Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Pond

The creek was my most favorite place to be when I was a kid. I enjoyed everything about it... the seclusion of the woods, the gentle gurgling of the water, the abundant life that it held within its grasp. There was one place in the creek where it had "deepened its throat and broadened its grasp" that I liked to call the pond. It was actually not more than a wide spot in the creek, but it was deep enough to swim in, and it was the only spot where you could actually catch a fish. Mostly what we caught were creek chubs, bluegills, and the occasional bass, but it was real fishing to us.

The pond was never the same place twice. From day to day, the sandbar on its floor would drift, the color of the water would alter, and the force of its flow would intensify or subside. This particular day the water was dark and still, as the sandbar had nearly been washed away, revealing a depth that was uncharacteristic even for this wide spot in the creek. I waded in, cautiously exploring the new floor with my Ked's, my cut off jeans completely submerged in the mire. The floor felt different today. Without the sand, a layer of leaves and sticks had been exposed that sucked at my shoes, trying to pull me into the dark hole where minnows used to flash in the sun. I edged in until the water was at my breast and sent a thin worm into the blackness as a scout.

I could sense the strangeness of the sudden change in water conditions that the previous week's storm had brought. Everything about the pond was different today, including it's residents. A sudden tug on the line as my small bobber vanished. The scream of my real as I struggled to set the hook. The pull as the line grew taught and raced across the pond. It was a monster! I couldn't believe it! This was the largest and strongest thing that had ever been hooked in this little piece of water, other than the enormous, near state record bass that my brother always seemed to catch when nobody else was with him. But this was real, and strong. and alive. and black. I struggled to keep the approaching catfish on my line and maintain balance on the murky, leafy floor. I retreated to the bank, and cautiously pulled the black slimy fish from the water. I knew how to hold a catfish. I was aware of the bony fins, and I knew that the legend of getting stung by the whiskers was an old wives tale. I steered clear of them just in case. I held up my prize, as he squeaked a noise you can only make by forcing your tongue deep into the back of your mouth until it is uncomfortable and forcing air across the sides of your throat. It was a wet squishy noise, a dark noise, a lifeless noise. His vacant black eyes looked at me as he struggled for oxygen. Blood oozed out of his gills and onto my hand. I marveled at the size of this beast from the dark, and thought of the fishing shows that they play on early Sunday mornings, visualizing how the pros would "lip" a large catch and show it to the camera. Triumphantly I stuck my thumb in his mouth, preparing to mimic the fishing gods of television. What I had forgotten was the hard, bony mouth of the catfish.....he clamped his tiny razors on my thumb instantly. It was like I had tightened my finger in a vice between two sharp wood rasps. Instantly I pulled my hand back, and the weight of the black devil pulled the very hide off of my thumb as it returned to the still dark waters. I ran home wailing as my own blood ran from my thumb, mixing with the slimy ooze the demon had left from his cold dark body.

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