Clouds hang over the lake like they’re marshmallows suspended by strings. Their boat sways gently in the waves. Last night a storm blew across the landscape. Thunder and lightning crashed together; fertilizing the soil, and making the foliage look like it’s a bright green jungle bursting toward them.
Rick covers his eyes with his sunglasses. He chews on a toothpick and slowly jigs his lure toward the boat. After nothing bites, he casts again.
Rick glances at Brad. Long lulls have filled the gaps in their conversation this morning and he doesn’t know how to get the conversation flowing smoothly again. He bites on his toothpick nervously. He contemplates the story that Brad just told him. Was it real? How much of it was imagined? He looks at Brad, “Have you been seeing these visions your whole life?”
Brad nods. “I think so. I’ve just never said anything about them before because I don’t want people to think I’m crazy.”
Rick casts his line. “That creature you describe in your room; are you sure it is real?”
“I don’t know what it is; I thought I was in control of it.”
Rick jigs his line through the maze of lily pads. “Do you think it is real? Or is it just a figment of your imagination from all the stress you’ve been going through?”
Brad glares at him. “It’s not my imagination. I saw it. Don’t you believe me?”
“Are you seeing things now?” Rick scans the shore. “Is your reality different than mine?”
Brad stops reeling and looks at him frustrated. “You don’t believe me, do you? I told you the truth, and you don’t believe me. Nobody does.”
Rick reels in his line, “I believe you, but in order for me to understand you, you have to be patient with me as I ask questions so I can visualize what you’re saying. Your mind is a complex place, Brad. That’s why I like you, but it’s going to take time for you to learn how to explain yourself, and for other people to understand who you really are.”
Brad quietly reels in his line.
As Rick thinks about the story, a fish bites his lure. A baby perch leaps into the air and dives into the lily pads. Rick quickly reels it into the boat and admires its pointy fins and yellow-striped scales.
“Still a baby. Hopefully it’ll grow into something bigger next summer.” Rick says as he unhooks it and throws it back into the water. “Hopefully there are some bigger ones hunting all these little fish we’ve been catching. The thunder last night should have stirred everything up.”
“Have you ever seen anything like what I’m describing?” Brad asks as Rick casts again.
Rick tries to imagine ghosts – spirits – demons, or whatever it was hovering over the water. But with the sun shining through the clouds, he can only see the glare in his face.
“I do believe there are supernatural things that happen on earth; but no, I’ve never seen creatures like you’re describing.” He listens to the waves gently splash against the side of the boat. “But I do hear the realness in your voice, and I do believe you.”
A fish bites Brad’s line, and he quickly sets the hook. A rush of adrenaline surges through him as he hopes it’s another northern pike. But the fight fades too quickly, and he reels in a fat pumpkin-seed sunfish. Its gills glimmer red, blue, and green, and its belly sparkles gold in the sun. Magical-looking rainbow colors gleam across its scales, and after Brad’s done unhooking the fish, he throws it back in the water.
Brad casts again. “So if you don’t see things like I do, how do you see the world?”
Rick thinks deeply about the question. He casts his line, and his lure sails through the air like a dragonfly and plops into the lily pads.
“I suppose I do hear things at times. If I concentrate hard enough, I can sometimes hear a voice in the wind that tells me that I am supposed to be here, that I have a purpose for my life, and a reason for existence. I don’t know if the voice is my conscious, or the voice of God, but I do believe there is more to life than just us.”
Rick continues. “But I have to tell you, I think you were wrong last night the way you talked to your parents. They were just trying to help you.”
“But when I try to talk to them, it’s like they’re from a different planet. It’s like they’re aliens who don’t understand me.”
Rick smirks, “Your parents aren’t aliens. Only real, good parents would have put up with you for being such a jerk this long. Did you tell them everything you told me?”
“No, I didn’t tell them everything. I’m not ready to do that.”
Rick jerks his rod back and hooks a fish. “Got one!” The fish jumps a few times and darts through the lily pads. He reels in a medium-sized large-mouth bass. Its scales reflect green, blue, and black in the sun. Rick looks out at the lake and admires his second chance at life. Everyday can be so beautiful if you choose it to be, even if your past is full of pain and regret.
Rick tosses the fish back into the lake, “Someday I will catch you again, when your bigger.” The fish splashes into the water, and it darts down to the bottom. The waves roll, the boat rocks, and the sun sparkles. It’s getting warmer, and Brad rolls up his sleeves, “So since you’re such an expert on how parents think, how come you never talk about yours?”
Rick looks into the breeze. The skin on his face turns cold. “They died twelve years ago when I was still in prison.”
Brad wasn’t expecting that answer. He looks at Rick, and it’s the first time he’s ever looked vulnerable. Last time they were in a tense moment like this, he said something stupid, and Rick exploded on him. So this time Brad decides to take his time and tread lightly. “How did it happen?”
Rick casts, and he reels his line faster than normal. “I’m still kind of shocked by it, even after all these years. They were on their way to visit me in prison. A semi-truck collided with them when it changed lanes on the freeway. Both vehicles slammed together, and after rolling into the ditch, the vehicles became one big piece of smashed metal and that’s where their lives ended.”
Rick reels in his line slowly. “When you go into prison, you know things aren’t going to be the same when you get out. But you think the important people who have always been there, will be there forever. But after they died, I was truly alone, and in some ways, I still feel that way.”
Rick reels in his lure. The speed of their conversation picks up. “I’ll never forget the day the guards came to my prison cell to tell me. I still had eighteen months left in prison, and the sergeant mysteriously appeared and told me to go to the chapel. I knew immediately something wasn’t right, because the chapel is where they always told guys bad news about what was happening in the outside world. I left my cell and walked to the chapel, and when I arrived, the chaplain was waiting to tell me what happened.”
“That’s how they did it? Did they let you go to the funeral?”
“No. In prison, once you’re in, you never leave until your release date. It’s the prison’s job to incarcerate your body, but your emotions are your own problem to deal with. I was in shock. I didn’t say anything in response. Dino was waiting for me when I got back to the cell. He asked what happened right away. I tried to respond, but the words wouldn’t come out. I wanted it to be a bad dream. I grabbed the chess board in our cell, and we played six intense games in a blur. Dino didn’t go easy on me, and I still won the first two games. On the third game, I finally lost. When he checkmated me, I broke down crying. It suddenly hit me that I would never have a family again.”
Rick rubs tears from his eyes, “I don’t remember falling asleep that night. But I remember waking up the next morning and promising myself that I was going to change my life and never let this nightmare happen again. My success was going to be up to me now. Being an only child, I received a large inheritance, and the first thing I did when I got out was sell everything that reminded me of them. I took all of that money and invested it into my company, where I could start a new life on my own. I figured I’d either make it big, or I’d fail, and after all the failure that I had been through, I wasn’t afraid of anything. I became a workaholic, and tried my hardest to succeed. The only thing I kept with me in prison was the photograph of our family. The rest of the shame and guilt I abandoned, and I tried to erase it all from my life. That is, until you started asking me all these questions.”
Brad’s heartbeat races. He’s still nervous about asking too much. “Are you ok now?”
Rick shrugs, “I have to be. I don’t have any other choice. Even though I may not always feel great, I have to force myself to keep going. I always have to try to be a leader, even when I don’t feel like one. As long as I keep making good decisions and try to move ahead every day, I know I’ll reach what I was created to accomplish in the end, and that’s all that matters to me even if I make a lot of mistakes along the way.”
Brad thinks about what he’d do if his parents died tomorrow. His world would be so much different without them. He glimpses the life that Rick experienced when he first got out of prison and it scares him.
Rick casts and feels embarrassed. He’s never opened up to anyone like this before. His minnow splashes in the lily pads and he reels it toward the boat. The horrible memories rise like ghosts on this perfectly peaceful day.
Rick glances at Brad in the front of the boat. He’s ashamed to show Brad that he doesn’t have his life all perfectly put together. Rick opens his mouth to apologize, but as he begins to say something, a fish strikes his lure and his line pulls tight.
His rod bends over the boat in a horseshoe shape, and whatever Rick just hooked, feels huge. Line squeals out of the reel, and Rick shouts out into the air, “Something huge just hit! It’s running down the shore! Get the net ready!”
Lily pads swirl out of the way as the fish swims into the shallows, and its powerful body creates its own waves behind its surging tail. The fish rises to the surface and jumps, and the mysterious green beast sails through the air and dives back down into the cover of the lily pads. It happened so fast, but Rick knows what he saw.
Brad points and yells directions on where to steer the fish just like Rick did for him. The fish swims along the shore and then dives into deeper water. Rick pulls back on his rod before it goes too deep, and Brad sees the fish and gasps, “Holy crap Rick, it’s huge! It’s a northern pike and it’s way bigger than anything I’ve ever caught.”
The fish takes off down the opposite shore, and the fight continues for what seems like forever. Finally, the squealing of the line begins to slow, and Rick knows the fish is starting to get tired. Rick’s biceps flex as he raises his rod up to the clouds. He leans back in the boat, and his hands pull the fish out of the weeds toward the boat. He knows that if he can just hold on, and stays the course, eventually the fish will come to him.
Rick places the butt of the rod into his gut and heaves back. The rod tip shakes over the boat’s edge. It’s the biggest fish he’s ever caught, and he starts to shake nervously. The fish darts from side to side, and when it rises to the surface, the blood in Rick’s face drains into his limbs.
The fish jerks back. But the hook is deep. The fish hardly fits in the net when Brad scoops it up. Rick lets go of his rod and picks up the fish. It flops in his arms, and Rick looks into its eyes of the giant northern pike. A blast of shivers shoot through his skin. Rick begins to howl into the air, because he’s not alone anymore, and he just caught his first trophy northern pike.