Fall to the Forest
Chapter one–At the Falls
"Only the Victoria Falls in Africa are larger than Niagara Falls, one of the wonders of the natural world. The falls are comprised of three sections, the Canadian, or Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. Peak flow is seven hundred thousand gallons of water per second, and the force of impact at the Horseshoe Falls is estimated to be 2,509 tons. Just imagine that–two-thousand, five-hundred and nine tons."
Emphasizing the word tons, the tour guide paused for a moment to let the numbers sink in. "Now, are there any questions?"
It was difficult to hear her words over the roar of the waterfall, but Owen, who was at the back of the group of students, raised his hand and stood on his toes so that the guide would notice him.
"Yes, you in the back, what's your question?"
"How many people have died going over the falls?" the boy asked her. There was an immediate burst of laughter from his classmates.
"They don't keep track of those things, but at least 12 people have survived the fall," she replied. "And there were others who crossed on a tightrope. It's against the law to do it now, but the first person to successfully go over the falls was a 63-year-old school teacher from Bay City Michigan named Annie Edison Taylor. She did it in 1901 in a four-foot-tall oak and steel barrel. Others have tried and failed, including a man who tried to jump the Horseshoe Falls on a jet ski two years ago, in 1995."
"Did you say a jet ski?" a young girl near the front of the group asked.
"Yes, his plan was to ignite a rocket with a parachute that would carry him to safety. Unfortunately the parachute fell off and he plummeted to his death."
"What about Toddathon Toot?" Owen said, interrupting the guide. "Tell us about him."
Completely ignoring the boy's attempt at humor, the guide answered dryly. "It's Toddathon Tout, and we don't go into detail about those poor unfortunate souls who lost their lives going over the falls." Clearly wanting to change the topic she looked away from Owen and scanned the group. "Next question?"
Not one to give up on an opportunity to perform in front of his peers, the boy pushed forward through the other students, not stopping until he stood right in front of the red-faced guide.
"Is it true that all they ever found was his finger?"
"Please, show some manners," she answered disgustedly. "Have a little respect for the dead."
"Mr. Wells–that will be quite enough!" a stern voice boomed from the back of the group. Seconds later a hand seized the back of his right shoulder. He didn't need to look to know the source of his reprimand. Since the start of summer school the commanding voice and brusque ways of the old school teacher tormented him, even in his dreams.
Old Miss Mortz had struck again.
The wiry old woman's iron grip was the topic of constant amazement. She was so short that she had to reach up to grab Owen's shoulder, but none of that mattered once she had him within her grasp. Years of experience with misbehaving children had taught her exactly where to pinch and how much pressure to apply. It hurt, but not as much as the embarrassment of being brought to his knees by the oldest teacher in the entire school system.
Anticipating her reaction, the rest of the students had quickly cleared the way when Miss Mortz came barnstorming from the back of the group. Now they filled in the space behind her, and all eyes were on Owen.
"Since you cannot behave you're to go back to the bus and wait for everyone. You should be ashamed of yourself!" Letting go of the boy's neck she pivoted back toward the other students, nearly knocking several of them down. The most curious of them had crowded her, clearly enjoying every second of it. Scowling, she addressed the entire group and pointed right at them. "And if anyone else thinks they're funny..."
Even those few students who found no humor in Owen's predicament were hard pressed not to laugh at the old woman's glare.
It was only a question of who would crack first.
With her attention drawn toward the others, Owen moved his shoulders up and down and from side to side and stuck out his tongue. This was more than his twin brother Pauly could handle, and he erupted in laughter.
One hard, cold stare from Miss Mortz was enough to silence him. She never said a word and simply pointed toward the bus. Even though they wanted to laugh, none of the other children made a sound. The only one unable to restrain himself was Pauly. Any attempt at suppressing his laughter only made matters worse. Now, like a package deal of naughty schoolboys, he would be joining his twin on the bus.
Always one to get the last word Owen spoke, just loud enough for the others to hear him but not loud enough to be heard by his teacher. "Did you hear that first part about the school teacher Pauly? Maybe we could put old Mortzy in a barrel and send her over." She may not have heard what he said, but based on the reaction of the other students Miss Mortz knew it was Owen's parting attempt to save face. Any chance that she might reconsider their sentence ended right then and there. Both boys walked back toward the bus where they would have to sit and wait until the rest of the class finished the tour.
"Nice job, Owen. Your big mouth got us both in trouble again. Now we have to go sit in that hot bus while everyone else gets to see the falls."
"Oh lighten up Pauly, you were just as bored with that tour guide as me. What do you say we go on our own little tour, just the two of us? Old Mortzy won't know whether we've gone back to the bus right away or not. As long as we're there when everyone else shows up, we'll be fine."
"I don't know Owen. Don't you think you've caused enough trouble for one day?"
"You're not scared of that old lady are you Pauly? Come on, she can't do anything to us worse than what's already happening."
There was no arguing that statement, as the two boys had recently found themselves under the protection of social services after being abandoned by their parents. They were presently together in a group home, but it was only a matter of time before they would be split up. Looking at it under those terms, Pauly figured there was nothing to lose by appeasing his brother. "Okay, but nothing foolish," he said.
"Foolish, moi?" Owen replied mockingly while pointing at himself. "Come on, let's have some fun."
Making certain that they were well out of the range of Miss Mortz and the rest of the class, the pair found their way to a less populated area, where they looked on in amazement as water blasted over the falls. They stood there silently for a few minutes until Owen started to walk toward the fence separating them from the onrushing water.
"What are you doing? Are you crazy?" Pauly asked.
"Come on, let's get a closer look," Owen answered as he swung a leg over the fence.
"I mean it! Are you crazy Owen? What if we get caught over there?"
"What if we get caught?" Owen replied in a high-pitched voice, again mocking his twin as he swung the other leg over. "Stay here if you want chicken-boy. I'm going to look right over the falls."
Owen knew exactly what to say and how to say it when he wanted to sway his brother. Ever since they were small children he had held that power over his "younger" brother. Being born one day ahead of Pauly was something he never hesitated to remind him of. He was the daredevil and Pauly played it safe, that was their dynamic. Owen knew that his twin wouldn't let him go alone for fear of what he might do. Sure enough, Pauly followed, and soon they were both standing dangerously close to the edge of the American Falls.
"Isn't this awesome?" Owen remarked as he continued to step far too close to the edge for Pauly's liking.
"Yeah, it's cool," Pauly agreed. "But don't you think you're getting a little too close? Come on, we need to get out of here and back to the bus before Miss Mortz and the others come back."
"Always worrying, always fretful. If I didn't know any better I'd say you were a 70-year-old man instead of an almost 14-year-old boy." He stood on one leg and leaned toward the waterfall with his arms spread wide. "Look at me Pauly. I'm tightrope walking over Niagara Falls!"
"Hey! What are you boys doing down there!?" The sharp cry caused Owen to momentarily lose his balance, and for a brief second Pauly thought his brother was going to join the ranks of those who had taken the fast track down Niagara Falls.
Owen flattened himself on the ground and called for Pauly to do the same. "Get down Pauly. That's the park police. We've gotta get out of here."
They were already going to be in trouble with Miss Baltz and now Owen's bravado had brought the park police after them. As much as Pauly wanted to just stay there and take his punishment, he couldn't abandon his brother. Crawling on all fours, the pair made their way to a cluster of bushes and crawled inside to wait things out.
Suddenly, everything went black.