"Nobody has ever gotten past the White Fangs of Death," said Brock Aster to his paddling partner Lee. He smiled to himself, always enjoying this kind of game. "We're probably ten miles from there now. If you don't want to risk it, I'll understand. Might be a pain trying to head back upstream, though."
"I'm sure we'll be okay, my friend," said Lee. "You and I have tackled our share of rapids before."
"Not like these," said Brock. "It even says on the map, Lee, most canoeists wouldn't dream of it."
Lee switched his paddle to the right and stroked gently, the slender current of the beautiful river already sliding them forward with soft but steady ease. He looked ahead from his position at the front of the red canoe, at a long and winding stretch of sparkling blue water and green treeline.
"If these White Fangs of Death are so damn dangerous, Brock, that doesn't say too much for your trip planning skills now, does it?"
"I'm telling you, my brother. This might be our biggest challenge yet. But we've been doing this for a long time. If you're in, I'm right behind you. We can beat this."
Lee wondered about his older sibling sometimes. Why couldn't he just let go of the stupid little headgames and enjoy the simple fact that they were privy to some of the most spectacular wilderness anybody could ever wish to experience? Not the type one might experience at an overcrowded Provincial Park, populated with noisy families and hot dog stands, firmly planted on the sandy shores of some boring lake. No, the kind of outdoor experience that only idiots like the Aster boys sought on an annual basis. Their May excursions, despite usually being fraught with black flies and too much beer, had been tradition for nearly two decades by now.
"Have a cold one," said Brock, reaching into the icy travelling cooler and snatching an ale for his younger brother.
"Not a bad idea," said Lee, turning around to catch the can. He snapped it open and sipped, all the while enjoying the free and straight ride the river was providing. "If I'm going to perish at the White Fangs of Death, I may need some liquid courage."
"I've got something stronger in my flask," said Brock. "If you're starting to get nervous."
Another swallow by Lee then a belch. "No Brock. I should be okay."
Brock laughed and fished himself out a beer.
The red canoe now approached a thin spot in the river, ever so gradually curving to the right beneath a sudden and eerie overhanging of trees. The loss of direct sunlight sent a chill through both men as they now required slightly more negotiation with their paddles. They were certainly veterans at this sort of thing, years of instruction from their departed father now firmly ingrained and employed.
The water opened up again as the midday rays from above warmed them. The next stretch of river beckoned, picking up speed slightly.
"Where the hell did you find that map anyway?" asked Lee. "You never showed me."
"It was in a book at the library. 'Hidden Treasures of Northern Ontario.' Somebody wrote in it, right beside Bart River here - Beware the White Fangs." Brock embelished the last part of his statement with a corny ghoulish tone. Lee turned around and shook his head with a grin.
The Bart River now began to slither to the left, westward, as the Aster boys made the necessary adjustments. An approaching decline was clearly visible about a quarter mile ahead. Lee downed his beer completely, belched again and tossed the can to the canoe floor.
"That was too good for noon hour," said Lee, awaiting another from his brother. "I'd better be careful not to get too shitfaced if I'm gonna tackle these killer rapids."
"That's no joke, Lee. I'm more worried you might piss yourself."
Lee accepted his second cold one while still a master of his paddle. It was a combined skill which had also become ingrained over many springs, summers and falls. They approached the incline as the red canoe picked up its pace just a little more.
"I don't hear anything," said Lee. "How close do you think we are?" Much to his own disgust, he was growing mildly uneasy.
"A few more miles I would think," said Brock. "There's supposed to be a big 'S' shape for about a mile. It's like a big long waterslide, I guess. Then, things open up and here come the Fangs."
The aforementioned 'S' shape began to make its presence known as the river now dipped clearly downward, not overly steep but distinctly. Lee held his beer between his knees, requiring a little more attention to his duties. As the cold water rushed forward and gradually to the east now, he did feel the need to urinate suddenly, wishing they had stopped while still in calmer waters. He kept his eyes peeled for jutting rocks. So far there had been little of a threatening nature.
"Can't be far now, brother," said Brock, letting go a yelp. He, too, made a grab for a second beer. "This is gonna separate the men from the boys."
They reached the middle of the giant 'S' and began to rush into the other direction. The Bart River was beginning to growl and grumble beneath them, as the rapidly changing landscape suddenly saw both men now growing more serious. Jagged stabs of dangerous looking rocks now appeared ahead as Brock and Lee skilfully worked past them. The incline was steeper now and the water was undeniably faster. Both paddled with precision, staying to the centre.
"Hey Brock," yelled Lee over the growing loud splashes and paddle strokes. "Just what the hell do you know about this spot anyway? You better not have gotten us into a world of shit, you bastard."
Brock, clearly concerned, glared at his brother. "I hope not."
Lee worked his arms and shoulders hard as the Bart River was now racing like a rollercoaster. Behind him, big brother held down his end. Both men had experienced rapids much worse than this before. It was what may or may not lay ahead that was now on their minds.
"We're almost there, Lee! Let's do this!"
A loud crash from a glanced rock gripped Lee's heart as he prepared for the unknown. Surely they could make this.
"The White Fangs of Death!" screamed Brock Aster.
The river then opened up before them, as the red canoe slid peacefully into what appeared a large and traquil pond. The water now trickled and twisted without threat, the sound of the waterslide behind them already fading. Lee lifted his paddle and stared ahead at a most beautiful wilderness scene. Brock, also lifting his paddle, sipped his beer and belched. The canoe drifted sideways as Lee turned to face his smiling brother.
"That was it? Christ, Brock, we've done shit like that in our sleep."
"Had you worried though. Didn't I?"
"Yeah, you win again dickhead. Actually, this looks like a good place to set up camp, if you feel like checking in earlier than we planned."
"Hell, why not? We've still got two days. Let's get drunk."
The early afternoon sun presented the Aster brothers with a near perfect spot to set up a tent, close to the shoreline with a small rock formation that seemed tailor-made for a nice firepit. Soaking his sneakers in the process, Lee pulled the red canoe up onto the shore as they began to unload. Tent and sleeping bags, various camping shit for every occasion and, of course, alcohol. Brock and Lee were no longer the tipplers they may have been in their earlier days, but certain occasions always called for certain measures.
Lee slipped behind a tree for a much needed bladder evacuation as Brock set about making camp. They settled in comfortably by 1:30 p.m., a long day of shooting the shit ahead. Maybe even a fish or three on their hooks, they speculated, if they didn't get too pie-eyed that was. Just in case, they had plenty of meat on board - T-bone steaks, burger patties and wieners. Meat that had been temporarily forgotten in the cooler near the rear of their campsite, just before a growing cluster of evergreen trees.
"Here's to the White Fangs of Death," said Brock Aster. "My wife coulda handled that." Both raised their beers, Lee now getting a craving to dip into that whiskey in his bag. The big boy sitting in the tent.
"The White Fangs of Death. Never again," said Lee.
The Aster brother's laughter was suddenly halted in mid-chuckle by the tremendous snapping of a branch in the woods behind them. Two or three more rifleshot snaps came from other spots, like a small army approaching. Brock Aster then spotted it.
A black bear, inordinately large for anywhere, let alone Northern Ontario, was standing within fifty feet of the men. Its low growl wasn't so much heard as felt by Brock and Lee as their hearts kicked into overdrive. Another monster, this one even bigger, was now visible to the left, followed immediately by two more ungodly behemoths. The men remained frozen, not so much by design, but from a disbelief they couldn't properly comprehend.
A fifth, sixth and seventh creature now emerged from the blackness of the forest, each growing larger and meaner in order. Number seven stared at Lee Aster, without question, through one seemingly good eye. The other appeared to have been gouged out and scabbed over many years ago. More deep growls and stares ensued as a foul death-like odour overwhelmed the mortified campers.
Brock Aster, about to die a savage death with his younger brother, glanced at his lifelong pal with a tear in his eye.
"The White Fangs of Death."