The Big One

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J. Leonard Melanogaster crunched loudly on his bran flakes. It was a beautiful day from what he could tell while sitting at the stout oak table almost in the center of the wood paneled kitchen in his quiet cottage. He sucked on his spoon and glanced out the window. He could see the green grass of his backyard with little wild flowers popping up, and behind that he could see the tall poplar trees of the forest. He drew in a deep, phlegm-filled snort through his nose. “It’s an awful pretty day for some fishing.”

Of course, every day was awful pretty for some fishing. During the hot summer, Mr. Melanogaster braved the humidity to go fishing, and even when the temperatures got down past freezing, he broke the ice on the pond and went fishing. This mild spring day certainly would be no exception.

Mr. Melanogaster finished the rest of his bran flakes, carefully placed the bowl on top of the precarious stack now waiting for him in the sink, and put on his white cap. He snorted again and said once more, “Yes, I do believe I’ll go fishing today.”

Within twenty minutes, he had finished his daily ritual of packing up his tiny bike with his tackle box, fishing pole, and a worn out lawn chair. Brushing off the sleeve of his red windbreaker, he climbed onto his bike.

The last eighty-some years of Mr. Melanogaster’s life meant almost nothing to him now, and he wasn’t sure if they ever had; he couldn’t remember. He grew up in the backwoods somewhere in Appalachia, his father and mother both died there, he was in the war, he hadn’t seen his wife since he was drafted, and now he was just an old man. But he was an old man with a tackle box, a fishing pole, and a worn out lawn chair, and he was the happiest old man alive.

He stopped outside the ACE Hardware and propped his bike up against the brick wall. The door to the store opened automatically for him, and Mr. Melanogaster putted inside. The kid at the desk was hefty, and he had a camouflaged hat that was doing a pretty lousy job of keeping his scraggly red hair under any sort of control. “You come for your can of worms, Mr. Melanogaster?” the boy asked.

“Yes, boy, I want some worms today,” Mr. Melanogaster replied after snorting again. “It’s an awful nice day to go fishing.”

“That it is,” the boy responded in a rehearsed fashion. He got a Styrofoam bowl filled with dirt and hopefully a few worms from under the counter and gave it to the short, old man.

“Thank you, sonny. Now how much do I owe you?” Mr. Melanogaster asked, and, miraculously, he did not snort before speaking.

“Two and a quarter,” the kid replied. “Our prices haven’t changed since yesterday, or the day before that.”

“Ah, right.” He dug around in the pocket of his slacks for a moment before pulling out two dollars and a fifty cent piece. No one else had seen a fifty cent piece in years, but Mr. Melanogaster seemed to have a fortune of them. “You can keep the extra money, boy, and buy yourself something nice.”

“Thank you, sir.” The kid punched a few buttons in the cash register as Mr. Melanogaster turned and left. “Hope you catch the big one today.”

Mr. Melanogaster had never caught the big one. In fact, he never caught the little one, or the fat one, or the striped one, or any one to be exact. Of course, he never caught an old boot, or a tin can, or any other clichés, and he considered himself rather lucky. So everyday he continued to ride his little bike out to the little pond and cast off, hoping to catch the big one. But everyday, he caught nothing.

Today would be different. At least that’s what he told himself as he stopped his bike on the side of the sidewalk and unloaded his things into his arms. That’s what he told himself everyday.

He stumbled down the side of the hill, trampling over newly grown daffodils and rustling up the leaves from last fall. Reaching the bank of the pond, he carefully put down all his things, wrangled his worn out lawn chair until it opened, and set it purposefully in the exact space it had been yesterday and the day before that. He then opened his tackle box and eyed the flies. “Eh, I think I’ll try fishing with a worm today,” he decided aloud before a snort. He tried a worm everyday.

Mr. Melanogaster sat in the worn out lawn chair and cast his line into the pond. Pulling the bill down on his cap, he gazed at his bobber resting on the surface of the calm water and listened to the birds in the trees. It was inevitable with old age, and within moments he had drifted off to sleep.

“I’m just resting my eyes!” Mr. Melanogaster cried out of habit as he was jarred awake. Finding no one to answer him, he glanced around and noticed his tackle box was gone. He jumped to his feet with a surprising lack of agility that did not skip on the cracking of joints and turned twice, trying to find the culprit.

That culprit just so happened to be a dog. It had shaggy white fur with brown patches, flapping ears, and a tackle box which closely resembled Mr. Melanogaster’s tackle box.

“Okay, dumb mongrel, just drop my tackle box,” he cooed threateningly.

The dog, however, didn’t seem to understand and began trotting away with the tackle box. Mr. Melanogaster spent a few moments chasing the dog in a comical circle, but he didn’t gain much in the end. The dog slid down into a lying position. “Aw, just take it,” Mr. Melanogaster grumbled as he started back to his worn out lawn chair.

That was when he noticed his fishing pole was not where he had left it, and in fact it was skidding along the grass towards the water. He was perplexed by this for a moment. “What the Sam Hill is…”

That was when he noticed that the bobber, too, was gone, and in fact it was being dragged under the surface of the pond at an alarming rate. It then occurred to Mr. Melanogaster that there was a fish on the line, and it was the big one.

He dove onto the fishing pole and was pulled with it into the water. He was unable to see the monster dragging him with such brute force, but he could imagine it. It was bigger than the hair of the boy at ACE Hardware. It was bigger than his house.

Mr. Melanogaster dreamed about this as he was plunging deeper and deeper into the depths of the pond, and soon the water became so dark that he couldn’t even see the fishing pole in front of him. However, it didn’t really occur to him quite how he was going to bag this fish. At this point, he was just along for the ride.

A sudden light blasted Mr. Melanogaster, and within seconds the surface of water was exploding with a stout old man in a red windbreaker and white cap. Judging by the amount of water he had just traveled through, he expected the water to be quite deep, but he was pleasantly surprised to find himself standing on the sandy bottom. In fact, he was just along the shoreline of a wonderfully golden island.

On the island sat a huge, genuinely comfortable burgundy arm chair, and beside that sat the dog that had shaggy white fur with brown splotches, flapping ears, and a tackle box which closely resembled Mr. Melanogaster’s tackle box.

“Hello, doggy,” Mr. Melanogaster beamed as he gently took the tackle box from the dog and patted him on the head.

“Welcome to Big Fish Heaven, Mr. Melanogaster,” the dog replied with just as wide of a smile. “I have a feeling you will like it here.”

“Oh, I have no doubt about it,” J. Leonard Melanogaster replied. He seated himself in the plush arm chair and cast off into the gentle surf. “It’s an awful pretty day for some fishing.”

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