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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 783

Lewis Medlock, Ed Gentry, Drew Ballinger, and Bobby Trippe decide to canoe a river in north Georgia before it is dammed. Lewis promises them an enjoyable time away from the pressures and routines of the city. The four men spend September 14 on the river and have the type of day that Lewis promised. The next morning Ed agrees to take Bobby in his canoe because Lewis is frustrated with Bobby’s ineptness and weakness.

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Ed and Bobby stop to rest on the bank since they are tired and, ironically, are well ahead of Lewis and Drew. Two men step out of the woods, one of them trailing a shotgun by the barrel. The taller man seems to be toothless, and the shorter man has white stubble on his face and a stomach that falls through his overalls. In an attempt to pacify these mountain men, Ed tells them that he and Bobby are not government agents looking for a still and would even be interested in buying some moonshine from them if they have it. This comment seems to set something in motion for the mountain men, and they take Ed and Bobby at gunpoint deeper into the woods. The tall, lean man ties Ed to a tree with Ed’s own belt and then turns to Bobby. While the tall man holds the gun, the white-bearded man sodomizes Bobby. They turn then to Ed and decide that he will perform oral sex on the tall man. As they exchange the gun an arrow appears in the middle of the tall man’s chest. Lewis and Drew arrived upon the scene quietly, hearing Bobby’s screams, and Lewis had drawn his bow on the tall man and waited for an opportunity to let the arrow fly. The tall man dies, and the white-bearded man runs off into the woods and disappears. Drew wants to take the body to the sheriff, but Lewis wants to bury it in the woods because the area will be covered with water soon. The men vote with Ed because they think his way is the least complicated for their present and future lives. They bury the man and the shotgun deep in the woods and go back on the river to go home.

Drew and Ed are paddling together in the first canoe when Drew falls out. This spill causes the other canoe to turn over in the rapids, and everyone swims for safety. The wooden canoe is broken in half, leaving only the aluminum canoe. Lewis’s leg is broken as well, and Drew cannot be found. Lewis tells Ed and Bobby that Drew was shot from the top of the cliff. Ed understands then that the white-bearded man is on top of the cliff waiting for them to head out in the canoe so that he can kill them. Ed realizes that, in order for them to survive, he has to climb the cliff and kill the mountain man. He spends a good part of the night of September 15 climbing the cliff with his bow and arrow. He hides in a tree at the top, and, when the white-bearded man appears at the top of the cliff, Ed shoots him with an arrow. He falls out of the tree after the shot and his other arrow pierces his side. He lowers the mountain man’s body down the cliff and buries it in the river.

That morning, September 16, Ed, Bobby, and Lewis start back down the river in the aluminum canoe. Before long, they see Drew’s body backed up against the rocks. He apparently was shot. They bury his body in the river, also as a way of avoiding legal complications, and continue toward the town of Aintry.

Once they return, they have the problem of explaining to the authorities what happened. They tell the police that they spilled from their canoes farther down the river than they actually did, hoping the police will not find the bodies. They also say that Drew drowned in that spill. One deputy does not believe them and thinks that they came upon his brother-in-law, who is missing. The police drag the river where Ed told them to and come up with nothing. Ed and Bobby drive home while Lewis stays in the hospital because of his broken leg.

Ed lies to Drew’s wife, telling her the same story he told the police. He never tells his wife anything, and he lives in fear, for a while, of headlights in the night. Lewis and Ed eventually buy cabins on another lake and practice their archery there, keeping secret the fact that they buried three men in two days.

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