Splash. That was how it all started. With a splash.
My brother and I sat in our dugout canoe, in the middle of the lake by the tribe. We had been sitting there for the whole day, the sun beating down on our bare backs. I wiped my brow and wondered how I could be so hot while I was surrounded by all of this water.
We hadn’t caught anything yet. If we had, we would have headed back inland long ago. The fish are getting harder to find these days. We both knew it, a silent and independent understanding. The sun made it hard to think of winter, and my brother rarely thought that far ahead, but if things kept up like this, our tribe may not last until the first flowers bloomed.
I stared down at the wooden plank that I had used to row us onto the lake. I reached down for it, but stopped. I could sense my brother’s glare without even looking up. He’s not going to go back until we catch something, I thought. And we were far enough in the lake that swimming back would be a challenge, even if I was a decent swimmer.
Served me right for going out with my brother, the best hunter in our tribe. He was too proud to go back. There was no way he could face the elders if he failed. Or worse, look into the faces of the children and watch their faces change as they realized that they would go to bed hungry tonight.
We sat on opposite ends of the boat, searching in each direction for the slightest shimmer on the waves. I turned when I heard motion from my brother’s side. He had stood up, his spear clutched in his right hand. His muscles, the kind of muscles I wish I had, tensed. He stood like stone for a few minutes, so still that I found myself holding my breath. I exhaled when he finally sat down again and laid the spear against the inner edge of the boat.
I turned back to my post and closed my eyes, in hopes that the rocking of the boat will go away. Maybe if I believed hard enough, we would be transported back home, back to solid ground.
My eyes shot open. I clambered to grab the spear at my side and scanned the waves for movement. Splash. Again, on my right. I leaned over and strained my eyes, trying to see under the murky blue-green layer of water.
My brother was over my shoulder, ready to strike. I held up my hand to him, though it was a shaking hand. I wanted to be the one to do this. To make my first kill.
There it was, a big fat fish lurking to the right of the boat. I took a stab at it, with certainty that I would miss.
When I held the spear back up, a fish was attached to it through its stomach. Its head and tail flopped in desperation, and when I looked into its eyes, I saw the blinding fear of the realization of death. A few flops later, it turned to stone, just as motionless as my brother had been a few moments ago.
I looked back at my brother, still holding the spear with the fish. He looked surprised that his almost always weaker brother had just beat him at his own game. He went back to the other side of the boat, picked up the plank, and rowed us back to shore. I was too busy staring at my fish to notice that he was glaring across the boat at me the entire time.
We sat around the fire that night: myself, my wife and two daughters, and my brother. My daughters sat together, giggling as one braided the other’s thick, black hair. They stopped when they
saw that dinner was ready, and rushed over to get a piece of fish. Food had been scarce the past few days, so we were all thankful to have something in our stomachs again.
As I bit into my juicy portion of fish, I caught my brother staring at my wife from across the fire. That was nothing new. He had wanted her from the moment she had stepped into our camp as an outsider. On that day, we had offered her shelter and, when she had gone to bed that night, my brother attempted to sneak in with her. She refused him but, a week later, I had found her warming my bed for reasons I will never understand. I wasn’t strong or a born leader like my brother was. But she had chosen me anyway, and I don’t think he ever forgave me for that.
He motioned to me to come with him, away from the rest of the tribe. I followed, going further and further into the thick woods that no one had dared to explore because we had heard that they were haunted. I looked up at the bare branches of the trees as we were walking. They were taller than anything I had ever seen before. Our shoes crunched under the leaves, which had grown stale and crushed at this point in the year. I wondered what we were doing out here, and why whatever it was couldn’t wait.
My brother stopped. He turned around, slowly. I saw something in his hand. Then, he stabbed me.
I staggered back, clutching my chest. Blood was seeping through my skin, more blood than I had ever seen on another person. I tried to pat it away with my hands, but it came back, thicker and a deeper red than before. I dropped to the ground and saw my blood spilling before me into the dirt, as if I was offering a sacrifice to the forest. Except I had been an unknowing offering; my brother was the one offering me to God.
“Cain,” I muttered as I gripped the ground in pain, “I’m afraid. What’s happening?”
My brother stood over me, with a look of satisfaction on his face. My vision was growing black around the edges and I felt myself slipping further and further away. I didn’t know where I was going, but I was going there all the same.
The last thing I saw was my brother’s expression changing, realizing too late what he had done.