Short As Fictober #3: “Bait”

In the grey six o’clock hour of a nearly autumn morning, Bud and Liza Mead stood next to their fishing boat, The Lucille Ball, waiting on their last charter of the season. They sipped coffee from thermal travel mugs their daughter’d given them last Christmas, passing the time in the kind of silence that becomes comfortable after forty years of marriage.

The pair hadn’t planned on this particular client, an out-of-towner–really an out-of-stater–who insisted he get the chance to land one of the infamous colossal lake creatures from the depths of Superior. They tried to tell him their season was finished; that they’d already begun the process of winterizing the cabins-for-rent, the bait shop, and the fishing boat; that they were leaving that weekend for Colorado to visit their daughter’s family; that there were plenty of locals who’d jump at the chance to take the man out on the big waters. 

But the stranger, who introduced himself as Blake, wouldn’t budge. Said that there were rumors those who went out with Bud and Liza were damn near guaranteed to land a lake monster. Then he offered to pay double their typical rate, and in their minds though one last charter would be a pain in the keister, the extra income from the job would push their retirement day just a little closer.

Behind them, The Lucille Ball pulled at her moorings, anxious to get out over the deep waters, and a fog horn called out through the thick fog in its signature baritone, just north of where they waited.

“Do you think he overslept?” Liza asked.

“Maybe,” Bud said. “Or maybe he’s just one of those folks who keeps their own interpretation of on time.

Liza checked her watch. “We don’t want to wait too much longer, or we risk the creatures diving too deep.”

A minute later headlights cut through the fog as the charter’s Mercedes approached the dock. Blake parked next to the Mead’s truck, and climbed out of his car bearing a cardboard tray of coffee cups and a greasy white pastry bag. He was still dressed in the same khaki pants and button up shirt from the day before, though he no longer wore a tie.

“Morning,” he called. “Sorry I’m late. I wanted to pick up breakfast for everybody.”

Bud grunted and stepped onto the boat, then gestured that the man should do the same. Liza smiled and accepted the pastry bag.

“That’s very kind of you,” she said, “but you really shouldn’t have.”

“No problem,” Blake said. “I asked around and people said Gus’s had the best apple fritters in town.”

“Okay, then,” Liza said. “Climb aboard.” She paused, pointing at his wingtips. “You don’t have any other shoes?”

Blake’s face flushed. “No, sorry. Are these going to be a problem?”

“Maybe. They don’t look like they have much traction, but maybe we have some hairspray in the cabin we could spray on the soles.”

“Uh, thanks,” Blake said.

Liza thought the man’s tone said he had no intention of coating the bottom of his shoes with hairspray. She lead him to the cabin and invited him to the table where he could eat his breakfast, then excused herself to the bow of the vessel.

While Liza squared Blake away, Bud climbed into the pilothouse to get the boat moving. He set a north eastern course, and let The Lucille Ball chug until Liza took her place in the stern. He watched as she positioned herself between the gunwales and leaned into the bow’s point. She raised both arms and pointed them out. It didn’t matter how many times Bud had seen his wife perform this feat, it never ceased to amaze him how she knew exactly where to direct the boat, knew exactly where the creatures would be. Below, Liza’s arms swayed to the right, and Bud made the necessary adjustments to the wheel, then opened up the engines. 

Soon after, he heard Blake climb into the pilothouse behind him.

“You want a fritter?” Blake asked holding out the bag.

“Thanks,” Bud said. Gus did make an impeccable fritter.

Blake pointed down at Liza. “What’s she doing?”

“Finding the creatures. And before you ask, I don’t know how she does it. I’ve never been able to figure it out.”

“So what happens when we get there.”

“We’ll chum the water.” When Blake didn’t say anything, Bud asked, “You ever see JAWS?”

“Yes.”

“It’s the stuff Roy Scheider’s scooping into the ocean toward the end. I got buckets full of fish guts in the holds.”

“And that’s it? Lake monsters like fish guts?”

“Sure, and some other stuff.”

“Like a secret ingredient? Is this something the two of you make? Is this why you’re successful?”

“Not exactly. You’re the one who’ll make it. You need to add a sacrifice. It’s what makes the bait work.”

“What kind of sacrifice?”

“Could be a personal item you hold dear to your heart, or lacking something like that, blood. Just a drop or two will do.”

Bud watched the young out-of-towner run a finger over his wristwatch before withdrawing his hand.

“My grandfather’s watch,” Blake said. “I can’t give that up, so I guess it’ll will have to be blood.”

Bud grunted. “Blood’s stronger, so we’ll have to be ready.”

“For what?”

“You’ll see.”

Twenty minutes later, when Bud saw Liza lower her arms, he pulled the engines back to trolling speed. He didn’t wait for Blake to ask any questions, but left the pilothouse. He knew the kid would follow. 

He found his wife waiting for him at the stern, already pulling chum buckets from storage, and he told her about the young man’s decision.

The pair lined the buckets up along the stern, and when Blake approached, they made room. 

Liza pulled a hook from a tackle box and handed it to Blake. 

“You’ll want to give yourself a couple good pokes,” she said, “enough to get the blood flowing, then put at least a drop into each bucket.”

Blake did as she asked, and when the last drop fell, he stepped back.

Bud put a bucket in his hands. “Dump a bucket in every two minutes until you see bubbles about the size of bookcases rising from below. That’s how you’ll know if we got one.”

While Blake dumped his first bucket, Bud and Liza sat on a bench near the cabin.

After the third bucket, the out-of-towner went electric, and smile spilled across his face.

“I can see some bubbles,” Blake said and then his elation faded. “How big did you say the bubbles should be?”

“Bookcase,” Bud said. “Why?”

“These look as big as the boat.”

Bud and Liza exchanged a look.

“Is that bad?”

Liza sighed and nodded. “Yes,” she said as Bud scurried back up to the pilothouse. A moment later the engines screamed as he opened up the throttle.

“What? Why?”

The Lucille Ball swung a sharp turn and beelined back toward shore.

“We’ve lured a Depth Dredger,” Liza said, before climbing into the chair of the ship’s mounted harpoon gun.

“What’s a Depth Dredg–“

But the out-of-towner, hell-bent on landing a lake monster, had his question answered before he could finish asking it. 

The Depth Dredger rose out of the depths, eating The Lucille Ball’s wake. The building-sized creature, a dark green churning mass of scales and fins and whipping tentacles covered half the distance between itself and the charter boat in less than five minutes. 

Blake screamed and did his best to hold onto the mooring cleats.

Above Bud held a steady course and pleaded for the old boat to give him speed he know she didn’t have.

From her perch on the harpoon gun, Liza waited for the Depth Dredger to get close, then let a barbed missile fly with hope and a prayer. 

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