The first splash blended in with the soft gurgling of the paddles but the second splash made me sit up straight.
“What was that?” I winced at the shriek in my whisper.
The old woman in front of me didn’t bother whispering.
“Snake.” Her voice rang in the sudden quiet. “Not a big one. You don’t have to whisper, Emma.”
My eyes darted to the dark riverbanks but I relaxed a little. Not a big snake. I closed my eyes and tried to relax but the soothing sound of the water was constantly interrupted by screaming monkeys and birds and who knew what else in the jungle along the banks.
I jerked upright. I must have wobbled the canoe because the voice came shouting back in reassurance. “Piranha most likely.”
I closed my eyes. Miss Maddie Thompson had seemed like such a kind, fun grandmotherly woman when she had come to visit. She was my gran’s friend from back in the day but she had gone to Brazil as a missionary in the early 70s and had lived there ever since. She had come back in the States for Christmas and had come to visit Gran while she was in the country. She was the one who put it in my head to come to Brazil and teach at her school this summer to get some experience. I was definitely getting experience, though not exactly what I had planned.
This time she turned around and said something to our guide, Cauă, in his native language. He grunted and paddled faster. My stomach squeezed into a little knot.
“Not particularly,” came the calm reply. “By the way, while I was visiting your grandmother we watched the most interesting show, “River Monsters”. Have you seen it?”
Gran and her National Geographic shows. She had been watching them non-stop since Maddie had come to visit. After I decided to go to Brazil she made me teach her how to DVR them so we could watch together. “Yeah, I’ve seen it. Why?”
“They filmed part of the show just around this next bend.” She pointed ahead into the darkness. “You know, the time when they caught that huge Piraíba catfish.”
Cauă suddenly started speaking. He was obviously telling a story but all I caught was the name of the fish.
“What did he say?”
“His cousin told him about a man from another village who got eaten by one of those fish. They can be more than 10 feet long, you know.”
This one came from just behind us. The canoe wobbled. I shrieked and grabbed the sides of the boat. “I did see that episode.” My voice shook. “But they’re catfish so they’re bottom feeders, right?”
“Usually.” Maddie’s silver hair glinted in the moonlight. “But a lot of people just go missing on the river.”
My hands were cramping on the sides of the canoe. Why did I think this would be a great summer vacation? I closed my eyes again and took a few deep breaths. No fainting.
The canoe wobbled again. I gasped and spun around just as Cauă sat up holding a large rock. He caught my glance and said something to Maddie.
“Why does he have a rock?” This was suspicious.
“You’re the first one to catch him in the act.” Maddie giggled. “You did much better than your grandmother. I’m sworn to secrecy so I can’t tell you how she ended up.” She translated for Cauă and he laughed.
I glanced back at the old guide. He shrieked and flailed his arms and pretended to throw himself over the side.
“She fell in?” I couldn’t picture my gran flailing around in the Amazon at night.
“Well, the second Piranha movie had just come out so we had the advantage.” Maddie laughed. “I’m sure she thought of that moment every time she made you watch that fish show.”
“She knew you would do this?” What ever happened to sweet old lady missionaries in the books from Sunday school? I guess they would have been the ones to fall in the river.
“Of course she knew. Cauă has been doing this for a very long time. We've all had this canoe ride.” She winked at Cauă and turned around. He laughed and threw the last rock into the water. “Welcome to the Amazon.”
Note: This is a completely fictional story.
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