Sunday is best day to go fishing.
When everybody else is sitting in church being absolved of sins and singing awful hymns, Will is riding his borrowed bicycle down the dirt road to The River.
Though his feet barely reach the peddles and Great Uncle's tacklebox sitting in the handlebar basket make the front heavy and harder to steer, he somehow he still wobbles along down the empty country road all the same.
A miniature black schnauzer trails behind him like a little shadow. He always makes sure not to peddle to fast so she never has to run beyond a trot.
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 feet tapping about and her stubby tail wagging in excitement at the new company.
Will had always wanted a dog of his own and he had already concluded that she was the best part about staying in France while his own father was away off the coast of Maine, toiling away inside an engine room on a deep sea fishing boat.
Great Uncle Felix, related by Will's father's mother's brother was a simple man and nice enough. He was unmarried, with no kids of his own and he lived by himself over an hour outside of Paris, in a more 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, though Will knew there was a reluctantacy on his Great Uncle's part. Will had watched the phone call happen. He remembered seeing his father's face growing red with embarrassment as he begged for help.
Father told him it was going to be fun. An adventurous summer vacation. And when they came back together, they were going to settle down, for real. No more moving around.
"Really son, this job is going to be so good for us."
Will didn't believe him.
He had said that before but Will was use to it by now and didn't hold it against his father.
And Great Uncle Felix wasn't much fun. Or adventurous. He was already almost seventy with receding hair around his temples. He drank cheap red wine all day and smelled like stinky cigarettes.
Though he tried. Great Uncle Felix never made Will feel unwelcome and he tried his best make him comfortable. At first he was over attentive of Will, constantly checking on him, asking him how's he doing or what he wanted to do next. Great Uncle Felix took him to the open market first, where there was too many people and too many sounds but many delightful things to see and smell so Will didn't complain.
Then he tried taking Will to local restaurants every day with new and interesting foods but wasn't ready for how picky of an eater Will was and the outings ended with both of them being disappointed and sorry. To his own protests, Will was introduced to the neighbor's granddaughter who visited on weekends but she called him strange, made fun of the way he talked and she put grass down the back of his shirt.
The visit ended when Will pushed her over and made her cry. Great Uncle scolded him for that but said he didn't have to play with her anymore if he didn't want too. It wasn't till after that first weekend that Great Uncle figured out Will did just fine on his own.
Great Uncle was relieved to see it too, he patted Will on the head and called him a, "independent little man."
Will knew he was too quite or he was called too smart for his own good, or more mature for his age but really, Will liked to play pretend more than anything. It was a game he could play anywhere and one he could play alone and by himself. It was too easy to it bring forth from his mind and see things others couldn't he didn't need other people there to distract him from it.
Maybe that's what made him different.
He wasn't sure how or why but he was called different too often. 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.
Great Uncle didn't seem to mind though.
When he 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 he took him down to the dock on The River not more then a twenty minute walk from home and an even shorter ride by bike.
It was a nice river too. To 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 dotted with pebbles.
The old wooden dock would creak and moan with every other step and it streched far out into the water were 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 plates back home.
And Great Uncle Felix would praise him for it and show him how to bake it in salt and thyme 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, the bike he had borrowed and sweet Pearl gone, he would know where Will had went with no worries.
Today was a little different than Will expected though. When he turned down the dirt path to the dock the first thing he saw was a shiney motor bike, parked out of the way near the bushes and then further up, the back of a man, sitting on a stump in the grassy meadow that lay before the water, a pack at his side.
Will slows to a stop and Pearl heels at his feet, waiting for him as he awkwardly clambered off the too tall, borrowed bike.
He did not like to fish when some one else here. He was expecting no one else to be here. It was early. And a Sunday. He did not like fishing with others. Will was quite particular about it.
He didn't like when they talked too loud or when they jostled about and made the dock rock with their weight. He liked to fish on the left corner of the dock, where a tall elm tree blocked the sun as it rotated west in the sky and if any body else had sat there and took his spot than he didn't want to fish at all.
Will debates this in his head, he had before, only ridden past the spot to check to make sure he was alone and if he wasn't, he would simply turn around and peddle back to Great Uncle's cottage.
The man wasn't fishing though, was he?
Decidedly and throwing his caution to wind, Will slowly walks the borrowed bike down the dirt path, perhaps if he went slow and quite enough, he wouldn't be noticed. However, just as he begins cross directly past, the man looks up at him.
Not really a man though. He was older than Will but not old enough to be a man in his opinion. He was obviously handsome, dressed casually but very proper, clean and neat with fixed hair. He had a drawing pad in his lap with a pencil posed between his fingers.
Their eyes connect and Will snaps his away as his heart thumps an extra beat in his chest. Not entirely a man at all but something else.
"Good morning," The Man, Not a Man calls to him, his tone is relaxed and friendly enough but Will knows it is absolutely and completely, fake.
"Good morning," Will mumbles back with no confidence, not looking back up and certainly not speaking loud enough to carry across the span of green grass that lay between them. He wonders if any sound at all had just come out of his mouth.
He doesn't understand why people feel the need to make small talk when they obviously didn't want to talk to him. And why is he socially obligated to reply to it and why do they get upset and offended when he doesn't, even when they didn't really care too 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 back at The Man, Not a Man again, not meeting his eyes but looking at the bridge of nose where it starts to slops away from his brow and down to his thin lips and square chin and then to the empty dock that's 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, though he picked up the second language quickly having known some growing up in Louisiana, he did not get to study properly for every long before he left the States and still he struggled sometimes to keep up with quick talkers. He rolls over the words in his mind as his tongue licks against the the roof of his mouth, anticipating the foreign words he's about use.
The Man, Not a Man did 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 the way and 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 the way and had not been before made his stomach flip unpleasantly.
"No, I will fish here." He replies definitely, eyes flickering towards the side without turning his head, looking but not looking. Just barely catching the knowing sweep across The Man, Not a Man's eyes, the one he gets when people hear him speak and know he is not from here.
Will didn't wait any longer for more words, telling Pearl lightly to, 'come on, girl.' And he walks his borrowed bicycle down 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, an empty canvas sack, and his collapased shiney blue fishing pole and hurries down the dock. It sways slightly with every step, water squelching up between the boards growing green with alge. Pearl's claws click against the wood as she follows behind.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Summer here is a lot like summer back in Southern states, where the air is thick with humidity and the sweat easily drips down the back of your neck and soaks into the collar of your shirt.
The sun isn't nearly high enough for it to be sweltering yet but Will likes to dip his sandaled feet into the cool river water inbetween cast offs to cool down. He kind of likes the way the leathered soles become softer and how water squishes between his toes even if he's skin will end up wrinkley by the time he's done.
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 in. But the third gives him a real fight, tugging 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 feeding off Will's own glee.
Will thinks he 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 wonder and astonishment when a hugest trout, glistening red and green in the sunlight and bigger than his full forearm, comes sailing 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, pulling it in and 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 from ear to ear.
A tingling shiver creeps down his spine and suddenly the feeling of eyes on him cuts through his happy haze. Will nearly forgot he wasn't alone in this place.
Without thinking much, Will swivels his gaze over his shoulder like an owl and there is The Man, Not a Man, watching him across the grassy field. 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 his piercing eyes fixed solely on him. Will turns away quickly.
Has he been watching him this whole time? Perhaps, Will was being too loud and disruptive just now with his catch but he was too far away to read The Man, Not a Man's face. Will hunches in on himself, feeling a little embarrassed. He 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 wonders if it is 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 elm tree and Pearl sleeping at his feet.
He imagines The Man, Not a Man was very good at drawing because he has been sitting there for quite some time now. 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 weakly with left over strength. Will holds it tight with one hand and with the other, pulls out his gutting knife.
Quickly, he spikes the King of the River's head, through the brain, the fastest way to end it's life, just like his father had taught him. The tip of the knife sinks in easily with little resistance. He twists it back and forth until it stops struggling and it's blood mixes with water over the planks of the dock.
He stops and watches the way the red blooms across the wood, following along the grain pattern before seaping back into the river between the slats.
It reminds Will of the water coloring he did back in school. It's very pretty, he thinks to himself.
There's a strange plucking of strings that drifts through the air. The leaves in the trees sway and dance in the gentle breeze and the finches chirp along to the soft and melodical tune 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 new noises and then, sneakingly, Will looks 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 because he didn't like his teacher who was too strict. 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, cutting through the meat, 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 that his summer vacation might not be so bad after all. He starts to hope that The Man, not a Man will return again to play his song the next time Will comes to fish.
And then the sounds of an old engine rips through the air and kills the atmosphere dead.
An old, battered up truck 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 up, alert and on guard.
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 bulging 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 undershirt, he immediately looks at Will's borrowed bicycle and then fixes his sight on Will himself.
"You, boy!" The Fat Man calls to him, already sounding upset.
Will promptly turns back around and starts gathering up his things. He doesn't want to fish any more, although he still would have liked to for a little longer and he's a little bitter about The Fat Man showing up, but he has his prize catch now and that's good enough for him.
He doesn't want to be around that man, one look and he can tell.
Will grabs his Great Uncle's tackle box, and shoves the River King's limp body into his river soaked canvas sack. Pearl shuffles back and forth around his feet, waiting for the word to go. Will watches her carefully, she snuffles at him and wags her tail in anticipation and then they both jump when The Fat Man kicks Will's borrowed bike over with a crash and the dock sways on the water under his large weight as he steps on it. Making it impossible for Will to escape without confrontation.
"Boy!" The Fat Man growls for Will attention when he doesn't answer.
"Yes, sir?" Will walks forward, head ducked, things gathered in his arms and Pearl at his heel like a little shadow. If he could, he would pass him silently without a word but he knows this situation won't let him off free like that.
"What are you doing at my river?" The Fat Man's words are slightly slurred together as he stumbles closer. Will has to listen extra hard to understand him. Perhaps he has been drinking already.
The Man, Not a Man sitting on the stump with the lute in his lap is still playing his tune. The once lovely tune now clashes with Will mood and he doesn't like it as much. Will's eyes drift toward the Man, Not a Man, wondering if he will be of any help but he hasn't moved at all, except he is now too, watching Will. They're eyes meet again across the distance.
"Stupid American." The Fat Man spits.
Will flinches, eyes snapping back to The Fat Man before him.
"I am leaving the river, it is yours, sir." Will tries his best to be polite and articulate the right words though he knows he is far fluent. "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 there, it's mine now!" The Fat Man reaches out his fat fingers for Will's canvas sack, dipping wet with the King of the River and stained 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 next to drunk, which makes him stupid. But Will won't let him take his prized catch.
"You little shit," The Fat Man spits and reaches for him again.
This time Pearl jumps out from behind Will, snapping a few times and she growls at The Fat Man's sausage fingers. Although she is no where near close to actually biting The Fat Man, her warning is clear.
"Fucking rat!" The Fat Man snarls and kicks Pearl off the dock before Will can do anything about it.
Her pained yip makes him snap.
In the moment where The Fat Man is on one foot with the other still hanging in the air, just Pearl as hitting the water, Will is throwing himself at the Fat Man with a primal yell, shoving with all his body strength behind him, 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 much, much less.
The Fat Man only stumbles backwards a single step and catches him with a drunken sway, cursing angryily. Will doesn't know what's happening because it all happens so fast. He feels his canvas sack being ripped from his shoulder and a fat fingered hand is striking him across the face.
The pain blooms in his cheek and jaw and his vision goes a little blurry with the painful twist of his head and he's falling off balance.
Stumbling sideways, unable to catch himself, his little hand unwilling releases Uncle's tackle box, it spill across the deck, hooks and lures and brightly colored bait, slipping between the planks and floating away.
His feet leave the dock and he hits the river with a splash, it's cold bite shocks the breath from his lungs as the water rushes into his ears and up his nose. But the river is gentle with him and he softly lands on his knees in the sandy bed below the surface.
He can hear Pearl's barking and The Fat Man's shouting voice is muffled above him through the running river water.
Will wades his way back to the shore, still clutching his shiney blue pole. He sees The Fat Man now is over by The Man, Not a Man.
They're talking. They seem to know each other. The Fat Man has his voice raised louder than before and he's talking fast, pointing a single grubby finger in The Man, Not a Man's face.
And then in a surreal feeling moment, Will watches The Man, Not a Man pull out a long, thin bladed sword from seemingly no where. He is quick but elegant in his movements. He slashes The Fat Man cross ways against his bulging fat belly.
Will watches. He smiles. He sees it as he was The Man Who is Not Man, vicious with retribution. Will feels it. The fat man is nasty and boorish and he needs to be punished. He wronged the Man who is not a Man and he wronged Will. Will watches himself cut cross ways across the Fat Man's gut, just like he had done with The King of the River.
The Fat Man squeels like a stuck pig and clutches the seams of the gut as if his insides will spill out if he lets go. The Man, Not a Man's upturned lips move but Will can not hear what he is saying. He can't hear anything, like his head is still under the peaceful water.
He watches The Man, Not a man grin wickedly, with barracuda 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, circling him as predator. Blood seeps out of The Fat Man, dripping and staining his clothes and the ground below. None of the cuts are deep enough to be fatal, only deep enough to make him hurt.
The Fat Man cries out in a rage, finding enough strength to berserk, yelling and swing his arms and rushing The Man, Not a Man with his much bigger body. Will watches him ready his sword, posing like a Japanese samurai, a single foot sliding back for balance as he raises the blade again.
But his heel catches unexpectedly on a root and he falters.
Will see it before it happens and without thinking, he's running towards them.
His clothes feel heavy with water and his soaked leather sandals squelch when he runs. His heart is beating faster than it ever has before and his gutting knife is gripped in tightly in his hand instead of his shiny blue pole.
The Fat Man doesn't notice him until Will's blade is buried to the hilt in his lower back. Then he is wailing and swinging a meaty arm around wildly, knocking Will to the ground and knocking the air from his lungs. He coughs and sputters trying to catch his breath as The Fat Man turns to him with a desperate fighting fire in his eyes.
Pearl is growling and barking in the distance and Will watches as The Man, Not a Man steps up from behind the Fat Man, as he looms over Will, his face is twisted into something recognizable but nothing he has ever seen before on another and with a swing of that long, thin bladed sword, lobs The Fat Man's head clean off in a single sweep.
It lands with a soft thump first and rolls a few feet away from Will. The body starts to crumple a second later, Will scuttles backward in fear of being caught underneath it. He stares with wide eyes at the gushing stump of the Fat Man's neck and then he shifts his gaze to the decapitated head. It stares back at him with wide, shocked and unseeing eyes.
Sound comes rushing back to Will now, his pounding heart, his ragged breath, the finches still chirping in the trees and lazy blabbling of The River.
He turns to The Man, Who is Not a Man. He does not looked fazed in the slightest. He in fact, at peace and happy, although his lips are not smiling anymore. He is more like the cat who got the canary. Will doesn't have to force himself like he usually does to look into his eyes, in fact, he craves for the connection now.
He looks and he sees this Man who is Not a Man. Something has become different in him. Something has become different in Will. Maybe this Man who is Not a Man is also different, just like how Will is different. Perhaps they are both differently the same now.
"Are you are alright?" The Man, Not a Man speaks to him in English this time. His voice is heavily accented and almost too hard to understand and it doesn't sound anything like Great Uncle Felix's does.
He is not from here either, just like how Will isn't.
Somehow, that feels like a relief to him, another thing that is different about them.
Will can only stare as a hand is offered to him. One that had wielded a deadly blade. One that cut through a man and killed him, one that sketched for hours in place.
A moment longer and he is finally able to lift his trembling hands from the ground and slowly take the offered on. He watches how the long fingers that were once plucking deftly at musical strings, wrap around his smaller hand and completely encases it. Then his whole body is pulled up off the ground as if it weighed the same as a feather.
"Boy?" The Man, not a Man inquires again when Will can't find the words to speak. He is splattered with red blood from the Fat Man, Will himself is splattered with it too. He swallows thickly, searching for his voice that is often already, too hard to find.
"That man was mean." He manages quietly, his throat feeling inexplicably tight.
"Yes. He was, wasn't he?" The Man, Not a Man replies softly, "And are you alright?" Will is asked again.
He nods numbly, he is soaking wet, covered in dirt and leaves and splattered in blood and his cheek and jaw hurt but he is fine. Although, he doesn't fully understand what has just transgressed.
He doesn't realize silent tears are slipping through his lashes until a warm hand is brushing against his swelling cheek, wiping them away with a soft stroke of thumb and then long fingers are pushing back his wet curly hair from his face and there is an amused twinkle in the Man Not a Man's eyes.
Will drops his gaze to the ground, feeling unsure now, normally he doesn't like being touched by strangers but somehow he is oddly comforted. And somehow it feels like he's being praised but he hadn't done anything good.
"Thank you." The Man, Not a Man says to him, almost like he was reading Will's mind, and he retracts his hand just as quickly as it had given it and Will wishes it had lasted for only a bit longer. His wish is almost granted when it returns to push a handkerchief into one of his own trembling hands as more tears drip helplessly down his cheeks.
He doesn't feel sad, he's not sure why his eyes want to cry right now or why The Man, Not a Man is thanking him.
He just stiffly nods his head and accepts the little square of fabric. It smells clean and fresh like laundry detergent and he there's an odd scent of almondy spice to it, when he wipes at his face with it, it comes away dirty and red.
"You should go home now. Take your dog and your catch and don't dare to tell anyone what has happened here. "
Will nods again, looking back up into The Man, Not a Man's maroon colored eyes and sees him looking back into his own. His thin lips twitch with an offered smile and he pushes a single finger to his mouth in a silent shush, like they share a secret now and Will can't help but mirror him. He silently offers back the dirty handkerchief even though he selfishly wishes to keep it, to his surprising relief, it's gently refused.
"What is your name, boy?"
"Will Graham." He replies quietly, he wants to ask what The Man, Not a Man's name is too but he suddenly feels too shy to do so. The Man, Not a Man nods at him and reaches into his pocket and pulls out two golden candies, individually wrapped and offered to him on an open palm. Will takes one and looks to The Man, Not a Man, who only unwraps the second one and waits for Will to do the same, their eyes meet again and The Man, Not a Man pops the candy between his lips and Will follows. The citron taste makes his lips pucker, but he likes it all the same and he feels his tear begining to dry.
"Go on now then, Will." The Man, Not a Man tells him, "I will take care of this."
They watch each other for another moment until Will's feet become unstuck and he silently collects himself.
Pearl is dutifully waiting for him back at his borrowed bike where he doesn't remember telling her to stay. Will collects what's left of Great Uncle's spilled tacklebox and he picks up his shiney blue fishing pole from where it was dropped and wonders if Great Uncle Felix will be mad about losing more than half of his lures and bait.
Will doesn't climb back on to the too tall and borrowed bicycle yet. Instead walks slowly back up the dirty path with Pearl at his heel, and his things in the handlebar basket just 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, they are always hungry after all.
Will only pauses when he gets back to the road, looking back one more time before he climbs onto his borrowed and too tall bicycle. 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.