“I don’t know about this. It seems disrespectful.”
The sun shone down on the river, irritating my red and blistered back. My oar cut through the clear water. A school composed of fish the size of house keys turned with a fright, changing direction in unison.
“Relax,” Patrick said from the canoe’s stern, steering with the standard stroke on the starboard side, while I forced us forward on the port. Between us was fishing equipment: all the normal stuff, two poles, a steel tackle box, a cooler filled with lunch (but mostly beers), and an outlier — the bag, a burlap sack that felt tainted, unsportsmanlike.
“I wouldn’t toss a bag of dynamite into a chicken coop,” I said, eying the explosives while maintaining a steady stroke that rubbed away at the calloused skin on my palms, layer by layer. “Why would I do the same to a school of fish?”
“Fish aren’t as human.”
I laughed through my nose, a short condescending puff of air.
“You know what I mean,” Patrick said. “They’re not as alive. You look into the eyes of a human, you see a soul. 100%, unless they’re a politician or a cop. You look into the eyes of any of other mammal, that drops to, like, 50%; you see 50% soul capacity.” The way Patrick moved his hands conveyed sincerity, like he was an expert in the field of soul study and knew exactly what he was talking about. “Look at a bird or a rodent, you see 25%. But a fish? Come on. That’s 5% at the most, and I’m feeling generous. May as well look at a spider for some humanity, my friend.”
“I know this is supposed to justify destroying the ecosystem, but I’m not feeling much better about it.”
“Get a few beers in you,” Patrick said, kicking the cooler. Glass clinked, ice sloshing. “That’ll do it.”
That was Patrick’s solution for everything. Have a smoke. Take a puff. Live a little. He bought me my first drink, my first gram of marijuana, my first stripper. Always releasing inhibitions.
Throw a stick of dynamite.
Live a little.
Gnats and mosquitoes buzzed around my head, pestering and persistent. The canoe glided out into a fork in the river. Along the left path, I could see overturned trees, dead and brittle and sinister; along the right, the path was smooth and clear and —
“Bo-ring,” Patrick sang. “Don’t even think about it. We’re going left. Let us brave the impossible path!”
He steered with wide strokes while my oar acted as a rudder, and we turned slowly into certain doom.
“You’re going to get us killed,” I groaned.
“Don’t be such a pussy, man.”
“We are going to hit a fallen tree and explode, I swear to God.”
Patrick laughed. “That’s not how it works.”
Death barred our path in the form of sickly brittle branches reaching out to us, scratching our boat, stroking our hair. The river narrowed the deeper we went.
“Look at this,” Patrick said, pointing at a tree stretching from end to end of the river like a bridge, suspended at head height. “We’re like fucking adventurers, man.” We leaned back, abdominal muscles straining, as the wood flew overhead.
After much scraping of tree spirits against our boat on the river Styx, we came upon an open and vast clearing. The water glittered like diamond, the dragonflies hovered and darted gracefully, and the birds sang, hidden deep within the forest; it was paradise on Earth.
“Right! Let’s blow shit up!”
Patrick opened a bottle of beer with his belt buckle and passed it to me. I laid my oar across my lap as he cracked one open for himself. Wasting no time, he took a swig, pulled out his lighter, and extracted a bright red cylinder of dynamite the size of a mouse, strapped to an arrowhead. He lit the wick with a grin and handed it to me.
“Holy — ” I tossed it away hurriedly. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”
Patrick put his finger to his lips.
The dynamite lit up with a crack and a flare and died like a star, vanishing quickly and completely while I jerked to attention and I tried to compose myself. Smoke plumed and swirled beneath the water. A handful of small silver fish floated to the surface.
We sat in silence, my breathing heavy. I could feel Patrick watching me tensely, waiting for my verdict. I sipped my beer.
“That was… pretty awesome,” I said.
“See? I knew you’d come around. Now, let’s get out the big stuff.” He reached deep inside the bag and pulled out a bundle of four sticks of your standard-sized dynamite. He surveyed the area.
Something splashed in my peripheral, a flash of green tail disappearing behind a cascade of water, and Patrick yelled, “Over there!”
He lit the wick and hurled the bundle ahead. It hit the water with a plunk, and we sat on the edge of our seats, hearts pounding with adrenaline and anxiety, a grin dancing at the edge of my lips.
The water erupted like a geyser, launching as high as the treetops and falling like a waterfall, and we laughed guiltlessly, for the moment. Despite myself, I couldn’t help but enjoy this.
A rainbow arced ahead of the splash zone.
My grin disappeared.
“Dude… what the fuck is that?”
Surrounded by countless fish, the laughter stopped when we saw her.
Her head of fiery orange hair fanned out over the water like a lily pad. Her skin was cream-coloured and smooth. Her waist was small, dainty, and her hips were wide and attractive, and the scales that adorned her fish-like tail were green and slick. Her blood was as red as any human’s.
I swallowed hard. Behind me, Patrick grabbed his oar. “We should go,” he said meekly. I nodded.
The ripples from the explosion carried away her corpse.
I wanted to throw up.
K. A. Mielke is a freelance writer from the mystical land of Guelph, Ontario, a fearsome place overrun with shadow monsters and environmentalists. His two biggest weaknesses are action figures and pad thai. His latest project is a web-comic about a talking cactus detective.
This story is sponsored by
Adamar, book one of The Hennion Chronicles — Adamar and his friends race to save an alien world, humanity’s future and the woman he loves. They must unlock a secret from the dawn of creation, now used by an emperor to enslave his people, so they can stop his sadistic rule and open a portal to home.