• • •
A warm, summery afternoon finds Benjy out on Lake Atacama for a fishing trip with his pop. The sun is blazing down and they brought towels and bathing suits, but there are too many other fishermen out to go swimming. Someone might report them to the park police, that would be a whole ordeal. It could be done, but it might be risky. It’s a risk Benjy and his pop have taken many and many’a, but a risk is a risk nonetheless.
However, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to take the risk on this particular day. Benjy’s pop is holding something in his hands, something he dredged up when his hook got snagged and he had to jerk it free, and even through Benjy’s sunglasses the thing is painful to look at. What’s more, the boat is leaning to one side because of how pop is standing, and he seems to be muttering to himself. The man is totally entranced by his shiny little piece of Wuester detritus that he doesn’t even notice he’s about to flip the boat.
“Pop, what is it?” Benjy asks for the third time.
As far as his pop is aware, this is the first time Benjy’s said a word since he started reeling. “Benjy boy, d’you remember the story I told you about the first time I came out here?”
“Sure, pop,” Benjy says, nodding with haste.
“Well this here is one of the glasses. The one they gave me, incredibly enough.” Benjy’s pop sits down and the boat wobbles back to balance. “Never did find out what really happened that night. They said it was a meteor, but…”
“But what, pop?”
Benjy’s pop shakes his head. “But nothin’. I suppose that’s just what it was. Y’know boy, sometimes I wonder why I got to survive when all the other guys had to die. Had the littlest thing changed… like, say I brought a sweater with me. The wind was chilly, it’s something I could have done. It would have gotten soaked when I fell into the water, and I wouldn’t have been able to swim back to shore from the floating dock I found. I’d be in the ground right with ‘em today. In the ground right next to my friends.”
Knowing better than to look at his pop when he’s crying, Benjy averts his gaze and grabs one of the six identical fishing poles lying about the boat. The one he takes has a funny reel on it, much wider than the reels on the other poles. It looks like a spool of fishing line you’d pick up at Fred’s Tackle down on the county road for a buck’ninety-nine, fill yer pockets, boi. Benjy tries casting a line but it doesn’t go well. He tries again.
And then again a few more times. Benjy loses count, but at some point he feels his pop’s hand fall on his shoulder.
“That there’s a fly reel, boy. It don’t work like the others.”
Benjy does his best to reel the line in with a little dignity. “How’s it work, pop?”
“Tell you the truth, Benj’, I don’t really know.” Benjy hands the pole over when he has the line reeled in. “It was my pop’s, he had a big collection of fishin’ stuff and he gave me this one, around the time you were born, actually. It has a whole little kit that goes with it. I like to take it out here as a good luck charm, but I don’t never use it’r nothin’.”
“Oh,” Benjy says with some reverence.
The two are silent for a moment. Then, Benjy’s pop gets two different poles lured and hands one to Benjy. “You never know what might live in a lake like this, boy. It’s near three hundred feet deep out near the middle. Why don’t we mosey over yonder and see if we cain’t catch a monster today?”
‘You have five minutes, and be discreet. If you get caught–’
‘We both get caught, I know,’ she insists. ‘I know what I’m doing, don’t worry.’
Strangely enough, this does nothing to stop the guard from worrying. Venturing outside the Compound is risky business for everyone involved, a fool’s gamble if ever there was one, and who else but the daughter of a powerful Dali warlord wants to play the wager today. No matter what he does his life is on the line, has been ever since she came up and made eye contact with him, but there’s a chance she’ll get off clean. If he refuses her and she says as much to her father he’s dead no matter what happens, and she would probably still try to go for a swim afterwards. At least this wa
‘Are you pressing the button or not?’
The guard shakes his head a bit and comes back to reality. He can see her through the window of the air lock, her gills are showing. They’re beautiful, like petals of a glimmering scarlet coontail… if only he could join her out there and reveal his own gills, feel the water flowing through them…
No. He knows the consequences. The guard nods at Castilla and presses the release button. The chamber on the other side of the window fills with water. The lights go out. A dampened sound of metal sliding against metal announces the opening of the Compound door – nothing left to do but wait and hope she returns without being followed.
A Real Trooper
The deeper he swims, the colder the water. The murky depths seem to swallow him with every strained stroke he makes, like he’s working himself down the gullet of the massive monster who lives at the bottom of this lake. Who allegedly lives at the bottom of this lake; Jembi has never seen the creature himself, and he’s here all the time. It would be hard for something huge like that to live in Atacama anyway, what with the Compound and everything going on beneath the ‘bed.
“Folks never used to be able to swim here, y’know,” says the staticy voice of Jembi’s pop through the earbud in Jembis left ear. “There was a whole lot of things folks couldn’t do before… well, you know the story. I remind you of it at least a hundred times a day.”
‘You sure do, pop,’ Jembi sends up through the water and directly into his pop’s mind.
“We changed things, our family.” Jembi’s pop is very proud. “Changed ‘em in a big way. And it all started here… kinda funny, your grandpop lived in Wuester near all his life and never once came out here, and the night he finally did… well, you know the story. Say, how deep are you now, Jemb’? You near the bottom yet?”
Jembi hits a button on his wristwatch. A beam of artificial sunlight swims through the darkness until it collides with the mucky bottom of the lake.
‘Yeah, I’m gettin’ close. You said they’d be shiny, right?’
“Yeah,” says the gravely voice of Jembi’s pop. “There should be five of ‘em, maybe near some pieces of a boat. If we can find ‘em, your grandpop’s going to be thrilled, Jembi.
“You, if you can find ‘em. Hell, I’m just up here sittin’ in this boat, I ain’t divin’ sixty some odd feet. You’re a trooper, boy, you hear me? You’re a real trooper.”
This has been the sixteenth 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~