A Day on the Lake

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
Best friends Jack and Bernie head out for a day fishing after years apart, and the darkness of the past has a chance to rear its ugly head once again.

Submitted: October 10, 2013

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Submitted: October 10, 2013

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It was a shitty day for fishing.  Even though it was only the second week of September, the sun’s rise had exposed a frost that was proving to be a hell of a stickler.  Jack cursed his bad luck for the thousandth time as he watched the first tendrils of orange and yellow branching out from his rear-view mirror, but he’d be damned if he was driving all the way back to Kittanning empty-handed.  “Ain’t nothin’ there but carp and poor tourists,” he’d muttered, half to himself and half to his friend Bernie, who was fast asleep in the passenger seat.  So he drove on, parked his beaten-down ’03 Durango on the shoulder of a back road, and took a long draw on his Chesterfield before stepping out onto the dirt. 

Bernie didn’t take kindly to being woke up, but then again, Bernie didn’t really take too kindly to fishing either.  Or much of anything, for that matter – two tours in Afghanistan and a couple of brand spankin’ new prosthetic fingers had left him distant, like he was always trying to look through a person when they spoke.  But he and Jack had been friends since high school, and the two hadn’t seen each other since Bernie’s ass had been hauled off to Bagram on a C-130 to shoot at scorpions. 

There was still enough wet in the air to make for a hell of a mist.  Even though Jack had grown up in the woods there was something about the fact that you couldn’t see the treetops that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.  Bernie, for his part, didn’t seem to give two shits, which made sense – Jack hadn’t bothered to ask him much about his tour since he’d got back, but he knew that’s the way things had to be for now.

They reached the lake in due time and set about tying their lures.  Bernie wasn’t big on fishing, but he was big on jiggers, and it paid off.  He’d come back triumphant with 24 inches of trout to Jack’s empty net more than once, but Jack never held it against him.  Bernie had always appreciated the craftsmanship of a good homemade lure.  Jack swore on bait, and was a firm believer of ‘ya win some ya lose some’.  That being said, he did seem to be running a hell of a bad luck streak. 

Bernie’s prosthetics played hell with his knot tying, and his line met the water a full ten minutes after Jack’s did.  Shortly thereafter rain started spitting, and Jack afforded himself a small smile – maybe he’d have a little good fortune after all.  Light rain meant the crawlers came out and he was hoping the rise in temperature would coax some fish a little closer to the surface.  The two men hadn’t said much in the car or on the way to their fishing hole – a few guttural commands and backhanded remarks about the damned weather.  It was fine that way, Jack thought, plain and simple as two men sharing a labor, shutting the hell up, and letting Mother Nature drive the conversation. 

After an hour or so, Bernie showed a spark of his old self: “How’s you and that bitch of yours, huh?  Still living on the front of a honeymoon brochure?” He turned and looked at Jack, even showing a few teeth in a smile that made his face look like he’d forgotten long ago how to move your face when talking to civilized folk.  Jack smiled, though he felt his stomach sink down into his boots, “Ah, well man…funny story about that.  The brochure kinda burned to the ground after you left, man.” Bernie furrowed his brows and took his attention off his line.  “The hell you mean it burned down?  You were the happiest I’d ever seen ya when you were with her.  How’d you let it all go to shit?”

Jack sighed, his stomach felt like lead that just started on a slow boil.  “Things weren’t exactly peaches and cream all the time, man. And it got to be too much.”

“What got to be too much? C’mon, man, I didn’t get my fucking wedding ring shot off to hear your half-assed excuses for not wearing one. I thought she was gonna be it!”

“Yeah, me too, man. Me too.”

“Well, the fuck happened?”

At that moment, as if guided by some perverse natural timer, Jack’s line started to dance in the water. By the tug he put the fish at least two feet at the very least – he was a big sucker…  Jack let him be.

“Everything turned around.  Shit that made total sense before started becoming …complicated. Melodramatic.  There was… she just started getting jealous all of a sudden, and would start ripping into me for nothing.”

Bernie, God bless him, tried his best to cut in -“Jack, my brother, it’s normal for two people to fight, for things to go downhill, you know it’s just –“

“No, Bern, no, it was worse than that. Way worse. It was like a switch turned and she decided to become someone completely different.”  Jack’s line was still dancing on top of the water, tracing a thin line through the ripples of the lake.  “She finally found her way into the real world and she couldn’t take it, and it…it fucked her up man.”

“Okay, so you guys were going through a rough patch, then, or she was, I don’t know! The point is, if you wanna stick to your guns, you gotta –“

“You gotta WHAT?!” Jack screamed, though he had no idea where it had come from – it had erupted from his chest, and the lead in his stomach was now at a rolling boil.  “When you’re about to spend your life with a girl who decides to wake up and dedicate herself to running everything you’ve worked on together headfirst into the fucking dirt, without telling you a goddamn reason why, what the hell are you gonna do? Plead? Beg for understanding? Be supportive? You think I didn’t try all that?”

The fish was drawing on the line now. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack could see it – walleye, at least 28 inches, maybe even shy of a meter.  It had apparently become aware of its entrapment and was struggling with all its might against the hook embedded in its mouth. 

“She threw it back into my face, but not straight up, ah no. She waited until she could methodically disassemble me with this kinda shit because she knew how.  And I knew it all along.  I could hear the boulder coming to crush me, and I ran like hell, Bern, I ran like hell.  But some forces of nature can’t be reasoned with and you know what I fucking did?”

Bernie was silent, barely holding onto the end of his pole as he gazed at Jack from his spot across the shore.

“I dropped her like a lit M80. I let her go and watched her burn out.  And you know what the worst part was?  I saw it, when I left her crying. I saw the fear and the pain, that despite her spite and hate and lies and backhanded bullshit I saw that she was truly sorry… and I LOVED what I was doing even more for it.  That’s the level she’d left me at, someone who takes pleasure in watching the person he loves fall apart.  Do you know how disgusting that is?”

Tears were flowing freely down Jack’s face at this point, joining the rain drops in the water and then vanishing, indistinguishable from the murk of the lake.  The walleye had made its way to the shallow water where Jack stood and was making a hell of a racket, splashing and gasping on the line.  Jack finally took notice of the fish, and leaned down over its flailing body.

“You’re a fighter, huh?” Jack scooped the fish out of the water, grasping it firmly under the jaw and below the dorsal fin.  As it squirmed and fought, he stared at it with what Bernie thought was awe, maybe appreciation? Or maybe his best friend of over 20 years had finally lost his goddamn mind and was gonna pull an Ozzy Osbourne. 

“Maybe I should have taken a leaf or two out of your book, my friend. Maybe then things would have turned out differently. Or maybe I would have wound up with her too.” Jack sighed then…a long, painful sound that Bernie had heard once or twice back in Bagram on the face of an officer who just lost one of his own.  He then watched as Jack removed the hook from the walleye’s mouth, smiled at it once last time, and let it back into the water. 

“I need to thank you, Bern.” Jack said, “it’s been six months to the day and I’m glad to have you here with me again. Forgive me for what I said?” Bernie nodded, still completely unsure of what the hell was going on.

…the nets were still empty at the end of the day – after Jack’s inadvertent catch nothing had deigned to so much as nibble on anything the two men threw in the water.  Though Bernie tried to make conversation again, Jack didn’t oblige him much, limiting himself to as few “uh-huh”s, “mm-hmm”s, and “you don’t say”s as possible.  It wasn’t until they were back at the truck that Bernie found it, tucked away in the back of the glovebox.  He was searching for a pack of smokes while Jack loaded the trunk and it tumbled out, gliding gently to the floor of the ‘97 F-150 and settling near Bern’s right boot.  “Jesus Christ,” he murmured. There, clutched in his right hand was a newspaper clipping that featured a picture of Jack bent over what looked like a metal heap.

LOCAL GIRL DIES IN AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT: DRUG USE SUSPECTED
Authorities have confirmed the death of one local woman, aged 26, whose name will not be disclosed at this time due to reasons of privacy.  The official cause of death has been identified as massive brain trauma.  The woman was pursued by policemen until her car suddenly veered off the road and collided with a large tree, resulting in the impact that took her life.  State Policeman Gerald Dalton was in active pursuit and reported that her vehicle was travelling at approximately 135 miles per hour at the time of the impact.  Though she had no antecedent history of prescription drug abuse, a blood screening returned positive for numerous anti-depressants and painkillers, which the victim seemingly took en masse before entering her vehicle.  Though the cause for the crash and reckless driving is ultimately unknown, law enforcement officials are investigating various leads.

Bernie checked the date of publication at the bottom of the column.  Not surprisingly, it was six months to the day that the story was released.


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