"Tell us again, Aunt Annie....please!" both nieces chorused
She looked at one and then the other. Rose and Ava's eyes sparkled with anticipation. "Ok, girls…climb into bed…story time."
The girls dove into the welcoming feather bed and nestled under a patchwork quilt. "Auntie, we're ready," Ava announced.
Annie scooted a rocking chair to the bedside, plopped down and adjusted her shawl. "Girls, you really want to hear this again?" she teased.
"Yes!" they squealed.
Annie closed her eyes and began to gently rock; the chair’s creaking offered a soothing cadence. "It seems like only yesterday..."
"Annie, y'r crazy," he said tamping tobacco in his pipe. "Are y’ trying to kill y'r self?"
"No, I'm not suicidal, I'm a devout Episcopalian," she snapped, stomping her foot for emphasis.
"Then why are y' willing to do somethin' so dangerous? It's crazy!"
She sighed. "Daddy's inheritance is nearly gone and I'm facing financial ruin." Hope flashed momentarily in her eyes. "I'll become a wealthy celebrity if I survive, and I plan to do just that. I appreciate your concern, Mr. Russell, but as a promoter, will you be my publicist?"
Frank Russell tapped his fingers nervously on his mahogany desk. "I've promoted special events but never one advertisin' a person's potential demise. Are you sure you wanna do this?"
"Yes," she said confidently.
"Ok then, give me the details," he ordered, getting down to business.
"Can I help you ma'am," the store clerk greeted.
"Yes, I'm looking for a keg," she said smiling.
"Oh, y'r havin' a party then, I reckon."
"No, no," she responded shaking her head. "I need an empty keg. Custom built. About three and a half feet wide.... four feet tall.....yes, that ought to do it," she said motioning with her hands.
"May I ask why y' need an empty keg? You aren't making y'r own whisky are ya?"
"If you must know, I'm going to ride it in the water," she answered.
"Haven't y' ever heard of a boat?" he spouted, showing a toothless grin.
"Well, it's not only for riding in the water, it's to go over Niagara Falls."
The store clerk's eyes grew large. "Y'r gonna do what?"
"I plan to buy a keg, go to Canada, and ride down the falls; the Niagara's steeper on the Canadian side. It's a 175 feet, top to bottom. That spectacle should draw some attention, eh?" she said digging for her pocketbook.
"Ma'am I can getcha the keg, but are y' sure a pine box a'int more ‘propriate? The mortuary is aroun' the corner," the sales clerk pointed, a smirk forming on his face.
"I'm not planning on dying," she stated. "I'll need it by October 7th." She glanced at the calendar on the wall. "That's six weeks, can you do it?"
"Yes, Ma'am. Sign here," he stated holding out a sales order.
"Ok, gentlemen, seal me in." Annie scrunched into the confines of the barrel. Pillows cushioned the interior; Annie clutched her favorite for luck. One man fastened the lid to the keg and another operated a bicycle pump, compressing the vessel.
A tap on the lid alerted Annie of one last message before descent. "Annie, we're about to letcha go. This Canadian current is strong. Y'r gonna bob along like a outta control fishin' cork. The falls are less than twenty minutes away."
A muffled voice called, "Bon Voyage!"
"Aunt Annie, wake up," giggled Rose, gently nudging her aunt.
Annie jerked awake. "Wha... what happened?"
"You fell asleep," Ava answered.
"Did I tell the story?" Annie asked, blinking.
"Some of it," replied Rose. "Just tell us the ending."
Auntie cleared her throat. "Once the men let the keg go...me harnessed inside....I prayed. Stopping wasn’t an option. As I got closer, the falls thundered louder and louder. When I went over, the roar deafened my senses. Spectators told me the barrel dropped into a heavy mist and for some time they thought the falls swallowed me alive." Annie stood and tucked the quilt under the mattress. "Curious onlookers congregated to see a crazy 'ol lady die; they sure got a shock when I popped out of that barrel alive and well!"
Annie extinguished the bedside lamp.
"Yes, Ava. What is it?"
"Did you learn anything from your adventure?"
Annie thought for a moment. "Yes. Nobody ought ever to do that again." She leaned to kiss both nieces' goodnight. "Sweet dreams, girls."
"Good night Aunt Annie," they chimed.
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