Sunday is best day to go fishing.
When everybody else was sitting in church being absolved of sins and singing awful hymns, Will was riding his borrowed bicycle down the dirt road to the river. Even though it's too tall for him and his feet barely reach the peddles.
A miniature black schnauzer trails behind him like a shadow. Will ways makes sure not to ride to fast so she can keep up.
The dog, Pearl, was at his side the moment he turned up at his Great Uncle's house. Of course Will fell in love with her on sight. Her little stubby tail wiggling in excitement at the new company and the hair around her eyes and in her beard turning grey with age.
Will had always wanted to dog of his own and he had concluded that she was the best part about staying with his Great Uncle while his own father was away off the coast of Maine, on a deep sea fishing boat, toiling away in an engine room.
Great Uncle Felix, related by Will's father's mother's brother was a... nice man to put it simply. He was unmarried, with no kids of his own. He lived by himself about an hour outside of Paris in a small rural town with only little Pearl for company.
He had taken to Will kindly when his father had asked him to take care of him. Simply because there was no one else.
Will's father told him it would be a fun. An adventurous summer vacation. And when they came back together they would settle down for real. No more moving around.
"Really son, this job is going to be really good for us."
Will didn't believe him.
He had said that before.
And Great Uncle Felix wasn't that fun. Or adventurous. He was in his mid sixties, drank too much and smoked smelly cigarettes all day.
Though he was kind and tried his best make Will comfortable. He had take him to the open market once where was to many people and he had tried taking him to restaurants with new and interesting food, but he did not know how to handle him or meet his needs.
Will was often too quite and too smart for his own good. He hardly made any eye contact, it made him strange to see people and he had trouble speaking up when he wanted something. But when he didn't like something he had no problem letting it be known.
He was just... different.
He didn't know how he was different but he was. He had over heard many adults talking about him in that way. His father, his teachers, the neighbors from the old house.
He was different.
When Great Uncle Felix found out Will liked fishing, he immediately went out and bought him a pole. A bright shiney blue one that was just his size and took him down to the dock on the river not more then a twenty minute walk from the house. And an even short bike ride.
It was a nice river too. Too wide to swim across but the current was slow and lazy and tall reeds and cat tails grew along the banks where the sand was soft and not too rocky.
The old wooden dock that would creak and moan with every other step streched far out into the water and the fish were hungry and feisty. Will hardly caught a single one most days but he could count twice now he had proudly put dinner on their plate.
And Great Uncle Felix would praise him for it and showed him how to back it in salt and how to fry the tail till it was a crispy treat.
His summer vacation wasn't turning out so bad when Great Uncle Felix would let him go fishing any day, he wanted.
As long as he took Pearl along with him.
"Only go to the dock and back. If you get lost, do not keep going." Great Uncle's voice was rough from smoking and had heavy accented English when he spoke. "You look at Pearl and you tell her 'go home Pearl, go home,' and she will lead you straight back."
Great Uncle Felix was back home now, still in bed and hung over from last night. When he woke up and saw Will's pole and bike and Pearl gone, he would know where Will had went.
Today was a little different than Will expected though. When he turned down the path to the dock the first thinf he was the back of a man, sitting on a stump with a pack at his side.
Will stopped suddenly and Pearl heeled at his feet, waiting for him as he awkwardly clambered off the too tall bike.
He did not want to fish with some one else here. He was expecting no one to be here. It was early. And a Sunday. He did not like fishing with others. He was quite particular about it.
He didn't like when they talked or when they jostled about and made the dock sway with their weight. He liked to fish on the left corner of the dock, where a tall oak tree blocked the sun as it rotated west in the sky from the hours off 10am to 12pm and if any body else had sat there and took his spot than he didn't want to fish at all.
Will debated this in his head, he had before, only ridden past the spot to check and make sure he was alone and if he wasn't, he would simply turn around and peddle back to Great Uncle's home.
The man wasn't really fishing though, was he?
Throwing caution to wind Will slowly walked the bike down the path, like maybe if he went slow enough he wouldn't be noticed but as he started to pass, the man looked up at him.
Not really a man though. He was older than Will but not old enough to be a man in Will's opinion. He was obviously handsome, dressed casually but clean and neat with fixed hair. He had a drawing pad in his lap with a pencil posed between his fingers.
Their eyes connected and Will snapped his away as his heart gave an extra thump in chest.
"Good morning," The Man, Not a Man calls, his tone is relaxed and friendly enough but it is also completely and utterly, fake.
"Good morning," Will mumbles back politely, but certainly not loud enough to carry and he wonders if any sound at all had come out of his mouth.
Why do people feel the need to make small talk when they obviously didn't want to talk? Why is Will socially obligated to reply it and why do they get upset and offended when he doesn't, even when they didn't want to in the first place!
He doesn't understand it at all and he definitely doesn't like it.
"I hear the fish are biting better down the way."
Will looks at a him again, not meeting his eyes but looking at the bridge of nose, and then his thin lips and chin and then to the empty dock waiting for him and then down at Pearl, who is waiting too, patiently like such a good girl.
It takes a moment to process the French in his head all the while. Rolling over the words in his mind as his tongue licks against the the roof of his mouth, anticipating the foreign words it's about use.
Did The Man, Not a Man not want him here either? Perhaps, he was drawing the scenery and did not want Will ruining the picturesque imagine with his frame?
Well, Will could not go down the way to where the fish are biting better. He didn't know what was down there or how to get there even. His Great Uncle had told him to only come here and go back. The thought of wandering somewhere else, anywhere else, where he did not know and had not been before made him itchy with anxiety.
"No, I must fish here." he said decidedly, in broken French, eyes flickering towards the side without turning in his direction, looking but not looking. Just barely catching the expression sweeping across The Man, Not a Man's face, the one he got when people heard him speak and knew he was not from here.
Will didn't wait any longer for more words, telling Pearl lightly to 'come on girl,' and walked his borrowed bicycle to the dock where he carefully parks it on it's kickstand, off to the side and out of the way.
From the front basket he pulls out his Great Uncle's tackle box, a canvas sack, and his collapsed shiney blue fishing pole and hurries down the dock. It sways with every step, water squelching up between the boards and Pearl claws clicks against the wood as she follows.
Summer here is a lot like summer back in Louisiana, where the air is thick with humidity and the sweat easily drips down the back of your neck.
The sun isn't nearly high enough for it to be sweltering but Will likes to dip his sandal feet into the cool river water in between cast offs to cool off. He kind of likes the way the leathered soles become softer and how water squishes between his toes.
Will catches three fish with in the first hour and half. A new record. The first two are too small to keep and get thrown back. But the third puts up a fight and tugs at the line like there's a great white whale on the other end.
He's up on his feet, standing on the edge of the dock, heart racing in excitement, Pearl jumps up to from her nap and dances around him, furiously shaking her nubby tail and giving off a few excited yaps.
Will thinks he's finally got the big one, maybe the biggest in the whole river! Maybe it's the King of all the fishes, the King of the River. It puts up the greatest of fights but Will is careful to ease the line at the right time and reel it in tight when it gives slack, knowing exactly how to play this game of tug of war and not let the line snap.
He can't help but laugh in glee and astonishment when a hugest trout, bigger than his full forearm comes flailing out of the water. Will's rod bending with the weight of it and his hook sinking through its cheek. It's the biggest fish Will's ever caught. He can't believe it. It definitely is the King of the River.
"Pearl, look it!" He cheers, showing off his prize catch to Pearl who does a full turn and snaps her teeth happily, making rumbling, whiney noises in her throat. Will grins wide.
Suddenly the feeling of eyes on him cuts through his happy haze. He nearly forgot he wasn't alone in this place.
Without thinking, he swivels his gaze over his shoulder like an owl and there is The Man, Not a Man, watching him. Sitting in the same spot on the stump, drawing pad still in his lap, bag by his side, obviously handsome, dressed casually but neat and clean with fixed hair and eyes fixed solely on him. Will turns away quickly.
Has been watching him this whole time? Perhaps, Will was just being too loud and disruptive but he was too far away to read The Man, Not a Man's face. Will looks away, feeling a little embarrassed. He probably was being too loud. Acting like a noisy child. That's why The Man, Not a Man didn't want him here.
As he unhooks the King of the River from his line, Will wonders if maybe The Man, Not a Man, drew him into his picture. He wondered if it was a good picture. He imagines what it would look like sketched in graphite, the long bending river with the reeds and cat tails growing along the banks and the dock the stretched out into the water with Will sitting in the left corner, under the shade of the tall oak tree and Pearl sleeping at his feet.
He imagined The Man, Not a Man was very good at drawing because he had been sitting there for so long. Perhaps he didn't draw Will at all and had mindfully left him out.
It didn't matter though.
Will had caught the King of the River and Great Uncle Felix was going to cook him for dinner.
But first, Will has to finish the job.
Pearl sniffs about as he lays the gaping fish down on the dock, it wriggles with left over strength. Will holds him tight with one hand and with the other, pulls out his gutting knife.
Quickly, he spikes the King of the River near the top of it's head like his father had taught him. The tip of the knife sinks in easily and with no resistance. He twists it back and forth until it stops struggling and blood mixes with water over planks of the dock.
He watches the way the red blooms across the wood.
It reminds Will of the water coloring he did back in school.
There's a strange plucking of strings that drifts through the air. Over the gentle sound of flowing water and chirping of finches in the tress. It's soft and melodical as it floats along the bank of the river and gets carried away down stream.
Will perks up curiously, eyes still on his prized catch as it bleeds out. He watches Pearl's ear twitch back and forth trying to identify the noise and then Will sneaks a look over his shoulder and under his lashes.
The Man, Not a Man has replaced his drawing pad with a type of instrument, perhaps it's a lute? Will can only play the piano and not very well. The Man, Not a Man plays with deft fingers and very well at that. It's a song Will doesn't recognize but it fits.
Somehow, with everything.
The Man, Not a Man isn't looking at him now, so Will let's himself admire his skill until Pearl thinks the fish might be for her and then he's turning back around again. Gently pushing away and telling her to,"sit, sit."
Will guts the King of the River as he listens to the pleasing tune, running his knife along it's smooth belly and pulling out it's innards. He likes this, he muses as he works. The music and Pearl and the hot summer sun and the way the river smells. It's nice.
He thinks he might be really happy.
And then sounds of a grumbly engine ruins the whole thing.
It speeds down the dirt path, spitting up rocks and leaving clouds of dust trailing behind it. The Man, Not a Man doesn't stop his playing. However, Will does stop gutting his fish to watch. Pearl stands on gaurd.
The old battered up truck stops and backs into the boat launch, a wooden rowboat sits in the flat of it's bed. A tall, grubby looking man, with a bugling gut steps out, crushing a cigarette butt under his foot and slamming his door shut. He's wearing loose cotton pants and a sweat stained wife beater tank, he looks at Will's borrowed bicycle and then right at Will.
"Hey boy!" the man calls to him, sounding upset.
Will promptly turns back around and starts gathering his things up. He doesn't want to fish any more, although he still would have liked to and he's a little bitter about The Fat Man showing, but he has his prize catch now and that good enough.
He doesn't want to be around that man.
Will grabs his Great Uncle's tackle box, and shoves the River King's body into his canvas sack. Pearl shuffles back and forth, waiting for the word to go, Will watches her carefully, she yips at him and snaps her teeth a few times anxiously and then they both jump when The Fat Man kicks Will's borrowed bike over and the dock sways on the water when he steps on it. Blocking Will from escaping.
"Boy!"The Fat Man growls.
"Yes sir?" Will walks forward, head ducked, Pearl at his heel like a little shadow.
"What are you doing at my river," The Fat growls again and stumbles closer. Perhaps he has been drinking already.
The Man, Not a Man sitting on the stump with the lute in his lap still playing and handsome, dressed casually but clean and neat with fixed hair is watching them now.
"Stupid American," The Fat man spits.
"I am just leaving the river, it is yours, sir." Will tries his best to sound fluent though he knows he is far from it. "Please."
"Please," The fat man mocks stepping closer.
"You come to my river, on my dock, and catch my fish, let me see what you have, it is mine now." The Fat Man reaches for Will's canvas sack, dipping wet with the King of the River and staining it red with it's blood.
Will steps back, he knows this river does not belong to the fat man, just like how the dock does not belong to him or the fish in his sack. He is being mean and unfair because he is bigger and older and most likely drunk. But Will won't let him take his prized catch.
"You little shit," The Fat Man spits again, and reaches for him.
Pearl jumps out from behind Will and snaps few times at The Fat Man's fingers much like a schnauzer is known to do. Although she is no where near close to actually biting The Fat Man, the threat is clear.
"Fucking rat", The Fat Man snarls and kicks at Pearl.
Will instantly snaps the second he realizes Fat Man is trying to hurt her.
In the moment where Fat Man is on one foot with the other kicked out in the air, Will throws himself at him with a primal yell, shoving with all his body strength but he is just a little ten year old boy, who does not come up to much as The Fat Man's middle and weighs even less.
The Fat Man only stumbles backwards a single step, swearing and then Will doesn't know what's happening because it all happens so fast. He feels his canvas sack being ripped from his shoulder and then a forcefull thick fingered hand is slapping him across his face.
Pain blooms in his cheek and jaw and his vision goes a little blurry and he's falling off balance.
Stumbling sideways, he feels his feet leave the dock and there's a loud splash and cool water is rushing around him as he cracks the surface of the river and sinks to the bottom. Pearl's barking and man shouting voice is muffled to his ears.
The river is not deep here, they were close enough to the bank, it's only deep enough that Will is still completely under water if he stands on the bottom with his feet sinking into the silty river bottom. He can swim well enough and doesn't panic.
He walks his way out of the water, still clutching his shiney blue pole and Great Uncle's tackle box in one hand. He sees The Fat Man, now by The Man, Not a Man.
They're talking. They seem to know each other. Fat man has his voice raised and he's talking fast, pointing a single grubby finger in The Man, Not a Man's face.
And then between one moment and the next Will watches The Man, Not a Man pull out a long, thin bladed sword from seemingly no where and slashes The Fat Man across his bulging fat belly.
He screams and clutches the seams of the gut like his insides might spill out if he lets go. The Man, Not a Man's lips move but Will can not hear what he is saying. He can't hear anything but the sound of flowing water.
He watches The Man, Not a man grin wickedly, with sharp teeth and a grip so tight on sword his knuckles go white and he slashing again across the the man's chest this time, and again and again. Blood weeps out of him, dripping and staining his torso. None of the cuts are deep enough to be fatal, only deep enough to hurt.
The Fat Man suddenly goes into a berserk rage, yelling and rushing The Man, Not a Man. Will watches him ready his sword, a single foot steps back for balance but his heel catches unexpectedly on a root and he falters.
Will see it's before it happen and doesn't know what he is doing but he's running towards them next. He doesn't remember to telling Pearl to stay.
Doesn't remember dropping Great Uncle's tackle box and his shiney blue fishing pole carelessly by his borrowed bike and pulling out his gutting knife as he hurries.
His clothes feel heavy with water and his soaked leather sandals squelch when he runs. His heart is beating faster than it ever has and his knife is gripped in tightly in his hand.
The Fat Man doesn't notice him until Will's blade is buried to the hilt in his back. Than he cries out and swings a meaty arm around wildly, knocking Will to the ground, Fat Man turns to him.
Pearl is growling and barking in the distance and Will watches as The Man, Not a Man steps up from behind, his face is twisted into something familiar but nothing he has ever seen before on another and with a single swing of that long, thin bladed sword, lobbs The Fat Man's head clean off in a single sweep.
It lands with a thump and the body crumples a second later with a lounder thud. Will stares with wide eyes, as sound come rushing back to him, he trembles with adrenaline and shaky breath. When he shifts his gaze from the decapitated body to The Man, Not a Man, he finds him watching him.
He does not looked fazed in the slightest. He in fact, looks happy, though his lips are not smiling. Will doesn't have to force himself like he usually does to look into his eyes.
He looks and he sees this Man who is Not a Man. He doesn't know how but he feels something change. Something has become different. Maybe this Man who is Not a Man is also, different like Will is different. Perhaps they are differently the same now.
"Are you are alright?" The Man, Not a Man speaks to him in English with a very heavy accent that is almost too hard to understand and doesn't sound anything like Great Uncle Felix's does.
He is not from here either, just like how Will isn't.
It feels like a relief some how.
Will only stares as a hand is offered to him. One that had wielded a deadly blade.
He takes it slowly, watches how his long fingers that were once plucking deftly at musical strings, wrap around his smaller hand and completely encases it. His whole body is pulled up easily off the ground.
"Boy?" The Man, not a Man inquires when he doesn't speak. He is splattered with red blood of the Fat Man, Will himself is splattered with it too. He swallows thickly, looking for his voice.
"That man was mean." He says quietly.
"Yes. He was, wasn't he?" The Man, Not a Man replies softly, "Are you alright?" He is asked again.
Will nods numbly, he is soaking wet, covered in dirt and leaves and blood and his cheek and jaw hurts but he is fine.
He doesn't realize tears are escaping his eyes until a warm hand is brushing against his swollen cheek, wiping one away and then pushing back his curly wet hair from his face.
It is oddly comforting.
"Thank you." The Man, Not a Man says to him, pushing a handkerchief into one of his trembling hands when more tears roll down his cheeks.
Will nods, he doesn't feel sad about it, he's not sure why his eyes want to cry right now or why The Man, Not a Man is thanking him.
He just misses the warm hand in his hair and takes the handkerchief none the less and wipes his face with it. It comes way dirty and red.
"You should go home now. Take your dog and your fish and do not tell anyone what has happened here."
Will nods again, looking back up into The Man, Not a Man's maroon colored eyes and seeing him look back. His thin lips twitch with a smile and Will can't help but mirror him. He offers back the handkerchief but it's refused.
"What is your name, boy?"
"Will Graham." He says quietly and wants to ask what The Man, Not a Man's name is too but he feels to shy and stays quite instead. The Man, Not a Man nods at him.
"Go now, I will take care of this."
Will takes another moment and than silently collectes him and goes and pulls his knife out of The Fat Man's headless body and picks up his canvas bag that had fallen to side. The King of the River is still perfectly inside. He checked to make sure.
Pearl is dutifully waiting for him back at his borrowed bike where he told her to stay. He grabs Great Uncle's tackle box and his shiney blue fishing pole.
He doesn't get back on the too tall borrowed bicycle yet and instead walks slowly back up the dirty path with Pearl at his heel, so he can watch the Man, Not a Man drag the body of the Fat Man into the river.
He wonders if the fish will be happy with that.
Will pauses to climb onto his borrowed too tall bicycle once he's farther up the path, he pauses first to look at the handkerchief still clutched in his hand. There's a neatly embroidered 'H.L.' stitched in the one corner that feels extra soft under his fingers.
Will wonders if Great Uncle Felix is up yet.
He can't wait to show him his catch.