Prompt: A young filmmaker survives a plane crash and is discovered by a tribe of Amazon warriors who have avoided contact with men until now.
There are so many myths when it comes to the Amazon. White people think of it as a magical place, the same way they think anything without a dollar sign attached (or too many dollar signs) is magical. No matter how much it shrinks they’ll always think of it as an untamed expanse of poisonous frogs and mosquito swarms and little fish that can sense the presence of your most delicate orifices.
I know what it really is, as I’ve been there. I never intended to go, but the current of fate pushed me down a different path. My name is Broderick Levin. You might recognize the name, but not from essays like this. From film. I wanted to do more than two of them, but I had to stop after my dip in that great river.
The fact that I stopped is the only reason I got a little famous in the first place. Everybody wanted to know what happened to me and not what happened to the people in my families. I made documentaries, records of suffering that I would never have to endure myself. Yet, the only questions I ever got involve the plane that went down with me inside it and the weeks that passed with no rescue.
My second film had just wrapped production; it was called Waste Not. In it I tackled the connection between the American recycling industry and a South American republic with regime changes so frequent that it never held onto a name for long. You see we shipped tons of plastic down there for their plants, but then they closed their doors to foreign businesses and tried to make it on their own on the world stage.
I interviewed the people living around what translates to the cube mountain. The mountain was a thousands of tons of unprocessed blocks of pressed recyclable plastic goods. America didn’t want them back, and the adolescent government just pretended they didn’t exist. A small community formed around the mountain, using its pieces to build roofs and walls for huts.
Their government was just as rotten as mine, but they didn’t have the same pocket change to play with. They ran out of goodwill and resources quickly, and their people fell into starvation. That was where I found them. The words they gave me seemed to be the only things inside them. My translator was incredibly skilled, but had a difficult time communicating for them, through her constant tears at their stories.
When we were done my small crew hopped aboard a rickety plane and started flying back toward the states. We passed over the Amazon when one of our engines hit the end of its natural lifespan. I literally passed out from the terror and the wind whipping in my face; when I awoke I was seven feet underwater in a shredded cabin.
I would’ve drowned, but there were two pairs of hands on me before any of my bubbles even reached the surface. They belonged to two people simply enjoying some morning bathing. The hands, even at the time I was confused by the plumpness of their fingers, like the hands of giant infants, pawed at me until they found the buckle for my belt. They carried me back to their homes, where I did the most foolish I’d ever done. I fell for it. The crash left me tender and vulnerable, so it was no wonder my biases took over. I saw their thatched roof huts and simple clothing as signs of them being primitive. They were nothing of the sort.
Only one other person, my translator, survived the crash. She was there with me, recuperating as they fed us fruits and fish cooked over a campfire that seemed to never stop burning. She said their dialect was very strange, almost indecipherable. What she could gather was that they’d essentially no contact with the outside world. I choose my words carefully here. Outside is correct. One cannot use the word civilized in this situation. It is the height of folly.
My head swelled up with big thoughts. We’d made an incredible discovery. I went back to the crash site. In the debris was the luckiest thing in my life. An intact camera in its rain-proof bag. When I turned it on I thought I was documenting, but I was just setting myself up for a humbling experience. Already I saw myself as some kind of white savior here to save the savages. I was a trope and I didn’t even pick up on it.
The people of this tribe were not suffering hunger, far from it. All of them were significantly overweight. They were very physically active at the same time, giving them physiques more like sumo wrestlers than couch-sleeping blobs. Their faces and arms were very round and hardly hung down. Whatever they were doing, the people of the Cube Mountain very much needed to know about it. I asked them about their food supply and my translator did her best to relay what I assumed was a legend.
There was a fish in that section of the river. They described it like it was a god. Ten feet long. Its mouth full of its children, like cichlids. They said its scales were made of fire, and only Amazonian waters kept it from turning the oceans to steam. At this point the fish’s usefulness became unclear thanks to translation issues. We thought that the young fish, when taken from the mouth of the parent, were a super-food packed with protein and healthy oils.
They also mentioned that the fish made teaching their children to fish very simple. I thought I understood. Yes, its would be simple to reach into a larger fish’s mouth and pull out a small one as if you were grabbing candy out of a Halloween bowl. I asked them if I could learn to fish myself, and they happily showed me the section of river where it lived.
God was I full of myself. I was going to end a village’s starvation. I was going to introduce these people to modern wonders. I was going to make millions with my film about them both. I waded into the river alone and took off my shirt as instructed. I waited there for over an hour, having to peel leeches off my ankles five separate times.
The creature came to me, blazing under the water like red fire. It lifted its massive head out of the water and eyed me with shimmering solid pupils like something between a whirlpool and a black hole. Its gills expanded into wavy frills like fancy curtains. Its mouth opened up. There were hundreds of smaller fish inside, all wriggling over each other, practically leaping toward me.
All I had to do to earn the fish’s blessing was consume one of the fry, whole, raw, and alive. It was unsettling at first, but the fry did not protest my grasp. It almost seemed to enjoy it, to angle its head down my throat. It tasted clean and warm, the way I imagine a sardine to taste if it had never touched a can and only been salted by its home waters.
I thought I was enlightened by the experience, a part of their tribe. I was just a carrier. You see, we left a mountain of garbage near that river. The natural world wasn’t too pleased. The forces aligned so that the Amazon could give us a taste of our own medicine.
The people on that green shore weren’t fat because of the fish’s high protein content. It was a form of magic alright, just the kind you’d never want inside you. If you eat one of those fry, there’s always more in your mouth, just like the mother fish. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night many times as something wriggled in my stomach.
Without doing anything to my regular diet I’ve gained over sixty pounds. Nobody believed me at first, but the thing about plastic trash as that it leaves traces in everything. Magic is the same way. Everybody who watched my film now has similar experiences. They have sudden fishy tastes in their mouths. Their bodies aren’t completely in their control. Sometimes they just spit one up and it flops around for a while, flashing something like a fiery smile.
That’s why this is an essay instead of a film. I’ve done enough damage. There are no saviors. There are no single films that change societies. There are just the caustic balls of refuse that our countries hurl across each other’s borders.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Joe_g89 during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!