At first there was only one. He sat in a lawn chair on a tree-speckled and shadowy stretch of Holly Lake I’d thought I’d have all to myself, only moving to occasionally cast his fishing line into another spot of water. No matter. I spread my blanket on the grass under a patch of shade, opened my book and read while the sunrise warmed the two of us up. I marked the passage of time by the reeling and plunking of his line.
Footsteps by the shore announced the arrival of the second, carrying a chair of his own under his arm which he set beside the first. The first man rose. He patted the newcomer on the back and handed him the rod, then they sat in each other’s chairs. I saw that these were old men by the way their silhouetted forms slouched, turned slowly and sat gingerly. The second man fished from the first man’s chair, but in all the time I was at the beach that morning I never heard him cast the line twice in one sitting.
The eastern horizon was blue and cloudless by the time the third and final man came, from the other way than the second had come. He, too, brought his own seat, to which the second man migrated, relinquishing the rod. Conversation bubbled from the shoreline and was blown over to me by the breeze off the lake. Their laughter came like the quacking of ducks.
These three men and their fishing rod had become more interesting to me than my book by the time the first man returned to his chair for his turn at the line as naturally, it seemed, as the changing of seasons. I shut the book, set it on my blanket and approached them, wondering at my urge to step softly as one might to pass a sleeping bear.
I had hoped that one of them would notice me coming and speak first, as blurting a greeting from behind their backs seemed somehow sacrilegious, and appearing at their side, striding toward them, a presumptuous smile across my face, struck me as in some way unconscionable. But the men obstinately faced the water, muttering slow and irregular comments to one another.
Nevertheless, I shot forth a “Good morning!” which at once put a stop in their talk. It seemed some seconds passed before the man in the middle chair (I no longer knew who occupied which chair) turned his head to me and revealed a wrinkled and spotted face with chapped lips that hinted at a smile. “Good morning yourself,” he said. I took this as an invitation and moved to stand beside the third chair.
“It’s a beautiful morning,” I put. The three old men only smiled at the waves through heavy-lidded eyes, which I took as response enough. A moment passed before I asked why they were fishing such shallow shoreline.
“I take it you haven’t heard, then,” the man at the rod said gravely.
“Heard what?” I asked.
He shook his head and said to the middleman, a sadness tilting his brows, “Do you s’pose no one knows anymore?”
The middleman shut his eyes and pressed his chapped lips together before he intoned, “The Holly Lake Creature.”
Such a shadow came over the men as he said the name that all skepticism was swept from my mind and it seemed to me that their wrinkles were not wrinkles but scars from where the Holly Lake Creature had scraped them with its claws.
The man at my right, in the third chair, spoke. “The creature’s only been seen in the shore water. Where it takes ‘em after that, who knows?”
“Takes who?” I said, stifling a shameful trembling I felt coming over me.
“The victims.” I saw now a pile of worms roiling in a can beside the fishing chair.
“We’ll get ‘im,” the one with the fishing rod said. “Yes, we will get ‘im.”
I stared into the water lapping the shore and let my eyes wander further to where the lake bottom was hidden in the blue. I watched the fishing float bob in the waves. I finally said goodbye to the three men after a long period of grim silence, and as I gathered my book and my blanket, their laughter came like the quacking of ducks.
Toom Bucksaw is a Mississippian author and third generation fly fisherman. He says a shortcut isn’t a shortcut, otherwise it would be called a route.