Johnny Winchester: River Hunter

JOHNNY WINCHESTER:

RIVER HUNTER

By Elizabeth Carr

Text copyright © 2013 Elizabeth
Carr

All Rights Reserved

Dedication

To those who may imagine that they see similarities
to themselves in certain characters within, be assured that I have the utmost respect
for all my characters and I sincerely hope those with such notions will enjoy
the story in the spirit in which it is intended.  Further, this little
tale is dedicated to those with just such notions, and others like them, who
entertain and educate with such an enjoyable mix of fun and drama.

And thanks to Steve for his invaluable assistance.

 

Table of
Contents

The Plane Ride

The River

The First Night

In the Emergency Room

The Room at the Inn

Waiting for the NTSB Inspector

The Interview

The Trip Home

Another Brush with Death

A Trial Run

The
Plane Ride

Deep blue sky arched overhead, wild boreal forest gave
way to endless tundra below, the two colliding at the horizon in all
directions.  The tiny four-
seater
plane slid
effortlessly through a mild Alaskan breeze, carrying a pilot and three tourists
high above the stunning landscape.  Black spruce, thin both in diameter
and dispersion, rose from the earth to different heights; smaller trees and
bushes of various colors and textures filled in the spaces.  A sparkling,
blue ribbon of water snaked through the forest, interrupted here and there by
streaks of tiny, white bubbles.

Two of the tourists were Louis and Edna, a retired
couple from a large city in Minnesota; the third was Suzi, a single,
middle-aged woman from a small town in Idaho.  Lou and Edna had raised
their two daughters and a son, then retired, intending to travel to all the
places they’d always wanted to see.  Suzi, after bringing her two sons
safely to adulthood (or at least as close to it as any son gets), let herself
start dreaming about trips she’d like to take, deciding to start with a
first-hand look at the Alaskan landscape. 

Utter and thorough fright at the thought of flying in a
small plane, however, was somewhat of a problem.  Larger jets were doable,
they were made of heavy metal, and big enough to perhaps fight gravity and
actually win; but sitting in a tiny cylinder of lightweight foil, hanging in
the sky, completely at the mercy of nature, was, well, an absolutely
overwhelming contemplation.  Still, the tundra and the forests, using the
arctic winds that dipped into the Pacific Northwest, called to her loudly and she
determined to overcome her fears and answer the summons.

No one among her friends and family shared her passion
or heard their name on the wind, so, after much soul-searching, she decided to
go alone.  Boarding a jet in Spokane, she made the trip to Anchorage in
August with mixed emotions.  She was excited, exhilarated, and
petrified.  The first two days, she sight-saw around the city and even
bus-toured along the edges of the forest in hopes of being satisfied.  But
it was all to no avail.  A flight on a small sightseeing plane was her
only solution, so she booked a basic three-hour tour with a one-plane,
one-pilot sightseeing outfit.  If she could get this behind her, it being
Tuesday, she’d have her fears replaced by memories and most of the week left to
relax and enjoy Alaska.

A fitful night’s sleep left her tired, the anxiety of
anticipation left her stomach tightened and churning.  She wasn’t the
least bit hungry, but she’d learned from hard experience that fear on an empty
stomach was the worst kind of fear, so she forced down a light breakfast. 
Then, hoping she wasn’t visibly shaking (though she certainly was inside) she
made her way to the airstrip and, whispering a fervent prayer, climbed onto the
wing, ducked through the narrow door, and was seated.  With the click of
her seatbelt, she braced herself for take-off, and spent her first twenty
minutes expecting, each and every second, to simply fall from the sky.  In
a moment she would like to have called bravery, but was simply a lapse in her
fight with terror, she peeked out the window.  The scenery was
breathtaking, captivating her attention so thoroughly that it was her fear that
fell and was replaced with the thrill of the stunning sights.  It escaped
her why she hadn’t done this sooner.

Lou was silent, intimidated by the pristine beauty; Edna

Oohhed
’ and ‘
Awwed

continually; the pilot (just call me Manning) casually pointed out this or
that, here and there.  Being in the seat directly behind the pilot, the
only instrument within Suzi’s view was the compass, so when he mumbled
something about the instruments going haywire, she wasn’t quite sure what he
meant.  Lou, sitting in the front seat, spoke for the first time since
take-off.

“Is something wrong?” he asked, obviously shaken.

“Oh, it’s just this vortex we’re going through.  Go
through it all the time around here.  All the instruments go berserk, but
they’ll be back right quick.  Don’t worry, with this weather, I don’t need
them instruments.”

“That’s good to hear, because they’re all spinning like
crazy,” Lou responded.

Indeed, the compass-needle circled wildly, putting a
knot in Suzi’s stomach and a chill up her spine.

“My goodness!” Edna started.  “Are we going to be
okay?  Nothing’s going to happen, is it?  Oh my!”

“No, no,” Manning assured.  “I could fly this thing
in a thunderstorm on a moonless night!”

“Oh my!  Oh my!” Edna kept repeating.

Lou twisted to address his wife seated directly behind
him.  “Now, Mother, calm down.  Mr. Manning knows what he’s doing.”

As if to prove him wrong, the engine sputtered then
caught, sputtered then caught, it coughed and spat, then quit altogether. 
Silence replaced the noisy hum of the engine, silence that was deafening. 
It was soon interrupted by Manning’s curses and Edna’s fretting, underlaid with
Lou’s deep voice quietly repeating some prayer as the little cylinder’s forward
momentum succumbed to gravity.

Black spruce, which were, seconds before, beautiful,
came at them like swift, leafy spears; the first sheared off the passenger-side
wing, spinning the fuselage into a larger spruce, hitting squarely against
Manning’s window.  Fluttering aimlessly to the ground, not unlike an
injured bird, the lightweight foil buckled and crunched, the glass
shattered.  Finally coming to rest, the silence took over again amidst
dust and leaves whirling around the remains of the plane.

The
River

Johnny Winchester loved to fish.  At six years old,
he, unbeknownst to anyone, borrowed a pole from his father, dug up some fat,
juicy worms from his mother’s garden, and walked the two miles to the nearest
river.  With a bit of experimentation, he managed to catch a small fish,
and he was hooked.  Even the week he was confined to his room, the
consequence for absconding with Father’s property, or the bitter taste of the
few morsels of the midget yellow-spotted Queen fish that remained after Mother
cleaned and fried it, could not dissuade him.  Childhood for Johnny
consisted of chores, school, homework, and fishing (Father gave him some of his
older poles), and adolescence consisted, rather than playing school sports and
partying as his classmates did, of working odd jobs to afford sturdier, better
rods and reels, planning summer trips to larger and larger rivers to catch
bigger and bigger fish.

Some aspects of adolescence, however, will not be
replaced by any other passion, so Johnny, late in secondary school, took on his
very first sweetheart.  At the start it was great fun; he felt, for a
time, like a normal teen, but more quickly than the girlfriend liked, the draw
of fishing took him away and after six months, she broke up with him.  By
the time he reached twenty years of age, he realized that to be true to his
sport and the fairer sex, he would have to decide on one and leave the other
behind.  It should be obvious by now, that fishing won out and he gave it
his all, which was substantial, for he was a talented, passionate man.  At
University, while studying biology, he developed an environmental conscience
which resulted in a move to catch-and-release fishing, but for fishes necessary
for food.

Odd jobs and an austere lifestyle followed
college.  Thusly keeping his living expenses to a minimum, he stored away
every pound he could, putting it towards his dream trip of fishing the Amazon
River.  Progress, however, was painfully slow, so he fulfilled the
requirements to achieve Qualified Teacher Status and taught secondary school,
both biology and basic meal preparation for boys.  It was the perfect job
for Johnny, providing decent pay and long summer holidays.  Maintaining his
austere lifestyle, his Amazon River Fishing Trip Fund grew quickly until he
found himself planning the trip of a lifetime.  Two months on the Amazon
and his life was never to be the same again.  Not only was the fishing
addictive, but Johnny found the cultures he encountered and the people he spoke
with fascinating; hungering for more, he expanded his trips to other rivers,
other countries, other continents.

The knowledge he acquired as a by-product of his fishing
and the hard work he put into supporting his habit eventually paid off. 
Now in the third season of his hit documentary, “Johnny Winchester: River
Hunter,” broadcast on the cable channel “Beasts ‘R Us,” he scoured the globe
hunting for the biggest, meanest fish it had to offer.  The perfect host for
just such a show, he was a strapping six-foot-three, broad-shouldered, with the
sinewy muscles resulting from honest, hard work, rather than the artificial
soft bulk purchased from a gym.  A fifty-something face weathered by the
sun was framed by walnut brown hair, grayed at the temples and flecked
throughout, and held steely blue eyes, so intense they could make even a fish
blink.  The crisp British accent, both splendid and flawless, and the
deep, bass voice were ideal for narration as well as voice-overs.

“River Hunter” had taken him to Alaska in its first
season searching for the white sturgeon, finally catching one, at the last
moment, to hold across his knees and show the viewers.  Now, two years
later, he was back, on the Lily Hannah River hunting the elusive red-tailed
orange sturgeon, dubbed the Fire Demon by the locals.  Camped on a ridge
above the river, they were a self-contained unit: Pete the assistant producer,
Dave the director, Sam the sound man, Chip the camera man, and, of course,
Johnny.  The first Wednesday of the trip, Johnny had fished all morning
and had come up empty so, being close to camp, they had gone back for
lunch.  In the afternoon Johnny wanted to hike along a nearby ridge to
inspect the river upstream.

“What do you think, Johnny?” Dave asked.  “Does up
river look good to you?”

Johnny scanned the river below, the far side with its
deep, fast-running water undercutting the rocky bank, the shallow, near side
moving slowly and lapping against a rocky beach.  Just as he was about to
suggest trying the next ridge over, a small flash of color caught his eye.

“Look!” he exclaimed, pointing at the beach. 
“What’s that bit of red there?”

There were various mumbles amongst the men, various
hypotheses being quietly verbalized, until Chip spoke up confidently.

“I think it’s a person,” he said.  “Here, look at
the viewfinder, I have a close-up.”  Angling the camera so Johnny could
see, he commented, “A woman, I think.  She’s not moving.”

“Is she dead?” Johnny asked, rhetorically.

“Can’t tell.  We’re too far away.”

“Then we’d best go see!” Johnny directed.  “If
she’s not dead, I reckon she needs help.”  Dropping his fishing equipment,
shedding his rucksack, he started down the steep face of the ridge, fighting
the rocks and brush as he went.  The rest of the crew followed suit, but
for Chip who trailed behind, juggling the heavy camera, trying to capture the
unfolding drama on film.

As Johnny slid through the dirt and loose rocks that
carried him the last several yards down to the pebbled beach, it became clear
that the spot of color was the bright, red blouse of an injured woman lying
there, unconscious or dead.  Perched precariously on her right side,
facing away from him, her silver hair was knotted at the back of her head,
crusty with the deep red of dried blood, her left arm hung oddly from the
unnatural bulge of her shoulder, blood soaked the fabric around ragged tears in
her light denim jeans.  Striding across the beach in what seemed like slow
motion, he was finally close enough to press his index and middle fingers
against her carotid artery.

“I’ve a pulse!” he yelled.

The other men, except for Chip, reached the woman,
circling about her, remaining deathly silent, watching as Johnny kneeled next
to her.

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