The Leviathan of Black Lake
James the carp angler was scanning his favourite angling magazine one Friday morning, when he stumbled across an article about a giant carp spotted in a small lake in a village called Worston in the West Country. The report's description of the fish having a dorsal estimated to be about 4 feet long was unbelievable, but nonetheless intrigued James enough to get his Ordnance Survey map out to have a look for spots of water in the vicinity of Worston. Problem...Even though the map was a new edition, there were no references to this particular village.
He decided to have a bash at the internet, BINGO! Straight in, a website dedicated to the village of Worston. Opening up the homepage he was greeted by a banner advertising a Cream Tea in the village hall, it proudly announced, "Bumper Cream Tea Bash at Worston Village Hall, Wednesday the 12th February, 4:00pm sharp". And then the smallprint, "Bring your own scones and we'll provide the cream, jam and tea!". All local produce mind! "What a quaint little village!", James thought. Now for local details, ‘How to find us’ and all that jazz, local map - CLICK - got it! A small patch on the east side of the village at a farm called Worston Lea. Now to make plans for a reconnaissance of the pond just to get a feel for the place.
Saturday morning, no early start, just a leisurely 25 mile drive with the final help of the map printed out from the Worston website. He found the village without any problems, almost feeling led.
After having lunch and a pint in a very warm and friendly pub, he ventured out to find the lake. East of the village, country lane, signpost Worston Lea farm, a turn into a bumpy dirt track, and he was there!
Although James had never been there before, the whole area seemed familiar. He didn't know what it was apart from watercraft, the angler’s perception, but he felt the urge to force his way through some overgrown bushes, which he did duly, receiving quite a few rips and scratches from the entangled Blackberry bramble. One last painful push and there it was, what a disappointment, a filthy stinking black pool of stagnancy! He looked around in dismay and caught sight of a man walking his collie dog around the pond.
"Here we go!, Get arf moy larnd (Get off of my land please Sir!)" James thought. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised by a cheery welcome from the farmer himself. The farmer was curious to know why somebody would want to drive all that way to see a lifeless stenchpool. However, James explained what he had read in the angling magazine, and asked if he had heard of any reports of such a large fish being sighted. The farmer said that he had heard rumours in the pub, but seeing as how he owned the land that the pond was situated, he thought he was more likely to have seen anything as he had walked his dogs around there for the last thirty years at all times of day. James thought, “I bet not during darkness though!".
The farmer explained that there would have once been fish in there, as it would have been a Mediaeval stockpond and probably contained carp of sorts as a food resource. The farmer also added that it was a Witch ducking pool as well, and certain areas of the lake bed were said to be bottomless. The farmer pointed to an old rotten bulk of wood and told James that it was the remains of a ducking stool. He also told James of a tragic tale about a young farm girl, whose cart horse had bolted after an unknown cause had scared it off by the side of the lake, breaking free from the cart, which rolled down the bank right into the said bottomless area. The Girl drowned, and it was said that the pool turned black afterwards and all the fish expired from poisoning of sorts. James asked if it was okay if he could stay a bit longer before he drove home.
The Farmer said "Ya carn if ya loike ... darft buggerrrr" he silently chortled to himself.
To say that James was pissed off would have been an understatement, but thought as it was nearly dusk, he'd stick around because it was his experience that magical things can happen when light falls. He rolled a cigarette and sat down on the bank to watch the water for movement.
The mosquitos were obviously ravenous that evening and James was rapidly morphing into 'Spotty Muldoon'.
"I can't stand much more of this", he mumbled, remembering a time when February was too cold for gnats and mosquitos to bother him.
” I think I'll go!" thought James.
As he rose from his posture, he spotted three tiny bubbles appearing in the margins right in front of him. Next, he was startled by the appearance of the hugest Common Carp he had ever seen rolling and crashing in front of him, just as was reported with a dorsal fin of 4 feet long.
Almost frightened to leave, he dashed back through the bush to his car jumped in and sped off back home. It was a difficult drive as he couldn't get that fish out of his mind. Over and over again, the vision of a panoply of bronze scales catching the last of the daylight haunted him. It would have to be week before he could return to Black Lake, but it would need the whole week to get together strong enough tackle and plan his attack.
With the week dragging as it always does when one is looking forward to doing something, James spent all of his spare time getting sturdy enough tackle together to combat the beast that introduced itself to him last Saturday.
First, it would have to be tackle big and strong enough to land anything bigger than 80lbs, so his catfish gear would have to be pressed into action. A huge landing net, weighing sling, unhooking mat and scales that he had bought for a failed venture for catfish from the river Ebro on a Spanish holiday. The bait would have to be simple and natural, unlike the highly pungent boiled baits he normally knocked up in the kitchen (some of which were guaranteed to end all marital bliss in an instant), decent size lobworms from the garden would be good to start with, though there might be eels in the lake so an alternative was required.
Bread and honey paste 'a la Izaak Walton’ style, although not a natural carp food was James’ alternative choice bait, as it was normally a fairly instant bait for most uneducated fish and hardly of any interest to eels. He would also need a camera both digital and 35mm as a back up.
James would normally set up a bivouac for fishing through the hours of darkness during winter and spring, but thought about the limited bank space and opted for his large old umbrella, he could always put storm sides up if the weather conditions became inclement.
He didn't really want to sleep that particular night, so he thought that to substitute his normal bed chair with a reclining low chair, and with warm layers of clothing and a decent sleeping bag he could keep off the worst of the cold.
So the plan then, knock off from work early on Friday midday, he couldn't wait until Saturday, get in the car to make the 25 mile journey and bait up two areas of the pool with mashed bread that he would have prepared earlier. It would still give him time to have a good look around for likely areas to cast to before it got dark and also ask the farmer if he was agreeable to him fishing the night there,
"A good bottle of Bordeaux would suffice as a sweetener to persuade most farmers!" he thought.
That Friday morning was the longest ever, and James found it hard to concentrate on his job. His boss detected this, and asked him what the problem was. James explained the situation and his boss gazed blankly into space.
"Carp fishing eh? I used to go carp fishing, Richard Walker was my hero in those days; mind you, we never thought about fishing for them after the first frosts as we thought they were hibernating during the winter months!" said his boss.
James told him that it wasn't the case nowadays and hadn't been since the 70s because people had actually defied that theory and caught carp, and sometimes with the water partly frozen. The boss said that he would rather James than him to deliberately go out and catch a death o' cold, and said that he could clear off early as long as he put his hours back in on his return for Monday. James didn't argue with that and disappeared like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe.
The drive was dreary, road works, diversions, traffic lights, great big herds of cattle blocking up the country lanes and finally a puncture.
With the tyre replaced, James, ever the optimist, felt that all of his bad luck had been used up that afternoon and was grateful his boss had let him go early.
At last Worston village, stop off at the newsagents to buy some tobacco and cigarette papers, and go east onto Worston Lea farm.
"Damn!". Another car was parked in the same area that James was going to park, and he feared that someone else had the same idea as him. With possibly only one fish in the lake, competition was not what he needed.
James thought he would try to find an easier route to the lake than his last thorny affair, and found a footpath that skirted the edge of the woods that surrounded it. An opening in the woods with another path led him to the pond, easy if you're not impatient and certainly less scratchy.
His heart sunk as he surveyed the lake and spotted a pair of fishing rods protruding from a bush.
"Oh well, I'll go and talk to him see if he has seen the fish moving on its patrol!" he thought, and then decided against it, remembering that he hadn't asked the farmer permission to fish there that night.
He knocked on the farmer’s cottage door and was greeted by the friendly farmer who had remembered meeting James the previous weekend and said he was welcome to fish there anytime, especially if he brought decent plonk with him like that each time. The farmer also said that another angler had fished there the previous night and believed he was still there.
James made his way back to the car to unload his gear and lug it around to the area where he encountered the carp. On his way round to the swim of his choice, James knew he would have to pass the other angler and introduce himself and nothing more, as he knew what it was like when he had the same experience with other anglers stopping by to have an overlong and unwelcome chat. It isn't rudeness not to talk to other anglers, but it's definitely impolite to distract an angler who is concentrating on his quarry and has likely to have been sitting there silently for a long time.
As he approached the rear of the other anglers swim, he saw there was nobody occupying the pitch. Just two rods, one with tackle reeled in and the other still with a bait out in the water.
He noted that the anglers weighing sling and unhooking mat were laid out ready as though a fish had been caught; the landing net had definitely been in the water as it was festooned with old bits of silt-coated twig. Maybe the other angler had already caught the fish, or maybe there is more than one fish in the lake. Well, he was there now so he might as well stay, and when the other angler returned he'd be able to fill him in on the details of what had been caught.
James selected two areas to bait up and cast to, one in the margins where he had first seen the fish and one 'chuck it and chance it' to the rumoured bottomless area near the ducking stool. Two buckets of mashed bread later and two baits placed in their chosen areas. A big lump of honey bread paste in the deep area (ducking stool), which was deep but not bottomless as James felt the bump of his lead sinker hit the bottom, and a big bunch of lobworms in the margins. James had two electronic bite alarms and isotope bobbins hanging from the line to indicate the movement of a bait if a fish picked it up. The bobbins would also give a bit of free line to drag through the rod rings, the end tackle being a very simple running ledger on both rods, no need for modern rigs when a carp hasn't been caught often, if ever.
The light was beginning to fall and clouds started grouping to cover, so a fairly overcast and mild February night with the wind dropping in the trees and no immediate threat of rain was on the cards, providing the weather girl on breakfast TV was accurate in her forecast.
Still the other angler hadn't returned, it was strange though that his car was still there. "Oh well, the less the merrier", James mused.
Up to midnight nothing had happened, not a single plop or splash in the water from rats and other vermin, in fact, total silence! Now, to an inexperienced night angler the sound of wildlife squeaking and scratching in the undergrowth can be quite unsettling and in some cases, it had been known to panic the fainthearted into packing up and fleeing as though the Hounds of Hades were snapping at their heels.
However, this silence along with the stillness of the night was something that James was quite unused to. And then at a quarter past midnight the clouds rapidly dispersed, revealing a giant blood red moon.
The air temperature plummeted as fast as James's confidence. Clear skies weren't always that productive on heavily stocked waters, let alone a filthy black pool where maybe only one carp resided.
Time to make a warming cup of tea on the stove and maybe a spot of Scotch in it to keep the cold out. With the tea brewed and imbibed, with perhaps a bit too much Whisky in it, James started to feel a bit drowsy and fought nodding off. He rolled up a cigarette as best he could with his cold hands, though a fold up rather than a roll up would have been a better description of the smoking instrument. James lit the cigarette up and drew in the smoke gratefully.
After he finished his cigarette, he started to nod off again and woke with a start. The putrid smell of the lake water's odour started to change to a very sweet and seductive perfume, and James started to get the feeling that something was going to happen. He looked down and thought he saw a small twitch on the bobbin attached to the rod cast to the ducking stool area, not a big enough twitch to set his buzzer off but a twitch nonetheless.
Suddenly, the bite indicator on the ducking stool rod was activated.
Beep, beep, beep…beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!
Line tore from James fishing reel at a rapid rate, he saw it all in slow motion as he struggled to get out of his low chair to pick up the rod.
James finally snatched at the rod, which was doing its best to jump out of the rod rests, and flicked in the reel's pickup, proceeding to battle with this beast that was trying its best to break his arm. As long as there were no snags in the lake he should be able to let this beast tire itself out without too much trouble.
There was though, the other anglers line out in the water, which had been carelessly left out in the water to contend with if the fish managed to gain line in that direction. James managed to gain some line, and then a little bit more until the monster was directly in front of him. Now he felt more in control, and after twenty minutes or so of playing the fish, he had the confidence to tighten the clutch on the spool of his reel a little bit more to tire the fish out sooner…WRONG! The beast gained a new spirit and ripped off back towards the ducking stool area, James's rod sprung back and all went slack.
James felt like crying, if he hadn't been so rash in tightening the clutch, the fish would probably still be on. Nothing left but to reel in and pack up.
On winding the seemingly slack line in, James sensed a tension building back in the fishing line. NO! Surely not! The fish was still on and was somehow willingly led towards the bank with hardly any resistance. James had never seen this reaction in a carp before, normally right up to the landing net there would be a struggle to get away. The fish's nose touched the spreader block of the cavernous 60 inch armed landing net and the piscatorial barrel only just managed to drop in.
Punching the air with victory, James then thought about how the hell he was going to get the hunking great fish up on the bank by himself, let alone weigh the blasted thing!
First, get everything in its place, to have the generous unhooking mat close to edge of the bank to act as a form of slide. After removing the arms of the landing net, he gathered the soft mesh around the fish and began to drag the fish out of the water. Oddly, the carp seemed to be helping James by gently moving maggot style onto the centre of the unhooking mat.
Well, that was easier than he thought it would be. He gently unhooked the fish, but in his panic James forgot to take the weigh sling and scales out of his tackle bag. No problem, the fish was quite relaxed, unlike James who was now beginning to shake with both excitement and fear, something only an angler would know after fighting and catching the biggest ever fish of his life.
James fumbled around to find the required instruments with the help of a torch, which unhelpfully failed to light after a few seconds. The blood red moon changed to an intense white, illuminating everywhere as if it was daylight. James turned to soak the weighing sling so as not to remove any of the protective mucus that coated the fish. To his shock, the unhooking mat and the landing net were empty. He thought that the fish must have slid out and back into the pond, but how could it unfold the mesh of the net? Then, in front of the unhooking mat, he saw a pair of bare feet, looking up he saw a very naked and beautiful young woman with very wet and dripping hair. His heart pounded like mad and with eye-rubbing disbelief, he thought he was dreaming.
Her body emitted a steamy vapour, caused by the heat loss from her water soaked skin.
"I must be dreaming!", gasped James.
"No! This is not a dream, this is real!” the woman softly replied.
"You must be frozen, have my coat and I'll make you a hot drink", said James desperately trying to keep only gentlemanly thoughts in his head.
“No! I don't want a drink, I want you to love me!", she sighed.
James insisted that he was a married man and felt that she shouldn't be trying to take advantage of him.
"Nobody will ever know you caught the Leviathan, so how will they know if we make love?" she sighed.
James could feel his loyalty to his beloved wife slipping away until he could no longer think about or remember her face.
"Please love me?” she breathed.
Before James knew it, his arms were holding her as he caressed her very cold flesh; this was surely the most beautiful moment he had ever experienced.
His hands slipped down her smooth skin towards her thighs, and then as he slid his hands upwards her skin became rough and scaly. James looked up at her face and saw a cavernous lamprey like mouth, with ever moving, inward pointing teeth.
Her arms changed into thorn-encrusted tentacles, which wrapped around his torso. More tentacles grew from the beast's body, completely immobilising James. He couldn't break free, and he felt his head being drawn closer into its jawless mouth. Two bony hooks shot out from the beast’s hideous orifice, piercing both of his eye sockets, dragging his head deep into her mouth.
Another day and night had passed when both anglers’ wives reported their husbands missing to the Police after not returning home when expected.
The national newspapers a few days later, reported in a small insignificant block in a corner of a page, about two anglers disappearing, presumably dead after their cars and fishing tackle were discovered abandoned by a lake at a derelict farm in the old West country village of Worston. The village was reportedly uninhabited for 30 years, after a mysterious plague infected and killed the small population. The village of Worston was to remain out of bounds to the public until forensic scientists diagnosed the cause of the plague, they never did!
© Copyright 2016 Vernham Chronicles. All rights reserved.
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Short Story / Humor
Short Story / Humor
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