(From the Kingston Chronicles)
The sun was setting over Kingston. The amber skyline left a beautiful reflection over St. Stephens Lake. An old weary man was perched on a deteriorating wooden bench at the end of a lonely dock. His cane lay at his feet next to his tackle box and rusted old can of live worms. An old ragged John Deere hat was protecting his worn wrinkled face from the sun, as his his green flannel shirt saved his arms from his farmer's tan getting worse. He reached into the rusted Folgers can and pulled out a 6-inch night crawler. He bit it in two, spitting half of it back into the tin can and carefully placing the other half onto the hook of his fishing pole. Both hands were shaking as he tried to get the worm and the hook to meet. He paused for a second and perked his head up as he heard rustling in the brushy field behind him.
“Grandpa!” A young boy screamed as he parted his way through the weeds and then tripped at the edge of the dock, falling onto his hands and knees.
A smile came to the old man’s face, not even turning to see the boy approach, tumble to the ground, and then return to his feet immediately running again.
The dock rattled and shook as the boy approached his grandfather and gave him a big hug. The old man was careful not to hook the boy with the pole, or accidentally drop the live bait that was squirming in his hand.
“I almost didn’t think you were going to make it tonight.” The old man stated surprised and delighted to see his grandson.
“I snuck out.” He said bashfully looking down at his shoes. “I only did half the dishes,” raising his head,” but I’m gonna do the other half when I get back home.”
The old man gave the boy a look out of the corner of his eye, and then offered just a hint of a smile.
“I know you will. Would you like to use my pole? I was just about to put this fresh crawler on there,” dangling the worm close enough to the boy’s face he could have licked it, “you should be able to get a big one with the size of this worm!”
“No thank you sir, I like to bait my own - on my own pole!” He exclaimed holding up his maroon colored pole like it were a sword and he were a knight in shining armor ready to slay a dragon.
“I know the feeling – just like this old man. It’s the only pole I’ve used and owned for the last 42 years.”
The boy knelt down onto the wood of the dock and reached into the coffee can. He shifted the top layer of dirt around for a minute and then said, “I think I like this one.” extracting a night crawler from the pail with a handful of dirt also in his fist. He pulled half of it out before the worm snapped back into the pail like a rubber band. The boy dug for a little bit. “Get back here, you!” and then successfully pulled the entire worm out.
“Careful not to get your fingers close to the end of that hook. I don’t wanna have to cut our fishin’ trip short again by needin’ to visit Dr. Fox again.”
The old man kept one eye on his bobber and one eye on the boy as the boy attempted to put his night crawler on the hook several times. Still smiling the old man announced, “Atta boy!” as the hook pierced the worm.
The young boy smiled back proud as could be. “Just wait until I pull one in that will be as big as my shoe! No, as big as my leg!”
“I think I’ll catch one bigger than that son, mine’ll be as big as you are!”
The boy’s eyes got big as he stared at his grandfather. His jaw dropped open and he let out a small gasp. “As big as me??” His eyes leered at his grandfather and gave him a look to let him know that he wasn’t buying into that fish story. Then they both broke into laughter as they broke eye contact and the boy crawled onto the bench to sit next to his grandfather.
The frogs started singing and the sunlight was slowly fading, as the bobbers floated no more than 3 feet away from each other rising and falling with the waves as a cool breeze cooled the evening air across the lake. The water began glistening with slight hints of amber from the crimson sky.
“Tell me a story grandpa! A scary one like you tell when we build campfires in the backyard, and roast the marshmallows!”
“I think you’re old enough now, I can tell you the really scary stories - the old stories and legends of Kingston. Just remember that these are all true…” he paused, leaning in. “…or so the legends say. Do you think you’re ready?”
The young boys eyes got wide with anticipation. He swallowed hard and couldn’t decide whether to smile or to run. “I’m ready.” He said in a slight whisper, almost inaudible as the scent of sulfur came from nowhere and began to sneak into his nostrils.
“Nope, not if you’re scared.” The old man said playfully, sitting back into the bench protesting the boy’s wishes. “If you are not sure you’re ready, you’re not. I’ll have to tell you the stories about the rabbits again that kept stealin’ the radishes from your Nana’s garden.”
“NOOO! I’m ready! I'm ready!” he shouted bouncing up and down on the bench and kicking his feet. “Please!”
“OK, settle down there tiger, you’ll scare the fish away. Get yourself comfortable. These stories may leave you breathless.”
With that, they both cast their lines into the water…
“I got one!” The young boy’s rod bent and the line ran randomly through the water like a dragonfly. “It’s a big one, I can feel him fighting!” The boy shouted jumping onto his feet.
“Don’t forget to set the line. You forget that, and you can forget about having dinner.” He called out as he reached down for his cane so he could stand up. “Give it a good tug and set the line…that’s it…just like that…now pull it in!”
The boy leaned back and yanked as hard as he could letting out a high pitched squeal that was comprised of half exertion and half delight. The fish flew almost straight up and for a second looked like a dark green wingless raven soaring through the dusk. The fishing line went taut straight up in the air and the bass fell down onto the dock with a thud, almost breaking one of the planks of the dock.
“Look at the size of it, Grampa! It’s the biggest fish I’ve ever seen in real life!”
“It is quite the whopper.” He said grabbing the fish with one hand, and a needle
nosed plier with his other hand.
“Speaking of whoppers Grampa, when are you going to tell me the really scary
stories? Those stories didn’t scare me at all!”
“I’m getting there little one. If you could hand me that knife over there, I’ll show you how to gut one of these things and get him ready for cleaning and eating.”
The boy handed his grandfather the knife by the leather covered blade. The old man held the fish flat against the dock with the palm of his hand. He put the cover between his teeth and unsheathed the blade. He carefully pressed the blade into the fish just below the gills. Blood ran onto the dock and dripped into the water. The blade ran down the belly of the green bass until it reached his tail pouring the guts out onto the wood. The young boy was unsure if he was excited about his catch now, or felt bad for their helpless, and now lifeless, prey.
“I told you that you wouldn’t make it all the way through the stories.” The old man said with a slight chuckle. He looked over at the young child who was now lying at the end of the bench. His head resting on an old wadded up jacket.
The two of them caught a lot that day. They had a bucket full of half a dozen fish or so. The dock was covered in scales, guts and blood to prove it. Grandpa grabbed his wooden cane by the carved serpent handle and patted the boy’s legs, “It’s been a long night there, champ. You did good.” He struggled slowly getting up from the bench.
He grabbed the knife that still lay in the boys lap. Using an old towel, he cleaned some remaining blood and entrails from the knife. Looking down, he noticed that there were still a lot of innards still on the dock also. Using his boot, he kicked what he could into the river. It made quiet splashes as it dropped down and began its long journey towards the Gulf of Mexico.
The moon was now high in the air, and the sun had been set for at least a couple hours. He looked up and enjoyed the stars for a moment, inhaling the sweet smell of the river, the field behind him and his freshly slaughtered prey.
He leaned over the boy and kissed him on the top of his head. The boy made no movement. The old man’s cane thumped across the wooden dock leaving swirls in the water as he limped back to solid ground.
He stopped on a patch of worn dirt on the shore’s edge and turned around.
“Rest well, son.” He paused as a tear came to his eye. “I hope you rest in peace.”
And with that, the old man disappeared into the field.