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Storycodes: FF; other/f; competiton; holiday; amazon; river; boat; fish; swallowed; eaten; drown; hard; cons/nc; XX
How could such a simple act as buying a woman’s magazine result in such a disaster? Peggy Harker and Ann Francis were friends; Peggy being a few months the younger. They had been friends since school days. Both were attractive blondes; nubile was an apt description, and more intelligent than most. Peggy had graduated in Biology, Ann in Business Studies. So they didn’t work together but met on most week ends and some weekday evenings. Ann was a little taller than Peggy; they were in the average height range. Ann had a boyfriend, Peggy had just split up from her’s, having found out that he had been seeing another girl on the side. Peggy had a younger brother, a late arrival, ten years younger. Ann was the middle of three siblings, the other two being boys.
Peggy’s father was a bank manager, her mother, having stopped work to have her son, now did voluntary work, mainly for charities. Ann’s father was a long distance truck driver and her mother worked in a supermarket. Ann was working in Peggy’s father’s bank, on her own merits although originally Peggy’s suggestion. She had been recently promoted to assistant manager, Mr. Harker was so impressed with her abilities. Peggy was a lab assistant at the university where she graduated.
In the magazine in question, that Peggy had bought that Saturday morning, was a competition, the prize for which was a week in Manaus, in Brazil, with a river cruise on the Amazon for two days. The prize included taking a friend. The competition consisted of two crosswords; thirteen letters square, with the same pattern of black squares. A thirteen letter word was across the centre and the words were anagrams, i.e. they consisted of the same letters in different sequences. Peggy did not normally go in for competitions, but this one had a biological slant so she had more of an interest and she liked crossword puzzles. One of the words was a rare biological condition that she had come across in her studies. Entries would be placed in a drum and the first correct submission would win the prize.
She had almost forgotten about it when six weeks later she received a letter saying she had won and setting out how she would receive the paperwork. She had to nominate her friend and Ann was delighted to be invited. They had a choice of three dates. They chose the first week in August, giving themselves three months to get ready. They kitted themselves out with suitable tropical clothing, being aware, as blondes, of the need to avoid sunlight on their skin. They thought about sturdy boots but decided that they were not going traipsing through the jungle, so settled for solid sandals. They shared the cost of an expensive camera.
By the third week in July the excitement was intense. Peggy’s mother, who had travelled extensively in her youth, was full of advice, on how to deal with foreign nationals in their own country; most of which Peggy had forgotten, by the next day. They Googled ‘Manaus’ and discovered that it was a considerable city of nearly 2,000,000 inhabitants. It had an international airport and a sea port large enough to handle ocean going ships. It was the largest city in North Brazil. It had an extensive industrial component. Peggy felt a lot better with that information. She had not heard of the place before and thought she might end up in a delapidated backwater with limited facilities. Now, insured for all possibilities, vaccinated against all possible diseases, with their passports, airline tickets and all the other necessary paperwork to hand, they were ready. The prize included a full week in Manaus, as well as air fares, taxi fares and hotel accomodation before and after the week. They were flying out early on the first Saturday in August. Peggy’s father drove them to the airport, with her mother. They managed to squeeze Ann’s mother in as well. Her father was away at work.
They had to change planes, there was no direct flight to Manaus. They arrived in the late evening and were met by a very presentable young Brazilian man, about their own age. His name was Carlos. He helped them collect their baggage and took them to a hotel by taxi. They were sharing a room. He said that he would pick them up at nine-thirty next morning and take them sight seeing. Their cruise was booked for the day after. Carlos took them round the popular tourist spots. They had lunch, did some speciality shopping and back to the hotel for afternoon tea. They watched some interesting Brazilian TV for a time, then went to bed early. They were still suffering a bit from jet lag.
As arranged, Carlos picked them up at eight-thirty next morning. They went by taxi to the port to board the cruise ship. He wasn’t going with them but would see them when they got back in two days time. To be honest they found the cruise a bit disappointing. There was not enough variation in the scenery or the river. They ran into a very violent, if brief storm, that was a bit frightening. Peggy got something from it, from her biology education, but not a that much. Still it was a nice restful time in a very different environment.
On the way back to the hotel with Carlos, they confessed to being a little disappointed and why. He wasn’t entirely surprised. He said he had access to a launch and if they liked he could take them on the river again, say on Thursday, and they could explore some of the small tributaries. There was a better chance of seeing the local flora and fauna. Monkeys and perhaps a big snake and other anilmals. They thought that a great idea and so it was arranged for eight o’clock that morning. On Wednesday they ventured out, in the morning, with a guide book, but were back in time for lunch. They decided to stay in for the rest of the day in readiness for their longer, more strenuous trip, next day.
It was much better. They heard the howler monkeys, but did not see them. Other smaller monkeys were climbing about in the trees. Brilliantly coloured parrots flew across the water. There were several caimans and they even caught a glimse of a jaguar that had come down for a drink. Peggy was thoroughly pleased with the adventure. Carlos suddenly relised that time was passing and he wanted to get back before dark. They would have to hurry. About a kilomatre short of their destination, Carlos had pushed the speed up very high, there was a great crashing sound and the boat jumped high in the water. They had hit a submerged log or something. Peggy was thrown out; Ann was luckily holding the rail and managed to hold on. The boat careered on for nearly a hundred metres away from where Peggy had gone in. Carlos tried the engine; it had stopped; but it was obviously too badly damaged. To have any chance of picking up Peggy they would have to row. Carlos got out the oars, but Ann had never rowed. It was a heavy boat, with no rowlocks. It would be near impossible for one person to row it upstream. If he could hold it still, with luck, Peggy would come down on the current, and be able to get to the boat as she went by.
Meanwhile Peggy was struggling to get to the surface. Long ago she had thought that in circumstances like the present she would remove her outer garments to prevent being dragged down, by them becoming water logged, She surfaced and gratefully gulped the air. She had taken off all her outer garments when she felt something brush past her. It felt huge. Suddenly something was gripping both of her feet. Whatever it was it was rough like a rasp. She was pulled under again; just had time to grab another breath. The grip was released but immediately it came again, but above her ankles. Her head broke the surface and she grabbed more air. This release and regrab continued until, whatever it was, reached her hips.
After the first couple of these grab and release moves she was held under the water. Soon she could hold her breath no longer. The air in her lungs rushed out and was replaced with river water. In only a few more minutes she died from drowning. The Pirarucu; for that probably, is what it was, reaching a length of 450 centimeters (177.17 inches) and weighing up to 200 kilograms (440 lbs); continued its swallowing process, until Peggy’s head was in its mouth. Her forearms were the only part of her, still projecting. That was as far as it could take her, until the digestive process made room for the top half of her body to be consumed. The pirarucu swam on and into a school of red bellied pirahna. They took to Peggy’s arms and in only a few minutes only the skeleton was left. With no connective tissue it fell to pieces and dropped to the river bed. Alternatively it may have been a monster cat fish.
Carlos phoned his office to sound the alarm. Fortunately there was someone there who could take some action. He sent another boat to take Carlos’ in tow and notified the police. By then it was dark and too late to consider a search. When they landed, the police arrested Carlos and Ann on a charge of murder, but after questioning and inspection of the boat the charge was withdrawn. At first light the police had several teams, including a number of civilian volunteers, scouring the banks of the river. They had estimated how far down stream Peggy would have drifted in the current, but she may have been caught up in bank side undergrowth. Just before they called it off for the day a blouse was found snagged on branches nearly as far as Peggy would have drifted. It was so dirty that Ann was quite unsure whether it was the one that Peggy had been wearing. Some volunteers continued next day but with hundreds of square kilometres of river to cover it seemed a vain effort. Then someone suggested that she may have fallen foul of a monster fish.
Ann developed a terrible guilt complex because she had escaped and her friend died. When she got back home she had changed so much that her boyfriend left to find a more normal girl. Ann never married, but became an embittered old spinster. Peggy’s father took an early retirement and her mother stopped her voluntary work. They sold up their house and moved to a distant town, where they lived a reclusive life and died earlier than would have been normal. Her brother emigrated to New Zealand where an uncle had been living for several years. He recovered, married a New Zealand girl and managed to live a reasonable life. Peggy’s life insurance paid her parents $100,000.00 but they felt it was insult to injury. It stayed in the bank and was never touched by them. All the result of the purchase of a magazine. The butterfly’s wing.
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