“Yep, young man, I saw it,” he said, not taking his eyes off the fly. His gnarled hands looped colored thread around the hook with a speed and dexterity that was quite surprising.
“Well, sir,” I began, watching him add feathers and binding them into the shape of wings with a few deft loops. “I’m William Neals of the County Register, and I’d love to hear your story.”
He hummed slightly as he finished the knots and snipped the thread. He looked up at me at last.
“Not much of a story, I’m afraid,” he confessed, “I was closing up the shop, ’bout ten, I’d say. It was dark and all of a sudden, it got bright. I looked up and saw a streak of fire slam down in the water. Hell of a noise, big column of water shot up and the waves rolled clean across the lake. It was enough to rock the boats around.”
“I’ve been here for thirty years. I moved back here into a place my father built. Things are different now. There’s something in the air, in the water… I can’t really say what’s changed, but look,” he said.
He walked over to the window. The sun was setting and its fading brilliance danced across the water in slivers of gold and silver. He pointed to several colored spots floating in the water. “See them?” he asked.
I nodded and he continued. “I’ve been back here for thirty years and I’ve never seen them before.”
“What are they? ” I asked, “Algae?”
“I don’t know,” he told me, then adding “they don’t belong here.”
After a moment, he added “Mark my words, things are different. Something’s wrong, something’s bad, bad wrong. I’m closing up this shop and getting out of here. I think we all should.”
The tone of his voice was so sincere that I couldn’t take it as anything but the truth as that man knew it. There was worry in his features, a dread that almost gave me a chill. What was on his mind specifically I couldn’t say, but this was a trouble that he’d never faced. I could see the uncertainty of his features. He was a man pondering some impossible task, some unknowable challenge or unanswerable riddle.
There was a look of hopelessness, of doom, in his features. I wanted to say something but just the hint of it was overwhelming me.
“How much for the fly?” I asked.
He handed it to me. “On the house.”
I made my way back to the tiny cabin and stretched out on the bed. I hardly laid there for five minutes before I was up, peeking out the window at the lake. The darkness had swept over it and though I tried, I couldn’t see the blooms.
I laid down again and caught some sleep.
I remember dreaming, though all the details escape me I remember most of it. There was a cook out and the air smelled like hamburgers. There was music and children ran playing along the shore. There were people there that I hadn’t seen since my own childhood, people long gone. For a moment, I was comforted and held a sense that we’re never really apart, as silly as that sounds. I actually smiled with tears in my eyes because I was happy.
Then I turned to the water.
Bodies floated face down, still and lifeless as they drifted. I began to yell for help and turned back, but everyone was gone. The air was cold and I heard a slosh from the water behind me.
I couldn’t… I wouldn’t turn around and I woke up with my heart pounding and my breathing fast.
story by Joe Stanley