The Southern Territory of Teraphobia contains swamplands, sweltering heat and a number of fish-like creatures. Life in the Southern Territory never recovered from the Great Invasion. Lucky enough, the undead infection stopped somewhere North but the creature invasion was unusually cruel in the territory. The fortitude of humanity lives huge in the movies, books and our imagination but what if that fortitude was pushed to the limit.
The sun stood staring down from its mid-day perch. Larry walked across his small yard with a fishing pole on his shoulder and two smaller ones in his left hand. Erica, a blond explosion of energy bounded around him while Robert moped several feet behind both of them.
“Why do we have to do this again,” Robert said.
“Because I don’t get to take much time off anymore. This new job takes a lot out of me.”
“Are we going to catch Charlie today, Daddy?” Asked Erica as she raced ahead.
“I think we are, darling. Today is the day.”
“You say that every time, Dad.” Said Robert as he reluctantly took one of the smaller poles from his father.
“I say it everyday because one of these days I’m going to be right.” Larry smiled widely. He beamed down at his son and watched as his young daughter danced around the small pond behind his house.
Robert reluctantly threw out his line and waited impatiently. Something tugged on his pole bringing it inches from the water. Larry dropped his pole and grabbed Robert’s pole. They both pulled with everything they had till finally the fabled fish leapt from the pond.
“Oh..” said Robert as he flashed a smile and watched. Larry quickly grabbed the fish and looked it over. Two long blue lines ran along the sides of the fish. Its remaining scales glistened in the sunlight. It was a beautiful beast. Robert screamed, stepped back and refused to touch the large fish. Erica stepped forward, pushed forward the large fins and held the fish like a superstar. Larry unhooked the fish and threw it back in the water.
Several years later...
Larry Price sat staring at the telephone. He was wishing for it to ring. Wishing for someone to tell him where Erica was. His life had taken a turn for the outrageous, along with everyone else in the former State of Louisiana. Add to that, his wife left him dragging Robert with her.
Erica stuck with her drunk of a father. She dealt with his inexcusable self pity after his wife left. She would of been sixteen-years old today.
Erica took care of him dispite of her mother’s opinion on the matter. She left their only daughter in the hands of an irresponsible wreck of a man.
“He should of been out there with her,” he thought as he downed the rest of glass of whiskey and filled it again. “She shouldn’t of disappeared. She shouldn’t of drown in the pond.”
Larry was still the authorities prime suspect for the disappearance. They approached Larry’s small trailer and opened the door. Larry looked at them and passed out. He woke up in a cell. The police had laid him out upon the small bed within it. Around 10 o’clock they woke him and lead him to an interrogation room. They interviewed him and screamed at him. They knew Larry had done something to his daughter. They assumed this downtrodden man would confess to everything but Larry was too lost in himself. Lost in grief…
He didn’t care what they did to him. He almost confessed when his son stepped in to declare his father innocent. Robert, now 22 years old, hired a lawyer and got his father released from custody. He drove him home and helped him into bed.
“Dad”, Robert said sadly. “You need to straighten up. You almost confessed to murder. Are you that ready to give up on Erica?”
“I am,” Larry paused.
“You can’t give up on Erica,” Robert pleaded. Robert took his father home. He stayed for several more hours then left.
Larry concluded, before he slept, that he would wake up in the morning and decide what to do to end his life. He had ample ways. Maybe he could drown himself in the pond that took Erica’s life.
Hours later, something crashed outside Larry’s house. He woke up with a start and sat up in bed. He could clearly hear something moving through his yard. The likelihood of a stray dog in this neighborhood was extremely high so Larry ignored it and went back to sleep.
Morning came very early. A column of light burned Larry’s face as he laid in bed. He opened his eyes and realized glass from his bedroom window was thrown all over the end of his bed. The blanket, that served as a curtain, sat on the floor. The first thought to enter his mind was neighbor kids but it wasn’t likely. They avoided his house like the plague. He carefully moved his feet off the bed. He got up and carefully looked out the window.
Something had made a mess of his yard. It looked like an animal of some sort. Large claw marks under torn gray siding told him that. The ground was moist from a recent rain and Larry noticed a human-sized trail of mud leading to the marsh. It looked-as-if someone had been dragged. Larry got dressed and almost fell from his front door. Something had shoved his stairs from the door and it laid against his truck. Larry jumped from his trailer and pulled the stairs back under his door. Larry found the trail of mud beside his house and followed it till it disappeared into the pond.
Expecting to see a body Larry approached the water carefully. The pond was deeper then it looked. Larry had fallen in it several times over the years. Nothing stirred within the water. Larry stared into the mysterious pond for several more minutes when nothing showed up he left.
It was Sunday and God was waiting. Larry got dressed, left his house and slowly crept into his truck. He stared again at the pond and caught a glimpse of something swimming near the surface. A little bit of hope, and a slight smile surfaced. Charlie was back, he thought as his stepped out of his truck. He grabbed his fishing pole and worms and walked back to the pond.
Larry strung up the worm and cast the pole into the center of the pond. Immediately, Charlie took the bait and Larry braced himself against a tree. Charlie pulled. Larry pulled but neither would give. Larry pulled hard, conscious that he may snap the line. He was going to win this fight. Charlie pulled back and nearly tore the pole from Larry’s hands. His arthritis ached and his back screamed but Larry held his ground. There was little chance Charlie was getting away this time.
That was until Charlie leapt from the pond and Larry dropped the pole. It wasn’t the Charlie he’s seen years ago. It had a long cylindrical body and a large tail, fanned out like a peacock’s plume. It had a human head which disappeared behind a long crop of black hair. It reentered the pond and sank into its depths. Larry’s fishing pole began to slide toward the water. He grabbed the pole and walked around the biggest tree he could find. If he was going to lose his line it wouldn’t be without a fight.
He went around the tree three times. He held the pole as hard as the arthritis in his joints would let him. He waited and he waited but nothing pulled on the line. It sat limp in the water. Again life and hope drained from his face as he realized that his magnificent catch disappeared.
Larry left the pole lying against the tree, he hung his head and went to church.
Larry returned a couple hours later. He had started drinking after church and continued until dark. He woke up on the couch in the middle of the night because of a crash outside the house. He sat up slowly, his head full of marbles. He stood only to sit again. Another crash started him and then the distinctive sound of someone crushing his metal trash cans.
“Get out of here!” He shouted loudly the noise echoing between his ears. He stood and shuffled to the door. He opened the door and began to shout again but stopped. The beast from the pond sat upon his trash cans. Its long black hair covering its face.
“What the hell are you?” He asked not expecting it to respond. The beast flipped its black mane from its face to reveal someone familiar.
The beast turned and sped back to the pond. It slithered like a snake holding a human, up and in its grasp. Larry stepped from his trailer and fell hard to the ground. He woke up late Monday morning with a welt over his left temple and dried blood pasted to his face.
“I saw Erica last night.” Larry said confidently as he stepped into work.
“I’m sure you did.” Laughed the foreman. A greased up, pig of a man. ” You were likely wasted again like you always are…” He laughed again. “…but your the best damn worker I got. I don’t know how you do it.”
“I’m sure I could answer that”, Larry thought but declined to sink back into his familiar stupor. He felt good today, even with the noticeable lump on his face. He happily fielded questions about it with a reply including he had found his daughter. Most were happy for him until he included what had happened to him last night.
Larry fought with the foreman to let him leave after eight hours. Larry hadn’t worked less then ten in 6 months. Finally, the foreman took him aside and asked if he was alright. “The men are all taking about you and this fish story of yours. They say you have finally lost your mind.”
“I haven’t lost my mind,” Larry said with a smile.
“My God, Lawrence I haven’t seen you smile so brightly in seven years. Why don’t you take a few days off.”
“I would be happy to.” Larry said confidently and left.
It was ten o’clock and dark as sin. The old headlights on his truck barely illuminated the road ahead but Larry was wide awake and more alert then he’d ever been.
The drive home went quickly. He passed the bar that he frequented every night and pulled the truck into his driveway. He scanned his yard like a kid at Christmas but didn’t see a thing. He had a super-bright flashlight in the back of his truck. He reached into the bed and found it. He turned it on and again scanned the yard. Still nothing but he shouted into the stale marsh air.
He walked toward the pond. The bright yellow light encircling a small patch of the still water.
Something stirred and Larry swept the light toward it. The beast crawled slowly from the right-side of the pond. Larry walked toward it a little too recklessly and it reared up like a frightened rattler.
It was too late when he realized that Erica was not in that beast. It was an animal like the feral dogs that roamed around the neighborhood. Larry stepped back slowly but the beast moved fast and grabbed his left arm. It pulled him closer and revealed a large set of predator teeth.
Desperate, Larry said the only thing that came to mind, “Erica, please. Please don’t kill me.”
The beast settled for a second and it lightened its grip. Larry saw for the slightest of that second his little girl glistening in the reflection of the beast’s black eyes. He recalled Christmas when she was four. Erica sat in front of the tree as he and Catherine watched smiling. She opened her presents with such innocence, such gleeful enthusiasm. The beast then dropped Larry hard upon the wet marsh ground. Several smaller circles of light danced around him. Larry knew what it was and what was coming. He stood quickly, but carefully and turned his back to the beast.
“Don’t you think about shooting this beast. I will haunt you for the rest of your damn lives if you kill it.”
Robert stood, pale-faced behind his flashlight watching the beast stand quietly behind his father. Two police officers stood on each side of him and one walked toward Larry and the beast. Larry turned to face the beast again and ducked a vicious swing from its long, sharp claws. The officer that approached took the blow and collapsed. The beast tore into the officer as his partner stood in shock. Robert fired the first shot which grazed the beasts head. The other officer fired the remaining shots and the beast fell upon its back. Larry stared at the beast. Two long blue lines traced the sides of the tail. He looked up upon the human body and realized it had changed. It’s hair was short, inches from the scalp, and it’s face was masculine. It had taken the officers life. It had taken his face. Grief erupted from every pore. Charlie had taken his daughter from him. Charlie had destroyed his life. Charlie had done the worse. Larry stared at his mud-covered knees and his worn-arthritic hands till a warmth struck his chest. He then collapsed and everything disappeared.
Larry woke up several days later. Tubes, in his nose, and machinery thumping along side him. Robert was sitting, asleep in a small hospital chair in the corner of the room. He thought about everything that had happened to him. He thought about Erica, Charlie and his life. He questioned his methods and why he had chosen this path. He realized that he had given his life to Charlie, a fantasy. A fish that took away his life. Charlie was now gone. Erica was gone but Robert was still here. Larry’s life wasn’t completely destroyed and he could still recover. It was time to start again.