The following is an excerpt from Bound in Blood and Skin…
In spite of Luc’s skill, one fish had always managed to elude him and the rest of us. The way I see it, every village has its monster. Stories of fantastical creatures rise from fire-side conversation like so many sparks. Our village was no different. A large fish swam at the very center of our mythology: we called him Leviathan, and he grew larger every time his story was told.
The beast had taunted me for years. Sometimes, swear t’ Christ, he arched his back against bottom of my boat to assure me that the all the myths were indeed true.
No photographs were ever taken of him but stories, the ones my brother crafted especially, were worth a thousand pictures. I fell silent whenever Leviathan was mentioned. I refused to either affirm or deny his existence, but my ominous and foreboding silence screamed surely screamed his name.
And so, on a Friday evening in late September, I prepared a feast for Luc. It was his favorite: venison tenderloin with creamy juniper gravy smothering a mountain of homegrown, butter infused mashed potatoes. I passed the mill to the boy and his forearms bulged as he ground a thick blanket of pepper onto his plate. I’d also prepared a speech to be served with our dessert:
“Luc, your uncle Thomas is coming to town. He wants to go fishing in the morning and I’ve promised him that tomorrow we shall feast upon the Leviathan’s flesh. He will be here at dawn, so wash your feet and go to bed.”
The boy’s belly was full of butter and starch so he complied with my command and blew out his candle early. He slept a deep sleep and awoke to my brother and I’s hearty laughter.
I knew then, and I know now that Luc has always idolized his Uncle Thomas. To Luc, Thomas was a man’s man. While I was, and always have been more powerful than my brother, while I laugh louder and drink more than Thomas, my brother’s arrogant resignation has always captivated Luc. Indeed, Thomas’ few words command us all to listen intently when he speaks: he answers to the angels alone, and is most comfortable with the silence surrounding him.
Luc adopted Thomas as his alter ego at a very early age. I noticed that when he spoke to his Boy Scout buddies on matters concerning fire or fishing, he mimicked the low, emphatic tone of my brother. His friends, in turn, copied Luc’s borrowed expressions as they enjoyed their otherworldly, yet earthy charm. Luc grinned from ear to ear whenever he heard his uncle in the voices of friends.
Luc wanted to keep Thomas a secret from his friends, however, and their chances meeting my brother were slim to none. Thomas has always been the type of man who prefers the companionship of his tools and his rifle to the comfort of fellowship with fellow human beings. He celebrates New Year’s alone in the wilderness. When midnight comes he rises from his seat in front of fire and announces the passing of time with a shot from his rifle before extinguishing the fire with his own piss and going to sleep in his tent.
Anyways: the fishing trip. I almost forgot. Luc came into the kitchen that morning, greeted by his uncle in a way most predictable. I mouthed the words as my brother spoke them.
“So Luc, what do you think?”
The boy never knew how to respond to the question so he mumbled something incoherent, which Thomas and I ignored. After breakfast, the three of us drove to the lake in Thomas’ beat-up, cream white, Dodge Ram. My brother and I filled the truck with smoke and I with excited banter. Luc remained silent.
Luc took on my brother’s silence: it was strange. Luc was the center of attention when Thomas was absent from family gatherings. Even at a young age, Luc’s command of language was extraordinary. He entertained us all with elaborate anecdotes, both real and imagined. He made us laugh mostly, and cry occasionally. When Thomas was there, however, Luc fell under his silent spell. We prodded Luc to tell us one of his stories. He laughed quietly– which was also strange, as the boy’s usual laugh was one of bombast– and suggested that one of us tell the story instead, staring at his plate and shouldering the burden of uncustomary silence.
I’d bet he wished he could perform, but it seemed as though his linguistic power betrayed him as soon as he heard the sound of the Thomas’s beat up 4X4 coming down the lane. Luc’s silence was one of reverence—- an oblation to his uncle’s burning quiet. I never understood it.
Smoke filled the cab of my truck. The smell of cigarettes follows my brother wherever he goes, you see. I have tried to tell him, on a number of occasions, that the things will kill him, that he should smoke good ‘bacci, like a pipe or one of my cigars instead: dumb bastard has never listened to me. Luc coughed but never protested. He eventually told me that duMauriers smell holy to him. That’s what he smokes now, methinks.
I don’t know if it was our talk or the smoke that lulled Luc to sleep in spite the road’s plethora of potholes. Thomas carried him to the boat, we launched, and Luc continued to sleep. He told me later of his dream:
“Dad, God commanded me to wake and spread the good news to you and Uncle. All of this is Holy! All of the animals. All of the fish. All of the birds. I watched you throw dynamite at God’s creation, and I felt so sad that I went back to sleep.”
We had an awful morning of fishing. Many sticks of dynamite were thrown, yet we hadn’t a single friggin’ fish to show for it. All morning, the boy slept.
By 10:00, a storm gathered tremendous force in the west. A clean, loud thunder echoed the rumbles of our dynamite, and still not one friggin’ fish came to our boat. Thomas gave up.
“Maybe we should pack it in for the day, Marcel. I don’t think there’s any fish in this fuckin’ lake, and look at those clouds!”
“You ate a fish from this lake for breakfast, you silly cocksucker. Keep paddling.”
My brother knew me well enough to recognize my blood lust. God himself could not have pulled me off that lake. I continued to paddle with the blessed assurance that we would find fish, and I wanted Luc to know that I could do it without his help. Thomas smoked another cigarette and Luc slept defiantly, provoking the skies into more exaggerated fits of rage.
By noon, rain fell heavily from the sky. Waves threatened to destroy our small, aluminum craft as we paddled frantically.
“I’ve never seen a storm like this before, Thomas. Paddle harder.”
My voice cracked with fear. Thomas seemed to have given up.
“I don’t think I can Marcel” he screamed over the torrent “you’d better wake the lad.”
Panicking, I shook the boy from his sleep. Upon seeing the whites of his heavily lidded eyes, I became a child in the face of my own friggin’ son.
“Luc, wake up! We’re in a bad storm, what should we do?”
He saw my face ravaged by fear, and then looked to the back of the boat where his uncle paddled in vain. He looked around, and while he had seen the water of this lake a thousand times it was now estranged to him—black and deadly it surged.
Once again, Luc looked at my brother. He knew what had to be done.
“Uncle Thomas has to get out of the boat”.
“What?” My brother and I screamed in unison.
“If Uncle Thomas doesn’t get out of the fuckin’ boat right now, we will all drown—get the fuck out, Thomas.”
We were all shocked by Luc’s words. I’d never heard Luc speak so harshly to my brother, whom he obviously idolized. And stranger still, I could tell Thomas was proud of his nephew though Luc’s command put him in peril.
‘The lad sounds like a man’, he thought to himself, I’m sure.
I too was possessed by Luc. Temporarily losing control of my limbs, I grabbed my brother by his thinning, black hair and pushed him toward the waves.
Awkward instant; the boat swayed and Thomas disappeared into the darkness. Luc screamed though I had simply obeyed him. On the water I was Luc’s court jester, all too eager to please my deranged King. We sat in silence and mutual disbelief: Thomas was gone, and the boat rose an inch higher above the waves.
Thomas sunk like a rock. He choked on cold, black, life-extinguishing water. He tried to rise to the surface, but the poor bastard didn’t know up from down at that point. To make matters worse, his black boots were full of water. He reached for the knife he carried on his belt and tried to cut his laces. In his panic, he sliced the top of his foot but didn’t feel a thing as his feet were frozen too. He entered into the vision of a strange new companion.
I’d be willing to bet that the Leviathan smelled Thomas before he saw him. The pungent aroma of tobacco followed my brother wherever he went, a smell most strange to the monster’s nose, I’m sure, and it seemingly quickened the beast’s monstrous heart. He flapped his tail languidly and, moved upon my brother. I’m about to get a little creative here, Nick, so please bear with me.
For months prior to Thomas’s big splash, the Leviathan had subsisted on rodents, frogs and flies alone but I’d reckon a deer had fallen through a thin patch of ice the previous winter, giving him a taste for red meat. Thomas’s frantic, and hypothermic thrashing, coupled with the blood flowing from his sliced foot made the beast salivate.
The Leviathan had long since eliminated all of his natural predators, and was comfortable but bored. Sometimes he nibbled at a fisherman’s old five of diamonds just to feel the strength of the man on the other side. Though the fight was never fair, it provided the beast with an abstract sense of companionship and a bit of excitement.
You see Nick a fisherman, no matter how strong, is only as strong as the line on his rod. Most fishermen on the lake back home used 10 lb. test: a violent shake of the head effortlessly snapped the line.
The beast partially digested entire lures, which provided a false sense of metallic nourishment for him as they rested and rusted at the bottom of his distended belly. That day, the monster finally ate flesh, gall-dangit: and Thomas was quite the mouth-full, I assure you! He was swallowed whole, thank God. Confused, he muttered to himself:
“Well, what the fuck happened there?”
All of a sudden he was warm, and was no longer deprived of oxygen for the beast had become quite bloated.
Thomas’ new curse was having to dodge half digested shards of rodent, frog and insect which flew at him from every angle. Thomas told me, and I will never forget this, that the inside of a fish smells nothing like a fish itself. The gastric smell surely reminded Thomas of the few times he had accidentally punctured the stomach of a dressed out deer. It’s not an awful smell, mind you, very strong, but not wholly unpleasant.
In that instant, I’d bet my brother wondered if he had died, mistaking the belly of the fish for an afterlife. But was it Heaven or was it Hell? It didn’t appear to be either. It was dark, and warm, though certainly not a Hellish heat. The bugger probably shit his pants.
‘Well, I don’t see any fuckin’ angels here, but there are no demons either; I don’t see anything at all.’
The stomach lining around him shrunk and then expanded, only to shrink again. Thomas lost all sense of time.
On the other side of the lake’s surface, meanwhile, the lad and I were too busy considering our own fates to think about that of my brother. We each grabbed a paddle, and fought the rising tide. As we paddled, we failed to notice that the wind and the rain were slowly subsiding. Soon, the lake was calm again—appeased by our human sacrifice.
Our paddles soon delivered us the lake’s north shore. A rainbow appeared: the storm had only lasted for an hour. All was quiet now. We wiped our brows and breathed deep.
In contrast to the lake’s newfound calm, the beast’s belly surged- gastric juice upon gastric juice. The fish’s tender stomach, now home to violence among dead insects, lake weed, and Frenchman. Thomas choked on yellow bile, and slipped in and out of consciousness– paranoid delusions became reality, nightmares exchanged for nightmares.
The first time Thomas had seen death was just two years prior when our father died on a hunting trip. Thomas was the only one there: I hadn’t been invited. He tried to breathe life into the cold lips of a man he loved more than any other. Dad’s ribs cracked under the weight of Thomas’ tragic hands— all to no avail. When his truck slowly pulled into our driveway, I knew death followed.
Despite the unanimous consolations of the entire Louis family assuring Thomas that our father’s time had come and he was not to blame, my brother thought about dad’s death every day thereafter. I can tell ya right now, Nick, that he also wrestled with these thoughts as the fish tried to lull him into submission.
The fish had never felt nausea prior to that day. The hooks in his guts may have caused him some grief, but nothing compared to this. For the very first time, that fucker felt fear. His mouth filled with thick saliva and instinct led him to shore where his gigantic belly scraped against the rocks and sand like the hull of a doomed ship. His gills and fins were rendered useless and he gave in to his nausea.
He puked. Good God, he puked. Vomiting, the only relief from his sickly state.
The fish tried to return to his lake. He flopped around like the village idiot, but his situation only worsened. Finally, he lay stranded– his left eye stared hopelessly at the water. Flies covered his body and everything started to fade. He died in a pile of his own puke, a death worthy of some friggin’ rock star, like, what’s his name again?
Two days of regurgitated kill, my semi-conscious brother, and a very large dead fish now lay on the lake’s south shore. Thomas coughed, oxygen tasted sweet in his gullet. He felt the earth beside him and was grateful for the sand underneath his fingernails. He passed out with a broad smile upon his face. This is how we found him.
The smell on that beach was horrendous: the beast’s vomit threatened to summon our own. Luc had urged me on into the night in search of his uncle. I must admit that I was frantic, much like a broad in labour. I sobbed as I followed my son’s lamp, sure that my brother was dead.
“If only we’d waited ten fucking minutes! What the fuck was I thinking?”
The boy remained calm, confident that we would pluck Thomas from the darkness just as we had done with so many fish. And then we found him.
“Oh my God. There he lay.”
The boy nudged his uncle out of his slumber. Their eyes met, and from then on there was no longer silence between them. I was too overwhelmed with joy to be even the least bit jealous of Thomas: I knew then that they were brothers too.
And so a sacrifice was made, and later spit up. We never uttered a word about the incident; Marie worries enough about me going out into the bush or onto the lake without such fearful tales as fodder.
The three of us pushed the miserable beast back into the water. We took no pictures; Luc wouldn’t allow it. We went home, and slept soundly, all happy to be alive.