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The Halloween Project 2019 Story 7: Tennanah Lake

The experts say Tennanah Lake is about 60 feet deep but Amanda Barnes knows better. Yes, she'll agree that it's a mile and a half long and a mile wide. Any fool can measure that. But as for its depth? She'd lived on the lake, well, on her farm just up from the lake for her entire life. And a long life it had been. In her 84th year now just last spring; still strong, still moving. She fetched eggs each morning, had some young men who did the necessary repairs around the house and barn. Sold off the milk cows about ten years earlier, once Hank died. Hank was her husband and they had been married 43 years. He not only ran the farm, but worked as a lineman for the telephone company. She lived off his pension and what they had put away. Two sons who grew up and grew away. One to Sarasota, Florida. Said he couldn't stand the upstate New York winters. The other a professor at the University in Cincinnati, Ohio. She had grandkids and they all visited once or twice a year, but Amanda didn't like to travel so she stayed put on Tennanah Lake. And she loved to fish. Always had, always would. She had a small aluminum boat that she left down on the water's edge. Had a nice, quiet electric motor that moved her smoothly up and down the lake. She had a night crawler worm box that she kept under the stairs that she used for bait. Amanda could sit for hours, drop an old lard can filled with concrete that served as an anchor, and just think. And she thought about that fish. Amanda knew it was out there and her 70 years of fishing only made her belief grow stronger with each passing decade. When she was only 10 her grandfather took her out on Tennanah and while he was rowing out she saw something jump a bit off in the distance. It was a milky shimmery shade. Very, very long and not slender like mackerel or perch. Shaped more like a man with stouter shoulders and maybe even arms or legs. "Grampy!" she exclaimed, pointing out over his shoulder. He turned but it was already just a flash on the water. "What was it, honey?" "Some kind of fish, Grampy, a huge fish. Like this huge," and she stretched out her arms, long fingers extended as far as she could reach. "Longer even, but it looked like a person." "I'm sure it did, I'm sure it did," he repeated with a sly grin. "Some of those fish do have personalities. I been trying to catch old Bob for about 10 years. "Old Bob?" Amanda questioned. "Yes. Old Bob is big, big pickerel that I"ve had on my line at least twice. Darn it, I want to catch that old boy. And maybe some day I will." But that was not to happen. 15 years later, her grandfather long passed from lung cancer, Amanda would land a pickerel that flopped in her boat and measured out at 24 inches long. She knew that pickerel could live about seven years, those big ones they sometimes caught might be 10 years old. But this one was extraordinary. "Well I'll be damned. If you're not Old Bob you must be his son," she chuckled. That got Amanda to thinking. Maybe the cool, fresh waters of Tennanah which flowed down from the Catskills had a way of keeping things young and alive. And over the next 20, 30 and 40 years she caught plenty of fish; bass and pike and pickerel and a mess of catfish, all huge, all old, all very, very smart and wary. She wasn't much for fly fishing, but she loved Tennanah. And she thought of that one fish. That long, white, shouldered fish. She knew she saw it many times. Amanda got to thinking that it was playing with her. It would arc from the water just outside her peripheral vision. It had changed shades from her 10 year old vision of pure white to a mottled beige. It wasn't all of one piece, seeming to have body parts. Sometimes just near sunset, long darkening shadows crossing the lakes expanse, Amanda would point her boat homeward, humming. Electric motor purring, something would ripple up beside her. Maybe 20 feet off to the side. She'd watch out of the corner of her eye. It swam a foot below the surface, turning over, moving easily at her pace. Then something emerged from the water and Amanda gasped. It was a hand. A hand attached to a long sinuous appendage, an arm that was not an arm. 70 years of fishing and here it was. That night after feeding the cat she sat in her easy chair with a cup of tea that she had laced with two fingers of Four Roses Barrel Bourbon. Sometimes she joked with people that it was the whiskey kept her young, as well as the hard work and the Lake. The Lake. And that fish. How was it that after 70 years, not once, not one single time, had she ever hooked it? It knew, that's what she believed. It knew how not to be caught. Somehow, it knew that Tennanah Lake was its home, would protect it and it could thrive and live for a very long time. Amanda knew a lot of other good fishermen on the Lake over the years. They also told stories about a strangely colored and oddly shaped fish. "Hmm, that fish," Amanda mused, finished her tea and went off to bed. Three days later on an Indian summer mid-October day Amanda found herself out on her little boat, anchored in what she thought to be the deepest cove on the Lake. She was gazing at the upsloping trees when a splash sounded behind her. She made an about face and tossed her line in. Immediately something hit and she murmured "Oh, baby boy!" She gave a quick snap of the pole to set the hook and started reeling in. It pulled and she fought back. Let it run a little, reel in a little. Strong, assured and consistent. She knew she had something big on her line. Kept reeling, kept reeling. Then a thunk hit the side of the boat. It was a watersoaked log, not big, but heavy. She reached down, grasped one end and hauled it up hoping to save her hook. It was about two feet long and when she had it water free and alongside the boat she looked down. A hand was grasping the other end. Not a perfect hand with completely

separated fingers. Not even five fingers, but four. A pale beige wrist, then an arm if you could call it that; sleek, less muscled, more sinew. A shoulder emerged and then a face. But not a face. A slightly peaked and pointed head, hairless, with small ears and recessed nostrils. But it was the eyes that caught Amanda. They were human eyes, as steel blue as a December sky reflecting off the Lake. The human lids remained open, inspecting her, while another membraneous lid blinked twice. The creature snapped its head left and right quickly then returned its gaze to Amanda. When it did she could see small sets of gills on either side of its neck. She was not frightened and held fast the log. "I gotcha," Amanda announced, "After all these years. All the fish I caught. I finally gotcha." Then a split second realization flashed to mind. More than 70 years of fishing, thousands of fish in her net, on her griddle. Hundreds more shared with friends. Cutting holes in the ice in February, caught in storms in the middle of the Lake. Several new electric motors. Fish of all kind. Hours, and hours and hours on this place she loved. On this water. Then somehow she knew. She was not fishing. She was the catch. The creature tugged with amazing strength on the log and Amanda lost her balance. #

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