FICTION - SHORT STORY
Went back down to the fishing hole and pressed my face to a clear spot in the ice. What I saw staring back at me was neither fully fish nor fully human. It was like looking at my reflection in a mirror. For the first time, I could see how much I looked like my brothers. Both gone now, but being out here on the lake and seeing this reflection made them feel close. Something sharp, like claws or spiny fins scraped the opposite side of the mirror.
I heard a great, deep crack echo from every direction then, and I slowly turned my body back towards land. Each footstep slower than the last, and heavier, I made my way to the edge of the lake, though I couldn’t say for sure where the shore was underneath that endless white. The way my snow-muffled footsteps echoed, I wondered if there was something underneath the snow, pounding on the ice beneath me, keeping pace just exactly with my retreat.
Back at the cabin that night, I couldn’t stomach my salmon. My face reflected back up at me in each scale. A kaleidoscopic vision of myself. Perhaps what I look like to the houseflies wafting in and out of my trash bin. The flies were getting worse, bigger. Something in the air wasn’t right. When I slid the fish off my plate into a dish on the floor, even the dog wouldn’t eat it. The flies would come around for it sooner or later, I assured myself, but they kept swirling around the empty boxes and cans they must’ve examined a thousand times already. We sat in silence together by the fire, my dog and I, until he started whining the words to some forlorn hound song and I decided it was time for us to get to bed.
Tree branches tapped on the door and the windows, and the ice on that frozen lake kept bellowing out like one slab was being pried away from another. Two slabs born together and never before separated, experiencing the harsh reality of a new season. Though I was sure it couldn’t be warm enough outside to melt anything. The dog woke me up whining again in the night. I’d been dreaming that my brothers were still here, ice fishing with me back at the cabin. Just before I awoke, they had undressed and looked as if they planned to go for a night-time swim. Still mostly asleep, I must have opened the window, because by morning there was a fine semi-circle of snow dusting the floor around it and the mattress was frozen stiff.
Later that day, I put some gasoline in the truck and drove it into town, just to see another human soul. Once I did see a few souls, I wondered what had been the point of it. I sat down to have a few drinks with some acquaintances and tried playing a few games of poker with them. When I’d lost most of the money I had with me, I wondered what the point of that had been, too.
Roberta served me another drink at the bar, and I decided in the spur of the moment to confide my most troubling and beautiful thoughts with her. She said I was right to come into town. Being cooped up all alone down there by the lake is bound to give you troubling thoughts. She said it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to get a room in town that night, either. After all, I likely wasn't as clear-minded now as I was when I first got there. I stayed the night in a well-heated room a few doors down the road.
In the morning, I came back to look for Roberta and folks told me she wouldn’t be working until later, but I decided to stay for a drink anyway. The television behind the bar was on, which I never cared for. I let it tune out to background noise and let my mind wander. My reflection in the beer mug looked like an old man, and slippery. Little bits of my head floated away in the ripples and the shape of my face bent from side to side. The bar was quiet and sleepy during the day, but now the intensity of the quiet began to make me feel uneasy. I looked up and everyone was staring at that television. The bartender had frozen, mouth agape, holding a towel in a pint glass.
A news anchor shook, almost in tears as she described the footage shown beside her. Her co-anchor began to heave. There they were, all surrounding my cabin, heading away from the lake. There was an aerial shot of dozens of them traveling back to the ocean in packs along the frozen rivers. The anchor explained that these pathways were only accessible to them during Winter, when the flowing water was covered up by ice. I watched as the camera zoomed in on one of these creatures dragging a long, wet fin behind it. The heaving anchor swallowed his words before he could speak them, and his shaky co-anchor took over. Biologists believe, she said, that these creatures have been hibernating under the ice in this remote region all Winter. If uninterrupted, they will likely migrate back to the same spot next year.
Been there for months.
I tossed the last of my cash on the counter, and gathered up my coat from the chair. The bartender looked over to me warily, pint glass still in hand. “Might not be the best time to head back to the lake, now, friend. Better stay here, just ‘til things get a little more regular.”
“Well, I would, friend, but I’ve got family visiting.”