Written by Jay Fuller
Johnny pulled up his trousers and waded into Stuckey pond. He shouldered his handmade fishing pole like a rifle. The line and hook trailed behind him, cutting the surface of the water like a nail across glass.
Birch and sumac trees had begun to show signs of the coming autumn. Here and there, deep reds and amber yellows dotted the surrounding forest. The stagnant, hot air of the summer season had started to give way to cooler breezes. Johnny relished the occasional chill. His feet plopped into the muck beneath the water’s surface, which oozed between his toes.
He stopped once he was partway submerged and reached into his shirt pocket. He pulled out a writhing earthworm and pierced its midsection with his fishing hook. He cast his line toward the center of the pond, where the water was dark. The bait plunged in with a tiny splash. Johnny counted the ripples as they made their way back to him.
Stuckey pond was a private place, unknown to most. Johnny had discovered it with his older brother, Paul. They named it after Missus Stuckey, the church pianist, whose curious odor reminded them of the skunk bush and bog smells that wafted through the area. Johnny breathed it in. The stench of rot that was so oppressive in the pews was somehow liberating amidst the sweeping canvas of Nature.
Paul was readying to fight confederates in the South. Johnny detested the thought of being separated from his brother and resented the implication that he was somehow less able to kill Gray-backs because of his age. He secretly plotted to meet up with Paul on the night of his deployment. He fantasized about dropping secessionist traitors like wild turkeys and carving hash marks into the butt of his rifle. Johnny was sure he had a steadier hand than his older brother and he aimed to prove it.
He tugged at the line, enticing fish to take a bite. A great big catfish sure would be bully, he thought. Even a good-sized perch would do the trick. His mouth watered at the prospect. Unfortunately, the pond remained placid and the line drifted untouched.
A rustling sound emerged from the edge of the forest. Johnny watched as a black bear cub tumbled out of the underbrush and dug its paws into the muddy bank of the pond. It lifted its head and groaned. It sounded like something halfway between a dog and a pig. Its skeletal frame was clearly visible beneath patches of pallid black hair.
The cub lapped at the water, having its fill. It suddenly froze and locked eyes on Johnny. It cocked its head. Johnny remained motionless. The cub called out again and continued drinking. This time, an answer came from the woods.
[To Be Continued at some later date...]