The oarsman was a dog, although at the time I didn’t think this was unusual. Nor did I find it unusual that the dog was headless. What I did find unusual was that the dog’s head, which was on the boat’s deck, next to the dog, asked me for my ticket.
I fumbled around in my pocket and produced a rather wet ticket, no doubt wet from the lake, and handed it to the oarsdog. His paw had no trouble curling around the sodden paper, which he held at a comfortable reading distance from the keen eyes of his decapitated head.
“Fishing. One,” said the dog’s head, satisfied at the authenticity of my ticket. “Climb aboard.”
I replaced the ticket and sat down. Though I can’t recall how it came to be in my hands, I found myself tightly clutching a fishing rod, knuckles white from the pressure I was exerting, or maybe from the crisp air of the lakes. The line was dangling over the side of the boat, and I was watching its float bob sleepily to the slow rhythm of the rowing.
“Looking to catch anything in particular today, sir?” Asked the oarsdog.
“Just something for dinner,” I said. “Something large enough to satisfy the appetite, with some left over for later.”
“Ahh, well, there’s your problem right there, sir,” said the head of the oarsdog. “Wrong side of the boat.”
“I’m not sure I follow,” I replied.
“There’s no fish over that side of the boat. Or, if there are, they’re all tiddlers.”
“You know, small fry. Hardly fit for a cat’s snack.”
“Well there’s no point chasing small fry,” I said. “All that effort to end up twice as hungry.”
“Exactly,” said the oarsdog.
I reeled in my line and cast it over the other side of the boat.
“You won’t fair any better there, sir. The water on that side of the boat is full of holes.”
“Holes? How can water be full of holes?” I asked the oarsdog, finding it somewhat difficult to hide my exasperation.
“Don’t ask me, sir, I just work here. All I know is that if a fish so much as shakes a fin in that side of the water, it’ll disappear down one of those holes, never to be seen again. But if sir would like to take a look down here…”
The oarsdog motioned to a hatch in the deck of the small fishing boat, and with a grating screech, he pulled on a large deadbolt that was holding it shut. As he lifted the hatch, I braced myself, fully expecting a sudden torrent of water to flood the boat. There was a slight ripple, but the expectant torrent was not forthcoming, and the boat remained dry.
“Have a look,” he said.
“How strange,” I said as I peered through the hatch.
The water directly beneath the boat was teeming with fish. Hastily, I reeled in my fishing line from the empty waters and dangled it through the hatch.
“See,” said the oarsdog. “Never look to shores abroad before you’ve had a look to see what’s under your own arse.” He began to whistle.
I didn’t have to wait very long for a fish to take the bait. Within a few moments my rod buckled and the reel began to spin with a smoking fury. Whatever aquatic monstrosity had taken the bait clearly had no desire to make acquaintances with my stomach. The muscles in my arms burned, and rivers of hot lava coursed through my veins as I tried to gain control of the rod. Great beads of sweat gathered upon my brow, and my temples pounded tribal rhythms against my skull as my determination to conquer the enormous beast grew.
The oarsdog seemed to find this all highly entertaining, and mopped my forehead with a tissue he’d produced from the throat of his headless neck.
“Keep going, sir. You’ve almost got him. They’ll be fish for dinner, or I’m no oarsdog.”
Inch by inch, I wrestled the fish closer to the boat. The reel strained, the rod creaked, and the line was pulled so tight I was sure it would break at any moment. Finally, with a guttural scream, and one last almighty heave, the surface of the water breached, and I held my catch aloft, free of the water. My catch, however, was not a fish, But the corpse of a man. His chalk white pallor and blue lips dripped with water, making him appear clammy in the sharp air of the lake.
For a moment, I stood frozen. Then, to my horror, the eyes of the corpse snapped open, and his arms reached out as if trying to grab me. I staggered backwards, panic peppered gasps of air eluding my lungs, but lost my footing and tumbled over the side of the boat into the icy waters of the lake.
The shock of the cold freed my lungs, but instead of air, I found myself inhaling giant gulps of water. I was sinking fast. Terror took hold, and as I looked above, I saw a chink of light shining through the hatch in the boat on the surface of the lake. I was drowning. The world faded to black and I remembered nothing more.
How long I remained in this state, I couldn’t say. After what felt like both a few minutes and an eternity, I felt a sharp pain and something pulling at the inside of my mouth. I became aware that my legs were trapped in something that was pulling me in the opposite direction. The pain was excruciating, though this didn’t seem to bother me in the slightest.
Eventually, whatever was holding my legs gave, and I burst forth from the water, feeling a cold crisp air bathe my face. I opened my eyes and saw a man standing in front of me holding a fishing rod. The line was attached to the inside of my mouth. As I reached out towards him for help, he stumbled backwards and toppled over the side of the boat. As I clambered aboard the boat, feeling quite confused by my ordeal, I noticed that the oarsman was a dog, although at the time I didn’t think this was unusual.