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Taming the Beast


by sir_serene

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The sound of my heart thumping in my chest would have been deafening if it weren’t being drowned out by the roar of the Beast downstream. I wearily made my way to the drop of the first drop, the Bait. The current wasn’t strong here, but my heartbeat was. For a second I blacked out as my kayak dropped through the air. The landing was soft, but I knew I was past the point of no return. Still in slack water, I took a moment to compose myself. I could hear Rusty’s voice muffled by the roar of the water but didn’t dare look up to see him. I shook my head and rolled my lips to steady my nerves, but I didn’t take more than a few brief seconds to pause in the pool I was in. The longer I waited, the longer I would be allowed to overthink my life choices.

     I paddled straight for the Trap, aiming just right of it. As I reached the tiny chute I leaned forward and grabbed as much water as I could with my paddle blade. I launched myself through the tiny opening and into a boiling mess below. Another strong left stroke and glided into a micro eddy against the right wall. I quickly grabbed the rock wall with my left paw to steady myself. My chest began to hurt from my heart’s relentless pounding.

     I could hear someone yelling, trying to reach me over the tumultuous cries of the river. Their voices were too faint to understand. Again, I chose not to look up, and again I wasted no time in that eddy. I wheeled my boat around and aimed for the lip of the final drop. I wrenched myself over the edge and leaned forward to keep my boat horizontal. The veil of water cascading off the right wall swallowed me whole, blinding me.

     Complete whiteout.

     If I felt the rock shelf in the landing, I can’t remember now, but maybe I did. I dug deep and paddled away from the waterfall as cheers erupted from the shore. It echoed against the rock walls lining the Narrows. I felt the echoes from their shouts. It was as if I had just won the Altador Cup and the coliseum was erupting.

     What were they cheering for? I asked myself for a moment. Then I registered everything that had happened, as my mind caught up with everything my body had just experienced. I looked up and saw a crowd much larger than the one I was expecting. Eva must have called in every single favour she could.

      Energy coursed through my veins and I paddled on through the slides below. I knew my friends would be upset that I didn’t wait for them, but I had too much energy to wait on them. The final of the three slides was the biggest and steepest. It dumped into a large calm pool with a sandy beach on the far side. I raced to that beach as my back muscles cried from the adrenaline overload. I jumped out of my boat, fell onto my back, and screamed. I had done it!

     I could hear the commotion as a flotilla of kayaks came bombing down the slides. The armada of paddlers were whooping and hollering as they paddled to the beach. If any of the boaters who regularly paddled the Jade River Narrows were missing, I couldn’t tell. Everyone wanted to high-five or bump fists as they joined in my celebration. Faces I only somewhat recognized, Neopians who had been kayaking far longer than me, the legends of Camp Tyr who I had looked up to for years, and my best friends in the world - they were all there.

     “Dude, I knew you could do it!” Rusty yelled as he tackled me into the sand.

     Eva stood behind him, waiting for us to get up before lightly punching my arm, “Way to go.” For the first time that day, I saw a smile forming around the edges of her mouth. “I’ll admit now, I wasn’t nearly as confident. Luckily everyone here had already come down and set up one of the most intensive safety setups I have ever seen.”

     I looked around the group and said, “Thank you so much for all the support! I know Eva felt more comfortable having such a large crew running safety.”

      “How was it?” I heard someone shout from the back of the crowd. I sat down and walked everyone through the line I had taken through the Falls. What I thought worked well. What things I would change to clean it up. How the landing had been far softer than I anticipated. It was unnerving having so many people hanging on my every word, but it was kind of fun too.

     The entire crew paddled with us from that small beach to the takeout. I was the largest group anyone ever paddled the Narrows with. It definitely slowed everything down, as we all dropped through the rapids. The Narrows weren’t nearly large enough to support such a large group at once, but the energy surrounding the group was electric.

     As we came up to the final major drop of the river, just before the takeout Kurt, an older, grizzled Kyrii paddled up to me and asked, “That was super stout Nate, or should I say Beast tamer!” Kurt’s smile was huge, showing off his crooked teeth that were chipped in places. “For the beast tamer!” he shouted as he paddled around the large boulder at the lip of the fifteen-foot waterfall and boofed into the pool below. I followed. As I reached the takeout, Kurt raised his paddle with everyone around and shouted.

      “Fancy meeting you here.” I turned around to see Leah Wright. The Yellow Chia was peering over the brim of her glasses as she closed the gap between us. She managed to weave through the crowd with ease. “What’s all the commotion about? Something newsworthy I imagine with how heroic everyone seems to be treating you. More importantly, will your achievement be of any benefit to the rest of Tyrannia?”

      “Get out of here, you Mozito!” Eva had popped out from behind me to bar Leah’s path. The fur on the back of her neck was standing up and her ears were pinned back.

     “I mean no offence, I can assure you,” Leah said as she pushed her glasses to her face. “I just think the citizens of Tyrannia would be interested in and have a right to know the goings-on of Camp Tyr.”

     “Do my ears deceive me? Leah Wright wants to write an article about us simple Camp Tyr folk?” Everyone fell silent as Kurt pushed his way through the crowd. He looked her up and down for a moment, then smirked. “I doubt any of us want our stories told by someone who still thinks Harlis Neyhbol still plays for Tyrannia. When everybody knows he was traded to Moltara years ago.”

     Leah’s shoulders drooped as howls of laughter erupted from the crowd. It was hard to watch the crowd turn on her so quickly. I opened my mouth to defend her, but she cut me off. With a furrowed brow she yelled, “That’s fine, I have more than enough for my article anyway.” As she stomped away she turned one last time and screeched, “For a group or Neopians that spend so much time in the water, it’s amazing how stinky you are!”

     After she was gone, the crowd slowly began to thin out. After the commotion had died down Rusty and Eva pulled me aside. Rusty was the first to break the silence. He threw his arms around my shoulder and said, “I bet you tomorrow, that every paddler takes an extra long break at the Beast and tries to scout out the line for themselves.”

     “If they don’t just hike in like lunatics on a rest day,” Eva added. “What’s wrong Nate? Why are you making that face?”

     “I was just thinking about what Leah Wright said. The citizens of Tyrannia do deserve to know more about us. About Camp Tyr.”

     

* * * * *

      I rolled my lips and tugged at the collar of my shirt nervously as I waited. I had never been comfortable wearing dress shirts, and even less so with a necktie. My suit, which had once been my father's, didn’t quite fit right, but it was the only set of nice clothes I had to my name. I noted how the sight of young, Electric Kougra trying to pass themselves off as a mature adult by wearing a baggy suit would be comical to any bystanders. I hoped I’d be able to see the humour in it when I looked back on the day.

     I sat in a conference room of the Tyrannian branch of the Neopian Times, as I waited for my interview with the branch's chief editor. The day before, I paddled a waterfall that had been thought to be unrunnable. That seemed like a cakewalk compared to the impending meeting. After several minutes passed the door burst open and a well-dressed Skeith rushed into the room. He wore a fitted suit with a blue-striped tie. He had black hair which framed his red face, and a neatly trimmed moustache. “I am so sorry I am late. We’ve got a huge deadline coming up for a holiday issue so it’s a bit of a madhouse here today. Name is Walter Stein.”

      “Hello, my name is Nathan Johnson,” I said as I shook his hand.

      “Oh, Nate Johnson?” He asked with a raised eyebrow. “Ah, so you must be the ‘fabled’ Beast tamer. Ms. Wright has been buzzing in my ear all week, trying to convince me that we should print an article about the denizens of Camp Tyr. Apparently, she interviewed you the day before you paddled a kayak over a waterfall. Is that why you’ve asked for this meeting?”

      “Yes,” I admitted. “And no. It’s complicated.”

      “Well please, have a seat Mr. Johnson. Let’s see if we can make things less complicated.”

      I took a seat on the opposite side of the long oval table as Mr. Stein. Despite claiming the branch was rushing to fill a crucial deadline, he seemed relaxed. His demeanour was inviting, as he poured both of us glasses of water. “Well you see, sir, I think that Leah- I mean Ms. Wright, brought up some very interesting points when she interviewed me about Camp Tyr, and my perspective as a whitewater kayaker who lives there.” Mr. Stein nodded as he listened to me talk. “I think the Times are missing out by ignoring a rather large demographic of Neopians. Outdoor enthusiasts across the globe are accomplishing great feats every day, and their stories are never told to the greater public. These are athletes who are elevating their sports, and their stories aren’t being told. These are names that I truly believe could become household names to young Neopians if they were given the chance.”

      “So, she sent you in to try to sell me on her little article. Or are you for self-promotion? Either way-”

      “I am sorry, I don’t think I was being very clear. I’m a little nervous, you see.” After I took a small sip of water to clear my throat, I explained, “I don’t think Le- Ms. Wright, is the right person to write an article about anyone from Camp Tyr. Let alone anyone outdoor enthusiast. I didn’t get the impression she would write about us in a flattering light. In fact, I’m pretty sure she would lambast us.”

      “So who would write the articles then, Mr. Johnson?”

      “Me. You should hire me to write an article on the athletes of Camp Tyr. I already know that world well, and could do it justice with a well-written article,” I was unable to tell how the Red Skeith felt about my proposition. “You have to admit the sports section is in dire need of a new perspective. The Altador Cup only lasts a month, and yet most of the articles in that section revolved around Yooyuball. I think an article about Camp Tyr would not only bring in new customers who are outdoor enthusiasts, but it would interest your avid readers by breathing new life into the sports section.”

      Mr. Stein leaned back in his chair and stroked his chin. While looking at the ceiling he asked, “Have you ever written professionally before?”

      “N-no sir,” I answered reluctantly. Before I could stop myself I blurted out, “Truthfully, I’ve never had a job before.” Mr. Stein’s eyes snapped back towards me. “B-but I did an internship at the National Neopian Bank for a year. I just wasn’t passionate about banking, so I turned them down when they offered me a job. Everyone working there was so stuffy.”

      “My cousin, Gerald Stinson, works for the National Neopian,” he said sharply. His eyes softened a bit. “He is a bit stuffy though.”

      “I actually interned for Mr Stinson. He is the one who offered me a job. He would probably give me a decent recommendation. I know I would be good at this,” I pleaded.

      I sat in silence as Mr. Stein mulled over my request. He swirled the water around his glass while he continued to stroke his chin. The drink whirled around in his glass, unable to escape. We both watched as a spiral formed in his glass. I wondered what he was thinking. Then, without warning, he gulped the water down with so much force I was almost certain he was going to eat the whole glass.

      “Alright,” he said as he dried his lips. “I’m gonna give you a shot kid. I want you to write me an article about Camp Tyr by the end of next week. If you can bring me something that I enjoy reading, not only will I print it, I’ll even give you your own column.”

      “Yes, thank you so much sir! I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.”

     I enthusiastically shook his extended hand. “But, I should warn you,” he said as his grip became more firm. “If you want the article to have real impact, you should focus on writing with passion and in a way that I and our readers can connect to. Try to find an emotional angle that we’ll be able to relate to.” His eyes softened and he smiled. “Maybe you should write about your first descent of that waterfall, the Beast.”

     

* * * * *

      There was a spring in my step as I left the Neopian Times office. My body felt lighter and my mind raced. I needed to remember how I had told the story of paddling the Beast yesterday. All of the expert kayakers of Camp Tyr eagerly absorbed every word of my story as we all stood on the riverside beach. I wanted my article to have that same effect, but for everyone who read it. Not just my fellow paddlers.

      On my way home, to my tiny little corner of Camp Tyr, I made a detour to the post office. I’ll need to remember that the workers here can be bribed with Hutcakes, I thought to myself. I laughed to myself as I pulled a letter addressed to my mother out of my suit pocket. The Wishing Well Stamp she had sent me had been carefully placed in the corner of the envelope. I looked at the stamp for a minute, made a wish, and left.

     I practically bounced as I walked home.

     The End.

 
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