TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The townsfolk talked but she didn’t care. Day after day, she lugged her saw, a bucket, a homemade fishing pole, and bait across the frozen lake. Once there, she sat shivering while waiting for the telltale tug from a creature of the deep. This torturous task wasn’t for the fairer sex but what choice did she have? On that particular day, as clouds and a north wind rolled in from the mountains, she noticed two little boys at the edge of the lake, shouting and pointing…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
It all started with that blasted story. The one about my father and his brother lugging their fishing poles, saws, and buckets across the frozen lake to catch trout behind their childhood home in Alaska. After hours of no success, they almost gave up when my father’s pole yanked violently toward the jagged hole in the ice they had cut out. He was swept off his feet, but his brother caught him around his waist, saving him from a hypothermic, watery death. They pulled against what felt like a boulder until the creature burst from the surface, spraying them with icy slush, and landed heavily next to them.
They had caught a lost spotted seal pup. A seal of which they took home and gave it a name and raised it and let it sleep in the old dog house and took it fishing with them and everything under the flipping rainbow.
It was a sensational story meant to inspire my five-year-old daughter, Tilly, into going fishing with him next summer.
It worked, alright.
Every day since he had told that story, she braved the treacherous journey across snow-barren lands (our backyard) to a frozen lake (her kiddy pool) where she fished with a pole made from a broom handle and a shoelace for a seal of her own.
Of course, she never came back with seal. She did, however, discover something else. Something so hideously revolting that it needed to burn in the fiery pits of Hell. Something she put in an old shoe box to keep as her pet.
“You need to release it back outside,” I said, firmly.
“He’ll die!” Tilly said.
That was the point. A creature like that should never exist in the first place.
“It’ll die anyways if you keep it in that box,” I shrugged.
“No, I’ll feed it and water it, just like I do for the rabbit.”
“Look, Tilly,” I crouched down to her level, “that thing isn’t a pet. Your mom’s gonna kill me when she finds out I didn’t take it away from you.”
Cue the water works and wails of unfairness. She stomped her foot down and hiccuped out “h-how would y-you like to be th-thrown out in the cold?” Oh, I didn’t care. If she did not throw it out, I would.
I reached to take the box, but Tilly lit the house with an ear-splitting scream. Clutching the box close to her chest, she raced out of the family room, down the hallway, to her bedroom, and slammed the door shut.
Why did she have to be so dramatic?
Whatever. I would give her some time to calm down and say goodbye to the wretched creature. Perhaps it would suffocate in that box or get crushed from all the movement. One could only hope.
I began cooking dinner before Maggie, my wife, returned home from her Monday-night book club–a hearty chili with some hot, buttered cornbread to combat the coldsnap blowing in from the Rocky Mountains. I had just finished putting the cornbread in the oven when I realized I should call Maggie about her ETA.
I dug around my pockets for my cell phone. Nothing. I checked by my spot on the couch. Not there. In the bedroom? Again, nowhere to be found.
A knock at the front door interrupted my search. Who on earth would be here in this weather? Opening the door, I was greeted by Johnny Law himself and his cruiser steed.
My heart lurched into my throat.
“Are you Robert Harrison?” the police officer asked, sharply.
“Yeah,” I said, dumbfounded.
“Your daughter called in. She claims your trying to kill her pet.”
Why that little… I sighed and invited the police officer inside. Hands shaking, I tried making small talk about the blizzard set to hit tomorrow, but he remained silent, studying me with a stern, glacier stare. I gulped.
“Look, my daughter found–”
“He wants George to freeze to death outside!” Tilly interrupted, hollering from her bedroom.
George? Did she…did she name the bloody thing?
The police officer threw me a dark look. He crossed his arms and straightened his back, making himself look bigger–intimidating. His upper lip curled like a snarling bear. I nearly wet myself thinking I was about to be arrested for this huge misunderstanding.
A thought sprung to mind. If he wanted to think I’m some animal beater, fine. But first, he needed to meet “George.”
“Tilly, why don’t you come show us your pet?”
Feet patted the hardwood flooring like an over-excited puppy after a toy ball. In a flash, Tilly slid in front of the officer and thrusted the box into his belly.
“I’ve been taking really good care of him,” she prattled. “I even gave him one of my Dolly’s blankets in case he gets cold.”
The officer took the shoe box and gently opened the lid. He peered inside and–
“Oh, shit!” he screamed. He flung the box across the room.
I watched in horror as the box landed on its side. Open. Tilly’s fleece doll blanket partially spilled out. On it crept out the creature–thistly fur sprouting from its bulbous body, eight ridiculously long, segmented legs, and black eyes large enough to be seen across the room.
“Meet George,” I gestured to the fist-sized wolf spider.