• • •
A cool evening breeze sweeps across the lake as the soothing sound of waves colliding against the hull of the old wooden boat slowly drowns out the motor’s dying rumble. This is the first time Benny’s been out on the water – first time he’s been out with other folks in about four years, too. College will do that to you, especially when you’re the only one in your high school class who’s too poor to attend – and he didn’t think to bring a sweater. It’s the middle of summer he told himself whilst he was waiting to be picked up by the other guys. I’ll be soaked if I wear this thing. Well you got soaked anyway, little Benny. You sat in the spray zone and you got yourself soaked anyway. You sure could use a sweater now.
All the other guys have sweaters. It wouldn’t be appropriate to ask any of them if he could borrow one. If Benny pulled some gay shit like that back in high school his head would have been dunked into a used urinal and then cleaned off with a flushing. Yes, time has passed since then, but when things don’t die they evolve, and the punishment can only have matured along with The Punishers.
Tonight Benny is out fishing with The Punishers, a troupe of boys who would unceasingly torment him all throughout his tepid high school career. Chip Bradley, Bradley Peterson, Peter Taylor, Taylor Williamson, and Willy Chipprnug, the crew who singlehandedly handed Benny his success in track by chasing him around after the bell rang and forcing him to sprint for his dignity every chance they got, although it felt more like he was running for his life. If they caught him they’d play all sorts of clever tricks on little Benny: they’d hang him on a tall fence by an arbitrary article of clothing, they’d strip him to his skivvies and toss his clothes on the roof so he had to climb up there like a monkey in a zoo, they’d pick him up, carry him to the sandpit the jumpers used, and see how far they could throw him when they worked together as a team; ‘twas all exquisitely traumatic. Benny was the captain of the sprinting team because of them, and that’s what he told them when he group-messaged them all on Facebook earlier. Lately Benny has been contacting all of his past tormentors and thanking them for the role they played in his life as part of a thankfulness exercise he learned about through a Latter Day Saints missionary who messages him on Facebook. Chip and the boys were so taken by Bittyshit Benny’s message that they invited him out fishing this very night. They even offered to pick him up, as they were all heading out their collective doors when he messaged them anyway.
All said, it took a total of twenty minutes for Benny’s social life to finally bloom after being stunted during the years when his neighbors were away at college. Twenty minutes. A lot can happen in twenty minutes, that’s a whole lot of time… yet in all that time, Benny didn’t think it might be a good idea to bring a sweater. Why? ‘Cause he’s dumb, he’s weak, you’re a weakling, Benny, you’re a stupid little unattractive beta male who smells like bad cheese and I couldn’t even think to bring a fucking–’
From the silvery blackness of the moonbaked lake, Benny’s face flows into form. At first he sees gushy acne covering him from chin to receded hairline, crooked and jagged teeth falling out of his mouth like bricks when a chimney’s wrecked with a wrecking ball, patches of unruly black facial hair reaching out from his cheeks like the legs of sickly spiders. Then, he blinks and sees his current face. Fair skin, clean shaven, short blonde hair that complements his green eyes. Benny has matured with The Punishers, and they’ve recognized him for it. Perhaps it’s time Benny sees himself for who he is rather than who he was.
Benny leans back into the boat. He’s greeted by five smiling faces. Everyone’s holding a shot glass in their hands. Chip has two.
“You feeling any better?” Taylor asks, smiling honestly.
“Yeah,” Benny says. He wipes his already clean lip. “I’m not out on the water much, I just got a little nauseous.” He’s kind of chilly too, but he doesn’t mention this.
“No worries, budd’!” Taylor assures him, then doubles down with a solid pat on the shoulder. “Maybe a little drink will get you feelin’ right.”
Chip takes this as a chance to pass Benny a shot glass. It’s tall, fits in his hand like the grip of one of his dad’s fishing rods. It’s hard to make out in the moonlight, but there appears to be something of a man printed on the glass, too.
“What does this… Beefeater? What’s Beefeater ?”
“You are, numbnuts!” teases Willy. Always the jokester, that Willy. “Nah, just playin’. They all have different brands on ‘em. We’ve never had anybody to drink out of the gin glass, though.”
Billy lifts his glass. Everybody does the same. A glassy tink echoes across the surface of Atacama Lake.
“Welcome to the crew, Benny boy.”
Everyone downs their shots. Everyone grimaces. Beefeater leans over the side of the boat again and everyone laughs, even Benny himself. Someone grabs the bottom of his shirt and pulls him back in; thus the liquor flows like Shit’s Creek. Then, a star twinkles a little too bright and everything goes straight to hell.
There was a loud splash, but it wasn’t Benny’s splash. Benny’s splash was small, and the big splash happened before Benny’s splash. He heard some muffled commotion before he broke the surface, but even after he breaches everything seems muddled up, like time wandered into a thick spot for a moment. There’s some yelling, three voices. Benny can’t make out what they’re saying. There’s a lot of splashing, a light… no, a fire.
As his vision clears, Benny sees the boat is done for. Broken in half, and not evenly. One of the pieces is burning, another is floating. Most are sinking. The water is jelly, thick and glumpy and full of weedy pulp. Benny is beginning to struggle, but his hearing is fading back in.
“Chip’s gone! Brad’s startin’ to sink, I need to go after him!”
Benny tastes lake water and begins to get nauseous again. Not twenty minutes ago they were launching the boat.
“Wait for Taylor to come up, he already went down! Pete, n– PETE!”
Benny is starting to float off. The voices are becoming more distant. Quieter. The splashing is calming down.
“Fine, fuckin’ go then! I’ll just… wait… shit, BENNY! BENNY BEEFEATER, WHERE ARE YOU?!”
Benny can’t feel the heat from the burning piece of the boat anymore. The light on the dock is almost as big as the moon.
“BENNY! I’m, I… fuck man, what the fuck even happened?! I’M COMIN’, BENNY!”
The rhythmic splashing of waves against the dock slowly drowns out the beating of Benny’s heart. He’s cold, so cold, too cold, but he sure is glad he didn’t bring a sweater. Benny’s not very strong a swimmer. A sweater would weigh him down.
This has been the fifteenth story from Highdeas: The Lost Stories from the Seven Earths, a flash fiction anthology hidden in the back of the book Over the River: The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox. Here is everything you need to know about it:
Over the River
The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox
Over the River is the third book in a trilogy called The Fall of the Seven Earths. I’ve also released that trilogy as a single book called The Fall of the Seven Earths. Here’s everything you need to know about it:
The Fall of the Seven Earths
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~