What They Caught at Loon Lake
by Michael Carter
A rod tip bobbed above cattails swaying in the summer breeze. Little Amanda held the cork handle of her rod firm as she traversed the thatched floor of the bog. Her other hand held a tackle box.
She had heard about a secret spot on the north end of the lake—where grownups said little kids shouldn’t go—holding catfish. She’d caught plenty of wary carp at Loon, but never catfish. She figured it would be easy if she could find where they schooled. She learned that an old-timer had passed through the bait shop that morning and said they were biting at the spot.
The trailers and abandoned motel on south shore shrank to dollhouses as she made her way around the lake. She hiked out of the bog and across a makeshift bridge until a small clearing opened to the water. It looked just as she had been told: a hidden, sandy beach with enough room for only a few anglers, an ice chest, and some lawn chairs.
She threaded her Eagle Claw hook, alternating cheese, and corn, and cast her offering as far as her small arms permitted. Her red-and-white bobber sailed in a perfect arc, like a rainbow, finally splashing against the glassy surface of the lake.
“Nice cast!” A dusty voice echoed from behind her.
Amanda looked back to see a man in a chair with a reed in his mouth. He wasn’t present when she arrived, she was sure of that, but it seemed he had always been there. He wore overalls, what Daddy called “shitkickers,” and a ten-gallon hat.
“I says, nice cast!”
“Thanks, I’m trying to catch a catfish.” She flipped the bail.
“Where’s your parents?”
“I don’t have a mom anymore, and Daddy’s working so I came to the lake with my friend. They live in King Arthur’s Court Trailer Park, on the other side.”
“If you come closa, I’ll show ya the trick to catchin catfish.”
Amanda hesitated. But he looked like a sweet man, reminding her of her grandfather, so she moved toward him.
As she approached, her nose wrinkled. “You smell, Mister.”
“Whatever does ya mean by that? Oh, I know, you might be smellin my breath. I’ve been drinkin‘ this here malt liquor.” The man moved to the side of his chair, exposing a large glass bottle with an inch of frothy liquid, next to him. “Says right here, ‘charcoal filtered.’”
“I know what coal smells like, Mister; my Daddy worked in the mines. But I smell something else, like rotten eggs.”
“Coal is differnt than charcoal, but I understands what ya saying. Yous from Kellogg, then?”
“No, West Virginia. We moved here when Daddy got the job at the aluminum plant. They make metal for pop cans. Daddy said we came out West for the clean air and better schools.”
“Come closa, an I’ll show ya what ta use.”
Amanda took two steps forward. The man reached into the breast pocket of his white undershirt and pulled out a chicken liver.
“Ewww, you keep that in there?”
“Only when the fish is bitin. Just thread this onta ya hook, right over the cheese n corn, an toss it back out there.”
Amanda took the liver and did as instructed. With the added weight, her rig made a bigger splash than before. She rinsed the chicken-liver blood from her hand in the lake.
“Now, let it sit,” he said.
She dried her hand on her shorts and glanced back at the man. She noticed a dark-red color had leeched through his shirt pocket onto his overalls.
Minutes passed without a nibble. The man sat quietly behind her, occasionally coughing, or snorting, Amanda wasn’t sure.
“Should I cast again?”
“Sure, but I think ya need a betta angle. Why don’t you come ova here an try from my lucky chair?”
“But I can reach farther from here.”
“Jest try it,” he said as he rose and positioned the chair.
She reeled in her line and walked back to the man.
“Nestle youself here, an give it a whirl. Ya don’t hafta cast far when you in the lucky chair. I’ve caught thousands of catfish, sittin right where you is.”
Amanda sat down. The man grabbed the back of the chair and aligned it just so.
“There ya go, now relax, an I’ll tell ya when ta cast.”
The smell became stronger, permeating from his breath and skin. She noticed the red stain had widened, saturating most of his shirt and top of his overalls.
“Maybe I should go soon.”
“Oh, jest one cast.”
Amanda waited a few more moments. As she opened her mouth to ask again, she heard a gurgling noise, at first, she thought from the man, but then realizing it came from the lake.
The lake stirred and opened like a swirling funnel, making its own wind, and revealing blackness as dark as Daddy’s coal mines. A rope-like tentacle uncurled from the darkness, shot out of the lake, and wrapped around Amanda’s calf.
A second tentacle spiraled out and grabbed her other leg.
The tentacles tightened, sprinkling drops of water as they went taut.
She screamed again as the tentacles yanked her in.
Silence hovered over the lake, broken only by the distant calls of loons.
* * *
The wake settled as the man rocked on his heels with his thumbs in his belt loops, twirling the reed in his mouth. He folded the chair and moseyed back to his jeep, parked just past the bog.
He released the brake and pressed the clutch, but his shitkicker slipped off the pedal before it was in gear. The jeep rolled back, its bumper tapping rocks he had positioned earlier that morning.
He ground the stick shift into first and drove away as the rocks tumbled to the side, revealing a small sign with two words.
About the Author
Michael Carter is a writer from the Western United States. He’s also an occasional photographer, a Space Camp alum, and a volcanic-eruption survivor. When he’s not writing, he enjoys fly fishing and wandering remote wilderness areas of the Northern Rocky Mountains. He can be found online at www.michaelcarter.ink and @mcmichaelcarter.