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HomeNL-2018-03 Rumor Has It

Rumor Has It
Fiction by David Portz

Rumor has it one of our kayakers, a fellow with massive shoulders, lived off the land for an extended time in his twenties. Coming out of a long winter, isolated in Montana, facing a dearth of game, he ate some Canadians who’d wandered over the border.

Cannibalism is not illegal (except in Idaho). Legislators can’t stomach making laws against it. Thus, what happens in Montana stays in Montana. In Montana cannibalism, if detected, is a “nuisance” misdemeanor, fetched in by a catchall “presenting a danger to oneself or the public.” Montana police treat cannibalism the same way they treat routine male-on-female unruliness. Improper protein conduct, but not against the law. Some stiffer penalties have been proposed for the overcrowding of grazing animals, based on cows going mad from eating parts of other cows. Our friend doesn’t strike us as mad however. He’s superhuman.

The eaten immigrants were efficiently assimilated. Their protein-rich brains likely went straight to his shoulders. That’s why this kayaker is so capable. Like an octopus, a bit. With bulky, thinking shoulders he’s able to paddle vast distances and read the direction of swift-flowing currents. He flows the way the rivers flow without troubling his head about it. Shoulders with brains allow him to place his kayak on his Outback in the most mechanically efficient way; he never accepts help. His shoulders loft his boat to its brackets while his head works geometric puzzles using patterns of Sandhill Cranes. Because he has brains in his shoulders, when he shrugs, he’s indicating he really doesn’t know. Not like the rest of us who shrug when we simply don’t care, or when we don’t want to consider something. Despite his famous ability to withstand hardships, he wears only soft silky shirts. His shoulders won’t tolerate scratchiness. Even T-shirts irritate them like sail canvas. One of his quirks.

His cannibal past contributes another strength to his boatmanship. He can sit in his kayak for longer periods than any of us. The feet of his former prey must have settled on his hips. When he sits on soft sand before launching into action - wrestling wild boars or catching alligator gars with his hands -- where he sat is the impression of footprints. He keeps his physiognomy to himself, like most people. There’s no question though. when you ask him to ‘scootch over a bit’ he doesn’t scootch so much as amble. His wife says she can hardly keep him in slippers.

Perversely, it appears his feet have obtained the proteins of lost eyeballs. As long as he’s barefoot he can walk in the dark flawlessly. I’ve sometimes seen him overhead, running swiftly on slender branches among trees. Like no one else can, he wades through thick underbrush avoiding thorns and snakes.

Ah, his hands. What from a Canadian could enhance an American’s hands? I cannot speculate. But you could not shake hands with him without noticing his hands’ softness. I myself don’t shake hands with him - it is too eerie - though there is always much to congratulate him for. His achievements are so numerous they seem impossible to be solely one man’s efforts. Even teams of two or three humans couldn’t paddle the distances he paddles in a day, or see all the tiny details of nature that he picks out.

It’s true, he talks to himself sometimes, and quite animatedly. With a smattering of French.

And watching him paddle through rapids, it does seem like one shoulder is a bit smarter, a bit surer, than the other. He characteristically pulls to the left.

Decades Before
Lost Canadian Backpacker No. 1: Look at that guy crawling around near the river bank, eh?
Lost Canadian Backpacker No. 2: Where?
L.C.B. No. 1: I’m not going to point him out, that would be impolite. He’s crouching now. By that hackberry.
L.C.B. No. 2: Still don’t see him.
L.C.B. No. 1: He looks like he’s wearing birchbark. He has a branch lashed on his back.
L.C.B. No. 2: I don’t see anything.
L.C.B. No. 1: So skinny. Like a sapling. I wonder what he’s doing out here.
L.C.B. No. 2: Is he near that red boulder? Is that where he is?
L.C.B. No. 1: No, by the tree. I’m not going to point. Grey mud on his face.
L.C.B. No. 2: Can’t…
L.C.B. No. 1: Oh! I see his boat! Looks like it’s made of birchbark too.
L.C.B. No. 2: Where?
L.C.B. No. 1: Upriver about 30 meters. Behind that tree damming the water.
L.C.B. No. 2: I don’t see it.
L.C.B. No. 1: After so many days of walking! We’re saved!
L.C.B. No. 2: Where’d you say that guy was?
L.C.B. No. 1: He’s moved now. I can’t see him …

The author, David Portz