescue.
“Are you coming?” Pete asked, waving a frenetic hand before his face. “The bass are most active early morning or late afternoon.” He sank down onto the rock and began to relax his line from where it was tied off on the pole, inching it out onto the rock.
Sam hopped over beside him on the rock, the sun hitting him square in the eyes, blinding him. He squinted and raised a hand to deflect the sharp glare.
Pete upended his bait pouch on the rock, extracting the fattest dew worm he could find. The inferior bait wriggled on the rocks, attempting to escape to who-knew-where, slithering frantically toward fates yet to be announced.
Sam pounced on one that seemed headed for the river and threaded it onto his hook, setting a spinner above it for good measure. He scooted to the edge of the rock so to not show his shadow and still shading his eyes, peered into the calm back water over the edge.
At first, he could barely discern the small mouth bass in the water but then he began to pick out the straight dark lines that marked the backs of the lazily swimming fish, tails automatically correcting their position so as to make them seem stationary.
He scrambled to launch his bait loaded lure into the water. The line zinged as it sped out of the reel, the pole plopping the loaded line several feet behind the fish and allowing it to drift to their secluded hideout.
Pete’s cast took him a little further afield, the jerk of the line putting him more out into the current, tumbling along.
Pete’s line snapped taut and his pole bent as the force of the current and whatever powerful beast of a fish had snagged it, hauled his pole out straight.
“Oh my lord, is that a fish?” Pete gasped. hauling on the pole as it bent double. “or is it a log?”
Sam glanced over, watching his line twitch aimlessly in the waters. He frowned when he saw the trouble Pete was enduring with his pole, the combined current and whatever was on his line causing Pete’s feet to slip on the wet rock.
“Maybe you should cut that free. Its probably a log, or some debris from up river.”
Pete nodded and reached back for his jack knife tucked into his belt.
With a lurch and a solid whack, the pole in Pete’s hands jumped and caught on the buttons of his plaid overshirt and with a sudden whine of released reel, Pete tumbled into the river.
“Ahh!” Sam screamed, flinging his pole and attempting to grab Pete but the current grabbed him and swept him out of reach. The river swirled him out into the current, towards the falls thundering in the distance. Pete bobbled like a plaid beach ball, his shirt spooning into an oval that floated him on the crest of the rapids.
Sam screamed for help, uselessly hollerng for someone, anyone to respond, but the shores were deserted. Decent people were still in bed and the deceitful were passed out.
Pete screamed “HELP ME!!” before disappearing under a turbulent swell.
Pete’s jacket bobbled further and further downstream as he screamed. Sam scrambled to pull his cell phone out of his pocket and called 911. The operator answered with the standard “You have reached the emergency operator, please state the nature of the emergency.”
Sam screamed into the receiver “My friend fell into the Niagara River, he is being pulled down stream. HE IS GOING TO GO OVER THE FALLS!” he hollered at the phone, watching the red plaid bob in the water, helpless to do anything to rescue him.
Sam jumped up and down on the rock, frantic and crying, beside himself with fear. He bent over and threw up in the water. The bile swirled downstream as rapidly as Pete, who was hollering and flailing as he swirled closer to the brink.
The operator returned to the line.
“We have dispatched the Niagara Regional Police marine and the U.S. Coast Guard unit to assist” the operator calmly advised from his phone.
“Oh my God, he will be over the falls by then!” Sam slammed down the phone and abandoning their gear, began hopping back to shore, thinking to follow Pete, but by the time he reached shore, Pete was nowhere in site. He sank to his knees on the shoreline and wept.
Pete thrashed in the water, scrabbling to grab rocks and branches, whatever presented itself to his frantically flailing hands, desperate to find some purchase that would stop his swift and dramatic tumble over the 51 meter (188 ft) drop into the Niagara Gorge.
He tumbled over and down into the sink hole of a deep drift of water, plunging down and tossed like a tumble weed in a prairie soaked field, rolling end over end.
Abruptly his body slammed into a solid surface that snagged his waist band, halting his head over heals spin. He grabbed the metal frame and clutched at it desperately, struggling to keep from being swept further downstream. The rough surface under his hands was porous and flaked under his nails. With a gasp he dragged air into his taxed lungs and forced his head above the greedy surface of the waters.
It was the scow.
With trembling limbs he hauled his body up onto the abandoned hunk and lay panting, water sluicing from his body. Staggering to his feet, he gagged on the excess water he had taken in.
On the deck of the stranded ship, was the remnants of the old wheel house and several metal barrels, bolted to the metal floor. Pete staggered over to a barrel and clutched it in desperation, collapsing on its curved surface. The angle of the barrel relaxed his body and with a mighty heave, he vomited and choked out what seemed to be a large part of Lake Erie. Repeatedly he coughed and choked and emptied what was left of his stomach contents.
He hung limp over the barrel and passed into unconsciousness, just as he heard the police boat sirens approach.
Idiom: ” OVER A BARREL”
From “The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms” by Christine Ammer (First Paperback Edition, 2003)
“In a weak or difficult position…This slangy expression, first recorded in 1938, supposedly alludes to reviving a drowning victim by placing the body head down over a barrel and rolling it back and forth , so as to empty the lungs of water. The expression survives although happily the practice does not.”
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