Fiction: The One That Got Away
By Phil Temples
“Uh-uh. No way! I ain’t never goin’ out there again. I told you—the lake is haunted.”
I’m standing at the front door of my best friend and fishing buddy, Arnold. Arnold is steadfast in his refusal to join me fishing today after his mysterious encounter at Lake George, a small body of water in Anoka County, Minnesota about five miles from here as the crow flies.
“Look, Arnold. I’m not sayin’ you didn’t hear a talking fish. But it seems to me if you did, you’d want to have an eyewitness with you the next time.”
Arnold came to my house last Sunday with some cockamamie story about a fish talkin’ to him after he pulled it into his boat. Says the largemouth bass threatened him with bodily harm unless he took the hook out of his mouth and set him free.
I’ve never had a fish talk back to me, but I suppose there’s always a first time for everything. I’ve known Arnold to spin a whopper or two in his day, but I could tell he wasn’t foolin’ around; he was dead-serious about this. I tried to support him like a good friend; I didn’t make fun of ‘em or ask if he’d had one too many that day.
I ask Arnold again if he will join me.
“No sir-ee. My fishin’ days are over! You go if you want. But be mighty careful, though.”
I leave Arnold’s house and head over to the local grocery-liquor store-tackle shop-filling station where I load up with a carton of a couple-dozen nightcrawlers and a six-pack of Bud. The store’s proprietor, Jimmie, assures me that the crawlers are really fresh.
I’ve read where some high falutin’ fish research council claims that you’re ten times more likely to catch a largemouth bass with live worms than with any artificial lure. I’ve been fishin’ these lakes for decades now and I can attest to that fact. With largemouth, there’s a definite trick to it. You twitch your line a bit, then you reel it in for a few seconds and then you stop. Repeat. Twitch. Reel. Stop. Works every time.
I start my outboard and motor over to my favorite spot near the shore: a small patch with lots of lily pads and large overhanging trees. Fish like to congregate in places with aquatic growth. It’s rare that I come back empty handed when I fish here.
I cut the engine and drift into position then take a moment to breathe in that fresh, earthy odor. Fish or no fish, that scent makes the trip worthwhile. After a while, I reach down to grab the line and hook then I open the carton of nightcrawlers. They’re squirming like mad. I have this crazy thought: what if they knew what fate had in store for them? I quickly dismiss the thought. If worms had brains, they’d be about the size of a pin head. Probably can’t even feel pain!
Just as I grab one of the squirmers and bring it next to the hook, the thing shouts at me in a squeaky voice:
Dumbfounded, I freeze for a moment, my hand holding the nightcrawler in midair. After I regain my senses, I look all around to see if there’s a ventriloquist nearby playing games with me.
“Hello?” I ask the empty shore.
“I’m right here, stupid,” says the nightcrawler.
Arnold’s right. This place is haunted! I quickly toss the worm overboard and upend the carton containing the other nightcrawlers into the water.
Before I can crank up the outboard motor and skedaddle, I hear a noise coming from below. A largemouth bass has broken the water’s surface near the boat. He’s laughing at me hysterically.
I flip him the bird and get the hell out of there.
Phillip Temples is a product of the Midwest but has lived in the greater Boston area for the past forty years. He's published several mystery-thriller novels, a novella, and two story anthologies in addition to over 220 short stories. Phil also likes to dabble in mobile photography and has dozens of his photos published online. He is a member of GrubStreet and the Bagel Bards.