I took the back-forty to Knowlton Lake. Only locals knew this treacherous secondary stretch of washboard death, which was why I sought it’s shelter. We were thick in tourist season and the main drags were just not safe anymore.
“Had to fight a group off with sleeves of frozen bagels. Tied ’em together like nunchuks,” Ghoul flailed his arms around as if he were Bruce Lee.
We turned and turned, hugging tight to the corners until we suddenly engaged an unfamiliar hill. What is this? I thought. I know these roads like the back of my hand… impossible. The once robust treeline of birch and blue spruce on either side quickly waned to scattered sections of plagued woodland. Some form of unnatural erosion, probably forced upon by otherworldly powers chewed away at the road. There was no earth below, only darkness.
“Look,” Ghoul said. “The Sun… it’s leaving.”
He was right. I… I don’t know how it happened but it did and I swear to you that we drove upon a single-lane length of compact dirt among the stars. Time was nonexistent and we slipped away, traveling far and wide throughout the unknown universe. We were… we were color and sound and light and everything between. Surging disbelief overwhelmed my frail emotions and I wept through clinched eyes, wishing aloud for an end to this unfortunate misplacement of dimensions.
“We made it,” said a voice. Was it my own?
I felt a warmth upon my weary head and I chanced a glance above. It was the sun… it had returned to me. And furthermore, we were now parked in front of the boat rental.
Ghoul read the sign.
“Captain Murph’s Surf and Turf… not misleading or anything.”
“Captain Murph… she’s uh… she’s something else,” I surveyed the rundown building and questionable recreational equipment available. “Just don’t stare. Actually, wait, I have an idea: you stay out here and I’ll get the boat.”
“Because you will eyeball the lump on her head and say something stupid.”
The conversation ended there and I went inside. Captain Murph, whose mouth employed a criminally offensive stench of salt-cured fish, rented us a twelve-foot whaler for the the day. Ghoul unloaded the car and we hauled our gear–cooler, rods, tackle boxes–down to the boat.
“Make sure ye wear yer life jackets,” growled Captain Murph towards Ghoul.
Captain Murph stood five-foot five (five-eight if you added her inflamed goiter) and was tougher than woodpecker lips. Rumor had it she battled pirates with her bare hands for sport.
“Yes ma’am,” replied Ghoul, who snapped to a modified version of parade rest. Once she disappeared back inside, Ghoul did as she ordered with military precision and haste.
“Huh, I thought that would’ve gone south real quick,” I said to Ghoul as we pushed off from the dock.
“Are you kidding me? Did you see those forearms? I ain’t messing with that, no way.”
We set anchor somewhere in the middle of the lake. A light breeze came from the west, rippling the ebony surface. I heard a splash from my rear, and when I turned, I found that Ghoul had tossed his fishing gear into the water.
“What’re ‘ya doing?” I asked.
“I don’t need handicaps. All I need is this!”
Ghoul pointed to his decaying arm.
Hillbilly Hand-fishing: That’s what this was about.
Ghoul leaned over the side of the boat and submerged his arm in the water. He swished violently.
“Saw this on a show. I guess the churning water get’s them fish all riled-up,” flakes of undead flesh dispersed to the immediate area.”Here, hold on to my feet so I can lean in more. I don’t think I am doing this right.”
The thought of aiding Ghoul and his nonsense lasted a few seconds at best. I instead witnessed his undoing. He released his grip on the railing of the boat with his free hand, then began using his jagged finger bones to scrape chunks of dead skin into the water.
That was when he slipped in. Ghoul surfaced quickly, gasping for whatever it was that he breathed.
“Help! I can’t swim.”
I dove in after him. The water was chilled and I am rather certain corpse matter shimmied up my nose as I torpedoed his way. It didn’t matter. I was at him, covered in corpse bits.
“I got you, man.”
I grasped his life jacket and kicked hard towards the boat. I reached the side and turned to pull Ghoul in but the jacket, along with his left arm, flew from my hands and off into the lake. He was sinking fast. I swam with everything I had. My fingers gained purchase on his shirt and I wrapped around him. It felt like I was hugging into a giant loaf of bread smothered in putrid french toast batter. We broke water. Air rushed to my lungs and I side-stroked back to the boat. Ghoul hauled himself over, then rolled inside.
“You saved my life,” he panted, then popped his head over the railing. “Hey, where are you going?”
“Going to find your arm.”
I floated away, off into the orange shimmer of setting sun and to whatever lay beyond.
© Copyright John Potts Jr 2016 – 2017. All rights reserved.