by Santiago Zorzopulos
The water moved slowly, without picking up any speed. No waves hindered the gradual journey. The banks were muddy and possessed small mosses and other plant growth of indefinable types. Several insects buzzed around my ears, refusing to leave me alone. At first I tried to swat them away, but this just made things worse. It would incite them, almost into a frenzy. I've long since gotten used to it. Now I hardly notice.
A dead fly of unusually large size floated along. It's legs were shriveled up and compressed against it's chest as if in a final vain attempt to keep the life force from exiting it's corporal domain. The action was, or course, purely imaginary as it had long since ceased to be a living thing and now simply recalled the empty shell which envelops us all. The mortal coin of flesh as Javiar was so fond of saying.
I sat next to the yellowish water and watched the corpse continue it's final voyage down the river off to the east until it was out of site. And then I put my head down in the mud and let the cool sludge slowly mold itself to my head. I like feeling my head sink, and then the final blissful moment when the mud has covered my ears, the awful buzzing leaves my world and I can rest in peace. I had almost reached that perfect state of satisfaction when the loud growls pierced into my head like a thunderbolt. For a moment I laid, imagining myself ignoring the audible intruder and releasing my mind to the cosmos, but a second smack from the persistent sound once again assaulted me. Slowly I raised my head from the mud. I let the damp earth glide down my neck and back for a second before I turned my attention to my latest encounter.
I looked over the river from where I last perceived the sound and staring me directly in the face was some kind of small dog. It had no hair, only patches of gray stubble strategically placed around the facial area. Without even thinking I recoiled in disgust. It was Oscar. He looked at me even more sternly. I knew I had made a mistake. Oscar hated it when people gave some outside knowledge of how ugly he was. Had I been next to him and not across the river he would undoubtedly have torn my heart out from my chest and buried it under the rocks like he did to the others. He would have even crossed the river and done this to me like he had to Silvio, but he could not cross today, or tomorrow or the day after because it was spring and not even Oscar would dare cross the river when it was flowing east.
After some time, which seemed like hours, but almost certainly wasn't years, I began to move my eyes away from Oscar's. And for a moment I knew just what it must have felt like to experience absolute hatred. Which seemed strange to me because the last time I felt that way was when I was hungry and that indeed had been long ago.
I suddenly remembered why I was down at the river at this most odd hour. The time was spring, and in the spring the river flows east.
Slowly I say the giant vessel appear. Out from the distance and the mountains it came. The first part I saw was the large sails of the ship. White as the deepest of skies, fluttering in the wind like some giant butterfly which had just emerged from it's cocoon and now was ready to live the rest of it's life. Then the brown hull and bow of the ship came into clear view. At this point I noticed that the ship was indeed the one I was waiting for. I checked my compass again and slipped my coin out of my pocket. Traveling isn't cheep you know. One must be prepared for anything and today I was indeed prepared. I had been prepared for this day for my entire life and now was the culmination of what I knew was to come.
Almost as an afterthought I looked over to the other bank of the river. This was a mistake. My first mistake. Oscar was still there. When he noticed I looked at him again be raised his mangy eyebrows. His head jerked up as if being pulled by an invisible string attached to heaven. First with one leg and then the other he hunched his front side up from the mud. And then like a weed exploding from the earth the rest of his body elevated itself to the surface. I was still unable to shake my view. Once Oscar had established himself upon the surface he began to inch towards me. I knew I was safe. The time was spring and the river was flowing east, not even Oscar wouldn't dare cross the river when it was flowing east. And yet Oscar did not stop. His steady march continued towards me. Slowly he lifted his body up onto his thin hind legs until he stood only on them. His front legs reached out towards me with broken claws. Claws which had cut Silvio's and Javiar's hearts out. Claws which now longed to relieve me of mine.
Oscar's exposed belly was a pinkish yellow, with blue and red veins pulsating. A small projection erupted from his midsection and pointed accusingly towards me. I felt the horror and revulsion overwhelm my mind. I tried to scream, I couldn't. My body did not respond to my base desire to escape the horrible scene. I was helpless, like Silvio and Javiar had been.
Oscar continued to march towards me. He set one foot in the water. Then another and then another. He kept right on marching as the yellowish water brisked by his hairless body. I could still see the midsection pulsating, throbbing, this time faster than before. But suddenly the presence came. The presence which everyone feared and loved at the same time came. Slowly two plant-like stems erupted from the water. One of the stems was green, the other black. The black stem was on Oscars right, the green one on his left. They began to twist around Oscar like a snake. Moving delicately like silk. After enveloping him, Oscar became aware of what was happening. In vain Oscar attempted to fight the fate which met him. He began to struggle, but the stems just twisted around him tighter. Even his claws which had plucked the hearts out of both Silvio and Javiar were not enough to save Oscar from the horrible fate which awaited him. That was the way of things. Things happen when they happen and not a second sooner.
I witnessing the stems squeeze Oscar until his mortal shell began to crumble. First his blue, pearly eyes popped out, but clung defiantly to his body by the their strings. Then I his mustard-colored blood began to seep out from where the stems held him tight. Oscar gave out one last yelp. Then with no particular speed, the head came undone from the body and splashed into the opaque, yellowish water. The stems quickly retreated back to their underwater world, taking the captured body with them.
I watched the head float down the river. I tried several times to take my eyes away from it, but his left eye, which was bobbing in the water next to the head kept staring at me. Just as intently as before, only this time with even more hatred than before.
It was Oscar's own fate. He dared cross the river when it was flowing east.
Once the eye was out of site, I gazed back in the direction of the incoming ship. It had made little progress. I checked my pocket for my coin. I couldn't find it. For a brief moment panic began to sink into my body. If I did not have my coin how could I be prepared? Then I opened my hand and took inventory of it's contents. The coin rested upon my palm. The panic in my body subsided. I was prepared.
The ship began to inch closer and closer to me. I looked down, and realized that while I was standing there I had sunk nearly to my waist in the mud. I lapped my hand against the mud for a while and then began to move myself out. It wasn't too hard; it never was too hard.
Finally the ship pulled up next to me. A small rope was tossed over the side. I reached out my hand and grabbed hold of it with a firm grip. And then for no explicable reason I clenched my grip even more, I kept clenching until I observed my hand turn from it's pale color to red, and finally to white. Then I saw a trickle of blood emerge and slide down my hand into the mud. I was sure I has holding on tight enough, but I wanted to make no more mistakes. Looking back at Oscar was a mistake. My first mistake and it had nearly cost me my life, a relatively small cost, but I was hoping I could keep myself perfect for the voyage ahead.
The rope began to ascend and I with it. My grip was sure. As it neared the top Rodrigo was there. He flashed a big, toothy smile at me. I was glad to see him here. I hadn't expected to see him, but it was a welcome relief. The rope slowly deposited me aboard the deck of the vessel and coiled itself back up, going back to sleep on the floor. Almost immediately the vessel began it's journey.
Rodrigo asked me why I took so long, and yet he didn't say a word. I responded that I had made a mistake. To this he lost his smile and turned away immediately. Rodrigo then began a brisk walk towards the cabin. I knew Rodrigo wouldn't like me to make a mistake. Mistakes were why we are here now. I made the first mistake.
After several days of standing and waiting for Rodrigo to return I walked to the cabin. I feared my mistake was more grave than I suspected. For why would Rodrigo have not come to stand with me for so many days now? The door was ajar and I pushed it open. As I pushed the door, I suddenly made a realization. I looked down at my hands and body and realized that they weren't me. I was in control of them; other people are also in control of them. I then began to understand; I understood the gravity of my position. I began to fear that Rodrigo had made the second mistake.
As I opened the door I breathed a sigh of relief. He had not made the second mistake. He had done exactly as he should and thus only one mistake had been made so far. Rodrigo was very smart indeed. His body was hung on a rope. His lifeless body swayed back and forth. His tongue hung out of his mouth in a twisted fashion. Yes, indeed he had done the right thing.
But then for another instance I suddenly became panic-stricken again. Had he forgotten any of the steps? Had he done everything accordingly, or would a second mistake (admittedly, much smaller) been made? As I rushed around the cabin I was once again stricken with relief. I found his teeth on a small wooden table next to the door. Everything was fine. Rodrigo was a very wise man indeed. He has always made the right choices. Only one mistake had been made so far.
For a year and a day I slept in the cabin. I knew it would be a good idea to give time to the river, as to not rush it. For the river was eternal and nothing else was. It liked to be waited on. I then stepped outside the cabin back on the deck of the ship.
I looked over the side of the ship and saw the green water. I had reached it. And only one mistake had been committed which meant I still had a chance. I dove into the water and watched the ship sail away from me. I kept my eyes on it until I could no longer perceive it. At this point everything around me looked the same. Direction had become meaningless, more importantly, I was doing the right thing. I opened up my hand and looked at it again. The coin was still there. In the places were it was touching my flesh a thick layer of rot was consuming me. I couldn't help it. I had to do it.
Then I shoved my hand into my mouth and bit down as hard as I could. I kept chewing and gnawing until I felt my hand wrench itself free from my wrist and rest inside my mouth unattached to me. Everything was going according to plan.
I dove deep into the water, the green was all around me, it was so opaque I couldn't see more than a couple of inches in front of me. I kept swimming down as hard as I could.
My eyes began to burn. I knew I couldn't shut them, but I wanted to. I kept them open, and the burning sensation continued to sharpen. Finally my eyes gave way and I felt the water gush around inside my eye sockets. My eyes were gone but it was no worry to me. I no longer needed them. I had traversed the part which required my eyes and now they would only be a liability. And after all, it was because of them that I had committed the first mistake. With them gone I had purified myself.
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on June 19, 1976. During Argentina's "dirty war" my family fled the country to America. Since then I've lived in Denver Colorado, Bloomington Indiana, and finally Urbana Illinois.
Currently I'm a student of astronomy at the University of Illinois. I see writing as a artistic and emotional outlet from the drudgery of a stagnant life.