Pontiac Drake backed his old truck into the little shelled slot beside one of the concrete slab picnic tables at Clementine Park and got out slowly, easing his creaky back upright and shaking out his bad knee before hauling his fishing tackle box from behind the seat. He reached over in the bed of the truck and picked up his rod and reel, tackle bucket/seat contraption and limped off toward the little fishing pier on the over-sized pond, Lake Clementine, named after the young lady with big feet from the old folksong.
He stumped halfway down the pier and plunked his bucket and box down. The day was perfect for a little white perch fishing. Not a cloud in the sky, no wind and a fresh snap in the October air. Drake didn’t get to go fishing much anymore. He was getting a bit too old to brave the harsher elements and he couldn’t take the heat of the Texas summers. But today, was perfect. In fact, his wife had insisted he get out of the house and go do something rather than mope around in the work shed, hammering on stuff and making noise. She was busy making homemade deer sausage with her daughter-in-laws and he could at least look forward to some good eating over the winter. His two sons had bagged four good sized deer already. One eight-pointer, a six-pointer, a four-pointer and one doe. His youngest had killed a nice turkey and his eldest had taken a goodly number of squirrels. Yep, the holidays would be good this year.
He checked his line, baited his hook with a fat nightcrawler and threw it out about twenty feet. He didn’t expect to catch much, but if he could drag in a couple of nice specimens, he’d have fried fish for supper. Within a few seconds, he had some healthy nibbles and then he pulled in a good two pounder that fought like four pound bass.
He pulled his leather glove from his pocket and grabbed hold of the perch, avoiding the sharp spines on its back and disengaged the hook from its upper lip and slipped on the stringer. When he reached for his nightcrawler box, he was surprised to see that the worms had all crawled out of the little paper carton and were wiggling around in the sun on the wooden planks.
“Well, damn me,” he said and frowned at the worms. “You lost your wormy little minds?”
He plucked them up and put them back in the dark soil in the carton and threaded the last one on his hook. Just as he was about to throw out his line, a nerve-wracking howl went up behind him. His entire reel left his hands and landed in the water about eight feet from the pier.
“Shit!” he said and swiveled around on the bucket seat to look back toward the shore. Seeing nothing there, he frowned at the water. He could see the handle of his rod just under the surface when he squinted at the water just right. The pond couldn’t be more than a couple feet deep where his rig had landed. He looked forlornly at his rubber boots, knowing quite well that they were far too short to keep his feet dry if he waded out. He’d have to take them off.
A few minutes later, he was grimacing in disgust as his bare feet sank in the cold, sandy silt at the bottom of the pond. Even though he had rolled his pants up above his knees, he realized they would still get wet if his feet kept sinking in the mud. He sighed and slogged on toward the spot where his favorite rod and reel rested in the brown water.
After a little searching and squinting, he located the rod and pulled it out of the water. He started cranking in the line and then stopped as he felt a distinctive jerk. He’d landed something while his rig had been sunk.
“Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit!” he said as he started reeling in his catch. This one didn’t fight much, but it definitely didn’t want to come out of the water. His hopes sank when he figured he had hooked a snag or a turtle. As he reeled it in, the tension on the line reached the breaking point. He punched the release tab on the reel and let out some slack before reeling in again, not wanting to lose his rig so soon. His perfect day was turning to shit.
He looked up, expecting to see an old limb sticking out of the water and froze. His mouth gaped open in shock at the sight of what he saw emerging from the quiet little pond. A scream welled up in his throat, but came out as a strangled gasp. He stumbled backwards, away from the dark shape walking steadily toward him.
At first, Drake thought he was hallucinating. There was no such animal in his entire imagination as the thing rising up from the water.
He turned around and tried to run through the squishy pond sediment and water, forgetting to drop his rod. The string wrapped around his body and impeded his progress even more. The thing behind him howled and yanked on the line. The six pound test monofilament cut into his arms and pulled him over backwards. He shouted for help as his back hit the cold water and his body sank in the lake, sending up a huge splash.
Panic gripped him as he struggled to regain his footing and he felt clam shell and small rocks cutting into the flesh of his feet. His head cleared the surface and he drew a deep breath, blowing water out his nose at almost the same time. Water ran into this eyes and he blinked rapidly, trying to get his bearings. He looked about quickly and saw no sign of the horrid beast. It was not in the water or on the shore. His weatherworn heart threatened to beat its way out of his chest as he half-walked, half-crawled back to the pebbly beach.
It had to be hallucination. Perhaps a side effect of one of the new medicines his doctor had put him on the week before. He clambered up the bank and hobbled back down the dock to his gear and sat down, fully disgusted with himself. If he went home soaking wet without his rig and one fish, everyone would be asking stupid questions and he couldn’t possibly tell them what had happened. They’d never let him out of the house alone again.
He sat for a long time, trying to dry out, shivering and glancing about, still upset about the hallucination. When he had sufficiently recovered and put his boots back on, he was feeling better about life in general. He would just say he had to wade in after his reel, but hopefully, he had left a shirt in the garage and he wouldn’t have to tell them anything except the fish weren’t biting.
Back in his truck, he headed home without his favorite rod and reel, but no one had to know about that either. He had a dozen more to take its place. Some of them never used before, still in the wrappers.
About a half mile from the main highway leading back to town, he saw a Red-Tailed Hawk perched on a power pole and leaned forward to look up at the beautiful bird as it took flight into the forest. Returning his eyes to the road, he slammed on the brakes, yanked the wheel to the left and skidded into a ditch. The old truck bucked over the shallow drainage ditch and smacked the bumper hard against a pine tree. The airbag inflated, squishing back against the seat, but did not immediately deflate. Cursing his luck, Drake fumbled in his pocket for his knife and punched the bag angrily with the blade. Blood poured from his nose and his vision was blurry from the sudden blow. He checked himself over quickly and climbed out of the truck.
He limped around the truck, calling “Hey! You all right?!”
But there was no one in the road. No one anywhere.
He looked up and down the road, frowning. Hallucinations! He would lay off the pills and get back to the doctor on Monday. This was bullshit! He would give the doc a bill for his rod and reel, too.
He already knew he had major problems from the hissing sound coming from the crumpled hood and the smell of hot coolant as it sprayed onto the motor from busted hoses.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” he cursed and looked around. He didn’t like using cell phones, but his wife insisted he carry one, all the same. Just in case, she said. This was certainly a ‘just in case’ situation. He tried the phone, but naturally, he had no signal. Too far from the highway. Nothing to do but walk up to the highway and check the phone there. If he got lucky, someone would come along and give him a lift into town.
About 100 yards from the highway, he heard the howl again. Something was in the brush off to the left. He could hear it crashing through the undergrowth. Whatever it was, it was big. His heart rate kicked up and he tried to put a little more energy into his step. He moved along fairly rapidly for an old man, but he kept looking off to the left, trying to see what was pacing him or if it was just an illusion. The howl sounded like a dog, but not really. Drake had never been a superstitious fellow, didn’t believe in ghosts or angels or vampires. He watched a lot of television at the gun shop when business was slow and that was most of the time these days so he had seen his share of the weird stuff that passed for good television.
The one thing that popped into his mind was chupa cabre. He’d seen some weird looking things in his day. When he had worked for the power company, the rural routes could be pretty ominous on stormy, rainy nights. Animals seemed to just have death wishes on such nights. He didn’t know how many times he had run over deer, foxes, dogs, cats, raccoons and armadillos in his bucket truck while out looking for downed power lines or thrown breakers. His logical mind told him that this was just a continuation of the hallucinations, but his instinct screamed at him to run.
Pontiac couldn’t run anymore. He hadn’t been able to actually run in years and he didn’t know how many times he had hoped and prayed nothing ever got after him now because it would surely catch him. He hurried as best he could, keeping in mind his two bypass surgeries, not wanting to experience a third anytime soon. The howling and crashing in the brush continued to keep pace with him.
He could see cars and trucks passing on the highway up ahead and decided his best bet would be to actively try to wave someone down for help. He trudged on, each step becoming more and more heavy, his pace slowing.
When he reached the highway he checked his phone. Two bars. He turned toward town, slowed to a drag and punched the key for his home. He smiled at the sound of his wife’s voice on the other end and then watched in astonishment as his hand with the phone clutched in it, went flying through the air, trailing a stream of bright red blood behind it. Unsure of what had just happened, he turned his head to the right very slowly, still in shock. The late morning sun flashed off of something metal and he squeezed his eyes shut.
His body jerked sideways and he looked down in time to see what appeared to be a hook embedded in his stomach. A garbled scream erupted from his mouth along with a gout of blood as the bronze hook ripped through his skin and spilled his intestines onto the ground. Drake swung his handless right arm at the dark shape beside him, spraying more blood in a wide arc in front of him. He leaned his left hand on his bad left knee and went down hard on both knees. Strangely, he felt no pain in his arm or his stomach, but the pain from his crushed knee shot up his thigh and exploded behind his eyes as they bulged from his head at the sight of the gray and white tubes lying in a steaming pile in front of him.
No hallucination could have done this to him. He still had the presence of mind to question what he was seeing. He couldn’t die like this! He was too old! With grim determination, Drake pushed himself up shakily and held up his right hand in front of his eyes, but there was no right hand, only a bloody stump, still pumping his blood out on the ground. The howl erupted right in his ear this time, and he jerked his head around in time to see the face of his murderer.
The scream that came from looking in the gleaming black eyes of death was cut off abruptly when the serrated blade smashed into his neck, cutting through the veins, arteries, cartilage and bone as if he were made of Papier-mâché. He blinked twice as his head flew through the air, slowly turning in a complete circle. In his last coherent moment, he wondered why the thing was pulling his hair.